Bangor squatted in the darkness, frantically tapping at his data pad. This facility was small, but whatever they were doing here was of absurd significance to the CIS. Try as he might, he could not seem to penetrate their firewalls to view their files, nor could he access the camera system. the place was sealed up tighter than a holocron. Electronically, at least. He had managed to snoop around the entrance and find the waste chute, where he was currently huddled, thanking the republic for air filtration systems. As he worked, he allowed himself to daydream back to happier days, such as when he had gotten his tongue stuck in aforementioned ventilation system. The squad laughed at him for days.
Which squad was that? The first? Second? Not the third, certainly. He reluctantly allows himself to pose the question to nobody. He was loathe to admit that with each loss and the eroding influence of time, his memories blurred and bled into one another. It didn't matter. Nothing matters except the here and now, the mission at hand. Finally satisfied that he was getting nowhere, Bangor unplugged his data pad from the data line and replaced the bit of panelling he had removed to get to it.
What was the next move? Think. He could set a small charge to provide entry into the 'freshers, but that would draw attention. No... what he needed was a distraction. Bangor placed the small entry charge to the drain form the 'freshers, set it on a five second delay. He then reached to his belt and thumbed the now grime-covered detonator. With more enjoyment than one would expect, he pressed the button, activating the massive 'door charge' as he called it, placed right at the entrance to the facility.
The world went on spin-cycle for a moment, as the shockwave threw him to his back. He was grimly reminded of when Barrel was responsible for something similar. Bangor had heard of clones with bad attitudes, but Barrel was a jerk. Still, so long as he was a clone fighting for the republic, he was a brother.
The second charge popped a shallow echo of the first, showering his visor with horrid organic refuse. Light shone through the hole he had made, and he charged through without hesitation. The time for plans was gone, from this point was naught but hope and improvisation.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
A few moments prior, a man dressed in a lab coat staggered into the refreshers, drained of color and visibly horrified.
"Ohnohnohnoimgonnadie" He panted, breathless. He had just started his shift when the front door erupted in a shower of flame and rocky shrapnel. Without hesitation he had ducked into the nearest room, to hide. Nobody would look for him here. Then came another bang, smaller, but much closer. He realized it was a few feet away. Slowly, with stricken face, he turned his gaze toward the stall that was responsible.
"Jyural? Tell me that was you man." His voice broke as panic overtook reason, and he backed toward the wall. He could hear droids clomping about in the hall, preparing to defend the facility.
The scientist involuntarily soaked his uniform as the stall door burst open, and gave berth to a monster streaked in black and red and smelling of horror.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Bangor was in full kill-mode, and loving every minute of it. To his pleasure, the droid sentries were investigating the main entry, and never expected a filth-streaked commando to burst from the 'freshers, firing his deece and generally causing a scene. He had equipped the ion attachment to his gun, and as a result the droids fell before him by the handful. He could hear more approaching, and in preparation closed the distance to one thumb-shaped super b*droid that yet stood against him in the cavernous entry. He ducked under its firearm-arm, ejected his vibroblade, and uppercut hard into the droid's photoreceptors. He withdrew his arm, and immediately shoved his data pad into the droid's access port. Within the few seconds that reinforcements arrived, he had stripped the droid's programming, leaving only fire and walk on automatic. As foes marched stiffly around the bend from the hall, they were met with Bangor walking slowly behind the droid, firing his gun over its shoulder as it shot blindly at its brethren.
At that moment, if one could silence the array of blaster-fire and the clanking of mechanical limbs, they would hear only Bangor's maniacal laughter echoing throughout the reaches of the hidden facility. It was a mad, bellowing laugh, but a small change in perspective would imply that he was crying. Yet still he fought on, long after the droid and his weapon both exhausted their munition, long after portions of his Katarn armor was gradually burned away by the defending droids. One eye glared out from a hole seared into the visor, wide and unblinking.
Scientists, droids and staff fell before his onslaught, which was unhindered until a door opened at his approach to reveal the mandalorian pair that had murdered his squad. They seemed shocked to see him, insofar as an emotionless t-visor will portray. He dove toward the red one first, driving his vibroblade into its throat, then ripping it out with a gush and a gurgle. The smaller brown one stepped back in horror, but did not get far as Bangor tackled it. Pinned face-to-ground, the armored figure struggled helplessly as Bangor, fueled by rage and blood lust, firmly gripped the front of the helmet as well as the underside of the chin, covered by a neck-seal. He roared his vengeance at his foe and twisted until he heard a snap, and then for a moment after. He stood, looking defiantly into the t-visors staring back at him, and he swore to himself that the inanimate visages looked satisfyingly lifeless.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I open my eyes, and blink furiously. Why was I asleep? Oh, not again! I've been drugged! That has to be the case; I never dream if I am drugged. A small consolation to the situation. I look around: bare rock, one security door. My, what decor. In its simplicity it reminds me of Kamino. I would rather be underground than back at that infernal hydropolis. Is that even a word? Beats me, but I am keeping it.
I try to stand, and quickly find myself tethered to the wall. Well, that is just keen. I can not remember what happened before I woke up... they must have found some use for me. A glance at my cellmates sends a cold lance of fear through my gut as to what I may be used for. A few feet away, there sit huddled together a pair of humanoids, clad in the same patient-garb I wear. They appear to be a young male and an adult female, but I can't be sure. The younger one, with short-cut brown hair, has bandages wrapped around his eyes. They are soaked through with blood; I am horrified to consider why.
The pair sit in silence, not moving or looking around. Occasionally there is an explosion from beyond the door, and the three of us face it, not knowing what to expect. Each time, the sound seems to be growing closer.
My head feels like a fog, slowly clearing as the medication wears off. I am groggy, and having recollection problems, but I feel oddly well. I strain my mind to help me remember, but it seems like a far off light in the fog. I bury my face in my hands. This is miserable. I have been captured, and any minute now the fighting will be over, and business as usual will resume. A part of me considers that it beats being a lackey to the republic.
The blaster fire dies, the explosions stop. Somebody must have won. The door slides open, and I stand, ready to face whoever came through it.
To my shock, and chagrin, 'whoever' happened to be the one surviving commando. His armor was positively riddled with burn marks, entire missing sections, blood, and what appeared (though I am loathe to believe) to be poo. My imagination whirs comically at the possible explanations. It jars loose a bit of my memory, from before my blackout. Ah, that is right. Now I remember.
"NER VOD!" The commando howls at me. He spreads his arms as though he were about to hug me. I back away, and put my hands up. What was with him? He seemed a touch... touched. For starters, nobody was ever that happy to see me. Secondly, he is lacking the DC-17 ubiquitous to commandos, and is instead wielding a severed droid arm by the wrist.
"I will free you with haste, comrade! Then we will finish our mission for the republic!"
He hobbled with evident exhaustion over to the control panel by the door. The nearby medical droid waved its various limbs menacingly; without looking, he kicked it aside. Seconds later, I was released from my bonds. I glance at my cellmates. They do not regard me.
"A few things first, Bangor... for starters, see if you can locate a means of escape with that console."
He claps his gauntleted hands together excitedly, then turns back to the controls.
"Secondly," I resume, as I bend over the prone medical droid. I grasp it around the rim of what I choose to consider its head. "I'm done with the republic."
He turns to face me, a touch too slowly, as I catch a glimpse of his one exposed eye, wide with insanity, before I swing the droid into the side of his head. He grunts and lands in a heap. I drop the flailing medical droid, and stare at Bangor's unconscious form.
"Lastly, I told you once before. I am NOT your VOD."
I hear feet shuffling behind me. I turn to see Hettyc Talyc Eparavu releasing herself from her bonds. She claps slowly.
"Well done Barrel. Nice improvisation. Bev'ika, are you ready?"
The smaller figure nods, but does not remove his bandages. Unsettling. I am beginning to wonder what kind of folks I have thrown my lot in with, but there is little for it now. I follow them out of the room and down the hall, taking in the carnage wrought by the mad commando. Dismembered droids lay scattered everywhere, and in some areas huddled groups of personnel look to have been brutally executed.
"What a monster." Hettyc says what I am thinking. "Good thing we used decoys; If we tried to fight him we would likely have died. I might have been able to handle him, but I can't risk my sons' lives." She opens a door to a room full of lockers, and looks back at me. "I mean you too, Bar'ika."
I avert my gaze while they change into their armor, and ponder what she said. I could feel myself flush involuntarily at the words. The last thing I expected to find on Geonosis was a family. The final wispy clouds of the drug gone, I can remember clearly her offer to join them, to give up my world of plastic slaves pretending to be mandalorian, to be an authentic, proud warrior of iron. I asked her, in my infinite cynicism, what she could possibly want with me. I am no warrior. I couldn't even keep my ship from being shot down, and piloting is all I know. She laughed, that warm, non-mocking chuckle. Said she could teach me. But that I had survived their attempt on my life was the only prerequisite. And my desire for a better life.
I turn back around, to find them more or less outfitted in their iron armor. A chill runs up my spine as the twin t-visors turn toward me, mouthless faces whispering promises of death. An increasingly familiar voice breaks the mysticism.
"Sorry Bar'ika, I don't have any armor for you... yet." She tosses me a uniform, with the CIS emblem shining from its insignia. I pause only for a moment, feeling the gravity of my actions. Then I shed my prisoner's garb, and stepped one leg at a time into my new role in life.
"Good. Now let's get to the ship." She leads us toward the opposite end of the facility, far from the scenes of mortality and betrayal.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Bangor stirred. His mind flashed with images and impulses. He did not think. He did not hesitate. He stood, and raced out into the hall. He would find the mandalorians. He would find the traitor. He would kill them all.
* * * * * * * * * * *
I stare wistfully up at the LAAT sitting serenely amidst various separatist vehicles. Hettyc presses a button on her gauntlet, causing the hangar doors to open with a rumbling and grinding of stone. I turn to face her, smiling.
"My favorite. How ever did you know?"
Hettyc stuffed some weapons into a bag and slung it over her shoulder. Her son, Beviin, stood with his arms crossed in silence, bringing only the swords on his back. I remember all too clearly being smashed in the face with it.
"We don't like to let good kit go to waste. Yours was a necessary loss. Am I forgiven?"
I cannot see her face, but I can picture the smile underneath the helmet. I slide the hatch open and move to the cockpit.
"Hello there," I say, caressing the controls. "My name is Barrel. pleased to meet you."
I sit down and fire up the engines. The larty hums happily. I can sense we will work well together. Behind me, Hettyc has loaded her weapons and sat down. Beviin is climbing in behind her. His head is drooped, but suddenly snaps to attention.
"Hurry vod, we need to go now." He slams the hatch on the larty shut.
I don't question the creepy little squirt, lifting off and preparing to fly far away from the place. According to Hettyc, there business there was concluded.
We gain a few feet's height, and I punch the thrusters. In a matter of seconds, we are sailing out over the red geonosian surface. It feels so good to fly again. I glance back, and see Beviin staring at the hatch.
"Problem?" I shout back at him. He nods.
"We have company."
Hettyc stands to join her son, producing a flechette gun. Without warning, the hatch opens and a screaming Bangor is clawing his way inside. Beviin tries to kick at him, but his foot is grabbed by the intruder.
"BAAAARREEEEEEELL!" Bangor howls. "TRAIIITOOOOR!" He slides backward more from the ship as we gain speed. He is clutching Beviin's foot, the owner frantically swiping at Bangor with his sword. Before he can drag my new brother from the craft, Hettyc drops the flechette gun and grabs her son's free arm with both of hers.
"BAAAARREEEEEELL!" Bangor yowls. I punch the autopilot and scramble to my feet. I'm sick of being limited to driving while others fight. I grab the flechette gun from the ground, and find the trigger. I face the gaping hatch, at the red dust billowing by and the rabid clone trying to kill my family.
I point the gun more or less at his face.
"Get off my ship."
I pull the trigger, and there is a flash as the slug thrower sprays its munition at the target. Some pings off Beviin's shin plate, off the floor, or sails out into the open. However, my aim was just good enough that most of it impacted with Bangor with a loud pop. The commando released his captive handhold and plummeted from the ship. I never looked back to see where he landed.
[I I IoIOIE<))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))> Epilogue
The room was dark. Through the one-way transparisteel they could see the clone sitting patiently in a chair as he was asked questions about his mission. One figure picked a bit of lint from its robes, then spoke.
"What are we seeing here, general?"
The other figure replied: "RC-4334. First went by Tratto, then his last squad convinced him to change it to Bangor. He has failed to respond to either. Oddly for a clone trooper, he is preferring his numerical designation."
They watched Bangor report his mission. He was calm, but his eyes held a feral rage behind them.
"It took us days to find him; he wandered the desert for an undetermined amount of time before highjacking a separatist patrol vehicle and sending out a distress beacon. When we picked him up, he was in an uncanny state: near mortally wounded, covered in blood and filth, and his armor almost completely destroyed. Yet somehow he still managed to not only survive, but succeed in escaping. We have a truly unique specimen on our hands."
The other figure fidgeted. "He seems a bit... unstable."
"Which is entirely beneficial, I think. His experiences will serve him well when he gets back from his ARC training."
"ARC training? Are you mad?" The first figure found a loose string in his robes and tugged it nervously.
"Think about it. ARCS are prized for their independent and creative thought. I think this one may prove to be a paragon of that virtue."
"He is insane!"
"He is the perfect amount of sane for what I have planned for him: he will be a top clone hunter."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Sarlacc squad sat in the felucian foliage, silently chewing their food rations. The past few days had been hard, and pickup was late. Morale was dropping, but none of them wanted to say what was on their minds.
Charge looked at his brothers, and opened his mouth to speak. However, he was interrupted by a sound they all knew too well. The alien funguses and massive plants shook with a familiar sound, a sound of salvation, of familiarity and safety. They stood as one, and celebrated in their own way, cheering, taking off their helmets, hugging their brothers as the larty drew near. They waved down the craft they so longed to see, but soon realized something was amiss.
The craft hovered, and did not lower. Instead of dropping sideways and opening the hatch, it swiveled to face them, revealing the CIS emblem painted over its insignia. Behind the transparisteel windshield, a figure with their face but clad in blue-and-black armor waved cheerfully at them, then pressed a button and released the missiles.
His name is Barrel. He is a happy, fulfilled clone.