“Move over, vod,” Hardcase said, gently pushing Cody.
“Where did you get that?” Cody responded in a stage whisper, nodding at the bang-corn.
“Wha—this?” Hardcase said, mouth full. She shrugged. “It was just there.”
“Did you bring any for us?” Fox asked, eyeing the upturned helmet full of bang-corn dangerously.
Hardcase simply gripped the bang-corn tighter to her chest. “Get your own!”
“C’mon,” Tup wheedled. “Can’t you share a little bit with your baby sister?”
Hardcase just shoved a handful of bang-corn into her own mouth. “Kark you,” she said, chewing and spitting bits of kernels everywhere.
“Hardcase!” Echo said, upset at being sprayed with spit and partially chewed kernels. “Gods, grow up!”
“Can’t, vod!” she replied cheerfully, still chewing. “Bad case of being dead. Incurable, I’m afraid.”
“Ugh,” was her only reply.
“Please? Please, Hardcase, can I have some?” Tup wheedled, making her eyes as big as saucers.
“No,” Hardcase scoffed. “Get your own!”
“Dude, just give me some!” Tup said, shooting out her hand to grab some from the helmet. Hardcase quickly moved to keep it from her, resulting in some of the bang-corn spilling. Wicker managed to grab some, and Hardcase promptly licked her hand in retaliation.
“Hardcase!” Wicker shouted, wiping off the spit on her blacks. “Gross!”
“Don’t touch my bang-corn, then,” Hardcase said smugly.
“Gods and stars above!” Cody shouted. “I’ll get you some more bang-corn if you would just shut up!”
He briefly disappeared and reappeared with helmets full of bang-corn, one for each of them. Fox, Wicker, Tup, Jesse, Fives, Echo, and Appo.
“Happy now?” he asked, not really waiting for an answer.
Wicker only sulked a little bit. “Food’s better when it’s stolen,” she said.
“Shhh!” Fives hushed them. “Show’s about to start.” He motioned to the door to the throne room, flanked by two of the Emperor’s Guard, dressed in red. Darth Vader entered the room.
Fox scoffed. “Look at their gear, not even practical. Also, spears? Simple spears? No blaster weapons? That’s just sad.”
“Would you shut up?” Cody gently shoved Fox, making the vod spill his bang-corn.
“Eurgh!” he said in protest. “Kote!”
Cody just rolled his eyes.
Darth Vader bowed low before the Emperor. He stayed silent until he was bidden to speak.
“Gods, would you hurry up? Places to go, people to see!” Fives shouted with a smile.
“He’s not even doing anything,” Tup said, fascinated. “Why doesn’t he say anything?”
“Maybe Vader karked up recently and he’s giving him the cold shoulder,” Fox suggested in a stage whisper. Fox grinned when he saw Vader tense slightly.
“What is it, Lord Vader?” the Emperor asked, sounding dangerously bored.
“Master, is it possible for a sentient being to retain their identity from beyond the grave?” Vader asked.
“A ‘sentient’, just say clone, that’s what you mean!” Hardcase shouted at Vader.
The Emperor inhaled sharply. “Lord Vader, why do you pursue this line of reasoning?”
Vader considered his words carefully. “I have had…phantoms appear to me, recently.”
“Visons?” the Emperor asked, now fully interested.
“ViSIonS?” Hardcase squawked in mockery.
“Gods, can you believe this guy’s name is Sheev? How did we not know he was evil?” Fox muttered.
“No, Master, not visions. Presences, in the Force.”
“ ‘Presences’?” the Emperor asked. “Any presences are always accompanied by the Living Force, you know this, Lord Vader.”
“The presences I have felt are from those long gone—those known to be dead, Master.”
“Interesting,” the Emperor said, stroking his chin. “Dead Jedi?”
Vader paused. “No, Master.”
“Oh, here it comes, here it comes!” Echo said.
“These presences are from…dead Force-nulls,” Vader said slowly.
“Presences you recognize?”
The silence that followed was deafening.
“Wait for it, wait for it, wait for it,” Fives whispered, holding his breath.
“They’re from…dead clones, sir.”
At that, the Emperor sat in shock and confusion.
The clones laughed, howling.
“Oh gods, look at him,” Echo laughed, tears rolling down his face. “He thinks you’re messing with him, Vader!”
“To be fair, who would believe him?” Fives replied, losing it when Vader finally turned towards them. Fives laughed harder, because he knew Vader was scowling at him behind the mask.
“They are present now, Master! Do you not feel them?” Vader pointed to where the clones were sitting.
Fox almost shuddered at the idea of the Emperor looking at them. Cody gripped his shoulder, and he knew that his brother was thinking the same thing.
But the Emperor didn’t even look. “This is pathetic, Lord Vader, especially for you. I wonder if your attachments to your old troops is rearing its head.”
“Aww, we’re flattered, but kark you!” Appo shouted.
“No, Master, not that,” Vader was quick to discourage the idea. “They simply…are annoyances.”
“No sentient can retain individuality after death! And even if it was possible, it certainly wouldn’t be possible for clone troopers,” the Emperor said, disgust twisting the last two words. “It is simply unheard of.”
“Wow Vader, I can’t believe you’re letting clone troopers get the better of you,” Tup shouted. “You’ve gotta be the worst Sith Lord in a thousand generations!”
“Master, I beg you to search your vast knowledge,” Vader said, bowing his head. “I am concerned that these…phantoms, may cause problems for your Empire.”
Fives grinned. He had promised Darth Vader as such.
The Emperor laughed now, a cold, dreadful, sickening sound. “Lord Vader, that is simply impossible. Search your feelings. You cannot believe this to be true.”
Darth Vader was quiet for a long time.
So long, in fact, that Jesse put down his popcorn and made his way to the control station.
Fox hissed furiously. “Jesse! Jesse get back here!”
“Relax!” Jesse replied. “Just gonna do a little something…” He accessed one of the computers. Hardcase’s eyes lit up and she joined him.
“Get back here!” Fox whispered, a cold feeling in his stomach. “You don’t want to mess with the Emperor!”
Hardcase scoffed. “Way I see it, he needs to be messed with a little more!”
Vader turned to see Hardcase flipping through sensitive data, and he stood and walked over to fix it. Hardcase paid him no mind as she tried to wipe the data.
“See, Master? The clones have accessed the computer!” Vader said, sounding slightly panicked. He fanned the air with his hand, and Hardcase briefly dissipated.
“Rude,” she said when she reformed. She stuck her tongue out at Vader. “I was working on that!”
Cody saw the Emperor roll his eyes. “Lord Vader, your imagination is quite something to behold.”
“Guys, you’re gonna ruin it if you don’t stop!” Fox shouted.
“Okay, okay,” Jesse said, slinking back to where the reset of the vod’e were sitting. “It was an idea anyways,” he shrugged.
“Wow, not believing weird conspiracy theories? How’s it feel now, Vader?” Fives hooted. The vod’e knew he’d let go of his hurt feelings a long time ago. The vod’e laughed. Fives thought he saw Vader wince.
“You truly do not think that sentients can retain individuality after death, Master?” Vader asked, turning to the Emperor once more.
The Emperor waved a bony, wrinkled hand, bored again. “No, Lord Vader. It is simply impossible. Perhaps your mask is acting up. Although, it pleases me that you wish to know more about the power of the Force. Simply don’t ask frivolous questions like this again.”
“ ‘Don’t ask such frivolous questions, Lord Vader,’” Appo mocked as Vader turned away and strode towards the door.
The Sith Lord simply strode out of the room, ignoring their presence.
Hardcase looked at the bang-corn in her hands, then grinned. “What do you think happens if we just dump the bang-corn out?”
Tup’s eyes widened. “Does it stay here forever? Does it get cleaned?” she wondered.
Hardcase stood. “Only one way to find out!” and she tipped over her bucket and let the bang-corn drop to the floor.
With a whoop, the other clones followed suit, and disappeared, laughing.