"Hi... I'm Deuce."

"Hello, Private... my name, is 'Lieutenant'..."

"Ouch! I mean, 'Yes, Ma'am!' So, ummm... why aren't you in uniform, Lieutenant? Off-Duty?"

"No, Private... I'm never Off-Duty. I'm the ships Doctor. This,IS my uniform."

"Oh, well then... it's a good thing we bumped into each other, Doc..."

"Is it...?"

"Yes, ma'am. I'm feeling very strangely. I think I might be coming down with something..."

"Uh huh... And, uh... what symptoms are you currently suffering from?"

"Well, right now... I'm feeling kind of flush, and a little light-headed..."

"Hmmm... sounds serious, Private. Here, follow this light with your eyes... Ahhh..."

"What do you see, Doc?"

"...you have very pretty eyes, Private."

"Funny, Doc... I was thinking the same thing about you."

"Uh huh. And, are you feeling hot... now?"

"...you tell ma'am..."

"Hmmm... I don't know. You look pretty fine to me, Private..."

"...so do you, Doc."

"Well, I suppose I should take a closer look at you... Come with me, Private."

"Yes, ma'am. And, uh... Doc...?"

"Yes, Private...?"

"...call me 'Deuce'."

-CT-3032, shortly after boarding the 'Sullust Star'... seeking 'medical attention'-

...

-'Su'cuy'- (...17 standard hours after 'Sullust Star's departure from Kamino)

As I was writing earlier, I heard Deuce... in his bunk, across the small cabin from mine; stir in his sleep, again. He's normally a rock after his big body hits the rack... if rocks could snore, that is. But tonight, something was interrupting his usual, immobile, slumber. A few more grunts... and groans (these, from the overly-taxed bed;) occurred, before he seemed to have finally found a more comfortable spot.
Just as I was expecting to hear the return of his low, smooth snores... (which makes me often wonder... what kind of singing voice, does he have?); instead... he woke up, and we talked a bit.

I'm not sure why I feel I should relay our conversation in this log... but, I do. I hope Deuce doesn't mind, if he ever finds out. But, if he does... I think he'll understand. So, this is what just happened...

Deuce whispered to me, "Oni... you up?"

A sergeant's duty is never done. Besides, I figured... if I could help him out with whatever's bothering him... maybe, one of us might actually get some sleep.

"Yep...," I said, alertly. "But then, I'm always up. Now, why you are awake... is the real question. What's on your mind?"

From the next set of noises, I assumed my brother had rolled over fully to face me... even though, only enough light existed to barely discern each others' silhouettes. (My data-pad screen, is light-shielded... of course)
Still, nothing more came by way of a verbal reply. I decided it was time to change tactics, I tried the 'playful' approach...

"Come ooo-on... spit it out, wittle-bwother. What's keeping you fwom 'sweepy-wand', huh?" I had hoped, the fraturnal reference... would brought a smile to Deuce's shadowy face. As it did, mine.

(We all know we were probably removed from our common-gestation tank at the same time, but because of our assinged-enumerations... Quay had started the 'peeking-order'; as he had originally taken to calling the other three... identical clones... his 'big' brothers.'Big' meaning 'older'. "That means...", Quay reminds us, often; "that I'm the 'runt' of the bunch!... And, that you three... have to take extra care of me!")

Still, hearing no reply from Deuce... I asked, with more concern. "C'mon, big guy... you can tell me..."

He was silent for another few moments. The, he came out with it... (or, so I thought.)

"Are.. are you scared, Oni?", he asked me. "I mean, about going into action for the first time?"
I'd never heard him mention the 'A-word'... afraid... before. Somehow, the idea of Deuce being frightened, just never crossed my mind. Suddenly, feeling a little uncertain of this new terrain... I slowly edged my way farther, into my brothers 'mental-minefield'. "Why... are you?"

"I dunno.." he quietly responded. (Neither do I, honestly. Here, now... securely aboard our new transport... I just don't yet know, what there is to BE afraid of...)
In hopes of getting him to open up more... either, to his sergeant... or, his brother; I elaborated. "You mean... am I afraid, of dying?"

"No..." he clarified. "I mean, afraid of," he said, then swallowed. "...of, failing. Of, not being good enough... to fulfill our missions. You know, when it really counts...", he added.
Somehow, he'd already forgotten just how 'real' the training on Kamino had been.

"No... " I tried to reassure him. "That's one thing, I have no doubts of.". I reached out to him then... mentally, as I couldn't physically touch him... and decided to tell someone (and, who better than a brother?), about my own... doubts.

My fears of... Me.
Of me... not being strong enough, to keep us all alive.

Of me... actually 'losing' a brother. I mean, I have lost men before, in training.. but, that's... different.

The truth is... that is what I'm afraid of most. Sometimes, I'm not sure I could handle it... losing any of my true brothers. It's, like a knot... that sits inside of me, all the time. Just then, sitting and talking openly with my closest sibling...
Right then, I wanted very much... to unravel that knot! I wanted to ask him brother for help in loosening it, by only admitting it's existence...

But, instead of adding my burdens to my already turmoiled younger brother... I remembered my duty, as his sergeant.

"Deuce... we're the best trained, best equipped, best bred soldiers the galaxy has ever seen!" I reminded him, dutifully. "Our training sergeants told us so, remember?" I added. "AND," I concluded for emphasis. "We all... you and me, included... SURVIVED Kamino! What could be tougher that that?"

I recall being told that, on multiple occasions by our trainers. That, those of us who survived our training... would be the very elite, of any warriors in the universe! And, while I couldn't think of a single thing they had ever been wrong about... I still can't escape the feeling that, when we finally do see real combat... some very harsh realities await us.

No... 'War', isn't going to be... 'Just Like Drill'.

"Combat is a very fluid situation...", Training-Sergeant Vau had once said to me... during Non-Comm training. "You can plan all you want, but when the shooting starts... you best be able to improvise! Or, you can kiss your mens' shebs, 'su cuy'gar'...Sergeant!"

I pushed aside that advice... (not thinking it would be too helpful, just then); and continued attempting to bolster Deuce's flagging confidence. "And don't forget...", I added to the darkness... as if, applying the 'coup-de-gras'...
"We've got Jedi Officers, Deuce! They're all military geniuses!", I reminded him, from rote. "And, you heard the sergeants... almost nothing can bring them down! I even heard one the trainers say that, some Jedi... can even see the future! Now, with tactical intel-sources like that... how can we lose?"

I hope Deuce believes what I was saying, more than I do. Because, to a soldier... belief can be everything.

After a moment of contemplation, he sighed... and then, accepted it. "I guess you're right, big brother... They did tell us all that, didn't they? And, that... we are the best..."

"You bet your shebs, we are!" I confirmed. "Besides," I then added, trying to lighten his mood... "I can't let anybody blast you... I'd never hear the end of it from Quay!"

"Yeah..." came his easy response. "Well, just read him the list of GAR Contingency Orders... he'll be sound alseep in no time!"

He suddenly began to laugh. Soon, I was too! "Y-yeah, b-b-but..." I struggled; "th-th-then... y-you'll have to h-hear th-them all t-too!"

Between hard-fought breaths, he managed back..."Nuh-uh..."

"I-uh, I-uh, I w-won't c-care anyways..." he sputtered on. "'c-cause, b-by then... I-uh, I-uh... I'll already b-be... D-DEAD!"

I don't know why that was so funny to us, just then... but it was! Is so funny now, though.. as I think about it. I guess, we just... needed something, to be funny!

Together, there... in the artificial night-gloom of an alien spacecrafts passenger berth... inbound, for our very first test of combat...

...we could no longer contain our emotions. And, for the first time in my life... I laughed! Completely out loud! (and, brazenly after curfew, no less!)

And... unafraid!

Unafraid... that we were openly breaking the 'silence after light-out' regs...

Unafraid... that our Mandalorian training sergeants would punish us being 'childish', 'undisciplined', or 'disobedient'...

Unafraid... that the Kaminoans would hear us making 'un-engineered noises'. And, then... just kriffing decide... that we were 'malfunctioning'... and that we required... 'Reconditioning'.

(Even after all those years on Kamino... I still don't know, exactly what happens to clones who've been 'reconditioned'. I've heard lots of rumors, of course... but despite my best efforts, that's one secret I could never get good intel on. I suppose, only the Kaminoans...and the poor barves who get to find out, the hard way... really know for sure.)

However long we laughing aloud, like fools, I don't know...nor, will I ever check! It felt like forever... (kind of like, being under arti-fire... but in a good way!)
No matter what I was designed to do... I'M deciding... to remember than moment, forever... just that way!

After the tide of our mirth had ebbed... we were silent for a while, recovering from the release of such long pent-up stresses.

A few sighs later (broken by several residual giggling-fits;)... and we both seemed to have gotten it out of our systems. Then, Deuce caught me completely off guard, in characteristic Deuce-fashion...

"Hey Oni...", he asked in a curious tone. "What do you think they'll do, with all our stuff?"

"Huh? What 'stuff'?" I couldn't make any sense of the question, at first. "And, 'who'... are 'they'?" I inquired.

"The Kami's, that's 'who'...", Deuce informed. "And, our 'stuff' is... well, you know... our 'stuff'! Our personal belongings..."

Clones didn't have 'personal belongings'... unless, you counted the little contraband knick-knacks that some troopers manged to scavenge... and keep hidden. But, as far as I knew... Deuce didn't have any such items. 'Contraband'... was usually Quay's department.
I sat back, and thought a moment... (still feeling a bit 'bubbly' inside... ((like my new sani-steam wash!)); before giving a response.

"Well... our 'stuff'", I reminded him. "...was loaded onto the ship, before we left. We saw it being loaded, remember?" He had come with me to inspect the units cargo, secured down in the hold, first thing after post-boarding muster.

But, that wasn't the 'stuff'... however, that Deuce was currently worried about. "No, not our gear...!", he clarified.
More shifting noises suggested he had returned to facing me again. "You, know... our secret-stuff, back on Kamino?"

"Oh! You mean that stuff! Well..." Putting my arms up behind my head, I loosed a teasing... pseudo-consolatory, sigh. "Sorry, little brother... but, that stuff... has probably already been policed-up, and incinerated."

In the darkness, I heard Deuce's breath... haltingly catch in his chest. And then, catch and hold again... and again.

Right then, I felt like such a failure... as a leader... and, a brother! By not understanding one of my men well enough, to notice how troubled his mind was! But, to be fair... it wasn't like Deuce to be so... sentimental... about things. At least, not about things that don't shoot... or blow up.

Perplexed, I probed for more. "Why does that upset you?", I reasoned. "It's not like you to break up over stuff like that..."

"It's not that..." he stammered. Then, finally... "I-I-..." he began confessing, between suppressed sniffles. "I ha-... had a... a bad dream..."

I was completely lost.

"You had a bad dream... about our 'stuff', back on Kamino?", I asked... somewhat sarcastically. (Not, my best 'bedside manner'...)

Several more minutes of un-interrupted emotion from him, then...

"N-No... not about, that!" (he sniffled) "I-I dreamed, that... th-that, q-q-... q-Quay... d-d-DIED!"

His hard-fought emotions, then became a flood. All I could do, was sit here in the dark... and listen to my little brother cry. I swear... I've never felt so kriffing helpless. Being a medic, I know how to treat all kinds of battlefield injuries. But, they never taught me how to heal emotional afflictions.

"I'm sorry, Deuce..." I whispered across the darkness... feeling utterly impotent. "Is that what 'stuff', you were really asking about?", I wondered aloud. "Quay's holo-comics?"

Quay's lost holo-zines... were nothing more than a few scraps of illustrated flimsi, really. Not even enough of them, really... to tell any of the complete tales of the heroic 'Lance Lightspeed', and his endless struggle... to put right the many evils of the universe.

To most beings... the 'stuff', that all got left behind (I assume...); was just some garbage, really. Most of it, swiped from the flames of the Kaminoan incinerators. But, to a clone... who had nothing to call his own...

We hadn't had time, before debarkation... to go back to our barracks. We were just handed new kit... and sent to the depot. My heart broke as I listened, to Deuce's ideas on what Quays' 'possessions' were really worth... as counted out, by his sudden tears.

Deuce's affection for our little brother is a bond that sometimes mystifies me, almost as much as Trey's 'intuitions'. The two of them seemed so different... (Quay once joked... that his and Dueces' genomes, came from opposite ends of Jango Fetts' DNA-chain!) But still, they shared a connection that went beyond the normal 'bonds-of-brotherhood'... that most soldiers shared. At times, it makes me feel 'left-out'. Trey and I are close, but... sometimes, he's like a complete stranger to me. I guess I hadn't truly understood how much our littlest sibling actually meant to Deuce, until just then. Here... so close and alone together...

I could almost feel my brothers sense of loss... stemming from his visions, of losing his vode. It was like a crushing weight that seemed to fill the empty spaces of our tiny, shared room. In my minds'-eye, (my own, being near-useless in the cabin's low light;) I could see Deuce, there on the bunk... laying on his back, with his eyes squeezed tight... fighting back his tears. Arms crossed over his frowning face, holding his pillow tightly... so no one would hear his sorrows.

(It's a pretty common habit amongst Kaminoan clones. Not just a useful trick for avoiding embarrassment, no... for a small cloned child, trying to grow up under the harsh judgment of the Kaminoan 'clone-masters'... it was a survival tool! No weakness could be displayed there... ever!)

For a while, I could do nothing... but, hold on to the silence... and my own tears; and allow my brothers' emotions to flow.

Sometime later, the boil seemed to be ready for lancing... as Deuce's muffled wails were replaced by large sniffles and gasps. Being the unit medic, I did my best to salve my brothers wounds.

"Hey, ya know what?" I asked... my voice, laced with optimism. "There's a canteen, or shop, of some sort... on board..." (as proofed, by my new 'Duckies' shower-set! My own, 'stuff'.. I just realized!... What will happen to it, if I...)

Cocking an ear, to 'check his vitals'... I searched for any signs of change in my patients saddened condition. Duece's sobs, however continued... unabated.

"We'll get him a new one, okay?... We'll take a look around tomorrow, first chance we get.", I promised.

From what my ears, and empathy for my sibling, could tell... his slight whimpers had ceased. Now, replacing them, was a steady repetition of heavy gasps... punctuated by wet, alternating sniffles.

Deuce's 'bleeding' stubbornly persisted... so, I added more pressure to the area. "A brand new one...", I emphasized. "With the whole story included, this time!"

Holding an expectant pause, I listened closely for any reaction.

Soon, a clearing of his throat signaled that Deuce was ready... and again, able... to rejoin the conversation.

"Eh-eh-", a gulped swallow and a heaved breath later, he continued. "Even one with the ending, too?"

My smile held nothing but happiness, reassured that my brother... would indeed, pull through. "Whichever one has the ending you think he'll like best, little brother."

"...Okay.", at last came Deuce's nullified reply. It was immediately followed by an enthusiastic yawn, and the creaking of a straining mattress, being stretched-out upon.
Before anything else could have a chance to pop into his head, I intentionally put forth a vigorous yawn of my own, and suggest sleepily...

"Let's get some shut-eye, big guy..."

Deuce's grunt of agreement soon gave way to his steady, slow breathing. Before long, Deuce was snoring again... soundly.

And, that's pretty well what just happened. As i look back over at him now, I hope his world is again... a safe little cocoon, of victories and glories untold... devoid of any fears, or worries.

But, as for me... I still can't sleep. Now, I keep thinking about the things I had just told my brother... to give him comfort, and confidence.

I go over and over it, in my mind... the same things that I had said to Deuce only a few moments ago. Basically, the very facts of the universe... those that,we had always been taught were true...

That- we were, each and together... the best army of soldiers ever created.
That- no enemy in the galaxy could stand before us in battle.
That- our cause... the defense of the Republic... was the most noble thing any soldier could fight for.
and,...
That- our eventual Jedi officers... were infallible and invincible, masters of warfare.

The way I see it, any questions about the troopers abilities... will be answered, soon enough. As for the Jedi... and the Republic; I figure... we'll find out about, too... soon enough.

The question that's going to keep me awake (for many nights to come, I'm afraid), is the last thing I heard Deuce mumble to me... after I thought, he had already drifted off to sleep...

"Oni, tell me this...", he asked, in a drowsy voice. "If the Jedi are so powerful, and wise, and all that..."

"...And, if serving the Republic, is so glorious..."

"...then, why do they need such a huge army of clones... "

"...to go fight their war for them?"

He didn't stay awake for an answer. I'm glad. Because, I can't... for the life of me... find a single thing, in all of our training and instructions; to honestly say to him in answer, if he had.

I don't think I'm going to sleep at all tonight. It's only a few hours, now... until reveille, anyways.

I have the feeling that I'm going to be spending that time searching, deep within myself (i fear...fruitlessly) for answers to what, more and more... sound, to me... like very good questions.

Answers that... I'm now near-convinced, as I sit here...

...might mean the difference between being able to keep my brothers alive...

...or, in leading us all blindly... straight into dar'yaim.