Chapter 1: Of All the Gin Joints
Reese's piping hot cup of caf was halfway to his lips when he got the comm.
"CT-8659, got a call from 79s about some drunk and disorderly conduct."
"Karking hell," Reese muttered under his breath as he nearly spilled his caf. He glanced sideways at Watt, hoping the shiny trooper wouldn't hold his near slipup against him. Members of the Coruscant Guard weren't supposed to get startled by simple things like an unexpected comm.
"Copy that. On my way," Reese said into his comm.
He jerked his head towards their patrol speeders, indicating for Watt to join him, then took a quick sip of his caf before dropping the cup in the trash on the way to his speeder. He'd consider it a waste if the drink he'd grabbed from the mess had any taste to speak of.
Members of the Coruscant Guard didn't have patrol routes, per se. They weren't meant to replace the police force after all—they were meant to provide security to the Senate and the military in addition to policing GAR-related being said, certain parts of the capital were frequented by significantly more GAR personnel than others, and that created predictable points of interest. It only made sense that those points of interest be assigned to certain individuals who could become familiar with their work and thus more efficient. And that was how CT-8569, or 'Reese,' as he liked to be called, had been given the 79s beat.
For almost a year now Reese had been the main person anyone at the clone bar interacted with on official business, but there had been enough trouble at 79s that Commander Fox had recently decided Reese shouldn't be the only trooper to work the route. He'd assigned Reese to train up Watt and a couple of other troopers on a rotating basis, citing things like "institutional knowledge loss" and "redundancies" when he'd given Reese the news. Reese didn't mind the assignment—more back up was always welcome and with the new troopers eventually taking over some of his shifts, Reese would get to go on some other assignments and his answer to "What did you do during the war?" wouldn't always be "Clean up after my fellow soldier's drunken messes."
Watt was beyond thrilled to get the assignment. Reese knew that in his brother's eyes it was practically a vacation, and Reese had to agree that it was certainly more lively and less dangerous than an escort or bodyguard assignment. Reese didn't mind his work, but he didn't think his brothers realized that going to 79s to wind down after a tense mission was very different from going to break up a fight between two drunk clones and take them in for disciplinary action. Reese didn't go to 79s for fun, and whenever he did get leave he was too sick of the place to visit with his squadmates. In a way, his assignment ruined one of the only off-base locations the clones were allowed to enjoy. As much as it wasn't in Reese's nature to complain, it sucked.
He pulled up to the dank platform on which the clone bar rested and strode into the building, shoulders tucked back and chin held high in his best authoritative posture.
"Take your helmet off," he told Watt as he removed his own.
"But we're on official business…" Watt said.
"You've only really worked with the Senate or members of the GAR, haven't you?"
Watt nodded hesitantly.
"People in the Senate feel more comfortable when our helmets are on. It makes us seem more like anonymous, professional bodyguards whose only purpose is to protect them. It's also easier to send us to the front lines when they can't see our face," Reese explained as he strode across the broad platform towards the club's entrance. "Regular civilians, on the other hand, feel unnerved when we're helmeted. To them we're only around if violence is about to break out. Seeing our faces sets them at ease and humanizes us."
"Humanizes us?" Watt asked skeptically. "I'd have thought the identical faces would make them uncomfortable."
Reese grinned as he stepped through the entrance to 79s, and he looked over his shoulder at Watt and pointed to the tattoo creeping up his neck and ending just under his jaw. "That's why I got this."
As soon as Reese stepped through the doors the manager, a Rodian man named Biss, walked up to him.
"Thanks for coming, officer. Two groups of clones have been arguing with each other for about an hour now. It got physical maybe twenty minutes ago, when I called," he said, pointing to a cluster of booths off in the far corner of the bar.
Reese resisted the urge to sigh at the sight of a group of seven or eight clones in their GAR armor tussling like a bunch of rowdy cadets. He marched towards them with Watt walking behind, noting the green and blue armor of the 41st and the 501st.
"The 501st is always rushing ahead without planning or consideration," one of the green soldiers was shouting into a blue soldier's face. "They get all the glory but the newsreels don't show the mess they leave behind—the mess that battalions like the 41st have to clean up!"
"You think we don't pay a price for being the tip of the spear? We lose brothers, but somebody has to lead the charge. And on the front lines things don't always go according to plan," the blue soldier shouted back.
"Please, if you're going to fight, take it outside," a feminine, decidedly non-clone voice rose above the din.
A young woman with eerily pale skin and long grey hair that didn't match her age shoved between the two clones, and Reese had to respect her guts. He'd seen her here before, though she was a relatively new server at the bar. He didn't know her name yet.
"Soldiers," Reese barked with his best officer's voice—one he knew they'd all been programmed to obey, "Break it up!"
Several of the clones turned to Reese and stood at attention, but the two in the middle—an ARC trooper and a pilot, by the looks of it—still glared at each other, each one spitting invectives under his breath while the poor waitress remained stuck in the middle.
Reese shoved the two men apart and gave the woman an opening to extricate herself from the fracas.
"Soldiers, stand down or not only will your commanders know about this, but I'll inform Commander Fox, too."
The two clones turned their ire towards Reese, each hitting him with a full force glare, but they complied.
"Ma'am, I'm sorry for all this," Reese told the woman with an expression of practiced empathy. "Are you alright?"
"I'm fine, but if they keep this up we won't have any more customers," she said, crossing her arms sternly across her chest.
"I understand, ma'am. This behavior is unacceptable and these men will be disciplined," Reese said.
"Stay out of our business you flimsi-pushing Corrie," the ARC trooper in blue said, his face contorted in anger.
Reese resisted the urge to roll his eyes at the insult he must have heard a thousand times by now.
"The purpose of this war," Reese said in his even, patient tone, "is to protect the lives and livelihoods of the citizens of the Republic. Why fight for those citizens on the front lines, then come back to their homes on leave and trash their establishments? I may not understand what it's like on the front lines, but I understand that your little pissing contest is generating collateral damage and diminishing the reputation of the GAR and clones everywhere."
"'Pissing contest'?" the ARC Trooper said, and Reese imagined he could see a vein sticking out of the black number five tattooed on the clone's temple. "This brother accused my entire battalion of recklessness and endangering others. Maybe another day I would let it pass, but do you know how many brothers I lost on Umbara? I'm not going to take that lying down."
Oh. Umbara, Reese thought. He'd heard about the disastrous campaign there. Long, drawn-battles in the unending dark with heavy casualties. He'd even heard whispers of a rogue Jedi turning his lightsaber on his own men. Compared to the clones the Jedi were practically gods, and Reese shuddered to think what it would feel like to face one down. Like an ant getting squished under a boot.
"Look, ARC trooper…?" Reese said.
"Fives," the clone responded.
"Fives. I heard about Umbara—heard it was a shitshow. It's understandable that both you and…?" Reese gestures towards the pilot.
"...Arrow are angry. But we can't let that turn us against each other. We're brothers—we fight for the same cause and we bleed for the same cause," Reese said.
Fives' face softened and he looked back over at the other 501st clones with him, many of whom looked anxious to leave. Arrow seemed less convinced.
"And you also don't want that anger to get you banned from one of the only places you can order a drink on the planet," Reese added. "Hell, this is one of the only places any of us can order a drink in the galaxy."
Arrow grudgingly stepped back from Fives, but his shoulders were still tense and angry.
"Look, if you guys clean up your mess and leave now, I'll see that you only get reduced leave and a verbal reprimand. If you keep this up it's going to go over my head and I can't promise you anything," Reese said.
"Fine, fine," Arrow relented, tossing his hands up in the air.
"I'm sorry, brother," Fives said to Arrow. "The Corrie's right—we shouldn't be fighting."
"Does that work for you, ma'am?" Reese asked the waitress.
"Fine, sure. Whatever gets them out of here," the woman said.
The 41st and 501st troopers started righting the tables and cleaning up the spilled drinks and broken bottles, and Reese made sure to get all their identifying codes. He instructed Watt to help finish with the cleanup, then approached the server who had retreated back to the bar.
"Pardon me ma'am, but do you mind giving me a complete description of the disturbance for my report?"
The waitress looked up from the bartop she was wiping down, her pale grey eyes taking Reese aback. She couldn't be entirely human, he concluded, not that it mattered.
"Sure, although I think you already got the gist of it. They started fighting, knocked some tables and chairs over, spilled some drinks. I tried to break it up, then you came," she said, nodding in his direction.
"Any details I'm missing that you think are important?"
"Not that I can think of. Pretty run-of-the-mill bar fight. Happens all the time."
Reese frowned. These kinds of fights shouldn't be common. The clones were trained better than that, they knew better than that. But unfortunately disciplinary problems had been more frequent lately, tempers flaring and patience diminishing in tandem with the worsening situation on the front lines.
"I'd like to officially apologize on behalf of the GAR Miss…"
"Tomera. Kiraz Tomera."
It was a pretty name, Reese thought, though he wasn't very familiar with female names.
"And did any of the soldiers harass or harm you in particular?"
Kiraz shook her head. "Not beyond what naturally happens when you put yourself between two people in a fight."
Thank the Force for small mercies, Reese thought. At least the soldiers had the good sense to not target an innocent civilian.
"Good," he said. "I'll go talk to the manager before I leave, then I'll escort the troublemakers out. They will be disciplined, I assure you. Is there anything else I can help with?"
"No, I don't think so, you've been very helpful," she said. "What was your name?"
Reese hesitated a moment. Did she mean his identifying code or his chosen name? He was serving in an official capacity right now, so he should probably give his CT code.
"...Reese," he said.
"It's good to meet you Officer Reese. Guess I'll see you the next time a trooper has a little too much to drink, huh?"
Reese wasn't an officer, but he decided not to correct her. "If you are ever in need of assistance, don't hesitate to comm."
She smiled at him, and Reese resisted the urge to look away, reminding himself that he needed to seem warm and friendly with civilians. He just wasn't used to people being warm and friendly back. He gave her a crisp nod and went to find Biss.
Kiraz's heartbeat gradually slowed to a reasonable pace as she watched the red-armored clone trooper walk away. She'd known that members of the Coruscant Guard typically didn't get involved with civilian criminal issues, but she'd still been nervous.
Strictly speaking, at twenty years old Kiraz wasn't old enough to be serving alcohol on Coruscant. She'd tentatively asked Biss about this when he'd hired her, but he'd dismissed her concerns with a laugh.
"Don't worry about it. You'd be surprised by how good a place a clone bar is to conduct illegal activities. The clones don't know much about civilian laws, and jurisdiction over crime here is always murky since there are so many military types about. I don't think Coruscant Police has set foot in here since the war started," he'd said.
If she wasn't a refugee Kiraz wouldn't have raised the issue in the first place, but she was, and the last thing she needed was to get on the wrong side of the law after finally finding housing for her and her family. She'd still felt a little bad about accepting an illegal position, even if she was confident she wouldn't get caught, but ultimately she'd signed on with Biss. She'd really needed the money, and principles didn't pay the bills.
Thankfully, it looked like Biss had been right. Either the clone named Reese wasn't concerned about underaged service of alcoholic beverages, or he had a really terrible sense of age. From what she'd heard about how the clones aged relative to non-clones, it might be both.
Working at the clone bar was… different. Kiraz had never worked at any other bar before, so she had no comparison, but she knew for certain that no other bar on Coruscant saw over 80% full of the same faces every night. She didn't interact with the clones—or any other customers, for that matter—much outside of taking their orders and getting them their drinks, but her overall impression was that they were an alright bunch. They got a bit rowdy at times, but it seemed justified considering the enormous amount of stress they were under. The Republic didn't publicize casualties and worked hard to project an image of optimism, but Kiraz could tell from the number of somber memorials spoken around drinks that the clones were taking heavy losses. She'd heard one of them mention Umbara and shuddered, pushing the unwanted memories to the back of her mind. If the clones didn't so often behave like children and make her life difficult, she might feel sorry for them.
Kiraz leaned against the bar, her heavy eyes relishing the moment the disruption had given her to rest. Then Biss approached her, looking about as angry as his non-threateningly large Rodian eyes could manage.
"Kiraz," he hissed, "Did you forget to tell the bartender to make the drinks for clones? How did they get so drunk?"
"I didn't forget," Kiraz said, "but even watered down, if you drink enough fast enough you're gonna feel it."
"Keep it down!" Biss said, pulling her farther into an unoccupied corner of the bar. "Do you want all these clones to riot?"
Another thing Biss had told her right when she'd first joined was that the clones were served different, significantly less potent drinks from the other customers.
"They don't know the difference," Biss had said, "and the GAR pays me a flat fee to serve any clone several drinks a night. Watering down the drinks keeps them from getting in too much trouble and keeps me in the black—it's a victimless crime."
"Don't worry, Biss, nobody heard me," Kiraz said with a wave of her hand, then hissed as her hand started stinging at the too-enthusiastic gesture.
"Kriff," she said, looking down to find that her hand was bleeding from a thin slice across her palm. "Must have cut it cleaning up the broken bottles."
"Who cares about your hand? If I hear any complaints from the GAR about-"
"Excuse me, Miss Tomera?" a clone voice said, tapping Kiraz on the shoulder.
Biss shut his mouth and Kiraz nearly jumped out of her skin before turning to face clone trooper Reese.
"Yes officer?" she said while Biss smoothly excused himself and disappeared into the crowded bar. Maybe Biss had been wrong, and Officer Reese cared about civilian laws regarding the service of alcohol by underage individuals.
Reese smiled a mild, toothless smile at her. "It's just Reese, or CT-8659 if you'd prefer. I'm not an officer."
"Oh ok…" Kiraz said, waiting for the hammer to drop while trying to look entirely innocent.
"I just realized I forgot to ask for your registration number. I need it for the reports."
"Oh," Kiraz said dazedly. It looked like she was still in the clear. "It's CSUL-15554789968."
She'd memorized the ungodly-long number as soon as she'd received it, the housing registration number serving as the primary form of identification on Coruscant. As a refugee she'd been beyond lucky that she and her parents had been granted housing registration so quickly, and she cherished that number like a family heirloom.
"Thank you," Reese said, typing the number into a datapad. He looked up from the datapad, presumably to say goodbye, then stopped short. "Were you injured?" he asked in alarm.
Kiraz looked down at her hand like she'd forgotten it was there. "It's nothing," she said hastily. "I'll just find a bandage in the back."
"I've got one," he said pulling a tiny first aid kit from his utility belt. He seemed to be prepared for anything.
"Really, it's fine," Kiraz said.
"You were injured by a member of the GAR, this is the least I can do. Besides, now that a civilian injury was involved, I have other reports to file and questions to ask."
He took her hand in his and gingerly sprayed disinfectant on the cut and began wrapping it in a clean plain bandage. She didn't resist, though she wasn't eager to answer more questions.
"It's really nothing, and it's not like the soldiers hurt me. I just cut my hand on a broken bottle."
"A bottle that was broken because of their disorderly behavior," Reese said with a frown.
Most clones had a face that seemed made to frown, but somehow not Reese. Kiraz knew it didn't make any sense since Reese shared the exact same face as all the other clones, but somehow it was true. Maybe it was the skillful way he'd mediated the disagreement between his brothers when most clones would have opted for a strict disciplinary approach, or maybe it was his overall welcoming demeanor. Either way, Kiraz didn't like to see it.
"Look, let's just look past that and I can get back to work and you won't need to file more reports," she said.
Reese suddenly stopped wrapping her hand and he froze.
What? What did I say? Kiraz thought.
His warm expression closed up and he slowly finished wrapping her hand, the rich golden-brown of his eyes turning cool in the dim light of the club.
"Of course, ma'am," he said briskly, stepping back and putting his first aid kit away. He paused for a moment as if unsure how to dismiss himself, then opted for a simple nod and walked away.
Kiraz watched him weave his way through the crowd towards the exit in bewilderment, feeling like she must have offended him but completely at a loss as to how. She felt guilty—he'd been nice. And if he was regularly assigned to 79s she'd certainly be seeing him again.
"Kiraz! Section delta has been waiting to order!" Biss's strident voice cut through the noise of the bar. "Get back to work!"
Kiraz hurried off to the section of tables Biss mentioned, wiping her newly-bandaged hand on her server's apron as she went. She didn't have time to worry about the Coruscant guardsmen and his feelings. She needed to get through another day of work without getting fired then head home in time to take care of Emil for the night.
Kiraz approached the table that looked like they'd been waiting the longest for service, noting that once again it was a table full of clones. These clones seemed to be in a good mood, but the smiles on their faces had that frenetic energy Kiraz usually found in people trying too hard to forget their worries. She sighed as she started taking orders. This was going to be a long night.