Stepping into the hangar deck, CT-5633 realized immediately he stood out like a sore thumb.
Straightening his back and taking a deep breath, he marched down the long hall, ignoring the looks from the older, hardened troopers. His armor was a clean, pristine white in a sea of greens and dirt. Though Shinies being added into veteran units was far from a rare thing - troopers died all the time and needed to be replaced - he still disliked the looks of his older brothers as he walked past. They were all sitting close to each other as they prepped their gear for the next outing. He nodded politely to the mechanics who were idly working on their dropships and shuttles. The hangar smelled of oil and caf.
His young face certainly didn’t help.
His features were softer, rounder - certainly not scarred and creased like the veterans he briskly paced by. He heard someone in the sea of troopers yell something about not allowing cadets in the hangar area. He flushed, but kept his head high and pushed through the crowded hangar. The Kaminoans warned him of ‘acclimatization issues’ with the older batchers, but he never thought it was going to be like this.
He put his helmet back on.
The rule books didn’t prepare him for this.
‘33 found his captain easily enough. The telltale red markings on his armor made him stand out in the myriad of white and greens that surrounded them. He was leaned against a stack of crates under a beat-up drop ship, barking orders while nursing a canned drink ‘33 had never seen before. His relaxed demeanor would have made him look unassuming if it wasn’t for an impressive display of scars across the bridge of his nose and down his cheek. Most notably, he saw a pair of symmetrical scars that ran from his brow, across his forehead, and landing on the side of his head, like the ears of a Vulptex.
It didn’t take long before the captain’s eyes locked on him, and he called out loudly: “CT-5633, I’ve been waiting for you! Come here, kid,” he beckoned.
‘33 cringed inwardly but marched forward with his shoulders squared. Just follow protocol. Don’t mess this up.
“CT-5633 reporting for duty, sir!” He saluted, probably a little louder than he needed to. He ignored the snickers and odd looks around him.
“Relax, kid. This isn’t an inspection,” the captain grinned. “I just wanted to have a look at you.”
Both of them were silent for a moment. The captain raised his eyebrows in expectation before ‘33 realized he wanted to see his face. He apprehensively removed his helmet and watched as the Captain’s face broke into an enormous smile.
“By Fett's blessed breeches, they weren’t kidding when they said we’d get a young one. You’re hardly older than your eighth term.”
“‘Ninth,” ‘33 corrected.
“Are they sending cadets to do a soldier’s work, now?” A dry voice came from his left and ‘33 nearly jumped. It was a scruffy clone who whizzed past him with the largest rifle he had ever seen. The clone’s hair was slightly longer than regulation, and his left eye was an impressive green, most likely a cybernetic implant. The newcomer patted the captain on the shoulder and stole his can, which the captain didn’t seem to mind. With one raised eyebrow, he didn’t break eye contact as he chugged the rest of the drink and crushed it in a single fist. “You got the chops for adult life, kid?”
“Sir, yes sir,” ‘33 saluted.
“What did I say about this not being an inspection, private? Relax, I’m getting a nervous breakdown just looking at you,” the captain chuckled and stepped forward. “I’m Kitfox, this one’s Pluto. When I heard they’re sending kids from Kamino with your special new training I had to see one for myself. We could use someone who’s up to date with all the latest training and strategies in our ranks here. I’m told you’re top of your class.”
“I'm honored, sir. It's true, sir.”
“What kind of training?” Pluto asked, only looking half as intrigued as the Kitfox, who seemed absolutely taken with him. He summoned two more cans from a crate behind him and tossed the other to Kitfox, who grabbed it out of the air without looking. He offered it to ‘33, who shook his head. Kitfox shrugged and cracked it open with a practiced motion and took a long sip.
“Simulations, mostly. Virtual battles based on true encounters in the war so far, plus a larger focus on the philosophy and theory of warfare, sir,” ‘33 asserted.
“Simulations and theory? Philosophy ? ‘They trying to replace actual, real experience? Sounds like a lot of bantha shit to me,” Pluto snorted, clearly unimpressed. “What's wrong with the real battle exercises?”
“Simulations are cheaper,” ‘33 said.
“Who says what about bantha shit?” Another voice came from behind. ‘33 turned and was met with the jovial face of a bald, smiling clone. His forehead was tattooed with six narrow marks, giving him an unnerving arachnid-like appearance. He carried a large satchel full of various mechanical parts that were nearly tumbling out of the opening.
“The kid here thinks he’s got shit. Thinks books and holovids are gonna replace real experience,” Pluto said with a dismissive wave.
“That's not true,” Kitfox said, bumping the other clone in the shoulder with a friendly, but warning look. Pluto shut up, but he didn’t seem too bothered about the silent reprimand his superior just gave him. Disregarding the previous statement, Kitfox smiled again and pointed at the newcomer. “That’s Brash, the local heavyweight. He’s got a good brain for all things tech. If your gear ever flunks out, seek him out before you file any reports. We’ve got a clean equipment record thanks to him.”
He watched the new clone dump the heavy satchel on the crate with a loud thump. The crates creaked under the weight.
“One day they’ll actually transfer me to R&D,” Brash wishfully mused, and accepted the canned drink that Pluto had fetched while ‘33 looked away.
“Not while you’re carrying those guns, you’re not,” Pluto chuckled, lightly punching Brash’s very impressively toned arm muscles. “Your brawn is wasted on those tech twerps anyway.”
“Cursed with the strength of the gods,” Brash sighed dramatically, and chugged the drink, and flexed a bicep while doing so. “Don’t worry kid. We’ll show you what a soldier’s life really is like. Not whatever the fancy Kaminoans in their pretty lab coats think it is.”
“What we’re trying to say...” Kitfox said, stressing each word giving ugly looks to his compatriots. “Is welcome to the squad.”
He received two welcome’s with varying degrees of enthusiasm from the others. Introductions over, Brash then climbed up to work on the dropship that hung suspended above them, while Pluto retreated to a workbench in the corner and carefully placed his rifle onto a clean piece of fabric.
“And you’ve come at the perfect time. Come with me, I wanna show you something.”
Grinning, Kitfox beckoned ‘33 to follow him and lead him around the tall crates, and a little further into the hangar.
“Look there,” he nudged ‘33’s shoulders and pointed to the other end of the hangar.
‘33 raised his head and dutifully followed the captain’s finger. Near the landing strip, slightly concealed behind crates and wandering troops, he saw what the captain had pointed to. A small passenger sized ship, painted red, stood out quite conspicuously from the army standard gear that filled the hangar. Though this is the first time he had seen one up close, there was no doubt what that was.
“A Jedi,” he said quietly. The captain nodded, a wide grin spreading on his scarred face.
“Not just anyone. You’re in luck, Shiny. Your first mission will be commanded by none other than General Obi-Wan Kenobi himself!” Kitfox proudly exclaimed.
“What,” ‘33 gasped, trying his best to contain the shock of nerves that struck through him at the mention of the legendary name. “You’re pulling my leg, Captain.”
“Oh, I would never do such a thing,” Kitfox mirthfully lied. “No, the order came in this morning. We’re moving from the Outer Rim come next cycle. Kenobi will be gathering his forces on the Vindication in the meantime to prepare for the next operation. Word has it, we will be working with the 212th.”
“I heard the 501st will be on it as well. A huge hit on some Sep planet,” Pluto piped in from his workbench. He dutifully inspected the disassembled barrel of his blaster for dirt, even though it was squeaky clean already.
“Seriously?” Brash injected from above, disbelief in his voice. He lowered himself from the dropship and didn’t bother cleaning up the oil and grime on his face. “Two and a half years in this war and I haven’t seen a sliver of neither Jedi nor central planets, and a Shiny joins us for three days and you get it all.”
“Lucky you,” Kitfox grinned with a light punch to ‘33’s shoulder.
“Yeah,” ‘33 smiled nervously.
If a Jedi General was joining forces with them, it meant something seriously huge was going to go down. The other clones’ excitement over this development was palpable across the room. Their voices were more hushed, carefully listening for the next orders, the loudest sounds being audible clicks and cracks of weapons getting cleaned and inspected. The mechanics were all getting the starships ready for deployment, the pilots hardly paying attention to their card games as they eagerly awaited their next operation.
The soldier's blood in him sang. This is what he was born and bred for. But his mind was not so moved.
His apprehension wasn’t lost on the others.
‘’What’s that somber look on your face for, huh? You afraid of some action?’’
‘’You’re not?’’ ‘33 asked.
His honesty seemed to catch them off guard for a sec before they all laughed. Kitfox folded his arms with a playful grin.
“Oh come on, Sunshine. It will be fine!”, he reassured him.
“I’ll make sure that when you soil your breeches, the General won’t be there to see it,” Pluto quipped and nodded to the bright red starship in the back of the hangar. He was rewarded with a burst of hearty laughter from the others. ‘33 felt himself flush.
“Very funny,” ‘33 deadpanned. “And my name is not Sunshine. Call me CT-5633.”
The other clone troopers immediately stopped laughing. They all shared a look before their eyes lit up with playful mirth. It filled him with a deep sense of dread. They obviously knew something he didn’t.
“Oh, but you’re a Shiny. And you’re about as sunny as a Corellian headlight. That makes you Sunshine to me,” Pluto said, arms crossed.
‘33 looked over at Kitfox in mild horror, to which the captain only shrugged. He at least had the heart to look a little apologetic, but the sly grin on his face destroyed any hopes of getting the captain’s sympathy.
“Sorry, Sunshine. Not sure what they told you in your special extra-fancy Kamino class, but any unnamed troopers going into the GAR are fair game. Aaand… it seems the damage is already done.”
‘33 sputtered in protest, but it seemed his clone brethren had already made up their minds. Brash chuckled and patted his shoulder with his enormous mitten-like hands. Had he not worn armor, he would have had the breath knocked out of him. “You should be happy it was us, or else someone would’ve called you something stupid like Snail, or Grass, or Kitty, or…”
“Brash,” Pluto finished. Brash sent him a red hot stare, which was met with the smaller man’s feigned ignorance.
‘’Come on, admit it. It's a good name. You’ll come around to it,’’ Kitfox said.
“I like Sunshine. I also like oxymorons,” Pluto stated plainly.
“What the fuck is an oxymoron?” Brash said.
“I’m looking at one right now,” Pluto replied with a pointed glance at Brash, with a small glint of humor on the corner of his lips.
“Are you asking for the wrench? Because it seems to me you’re asking for the wrench.”
“Can the hijinx, both of you. The Jedi is coming our way,” Kitfox suddenly commanded, professional coolness entering his voice.
The chatter ceased immediately. The four troopers stood on parade as General Kenobi passed them by. The Jedi was in deep conversation with the Admiral, a plump, older man by the name of Yeltsin. Neither of the CO’s gave them much notice, but Kenobi sent them a polite nod as he passed by. The unexpected eye contact surprised him, and he stiffened before averting his eyes with a clumsy salute. Kenobi simply grinned and kept talking with the Admiral like he was on a daily stroll.
Neither of the clones relaxed before the Jedi and Admiral were both well out of view.
“Oh, you got special treatment, rookie,” Pluto whistled and cocked his reassembled blaster with a resounding clack.
“I think he likes you,” Kitfox smiled and leaned back on his crate with a lazy stretch.
“See, even the legendary General can’t help but gaze at the Sunshine,” Brash joked in a singsong voice.
“Oh, shut the hell up, all of you,” ‘33 groaned, and followed the captain back to their little corner in the hangar. Cussing at higher-ranked soldiers would have landed him on latrine duty on Kamino, but to his surprise, they just laughed as they continued with their work. He reluctantly accepted one of the canned drinks, something he was told was called beer. It tasted like dirt.
The rule books didn’t prepare him for any of this.