It’s just a routine briefing, and Ryn isn’t sure what to make of the complicated roil of resentment, nervousness, and generalized uncertainty she’s picking up from the clone troopers. It’s out of proportion to such a humdrum mission –– and, anyway, a lot of it seems to be directed at her. That can’t be good news.
They know I’m not a Jedi. But that’s never been a problem before. I’ve proven myself the hard way.
Or, on second thought, maybe not.
“... routine op, but let’s not get complacent,” she says, keeping her grip tight on the datapad she’s using for their mission plans. “Just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it will be easy. Those ground emplacements have enough firepower to keep us plenty busy, and we won’t know what kind of surprises the Seps may have left behind until we can get down there and do a surface recon.” Something is definitely wrong; Ryn takes a deep breath and goes with it anyway. “If we do this right, we may not even lose anybody today. So let’s just take it slow and careful, no mistakes. Any questions?” She always asks for questions at the end, and sometimes she even gets them. Today there’s silence. “Dismissed.” And then, catching Rex’s eye as the troopers scatter: “A word, Captain?”
She can hear her own clipped voice, the cadence of her words: so adult and professional. Even after the upbringing she’s had, that still feels strange. There are Padawans older her. Of course, most of them are doing much the same thing, but ... at least someone is nominally responsible for them.
She's just faking it as hard as she can.
“I’m not sure,” Ryn says, frowning after the departing clones. “Maybe. I was kinda hoping you could tell me.”
“I’m getting an odd feeling from some of the troopers this morning. Uncertainty, resentment. It’s a lot for a routine assignment.” She watches Rex carefully as she adds, “I could almost swear it was personal.”
She hardly even needs psychic senses to see that the clone captain is acutely uncomfortable with this conversation. “The boys will do their duty, Commander.”
Tension, and a flicker of touchy pride. “I know that, Rex,” Ryn says slowly, making the effort to keep her voice gentle. Like dealing with a wary nerf, she thinks, and then snorts inwardly at the comparison. Rex probably wouldn’t appreciate it –– but the truth Ryn has learned is, all organic beings, sentient or otherwise, share certain things in common. A preference for calm and steady, a need for assurance, is one of them. In the end, we’re all just bits of carbon strung together by electrical impulses –– and the impulses fire more reliably in an atmosphere of safety. “I’m not questioning their commitment. But nervous people make mistakes.”
Rex hesitates, but Ryn can feel him wavering. She gives him a little nudge –– not with the Force, but with common sense. “If there’s a problem with morale, I need to know about it.”
Rex opens his mouth and then hesitates again, uncharacteristically indecisive, which sets off alarm bells ringing in Ryn’s head. She waits, trying to keep her expression open and friendly: no judgment here, everybody on same side.
Rex tucks his helmet more squarely under his arm and says: “Respectfully, ma’am, I think some of the men are worried about you.”
Ryn blinks. Even sensing resentment directed toward herself, she somehow hadn’t seen that coming. “Me?” she says, blankly, unable for the moment to think of a why.
“There’s –– there is a rumor going around that you don’t like clones.” Rex’s voice is carefully neutral, but he shifts his feet and Ryn can feel his discomfort in the Force.
Her second response isn’t much more help than her first: “What? Why?” And then she shakes her head. Don’t get distracted.
A bigger problem may be Rex himself; he’s doing his best impression of a stone right now, but he’s also watching her very closely, and the waves of anxiety coming off him in the Force say he’s not sure about her, either.
“I am ... uncomfortable ... with the idea of cloning,” Ryn says slowly, feeling her way but pretty sure that the truth has got to be better than whatever rumor is circulating in the barracks these days. “It makes me ... nervous. But I’m willing to admit that might be just ... prejudice, really. I was raised on a strongly organicist world. We barely used bacta.” That’s a bit of an understatement, but the history of Loreth is a conversation for another time. Rex’s face is giving nothing away, but her sense of his concentration says he’s taking this all in with complete attention. For better or worse. “What really bothers me is the way we’re using you. Somebody with an impressive degree of foresight ordered the creation of an entire race of sentient beings to do the Republic’s dirty work, and made sure they were genetically engineered to never say no.”
Rex’s eyes are dark and hard, his presence in the Force opaque to match. “We’re not a different race,” he says. “Ma’am.” Delicate emphasis, but there’s resentment there too. Ryn wishes she didn’t understand it quite so well. “We’re human, just like you.”
“Are you?” Ryn asks. “Because the Kaminoans tinkered with your DNA for exactly this –– so you wouldn’t react like ordinary humans.” And then, because it seems to matter to Rex: “But maybe you’re right, because I’m not fully human myself.” She sees that register as surprise and maybe-acceptance, but this isn’t the time to follow up on it. “They made you to follow orders and do what you’re told, to die in their place because –– why? Because clones don’t count? Because it’s what you’re for?” Anakin burns in the back of her mind, not his presence in this moment but the memory of his pain. Ryn pushes that awareness ruthlessly aside: another thing that’s not right now. “That’s slavery, and it’s illegal, so the Senate is very carefully calling it everything else they can –– but it’s all just politics.” Deep breaths, deep breaths. There’s a place for anger and this isn’t it. “And now, because the Jedi own me, too, I get to help by leading kids into battle because you’re expendable.” She catches the flash in his expression, quickly suppressed, and bites: “Don’t look at me like that, Rex. You’re younger than I am. I don’t care how fast the Kamioans grew you, you’ve been alive in the universe for less than twelve years. You’re a kid. A smart, disciplined, well-trained kid, but still a kid, just the same. You should be learning how to write a term paper and trying to figure your life out, not finding new ways to die.”
“Because you are the sage voice of experience yourself,” Rex says –– still bland, but Ryn can feel the low flicker of humor, threaded with unease.
She gives him a tired grin for the effort. “No. But I had more choices. And sometimes good people who would fight for me.”
“Sounds like maybe we do, too.”
It takes Ryn a second to figure out what Rex is talking about, and even then it’s all so improbable that she almost forgets to smile her thanks. “Talk to Skywalker sometime,” she advises him, knowing that this is dangerous ground but also pretty sure it’s right. “About slavery and –– the rest of it. Duty and freedom. And when the time comes –– I maybe know one or two Senators who might help.” Padmé, for all the same reasons as Ryn herself. Maybe Orn Free Taa, because Ryloth loses so many every year. Bail Organa, just because it’s right.
In the end, they never get the chance to find out. Catastrophe takes all their choices away.