"Hold your fire!" Rex shouted as he entered the hangar bay. His gut clenched nervously. Ahsoka said she 'had an idea.' He wasn't so sure her idea was a good one. He'd tried to explain to her about the chips and the programming. She said she understood. But, he wasn't sure she did.
It was a nightmare.
When the order had come down, Rex's thoughts were no longer his own. He'd been asked to fire on his own commander. It was all he could do to hold off for a split second and give her a warning before the programming took over. He'd ceased to be clone known as 'Rex' the moment the order had been called.
Until Ahsoka had removed the fekkin' chip from his head, there'd been no part of him left. He'd been obeying orders, but he was also living a nightmare. He was both aware, and not aware, at the same time. As he ran through the corridors, barking orders in pursuit of Ahsoka, he was considering ways in which he could end his own life. Ahsoka had saved his life.
This was the reality of the chips.
And, now she wanted him to talk to Jesse.
Jesse who was still under the influence of the chip, backed up by an entire squadron who were also mind-controlled. They were his brothers, yes, yet they weren't anymore. He could feel there were something so different about them now.
Jesse reacted the moment he entered the hangar.
"Hang on, we have Tano and the commander. Send all remaining troops to my position."
The troopers dropped to a knee, taking position as he came in. Fek. He'd trained them well. Too fekkin' well.
"I said hold your fire, Jesse!" Rex barked, trying to sound every bit the Commander-in-charge. "I have the situation under control."
"You have your order, sir," Jesse said, crisply, "Now execute it, or I will."
Good 'ol, Jesse. Always a perfect solder. It was why Rex had promoted him to ARC trooper. But, fek, just this one, Jesse.
Think! Think outside the box!
Could a trooper with a chip still think?
"The order was to execute the Jedi for treason again the Republic," Rex said. "The problem is, Ahsoka Tano is no longer a Jedi. Hasn't been for some time."
Behind him, Rex could sense the droids were moving into position. But, at this point, he didn't care. He knew the droids were a big part of Ahsoka's plan. He had his own plan now. And, it was suddenly about more than just him and Ahsoka.
Jesse lowered his guns slightly. And suddenly, there was something there in his voice that hadn't been there before. "Sir," his voice changed and Rex recognized that tone, it was Jesse, he was sure of it. "you said yourself we were under special orders from Darth Sidious,to eliminate Ahsoka Tano and any clone who disobeys Order 66."
Behind him, Ahsoka said something, but Rex ignored her. He was intent now only on Jesse.
"Jesse, listen to me. We are brothers first. We have always been. I was wrong in what I said. The orders were given were wrong."
"Wrong!" Jesse barked, indignant, raising his blasters back up to full height. Behind him, all of the troopers reacted, following his lead. "How can orders be wrong?"
"They are wrong because the person issuing them is wrong!" Rex barked. "Darth Sidious is corrupt. All of us were betrayed from the beginning. They programmed us to be Jedi killers. Fives figured it out and that is why they killed him."
"Jedi killers?!" Jesse scoffed, waving his blaster, sounding almost hysterical.
"Yes!" Rex barked, "up until an hour ago we fought alongside the Jedi, and now we've been ordered the hunt them down and kill them. We've been all of us betrayed! It is not our fault!"
Behind him, Ahsoka hissed. "We're done here."
Rex made a hand gesture to her, indicating he needed more time.
He lowered his blaster and removed his helmet, pointing at the bandage on his head. "This is what Fives' found. Chips in our heads. All of us! We were programmed! This is how they turned us into killers!"
The clones behind Jesse all look back and forth at each other unsure.
"Orders are orders, you are guilty of treason," Jesse said. Although, there was a waver now to his blaster, as if he is waging a terrible internal battle.
"If we don't get this right, we will be the ones who are guilty of committing treason, not her!" Rex said, his voice filled with conviction.
Jesse's hand shakes so violently he can barely hold his blaster. Behind him, a clone drops their blaster, and then another. Jesse lowers his blaster. He drops to his knees, holding his head.
The ship shakes violently, caught in its death throes.
"What do we do?" A trooper steps forward from the pack. Rex would know that voice anywhere, even with the identical orange white markings on the helmet.
He heaves a sigh of relief.
"Kix, get these men to the shuttles. Get the fek out here." He taps his head. "Get these chips out of them."
"Fives told me about the chip," Kix said, nodding gravely. The ship shakes again violently. Kix grabs for Jesse to help him up. Jesse hands Kix his blaster, and the two make a run for a ship.
Jesse calls to Rex over the comm system.
"Rex," his voice is that of one brother calling another, "where do we go? The war is over." He sounds lost.
The ship is shaking violently, and plumes of flame are appearing now all over the hangar. "The war is over."
Rex can barely speak for how fast he is running.
Fek, Jesse, you picked a hell of a time for a discussion.
"Not Coruscant. Avoid the Core Worlds. Lay low. Change your appearance. Hide your armor. You're free now."
Maybe it's the brain surgery or the stress or the explosions going off all around them, or the unreality of the situation. Or, maybe Rex has wanted to say these words since he met Cut Laquaine on Salecumai. "You're free now, Jesse. Go."
Jesse and Kix take off, scattering for the shuttles lining the sides of the hangar bay. Thankully, they've survived the explosions so far, but if they don't get out of here soon, the shuttles will be momentarily going up in fireballs, too, with all of them trapped inside.
"I understand. It's been an honor."
The words cut out and Rex gut clenches, wondering if he'll ever hear from Jesse again. Fek, no time for that now. He dodges an enormous fire ball. Ahsoka avoids it easily. The droids trail after them, but they aren't fast enough. A second enormous plume of fire catches all three droids and they are eliminated with a harsh electronic squeal.
Ahsoka stutters in her step, but Rex grabs and pulls her on to keep her from melting as another plume erupts all around them.
"Come on!" He basically carries her into the shuttle as debris comes down all around them. His armor takes the worst of it, but bits of it make it through, cutting him through his undersuit. He is scratched, sore, burnt and bleeding in a dozen places.
He slams the shuttle doors closed and feels the heat singing at his armor.
"Get those engines started!" He yelled, knowing Ahsoka could make it to the pilot seat faster than he could with her Jedi reaction time.
Call her a Jedi or not a Jedi, but Ahsoka was fast. She was good to have by your side in a fight. Admittedly, she was just good to have by your side at all times.
As they pivoted their ship around to take off, he could see shuttle after shuttle taking off, loaded up with clones. His men were leaving the ship.
Many good men died today on this ship, but some would survive. It would have to be enough.
He closed his eyes for a moment, and breathed out a silent breath of relief.
Be free, my brothers.
# # #
Jesse sat shoulder-to-shoulder, crowded into a shuttle packed overfull with clones.
"Sir," asked a young shiny named Flask, clinging tightly to his helmet and looking wide-eyed at Jesse, "did we commit treason by letting the Jedi go?"
Jesse shook his head emphatically, staring out the port view windows. He watched the last death throes of the ship which had been their home. The Venator was dying. Many of their brothers had died today. He had no idea what had become of the prisoner Maul, but fek, he didn't even care about that anymore. All that seemed to matter now were the brothers surrounding him in the shuttle. They would live. "There were no Jedi aboard that ship."
# # #