So Grows the Man

"And I want a moment to be real/ Want to touch things I don't feel

Wanna hold on and feel I belong.

And how can the world want me to change

They're the ones that stay the same

They don't know me/ 'Cause I'm not here."

"I'm Still Here" by John Rzeznik

Kamino, Tipoca City, 25 BBY

When Wrench reentered the pristine white world that was Tipoca City, he had to stop and blink a few times for his eyes to readjust to the disturbingly bright lights. He had spent the past four hours in grueling exercise under the watchful eye of Walon Vau and his strill, Lord Mirdalan. Another rousing punishment detail courtesy of Fett, incurred after Wrench had sabotaged Tipoca's central chrono software. For a city as reliant on technology and automated systems as Tipoca, accurate time was everything. The chrono software told other systems when to initiate automatic upgrades, scan the pyrowalls protecting Kamino's sensitive data, or share data. It was the center of controlling some of the most complex systems down to the most simple, like the lighting controls or deployment of servo-droids. Basically, Wrench had effectively thrown Tipoca into utter chaos for a good eleven hours simply by screwing around with a few clocks. And it had been fun.

It would take the Kaminoans weeks, if not months, to retrieve data that had been lost due to the systems failing to perform an automated backup. Similarly, masses of streamed data had been corrupted during erratic power surges and blackouts. While the fun had lasted, every clone in Tipoca had been confined to the barracks, with nothing to occupy them. Their first idle day since they had been decanted. The fact that Fett had fingered Wrench as the culprit on no more than a gut feeling, added to Wrench's pleasure about the successful sabotage. He was getting good at this. Really good, if not even Fett could find proper evidence of his involvement.

A shiver ran through his body and dispelled the pleasant memory. He was drenched from the constant rain that made up Kamino's weather. And being dressed in nothing but your underwear did not help the matter. His toes and fingers were numb. Rubbing his arms for a brief moment, he quickly stepped out of the small puddle forming around his bare feet and made his way back to the barracks. He fought the urge to tuck his hands beneath his armpits to warm his fingers. He did not want Fett seeing him shivering and weak from the cold, the wind, the rain and Vau's creative take on 'exercise'.

Getting to the barracks without meeting too many people – clone, Kaminoan or training sergeant – he was struck by their emptiness. Where was everyone? He scanned the rows of sleeping bunkers, but the indicator lights were all green. So, no one sleeping yet. With another shiver from cold, he put the absence of the other ARCs from his mind and hurried over to his locker, bare feet slapping against the cold durasteel ground. Punching in his authorization code, Wrench quickly gathered the small pouch containing his hygienic kit, a towel and his fatigues, then made his way to the barrack's refresher. Halfway there, the 'fresher doors suddenly opened and the rest of the ARCs piled out, laughing and talking among themselves. Well, one mystery solved.

Seeing him, some of the ARCs stared while others quickly looked away or pretended not to see him. Wrench didn't care; all he wanted right now was a hot shower and some hours of uninterrupted sleep.

Close to the 'fresher's entrance, he came face-to-face with Alpha, Nate and Fordo. Fett's little golden boys. A few others, Maze, Spar and Sull among them, accompanied the three. Not exactly the elite of the Alpha-series, but close enough to be tolerated by the three who did hold that august title. Alpha, dressed in his bodysuit, crossed his arms over his chest, a wide, mocking smile on his face.

"Well, well. Look what the aiwha dragged in." He carefully looked Wrench up and down, taking in the mottled, bruised state of his skin, the rainwater dripping from his scalp and his general state of undress. "Back from another extra set of punishment rounds, I see. So happy you could rejoin us." There was no missing the sarcastic tone of the words. Not that Wrench was surprised by this general lack of brotherly affection. To put it simply, he and Alpha did not get along.

"As eager as I am to participate in this stunning display of conversational wit, I have better things to do," Wrench drawled back. "Like self-amputation." He made to move passed the other clone, but Fordo stretched out an arm to stop him. Wrench whirled on the ARC, ready for a fight. He was tired, cold and aching and not in the mood for exchanging more verbal blows. Physical blows, at least, had the satisfaction of ending an argument right then and there.

"You'll need this," Fordo said, and handed him a small packet. Wrench took it, turning it over in his hand, before looking back at Fordo.

"Is it going to explode?" He asked, only half joking.

There was an exacerbated snort from Sull. "It's your new shaving kit, you di'kut."

Shaving? One hand came up to touch the skin around his mouth and chin. There was the distinctive rasp of hairs, whiskers being the term, if he remembered correctly. Though technically only seven, all of the clones were already racing through the developmental stage one of their instructors had termed 'puberty'. The sudden growth of extra facial hair had been a part of that. Looking at the others, he noticed for the first time that the bottom half of their faces was free of excess hair, the skin smooth and a little more pink than usual.

Maze spoke up next. "Fett was showing us how this afternoon, while you were…" he trailed off, not sure how to classify exactly what Wrench had been doing. None of the others had been told why he was being punished. The Kaminoans didn't want to admit that a mere clone had breached some of their highest security codes and Fett hadn't actually uncovered any evidence implicating Wrench in the affair. Besides, Wrench receiving extra punishment was such a routine occurrence by now that the others no longer bothered to ask what, if anything, he had done to deserve it.

"While I was doing calisthenics with Vau." Wrench finished for Maze, hefting the shaving kit in his hand. It didn't feel too heavy and would easily fit into the pouch along with his other hygienic gear.

Alpha clapped him on the shoulder, the blow producing a wet, fleshy smacking sound. It hurt, but Wrench kept his face still. "Good luck with that," he said, casting an amused eye at the shaving kit, then sauntered off back to his bunker.

"Maybe we should..." Colt began, but someone jabbed an elbow into his side and the ARC trailed off. The others began to move past Wrench, following Alpha back to the sleeping bunkers and leaving him standing in front of the 'freshers. Maze and Colt gave him what could have been sympathetic glances, but no one said anything else.

"Kriffing shabla osik." The Mando'a expletives, along with a few choice others in varying languages, slipped from Wrench's tongue before he could stop them. He threw the razor into the sink with a frustrated cry and regarded his face in the mirror mounted above. Tilting his head slightly to the side, he grimaced as he saw the thin line of blood snake its way down his throat from his chin.

Figuring out how to shave his face was proving harder than he had initially anticipated and he didn't understand why. He was an expert with a knife, could throw one even over a long distance with high accuracy, yet his face was becoming a study in shallow cuts from three short blades mounted in a plastic frame.

He turned on the faucet and splashed some cold water on the cut. He watched as the bloody water ran back into the sink, past the razor still lying there. His throat tightened, his eyes began to burn and with horror he realized he was about to cry.

"Don't be so frakking stupid," he muttered to himself. "That's just what he wants." To control the impulse, he bit into his hand, using the pain as a distraction until the tightness in his throat and the burning in his eyes had passed. Crying didn't get you anywhere. Crying never helped. He knew that perfectly well. After all, he'd wasted enough tears in his earlier years.

Letting his hand drop, he inspected the indentations of his teeth in the flesh, before looking back into the mirror. Carefully, he examined his face once more. Shaving along his cheeks had actually been pretty easy. He had sharp cheekbones, but the contours were relatively even and flat and Wrench knew exactly how much pressure needed to be applied to a blade in order to break the skin beneath. His first real trouble had come when he had tried shaving along the right side of his mouth, where his distinctive scar stretched from his mouth's corner up to the cheek itself. The scar had healed rather well, but the skin there remained slightly paler and raised from the rest. That's where he had cut himself the first time. The next difficult areas had been his chin and the space between his nose and upper lip. There were more thin cuts there now, as well.

Wrench's tongue darted out, catching a few droplets of blood trailing down his lips. The coppery tang was mixed with the artificial and chemical taste of the shaving cream. He grimaced at the taste, then let the expression deepen at the sight of his face in the mirror. None of the others had looked like they had gone three rounds with a drunken barber droid. This shaving business was obviously harder than he had first thought. Maybe he should ask one of them for help. Maze might do it or Spar. Spar would probably be his best bet. Alpha-02 appeared to become less and less enchanted with the clones lifestyle the more they learned about their future roles in the Republic. Maze was a straight shooter, but Spar seemed to grow more open to breaking the rules every now and then. Such as helping Fett's whipping boy to keep from lobbing off his nose, he thought grimly. Or Colt. Colt was always going on about the principles of Vode An and he'd seemed willing before...

In a sudden burst of anger he snarled and pushed himself away from the sink. No! No, no and no again. He would not ask for help. Never! He was an ARC, a one-man army, and he did not need help in completing a task. Not even from a fellow ARC. Besides, none of them had offered their help before and he would not go asking for it now. It would just be too humiliating.

He grabbed his towel from one of the benches lining the 'fresher and vigorously scrubbed his face free of the excess shaving cream. The motion reopened those shallow cuts that had already begun to clot, but he didn't care. Blood he knew how to deal with.

Throwing the towel over his shoulder, Wrench returned to the sink and picked up the small razor again. He looked at it carefully, then examined his face for what stubble his first clumsy attempts had missed. There were still some hairs on his chin and he had yet to shave the area beneath, where his neck began.

He carefully applied a small amount of the shaving cream to the area, ignoring the brief flair of pain as the chemicals in the cream interacted with his open cuts. Taking a deep breath, he carefully applied the razor to his chin, drawing it down in carefully, stuttering movements; stopping occasionally to readjust the pressure he was applying as the contours of his face changed. He worked carefully and meticulously, taking his time and stopping every now and then to rest his arms, trembling from their previous abuse with Vau.

He was even more careful when he started shaving along his throat, tilting his head to create as smooth and flat a surface as he could to draw the razor over. Bleeding out because he had cut through his jugular would simply be too ignominious a death.

When he was done, he washed his face in cold water and carefully examined his work. He had added no new cuts to his face. He grinned in triumph and meticulously repacked his hygienic pouch, adding the shaving kit to its contents. Perhaps patience did pay off, from time to time; like waiting for the perfect shot in sniper training.

Surprisingly, he felt older now, not physically but in a more insubstantial way. For the first time in his life he had accomplished a task without anyone, trainer or flash training, to previously show him how to do it. He had learned something on his own. He rubbed a palm over one side of his face, felt the smooth skin there and knew that what he felt were the beginnings of manhood. And he had found his way there all by himself.

That made him proud and he ruthlessly suppressed that small voice that told him he also felt lonely. Let the others follow Fett's lead like blind nuna. He would find his own way; he'd just proven that he could.