Cody woke to all the expected alarms and notifications plastered over his helmet display. The atmosphere on this sith-sent moon was light on oxygen and heavy on toxins and corrosives. Oh, and dust, mustn't forget that. Thick, grey, ash-like dust that smothered their armour until he could barely pick out his brothers from the rocks around them, barely tell which of them he was talking to. The grey covered over white and gold, leaving them all as identical as the day they were decanted. If he was the sort to be unsettled, this would unsettle him.
With a concealed sigh, ignoring the ache in his head and his back, he sat up, cancelling the alerts. After three standard weeks he knew the dangers well enough.
“Commander!” Drifter sounded relieved and he looked over to find a small group of his vod gathered around an abandoned helmet. He looked around the cave quickly, searching for whatever unfortunate vod had been stupid enough to disobey orders and take off his helmet. They had already lost a squad to this storm. He wasn't going to lose another brother to the kriffing weather.
“The general stepped outside for a moment,” Drifter went on, talking quickly. “And he left this behind.”
Of course. He should have known. His brothers had a sense of self-preservation – unlike their Jedi. He made sure not to let his frustration leak into his voice. “I see. When was this?”
“Twenty minutes ago? Tinhat went to check on him but he said he was fine. Just meditating.”
Cody nodded and took the general's bucket from Drifter's hands, his brother obviously all too eager to pass the problem up the chain of command. “Jedi can handle hostile environments for longer than we can,” he reminded them – needlessly, he suspected. If it was a vod who had removed his helmet and wandered outside he was certain that they would have been tackled and wrestled back into it long before now, regardless of rank. He really didn't want to try doing that to the Jedi. Best call that plan b.
Away from the shelter of the cave the wind picked up immediately. The dust wasn't as thick as it had been when they'd first arrived though, which could mean the storm was dying down at last – or it could be something to do with the man sitting cross-legged on the cliff edge to his right.
“Cody,” Obi-Wan greeted him without opening his eyes.
“Put your bucket back on. Sir,” he said, holding the helmet out.
Obi-Wan made no move to take it. “I'm filtering the toxins out of my lungs. I can manage without it for a while longer.”
And he wondered why he had a headache. With an effort he reminded himself that the Jedi didn't get the same training as them. The clones could practically live in their buckets, but as far as he could tell before the war no Jedi had even wore one, which, considering that the vast majority of them came from species that would die from a single head shot, was insane. “You're worrying the men.”
As he expected Obi-Wan sighed and immediately reached for the helmet, checking the filters and seals as thoroughly as any brother fresh off Kamino. “Would you care to sit down?” he invited, and the slight distortion from the helmet didn't stop him from sounding just as polite as though the two of them were in some high-class Coruscant club.
Cody took the invitation, sitting on the cliff edge and peering out into the storm, searching for any sign of clankers.
“The droids are likely to be even more inconvenienced than we are,” Obi-Wan observed.
“Unless they've had upgrades,” he said, as much for the sake of an argument as anything else.
Obi-Wan tilted his head to the side doubtfully. “They would have to do it themselves. We're the only living organisms on this moon.”
Cody glanced sideways at him, confident the movement was hidden by his helmet. “Is that a problem, sir?”
He gave a slight chuckle. “Well it does mean we don't have to worry about collateral damage. We should have sent Anakin.”
“No, I mean with the force,” he hazarded, hoping he didn't sound too ridiculous. After all, something had driven his general out here to meditate without his helmet. And the force was a connection between all living things, by his understanding anyway. Though how that let his general throw clankers around with his mind was something no one had ever managed to successfully explain to him.
Obi-Wan turned to look at him, and Cody thought he might be smiling. “It's fine, Cody. The force feels different here but it's not painful or uncomfortable. I would have told you before now if it had been a problem.”
Cody just looked at him. He might not be able to stare the Negotiator into submission, but he could at least make his incredulity plain. Off the top of his head he could think of dozens of 'painful' or 'uncomfortable' problems that Obi-Wan had chosen not to tell him about.
By the stubborn tilt of his head, Obi-Wan was well aware of what he was thinking.“I tell you if something is going to affect the mission.”
“Your health affects the mission, sir,” Cody told him every bit as dry as General Kenobi himself. He was fairly certain that Obi-Wan wanted to argue that it didn't, or perhaps that it shouldn't, but he looked back out across the moon's surface instead.
“Some Jedi have a stronger connection to the living force than others. My master was such a one. He would have struggled on this moon. But I don't have that powerful connection and so the council picked us for this assignment.”
“Lucky us,” Cody returned, inwardly wondering. He very rarely heard Obi-Wan mention his master. Strange considering by Rex's account General Kenobi was one of General Skywalker's favourite topics of conversation – right behind Senator Amidala.
“Lucky us indeed,” Obi-Wan agreed. “Not that there is any such thing as luck, of course.”
“Right,” Cody said grimly. “If the force intended for us to end up on this dustbowl, I've got a few words for it. Sorry, sir.”
“No, no,” Obi-Wan said lightly. “I often think so myself. Particularly in such...inhospitable conditions.”
That was certainly one way to put it. He rolled his shoulder a little, trying to ease the knots in his back. It wasn't his place to question, but they were the only living things on this moon, and that made it a little hard to see just what it was they were defending. Palladium mines, sure, but all the miners had been evacuated before the separatists took it.
“The mines support the economy of Kestilia,” Obi-Wan told him. “Their situation is already precarious – they import most of their food and without the income from the mines people will starve.” Cody stiffened slightly and Obi-Wan ducked his head. “Apologies, Commander, you were thinking very loudly. And one of the admitted disadvantages of the lack of the living force here is that there's less, ah, 'noise', so to speak. I'll try to do better.”
There was genuine apology in his voice and Cody nodded. “It's fine,” he said, and at least it was good to know that they were fighting for more than credits in some rich industrialist's pockets. “I don't normally question our orders,” he added defensively.
“I know,” Obi-Wan said, as though there wasn't a doubt in his mind. “But we've lost so many.”
He nodded again, looking out into the storm, in the direction that they'd lost Whistler and the shinies. “I can't decide which is worse. That they died without choosing their names, or that some of them had found their names and now no one knows them.” The squad had been at the landing zone on their own for four days and a handful of skirmishes before the storm moved in. That was more than enough time for a shiny to name themselves. He didn't like hearing designations in the litany. It meant that his brothers hadn't lived long enough to find out what made them unique. It meant they hadn't had a chance to live. It meant he'd failed.
He felt the comfortable weight of his Jedi's hand on his shoulder, a silent offer he was more used to receiving after battle. Still he nodded – accepted - and he felt a wave of comfort and compassion sweep over him through the force. It didn't take the pain away of course, but his mind was soothed and just knowing that his general shared his grief and his guilt helped somehow.
“They are one with the force, marching far away.”
With the tension across his shoulders lessened he felt a twinge of regret. “I'm sorry. You shouldn't have to waste your energy like that.”
“My master was always fond of saying that no act of compassion is a waste,” Obi-Wan replied, and that was twice now that he'd mentioned his master and that had to mean something.
“He sounds like a fine man,” he tried. “I'm sure he would have made an amazing general.”
Obi-Wan gave a wry laugh. “Hardly. He would never stand for the Order leading an army. I have no doubt he would see this whole war as my...as our failure.”
Cody didn't miss the quick correction. “Are you alright, General?” he asked tentatively.
“I'm fine,” Obi-Wan said, predictably, but he hesitated and Cody waited patiently. “I was checking through the latest casualty reports. General Zanedi died over Wusmyneides.”
He couldn't put a face to the name. “I'm sorry. Did you know them well?”
“Not well, no,” Obi-Wan said. “But we were padawans at the same time, and though she was a few years older than me we did share one class. Advanced Cross Cultural Mediation. I was reminiscing, and it suddenly occurred to me that there isn't anyone else still alive from that class. Just me; the lone survivor.”
His Jedi's voice was light. Cody reached out and gripped his forearm, concentrating on feelings of sympathy and support. If he was 'loud' he might as well take advantage of it.
“Thank you, Cody,” Obi-Wan said in a low voice gazing out into the storm once more. “Sometimes I wonder what will be left of us all once this war is over.”
Cody tried not to wonder about that. He and his brothers had been made for war.
Obi-Wan stood up quickly. “Come on. Let's wake the men. The storm will end in an hour and we need to be ready to move. I want to clear the mines and call for extraction before the next one hits. The sooner we're back home the better.”
Cody moved to follow him, wondering when Obi-Wan had started thinking of The Negotiator as home, and whether his Jedi had even noticed.