Rex couldn’t remember the name Mando had given the youngling, and at this point he was too afraid to ask.
“What are you doing?” Mando found Rex leaning over the baby Not-Yoda.
“Nothing,” Rex jumped up. He refused to admit he was looking into the kid’s eyes to try and see Master Yoda in those liquid depths.
Rex followed Mando up into the cockpit of Mando’s rust bucket. The old thing was pre-Imperial. Older than Rex. Though he supposed that wasn’t saying a whole lot considering he’d been an eight-year-old soldier at the rise of the Empire.
The green bean waddled his way into the cockpit and somehow wiggled into the seat behind Mando.
Rex didn’t ask about the coordinates Mando punched into the controls. He just remained grateful to have a ride off Jakku.
They hit atmo and broke into the endless black of space. Rex never got tired of the tiny cold stars. A million worlds lived out there. Rex had been fortunate enough to see a few, even help save a fair number. But seeing them spread out in an endless array of unconnected lights never ceased to send a thrill up his spine.
Those same lights reflected off Mando’s silvery helmet. Mando never took his bucket off. Rex didn’t question it. He’d had shinies in his ranks who’d clung to the safety of the helmet; proud of their paint and afraid to show the fear on their faces during battle. It didn’t really matter. Rex could read his vod’s body language better than he could read Basic. Applying the same to Mando continued to startle and stab at the old wound.
The radio suddenly cackled. Mando reached over and jiggled something. A garbled voice tried to speak.
“It sounds like a distress call,” Mando said.
Rex leaned forward, straining to hear. Mando gave the radio a thump. The signal suddenly came through loud and clear.
“This is CT- 5097. Requesting backup. I need help.”
Rex’s blood ran cold. He knew that voice. Vod. He took a steadying breath.
“He sounds like you,” Mando said.
Rex shook his head. “Most clones do, to outsiders. No offense.”
The other clone gasped, “CT-5097 in need of assistance. Any troopers receiving?”
Rex shook his head. “Turn it off.”
Mando looked at him sharply.
“Shut it down,” Rex said. He slammed his fist against his armrest. “Turn it off, dank ferrec!”
Mando flipped the switch.
Rex threw himself to his feet. He paced up and down the cockpit running his hands over his shaven scalp.
“What’s going on?” Mando asked. “Do you know who that was?”
“No,” Rex shook his head. “That’s the problem. I don’t know any trooper 5097. Clones don’t use their CT codes. We have our own names.” He jabbed a finger at the silent radio. “Whoever that is knows nothing about clones. He’s not using proper channels, or code phrases, or even a damn name.”
Master Yoda Junior whined in his seat.
Rex realised he’d shouted. His chest heaved and the blood rushed in his ears. He gulped a breath.
“That’s not a clone trooper. That’s someone who wants to catch a real clone trooper.”
Mando nodded. “Alright. It’s a trap. So, avoid it.”
Rex scoffed. “Avoid it? Kriff that. I’m going.”
“What do you mean you’re going?”
“It’s not a trap unless there’s bait,” Rex said darkly. He checked the blaster at his hip was loaded. “Are you in or out, Mando?”
Mando trusted Rex. It probably had something to do with Rex almost sacrificing himself for the foundling. But he also knew something about bonds forged in battle. Rex knew Mando was in before he nodded.
“Then I guess I better suit up,” Rex grabbed his bag and descended to the fresher. Rex couldn’t keep all his armour with him. It was too bulky to carry everywhere and he sure as kriff didn’t want to wear it on the daily in a post-Empire galaxy. But he kept a few pieces.
The blue paint had almost faded from the pauldrons. Rex smoothed a thumb over the stripes. Honestly, he should find some new paint. But every chip and scrape had been earned in battle beside his brothers. He named each piece of armour in Mando’a as he fit them on. He fastened the haalas gaid over his chest and the gadi guards around his wrists. He wished he had his cetare boots, but he’d taken a blaster bolt through the ankle ages ago, damaging the boot beyond repair. Rex looked up at himself in the tiny fresher mirror. He looked like an old soldier, worn and weary with battle.
He pulled out the buy’ce last. The painted eyes on the helmet had not faded. The rows of tally marks, one for every battle, stood proudly against the white. Rex sighed. He pressed his forehead to the brow of the helmet in a keldabe for his fallen brothers.
Rex climbed back into the cockpit with his helmet under his arm. The Mandalorian stiffened.
“You wear Stormtrooper armour,” Mando noted, his voice deceptively calm.
“I wear clone armour,” Rex snapped. “It was ours first.”
Mando tipped his head the way he did when he didn’t understand. Rex huffed.
“I know about Mandalorians,” Rex said. “I know how you feel about your armour. It’s part of you. Seeing someone else wearing your armour would be like seeing someone wearing your skin. Clones are the same.” He pounded his chest plate with his fist. “We are our armour. Think how that feels.” His voice dropped to a hiss. “Think what it feels like to watch your brothers die and then to watch a whole army march around in their skins. Betraying everything we stood for. Everything we were made for.”
Mando bowed his head. “I meant no disrespect.”
“I know,” Rex said softly.
“Did no other clones survive?” Mando asked.
Rex shrugged helplessly. “I hope so. I’ve never met another since the Execution Order.” He sucked his teeth. “Probably I’m the last one. I truly don’t know. I ran, went into hiding with Commander Tano- Ahsoka,” he corrected.
Rex reminisced in the silence. He side-eyed Mando. “You’re not that young that you don’t remember the War?”
“Imperials killed my parents,” Mando said. “After that, I was raised in a strict Mandalorian sect. I had little contact and no interest with the outside world.”
Rex snorted. “You missed a few things.”
“I’m starting to get that,” Mando’s voice betrayed his smile.
Yoda the Younger babbled from his seat. He waved his clawed hands at Rex. Rex wondered again if the child shared memories with Master Yoda. Did he recognise Rex’s armour? Rex offered a hand. The child touched his claws to Rex’s wrist guards and traced the lines of blue paint.
Mando kept his helmet facing the ship’s controls, but Rex knew he watched out of the corner of his visor.
“Don’t give him anything you don’t want chewed on,” Mando advised. “I think he’s teething.”
Yoda Junior bit down on Rex’s gloved thumb. Rex barely resisted the reaction to rip his hand away. He gently extricated his fingers dripping with drool. The child’s wrinkled features twisted into a pout.
A few hours later, they dropped out of hysperspace. The distress call came from a space station. It disguised itself as a derelict, but a quick scan showed a dozen lifeforms and enough weapons to kill a planet.
“Wonder what they’re guarding?” Mando asked.
Rex smirked. “Let’s find out.”
Mando radioed in a distress call requesting emergency landing. The station management probably took one look at Mando’s junker on their screens and gave him permission to dock before he lost another heat shield.
Mando and Rex exited the ship with their blasters ready. Two woefully unprepared guards tried to draw their weapons. Mando and Rex shot one each. Rex scanned for more security. The hanger seemed empty.
“Get back on the ship.”
For a second Rex thought Mando was talking to him. He turned with a sharp retort on his tongue, until he noticed Mando wasn’t looking at him. Rex followed Mando’s line of sight. Baby Master Yoda toddled down the ship’s ramp. The tiny Jedi completely ignored his father and waddled over to grip Mando’s shin.
A sigh crackled through the helmet raised to heaven. “Fine. Stay quiet.”
Mando scooped the little one up and slung him into the pack hanging from Mando’s belt. Rex could only see the tips of little green ears. He shrugged and followed Mando out of the loading bay and into the heart of the space station.
Rex had served on Republic stations. They had order and fluidity to their construction. This Empire base was a nightmare. There seemed no rhyme or reason behind the set up. Rex was not an engineer or an architect, but surely the med bay and mess hall should be further apart to prevent the contamination of sick individuals and food sources.
They ran into guards in flimsy Imperial armour shouting chaotically around every corner. Mando dealt with them swiftly and brutally. Rex hardly needed to raise his blasters. By the time they made it to the correct lab, Rex was pretty sure the only lifeform left on the station was behind this door.
The door slid open to reveal a carbonite chamber. The hiss of pipes extinguished fog into the room. Through the smog, Rex could make out a single slab of carbonite leaning against the wall. He approached with his blaster at the ready.
The carbon fog parted. A gasp fell from Rex’s lips. He surged forward.
“Vod.” Rex reached up for the frozen planes of a face that looked exactly like his own. Rex searched the face for scars, or features to put a name to his brother. He couldn’t tell through the carbonite. The clone looked peaceful, like he’d simply fallen asleep. Rex had never seen a carbonite freeze without the rictus of pain. It sent a shiver down his spine.
“Do you know him?” Mando’s voice ripped through Rex’s clouded thoughts.
“I don’t know yet,” Rex grabbed the controls for the carbonite slab.
An alarm suddenly pierced the room. Mando flinched. A red light accompanied the blaring siren.
“That’s the intruder alert,” Rex said. He met Mando’s visor. “Somebody sent for backup.”
“I’ll deal with it.” The red light flashed over Mando’s helmet. He vanished into the swirl of fog.
Rex returned his attention to the carbonite controls. He started the unfreezing process.
The carbon melted away. Rex held his breath as if he were the one deprived of oxygen. The last of the crabon sloughed aside. The man inside took a shuddering breath.
The vod collapsed. Rex caught him around the shoulders. He lifted the man’s face.
“Wolffe?” Rex recognised the scar carved through his brother’s eye.
The clone’s forehead creased. He groaned. “Rex? What’s going on?”
“We’re getting out of here, brother,” Rex said. “Are you alright? Can you see?”
“I still got one working eye,” Wolffe touched the cybernetic implant.
Rex slung Wolffe’s arm over his shoulder and put one foot in front of the other. Carbon sickness sent tremors through Wolffe that Rex could feel racking his body.
Wolffe’s feet scrabbled for purchase on the ground. He gradually gained his bearings. “What are you doing here?”
“Rescuing you, obviously.”
“You stupid di’kut,” Wolffe growled. “Can’t you remember your dadita?”
Rex paused. He hadn’t thought of the numerical military code in years. Not since the Clone Wars. “What do you mean?”
Wolffe huffed. “CT-5097? 5097 is a trap, you idiot.”
“No kidding,” Rex resumed dragging Wolffe towards the lab doors. “But did you really think I’d leave you here?”
The doors suddenly swished open. Rex had his blaster up and ready in an instant. The fog parted. Mando stood silhouetted in the doorway.
Rex lowered the blaster. “Kriff, I could have killed you.”
“I lost Grogu,” Mando answered.
“What the kriff is a Grogu?” Wolffe groaned.
“His foundling,” Rex said. “What do you mean, you lost him?”
Mando shrugged. “He does that sometimes.”
Rex rolled his eyes to the ceiling and thanked the Maker for his helmet. “Where did you lose him?”
Mando didn’t respond. “I need you to help me find him.”
“Fine. Split up?”
Mando nodded and slid back into the shadows.
“I’m not hallucinating, right?” Wollfe asked. “That was a Mandalorian?”
“Yeah,” Rex trudged forward. “A kriffing stupid one.”
They left the lab behind and began making their way through the illogical corridors again. Wolffe hung off Rex’s arm, still too weak to walk on his own.
Now, how to find a baby Jedi. All of Rex’s experience with Master Yoda the Elder revolved around riddles wrapped in backwards phrases and a cane that would massacre ankles at every opportunity. That wouldn’t help at all. Rex’s Jedis had all been recklessly dangerous kriffers with a penchant for pulling victories out of thin air. If Rex had a cliff to throw himself off of, he was sure the baby Jedi would come running. But no cliffs presented themselves on the starship. So, what else did Jedi like? Lightsabers, senators, killing droids, and cloaks that reached the ground all came to mind. Still not helpful. What did Rex know of Yoda Junior specifically?
It hit Rex like a lightning bolt. Food. The little one was always hungry. Rex changed course and headed back towards the mess hall they’d initially passed.
They stepped over the body Mando had left sprawled in front of the cafeteria door. The glaring white lights illuminated industrial grey tables and a buffet style offering of food selections at the other end of the room.
Rex leaned Wolffe against the door. “Watch my six.”
Wolffe lifted a limp hand in a salute.
Rex approached the trays of food. He whispered. “Grogu?”
A chirp came from one of the steaming pans. A green ear poked over the edge. The kid sat in a plate what looked like meat rations. Crumbs and sauce smeared his chubby face and dribbled down his clothes.
“You’re going to give your dad a heart attack one of these days,” Rex told him. The baby twitched his great big ears and munched on another stick of meat.
Rex picked up the kid. Predictably, the child whined and reached for the food he’d left behind.
“We got to go,” Rex told him.
A proximity alarm blared, warning about a ship approaching.
Rex raced back to Wolffe.
“I told you it was a trap!” Wolffe snapped.
“You’re very smart, shut up.” Rex slung Wolffe’s arm over his shoulder again and hurried the three of them down the corridor towards Mando’s ship.
Mando came running around the corner. “Did you find him?”
Rex passed Yoda Junior to his father. Mando cradled the baby close. He wiped some of the mess on Yoda the Younger’s face with the edge of his cloak. “What did you get all over yourself?”
“Barbeque sauce,” Rex responded deadpan.
Mando sighed. “Alright, let’s go.”
They loaded onto the junk ship.
“What a piece of crap,” Wolffe muttered.
“You want to go back?” Rex asked.
“It’s a nice piece of crap,” Wolffe cocked him a mischievous grin.
“Buckle up,” Mando yelled from the cockpit. Rex shoved Wolffe up the ladder and followed. Wolffe fell into the co-pilot’s seat. His fingers fumbled on the harness. Rex swatted his hands aside and did the fastenings himself.
They shot away from the station. Mando hovered in space with the station filling the viewscreen. Rex gripped his armrests, waiting for the jolt of hyperspace. The seconds dragged out. Mando sat perfectly still.
Rex cleared his throat. “Shouldn’t we-?”
Three Imperial ships dropped out of hyperspace on the other side of the station. Mando slapped the controls and their view melted into the rays of starlight shooting by at faster than light speeds.
“What was that?” Rex demanded. “You let them see us.”
“And now we know who we’re dealing with,” Mando replied.
“You’re crazy as a bantha, you know that?” Wolffe piped up.
“It’s been said.” Mando shoved back from the pilot’s seat and headed down the ladder. “Make yourself comfortable. It’s a long ride.”
Rex stood and approached Wolffe. He laid a hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Are you hurt anywhere?”
Wolffe shook his head. “They didn’t care to hurt me. They just wanted me to send that message.”
“Why exactly did they want a clone trooper to broadcast into deep space anyways?” Rex asked.
“Because of you,” Wolffe skewered Rex with his single natural eye. “Even the Imps know you run with Commander Tano. They wanted to draw you both out.”
Rex sighed. He ran a hand over his short hair. “I’m sorry, brother.”
Wolffe laughed a choked sound. “You need to let go of that commander complex you have, Rex. I’m not your responsibility anymore.”
“Of course, you are,” Rex squeezed Wolffe’s shoulder. “You’re my brother, no matter what.”
A cooing noise drew Rex’s attention. Yoda the Second sat at his feet, making grabby hands. Rex lifted the kid into his lap.
Wolffe stared open mouthed at the child. “Is that a baby Yoda?”
“Thank Maker you see it too.”