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Her face twisted again into a look of concern. With nimble fingers she opened one of the compartments at her belt and rustled through the ration packet slivers she kept until she found the right one. Keeping her bright eyes locked with his, she tore an edge from the packet and fished around for her mess kit with the other hand. She smiled sadly and walked the few strides so that she was beside him and with very little grace, flopped down beside him. The armour on her rear end absorbing the shock of the fall well enough that she didn't break her tailbone. 

 

She snapped out the folding plate and dumped the contents of the packet onto it, liberally sprinkling it with water from her nearly dry canteen, before stirring it with a finger to activate the crystals within. Over the course of thirty seconds a flat low chocolate flavored bread appeared. It was a dessert portion of a ration, but it was still delicious enough. 

 

She took a small corner of it before extending the plate to Durose. 

 

“Eat something. It will make you feel better.” 

 

She glanced down at the dirt at her boots, hoping it was a kind enough gesture to help.

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Ro felt like he was going crazy. Literally like he was losing his mind. He had gone from unusually apathetic only a few hours ago to melodramatically emotional to suddenly going insane. He could feel his hands and legs trembling, his stomach lurching as he tried to catch his breath. It felt like he was buried underneath the rubble on Coruscant again; as if some crumbling building component had made a nest on his chest. Only they were in a clearing. and it was just the two of them and the burnt Chandrila air.

Durose careened forward, catching himself with both hands. The woman had refused to leave him in peace but embarrassing himself in front of her was the least of his worries now. He couldn't breath. It felt like he was suffocating. Lost in a daze, Durose was still present but more of a helpless spectator than an actual participant. Reaching for the brownie she had offered, he snatch it off the plate and stuffed it down his throat. He gobbled it down so fast he almost choked.

 

Anything to escape this moment. This feeling. Help...

 

He had hoped eating something would somehow make him feel better but it had the opposite effect. The dizziness he initially felt was replaced by a violently disconcerting nausea. It was coming back up. He was panting with each short breath, trying to hold the food down. But it was. There was no stopping it.

Help. Help. Help, help, help.

He wrenched viciously. The uneasy terror he was experiencing from suddenly going absolutely insane was almost as unnerving as the sight and smell of the chunks of mucus-y poop-colored vomit that now decorated the ground in front of him. 

Help, help, help, help, HELP!
 

The shaking had only gotten worse. Was he dying? Had he come in contact with some sort of poisonous object without him knowing it? Was there some sort of biological contaminant lingering in the air? He wouldn't put it past these barbarians crusaders and their lust of murder and death.

Breath, breath, breath, breath!

 

His heart was racing. He was going to die. He was sure of it now. He was going to die and Rose was going to watch. 

Rose.

 

He closed his eyes and reached out his hand in the direction where she last was, waving it out hoping to grab hold on someone familiar. He didn't know what else to do. He felt faint and the trembling just wouldn't stop. Tears started to trickle down his face, mixing with the fur of his mane. A proud warrior reduced to a powerless child by some illogical and irrational sudden bout of fear! And yet, in these moments that fear was just as real as anything he had ever experienced in his short life, the massacre of Coruscant notwithstanding.

Come on. Come on, Ro. Please. Please!

But that was the real gist of it all. This was just one more piece of proof that he was a fraud. He was molded after a proud warrior but he was little more than a weak and frightened child in an overgrown Cathar's body. Those experiences and memories were not his. They were not earned and did not belong to him. 

Maybe this was where he would and should unceremoniously die. And maybe he deserved it.

I surrender. Take me then!

He had completely lost track of everything else around him. He had no idea if his hand had found Rose or if there was a comet of debris headed straight for him or if someone had even lit him on fire. His senses had betrayed him. He could only hear the ringing of his ears. His hands and body felt physically numb, almost as if someone had suddenly pressed a button and switched his exteroception off.


I can't stop you. Do it. I can't...

Unfortunately, it would seem that his olfactory senses were the one thing grounding him to this moral plane, the one sense that had chosen not to abandon him in his time of need. Of course, it was also the one sense he wish that had. Regurgitated food particles. Burning metal and electrical wiring. Chemical fumes. And then...

Something familiar. Focus on the familiar.

Durose squinted harder, while his eyes remained firmly shut. In what seemed like endless moments, he centered his mind on the one thing that still instilled a sense of pride, safety, and comfort.

Soo'Gah'Wae.

He could smell her, his Cathar senses allowing him to rather efficiently pick out different smells. Whether the wind had also decided to take time out of its busy schedule to prove useful, for once, in this endeavor was beyond him. All Ro knew was that he could pick out her scent and it helped him feel centered. It was the smell of battle. The one that held him as he faded. The one that saw to him being nursed back to health. The one who sought to teach him her ways. The one that had ultimately brought him here. And the one he had hiked this treacherous terrain with. Some might have called this response little more than a side effect of capture-bonding, but that didn't seem fair. She had earned her place of respect as far as Ro was concerned. He had nothing else left anyway. Just the blue haired little human and what little that was left of his self-dignity.
 

“Thank you Roar Roar. Sleep.”

The words began to played in his head on a loop as he relived those final moments and the sudden sense of relief he felt before losing consciousness. 

The relief. You are safe. She is here. Focus...

And then, all of the sudden, it was all over. The entire traumatic experience abruptly passed and the most terrifying few minutes of his life ended almost as quickly as they had overtaken him. Maybe focusing on Rose had helped or perhaps the feeling had simply run its course naturally. Regardless, the former Watcher of the Link now found himself able to finally breath normally again as his visual, tactile, and auditory sense all came flooding back to him.

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 Rose fumbled the plate of dessert and almost dumped it into the dirt as the Cathar gobbled it down then became affected by what could only appear to be a full blown panic attack. She shouted a curse, caught the plate, and setting it beside her, jumped forward to put her hands on his back. 

 

“There. Calm. Breathe.” 

 

She scooted forward so that she could hold up his massive frame while he shuddered like a leaf in a stiff wind. It had to be PTSD of sorts, and so she held him, as she kicked dust over his vomit to cover his shame. She held him until he recovered and helped him into a sitting position. This wasn't the first strong soldier she had seen effected like this. Was he truely that bothered about being a clone? She couldn't figure it out for the life of her. But she would wait, perhaps he would tell her. 

 

“Now my cooking can’t be that bad could it?” She let the joke slide off her lips to hide her concern. 

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WHAT... THE...

 

As Ro slowly came out of his panicked daze, he found Rose at his side. Although he may not have openly admitted it, there was a definite sense of relief having her there. Helping him into a sitting position, Rose tried to lighten the mood while Durose took a few deep breaths.

 

“Now my cooking can’t be that bad could it?” 

 

“No,” Ro replied bluntly with a straight face. 

 

He was already on his way to his feet, in fact. In that moment he had decided to deal with this situation the only way that made sense: pretend like it never happened.

 

“Come, Rose. We have a transport to catch.”

 

Stepping around the ash covered vomit, Durose silently shuddered a little bit. Then he resumed walking in their original direction, not waiting to see whether Rose decided to follow or not.

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Oop! She snapped the plate back into its container and hauled herself to her feet. She nearly had to sprint to catch up with his long legged strides, but when she did she kept silent. She tapped her fingers on her blue helmet that was slung from her belt in a discordant rythm, he obviously was hiding something. But perhaps she could get him to talk too if she revealed more about herself. Her voice was hesitant as she spoke,

 

“I am a clone too. It was a contract, the Black Sun forcibly cloned me. I assume my old body and self died at some point. But I only have flash memories for what my old self knew at imprint point. I don’t know what happened to her, or what she was like.” 

 

She looked up at the sky again as they neared the starport. 

 

“You aren’t alone you know. Errr, you don't have to be alone.”

 

Her fingers translated her sentence, as she looked nervously at the lines of ships preparing for evacuation. 

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“I am a clone too..."

 

Sincere shock splashed across his face for a split second before he resumed his suddenly stoic demeanor. He contemplated whether or not to engage her further on this.

How disappointing. Perhaps that is the source of our consonance. She is pleasing company because we are both just molds from the same soup masquerading as different creatures. But in reality, we are both broken and inferior replicas of our "parents." But I guess at least I got the chance to meet and somewhat know mine.

 

The clone shook his head in silence. A flood of negative thoughts rolled around in his mind like lapsing pockets of shadow on a partially cloudy but increasingly windy day.

 

Aren't we the pair! Poor girl.

 

“You aren’t alone you know. Errr, you don't have to be alone.”

 

Ro was only half listening at this point. As he more clearly began to see the shapes of the refuges ahead, Durose shifted into a work-style focus. The goal was to get them off the planet safely. And that was now his top priority. Maybe even his only priority.

Without warning, Ro's arm swung out to stop Rose in her tracks. Thankfully, instead of clotheslining her, he had aimed low enough to rest it against her breastplate instead. Turning to the woman in a rather serious manner, Ro looked her up and down before opening his mouth.

 

"We will have plenty of time to talk on the ride to the Jedi, I am sure. But we have a problem," Durose began, again looking her up and down as if to further emphasize her current attire. "If boarding one of these transports is your intention, I'm pretty confident you can't do so dressed like this. I thought you were taking us to some sort of private landing pad or something."

Durose sighed as he looked around to tactically survey their surroundings, "Here's the thing. That cavalier Mandalorian attitude may have worked on civilians on Coruscant, but you aren't the victors this time. And by now... well... I'd venture to guess that everyone knows it. Which means..."

Ro released his arm from in front of her before making a sweeping motion towards the lines of refugees in the distance, "Instead of one angry Cathar, there could be a mob of angry civilians, private security contractors, former soldiers, or who knows what looking for someone to take their frustrations out. They only just lost their homes, jobs, quality of life, and their world because of the Mandalorians! We shouldn't give them the chance to make that someone you, Rose."

Durose shrugged as he looked her up and down once more, "I guess the one beauty about not being an actual Mandalorian is that out of your armor no one is going to know your face or that you are anything more than another human."

Looking away now, Ro glared at the rows of people waiting to leave the planet. His eyes remained fixed on them as he added one last comment, realizing that he should probably stop monopolizing the conversation so much and allow for her to get more than a sentence or two in at this point.

"You know you aren't alone either. My word may not mean what it used to after Coruscant. But I'll fight for you just as hard, for what its worth... as long as you are willing to meet me half way and we approach things honorably... come what may..." Roshan concluded as his voice trailed off into the ambiance of freighter engines and burning buildings.

 

___

image.png.29644e7f68b35eb54943c9209e450e13.png

Edited by Durose Roshan

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**a barely encrypted broadband communication arrived for Rose, having been bounced over any public channel it could bounce on seeking out Rose’s assigned Black Sun comm code.

 

“Greeting Madam Cariadus. My benefactor requested that I reach out to you to request a private showcase of your talents the next time you visit the Outer Rim. He would be willing to pay handsomely.

 

As he says, my benefactor is quite handsome to gaze upon and his wealth knows no limits. He would be willing to pay you handsomely for the pleasures that you could transmit to him. 
 

If you are unable to come to the Rim, his excellency humbly requests a private holoviewing of you sent to this comm address. He will pay handsomely.

 

I have enclosed a snapshot of my benefactor as he awaits your response.”

 

At that moment, a still photograph of the inside of a rather cluttered and filthy moisture farmer’s hit played into view centered upon a rather confused looking Tusken Raider canting his head as he stared at the camera.

 

”We look forward to your response.

 

*This message was composed and sent by the Internal Secretarial System 3000, Version 11.5. Imperial Copyright # 1hskA4gFfDs51230k

 

At the bottom of the message flashed the comm code for the moisture farm on Tatooine and then the message ended. 

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Rose scrunched up her face as they reached the tailings of the starport. Her blue eyes glanced up at the Cathar and she let out a heavy breath. The cathar was decidedly right, she couldn’t just waltz into the starport dressed like one of the invaders that had so violently ravaged the world. She ducked slightly into the alley, set down her helmet then began the arduous process of stripping off her armour and flight suit. First came the chest peice, it its long lamellar plates, then the shoulder pauldrons, arm pieces. Then came the armour that covered her torso, her gunbelt, legs armour and boots. She tossed each piece beside the helmet then unzipped the mandalorian flightsuit, stepped out of it then tossed it beside the discarded armour. She shivered a bit at the touch of air against her mostly bare flesh then grimaced at the feel of the duracrete under her bare feet. She adjusted the tight shorts and close fitting shirt that showed her midriff clearly. 

 

She reached down and pulled out the credit chit from her gunbelt, along with her vibroknife. She perched herself ontop of her helmet and examined her shoulder, which carried the mandalorian tattoo of the deathwatch. Her finger clicked the button on the hilts of the knife and the blade seemed to nearly go transparent with the vibrations. She bit her lip and with a deft cut, peeled the dyed skin away from her arm. She tossed it haphazardly into the back of the alley, and let the blood run down her arm as she stared at the buzzing knife. 

 

She sighed, letting the pain tinge at her so pleasantly, it would be so tempting to…

 

She shook herself out of her revery and tossed the knife into the duracrete wall where is buzzed to a halt, buried to its hilts in the man made stone. 

 

“We are all human or other species, the mandalorians were wiped out eons ago.” 

 

She smeared the blood a bit more convincingly on the side of her face, then bandaged herself up. She spoke some soft words in mando’a as she picked back up her helmet and pressed its forehead against hers. She flipped the discarded blaster around and placed the helmet upon its barrel, then took her datapad/comm unit from its pouch, checked it, grimaced, then stood. She shivered again against the wind as it whipped her short hair against the back of her neck as she stood straight and looked back at Durose.

 

“Well, there you have me. Not very impressive is it? Lets go eh?” 

 

And she walked towards the starport on her bare feet.

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Durose watched for a moment as she began to undress. However, as she started to unzip her flight suit, Durose quickly spun around and kept on the watch while giving her privacy. He could still hear the clattering of armor and rustling of clothing but he otherwise focused on making sure the coast was clear. His attention shifted back to Rose only when he heard the muffled groans of pain.

 

Alarmed, Ro looked back to see the woman flaying her arm. Roshan reached out to say something but it was already too late. He grimaced at the sight. In fact, he was so preoccupied what she had done to her arm that he wasn't even the slightest bit embarrassed to look upon her now scantily clad figure. Truth be told, she was what would be expected for a human. They all had a general figure. Some of them had larger or smaller lumps here and there. Others hid their figures under rolls of gelatinous fat. But their basic structure, (the proportions of their bodies, the legs to torso ratios, where hair grew, the shape and position of their eyes relative to their mouths and noses, the way they smiled, the shape of their jaws and teeth, the shape and density of their muscles and where and how they formed) those things were all more or less predictable depending on whether their anatomy was male or female.

It was shocking that such a small little being could have beaten him. Of course, her armor gave her a plethora of advantages.

 

Still.

 

“We are all human or other species, the mandalorians were wiped out eons ago.” 

 

She was right. And that had been his point. But there was no use in belaboring it. He had meant it in almost a joking manner as if trying to use small talk to lighten the mood. But that wasn't necessarily a strong suit of his, and he knew as much.

 

“Well, there you have me. Not very impressive is it? Lets go eh?” 

 

Ro shrugged, "It's not the way I'd have imagined having you strip down in front of me. Your form is pretty, as is to be expect. But judging you was never my intention."

As she walked by, Durose grabbed her by the wrist and put out his other hand.

 

"Stop. Hold on a second."

 

Working his way out of his synthetic cloth shirt, Ro offered it forward.

 

"I know. It will look like an over-sized dress on you. But I can tell you are cold. Don't deny it. Humans have a tell," he smirks pointing to the funny little bumps on her skin.

 

Looking down at her feet, Ro added, "And between you and me, we both know this place isn't safe for you to be walking. Lots of sharp debris and rubble and who knows what. You are small enough. I can lift you up and carry you on my shoulders or I can hold you in my arms and carry you that way. And I don't want to hear it being beneath you or whatever. We both know you aren't a damsel in distress. But right now, the more sympathy we can draw and the less threatening you look the better. For all they know, I rescued you and you are a refugee just like everyone else."

Pointing back towards the discarded items, Ro adds, "And is there anything you want from that? I think I could play the weapons and knife off as mine. Considering the circumstances, they might let me keep um. I could even keep the helmet... play it off as a trophy from a Mandalorian I killed rescuing you... if you wanted a keepsake or something..."

 

___

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Edited by Durose Roshan

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