Captain Rex and the Last Cheese Pretzel
Part Three: Satisfaction
It was Torrent Company's final day in Coronet City and Rex was hungry.
Standing guard just outside the shadow cast by the covered walkway beside the convention center, he watched as Jesse and Tup, holding their position a few meters away, scanned the crowd that had congregated in the plaza across the street from their location. Kix and Coric were somewhere inside the center, as were – he thought, anyway – General Skywalker, Ahsoka, and most of the rest of Torrent. Fives and Cody...well, he wasn't sure where they were right now, but they could handle themselves.
A flare of annoyance passed through Rex at the memory of his brothers' conversation with him a few days ago, and he exhaled through his nose in irritation. A problem. No kriffing way.
As he'd told them all, he was fine. He was certainly not addicted – or whatever nonsense they'd cooked up – to a snack-food, no matter how deliciously warm and cheesy it may have been. The very idea was laughable.
As for the insinuation that he was somehow in less-than-optimal form because of said "addiction..."
Beneath his bucket, Rex frowned and swept his eyes across his surroundings again. He stood at the edge of the convention center, before a length of steep steps that descended into a sidewalk, then the darting lanes of the traffic of the roundabout that encircled a lush, well-tended garden. Beyond the garden, he could see that the plaza that was slowly filling with more and more people. A query to his HUD's database indicated that it was some kind of banking holiday in the city, so many of the civilians were apparently out and about this afternoon; if he zoomed his HUD across the lanes of speeder traffic, the garden and the crowded plaza, he could see the rows of vendors selling food to hungry customers.
Rex swallowed. It had been a very, very long time since breakfast and he'd been too busy for lunch. Perhaps if he took his bucket off, he'd be able to catch the scent of- No, he thought abruptly, turning his back to the plaza and glancing at his men. I do not have a problem with...this. With anything. The others may have my best interest at heart, but they're wrong.
Addicted to cheese pretzels, of all things. He was only glad that neither the General nor the Commander seemed to have picked up on his brothers' ridiculous notion.
Rex's stomach grumbled as if it, too, was annoyed, and he watched as Tup and Jesse's backs straightened under his gaze. Torrent had done their job well; the 238th Intergalactic Amity Conference was nearly done and they would all return to the Resolute – to normalcy – tomorrow. Then he could put this whole affair behind him.
An hour passed. Then another.
As evening approached, the bright sky began to darken, though the crowd in the plaza seemed only to grow more numerous and Rex heard the beginnings of some type of live musical band begin to play nearby. Following this, he caught Tup standing on tiptoe as if trying to see the band, though the moment the captain's visor fell on the younger clone, Tup snapped to attention and looked back at the convention center.
Good lad, Rex thought as he gave a quick nod. He knew that much of the mission had been tedious for some of the younger guys, and that these final hours were likely to be the toughest to weather, especially for a near-shiny like Tup.
Certainly not for a seasoned veteran like himself.
Rex's stomach rumbled again. He sighed inwardly and tried to calculate how long he had until it was time for dinner rations, bland and tasteless as he knew they'd be...hours, yet, the way things were going. His left hand skimmed the pouch on his belt as he studied the walls of the conference center for the eighteenth time this hour. He knew he had a few credits left. It wasn't much money, but it would be enough.
Despite himself, Rex sighed, then cast another look across the plaza even as his empty stomach gurgled almost plaintively. The zoom on his HUD allowed him to get a good look at the crowds, the band that was starting to warm up with some melody he'd never heard, and the rows of food-vendors...one in particular.
If he looked very closely, he could see the glowing sign, standing out like a beacon among the growing darkness in the sky and the artificial lights that flooded the plaza.
KOR VELLA TWISTS: They're Delicious!
It took all of his self-control to resist rubbing at his far-too empty stomach even as his mouth began to water at the memory: warm breading, so soft it nearly melted on his tongue; the smooth, creamy taste of the cheese creating a delicious counterpoint to the tang of the pretzel's salty seasoning; the combined tastes and textures filling his mouth with a veritable ordnance-round of wonderfulness.
Rex's gloved hands tightened into fists at his sides. You're better than this. You're a captain, for Force's sake! It's just food. You're fine. You don't have a problem...just don't give in to temptation.
Don't prove them right.
An angry snarl from his stomach met his ears, but he held his position and did not move towards the source of the food. Instead, he frowned while he attempted to put his thoughts in order. Logically, he knew that his mouth was watering for the same reason his stomach was growling: he was hungry. It'd been a long time since he'd eaten last and although Rex was no medic, he well understood the Human body's physiological responses to hunger, which was all that this craving was. Nothing more.
Satisfied at his rationalization, Rex nodded to himself. Since he was obviously able to resist the temptation of the cheese pretzels – well, what minuscule amount there was to be had – he'd proved his brothers' argument of him being "addicted" wrong.
Now he could turn his mind to their other claim.
Less-than-optimal form, my shebs. Rex gave a snort of disgust at the idea as he glanced back across the plaza, his eyes automatically falling on the familiar kiosk that most certainly held no allure for him, not even a little bit. While their "intervention" had not been anywhere near mutiny, or even insubordination, it was irksome to think that the others – Cody, of all people – thought he was letting himself go, or whatever nonsense they'd decided.
I've a mind to show them that Captain Rex is in optimal form, he thought as he studied the crowd, the lanes of traffic, and the garden that lay between himself and the plaza. More than optimal, actually. Perfect. One-hundred, kriffing percent.
Another growl from his stomach cut into his thoughts, but he fought his hunger back to its proper place at the back of his attention, because he had more pressing matters on his mind. From a certain point of view, Rex was well within his rights to prove them wrong, simply because so much was riding on his reputation as Captain of Torrent Company, of the famed 501st Legion.
It was his duty to counter-act even a whisper that he wasn't operating at peak efficiency, even if it was just for his own peace of mind.
His duty. It was his duty to show that he was completely and totally unaffected and not distracted or tempted in any way, by anything, especially not by the continued – it hadn't really stopped, had it? – grumbling of his stomach and the near-physical pull of his attention to a glowing sign and the memory of warm cheese.
But how could he show such a thing? Again, he swept his eyes across the surrounding area, noting that Tup and Jesse had adjusted their positions so that they were to one side of a marble column at the edge of the convention center, somewhat out of his immediate line of sight. He considered calling them back to where he could see them, but then his stomach gave a particularly violent snarl and his body made the decision to move before his mind condoned the action.
It happened so quickly that he didn't have time to note the fact that no other brothers were nearby to witness his display of one-hundred percent, optimal-condition, captainly maneuvering.
Six steps, so smooth that they were essentially one fluid movement, brought him to the base of the stairs, and he wasn't even a little winded. Before him, the traffic from the roundabout zoomed by, the sound of rushing air not quite snuffed by the dampers in his bucket, so he took a moment to survey the area, setting the tactical portion of his brain to the next phase of his impromptu mission.
The sheer number of speeders, hover-buses and other assorted vehicles racing past him meant that it would be impractical – not to mention dangerous – to attempt to cross the road from his current position. There was no crosswalk that he could see, but therewas a pedestrian bridge that curved over the roundabout, leading people from the gardens to the convention center. Though generally conveniently located, this particular bridge ended about ten meters to the right of his current location, and an assessment with his HUD revealed that the arched, scrolling durasteel frame rested about six point five meters above his head.
Across the plaza, the pretzel stand's sign flickered as if the stand was about to close for the evening; his breath caught, but he exhaled in the next moment when the glowing sign remained intact.
All this his brain absorbed within a matter of seconds. Once he'd done so, Rex's mind began racing through the calculations while his hands began to tug his fibercord launcher-cable free of his belt, because it was really an unwise move to dart across the traffic when he had such a perfectly sound and reasonable option available to him as crossing above the obstacle.
Besides, it'd be so much faster, this way.
Decision made, Rex bent his knees to absorb the kickback from firing the launcher, aimed the cable's end at a sturdy-looking section of the bridge's underside, and pushed the release. The hooked end soared above a hover-bus and caught; he gave a tug to ensure that the cable was secure. When he was certain that it would hold, he took one last look at the pretzel stand, still glowing brightly in the fading light, and jumped.
It was the kind of action that required split-second timing, as he had to retract the cable just enough to allow him to pass over the traffic without slamming his head into the bridge, and give himself room to land on the other side. Luckily, Rex was in top-form – no matter what anyone else thought – and he executed the maneuver with his usual efficiency. Tucking his knees into his armored chest, Rex swooped over the rushing lines of speeders and hover-buses, a part of his brain evaluating the information that his HUD was feeding him about his current location while another part remained fixed on his goal.
As he landed – neatly and with textbook-perfect form – on the sidewalk on other side of the street, his stomach let out another fierce snarl, so he surveyed the next phase of his route.
One of the great things about having a tactical-leaning brain as the clones had been granted was that no minute was ever spent in idleness. Even when standing at his post, ensuring the safety of those who remained inside the convention center, Rex had spent the last few days studying the layout of the garden – what he could make out from the center, anyway – so he already had a pretty good idea of how he'd achieve this portion of his mission.
Perhaps someone had designed this garden to be a thing of beauty, but Rex's mind broke down the numerous bushes, hedges and flower-patches into a series of obstacles to be overcome, and within a heartbeat he sprang forward, heading for the low stone wall that served as a barrier between the street and the garden proper. One leap, barely a flexing of his calves – how's that for optimal condition, Kix? – and he was over the wall; another leap carried him, (most of the way), over a somewhat taller, manicured layer of hedge resting just past the stone wall.
Okay, the hedge was more than somewhat taller than the wall, as he didn't quite make it over with the same, fluid grace he'd managed with said wall, but that was okay. Rex landed – still textbook-perfect, mind you – and ignored the dozens of tiny leaves that he'd knocked off of the hedge and managed to catch in the spaces between his armor and his body-glove. They began to itch immediately, but there would be time to clean his kit later.
Ahead of him, the rest of the garden loomed, somehow seeming thick as any jungle despite its manicured state, but Rex was not deterred. If anything, the gnawing, roiling growls rumbling through his stomach propelled him forward with even more determination than before, and so he set about making his way through the miasma of shrubbery that lay ahead.
It was easier said than done.
There was definitely a plan to the garden, for in his previous surveillance, Rex had been able to note the delineation of paved walkways and layered flower bushes, all of which seemed designed to create a serene, winding sort of path through the area.
However, Rex was on a mission and there was no time for serenity, so he allowed simple logic to prevail and plunged straight through the nearest flower-bush, something large and purple with dozens of petals on each of its many, many flowers. For one moment, Rex was blinded by purple as his legs carried him through the bush, so that when he sprang out the other end, he didn't see the pond.
In retrospect, he should've remembered that there was a pond here, for he'd noticed the gleam of sunlight on water in days previous, but apparently he'd misplaced the memory. Rex leaped out of the flower-bush in what was surely an explosion of bright, purple petals and emerald leaves, and landed with a splash – and in a most uncaptainly manner – in the pond, displacing a trio of Corellian mallards who honked at him in protest as he scrambled to his feet.
It wasn't a deep pond, but he was thoroughly soaked; the leaves that had gotten caught in his armor and had not been washed away by the water were now fixed within his suit, poking at him through the fabric, itself now starting to pinch at other parts of his body.
But he was that much closer to his goal.
Rex shoved aside his discomfort and continued rushing forward. One...two...three strides and he sloshed clear of the pond and the mallards, scrambling to shore and making a direct heading towards the other side of the garden, now in plain sight. In the background, he could hear the band's song increase tempo, the music adding a layer of rhythm to his movements. Beyond the garden's edge, across the plaza, he could still make out the stand, and for one moment he allowed the memory of warm, melted cheese to inspire his steps to quicken further still.
Only one obstacle remained: the other end of the garden, at which there was a row of bushes cut into the shapes of various animals he vaguely recognized. After that, it would be a simple matter of making his way through the crowded plaza, and his mission would be a success, so Rex ducked his shoulders and darted across the winding path, ignoring what sounded like a gasp from an onlooker.
Focus, he told himself as he brushed past a group of slack-jawed civilians who'd been in this section of the garden. Your mission comes above all other things.
The topiary was a bantha, or so he figured by the curving, spiraled horns at its "head," but in truth Rex hardly paid it much mind, save a lightning-fast assessment of how best to traverse the obstacle. It was too tall to jump, so he dove forward and commando-rolled beneath the bantha's legs, popping out the other side and taking his feet with an ease that – he knew – would put even an ARC to shame.
Still got it. As if there was ever any doubt.
Now, the plaza.
Pausing for one moment, (and ignoring the way his chest was heaving perhaps a bit more than it should have), the captain surveyed the mass of beings in front of him with dismay. When had so many people accumulated here? Surely there hadn't been this many before?
No matter. Rex's jaw tightened with resolve and he ignored the gurgling keen from his stomach as he began to approach the steps that led to the plaza, his soaking kama leaving droplets of water in his wake and his boots making a squelching sound against the pavement.
At first he tried to be polite as he moved through the crowd, but after a few gaping looks from the civvies – surely they'd be used to the presence of the clones by now? – he gave up the pretense and instead focused on finding the best way to take each step: ducking under lifted arms, sliding around twisting torsos, and artfully dodging anyone else who got in his way. The song that the band was playing was loud, with a strong, thumping bass-line that further fueled the sense of urgency he'd felt, and he bit back his frustration as his passage through the crowd became harder and harder.
Finally, finally, he broke free of the crowd – almost shoving through a tightly-packed band of young women who exclaimed in surprise at his intrusion – and found himself standing a few meters before San-the-vendor and his cart of deliciousness. The elder Corellian man gave Rex a somewhat odd look as he handed a pretzel to a young boy whose mother seemed a bit alarmed at the Captain's sudden appearance, but Rex didn't paid them any mind. Instead, he straightened his spine and strode the final few steps as casually as he could manage, even as his still-wet boots made that annoying squeaking-noise.
He nodded to the boy and his mother, then glanced at San as he reached in his belt for the credit-chip. "One with everything, please."
As Rex was digging out the chip, San gave a low whistle and the area around Rex grew ominously dim. Looking up in alarm, Rex saw that the brightly glowing sign that had acted as a beacon was now gone, and the stand was bathed in darkness. "Sorry, young man," San-the-vendor said, giving Rex an apologetic look. "Just sold the last one. I was actually about to close up shop for the day."
Just sold the last...?
Rex blinked, and his stomach let out a plaintive burble of disbelief. "Sold out?"
San gestured to the glass case, which Rex could now see was totally devoid of pretzels, and his breath caught. As if it would be any different with his own eyes looking upon the case, Rex tugged off his helmet, ignoring the shower of purple petals that fluttered to the ground with the action, and he looked between San and the empty case. Maybe he'd heard wrong. The music was very loud, after all. "You're sure, sir?"
"Positive." San flashed Rex a look that the captain didn't know how to read, then cleared his throat. The band must have finished its tune, for the music stopped and Rex heard the next words with all-too-perfect clarity. "Er...I'll have more tomorrow."
But Rex wouldn't be here, tomorrow! Tomorrow, he'd be back on the Resolute, flying far, far away from Coronet City and its KOR VELLA TWISTS.
No, no, no...
Rex opened his mouth, but he didn't know what he was going to say, so only a strangled, choking sort of sound came out.
"Sorry, son," the vendor was saying as Rex fought the urge to collapse to his knees in frustration. "If only you'd gotten here a few minutes earlier..."
With that, San-the-vendor slid the kiosk's cover shut, and Rex was left staring at cold, empty metal that did nothing to appease his snarling stomach. All thoughts of his mission fled his mind, and his mouth hung open a little in sheer disbelief that he'd been defeated by circumstance.
There was a clatter as his bucket fell to the ground, and as if of their own accord, Rex's fists balled and lifted up to either side of his head, as if they were about to slam into his skull because. It. Was. Wrong.
It was unfair and it was so much worse after all he'd come through just to prove himself; he still had leaves stuck in his suit, for Force's sake, and he was still so kriffing hungry.
Someone with a voice that sounded like his shouted as if in agony at the wrongness of the whole situation. "NOOOOO!"
However, the moment was fleeting, for in the next breath he heard a familiar voice speaking his name. "You okay, Rexter?"
Snapping his mouth shut and whirling around, Rex watched as Ahsoka – of all people – seemed to materialize out of the crowd, one of her hands behind her back. She came over to him and furrowed her brow lines as she looked him over. "Um...why are you soaking wet and covered in leaves?"
"Recon," he managed to choke out. "Er...full perimeter sweep of the area."
A smile quirked at her lips. "Did you happen to get attacked by purple flowers while you were on recon?"
Trying to regain at least a semblance of composure, Rex took a breath to fight back the swell of embarrassment that heated his entire face as he replied. "No...I'm fine, Commander."
"Of course you are," she replied with a solemn nod that was belied by a sparkle in her eyes. "Anyway, I tracked you down because you always work so hard, and I thought you deserved a treat. Here," she added, moving her hand from behind her back and thrusting a familiar, flimsi-wrapped package his way.
Within it was something wonderful, something creamy, cheese-filled, warm, doughy and delicious. She still appeared to be fighting back a smile, but he was past caring as he stared at the package, disbelief and pure, undiluted joy warring within him. "You're in luck," she added with a grin. "I think I got one of the last ones."
Later, he hoped he'd remembered to thank her, because once the first bite of pretzel filled his mouth, Rex was at a loss for words.
Victory never tasted so wonderful.
For a soundtrack to this fic, remove the spaces and follow this link: www. nooooooooooooooo.com
This was ridiculously fun to write, (almost as fun as CVI was to attend!) and I hope it was fun to read as well! :)