Cody came to with a lurch and managed to paw off his bucket before he emptied his stomach out onto the dirt. He coughed and spat to clear his mouth, tasting dry dust on his tongue with each rasping inhale. He couldn’t see and it took him a moment to realize that it was because a gash along his scalp had been bleeding into his eyes.
Cody rubbed at his face with dirty gloves, pried his eyes open, and tried to assess the situation. The line had moved further up the plains. Good. That meant that his brothers were pushing the Seps back out of the area. He turned his head at the sound of distant mechanical grinding. There was one AT-TE lagging behind and Cody watched it lumber jerkily for a few paces before it stopped. He could see a couple of troopers drop out of its belly and start to search the ground in the immediate area. One trooper hauled up a limp armoured figure and dragged him back to the AT-TE, signaling for a ramp drop. Cody dizzily staggered to his feet. They were using the damaged AT-TE as med retrieval. Smart.
A quick look at his bucket made Cody wince. There was a blackened gash that crossed the helmet’s visor and around the side. A blaster bolt must have caught him while he was turning. The heat of the bolt shattered the visor and the bolt had cut through his comm transceiver. His HUD still flickered weakly against the dark interior, but Cody guessed most of the autocontrols had melted. No chance comming for help, then.
Cody forced himself to move his boots, one in front of the other, in a shuffling trudge, arms out for balance. The planet tilted sharply and Cody slurred a curse. He barely managed to stay upright as he stumbled over churned dirt and burnt grass. He was close enough to the AT-TE that he could hear one of his brothers shout to him, but Cody couldn’t tell what he was saying.
When Cody came to the second time, he was already upright with his arm slung over Cale’s shoulders. He blinked up at the belly of the AT-TE. Stang. He hated losing time.
“Yeah,” Cody ground out. “Just get me up there before I fall over.”
“Yes sir,” Cale snorted.
Cale deposited him on an empty bench and Cody closed his eyes against the pounding in his head that timed itself to Cale’s footsteps. His stomach lurched again as the AT-TE shakily jerked forward towards the front line.
“Heyo, Commander. Still breathing?”
Cody cracked an eye open as Sawbones dumped his medpac onto the bench beside him and began collecting bandages and bacta. He gave a little nod and flinched at Sawbones sharp whistle. Another set of footsteps, lighter this time, clambered along the decking.
“Here,” Sawbones said to the human boy, handing him comically oversized plasticine gloves and a pack of steriwipes. “Clean his face off while I check to see how badly our Commander here has rung his bucket.”
The boy clambered up onto the bench next to him and Cody frowned, trying to get his thoughts in the right order as Sawbones checked him over. The boy wasn’t a cadet - red hair, blue-green eyes - and he was too young to be a civvie tagalong. He wasn’t wearing his own clothes either; someone had hastily altered some brother’s blacks for the boy. He looked familiar, but when Cody felt like he was close to figuring it out, the thought would slide off out of his reach.
Cody was impressed, though. A boy that young should have been scared, but he didn’t seem to be. His hands were steady, even in the too big gloves, and he cleaned Cody’s face of blood and dirty with sure, gentle strokes of the steriwipes. The boy’s face was scrunched up, taking his duty very seriously, and if Cody was a little more functional, he’d have an easier time of keeping his face from smiling at the boy’s diligence. At Sawbones’ direction, the boy applied bacta to Cody’s head wound with a surprisingly practiced hand, then covered the wound with a bandage.
“Obi-Wan, I’m gonna need you to stay with Commander Cody here for a while,” Sawbones said. He said more, but Cody lost the trail of his conversation. Obi-Wan. That was his General’s name.
“Oh,” Cody said aloud as it clicked.
“There he is,” Sawbones said with a grin. “I guess his brains haven’t been completely cooked.”
“What.” It didn’t quite come out as a question.
“He might be a little slow for a while, vod’ika, but keep talking to him. We heal fast and he should be less rattled in an hour or two. Come get me if he isn’t and I’ll check him over again.”
“I will,” Obi-Wan agreed. Sawbones packed up his medpac and move on to somewhere else, leaving Cody alone with….
“Why what?” Obi-Wan asked, standing on the bench and grabbing Cody's shoulder to keep him upright when he started to slump to the side. Stang but Cody hated head wounds.
“I'm not little,” Obi-Wan insisted with a stern look. “I'm well within the average growth range for a human variant of my age. I'm nine standard,” he offered imperiously when it was clear that Cody couldn't figure it out. He had trouble placing nat-born ages when he wasn't concussed.
“Oh.” Cody couldn’t think of anything else to say.
Obi-Wan, as per Sawbones’ instruction, began chattering away in his little voice. Cody was thankful that the little Jedi was just as observant as his older self and was careful to keep his voice low enough that it didn’t aggravate Cody’s headache. He told Cody about waking up outside and how he’d never been outside of the Temple before and how big the sky was. Obi-Wan’s face was bright and smiling and Cody watched the little boy gesture animatedly as he talked about how the Tall Knight brought him to Sawbones and how Sawbones had helped him find some new clothes and that he was a good person, even if he was a Healer. Cody made the appropriate encouragements when he remembered to, but Obi-Wan didn’t seem all that bothered if Cody missed his cue in the conversation. The boy was happy just to talked to someone who was listening. It made Cody’s chest ache a little. It made him sad to think that his General might have been lonely as a boy.
It took a while for Cody’s head to start clearing and for the intermittent nausea to stop hitting so hard. The AT-TE kept lumbering and stopping, lumbering and stopping, and Cody began to feel that itch that told him he had been sitting still for too long. He stood when the AT-TE stopped again and was relieved to find that he could get himself upright and mostly balanced on his own. Obi-Wan scrambled off the bench and crowded in close, putting one of Cody’s hands on his skinny shoulders so that Cody could use him for balance. Cody ruffled his hair instead, earning himself an indignant glare.
“Comin’ up on the line!” came a crackled voice over the comm speakers. “Anyone with working arms, legs, or eyes find a station!”
“What should we do, Commander?” Obi-Wan asked, eyes wide. Cody huffed a breath. They were as safe as they could be in the AT-TE and if he didn’t give Obi-Wan something to do, the boy would find something himself. Better not invite trouble, he thought.
“We’ll go up to the command module and tell these troopers what to do,” Cody said, nudging Obi-Wan’s shoulder with a hand.
“I can help?”
“Of course,” Cody swallowed back the sir that nearly slipped out. “You have to make sure that my brains aren’t scrambled. Don’t want to say the wrong thing. Are you up to it?”
“Yes sir,” Obi-Wan said. “I can do that.”
Cody was still unsteady as Obi-Wan led the way through the AT-TE’s cramped spaces, but the dizziness wasn’t nearly as bad as it had been before. Obi-Wan kept stopping to look up at him, eyes narrowed in scrutiny as they picked their way between troopers to injured to be moved. The boy made sure that he didn’t get ahead of Cody and was always right there when Cody stumbled. Cody didn’t know what Obi-Wan thought he’d be able to do if he did fall, but Cody supposed it was better that Obi-Wan’s attention was focused on him and not the other injured troopers. He was too young to be in the middle of this.
“Oh fuck me!” The shout came just before the AT-TE shook with impact. Cody bustled past Obi-Wan into the command module and leaned over the pilot to peer out the viewscreen.
“That wasn’t blaster fire,” he said, voice steady over the alarm that started blaring. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Obi-Wan jump at the noise. Cody waved him in and told him to hold onto the wall support.
“It kriffing well wasn’t,” Cuss growled, gloved fingers flying across the instrument panel trying to keep the AT-TE from tripping over itself. “We got nose yet?”
“Not yet!” Burn sat in the nose-gunner’s seat, hastily stripping out a fried wire from the firing controls and replacing it with a length of scrap wire he’d picked up somewhere. Cuss swore again and veered the AT-TE off from a direct approach.
“If it wasn’t clankers, what was it?” Cody demanded. The bright lights of the fire fight ahead of them made his head throb sickly. They were close enough to hear the sharp whines of blaster fire through the thick armour of the AT-TE, but not yet in range of anything smaller than a tank. The pain in his head was making his eyes blur and he couldn’t focus on the ground ahead of them.
“What species?!” Obi-Wan shouted to be heard over the increasing noise. He dashed across to Cody’s side when the decking leveled out, latching onto his armour with one small hand the the pilot chair with the other.
“I’m not the holonet, kid! I don’t know!”
“Does it matter?” Cody asked the boy. He might be nine standard, but Obi-Wan was still his General.
“It might!” Obi-Wan flashed him a cheeky, dimpled smile. Cody grabbed a headset from the comm console and clicked to the internal frequency.
“Top gunner, we got eyes on wildlife?” he barked.
“Trip-4 on top gun. Yes sir, I’ve got eyes on wildlife. They’re tripping up the atties ahead, sir.”
Cody stumbled over to the comm station and thumped down into the chair, pulling Obi-Wan over with him to keep him out of the pilot’s way. He pulled the spare headset from the under-compartment and adjusted it onto Obi-Wan’s head as best he could. Another thud jostled the battered AT-TE.
“Trip-4, get us a description.”
“Yes sir. Large quadrupeds, 2 to 2.5 meters tall at the shoulders, horned. Looks like herd animals. Possibly mammalian?”
“What color are they?” Obi-Wan asked over the comm.
“Who is this?”
“Answer him,” Cody said. “I’ll explain later.”
“Uh… sort of brown? With grey stripes on their backs, I think?”
“Do they have white faces?” Obi-Wan’s eyes flicked up and to the left. Cody recognized the gesture that indicated his General’s mental recall. He’d been with the man long enough to see past the soldier and tactician; at his heart, his General was an academic and the amount of information that General Kenobi had stored in his memory could put their databanks to shame. Trip-4 shouted an affirmative over the sound of the top cannon booming.
“Commander, I can make them go away. Is there a loudhailer on this vehicle? Or a transmitter of some kind?”
“Trip-4, we got a transmitter topside?”
“Just an anti-jammer.”
“Burn! That nose working now?” Cody called.
“Yes sir!” Burn said and fire two shots into the swarm of droids ahead to confirm it.
“Then get topside and see if you can convert that anti-jam into a comm-speaker!” Cody barked. He heaved himself out of the comm chair. “Obi-Wan, I’ve got to man the nose-guns. I want you to stay in this seat and wait for Burn to get that transmitter working, okay?”
“It’s working! Trip-4 says Burn fixed the transmitter!”
Obi-Wan’s little voice barely managed to reach Cody through the blaring alarms, the grinding of the damaged port foreleg, and the loud booming of explosions outside the AT-TE. Another blast lit up the view screen and the flash of it sent a piercing stab of pain into Cody’s eyes. He fired a volley and then leaned over to gag as the nausea rolled up again, but at this point, he was running on empty.
“If the transmitter’s up, Obi-Wan, now would be a good time to do whatever it is you’re planning!” Cody wiped the sweat out of his eyes with a shaking hand. He hated that there was so much worry in Obi-Wan’s voice. Cuss let loose another string of loud swearing as he tried to maneuver their crippled AT-TE around another group of the beasts outside.
“I’m sorry, Commander! You might want to cover your ears!”
Cody wanted to ask, but his attention was pulled short by another droid tank hovering into view. He fired once falling just short of the tank before the noise blinded him. A loud piercing bird-shriek blasted through the command module and Cody felt the console shake with the echoed sound coming out of the makeshift transmitter outside. He gripped the console and the chair hard to steady himself as he leaned over to gag again.
“Is it working?” Obi-Wan asked.
“Yes it fucking is!” Cuss cheered with whoop. “Trip-4, confirm!”
Cuss cheered again at whatever Trip-4 said over the comm. Cody focused on not passing out. He was vaguely aware of Cuss altering the course of the AT-TE to a more direct shuffle across the battlefield.
“Do it again, kid!”
“Whatever you need to do, Obi-Wan. I’ll live.”
This time Cody put his head between his knees and tried to muffle the sound as best he could with his gloved hands. The bird-shriek came again, this time with an adjustment to the throaty-rumbling sound as the caw rang out. Cody hadn’t known that human vocal chords could do that and the sound of it echoed eerily as the transmitters relayed the call out across the plain. This time Cody could make out distant fear-braying through the AT-TE’s armour. The decking vibrated. Cody groaned through the pain in his skull and the nausea. Thankfully, he had enough time to slide down to the floor before he passed out.
Cody didn’t know how much time he’d lost when he opened his eyes again, but he was on a cot and he could smell the sharp sting of antiseptic and bacta. Beneath the floating feeling of painkillers, he could still feel dull thudding in his head, but the sharpness was gone and the lights in the medbay weren’t making it any worse. His mouth was dry and his skin felt tight with the remnants of battle-sweat, but he was alive and mostly intact.
“Commander? Are you awake?”
Cody turned his head at the whisper. Little Obi-Wan sat up from where he had curled up in a chair next to Cody’s cot, bleary eyed and hair sticking up. There was a crease on his cheek from a fold on his sleeve. Cody quirked a half-smile.
“Yeah. I’m awake.”
“Good. That’s good. I’m glad. I was… concerned.” Obi-Wan was trying so hard to keep his face still, but Cody had learned to read his expressions as an adult. The boy had been worried. He probably hadn’t allowed himself to be moved from that chair since Cody had been brought in.
Before Cody could reassure Obi-Wan that he was fine, the door across the room opened with a hiss. General Skywalker and Rex walked into the room. Skywalker let out a relieved breath and smiled a little sheepishly - he’d probably been keeping tabs on Cody through the Force and had been waiting for him to wake up. Rex wore the face that all captains wore when they were stuck on duty for a long shift and were holding back that worried-angry mix of emotion when troopers were in medical. Cody gestured a quick all clear to him and Rex’s shoulders relaxed slightly.
“Good to see you awake, Commander,” Skywalker said cheerily, approaching the cot. Cody had gotten pretty good at reading Skywalker, too. He had his hands clasped behind his back - an unconscious habit picked up from his Master that Cody knew meant that Skywalker was unsure of what to do. The man hadn’t been Knighted for very long and with General Kenobi… indisposed, Skywalker was in command of both the 212th and the 501st until assistance arrived.
“I’ll be on my feet in no time, sir,” Cody assured him.
“That’s good to hear,” Skywalker said, eyes flicking over to Obi-Wan. The boy sat up straighter when he saw the Jedi look his way. “And good job scrounging up that noise. The herd ended up helping us out once they were trampling droids and not knocking over our vehicles.”
“That wasn’t me, sir,” Cody said.
“Which trooper came up with that? I’d like to thank him.” Skywalker paused, waiting for a name, and Cody just looked over at Obi-Wan, who was trying to flatten a tuft of hair that was sticking up. The boy froze when he noticed all the eyes on him, then cleared his throat and composed himself.
“It was me, Master,” Obi-Wan told Skywalker. Skywalker blinked in surprise.
“Where did you get the recording?”
“There was no recording, Master,” Obi-Wan said. “It was me.”
Negative, Rex signed, fingers twitching at his side. Affirmative, Cody signed back, adding a quiet three taps for amusement.
“You made that sound,” Skywalker said, disbelief clear in his voice.
“A ripan eagle call,” Obi-Wan said, folding his hands in his lap. “Ripan eagles hunt the biffala before their hibernation cycle. Their wingspans can reach up to five meters if there’s enough food during their adolescent growth periods.”
“I… did not know that,” Skywalker said slowly. The two Jedi considered each other for a moment. Obi-Wan’s eyes narrowed slightly in scrutiny and Skywalker quirked up an eyebrow, but after a few seconds, Obi-Wan smiled mischievously.
“I can do other ones, too.”
“Yeah?” A grin spread slowly over Skywalker’s face. “Why don’t we go down to the hanger and you can show me? I think Commander Cody has enough supervision here in medical.” Obi-Wan looked to Cody for confirmation and Cody nudged Obi-Wan’s leg with his hand.
“Go on. No need for both of us to be stuck here getting poked by medics.”
Obi-Wan hurriedly hopped off his chair and followed Skywalker out of the room, turning back once to wave goodbye to Cody with a cheeky grin. When the door closed, Rex relaxed and let out a short laugh that he’d been holding in.
“General Windu will be rendezvousing with us a few systems over,” Rex informed him when he’d caught his breath again. “My General’s technically in charge, but I’ve put the word out to your captains to manage the 212th while you’re in medical.”
“I appreciate it. Looks like General Skywalker’s got enough on his plate right now.”
“Which is why I should get along,” Rex said, looking at the door. “Someone needs to be the responsible one.”
“There’s a holorecorder under my bunk. You never know when we might find use for some animal predator sounds.”