"Wise, accepting command of this mysteriously created Clone Army, it may not have been...
But necessary, at that moment... it was.
How we, as Jedi, accept the violation of all we believe in by doing so... I know not.
As lead into war, these cloned-beings, we do...
Further into darkness, I fear, we ultimately lead ourselves... and the Force."
(- Master Yoda, conversing with an unseen entity)
Blaster fire sizzled over-head, as the harsh light of recon-flares bathed the battlefield in crimson and amber hues. Deep shadows caused by the glaring blazes danced dizzyingly across the cratered terrain. Muffled booms from detonators vibrated the ground and sent debris cascading down like rain, were underscored by the sharp reports of fired blasters... and accentuated by the agonized screams of fallen soldiers.
Amidst the chaos, Trey sat huddled tightly behind a portion of crumbled wall... using it for cover. The rest of his squad were likewise being pinned down by sniper shots fired from a higher position, courtesy of one of the Mandalorian training sergeants. This particular marksman had a love affair with Verpine shatterguns.
"Bug Guns", Trey'd heard another sergeant say in disgust. "Manufactured by bugs, thats why they break so easy."
Bugs or not, fragile or not, silently-fired death still pinged the ferro-crete behind him any time he tried to advance.
Unable to move forward without covering fire, he signaled for CT-3034... his brother, 'Quay'; to move up and give him the support he required. All he needed was a small window of opportunity, then Trey could finally try getting close enough to the sniper's nest to toss a sim-frag grenade, ending the threat... and the last major obstacle between them, and victory.
With an audible grunt and clattering of armor against the wall hiding them, Quay finally managed to fling himself across the tight alley that separated them, avoiding the projectiles being shot down at him. With his usual excitement, he announced to his teammate that he had, at last, joined the party.
"Never fear, Quay is here!", his pod-mate said over their helm-comm.
Without a word, Trey rested his rifle on his knees, and pointed out to his brother the sniper's location. Then, with his other hand, he signaled his intention to storm the loft and throw a detonator. Replying with an equally-silent 'Thumbs Up', Quay lifting his weapon, a standard-issue DC-15 ,or 'Decee' as it was called, over the rim of their shelter, and began spraying un-aimed bolts towards the distant perch.
When his clip was empty, he dropped back down on his haunches, expecting his squad-mate to have taken advantage of the tactics employed, and be long gone.
Only Trey hadn't moved.
Quay tapped the side of his brothers helmet to get his attention, but his brother didn't seem to acknowledge him at all. "Hey! Yoo-hoo, Coo-koo... Wakey-wakey! Hell-O-oo, ner vod... ?" Quay called playfully over the comm.
'Ner vod'..it was Mando for 'my brother'. Every clone was a brother, a near-identical twin, all produced from the same genetic code.
Inside their cocoon of white plastoid armor, clones were even harder to tell apart than when their identical faces were visible. The Kaminoans used only designation numbers when addressing them, and then only to differentiate between them. The cloners didn't care for how... or even, if.. their creations felt. Only that they performed to specs.
The clones themselves were more attuned to the slight variations in voice and body language that betrayed each others individuality. Spending every waking (and sleeping, and screaming, and sometimes even dying) moment within a clockwork, mirror-world, such as clones did, you quickly got to where you notice the little things.
A few of the drill sergeants could tell them apart, too. It spoke volumes about their attention to detail that any could spot the differences in the sea of commonality they were charged with. Some even knew their clone trainees by their assumed handles. While Trey didn't personally know the Verp-lover currently taking pot-shots at him and his mates very well, he'd heard enough about him to have enough sense not to provide him with an easy target. 'Skirata' he was called, though it was said his favorite trainees, the Nulls, referred to him as "Papa-Kal".
Trey wondered at the fatherly qualities of the man trying to kill him. "Must be what they call 'tough love'," he mused silently.
Again, his squad-mate tried to get his attention. "Hey, Trey! What's the matter with you? You've been acting barvy all day. C'mon, shift it di'kut! Or you'll get us all sent back!"
'Di'kut'... more Mando-tongue.
Just what it meant, Trey wasn't sure, but it didn't sound like a compliment... all harsh, sharp, and gutteral tones... and it definitely wasn't used as one; not by the equally harsh, sharp, and gutteral Mandalorian drill instructors whom he'd heard say it. But Trey didn't take offense to being called.. whatever a di'kut was. Not this time, anyway. Although he couldn't see his brothers face, there was no mistaking the playfulness with which he'd delivered the insult.
Unlike 'di'kut', however, being 'sent back' was no insult... it was a serious threat. And the thing every clone feared most.
It wasn't a Mandalorian word, it was trooper-slang for: being 'reconditioned'.
And being 'reconditioned' was Kaminoan terminology for: scrambling your brains... or simply killing you, and throwing your 'defective' remains into an incinerator.
Trey tried to gather his thoughts with a shake of his head.
Only, Quay was right. He'd been filled with a strange feeling throughout the entire training session. The entire day, actually. His mind felt like it was receiving static from a faulty comm. His brother was also right that if he didn't get himself sorted out, he'd draw attention to himself... and that, he definitely didn't want.
This time, his fear became his ally and he was determined to use it to his advantage. But not yet. "Patience," the almost-heard voice within him seemed to say. "Rushing out now will only get them hurt.. or killed." His inner-voice was telling him that something big was coming.. and coming soon.
Trey wasn't exactly sure what was coming, but he resolved himself to be ready for it when it did.
"Okay, 'vode..." he called over the unit channel. "Lets show 'Papa Kal' that his precious Nulls aren't the only ones around here who can take him down!"
Trey smiled as his squads' voices confirmed their eagerness to accept the challenge of going up against the ultra-elite special-ops commandos. "Nothing," he thought, "drove a clone like a little competitiveness."
Before long, the inkling of anticipation flared into an almost overwhelming urge. The time, it seemed, had come.
"On my mark, Run-and-Gun," he ordered, slamming a fresh clip firmly into his Decee. "Charge that nest full speed... 'frags and 'flashers at the ready. Follow me in, assault pattern Vega..." Trey waited only long enough to take a deep breath of the cool, sterilized air provided by his Mark I combat-suits' recirculation systems, then sprang into action.
Sprinting across the uneven terrain, he and his brothers poured round after round into the shooter's niche. Twice, his unique internal warning system told him to duck, saving him from being scorched by a burning bolt from a repeating blaster. Crawling now from cover to cover, he positioned himself behind the base of a fallen column, next to a spot of open ground that granted the only access to his target. Heavy fire from the mounted E-web repeaters shook the ground around him.
Although he couldn't see the rest of his squad from this location, judging by the rain of fire being brought against him, and the lack of calls for a medic, he figured the others must have found adequate cover from the big blaster's deadly bolts, aided by their operator's deadly aim, continued in a near-continuous stream of destruction around him as he pressed his body as far into the scorched ground beneath him... its lethal lights daring him to expose himself.
Unless he could find a way through, his squad would fail the exercise. For a clone, failure was not an option.
He remained hunkered down in partially hidden blast crater, waiting for a chance to make a run for it. Frantically, his mind raced to find any previously unseen options. His only shot, as he saw it, was to catch the shooters while they reloaded.
But these were Mandalorians doing the shooting, not droids. That meant their aim was deadly... as was their guile.
Trey had to remain wary of being snared by one of the willy veteran soldier's traps. He was keenly aware that any miscues on their part were more likely to be intentionally used as bait... to lure out their un-experienced enemies. "And," he thought with lessening enthusiasm, "they alternated their reloads as efficiently as they combined their firepower." It would take an unlikely miscue on their part for any opening in their defenses to appear.
Then suddenly, somehow, Trey knew that just such a mistake was about to take place.
He didn't know how he knew, but he did. He simply felt it, just like always. It was those feelings that set him apart from his brothers. It was what made him so 'different'.
Pushing aside the misgivings of his talents, or curses, he readied himself for the moment to come. He didn't have long to wait. Only a few heartbeats later, it happened... a momentarily chorused lapse of sound came from the repeaters' positions. Although Sgt. Skiratas' favored shattergun didn't make any noise when fired, Trey knew it was empty, too.
He'd remembered from his flash-training that the maximum capacity for the alien weapon was 20-rounds. So, he'd been counting the shots from it. Number 20 had just ricocheted off the ground beside him, only a few nerve-wrecking inches away.
His premonition was right, they did make a crucial mistake in timing. Trey, however, wouldn't.
Without hesitation, he jumped to his feet and charged headlong into the expanse of open ground that separated him from his objective, snapping a sim-grenade from its webbing on his chest-plate as he ran.
The distance closed in eerie silence, his movement seemed to be in slow-motion yet, at the same time, blurred past him too quickly for him register. Before he knew it, he was at to the bottom of the escarpment his instructor was using for elevated position. Using a technique called a 'crow-hop', named after some avian species from an unknown rim-world, Trey heaved the small detonator in his hand into a high arc, aimed to land right on top of their enemies' lofted position.
Then, just before the simulated explosives were timed to erupt.. klaxtons suddenly blared, and bright florescent lights flooded the chamber.
"Endex, Endex, Endex! Cease all training exercises!", came a booming voice that drowned-out all other sounds on the training course.
"Clone units numbered CT-3301 through CT-9999 are ordered to report to their pre-assigned Unit Staging Areas! All other combat-ready units will return to their berthing areas and prepare for pre-deployment inspection. Training Sergeants are requested to meet in Prime Minister Lama Su's office for briefing."
The sudden interruption brought Trey to a staggered halt, as it did all the clones on the training course. Some looked around in bewilderment, others ran for the exits to comply with the unusual orders issued over the facility-wide announcement system. This had never happened before, and many, like Trey, didn't know what it meant.
But then, most, simply obeyed orders... exactly as they had been trained to do.
Trey made his way through the masses of hardened armored bodies to regroup with his squad. Whatever was going on, they would need to be together when they faced it. Even though the exercise, and thus the immediate danger, was over, Trey was still filled with the same sense of anticipation... as if the real danger was yet to come.
Curious looks donned the faces of some clones who had removed their helms, the exercise being declared over. Smatterings of dumbfounded questions and equally unsure answers rippled through the crowd. Repeated versions of "what's going on?" and "I dunno.. what about you 'vode?" mingled with the sounds of heavy breathing and unclasping armor. Then one of the trainers... the very one who had been firing at them moments ago with the sniper rifle... called out, "Attention!"
In unison, every clone in the room snapped to... eyes and ears fully focused on whatever orders they were about to receive.
"Troopers are to proceed to parade grounds as instructed." He gazed around, as if looking for a specific clone, or maybe counting them. A moment later he shouted, "Specified non-clone personnel are to report to the Armory. Now, shift it, meat-cans. Move out!" The Mandalorians rough voice carried the commands to the rafters of the training hall, but for all its vigor, supplied no other information.
Before Trey could get within speaking range to put forth any inquiries, another Mando, this one in scarred, black armor... (and accompanied by a foul-smelling, six-legged showcase of teeth- also golden in color, due to the short, wiry fuzz that covered its over-wrinkled skin); entered and announced in a martial tone, "Muster with your unit leaders on the parade ground in 10 minutes! Make us proud, lads. Dismissed!"
His desire for information unsatisfied, Trey made his way to rejoin his squad. Without a word spoken, they seamlessly filed in as one amongst the throngs of troopers marching in tandem to the nearest exit.
As he fell-in with his fellow troopers, he wondered why the intense feelings of danger remained. 'Endex' had been called, the exercise was over... he should have felt safer now. But he didn't.
The same unknown sense that warned to him when to keep his head down or to make a run for it during combat training, continued its' grasp on the back of his mind. Far from fading away, as it usually did. If anything, it was getting worse!
As if feeling the gaping maw of his unknown destiny swinging open to swallow him whole, Trey continued on... sudden confusion now warring with long-held fears.