"Have you ever heard of Aayla Secura? ...she benefited the people of many worlds, and entered the folkloric cycles of several primitive cultures, where she often was merged with local historical figures or goddess-characters." (Legacy of the Force: Betrayal by Aaron Allston)
CC-5052 didn't give it much thought when he was assigned and shipped off to another outer core planet. Orders were orders, and he followed them.
Orders had said to execute (Aayla), (the General), the traitor Jedi, yet she had always treated them well. She had been a good leader, not like the others, not like what he heard of the Marines or of Umbara—
The headache came back. CC-5052 didn't give it much thought.
He knew there were others with headaches or fragmented memories. The first didn't understand why order 66 had been followed. They were quickly sent off for medical checks to Kamino and reassigned.
Some had malfunctioning aggression inhibitors. They fought against the new natborn officers. They were sent on scouting missions or reassigned.
Some… some had headaches. Some of them complained of dread, or an ache behind their eyes. Some didn't come back from the medbay. Some went to sleep in the barracks and didn't wake up for their next shift.
A few turned their guns on themselves.
CC-5052 didn't give that much thought either. It was safer not to.
CC-5052 wondered if the change in environment for his deployment might reduce his headaches. Different planet, different atmospheric pressures, different stressors.
There are less soldiers that look like him on this mission. The number has been steadily dwindling. CC-5052 stays silent, so there won't be a reason to decommission him.
The thoughts continue, but CC-5052 pushes them aside.
The civilians of this planet don't appreciate the Empire's presence. This planet is just like every other CC-5052 has been deployed to in the past months. Another with rumors of a rebellious population, another that will not bow to the Empire's might.
They'd ignored curfew warnings to huddle along the sides of the road that the stormtroopers now marched down. It was a show of force, and it seemed to be proving effective. CC-5052 took no joy in it– joy had no place – but he would ensure these citizens fell in line. He would not have the stain of failure on him or his squadron.
The ignored curfews grow into assaults on isolated troopers. Rocks, trash, even food scraps. The people used anything they could get their hands on. CC-5052 didn't see the point in increasing the amount of force on the majority of the perpetrators. Most of them were younglings. They weren't innocent in the eyes of the Empire, but hurting them would only make the civilian population more volatile.
If ever asked for an opinion, CC-5052 would say a volatile population meant more room for error.
His superior officers would say that it meant for quicker use of force from their troops.
CC-5052 wasn't asked, so he did as ordered.
The first trooper murdered and left in an alley resulted in a riot, five dead civilians, and a dozen belligerents put into holding.
CC-5052 pulls a 36 hour shift and returns to the barracks with scuffed and dented armor, a damaged shoulder piece, and far fewer plasma rounds in his blaster than he had left with.
Two nights later, another trooper goes missing. This time, the investigation is led back to a group of street younglings who claimed to have been unfairly targeted by the newly recruited natborn and acted out of self-defense.
If CC-5052 was asked, he would believe the youngling's account. One of them bore several fresh burn marks from a regulation blaster.
CC-5052 wasn't asked.
When three of the younglings were arrested for treason and sentenced to death, the headaches returned.
CC-5052 dreamed that night. He wasn't certain when he'd last dreamt– or when he'd stopped.
It was dark, wherever he was. There was a body pressed against him, fingers in his hair while his thigh pressed up between strong legs. He could feel lips against his neck, breasts pressed against his chest, soft skin underneath his palms. They smelled of a sweet perfume– something from a flower on a planet he didn't remember the name of– and when their lips met his again, they tasted of starlight.
His spine tingled with pleasure as warmth spread throughout him, and he bucked up against them, pushing them back against the wall so he could loom over them and tilt their chin up towards his face…
He found himself staring into sparkling hazel eyes. He knew those eyes. Those were hers, were–
It was only years of training that kept CC-5052 from bolting upright as he suddenly awoke, skin flushed and heart racing faster than he could ever remember. He remained laid flat on his back for several more minutes, keeping still so he could force his vitals back to normal.
CC-5052 turns his face towards the wall and closes his eyes to try and get his migraine to subside.
The migraine gets worse. CC-5052 alters his HUD to filter out brighter lights and dampen down on harsher sounds.
The days get longer, and the migraine gets worse.
The riots continue to grow in size and fervor. Even the natborn officers know that reacting too strongly will cause a full-blown revolt. If that happens, the civilians won't be the only ones being punished.
CC-5052's head throbs in time with the chanting of the furious crowds below him in the city square.
"Do you ever feel like what we're doing here is wrong?" CT-2448 asks his bunk mate in the low of night.
CC-5052 remains silent despite the worsening pain behind his right eye. If he acknowledges the conversation, he'll have to report them. Orders are orders are orders–
CC-5052 remains silent and listens.
"Does it matter?" Comes the weary response from CT-9357.
There are several heartbeats of quiet before the first trooper responds. "It used to."
CC-5052 remains silent.
His migraine gets worse.
The city glows a dusky orange the night it's announced the younglings will be executed for treason against the Galactic Empire. The streets overflow with the fury of its people. CC-5052 and his fellow troopers are deployed.
The orders are to set blasters to kill.
CC-5052 fights through the increasing stabbing pain in his head and sets his to stun.
He stumbles into a side street halfway through the night and tears his helmet off of his head, throwing it roughly to the ground. There are skirmishes echoing from deeper in the city, where he'd come from and been separated from his squad– his brothers, his mind supplies– are they even his brothers? So many have vanished, being replaced over the past few months.
Brothers. How had he forgotten that?
Orders are orders a good soldier follows orders–
He grips at his temple, staggering until his back hits a wall and he slides down to the soiled ground. The real battle is going on in his head, and everything else fades away in comparison.
Bly, a quiet voice whispers.
He whirls around, looking wildly for where it could've come from. There's no one in sight, and yet he could've sworn the speaker was right next to him.
Just a bit further, Bly. A breeze caresses his cheek on an otherwise still night.
Who is Bly? He wants to shout his question, scream it to the sky. Why can he no longer tell up from down, right from wrong, orders are orders a good sold–
CC-5052 tries to rear his head one last time, but flowers and embers and starlight fill his nostrils without warning, and the constant agony behind his eye blows away like dust on the wind.
He's not Bly– not yet, maybe not ever without Aa- without her– but he's closer than he's been in many, many months.
He's not the Bly from before Felucia, but even the broken man he is now knows that this is wrong.
He won't stand by and allow this to continue without doing anything.
He left his helmet behind.
He would no longer act as the faceless will of a tyrant.
He let the cool air splash across the markings he chose to show the universe his (love) (dedication) belief in his general.
Innocents in danger. A warm lekku brushes against his jaw as her soft but firm voice urges him onward. Go. Save them.
I believe in you.
They'll speak of this moment for generations afterwards: the man with the golden kiss of the Goddess on his cheeks, taking on an entire unit of stormtroopers ready to execute protesting younglings cornered in the town square.
They'll speak of the Goddess who took the form of a blue twi'lek to guide him, hand pressed between his shoulder blades as if she were bestowing upon him a pair of wings.
They'll speak of the scattered troopers that froze and murmured varying names: General, Aayla, Jedi, ghost– but particularly of the two troopers that tossed their helmets aside and gazed at her with reverence before springing into action, one shielding the children while the other took up second in command on the charge against the oppressors.
They'll speak in hushed whispers of how when the fighting was over and the surviving troopers all removed their helmets to reveal the same face, that the Goddess had gifted Her Chosen warrior with the valor of an army but could not fit such power within only one body.
They'll remember how Her Chosen checked over each and every child youngling before embracing each other and crying over brothers found again, while the one who alone bore her marks wandered off to the edge of the courtyard alone.
Only the most devout will learn of how the Goddess appeared to him in that moment, her glittering form bathing him in starlight in that darkened corner of the battlefield. The details of what passes between them is speculated but never known, for it was a sacred moment no one wished to blaspheme.
"Aayla, I'm so sorry, I– please, tell me what to do, tell me how to fix this!"
Live. Her lips brushed against one golden tattoo. Love. She kissed the other marking.
"I can't do that without you. We– we were going to do this together."
I'm here. I'll always be right beside you.
Go. Help your brothers. Protect and serve the innocent.
"Don't leave. Don't leave me."
...but they all tell of how Her Chosen fell to his knees before her, how she drew him into her arms before vanishing into stardust, gone in the blink of an eye.