Ahsoka Tano and Captain Rex Are Dead
Bonus Epilogue 6.
There were so many choices.
The glass screen stretched from one end of the room to the other, brightly colored graphics dancing across the translucent plate in a swirling flow of information. Their primary colors were so vivid, so garish, that they managed to stand out brightly despite the copious amounts of sunlight pouring warmly in through the window behind him. Every now and again, a cloud would slide by the glass, temporarily casting the room into a wash of shadow. Men and women of various species drifted through the room, most in small groups, others alone, to pause at the screen, flip something onto their datapad, and then depart.
Though most of the ads were written in Basic – it was the language most commonly found on the colony, after all – others such as Huttese, Mando'a, Rodese and Shyriiwook were all represented, the various shapes of the languages' letters and characters popping up and then shrinking away once the ads' algorithms realized his disinterest, only to bound further down the long board towards the next sentient being, doing their best to be noticed.
Gus was currently haloed in a cloud of multi-colored advertisements he was capable of reading. Most had to do with jobs – those that were not about jobs were about casinos, and the few that were not about jobs or casinos were primarily trying to get him to eat at their not-entirely-reputable cantinas, judging by the fact the ads were draped with underclad women.
"Good eyes, man! Thanks."
Frowning, Gus slid the cantina ads brusquely down the screen towards a knot of young miners, who seemed much more interested in eating and women than he was, leaving himself alone with the job ads and the casino information. He tapped a clear spot amid the adverts. "Pull up news from yesterday regarding casinos and robberies."
Under his fingertip bloomed a short article from the Cloud City News. He expanded its' size to something more readable with a flick of his fingers, and the article expanded on the glass, yellow letters glowing cheerfully. The title read, "Arrest at Trest Casino!" Gus scanned down the page a bit further and skimmed.
"…the Trest is not the first casino to be hit by the mysterious slicer, but it appears to be the last. The suspect was placed in custody by the Wing Guard in the early hours of the morning…over 2.4 million credits have gone missing since the slicer's activities began six weeks ago…Wing Guards have yet to release a statement regarding the suspect, who is believed to be a…."
Mentally, Gus finished the line for himself: Sniveling little human computer genius. He tapped the article again, and it folded in upon itself before disappearing back into the datastream with a flash. He and Jesse had a minor windfall earlier in the week, and had been at the Trest to deliver the data they'd been requested to acquire for their client. The client had been in a good mood due to a winning streak on one of the pazaak tables, and had given them a little something extra to spend.
"Been trying to catch this guy for weeks. Name's Edian. You just in for a game or two and noticed it?"
Jesse decided he was going to dump his something extra into the rattletrap ship he'd become so fond of. Gus decided he'd play a little sabacc himself, get a drink or two, and see if his luck held out. If it did, he'd go back with even more credits to spend. If not, there was a stage with some Zeltron dancers close by – one way or another, he'd have a fun evening.
"I've got to ask you some questions about what you saw. For the investigation."
His luck hadn't held out. But then, it hadn't actually been luck causing the problem. One of the players at the table was a young human male with the odd habit of tapping his temple just before the suits would shuffle. It was a small thing, easily dismissed as a nervous twitch – except for the thin white line of scar tissue that curved around the place his fingertip tapped, and the broken blood vessel just beneath it.
"Sorry, but I can't affirm or deny it was a modulated cheater device."
Gus had folded early, gotten up, and found one of the Trest's security guards, relaying his suspicions. Had this been a small time casino elsewhere on the colony, Gus would have turned the guy inside out himself, but a big time place like the Trest wouldn't appreciate having one of its' sabacc tables torn apart by a pissed off former clone trooper. Besides, there was always the possibility their client would need their assistance again, and ruining his night by starting a fight on the casino floor would mean no more bonuses.
In exchange for helping security forces nab the slicer, he got his money back. And a peculiar suggestion.
"We could use someone sharp on the Guard…heh, we could use all the help we can get, sometimes."
And so now, Gus stood in front of the glass screen, with an open advertisement for the Wing Guard floating in front of him. There would be months of training, a final test to pass, orientation, and a year as a rookie as he learned more about the working of the colony.
A rookie. He hadn't been shiny for years.
It shouldn't sound so strangely appealing.
With a scowl, Gus tapped on the article again, watching it fold in on itself and dissipate on the translucent glass with a pop of yellow light. Ads idled around him, flickering and flashing, and he looked at the dim reflection of himself in the space left by the article. He'd aged, as they all had, during the last couple years since desertion. His hair, a mere stubbly buzz over his head, was streaked with grey. There were deep cut lines around his face, mostly slanting downwards and giving him a severe expression. They were different lines from Jesse's. Jesse's slanted more up than down. But then, Jesse smiled a lot more than he did.
Gus' scowl deepened momentarily, then softened into a sigh, and the pale reflection in the glass mimicked him.
He'd done well, at the casino. Though it'd been tempting to get into the slicer brat's face and accuse him directly, he'd kept his temper and reported it, instead.
It hadn't gone like that scene with Chopper, back in the day.
It felt good, to do it right. The table was filled with different kinds of people from different walks of life. Oh, a couple were the rich smarmy types with money to burn, but there were a couple others like him, a miner and an official-looking type, out for a nice evening with a bit of money to spend and dreams of luck. Smarmy or not, working class or not, none of them deserved to have some thieving brat with a cheater device take their money.
It felt good, to do it right. That rookie cop, Edian, even seemed grateful. Gratitude was nice. Recognition was nice. Respect - that was nice too. Never had that as a soldier. But then, cops weren't soldiers. Though security forces weren't always the most welcome sight in the galaxy, they were usually much more welcome than a few platoons of armed troopers.
Gus' eyes flicked to ad for the Wing Guard, and he used a finger to drag it into place in front of him. It was an open call. The image of his face overlapped the glowing blue and gold outlines of the advertisement. Cloud City Wing Guard: To Protect and Serve, it headlined.
A completely different objective from the GAR. Or the Imperial Army. Cops protected and served to create a sense of peace. Soldiers killed and destroyed to create that same feeling.
Protecting the Republic. It was what he thought he'd been doing for years. He'd been wrong.
He closed his eyes and whisked the ad away with a flicker of fingertips. It was just him and Jesse now, with Tup and Chopper gone their own ways. He and Jesse did more smuggling these days, more special, non-violent missions, than they did a year ago when there were four of them. He sighed, and his tone was more bitter than he expected when he mumbled aloud, "Jesse can't do it alone."
"Who says he'll have to?"
The words were a querying murmur just beside his ear, and Gus stiffened, then relaxed, as he recognized the voice, so like his own, but with a different inflection and tone. Slanting his eyes to the right, there was a faint ripple in the air, like heat on duracrete on a sunny day. It faded from the air and resumed on the screen a moment later, causing the electronic ads to sparkle and dance for several seconds. When they resettled, a pair of faces gleamed in the glass, reflections of beings that had no solid form.
Gus straightened. "Captain. Commander."
"Hi Gus," the Commander said, and in accompaniment, the Captain nodded his own greeting. "Thinking about joining the Wing Guard, huh?" the Commander added after a moment, smirking a little at him in a teasing sort of manner as she eyed the Wing Guard ad, now idling on the periphery of the advertisement cloud.
Gus shifted from foot to foot, sending a glance down the screen to his right, then his left. There were a few beings chatting down on one end, closer to the door, but they were not paying attention to him. A Snivvian to his left closed down his data array, buried his nose in his datapad, and ambled past Gus and towards the door. There was a Twi'lek couple standing at the window and enjoying the scenery and each other, entirely oblivious to anyone else's conversations.
Gus resumed his formal posture and addressed the two ghosts again, less concerned about being overheard or thought off-kilter for talking to the databoard. "Thinking only, sir. Joining would be inadvisable."
"And why is that?" the Captain asked, his brows slightly lifted. An ad for a tapcaf zoomed across his face, then bounced off the bottom of the screen and further on down the wall.
"As I said before, sir. Jesse can't do it alone."
"Can't, Gus, or shouldn't?" the Captain asked, and Gus paused, looking at his CO thoughtfully. If he left too, Jesse would be on his own, without any brothers to help him. It was bad enough Chopper and Tup ran off. They had to stick together, didn't they? At least some of them? That was how it always was. Or at least how it was supposed to be. Even if Chopper and Tup didn't seem to feel that way anymore.
Could he really leave the last of his brothers for a life of his own?
"You don't think we should stick together, sir?"
The two ghosts in the glass exchanged a look, then returned their attention to him. "Only if you want to, Gus," the Captain told him.
A cop. He could settle down a bit. Do what he'd wanted to do all along. Maybe not for the entire Republic, but for some of the people in it - or used to be in it, when it existed. He could actually do some good with his life. Bespin flew under Imperial radar for the most part. It was as safe as any other hidey hole, and a lot more interesting than a backwater. He had a forged ID that had made it through inspections before. With the Captain and Commander helping him make it through a background check, he could probably do it. He could settle down. Have something stable, where he wasn't constantly looking over his shoulder or worrying about where his next meal would come from. Hell, he could probably even have his own flat. He could have his own home.
Did he want all that? Yes. Yes, he did.
Could he just abandon his last brother, though?
"Talk to Jesse," the Captain said, and the Commander reached out towards the Wing Guard ad. With no real hand to touch the screen, she couldn't drag it back into place in front of him, but her pointed finger made it flicker and glow.
The words gleamed: To Protect and Serve.
It was a good motto. Solid. Strong.
Would it be so wrong, to do something for himself for a change?
He unhooked his datapad from his belt, touched the word Protect, flicked a finger, and let the ad flicker from the big screen to his small one.
Jesse knew what Gus was going to say before he said it.
Tup had the same look, when he stood before Gus, Chopper and himself and made his intent to leave known. Gus and Tup were almost as different as two brothers could be, but in the end, they were all clones with the same background, same origins, same sense of loyalty; leaving each other wasn't easy. It was another desertion, in a sense, and just as serious as leaving the GAR. It was probably part of why Chopper couldn't bring himself to stand up in front of them and announce his decision the way Tup did - Chopper was never sure exactly how much he belonged, even if he was just as much a brother as the rest of them. It was easier for him to disappear. Hopefully the d'kut had gotten it through his thick skull by now that he had friends, at least among the other three deserters. His occasional, if brief, messages about still being alive indicated that he had.
Either that or Rex and Ahsoka were haunting him into it.
Gus was too self-righteous for a disappearance. Even if he ever felt like an outsider, it wouldn't be proper protocol. That was why he had the same look of guilt, uncertainty, excitement and hope that Tup had when he stood up and pronounced he was leaving. If Jesse told him he was needed, he'd stay, regardless of what he wanted personally. He was holding his datapad in his hands, and the light from the screen was casting his face into a bright electronic glow.
It was hard to resist a smirk, but Jesse managed. His legs were dangling down into one of the access hatches built into floor, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. Their red trimmed astromech was up to its' dome in the next hatch over, scomp link slotted into the Spectral Guard's computer as it upgraded the Guard's pyrowall software. Swiping a grey rag from beside him, he began to wipe off what grease he could. It'd taken the better part of the day to get the new bank of power converters installed into the ship's ignition system. Their unexpected bonus had allowed him to make a few upgrades around the place he'd been wanting to do for weeks.
"Need something, Gus?"
Gus hesitated, deliberating, then began obliquely. "How are the upgrades going?"
Jesse scrubbed at a particularly persistent smear of grease on his arm. He really did need a shower. "Pretty well. Arthree's about done with the new pyrowall, aren't you, Arthree?"
The astromech whistled cheerfully, the scomp port turning a notch as the astromech continued its' work. Jesse grinned at the mech, then looked up at Gus, letting the indulgent smile fade into a more expectant one. "You're not here to talk about upgrades, though."
Gus looked away momentarily, took a breath and visibly braced himself, his shoulders moving back and his chin moving up. "I found a job."
Jesse set the rag aside, and toyed, momentarily, with the idea of playing dumb and asking him who their client would be, but Gus already looked plenty wound up about the idea of leaving like the others. He chuckled once, a little sadly. It would be lonely on the Guard with only Arthree for company, but he'd manage. There was always the possibility of finding another, non-brother partner to help run things, though that was an intimidating prospect, considering he would always be at least somewhat at risk of discovery by the Empire. The chuckle devolved into a heavy sigh, and he swiveled on the floor, pulling his legs out of the access hatch and standing with a small smile. He spared Gus the teasing. "Yeah, I figured." He extended a hand towards the datapad, and Gus handed it over.
The advertisement was in bold blue and gleaming yellow, the words To Protect and Serve patterned noticeably along the top. The image of a man in a security uniform stood dramatically at the bottom, hands tucked behind his back and his gaze looking proudly into the sun-and-clouds filled distance. Jesse resisted the urge to laugh. The photographed man looked just as stiff as Gus did when he was being serious - as stiff as he was in moments just like now.
"Bespin's Wing Guard, huh? Fancy yourself a cop?" He extended the datapad back.
Gus bridled a little, and Jesse waited for the man to relax a bit again. A moment later, Gus took the datapad out of Jesse's hand and held it a bit closer to his chest. "It's good work. Steady. Just a thought, though." Gus' eyes slid over towards Arthree, who was toodling quietly to itself as it worked. "Plenty to do around here, too."
And there was the heart of Gus' hesitation. Jesse folded his arms over his chest and said casually, "Yeah, maybe. There's always work around here. Still, you're right. Good work. Steady. Probably afford to eat a bit better on Cloud City than out in the black." He paused, tilted his head a bit to the side and smiled. "You'd make a good cop, Gus. Even if you'd look pretty stupid in one of those beanie hats they're wearing in the pictures."
Gus scowled at him for several long moments, then looked down at the ad and the proudly standing man. The scowl faded, and he shook his head with a wry grin. "Yeah, well, the hat'll show off my handsome face more than a bucket."
Jesse laughed. Gus was capable of humor on occasion.
He was going to be alone on the ship, save for the astromech. Jesse's smile faded into something more serious. He'd manage, but it would be so very quiet. There hadn't been a moment in his life when he hadn't had at least one brother with him. Was this what it felt like for Tup, for Chopper, and now for Gus? The prospect of being well and truly alone - no longer a part of a unit but instead an individual?
It was daunting, even if it was exciting, too.
Jesse extended a hand again, but this time, not for the datapad. Gus returned the gesture, and a hand the same size, shape and strength of his own met his palm in a firm grip. "Take care of yourself, Gus."
Gus nodded once. "I'll keep in touch." There was a slight emphasis on the "I'll," a reference to Tup's silence and Chopper's infrequent updates.
"I'm sure," Jesse returned as he released Gus' hand.
There was an awkward pause, and Gus shuffled in place once, then tucked his datapad onto his belt. "I'd better see about applying then. Get accepted to the training program and all."
"Not that it'll be hard, what with all the training you've got," Jesse said, feeling a bit of the grin return. Gus snorted and smiled a bit. That was, at least, one thing they never needed to worry about. There were plenty of dangerous people in the galaxy - and as Kaminoan clones and veterans of the Clone War, they were among those dangerous people. Gus would have no problem with the work he was setting out to do.
"I'll see you, before you take off then. Tomorrow?"
Another nod. "Was thinking around 06:00 but I'll stick around a couple extra hours if you need it."
"I'd appreciate that. I'll see you later, Jesse."
Gus paused again, turned halfway, looked over his shoulder, then turned completely away. His first step was slow, the second faster, and the third his usual brisk pace. The sound of footsteps receded down the corridor.
And Jesse found himself alone in the engineering bay.
Lights from the computer systems flickered on the walls, flashing on and off, many green, a few red, and most an idle orange, indicating that the systems were waiting to be used. The squat protrusion of the hyperdrive sat resolutely to his left, silent now that they were docked. How many hours had he spent here, in engineering, these last couple years? The Guard was his - not just because he was the last one to want to stay with her, but because of the time he's placed in caring for her. She was completely different from an Umbaran starfighter, or from a Jedi shuttle, but she was his, and she was home.
Below and to his right, Arthree whistled a query, and Jesse shook his head. "I'm alright, Arthree. Just feeling very..." he wasn't sure what he felt. At home on the Guard he felt content. This had become his place - he'd made it his. But it was quieter now, more than it'd ever been, and that didn't quite feel right either. It was just his imagination, he knew - he couldn't talk to the Guard the way Arthree could - but he imagined she was happier with her hold full of cargo and her crew quarters filled. She was emptier than she'd ever been, since he'd spotted her on the dockyard and decided this was his ship. It would be nice, in some ways, to have some quiet. He could take whatever jobs he wanted, stay at outposts and colonies as long as he needed, not worry about anyone else. He could walk through crowds unworried that too many matching faces around him would cause an alert and a chase and a capture.
He was happy for Gus, finding something he wanted to do. Jesse felt content where he was. But alone too. Turning to the side, he stepped back a little and placed a hand on the stacks of sublight engines that lined the inner hull of the Guard. Like the hyperdrive, the casings that surrounded the sublights were silent and still, cool from disuse. It'd only take a couple minutes to get them warmed up, to take them out into the clouds, then the system, then punch it out into the black.
It was the change in light that let him know he wasn't alone.
The engine room was dim, except for the glow of the small lights on panels and computers. What light there was, was a steady fluorescent glow, mostly radiating upward from the open access hatches. The softer, floating cerulean hues that slowly washed up over the walls like sunlight on water were too displaced for the engine room, or for anywhere on a starship.
"I take it you already know?" Jesse asked by way of greeting, turning around to see Rex and Ahsoka, hand in hand as always, standing just inside the archway leading out into the main corridor. Arthree gave a startled whistle, its' dome spinning back and forth between the ghosts and Jesse, and the living clone smiled down at it. "It's alright. If you finished the pyrowall, run a diagnostic on the new converters. Nothing like blowing up as soon as we try to speed up."
The droid warbled once in reluctant agreement, sensors swinging several times back and forth between the ghosts and its' owner, before settling in to work.
It was always a little amazing, to see the two ghosts. They looked just as they did the last time he saw either of them alive, albeit more in one piece, which was ironic considering they were dead. Captain Rex was standing tall and square, looking for all the world like he was about to issue orders. Commander Tano, beside him, seemed more relaxed, with a small smile playing about her lips, and a sparkle in her eyes. Jesse knew these expressions too - they usually accompanied a bit of choice information, or a tip on a lucrative job. Something was up, and it wasn't just Gus deciding to stay on Bespin.
"About Gus trying to get into the Wing Guard?" Ahsoka asked, attention momentarily sliding up towards Rex. "Yes. He needed a nudge."
Of course he did. Jesse waited for the rest of it.
Ahsoka was looking entirely too devious at the moment, her lips curving upward into a playful grin. "Think you'll be taking on some new crew?"
Their appearance after Gus' departure, the look of expectation, the suggestion of new crew...it would still be a tricky thing, taking on new crew. "Did you have someone in mind?" He asked, keeping his voice bland, even if he couldn't resist meeting Ahsoka's gaze and returning her playful expression.
Her grin pulled back into a toothy smile, and she turned her attention from him up to Rex. "Two someones," Rex told him. "Old friends, actually. They're on their way to Mandalore at the moment. Their ship's busted pretty well beyond repair, so they'll be looking for some transport for the mission we gave them."
Two someones? Mandalore? Mandalore was a wilderness these days, spewing bounty hunters out into the galaxy and causing him no end of grief in avoiding them. The name of Fett was being spoken again, in increasingly respected - and feared - tones. Though more importantly at the moment...two someones? "Who? And why Mandalore?"
The light around the ghosts intensified in pleasure, the soft blue iridescence of their spirits creeping into all corners and filling them with light. "Mandalore," Rex began, "because that's where a group of brothers have been hiding out with a fancy geneticist and a way of giving you a bit more time to roam around the galaxy."
Where Rex's words ended, Ahsoka's began. "As for who - well, I'm sure you remember the Commander of the 212th and my old friend Knight Offee."
Jesse became aware he was gaping when Ahsoka began to laugh and said to Rex with a nudge of her elbow, "I told you he'd be surprised."
Commander Cody and a Jedi Knight? Together? And alive?
"They're not expecting you yet, since we wanted to talk to you about it first," Rex said. "But there are other groups at work in the galaxy, looking to change things. Some are taking up against the Empire. Others are protecting hopes for the future. And some are looking to make things a bit easier for clones who have managed to leave the Empire."
Mandalore was a wilderness in the Outer Rim. Attempts to civilize it had failed. Even if there were bounty hunters out there looking to take him in - it could be a big planet. And if the Empire ever dared to try an occupation, they'd have a hell of a fight on their hands. In some ways, it would make a good hidey hole. Especially for some of the older clones, who had Mandalorian training sergeants on Kamino. Some might consider it a place they could adopt as a home.
And there was a Jedi alive. Another one, besides the little Togruta girl and the Jedi Master hiding on Shili. He looked at the two ghosts, incredulous. Had they saved another? And Commander Cody - Cody was well known for taking out General Kenobi. Why would a Jedi Knight be traveling with him?
Were there other Jedi then, than survived the purge? More deserters, beside Chopper, Gus, Tup and himself?
A few moments ago, he was feeling alone, adrift with only one option before him - continue drifting, working where he could and feeding himself and fueling the Guard. A decent life, if not a great one. Now, suddenly, possible futures seemed to be spreading out before him as quickly as questions. How many other brothers were there, away from the Empire? How many other Jedi survived? Who was taking up a stance against the Empire? How? What mission did Rex and Ahsoka give Commander Cody and Knight Offee? What did Rex mean by 'more time to roam around the galaxy'?
And most importantly - how could he be involved?
"What do you need me to do?"
The light around the two ghosts pulsed, tightened in closer to themselves, flickering in blue and silver, the cool shades seeming gentle and warm. "Head to Mandalore," Rex told him. "Find the Skirata clan. Help Knight Offee and Cody to deliver the serum the Skiratas have developed to Chopper, Gus, Tup - and the former trooper Tup's staying with, Cut."
"After that," Ahsoka added with a smile, stepping in towards Rex and pressing her arm against his, "well, that's your choice. Though just to warn you, Barriss and Cody are pretty well set on the whole "Let's rebel against the Empire" thing at this point."
A mission. A real mission. Not just a job, a way of feeding himself and the others for a little longer, but a real mission, with a goal and a purpose. He still didn't quite understand what the two ghosts were saying, about a serum, or why there was a Jedi working with a Jedi-killing clone commander to rebel against the Empire, but...he could make a difference again. This time, by choice. He wanted this mission, wanted to do what he was supposed to be doing all along - spending his life defending people. The Republic had failed. Failed him, failed his brothers, failed the people that had belonged to it.
But he could protect his brothers still. Could fight against not the Republic that failed him, but the Empire that betrayed him.
It felt like a new beginning, in a way. Tup, Chopper and Gus had all gone their own ways. He'd already found something of his, but his future seemed lacking when he tried to imagine it on his own.
Jedi and brothers and rebellions. It would be the start of something. Jesse wasn't sure what, but he could feel that it was. Something new was starting up. For the first time since he left Coruscant in a stolen shuttle, with three brothers and a crying little girl in the backseat, he felt something begin to stir within him.
A little bit of hope.
"I guess I have some passengers to pick up, then," he said with mock weariness. "Any more missions for me, while you're here?"
"No, I think that's all for now," Ahsoka said with equally exaggerated dismissiveness, followed by another grin.
"Good luck, Jesse," Rex added, with a more serious tone. "We'll meet you on Mandalore."
Their stances changed then, became more familiar and less formal. Rex's left hand, which gripped Ahsoka's right, switched places with his right hand, so that he could settle his left arm around her shoulders and pull her slightly closer, a proximity she did not seem adverse to. Tucking herself under his arm a bit, she fit her side into his, the upper tip of her right montral coming to a dark point just under Rex's chin. The auras of quicksilver that flowed, pooled and eddied around them seemed to merge, to glisten, to become brighter, more intense, more white, in the places where they touched.
Jesse was just a clone, nothing remotely resembling a Jedi, but in that moment he suspected he could feel what they felt. Pride, companionship, strength. During the years of their life, they'd never stood together quite like that. Now, though, they were enveloped in a light so brilliant it could light even the darkest places, and they seemed all the brighter for their togetherness.
Maybe someday he'd manage to find something like that.
The two ghosts leaned into each other so closely, light flickering intensely around them until it began to fade, their translucent forms becoming clearer and clearer, until they were nothing but a wisp of light and a memory, a warm, lingering presence in the arch leading into engineering.
Dead for years, and still fighting. It wasn't their fight - they'd earned their rest. It was up to him and others that were living to do what was right. To restore the Republic - not in its' corrupt form, but as it was meant to be.
Still, couldn't hurt to have a little supernatural help.
"Hey, Arthree? How's the diagnostic?"
A wary whistle let him know that the droid was still a bit put out by the ghosts, but also nearly done with its' work.
Jesse dropped down into the droid's access hatch and squatted, looking at the sentient-oriented interface, a small screen with a switch to activate a holographic keyboard. Small running lights ran along the floor, keeping the equipment sufficiently lit up for mechanical work. The three columned bank of power converters sat across from him, cables sprouting from their bases to run to the hyperdrive. Lightly, he placed a palm on the centermost of the three converters.
With Arthree running the diagnostic, the converters were activated. He could feel a deep vibration run up his hand, feel the hum and song of the Guard's engines against his skin.
I'm ready, let's go! The Guard seemed to say, and he patted her once, affectionately.
"A little more work," he replied, "Tomorrow. We'll start a new adventure tomorrow."
And they did.
There was snow on the ground of Mandalore.
Flakes of the stuff, loose and powdery, blustered upward and danced into the frigid air as the ship's boarding ramp lowered on wheezing hydraulics and touched the frostbitten earth. Dead grass, black and pointy, poked up through the light blanket of snow, crunching under the feet of his greeting party. They were, of course, heavily armed.
Three of them were brothers; he could tell easily enough. There was a certain walk, a certain tilt of the head, a certain confidence that their cold weather hoods and scarves, goggles or helmets could not deny. They moved smoothly as a unit, all roughly the same size and breadth under their gear. One walked more heavily than the others, more warily, hanging back a few steps and serving as rear guard. He angled himself to protect both forward and back. One pushed forward with all the clear authority of someone well acquainted with command, placing himself well in front of the others in a more aggressive pose. The third seemed to be resisting the urge to shoulder the second out of the way, indicating he was used to leading, and was, for the moment, not. The fourth was a woman, just as swathed in winter gear as the others, but her blaster was already beginning to slant down, her posture to relax, and her indigo eyes, just visible above her scarf, to soften.
Jesse kept his hands open at shoulder height, showing their emptiness. "I believe you've been expecting me?" he asked, then twitched his hands towards his own headgear in a silent request for permission.
The man in the lead nodded once, silently, and flicked the business end of his blaster in a gesture of go-ahead. Slowly, Jesse placed his hands on either side of the goggles over his eyes, and pulled them up to rest on top of his helmet. Dry, cold air rushed at his eyes and stung his skin. Then he tugged down his scarf to reveal his face.
As he suspected, it matched those of the three men. One by one, blasters were lowered, faces revealed. He didn't know the first two men, but the third, and the woman - those he knew. The former commander of the 212th had also gained years on his face. The jagged scar running down one temple stood out, puckered and dark, against winter chilled red skin. The Jedi, too, had aged, and more strangely, was absent of the distinctive tattoos he remembered, tattoos a just a little like his, in that they once covered her olive colored face. He'd have to ask her how she got rid of them. It was a pain always having to cover up his Roundel, as much as he still liked it. She smiled a little, perhaps noticing his good humor, and he returned the expression.
It only took a moment, to descend down the Spectral Guard's ramp, and hear the dead grass and snow crunch beneath his boots. A cold north wind blew through the group, but Jesse's smile didn't diminish in warmth, even after he turned his attention from the Jedi and onto his brothers.
He had questions - oh, lots of questions - about serums and plots to overthrow the Empire and how people survived and how they deserted in their own turn.
But right now, he had a mission to accomplish - or perhaps to begin.
He held out a hand. "I was told you needed a lift, Commander."
There was a long moment, when his brother hesitated. Then a gloved hand rose into the air, reached out, and clasped his.
Music for this epilogue is Diaspora Oratorio, by Bear McCreary, from the Battlestar Galactica soundtrack.
This is the last of the bonus epilogues for Ahsoka Tano and Captain Rex Are Dead. I hope you've enjoyed them.
For all who have taken the time to follow this tale to its' extended ending, my thanks.