Guess who's back? Four:
Life leveled out after those first few days. And it didn’t take Reach long to wonder if this place was really meant to bore them all to death.
They went to their meetings, they ate, they slept, but other than that there was nothing
to do. There was a work-out area and a firing range, sure, but that got boring pretty quickly. If they got lucky, they were sent on patrol. Apparently, if they got really
lucky, they would be sent on shore leave in a nearby village. Neither one would be particularly interesting normally, but it wasn’t the base and that was what mattered. However, the complete lack of anything to do meant that, like it or not, you got to know your fellow crazies really
The sergeant from the shuttle, M, as it turned out, didn’t talk much. He spent a lot of time in group sessions with the other COs and NCOs, though these sessions didn’t make him any chattier. Reach had to admit, he kind of liked M. M kept his opinions and small talk to himself. They had taken to spending time together and griping about how boring this place was.
Jay was a wreck. Reach was surprised the kid had made it off Kamino. He had a stutter, winced every time he saw a weapon, and couldn’t spend longer than a minute in the med center without having a break down. Reach happened to witness Jay’s one time in the firing range, or at least the end result. Jay had nearly passed out from hyperventilating. He was either defective, really
messed up, or both. Either way, reach didn’t expect much from him.
Zero was the most paranoid shabuir Reach had ever seen. Sure, he seemed friendly and personable at first, but the more time you spent in his company, the more you felt like he was scoping you out, weighting whether he should let you live or take you out. He checked his bed before getting in it at night, picked his food apart before he ate it, always
sat facing the door, and probably stayed armed even when he showered. Reach had come to acknowledge that he was suffering from some
sort of PTSD and he
thought the man was crazy.
And then there was Slice.
Of all the newcomers, Reach knew the least about Slice. Slice didn’t talk to people, Slice didn’t interact with people in any
way. He stayed in low traffic areas, sharpening his knife (Reach counted—he had at least three different knives) or just staring off into the woods. Nothing seemed to phase him. In fact, Reach wasn’t sure Slice had
emotions. He was…disconcerting.
Which is why Reach was less than thrilled when, one month after his arrival, he was put in a group session with Slice and a few other shell-shocked troops. General Cairo stood in the background, probably taking notes.
“So…” One of the others bit his lip nervously. “How many?”
“Battles. How many?”
“You seriously want an exact count, vod?” asked someone else dryly.
This elicited a few chuckles from the group (well, except Slice). A few of the others opened up after that. “Hey, remember Geonosis?”
“Like it was yesterday…”
“Kamino, ye gods. I never thought we’d do any actual
“You were there too? That was a nightmare. I nearly got my leg blown off…”
“I was at Demon Rock,” said Slice abruptly.
The entire conversation ground to an uncomfortable halt. Everyone was staring at Slice now. He sat in his chair casually opening and closing one of his knives. “Osik’yr,” breathed one of the others. “I’m…”
“Why don’t you tell us about it, Slice?”
And now everyone was staring at General Cairo, some with undisguised shock. But before one of the less tactful clones told General Cairo that you don’t just ask
questions like that, Slice spoke up. “You want to know about Demon Rock?”
Slice’s tone sent chills down Reach’s spine. Slice had always had a very monotone voice, but as he spoke, it became too
calm. It was almost frightening. “See, they call it the battle of Demon Rock, but really they should call it the Massacre of Demon Rock. Because that’s what it was.” He didn’t seem to blink
. “Bad intel, worse strategy, and we weren’t going up against droids. These were organics. They actually had some common sense, and they had no
intention of letting us leave that valley.” Now
he smiled. Reach had to fight the urge to recoil at the sight. “You want to know what I saw at Demon Rock, general? I saw entire squads gone in a heartbeat. I saw a man with his arm blown clean off. He was just lying there, screaming for someone named Canner. Friend of his, I’m guessing, and I’m guessing Canner couldn’t hear him anymore.” Not once did his smile waver. “Friend of mine got shot in the face, right in front of me. He was surrendering
. He wasn’t even armed.
Even after the fighting was done, a lot of us were stuck there, behind enemy lines. Three days of running. No food, no sleep, up to your ankles in mud and osik.” Here his smile widened, just a little. “We gave them hell, though. They weren’t taking prisoners…why should we?”
Reach had heard stories about Demon Rock. Everyone had. Slice didn’t need to elaborate.
“That’s what Demon Rock was like, General,” said Slice. His smile faded, to be replaced by his usual, dead expression. “So excuse me if I’m…” He cut himself off mid-sentence, his gaze going from deadpan
“Slice? What’s wrong?”
For a second, Slice didn’t answer. Then, finally, he blinked and shook his head. “Nothing. Just…thought I saw something outside.”
Several of the other clones (Reach included) glanced over their shoulders at the window, suddenly nervous. But there was nothing there.
Reach forced himself to calm down as he turned his attention back to the group. It’s nothing, he told himself. Zero’s probably just wearing off on everyone…
He was definitely
Slice glanced over his shoulder. He could see the creep standing outside the window, peering in, disappearing when Slice took a second look. But he was there, and it was driving him crazy.You’re here, but you shouldn’t be
, he thought as he picked up his lunch tray. What are you doing here?
You should go look.
No, no, no, don’t, you can’t, you need to stay away…
You know what you
Slice sighed. Yeah, he did know. Didn’t mean he was happy about it.
But there was only one person potentially crazy enough to realize something was wrong. He was sitting in the corner by himself, facing all the entryways.This should be interesting…
Slice approached the table in what he hoped was a nonchalant manner. “Hey,” he said, trying to sound friendly. “Zero, yeah?”
Zero looked up. “…Yeah,” he said suspiciously. “Slice?”
“That’s me. Mind if I sit here?”
Zero’s eyebrows shot up. “No, I…guess not,” he said.
Slice nodded in thanks and sat down on the bench. He made sure not to block Zero’s line of sight or sit too close. Slice started considering topics of conversation. After all, it wasn’t like he could just open with the mention of someone who shouldn’t be there stalking him.
Suddenly, he saw something in the window. Slice felt his body flush with fear, excitement, and something cold and sharp all at once. Gotcha.
This time he wasn’t looking away. “Hey, Zero?”
“This might sound crazy, but…” Slice tilted his chin in the direction of the window, never once taking his eyes off the shadowy figure that watched him. “You see what I see?”
There was a pause as Zero looked up to peer at the window. Feeling a surge of triumph, Slice blinked and…
“What…exactly am I supposed to be looking at?” asked Zero.
Slice felt his face go pale. No, no, no, how?
How?! How’d you do that?!
The man was gone again. In the blink of an eye, just…gone.
“Look, if you’re trying to mess with…”
“Sorry.” Slice pulled his gaze away from the window to stare at his lunch tray. “It’s nothing. Forget I said anything.”
Slice glanced at Zero. He wasn’t looking at him in the same probing, suspicious way he looked at everyone else. There was genuine concern on his face. Slice hadn’t expected that. “It’s just…” Slice took a deep breath and started talking before his crazy had time to kick in. “I just keep thinking that I see this guy. And…something’s not right…”
“About the guy?”
Slice nodded. “He shouldn’t be here,” he said, “and the minute I look away, he’s gone.”
He didn’t expect Zero to believe him. But that wasn’t a vod-you’re-crazy look on his face. He wasn’t quite buying it, but he wasn’t entirely
disbelieving. “How long?”
“Since we got here.”
Zero nodded carefully. “I’ll keep an eye open,” he said, carefully checking all the windows before turning back to his meal.
Slice stared blankly at the other clone. It took him a few seconds, but he was able to mutter a thank-you before turning his attention back to his own meal.
He made a mental note to sit with Zero more often…
[spoiler]Just for background info, the Battle of Demon Rock is something I made up for my own little fanfic canon. The armless clone trooper is Fort from Joker Squad (the squad from the end of "Infection") and Canner did not, in fact, survive the battle. The Battle of Demon Rock is basically the Battle of Everyone Dies. And yeah.[/spoiler]