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There Goes The Atmosphere

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After securing their position, adequately searching the maze of caves in Pau City—even with the droids—was a no-go almost from the beginning. The local population had spent centuries carving their hills into a honeycomb of storage and living spaces, and what they hadn’t connected the Techno Union had blasted through. With their new orders in place, the 212th didn’t have time to do a job up to Cody’s own standard, much less Obi-Wan’s. If he wanted [to kill] his [Traitor] and still be able to look him in the eyes afterward, then it was time to fall back to their standing orders.

Cody raised his left arm and pressed the All-Send button with his thumb, gripping his wrist harder to keep his hand steady. Kriffing adrenaline. “All squads, fall back! Return to the Vigilance for resupply. Medics, ready the wounded for pickup.” He switched frequencies to the Command line. “Nero, prep the ship for hyperspace. We’re regrouping at the rendezvous point, execute 212.3.”

“Solid copy, Commander,” Bridge Ops replied. “This is Sergeant Moti; we’ll have her ready.”

Cody lifted his chin, wincing as it jostled his helmet against the top of his head; felt like he’d picked up a bruise. “Moti?” he asked. “What happened to Nero? Is the ship damaged?”

If Obi-Wan had lost another flagship, [Traitor] Skywalker would never let anyone hear the end of it. Cody’s throat ached. He swallowed, but it didn’t help.

“Negative, sir,” Moti said. “Just the usual scrapes, but we think Nero must’ve taken an unlucky hit during a broadside maneuver. He was bleeding out of his ears by the time they took him down to Medical. Think he’ll be okay, though. Kept muttering ‘no.’”

Cody snorted. “He does hate anyone else at the helm. All right, see you back at the ship.”

He set his comm back to sleep, and squinted at the caves above his head. It seemed wrong for the sun to be so cheerfully bright on a battlefield, but that was the universe for you. Always had to go its own way. His helmet optics focused in on the cliff face automatically. After a month long siege in an ion storm, they had worked out a set of codes if their units were ever separated in the field without comms. There’d been nothing over the 212th’s systems since he’d ordered his [Traitor] shot down, but Obi-Wan was stubborn; he’d get a message through for Cody [to kill] him.

He scanned the walls twice, left and right and then backwards, balancing with the butt of his rifle stuck into the ground after he’d started to waver on his feet. There was nothing, no uniform scratches or marks burnt in with a well-aimed lightsaber, just blaster burns and pockmarks where explosions had dug holes out of the rock. He traced the scrabbling line of claw marks Obi-Wan’s varactyl had left in the cliff face. The pool they’d been dredging for an hour was empty now that they’d pulled its carcass from the water. Thank the Force, but he must have fallen clear. He’d be harder [to kill] on foot, but he’d clearly survived the fall.

Cody leaned a little harder on his rifle, and kicked a piece of debris out of his path as he turned back to the men. He raised his free arm, circling it once over his head and dropping it back down to his side. Wooley lifted his blaster in recognition. Cody put his hand to his helmet. That bitter acid taste from before was back, coating his tongue. He swallowed heavily, grimacing.

The rest of the battalion hadn’t started moving towards the landing transports, most of them weren’t even in formation. He grunted, shaking his aching head. The space behind his ears throbbed. Tension headaches, sometimes he and Obi-Wan caught them off each other.

“Barlex,” he yelled, glad no one could see him wincing through his helmet, and marched forward towards the nearest LAAT. “Get Parjai squad underway! If we’re late, I’m taking the time difference out of your hide!”

He stepped up into the ship as the rest of the men snapped to, and grabbed the nearest safety strap, staring out at Pau City as they lifted off before the blast shields closed.

 

***

 

The hanger bay was half-empty when they disembarked. The starfighters Dispatch had scrambled in case the [Traitor] got off-world were still out. Cody stepped down from his own ship after Wooley and his squadmates had staggered out, and took off his helmet, holding it under his arm. The air aboard the Vigilance smelled like torched equipment. He glanced over the area, and moved into the path of one of the flight crew clones.

“How’d this happen?” he asked, gesturing with his chin. His eyes went a bit hazy, light sensitivity was setting in. The hatch just off the main hangar doors looked like it’d been sealed with half the fire retardant in their ship’s stores, and it was surrounded by the bodies of their brothers. “We take a hit?”

The flight mechanic paused, hand half raised in a salute. He stared and Cody frowned. His gut rumbled, sore up and down both sides from his ribs to his hips. He must’ve taken a blow during the assault, and hadn’t noticed.

“Well?” he asked, lowering his voice. The flight mechanic backed up a step; he didn’t look too good himself. Cody cleared his throat and sniffed loudly. Kriffing recycled air.

“It, uh, after our orders changed, sir,” the flight mechanic said, eyes shifting up and over Cody’s shoulder. The sides of his mouth crumpled, like he was expecting someone he wasn’t seeing. Cody made a note never to do that with his own face; it looked horrible on them. “Sergeant Crys and about half of Ghost Company…they went crazy, blasted their way out. Stole a whole line of my ships to do it, too. We just now managed to get access to the hangar.”

“What? No,” Cody said.

He stepped to one side, looking again at the sealed door. His men would never mutiny. The bodies had been shoved against the walls, laid out end to end, and most of the shots seemed to have been…head shots? What the stang had been going on up here? His brothers would have never let the enemy that close in a fight. Cody’s hands started to shake; he clenched them into fists.

“Where’s the [Traitor]?” he demanded. “Has he checked in yet?”

The flight mechanic paused. “Say again, sir?” he asked.

Cody coughed, turning his head into his shoulder. His throat felt clogged, the filters on his armor must’ve failed in all that stirred up dust on Utapau. “Never mind,” he said in a rasp as he straightened. “As you were.”

He brushed past the man and set his helmet back on his head, before bringing his comm back on line. The world flattened into his viewscreen. “Moti, this is Cody. Are the coordinates for the rendezvous locked in?”

“Yes, sir,” Moti responded. “Pilot Jezz is just waiting for your go ahead.”

He switched frequencies. “Crys—” he paused, pressing his lips together, and breathed in deeply through his nose. Heat flushed along his neck and down his back; his head was really starting to pound. “Who’s out there? Squadron leaders report in.”

“Barlex here. Parjai responds.”

“Skitter here. Nerio responds.”

“Trip-Sevens here, uh, I guess for—I mean, Adenn responds.”

Cody heard out the rest of the count, watching the Medbay details finally come to stretcher the wounded and the dead out of the hangar, and waited for voices he knew should be there: Crys, Caredig, Fall Back, Odd Ball, Quaker… They never came. The 212th was down by at least a third if the flight mechanic was to be believed, and they still had a kriffing planet to retake. There must have been a mistake, his brothers wouldn’t desert in the middle of battle, not like this. Where would they go?

He closed his eyes against his headache. The [Traitor] was going to have to have at least two full blown Force migraines if he wanted to catch up to this one on the leaderboard. The pain and the pressure just kept growing, shifting like a black cloak at the edges of his sight.

“All right,” he broke in on the comm chatter. “Paredes Company, get back in your Larties; you’re marching on Utan. The Screamers can run triple-A support while you close in on that Seppie factory. Parjai and Nerio, set up a perimeter around Pau City and hold the line; there shouldn’t be any more trouble, but you know how much the clankers like to show up uninvited. The rest of the battalion will fall back to the rendezvous for reinforcements.”

A jumble of ‘sir, yes, sirs’ came over the line, and Cody cut them off. The stir of armored troops picked up around him as the battalion dropped off the last of their wounded and resupplied. Cody walked through the hangar as quickly and as smoothly as he could, feeling the pitch and yaw of a kriffing sick headache taking over his balance. There were more signs of battle in the hallway, drag marks where bodies had been pulled out of firing range. Fighting on board ship was miserable work. What had happened to Crys and the others to make them go this far?

He made it into the elevator without a ping on the comm or a hand raised to stop him and smacked his closed fist against the floor buttons. He tore off his helmet and slumped against the wall of the elevator. He ached all over now, right through his muscles to the bone, but Medical was probably overrun with their latest patients. Cody swiped at the side of his head, trying to find the spots Obi-wan would press during the worst of Cody’s headaches. Usually hurt like a numa-humper, but stang, if it didn’t help, with Obi-Wan’s long cool fingers scratching through the stiff bristles of his shorn hair. This time, though, he couldn’t seem to make his fingers fall into the correct position. No wonder Obi-Wan always insisted that Cody put his head into his lap for that move. He sighed. Time for the industrial strength pain tabs.

He raised his comm again. “Bridge, you are cleared for hyperspace as soon as Dispatch gives the all clear,” he said. Best not to keep Obi-wan waiting. Cody flinched suddenly, and closed his right eye as a lightning bolt of pain shot across his forehead. “I’ll meet you up there soon,” he grunted and clicked off.

He pushed off the wall of the elevator as it slowed down, and opened to the first level of the crew floors. Ahead of him, a squad of shinies was crowded around the [Traitor’s] door, while a birth-born private stood over them in grey.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Cody yelled, rushing out of the elevator and striding down the corridor.

The crowd jumped to attention, a cold electro-torch and a couple of code runners clattered to the floor at their feet. Cody stuffed his helmet underneath his arm and held on to it tightly. He marched forward, kicking the torch out of his way.

“Oh kark me,” one of them muttered.

Cody frowned, and cracked his neck to one side. “What the kriffing hell is this?” he asked, left hand drifting towards his sidearm.

The private swallowed. He was human, grey-eyed, and sallow-faced like most spacers; the collar of his uniform was dark with sweat.

“Commander,” he saluted, “we were attempting to search [Traitor] Kenobi’s quarters for evidence to turn over to the admiralty once we reconvene on Coruscant, but none of us can override his code and the lock’s not responding to any of our attempts to reboot the system.”

His vision flattened into the red of his helmet cam and then crackled with brilliant white eddies of light. Cody grit his teeth and glared past the pain shooting up from his joints until he could see past the light show to the white-faced asshole in front of him.

“I don’t care what the stang you thought you were doing,” he said. “No one breaks into the [Traitor’s] room on his own flagship!”

“But sir, I don’t understand, our new orders clearly state—”

“The day I need you to remind me of my orders, Private, is the day they ship me back to Kamino in a decorative box,” Cody snapped out, and the private closed his mouth.

He stood to attention, thin lips in an even thinner line, and the rest of his squad of thieves and idiots huddled behind him. Force, to think he was left with this bunch to make up for the loss of his brothers. Crys would kill him for even trying to make a comparison.

“Get out of my sight before I have you all thrown in the brig. If you’re lucky, I’ll be feeling more friendly after we rendezvous and this serious lapse in discipline won’t go into my report to the [Traitor].”

The private startled and looked at him, crinkling his forehead beneath his idiotic half cap. Cody waited him out, but the silence dragged on, and his headache was spreading deeper, tensing all his muscles down his spine. He wanted a shower, a pain tab, and a bed in whatever order he could get them. He was starting to smell himself, and he had a feeling the comedown from this fight was going to be bad.

He waited, letting his headache turn his glower mean until the pack of Jawas had locked stepped it back down the corridor towards the exit. The private was the last to go, sweat glistening on his high forehead as he saluted. Cody returned it as curtly as possible, and the private allowed the elevator at the other end of the hallway to close.

If this was the level of discipline he could expect now that Crys and the others had mutinied, they were all in trouble. It just made no sense. Cody took a deep breath and blew it out through his mouth. Crys was loyal, same as the rest of the men he’d apparently taken with him. The [Traitor] was going to have a very [Traitor]-like fit when he found out, which meant at least half a week of Obi-wan talking like a Coruscanti debutante at his first orgy, and Cody getting to rub knots the size of mynocks out of his back at night while they tracked everyone down. He adjusted his grip on his helmet, and then kicked the torch a little farther away from the door. All right, it wouldn’t be all bad.

He glanced up at the camera panopticon in the ceiling, sniffed, and keyed in the lock code, making sure to block the view with his elbow. Maybe four or five people in the entire galaxy had an access pass for Obi-Wan’s door, and that wasn’t going to change even when everything else went to stang. The door opened with a creaking hiss; the idiots must’ve pinged the actual processing matrix. They’d been lucky they hadn’t triggered a boarding alarm and sparked an emergency shut down protocol for the entire section. Karking amateurs. Cody rolled his eyes and rubbed his temple with his free hand. He stepped inside and the door shut behind him.

Cody sighed. He smelled the remains of cold caff in the dispenser. He stretched a little; his entire back ached, trading off beats of pain with his head. Maybe it was the extra space, but Obi-Wan’s room always felt better than his; he could breathe bit more freely, even if the air was above his paygrade. He frowned. The room was clear, of course, it was supposed to be, but it felt off for once. It felt empty.

They didn’t get much time to spend the night together, [Traitors] weren’t supposed to get attached to anything anymore than clones were, but Cody still knew Obi-Wan’s berth better than he knew his own. It doubled as his [Traitor’s] unofficial office and maintenance shed, and they’d planned more assaults here than in the ward room off the bridge. He hung his helmet on the hook next to the doorway, and keyed in the lock, sealing out the rest of the ship.

He walked over to the wardrobe, unbuckling the latches on his right gauntlet, and opened the right-side door. His stomach twisted, throat briefly closing. He coughed, gagging on something sharply bitter deep in his mouth. Obi-Wan’s spare tunic and robe were in there, just as they should be, next to the bare inset shelves. As a [Traitor], Obi-Wan rated space that looked more like a hotel room than an officer’s quarters on his own flagship. He had a real bed—bolted to the flooring, but not a bunk—as well as a private fresher, a desk, and even a kitchenette, which gathered dust unless Cody cooked something in it. Cody unbuckled his other gauntlet, tugging a little too fast on the glove attachments and catching his fingers in the durasteel joints. Kark. He freed himself and put them down on the shelves. His fingertips were shaking; he rubbed them against each other, trying to warm up a bit. He glanced at the kitchenette. His [Traitor] liked to think they could all just live on caff and ration sticks, but Cody had had enough real food on leave to know the difference a good meal made. Besides, it was…nice, sometimes, to do something harmless, just because he wanted to do it.

He sniffed again, and wiped his thumb underneath his nose, wrinkling it at the sudden smell of blood. Scratched by a loose filament in the helmet, maybe? The assault had been rough; the Seppies had too much of the high ground not to be a karking pain in the ass, and then when Obi-Wan’s mount had been shot—

Pain exploded across his face and roared out from his chest. He heard himself groan as he twisted in its grasp, pressing his right hand to his forehead and tearing at his cuirass with his left. It was like lightning in his blood, a shivering stinging chain dragging along his nerve endings. Cody staggered to one side and fell to their bed, bouncing on the thin mattress. A stifled giggle escaped him, even as he pushed his face down into the tangle of blanket and sheets. Obi-Wan hated it when he sat down on the bed in armor; he was going to be in such trouble.

No, he wouldn’t. Red lights strobed across Cody’s closed eyelids. He grimaced. No, he would, they were a kriffing pair of brats about the things they owned, probably because [Traitors] weren’t supposed to have things and clones weren’t supposed to last long enough to acquire them—and—and— His face felt overstuffed, hot with pain. He heard his own neck crack when he twisted his head to one side, coming into contact with Obi-Wan’s pillow. He dug his hands into the blanket, and breathed in and then out. He centered, trying to find that whatever-the-stang-it-was Obi-Wan was always talking about, the light in Cody’s center. Slowly the pain retreated, pulling back enough for him to unclench his hands and sit up.

“Room, half lights.”

He opened his eyes slowly. The empty room was lit to about Coruscanti dusk, which wasn’t actually dark, but fairly standard for any place set to Obi-Wan’s preferences. His sight wavered, that black film fluttering on the edges of his sight again, and Cody waited until it settled around him. He looked over, and tried to grin, but his mouth felt too stiff. On the desk, Obi-Wan had left his lightsaber kit open and Cody’s spare blaster tools spread out on a towel over the top of all his random flimsi reports and datawork tablets; he’d probably filched the forceps again the night before. No matter how much of light sleeper he was, Cody never seemed to wake up before Obi-Wan. He was always coming to and finding Obi-Wan tinkering with the blasted lightsaber. If it wasn’t trying to nudge an hour’s worth of life from the battery packs, then he was taking the whole thing apart with the Force and making horrible ‘crystal polishing’ jokes as if innuendo would give the thing more power. One day, he was going to singe his eyebrows off, and then Cody was going to win twenty Cho-Mar off of Rex. Cody chuckled through a throat full of rocks and smelled blood again. He sniffed, and felt something drip from his nose. He wiped at it, and looked at the back of his hand. A thin line of blood trailed over his knuckles.

He leaned his head forward, cupping his hand around his nose, but nothing came out. Cody dragged the heels of his palms down his forehead, and pressed in over his eyebrows. His eyes felt grainy, like he’d been standing in a dust storm, definitely something wrong with his armor’s filtration. He dropped his hands to his knees, and stood up with a groan, digging his weight into his heels for balance.

This was a battle hangover like none he’d ever had before, and it was kicking his kriffing ass. Forget winning the ‘Worst Headache of the War’ award, he’d settle for Obi-Wan… He frowned, and then swallowed. He’d settle for Obi-Wan… Kark it, he needed those tabs. He was used to having to push past an injury in the course of a fight, especially if the [Traitor] needed him, but something felt off. He would have remembered taking a hit that left him feeling this smashed.

He walked into the fresher with his eyes closed just as the automatic lighting kicked in, and put his hand out, catching the side of the medicine cabinet. He thumbed the side lock, and squinted as the mirrored surface rolled up into the top. Force bless [Traitors] who hated going to the medics as much as he did. Obi-Wan had a stash of bandages, bacta, and painkillers that would have made Rivet, their only [Traitor]-certified medic, turn to petty theft. He grabbed the cylinder of Pexereca, unscrewed the cap, and shook two tabs into his left hand. He popped them both in his mouth and swallowed, shuddering as they went down. That was never fun.

Cody capped the cylinder and set it back on the shelf in the medicine cabinet. He glanced over at the sonic shower and then down at his scorched armor. The chronometer in the wall had it at little over thirty since the first assault group had pulled back, and Dispatch hadn’t comm’d in that their fighter patrols had encountered Obi-Wan trying to make it off world. He’d clean up when they’d pulled in, and after the flagship hyped to the rendezvous point. He hit the button on the medicine cabinet, and glanced away, rubbing his tongue over his teeth as the front rolled down. Maybe he’d use Obi-Wan’s brush, serve him right for leaving.

He looked back up, and rocked back on his heels. “Kriffing hell.”

His eyes were bleeding, little branching red trails all around his sclera, heavy enough to be a solid pond in his right eye. He leaned in closer to the mirror. The curves of his scar stood out in a dark corkscrew down the left side of his face. His brown skin had faded to grey where it wasn’t mottled with broken capillaries, and his jaw shook with tension—how long had he been grinding it? He couldn’t remember. The short black bristles of his hair were matted to his head. There were filthy tracks under his eyes, and down his cheeks, dried now. His nose was crusted with blood as well. No wonder he felt like six tons of bantha fodder in a three pound bag, he looked like a scavenger’s breakfast.

Cody backed out of the fresher, feeling his stomach barrel roll as he moved. Maybe he should have gone to the medics after all; a full body scan sounded like a good idea. He—if—he would have remembered a clanker getting off a round that did this much damage, and since he didn’t remember taking a blow at all during the assault then the explanation had to be something biological. He wasn’t old—old for a clone maybe, but that just meant he was that kriffing good—and the bone-deep throbbing ache in his body, the way his throat felt like he’d been screaming it hoarse, and Force, his eyes…this wasn’t normal.

He turned to the desk. It could be a biological weapon; the Seppies mostly just fielded droids and they’d faced bio-terrorists before. He picked his forceps out of Obi-Wan’s tool kit and then closed the lid. He rolled his tools up in the towel, and spread his hand out over the messy pile of flimsi’s. That could have been why Crys and the others ran, if his [Traitor] had ordered them to follow a plague carrier into hyperspace. He squinted. The half-lights weren’t doing stang for his eyesight, but the tabs hadn’t kicked in yet. His head was starting to throw up a lightshow in front of his face. He flicked through the pile, nudging aside the lightsaber schematics and armory inventories to get at the next layer of messages. If Ghost Company had been detailed outside the area of operation on the [Traitor’s] orders, it meant that they’d most likely be at the rendezvous as well. That had to be it, it made sense. Obi-Wan never liked to split the battalion over more than one battle unless he could possibly help it. And now that he was [wanted for treason against the Republic] to be [killed on sight] by [order of the Supreme Chancellor] then—

A flimsi crumpled underneath his hand. A drop of blood fell on his thumb. He sniffed and came to attention.

No. That wasn’t… He hadn’t thought that. Obi-Wan was a [traitor,] he was Cody’s [trai—]enral not a kriffing pile of stang like Krell or a mir'osik political waster. He was a [Traitor] for the love of the Force, and Skywalker be damned, they didn’t come more loyal. Obi-Wan Kenobi would never.

He ground his teeth, and leaned against the desk. Something was wrong. Obi-Wan Kenobi was a [traitor.] Obi-Wan Kenobi was a [Traitor]. He stayed up too late and got up too early. He used his [filthy tricks] to—to take his clothes out of the closet when he felt lazy. He was a Force-loving smug bastard with a clever mouth and hands that would’ve been better off given to a pirate. Cody frowned, closing his eyes when the room started to get too bright again. His nose twitched, something warm slid down to his lip. He shuddered, flinching, and centered himself. Obi-Wan Kenobi was his G[rait]en[or]al who had bled with him and mourned with him on worlds Cody couldn’t—he couldn’t remember them all. He was a Mas[aitor] of the Coruscant Temple, to be [killed on sight]— No.

His knees buckled, armor creaking as he caught himself one-handed on the desk. He slid into the matching chair, and pressed his entire left palm against his head. His forehead pounded, the skin beneath his short hair was hot enough to prickle his fingertips. He grabbed the towel with his right hand, dimly registering the clatter of his blaster tools falling out of the roll, and pressed it to this nose, tilting his head forward.

The [Order 66] had been given, and he’d obeyed, because that was what a good soldier did. Even the [trai—] the [trait—] even Obi-Wan followed rules from that damn [evil conspiracy]…of his. Cody smacked the desk with his left fist, and then brought it back up to his head again, digging his knuckles in behind his ear. Kriffing son of a Hutt’s ass.

He breathed in and then out again a few times, fighting the crap floating at the back of his throat, and tried to picture himself ordering the AT-TE cannon to fire on Obi-Wan. He had, he could remember that. He could see Obi-Wan and his varactyl fall into the water, the debris surrounding them, but there was no sound. He’d been standing next to a weapon large enough to blow a building six klicks high in the middle of a full-on ground assault and he couldn’t hear a thing.

He remembered thinking it would make killing Obi-Wan harder if he still had his lightsaber.

Cody choked, shoulders drawing in and up to his ears. He pressed the towel hard against his closed lips and breathed and breathed and breathed until he could swallow the bile in his mouth back down. Obi-Wan Kenobi was a [dangerous fugitive] and this was a mistake. It had to be some…kriffing default in his DNA. Maybe clones really weren’t meant to be his age; maybe that was why he hadn’t heard from Rex in months and Nero was muttering to himself in the Medbay and Crys blew his way off their ship. They were all breaking down at last.

Obi-Wan had to have known, then, once Cody had—and maybe Obi-Wan had known even beforehand. He’d come back from the last meeting with his damn [conspiracy] in a bad mood he’d tried to cover up by teaching some of the bridge shinies Nal Hutta-rules Sabaac and, later that night, he’d climbed into Cody’s lap in the middle of a debrief and kissed him stupid. There had to be a plan in place, and Cody just had to get in line.

He opened his eyes cautiously, first left and then right. The blank screen along the wall was blinking in the left-hand corner. Cody pressed the audio only button, and took the towel away from his face.

“Yes?”

The comm chimed and the screen turned blue with a bouncing green line through the middle. Cody closed his eyes again.

“It’s Sergeant Moti, Commander. Dispatch has pulled the flyers back home. They caught sight of General Grevious’ ship leaving atmosphere, but too late to catch it before it hyped out of theater. Paredes is reporting minimal casualties and little resistance. Looks like the Seppies pulled out of Utan as soon as Pau City went dark. Is order 212.3 still green, sir?”

Cody swallowed, working his jaw until it popped. “We’re a go, Sergeant,” he said. “Execute the jump to hyperspace.”

“Sir, yes, sir.”

The comm went dead, and Cody leaned his head on both hands. He rubbed the towel across the bottom of his nose. Crys would make sure they could contain whatever was affecting the 212th, whether it was a virus or a drug or even just Cody’s number come up at last. All he had to do was get the Vigilance to Obi-Wan and join back up with Ghost Company.

It would be so good to see him again.