I've Got You, Brother
Long slender legs and arms required a great deal more practice to use than shorter, stocker limbs. Learning to accomodate for the extra length had been a challenge as Experimental Unit Clone Force 99 had grown up, especially the lankiest of the four Brothers.
Crosshair hated the rather 'ugly' stage that had cursed his existence for the first few years of adolescence. Doing anything aside from walking or running was a hassle.
He never seemed to be able to judge the distance or clearance required to hurdle obstacles, balance over narrow walkways, swing a punch or even duck to avoid a blow. It cost him a lot of time in the infirmary as well as put him in the center of ribbing from his older Brothers and fellow Cadets.
Mix that with the fact he was albino and he was often alone.
Hunter always took pity on him and did his best to help him work through the horrible agony of growing pains, the sorrow of rejection, as well as the challenge of his own body. Each and every time Crosshair fell down or struggled to keep up, the eldest Batcher would reach out his hand and assist the youngest.
"I've got you, Brother." he assured with a smile.
When maturity finally hit and the growth upwards stopped, the youngest finally filled to his frame. He was still slender, but muscle caught up and he'd finally grown accustomed to his height. Those gangly legs turned him into the fastest and most indomitable of the four. His slighter built let him slip through, under and over obstacles like a serpent or weasle. Taking cover was significantly easier as well and more places were accessible for hiding.
His affinity for sharpshooting also let him prove he had something that made him worth while beside phsyical speed. His eyes were sharper than even Hunter's enhanced vision. There was nothing that he missed or couldn't hone in on at a rediculous distance. He never missed and it was awe inspiring when thinking about how far he'd come since a wobbly Cadet.
Their first mission out, the quartet was marching through a slippery rainforest planet with a rocky ground even the most surefooted beast would tumble and break a leg on. They came to an ancient carved stone bridge that had been long worn down by use and weather. The sides were flat and provided no stopping power if they slipped to one side or the other. The walkway itself was smooth on the surface and did not provide a great deal of traction, not to mention was plotted full of holes and foottraps that would send any one of them tumbling down the seemingly endless crevace into the planet's inner core.
Being the newly promoted Sergeant, Hunter dutifully and confidently began the treck across first.
His Brothers followed right behind him with nearly four meters of space between.
Nearly half way across, a half-ton block slipped out of place with Hunter stepping right on top of it. The space it left was wider than his reach and he watched his short life flash in front of his eyes as the overwhelming feeling of falling seized his body. He did not expect to survive once he endured the several thousand meter drop.
His descent suddenly stopped and when his brain caught up, he realized he was dangling. Something was keeping him from Death's freefall and it was coming from above him.
A tethered line ran from his back to the very hole he'd dropped through. Crosshair stood at the end, bracing at the edge with his long legs. His Firepuncher was grasped in a vice-like hold in both hands, the wench attachment humming to life to lift the Sergeant while at the same time anchoring the sniper to a massive tree at the end of the bridge just in case he slipped through too, as well as to provide leverage.
"I've gotcha, Brother." Cross reassured him.
Heat and displaced air alerted Hunter to a plasma bolt rushing by his left ear, then into the center of the Death Droid's head, effectively junking it. He himself had been in the process of doing the same with his vibroblade, but apparently someone deemed him too slow to kill.
As the droid crumpled to the ground, he ripped his blade from the shoulder joint and turned half to the left to follow the still lingering warmth of the bolt's path.
He was met with the muzzle of a Firepuncher Rifle aimed in his direction, and a pair of sharp grey-hazel hues behind the scope.
Internally, he was relieved to see his Brother assisting. Outwardly, however, there was still a lingering disappointment and anger from an earlier discussion. He didn't understand why Crosshair was so stubborn and unwilling to open his eyes. He knew the chip wasn't helping, and he didn't believe for a single second that it had been removed earlier, but that didn't stop him from feeling a painfully hot rage built up inside of him. It was not aimed at Cross directly, but at the power the Empire had gained over the youngest of his squad.
For a moment, he saw the light of lucidity and the memories of their childhood flashed between them. The companionship, the respect, the love and compassion that was equal for one another... Everything. The sniper was with them once again in that moment and he was grateful to see it. Overwhelmingly relieved that something had finally clicked...
A bright red flash of light pierced the direct line of travel from blaster to body, then drilled its way through the body and out the front before diving into the ground at Hunter's feet.
The smell of burning flesh and armor hit him first. The feel of heat and a debilitating agony in his chest came next. The taste of ionized air washed over his tongue as his jaw slacked with the widening of his eyes and an involuntary gasp for air filled his lungs. He watched as bright red and oxygenated blood oozed forth from the singed ring left behind in the center of black armor.
An expression of pain and surprise overcame Crosshair's face. His gaze flickered down from his eldest Brother's harvest hues and focused on his own chest. His arms suddenly became overly burdened by the weight of his rifle and they dropped, sending the beloved Firepuncher clattering to the ground. The rest of him seemed to almost immediately start shaking and his knees wavered under the weight of his armor and muscle.
The voice was foreign to the Sergeant, and yet he knew it was his despite the unfamiliar tone it took. It was stuck between a sorrowful howl and tormented wail.
He took no notice of the bolts whizzing by from both sides, many narrowly missing is own essence. His body instinctively moved without his control and surged forward. His arms reached out and hands tightly grabbed the nearest perch they could find on the collapsing body.
The sound of them hitting the ground together was a loud clatter of gear heavily striking the durasteel floor, and it echoed through the entire facility like no explosive ever would.
Every hour of training ever endured was suddenly lost. All the minutes spent teaching himself to feel numb to emotional pain was for naught. The countless time trying to prepare himself for the likely event that he would lose one of his Brothers seemed to have suddenly disappeared in less than a blink of an eye.
"I've got you, Brother." he whined in a shaky voice that should have belonged to a crying child and not a grown soldier.
His heart pounded in his chest as he watched the sniper's eyes pulse in struggle to focus and register his own racing thoughts. Even for an already albino shaded face, Cross actually seemed to become even more pale. That infuriatingly paient and steardy tall frame was trembling in his arms as shock set in. The typically well kept appearance was shattering as blood started seeping upwards into his mouth and spilling out the sides every time he wheezed for another breath of air.
The eldest balked in confusion and surprise when a raspy version of the sniper's voice spoke.
Sputtering slightly, his youngest sibling dragged his hand forward and ground it against the gaping hole.
"Sh*t! I'm sorry!" the Sergeant responded hastily, repeating both phrases in a panicked montra.
He carefully laid the sharpshooter on his back and used both hands to apply pressure to the wound, doing is best to ignore the overpowering sensations of wet heat seeping through his gloves and the scent of iron beginning to nausiate his stomach. His Brother's life was litteraly in his hands and it was slipping away with each drop that added to the pool spreading over the floor...
"TECH!" he screamed like a frightened child.
The world was spinning and starting to darken in the borders of his eyesight. A full on anxiety attack was creeping in on the wings of overstimulation.
It felt like ages, but it was only seconds before the brainy sibling manifested on the opposite side of him, medpack thrown down near the sniper's head and fleeting hands rummaging through it.
"Hurry up! He's dying!" the eldest snapped.
"I KNOW!" the middle Brother snarled back, though the same unfamiliar tone of panic and desperation appeared out of his mouth too.
What little part of Hunter's sanity broke the moment Omega's sobbing wail hit his ears. Even still, the instinct to protect her surged forth and he looked up right at the two shadowing forms lingering nearby.
"Echo-!" he huffed quickly.
The former ARC Trooper jolted a little out of a slight stupor himself and immediately intercepted the approaching girl. He had to physically wrap his arm and a half around her body to pin her against him in order to stop her from charging in. The result was a fierce and valiaent effort to wrangle herself free, but in the end she tired out and could only stand there trying to watch while her body slumped against the man's shoulder.
She desperately whipped her head around to the little Medical Droid that had followed her.
"AZI! Help him! Please!" she begged in the most pathetic and gut wrenching sob.
The droid floated over and wedged his way into the cluster, beginning as quickly as possible to evaluate and devise a solution to the problem. Unfortunately, after only a few seconds, he seemed conflicted with stopping and continuing forward.
Despite that obvious sign of the inevitable, neither Tech or Hunter removed themselves or gave up.
Crosshair was still breathing. There was hope. There was always hope...
"Get his armor and blacks off!" the engineer instructed hastily.
Reluctantly, Hunter removed his hands and released the pressure if only to work like mad to unbuckle the worthless Imperial armor encasing his little Brother's torso. AZI joined in despite the earlier hesitation and seemed to humor the effort out of compassion and respect for them and his friend Omega.
Cross made a noise that was between a cough, gag and grunt. His face contorted in agony and he writhed at the slightest movement or touch that irritated the wound.
Free of the hard outer shell, the softer blacks were peeled off, soaked almost entirely through with blood on both sides. Holding them up caused the blood to run in streaming lines of bright red slick.
Again the sniper was subjected to torment and responded similarly to the first time.
"I'msorry!I'msorry!I'msorry!" Hunter repeated in a mindless slur, replacing his hands to the front of the wound to attempt to plug and stem the flow of life from escaping.
Tech quickly prepped both sides of the wounded man's body to attached bacta pads, then proceeded to do so on the back first, forcing AZI to carefully turn the sniper's body over to his left side despite the growls of protest and discomfort. When finished, he continued on the front side after prying the Sergeant's hands free.
A quick jab of pain medication was dosed into the dying soldier's neck, earning a raspy yelp.
Seconds passed and Crosshair seemed to breathe a little easier, though his energy level dropped significantly and he was almost unconscious. Still, he was breathing and responsive despite all.
"Wrecker! Pick him up! We gotta get him outta here and to the medical bay!" Hunter commanded, jumping to his feet and snatching up the Firepuncher and his Brother's pack.
"No time!" Tech countered, springing up and waving his datapad. "Three Venator-Class just entered the lower atmosphere! They're preparing to fire!"
"Back to the Marauder!" the eldest corrected.
Wrecker hefted Crosshair into his arms, doing so as carefully as possible and leaning back to keep the sniper's head against his shoulder and prevent it from bouncing against his chasis.
Adrenaline fueled fear and desire to save their Brother sent the Batch racing through the Kaminoan facility at breakneck pace. The empty halls only seeming to get longer the farther they went. The silence other than their own boots and breath was eerily profound.
The doors appeared as if by magic and opened up into black, storming skies. Rain pelted them like thousands of insects trying to sting them in defense of a hive. The outside platforms and walkways were glittering like galaxies as flashes of lightning ripped the clouds in pieces and illuminated the background. The outdoor lights guided them during breaks of thunderclaps and assisted in navegating them towares their destination.
The trio of Star Cruisers lowered below the cloudbanks and began to spread themselves out for even distribution of shooting range. The artillery decks lit up with a multitude of cannons as they charged in preparation to fire.
They entered the main platform. Omega led them into the bowels of Nala Se's secret lab below the surface of the dark seas outside.
The first explosions rocked the room and vibrated through each of their bones as the transport pod manifested from the floor. Each able bodied figure huddled into the perimeter of the pod's floor and waited for the domed top to rise and seal them inside. They began their descent and fast-travel towards the distant landing pad where their ship was waiting in seconds.
The entire length of the ride was a heavy, pregnant silence. All held their breath as long as possible in order to hear the wet, gargled breaths of the wounded man's chest. It was all they had to determine if he was alive or not.
The lights flickered around them, and both the tube and pod seemed to drop out of alignment. The loud, angry sound of building materials breaking under strain was deafening for them all, not just Hunter. Vibrations rattled their teeth in their jaws from the floor.
From the darkness above them, the shadow of a facility platorm came sinking towards the ocean floor on top of them. The flashes of artillery fire drew their atteniton to the stormy surface beyond. The Empire was still fireing and destroying all evidence of Tipoca City, and any nonessential materials for Cloning or habitation that had been left behind by the shuttles.
The birthplace of the Clones, the only home they'd ever known, was burning to the rolling seas before drowning in the dark waters.
"If we don't reach the landing pad before that platform hits..."
Echo's voice broke the bloated silence like a needle to a balloon, and yet it was welcomed to distract everyone from their racing thoughts. Even still, the fact he didn't finish the sentence caused a new wave of anxiety to rise. He was right though.
"I will attempt to boost the power of the pod." AZI offered quickly, hovering over to the console to begin working.
The chunk of facility floating downwards towards them only seemed to do so faster as water undoubtedly flooded the compromised building. Smaller pieces broke off and fell faster, narrowly missing the tube and stirring up sediment at the sea floor as they landed with thunderous rumbles, groans and squeals.
A rather large hunk broke loose and was headed right down on top of a section of passage they'd left behind. Horror filled their bodies when they realized the inevitable was about to happen.
The pod shook hard with the aftershock of impact and the sudden loss of power. The surrounding tube buckled and started to decline towards the ocean floor as the integrity disappeared and followed the weight of the heavy debris. The illuminators flickered off and left them to tumble in darkness.
AZI managed to lock the pod in place before they hit the bottom, but he could do nothing more once the last surge of energy died away.
His eyes turned into headlamps and returned visual. Tech, Hunter, Echo and Omega added in their torches once they were able to find their footing.
"Wrecker! Cross!" Hunter called out desperately.
The biggest Brother jerked his head up from nearby. He was still clutching Crosshair to him, an expression of panic and desperation etched on his scarred face. One of his hands had come up and settled a short distance from the younger Brother's nose, trying to feel for an exhale.
His mismatched hues lifted from the sniper to his older siblings.
"I-... I don't-... He's not breathing-!"
Tech practically vaulted over the console to reach them and assisted in laying the limp form down on the floor. His fingers felt for a pulse while the other settled over his kin's ribs in attempt to feel a breath.
"F***!" he spat in panicked ire before immediately starting compressions.
Luckily, only a few pumps were required before a wheezing gasp and series of sputters responded.
Tired and unseeing eyes flickered absently before squeezing closed again.
Only a small amount of relief followed.
"Hang on, vod." the genius Brother breathed.
"How do we get out of here?" Hunter rumbled in a rather unnaturally impatient tone, narrowing his focus onto the droid.
"I can cut us free and we should be able to proceed on foot."
"Do it. Now."
Within minutes, the Medical Droid had used his weld attachment to cut through the duraglass and into the underwater tunnel. Because the pod was airtight to the inner circumference, the water that had rushed in behind them was stopped from further following. They were safe to proceed towards the landing pad on their own feet.
They did so with the same swiftenss that got them to the pod in the first place.
When the sloping passage took a nearly ninty degree turn straight up, the pod rails were used as a ladder to climb to the surface.
AZI took over hefting Crosshair and smoothly floated to the top to allow Wrecker use of his hands to make his own escape.
The door slid open with a loud hiss and the pelting rain returned to sting any exposed skin. The Clones were spared by their armor and helmets, but poor Omega and Crosshair were subjected to the weather. Neither seemed to respond for their own reasons, however.
The Marauder was still waiting safely for them to enter once they exited to the surface.
Tech rushed forward and entered the ship to being immediate preperations for take off.
Hunter paused mid-stride to acknowledge AZI, now floating beside Wrecker who'd once again taking hold of the sniper.
The Sergeant's heart dropped to the platform under his feet. Wrecker was in pieces, the rain doing nothing to hide the tears rolling down his face from under his lifted helmet. His arms were clutching at the limp body against him, but it wasn't to protect him or keep him sheltered from the cold and rain... It was a last ditch effort to hold onto what was once his little Brother...
Sensable thought left the eldest sibling and he rushed over with purpose, tossing his helmet off and away carelessly. He had to prove them wrong. He quickly but carefully lifted the lanky frame from the larger arms and knelt down to hover over the body. He started compressions again.
"C'mon, vod! Don't let go! I've got you!" he huffed between pumps.
He was unaware that his own eyes were flooded with tears that were streaming down his cheeks and disappearing into the rain soaking his hair and rolling down his armor.
He ignored Echo's voice at first.
"Hunter, stop." the ARC Trooper attempted again.
The sound of Omega weeping soulfully harmonized with the words. They were muffled, however, undoubtedly being quieted by the chest of the former Reg.
The Sergeant still didn't stop.
"Hunter! For Maker's sake! Stop! He's gone!" Echo bit out.
The entire weight of the world dropped at once onto Hunter's shoulders. The force of it shattered whatever part of him had held together up until then. He broke entirely.
His body slumped over and his head rested against the unmoving chest. Sobs rattled his shoulders in heartbreaking wails.
His arms soon wrapped around the slender figure and hugged, taking whatever comfort was left out of the contact. There was still warmth there, but it was not the same as it had been once before... long ago when they were young and the lanky Cadet had been broken by the ill warranted treatment and rejection of his own kin. That spicy wit and skill that had been birthed from the shadow of loneliness had died the minute the blaster bolt struck his chest...
He'd died not knowing freedom... Not knowing the joy of raising Omega...
Not knowing that even after everything he'd been manipulated to do, he had been wanted...