Two more one-shots, finally. Ah, the wonders of a college education.
"I don't get it," Threar said, hoping the frustration was plain in his voice. "Don't kids like choc bars?"
Looking up from his seat - a boulder stationed on the outskirts of Syndulla's camp, which in turn was stationed on the bright side of the Twilight Zone, highlighting the Twi'lek politician's sheer ballsy-ness as usual – Commander Erquina favored his linguist with a lightly shrewd expression. "Philosophical questions are not my department, Private," he said, settling back into a meditative posture. "Ask your brothers."
"Tried that. They couldn't help." And what in the thirty-seven highly specialized Rylothean hells was Omicron Squad supposed to know about the tastes of small, spoiled, impossibly feminine military brats, anyway? "And how is that a philosophical question, anyway? Do kids like chocolate, or not? Yes or no does just fine."
A little huff escaped from the CO's lungs, which Threar judged to be his equivalent of a snort. "Actually, it depends on the kid. Hirani Syndulla might just not like chocolate."
Hirani: Twi'leki for "exceedingly beautiful," male code for "the ultimate of ultimate Daddy's Girls." He should have known what he was in for as soon as he heard that name. Forces help whoever ended up married to the little minx when she was grown…
"Frankly, sir, that's unnatural. No kid under the age of like…seventy could dislike chocolate. It's in the rules."
"The rules that govern the universe and all life itself, duh. Never taught you that one in mystical force-field school, huh?"
Erquina sighed. "There's a lot they don't teach you there. Not that I'd know."
Threar glared. "Hoi! No going emo on me! I'm a trooper in peril; you have to listen to me!"
The Jedi cracked open one eyelid, the exhaustion and disdain practically dripping from the exposed pupil. "Peril."
"Uh-huh. I still don't understand why Hirani doesn't like chocolate."
Rolling his eyes, Erquina seemed to give his meditation up for lost, and uncurled his legs to sit normally on the boulder. "Well, I'm still a little lost on why Omicron is the weird squad of the 327th, but that's just me."
"Tit for tat, eh? I'll tell if you tell, eh? I see what you're getting at." Threar took time to consider. He leaned back on his hands, looking up at the odd aurora Ryloth's star cast at this time of day at this point on the planet, when it had sunk beneath the horizon, but stayed just beneath the horizon, mocking its subjects mercilessly. Whichever force created this world had a seriously kriffed-up mind, make no mistake.
Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the Commander follow his example. The kid's expression was less "kriff my life and everything in it" than Threar's mindset was – though that sentiment was definitely present. He looked more like he was trying to comprehend something that constantly eluded him, even though he felt as if he should know it by now…like wooing a woman, only, somehow, bigger and smaller and more and less important than that. Because Threar was so good at specifics.
"Well, whatever," he continued. "Since you twist my arm about it. Miser."
"Thppht," Threar blew a raspberry – what, it wasn't like any mature CO was watching. Speaking of whom: "We're Bly's little experiment squad. Throw the genetic failures and the battle mishaps into one squad, see if they can make up for each other well enough to be halfway competent. You know, for science."
"Genetic failures?" He'd heard about Droll's accident, so he knew what "battle mishaps" meant, obviously.
"You mean Mugs' eyes?"
"Yup." He said it as if it were less than it was. The kid hadn't been around long enough to know what green eyes meant to the Kaminoans, which was a good thing, really. The less he had to be burdened with the knowledge of the massive shit-hand Mugs had been dealt in life, the better.
"So…what about the rest of you?" Erquina could pick up on body language almost as well as a brother, and Threar could tell that he wasn't buying his omission in the Sarge's past. He also wasn't pressing the matter, which was fine by him. Innocence was hard to come by these days; Threar wasn't one to squander it.
"Welp, Dante somehow turned up with bright red hair. He keeps everything shaved now to deflect notice, but doubtless you've seen the pale skin pigmentation he got with it."
The Commander frowned. "That's an…oddly specific mutation."
"Yeah, they fired the n00b who was running our batch after they found out." "Fired" probably meant "hauled off to some distant chop-shop city where they could harvest him for spare parts without needing to explain the screaming," but of course, Threar himself didn't know whether or not that was true.
"Completely different blood type. He can receive blood from the rest of us, but he can't give it. Powers that be put him in medic training to balance the books, so to speak." And from what he had heard, they had been this close to feeding Scrib to the fishes, too. Luckily, such mutations had occurred during the later batches, when aesthetic perfection finally began to mean a little less than actually filling the order. Becoming a medic meant that Scrib was trained to use somebody else as a donor – there were plenty of somebody elses, so it all evened out in the end.
Erquina seemed to consider that. Then he turned his unfathomable, very old gaze on Threar, quietly awaiting more explanation.
"What? I'm perfection incarnate. Ask Dante, he grew up with me."
Twi'lek eyebrows were very eloquent for things that possessed so little hair. Erquina, being Jedi, was a whole lot more eloquent (if less expressive) than most Twi'leks, so obviously his silent "Riiiiiight" was obnoxiousness turned up to eleven. Frakkin' unfair, that's what it was.
"Okay, okay, so I have a little trouble distinguishing red from green. Or, even seeing red and green. Fact is, I'm a bit unsure as to whether you are red, green, or just a sort of dark yellow conjured up to mock me."
The kid's face was disgusted. It just kept getting more so as he continued speaking. And, forces, it didn't help. He knew he was defective. He knew that his defect, less visible than the others, was less cosmetic and more functional, and that by all rights he should have been terminated when he and the rest of his batch had had their eyes checked at age six (or three, but who was counting). Dante had taken the eye test twice for him, somehow; there had been a sympathetic Mandalorian tutor who had covered for them; he'd learned to distinguish shapes and movement and be extra extra vigilant, and to have excellent aim and learn to speak six different languages fluently just to spite anyone who thought him inadequate. But his very presence endangered his teammates, being found out would get them all kicked out of the GAR (i.e. reconditioned, with all the word's horrible vagueness and evasiveness that meant it was painful and no kriffin' good). He'd known all that since – osik, he'd known it forever. He didn't need some cold little Jedi upstart reminding him of that.
"Yeah, yeah, I know. I'm wrong." He was going for snide there, but it just came out as bitter. Kriff it all.
"No. You're. Not."
Threar blinked, and looked at the Commander's face. Erquina was furious. He was furious in a way that didn't involve growling, or screaming, or anything more than a clenched jaw and one hell of a stink-eye. It was scary. Pants-shitting-ly scary. But fortunately, it didn't seem to be directed at Threar himself, but at the world.
The young Twi'lek pointed back toward the encampment, calm and collected and kriffin' terrifying as all hells. "You know Hirani?"
Threar gulped, not caring if anybody saw. "Yeah."
"What if she had grown up in a different clan than she did? Not all fathers are as caring as Cham Syndulla, especially not here." The Commander hurt with a pain that was not his, but his Master's; the General was closer to the subject of slavery than him. It didn't make it less real. "She could have been raised from her first breath to be sold for a great deal of money. She could have been conceived for that purpose. She could have been taken off of her world, separated from her culture, to settle a brewing conflict between her clans that she had nothing to do with. And she could have been born less than perfect and thus be unable to fulfill that duty which so many Twi'leks kindly enforce upon their children. Would that have made her wrong?"
He sensed that the question was not rhetorical, though it might as well have been, for the amount of sound he could put in his reply. Quietly, he made a note to never actually incur the Commander's genuine wrath.
"No," Threar finally managed, after Erquina had glared expectantly at him for several seconds too long.
"Neither are you wrong," the Jedi hissed. "What we've done to you is wrong. Raising millions of little boys to be enslaved to a conflict they have no stake in whatsoever is wrong. That's the stain upon the honor of the Republic, not you."
There were a couple of breaths in which silence reigned, in which time Threar absently touched a hand to one cheek, and found his skin to be wet with tears he didn't remember shedding. The Commander noticed, and looked away to give him privacy. With a flick of an ambiguously colored wrist, he drew Threar's choc bar out of his pocket, breaking off a small block of the candy.
"As for your question…" he muttered, the heated timbre of his voice beginning to subside a little. He took a tentative sniff of the candy, wrinkling his nose in distaste. "Hirani's aversion to chocolate might be a Twi'lek thing. Something about the smell."
The young Jedi placed the choc square in his mouth, immediately recoiled, and swallowed like the stuff might hurt him. "Gak! And the texture."
That said, he stood, brushed off his trousers, and offered the remainder of the candy back to Threar, who took it wordlessly. "Good night, Private."
Threar watched him march off toward the encampment, feeling somewhat dazed. Their new officer was abrupt, rude, and completely hard to read.
…He thought he might like that about him.
Incidentally, I know that guys with mutations like these would be exceedingly rare in the GAR. This is just Bly putting them all in one place so he can (hopefully) deal with them all at once when they get in trouble.
I'm not exactly sure who coined the term "reconditioning," but what I do know of it I learned from reading reulte's Scars and sachariah's When Night Falls. My hat is off to those most wonderful stories; hopefully I'll get around to reviewing them before the summer is over.