Cody put a hand on Rex’s shoulder.
“What is it?” he asked quietly.
The captain’s gaze flicked irritably to his, and the commander felt himself recoil from the abrasion in that stare.
The orange emblazoned clone’s frown deepened.
“Rex….you know they’re all not like—”
“Like what, Cody?” the 501st trooper interrupted. “Bad?”
Rex gave a bitter laugh.
“You of all people should know better.”
“I’ve served under General Kenobi for this entire war,” said Cody, a warning edge in his voice. “And I have never had my trust betrayed by him. Not once.”
The captain shook his head smiling incredulously.
“You are so blind.”
Rex’s lip curled in sudden disgust.
“He left you to DIE on Kooriva—”
Seeing the commander open his mouth in protest, the clone stabbed a finger at him.
“—Don’t think for one second I didn’t pay attention to that detail, commander!” he shouted, shaking his head. “I heard what he did to you. I heard about Rattatak. What you had to go through, all those other battles, all those meek remarks just to keep his name clean.”
He took a breath, a sad light growing in the captain’s eyes.
“It’s no wonder nobody likes you outside your own legion, they all think you’re as stiff and lifeless as a corpse because you never take credit for anything!”
There was a small silence before Cody spoke, a wan smile on his face.
“Since when have I cared about if I have a fan club or not?”
Rex’s eyes bored into him, but the sullen trooper said nothing.
“You think I should argue with him? Complain about the mistakes he’s made?” asked the 212th trooper neutrally. “Now when he’s so tied up with what’s going on with the war and being on the Jedi Council? It’s past, Rex. There’s no use bringing it back up—”
“—You’re going to wait until you’re dead as dirt?” spat Rex, suddenly full of hot rage.
Cody blinked in surprise. His brother had never been so hateful before, not during training and even his boyhood. A wave of sadness made the room echo away from him and time slow.
What was this war doing to them?
He steeled himself though. Let Rex vent some much needed stress onto him, someone who could actually listen and offer a good solution in the end.
“I’m going to wait until the war is over,” he said gently. “Take things slowly. He’s still got to see the fact that we’re people who deserve an equal chance at life. It’s the stress making him forget. They’re not as cool headed in battle as we are, you know this, Rex. Jedi weren’t made for war. It stresses them out too much they cease to function to their full potential. They were made for solving smaller, less complex or multi-dimensional problems like those presented in war.”
He placed his hand back on the captain’s shoulder, willing his logic to connect with the trooper. But Rex shrugged him off, pacing away only to spin a second later, the angry light still flashing in his eyes.
“Then why are we dying for them?”
Rex flung a hand at the door to the comm. room.
“If they aren’t built for war then why in star’s name are THEY KRIFFING FIGHTING IN IT!!!?”
Cody took a deep breath to steady himself.
Nobody is built for war.
“They want to help—”
“—‘They want to help’…,” the captain echoed. “Kiss my kriffing—”
“—Just because of Krell and what happened on Umbara doesn’t mean that all Jedi are beyond aid,” stated Cody, his voice one notch away from a shout.
He had said it.
Now he wished he could take back those words. But he couldn’t, and something in him felt relieved to remind the captain that Umbara was nothing compared to Jabiim. On Umbara they had a reason to kill Krell. Jabiim, on the other hand, you couldn’t kill the people who were technically still on your side. He was reminded that the 501st captain still hadn’t connected the power of fear as the main motivator behind the corruption of their leaders and brothers.
Rex’s eyes flashed, the captain always liked a good fight, and the clone commander had fallen into the trap.
“You weren’t there,” the trooper growled, walking forward, lip curling in disgust. “You didn’t see your own men slaughtered by that monster.”
“He’s not a monster, Rex,” said Cody evenly, fighting to control his voice. Rex always had a way with pushing his buttons, making him lose his composure. Maybe it was the clone’s ignorance of his ignorance that upset Cody. “He’s a sentient being. He had reasons for betraying us that we can deduce from his very words.”
“He was a Jedi.”
“They’re not supposed to!”
The 501st clone’s lip trembled.
“They’re only beings!” barked Cody. “They make mistakes and descend into corruption too!”
“But they’re supposed to be better than that!” shouted the captain.
“Well they’re not!”
Rex’s eyes narrowed to slits and became cold with fury.
“You weren’t there. You didn’t see them die, how they were crushed…. He laughed.”
“I lost men too, Rex!” cried Cody, anguish squeezing his throat, making his eyes burn. “Don’t you think that I felt the same horror that you did? Carrying those dead bodies…..?The galaxy isn’t a just place, Rex. It never was. It doesn’t take a whole lot to set a person down the wrong path.”
He took a breath, studying the captain’s glowering face.
“I think you’ve finally seen this, but do you really understand it? We can’t just kill and kill and kill because we’ve been treated badly. We have to keep going, following the right path, no matter how hard it is. Because in the end that’ll make all the difference.”
Rex looked back up at him, an odd light in his eyes.
“Always think you know the answer don’t you?” murmured the captain, his voice almost mocking. “Goody-goody Commander Cody, always taking the hits for the team. Always so humble. Not a word about how he miraculously survived a two hundred foot fall or a durasteel blade being slammed into his head hard enough to chip the fragging thing. Nope, not a single word that would make you seem more enduring than the Generals. So when the war’s over you and the Jedi can be goody-goody friends together.”
Rex smirked and gave a hollow laugh.
“I know what you are,” the blue clone said, eyes glinting. “I’ve seen those odd little gaps where you’ve gone off the radar. What you did to your chip in order to get that number off of it. Those missing products from the medical archive.”
The captain began to advance on Cody, the strange look building in his eyes.
“Ten feet of stitching, eight pounds of bacta, vials, syringes galore, the droids noticing an odd residue of, let’s see, bota on the inside of a spent sharp….Where did they go, Cody? Who was using them?”
The commander began to back away, unnerved by what Rex had discovered.
“I’ve read the morgue reports. People killed by a ‘Shadow’. Right before Merson,” continued the clone, his voice growing louder and louder.
“Right before Kooriva too. Criminals scared out of their minds by some soundless Thing that prowls the Underworld, hunting down people because they hacked a Republic database for thirteen minutes. Which led to the Seps somehow paying them to find out how many guys were being sent where and when. No traceable gun wounds. Just that good ol’ straight right to the neck to kill them instantly, eh? Efficient as always. A good deal of them showed up at the jail, as that’s how I was able to figure all this out. But most of the time they killed themselves they were so scared.”
Rex laughed again.
“Women who look out their windows to find this black garbed thing sitting on their fire escape ladders, listening to their husbands or sons complaining about the war. How when it sees them it’s there and then it’s gone. Melted into the shadows. Almost like it was never there to begin with. Oh I know, Cody, I know!”
He recoiled from his brother and the mad light in the captain’s eyes. It was that same strange, wild eagerness he had seen before on another face. Eagerness fed by fear and desperation.
“You’re good. You’re really good. Just like he trained you to be. They think you’re their friend, Cody. They would never suspect goody-two-boots Cody to take such deep matters into his own little, clean hands,” laughed Rex, his eyes blazing. “You’ve done it before. You are so good that I had to work years to piece all this together. And if I didn’t know who you were before…..well, I would never have been able to even guess it was you.”
“They’d never know. They’ve been infiltrated before. They’re too busy trying to prove it’s not one of their own to see who’s really behind it and why. There’s got to be a loop in their security somewhere…..”
“Rex, what are you saying?” breathed Cody, finally putting together what his brother was suggesting.
“Do it. Put on the armor. I know you still have it….,” Rex said, suddenly pleading with him. “Save us, Cody. Save us, your brothers. Who cares about the Jedi anymore? They don’t care about you!”
Then more determinedly, the clone captain shook the 212th trooper by his shoulders.
“Bring the same justice to them as you did those other monsters who killed our friends, our brothers!”
Cody backed away, sickness twisting in his gut. It wasn’t until now that he had truly seen what really lay beneath the surface of his own being, the deep shadow. What he had allowed himself to become for his own sense of purpose. The darkness, testing his intelligence outside of war, and taking things into his own hands. Bringing judgment upon those who he discovered had truly deserved it. The strange pride it gave him when he eliminated all corruption he could find, all the loopholes those criminals had slipped through, using his pre-created anonymity.
But had those decisions really been right? Hadn’t he disrupted entire families’ lives by hunting the gang members and informants that made them up? How many lives had he torn into without complete reason? True, he had found every clue, every fact available to prove their guilt, but what about the consequences? He hadn’t heard about the men committing suicide in the jails.
He began to tremble.
What have I done?
He suddenly felt old. His side clenched painfully. He felt the scarred nerves tingle and the muscle begin its throbbing convulsions.
The clone commander sat wearily in a chair, forcing himself to face his brother. The man he had fought and trained beside. The man who had once been a model to some of the clones who had ended up in his legion. Rex the steadfast, eager, straight-backed soldier. He had such high hopes for this captain, especially since the events of Merson had resolved the story of Alpha. He had watched how brightly he had risen. He had been at the epitome of everything Alpha had every taught him. Rex had been becoming a better leader, a better man than Cody.
And now he was watching him fall.
The Kaminoans hadn’t been wrong. CC-2224 was defective. Defective against everything he was supposed to be. They had made him nameless and he had chosen a name. They had made him heartless and yet he sought love and friendship. They had made him fearful and selfish and he had instead become merciful and selfless. They had made him numb to foresight yet he strove to calculate and understand every motive he could. They had made him inhuman and he fought to become human. And now that this deviance had infected Rex, he could see the full extent of his own failings. Clones weren’t meant to be this way.
“I will not spy on the Jedi,” he said, emphasizing each word. A sudden fear that the room was bugged sending panic down deep into his gut.
If the Generals knew what had been said just now, he would be court marshaled. And everything he had ever done spelled execution. He knew what they had thought of him before, all those years ago on Kamino, when his name had still been a mystery. They had called him dangerous.
It had taken a month of torture, a knife to his forehead, a stake through his side, risking his reputation by revealing his true name, blood and sweat and fear to convince them to trust him. If that trust were lost again, he would not survive to prove it back.
Captain Rex’s face was crestfallen.
“You won’t lift a finger to save your own brothers,” he stated sadly.
Cody drew a shuddering breath, closing his eyes and running a hand over his greying hair.
“They’re not our enemies, Rex. They never were. Just because one or two…”
The 501st clone’s gaze remained steady upon him. There were tears in his eyes.
“You used to be my hero,” he whispered to the orange emblazoned trooper. “I tried so hard to be just like you. And then Merson happened.”
Tears welled in Rex’s eyes.
“And I saw the real you. The one that was there all along. I saw how blind I was. How stupid and blind….”
The captain waved a hand as though trying to brush his memories away. As though he were trying to forget what he knew, go back to that more innocent time when he had been in control of his life. It was sad.
“And now I see what you’ve sacrificed. Everything you’ve done already to help us. But now, you won’t take that one step further. To the real enemies, the real threats to our lives. All because of one…stinking…Jedi……”
He shook his head, showing that he was unwilling to accept any argument the commander had. Cody had taken his side.
“Don’t you think he’d do the same for us?!” shouted Cody in a burst of frustration. He hated letting people down, especially people like Rex. “The more we separate ourselves from the Jedi, the worse we’re going to be after the war.”
If they’re going to kill us after the war, it’d be better if the Jedi were on our side to stick up for us. They’re the only ones who can convince everyone that we’re not heartless.
Cody bit off the rest of his argument. That idea would only craze Rex into becoming a vigilante himself. And Rex had always lacked the same self-discipline and control that the commander had honed.
The other trooper’s head shook slowly, solemn disgust burning in his eyes. The commander could no longer face him.
“You’re no better than Slick, Cody.”
The commander couldn’t bring his gaze up from the floor to meet Rex’s hurt eyes. He knew what the captain was talking about, but he couldn’t bring himself to violate Obi-Wan’s trust. That would make him no better than a dishonorable Separatist spy. What if he was found out? When captured, when they found out it was him of all people, they would never trust another clone again.
And then none of them would ever be free.
“He saved me, Rex,” the clone commander pleaded. “I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for him.”
His brother waved a silencing hand, clearly refusing any of Cody’s excuses, and began to walk away.
The captain stopped on his way to the door and turned slightly.
“I know what they intend to happen to you. Why they’ve sent you to the Outer Rim, to all those hellholes they have…….I’ve...I’ve asked that your body be sent to me before it’s ……burned,” remarked Rex, all emotion gone from his voice and face. “I’ll see to it that your things are buried with you and that you’re cremated in private. They don’t deserve to pick you apart just to…”
The clone’s lips pressed together, cutting off the words he didn’t want to say out loud, and he stepped out of the room, leaving Cody to sit and brood in the grey light of the room.