Bantha Trax

Ahsoka Tano takes Rex, Fives, Echo, Jesse, and Spark out to eat at a buffet on Coruscant.

 

Rex always did love to make big speeches, didn’t he?  Normally—-at least during a battle or conflict of some kind—-he’d be precise and concise with his words.  But now, he had to be just enjoying the attention, Ahsoka mused.

The flocks of pristinely white shiny armor exited out of the echoing mess hall to whatever job Rex had assigned them.  Finally, thought Ahsoka with some annoyed relief. She stepped out of her hiding place, lekku swinging and blue eyes glinting mischievously.

“Rex!” she hissed, “Rex!”  The blonde, buzzed head turned at the mention of his name.  He looked at her without surprise and stood up straighter instinctively, a result of years of military training on Kamino.

“Ahsoka,” he nodded warmly, in that gentle accent the young Jedi padawan had grown to love.  His voice was still clipped and calm, consonants sharp and vowels light. Ahsoka frowned; he had yet to address her in his off-duty voice.  Due to careful spying in the 501st barracks, she knew he could be relaxed, especially with his men. At least it was some improvement from snapping to attention and chirping, yes sir, all the time.

“Rexster, you busy tonight?” She used the term affectionately, although she knew he didn’t much like it.  At least it was casual, more tolerable than captain.

“Tonight, s–Ahsoka?” He corrected himself hastily.  He seemed flustered, a bit confused, awkward even. Not the Rex she knew.  She decided she didn’t like it and fished him out of his embarrassment.

“You’ve never been to a real Coruscant restaurant, I’ve heard from my master, and that’s terrible.  I’m going to fix that. Bring along Fives, Echo, oh, maybe three others. We’re going to Bantha Trax.  Finest buffet on Coruscant, actually; you’ll like it.”

Rex was a bit stunned and rather uncomfortable.  He managed to ask what time and where he should meet her before shoving on his helmet, and smothering his exclamation of excitement behind audio filters.

He strode off to the barracks along the hall, passing his fellow brothers and nodding frantically at each and every one of them.  They thought it odd: their captain was normally a stoic man who gravely acknowledged their hasty snap-tos as he passed. Captain Rex did joke here and there, but he never nodded so vehemently at them.  Captain Rex also did not walk that jauntily.


Fives was wrestling Echo in the gymnasium on one of those thin rubber mats that was about to fall apart into shreds when Rex walked in.  Rex was like a father to him and Echo, ever since he and Commander Cody had found him on Rishii as an extremely green cadet with a big head.  Echo might have argued that he still had a big head, but Fives knew that the Fives of Rishii was totally different than the Fives of the five-oh-first legion.  For one, he was now an ARC trooper.

He released Echo from the chokehold he had him in and stood up, wiping his grimy and sticky hands on the trousers of his burgundy fatigues.  Echo gasped and looked at his best friend and brother with an exaggerated expression of mock meekness as he rocked on his knees in agony. Fives grinned, suppressing an urge to say something snarky.

“C’mon Echo, Captain’s here.” Echo got to his feet.  He snapped to attention, barking, “Sir!” while staring straight ahead, back ramrod straight, as he’d been taught on Kamino.  Fives slouched on his feet and stretched.

Rex wasn’t sure if he was supposed to laugh at the starkly opposite squad-mates, but forced it down in order to preserve the pride of poor innocent, i-really-want-to-please-you Echo, and his passionate, overprotective brother Fives.  Deadly ARC troopers with fatal battle skills and quick reflexes, good soldiers, very good soldiers, but at heart they were still preteen boys. Like me, Rex noted, smiling at the irony.  He was just like them, hardly any older than them.  Experience really was everything, just as he had told Ahsoka.  Experience made you older.

“Meet me at the Jedi Temple, 2200,” Rex informed them.  “Got a surprise for you two.”  He raised his eyebrows mysteriously and leisurely walked out of the room, whistling, which was totally out of character for him.

Echo didn’t relax his posture until Rex had completely disappeared down the next corridor.  “I don’t like this, Fives, I hate surprises.”

Fives had one of those smiles plastered on his face, the one Echo knew all too well.  “If it involves a bar or bending regulations, I’m all for it. Maybe he’ll bring the commander with him.”

Echo disgustedly swung his head around and proceeded to roll up the exercise mat.  “Please don’t say that, Fives. You know I hate it.”

Fives didn’t answer, only snickered.

“You’re only crushed over the commander because she’s a girl, and she’s the first girl you’ve ever met.  Broaden your horizons. There are other females besides that whiny Togruta.  Besides, I’m pretty sure it’s against regulations to—-”

Osik your regulations,” Fives interrupted calmly, pouting slightly.  He watched as Echo endeavored to stack the rolled-up mat in the corner of the gym.  In doing so it subsequently ripped right in half, prompting Echo to mutter something about poodoo and throw it in the nearest trash receptacle.  He slammed the door shut with a bang.

Echo wisely let Fives alone for a few minutes.  As they exited the gymnasium he put an arm around his brother.  “It’s okay, Fives. I’m pretty sure she likes Rex better than you anyway.  Let’s go shower.”

After the shower Fives cheered up considerably.  Echo presumed the shower had nothing to do with it, but the pretty human secretary who had passed them on the way out.

“She’s not too bad,” Fives admitted, letting his gaze linger as she hurried down the hall.  “Nice hair. But I think girls were never meant for me.”

“’Course, you di’kut,” Echo elbowed him sharply in the ribs, “you’re a clone.”

“Although I happen to be a sexy clone,” Fives let out his breath harshly through his teeth, pretending to look smug but failing, ultimately looking crestfallen.

“Fives,” Echo said, half sighing and half reprimanding.  It was hopeless. Fives had gotten into one of his moods and there was no way out of it.  Sometimes it lasted days.


Rex was waiting at the Jedi Temple with a speeder at 2100.  Maybe coming that early was a little overkill, but hey, he was excited and maybe, Ahsoka would show up earlier.  Then again, some of the men might be late. That wouldn’t be too bad, right? Half an hour with the commander—-alone?  He ended up inviting Fives, Echo, Jesse, Kix, and a shiny called Spark, but Kix dropped out, even after he explained where they were going.  Rex had always doubted that field medics were sane, and now that had convinced him. Kix had made some excuse about “tending to the men”. No one was injured, he had argued.  Kix said he needed to do some studying, whatever that meant.

So it was just him, the ARCs, Jesse, the shiny, and Ahsoka.  It’d be fun. It’d be wild. A real experience.

Ahsoka found Rex nervously squirming in the speeder she had lent him when she arrived ten minutes early, an out of character thing for her to do.  Usually she was ten minutes late.  Things always took longer than expected, but somehow she had gotten there on time.

“Rex!” She called, jogging up to the speeder and vaulting in neatly beside him.  “You’re looking forward to this, I hope?”

He was all formal again, but the formality was a thinly worn layer over barely contained anticipation.  “Yes, Ahsoka.”

Ahsoka made a comical expression, something between a frown and a laugh, and grabbed his arm.  He instinctively brought up a fist to punch her but stopped halfway through the motion. He blushed.  “Sorry, Comm—-Ahsoka,” he said quietly. She released his arm.

“Stop being so serious, Captain,” she huffed playfully.  She knew she didn’t really want him to be not serious, because, then, that wouldn’t be Rex.  The staidness was part of his charm.

It was a rather awkward ten minutes, mostly silence, and Rex had his helmet on for half the time.  The other half they had a convincingly faked conversation about traffic patterns, which Rex knew nothing about, being on the battlefield all his life, and Ahsoka knew little about, being a Jedi where traffic didn’t really matter.

Fives and Echo arrived exactly on time, as Rex predicted, considering that Echo was a strict rules-follower.  Jesse came five minutes late with Spark in tow.

“Nice group,” Ahsoka smiled as they all piled in the speeder.  “Rex, get outta the driver’s seat; I’m driving.”

It was maybe the worst decision in the world to let her drive, he later thought.

“I have a really bad feeling about this!” Echo announced, “I believe this is breaking regulations.  According to ordinance number fifty—-”

Rex smiled in his helmet and looked over his shoulder into the back seats.  “Ordinances don’t matter tonight, brother.” Echo climbed obediently into the speeder.  

“Buckets off, boys,” Ahsoka said cheerfully, “You want the full experience.  Breathe in the beauty of Coruscant night air.”

Spark sniffed in deeply.  He wrinkled his nose. “Smells like speeder exhaust,” he noted.

“Maybe we should keep our helmets on,” Jesse said uncertainly, “do you know how many toxins are airborne?  I’m keeping my bucket on, if you don’t—-aghhh!”

Ahsoka revved the speeder and plunged into the closest skylane.  “Whoops, oncoming traffic, wrong lane,” she dipped down and whirled it around.  

Rex’s face, illuminated by the holo-ads and blinking speeder lights, looked pale for a clone.  He clutched the side of the speeder. He steadied himself. “Are you even old enough to be driving, command—-uh—-Ahsoka?”

“Can’t stop me,” Ahsoka said, upbeat.  “The advantages of Jedi access!”

Ahsoka suddenly yanked the speeder sideways to narrowly avoid crashing, and continued to lurch the speeder up and down all the way to their destination.  Fives had thrown up twice by the time she parked the speeder.

Rex crawled out of the speeder.  Ahsoka proclaimed, “Here we are, Bantha Trax!  The finest restaurant on Coruscant!”

“Restaurant? I’ve heard stories about restaurants!   Bly says this place is great!”

“I feel terrible,” Fives informed everyone, “my stomach feels hollow.”

“At least you’ll be hungry,” said Spark.

“Oh great, there’s a wait,” Ahsoka grumbled, “well, let’s get in line.”  It spanned a whole block.

“Bly went here?” Echo asked in a whisper.  “Did his commander also illegally sneak him out?”

“It’s not exactly illegal; besides, it was his general.”  Jesse clarified the point.

Echo still looked grumpy.  Rex patted him on the pauldron.  “Cheer up, tonight we’re who we really are, a bunch of adolescent boys.”

“Who are adolescent civvie boys supposed to be?” Echo asked.

Jesse, trying vainly to avoid being touched by the people around him, muttered, “Look behind me and all around.”  Echo looked.

Fives rocked back and forth on his heels, sweeping the crowd from side to side.  “Can’t tell anyone from anyone really. They all look different but which is who?”

Ahsoka leaned over his shoulder, looking where he was.  “Kid with that moppy soot hair, kid with glasses and untied shoelaces, kid with very bad acne.  Adolescent boys.”

“Ugh, remember when we were that size?” Fives looked disgusted.  “Don’t ever want to be stuck there again.”

“I can’t imagine being like that for twice as long as we were.” Echo shook his head.  “The growing pains were awful.”

Jesse snorted.  “Did you say groin pains?”

Echo looked confused, a little annoyed.  “I said grow-ing.  Well, that too.”

The line was a little shorter now, thankfully, and soon they saw the sign, Bantha Trax.

“Uh, did you notice that everyone’s staring at us?” Spark said uncomfortably.

“They’ve never seen clone troopers without their helmets,” Rex said.

“Maybe they’re shocked we’re not droids.” Jesse said.

Fives was engaged in conversation with a short, bespectacled old lady, who said suspiciously, “Hmph.  You’re a clone?”

“Yes, I’m a clone,” Fives said through gritted teeth.

“Hmph.”  She was literally inches away from his face.  “Hmph. You do look like Jango.”

Fives absolutely hated it when people compared him to Jango Fett.  He didn’t know what to say. Gotta get away from this creep.  

“Hmph.  You gotta belly-button?”

Fives was visibly aghast, “A what?” He had backed himself into Rex’s arms by accident.  A voice rang clear and firm from behind. “You want to leave the ARC trooper alone.”

The old lady murmured something incoherent and shuffled away.

Fives untangled himself from Rex and rubbed his chin.  “Ah, thanks, Commander.”

“It’s Ahsoka, Fives.”

“I thought the ARC was a nice touch.”

“You deserve to be known by the correct title.  Not ‘you clone’.”

Fives smiled and got back into line.  They were in the building now.

Echo smiled and lightly punched Fives.  “Aww, flirting with the civvies?”

Fives wasn’t amused.  “She was an elderly lady.  And weird.”

Echo shrugged.  “Typical civvie for you.” They made their way through the entrance.

“How many?” asked the grumpy Sullustan waiter.

“Six,” Ahsoka answered.

“Chips or credit?”

Ahsoka gave a slow smile and winked.  “How about bill it to the Republic?

Realization filtered onto his face and he was bowing like a broken toy, “Yes, master Jed–”

“Shh,” Ahsoka interrupted.  They took their seats at a wide booth.  

Spark was sniffing and murmuring happily as he wandered back and forth in front of the booth.  Jesse thought it was gross, as Spark drooled like a strill.

“I noticed,” Fives said quietly to Echo, “that the majority of the population here is overweight or obese.  Do you think that fat people come here or the food makes them fat?”

“I’m not sure,” Echo said, “It’s probably the food.”

“Oh, no!   Is it going to ruin my figure?”

“Fives, Echo—-everybody, sit down.” Ahsoka begged them.

“Oh, right.”  They slid into the booth.  Ahsoka leaned on her elbows on the table.  Spark was having difficulty concentrating; the wafting odor of food seemed to have affected him greatly.

“I know you’re all hungry, but before you get your food, there’s some rules you have to know,” Ahsoka informed them.  Echo perked up, while Fives and Spark groaned. Jesse and Rex, flanking Ahsoka, showed no emotion but tempered excitement.  

“All right, so first,” Ahsoka began, “over there, you can see the buffet table, and there’s a stack of plates.  You can take one of those plates and get whatever you want, just eat at this table, not when you’re walking around.  Also, get a new plate every time you get more food. The waiters will take away your dirty plates. Got it?”

The troopers nodded enthusiastically, and Echo barked, “Yes sir!”

“No sirs,” Ahsoka ordered, sliding out of the booth to let Jesse out, “I’m Ahsoka, your friend.” She smiled dazzlingly.  She wasn’t that hungry, so she watched the reactions of all the boys.

Spark was in heaven.  He immediately grabbed a plate and piled it high with the first thing he saw, which happened to be smoked sweet-beans.  It seemed he couldn’t get back to the table fast enough and nearly collided into an old couple and a mother with a toddler.  

Fives got a little of everything, just to see how it tasted.  He looked like he was on a mission. It was interesting to watch him carefully spoon little servings of stews and salads.

Echo was enraptured with vegetables, it seemed, especially letis leaves.  He went for all the colorful foods.

Rex was very captainly.  He surveyed the entire room with the air of a scout on reconnaissance, prowling around the buffet tables with an empty plate clutched against his chest.  After a few minutes, he ended up picking a few of the most appealing foods.

And Jesse—-where was he?  Ahsoka could not find him. So she grabbed a plate and dished herself some cheesed foodbread and a fresh garden salad.

When she got to the table they were all sitting down with their plates, except Jesse.

Fives was making faces as he ate his stew.  Ahsoka watched as his face transitioned through shock to wonderment to bliss.

Echo happily ate his letis, all the while exclaiming about how sweet and refreshing and delicious it was.  Rex calmly ate, but he was enjoying it, Ahsoka knew.

“Spark, liking your…what’s that?” Fives asked.  Spark was too busy scraping his plate, scooping, chewing, eating, and swallowing to reply.

“They’re sweet-beans,” Ahsoka smiled.

“Why did you only get sweet-beans?” Rex asked the shiny.  Spark did not answer.

“Where’s Jesse?” Echo asked.

“I honestly don’t know,” Ahsoka said.  “Anyway, how do you like your food, Rex?”

“Amazing,” said Rex.

“Better than dry rations?”

“Much better.  Oh, here’s Jesse.”

Jesse was holding his plate.  Rex moved over for him. The plate was completely bare…except the one half of a white, peeled, boiled tato root sitting on it.

“That’s it?” Fives asked.  The whole table went silent.

“There’s hardly anything healthy here,” Jesse complained.

“There’s veggies,” Echo offered.

Jesse scowled.  “Prob’ly sprayed with chemicals.”

“Like everything else in the world,” Ahsoka groaned, “you ungrateful chakaar.  I will drop you off at the barracks right now if you like.”

Jesse sat in silence, poking at the lonely tato root with his fork.  He broke off a chunk, put it in his mouth, chewed carefully, and swallowed.  Everyone was staring at him, except Spark, who was impatiently bugging Fives to move so he could get out and get more food.

“These booths are so impractical,” Fives said as he and Echo climbed out to let Spark get more food.

“I know,” said Spark, which was the first thing he said since he had entered the restaurant.

Fives and Echo sat back down.  “Salty,” Fives said thoughtfully, “but much better than prote snacks.  I only ever saw these foods on the holo-net.”

“Yeah, on those cooking shows you watch,” Echo said.

“I do not watch cooking shows,” said Fives, coloring darkly.

Echo was smiling.  “Don’t lie.” He changed the subject.  “Liking your tato, Jesse?”

Jesse poked it.  “Yeah.”

Rex couldn’t hold back the chuckle in his throat.  He tried to stifle it, but it inevitably broke out despite his efforts: huh huh huh huh.

Ahsoka gave him a weird look.  Fives, Echo, and Jesse stopped mid-chew and stared at him.  He cleared his throat, swiped the smile off his face, and coughed into the crook of his elbow.  “Ah—-excuse me?”

“Oh, never mind,” Ahsoka quickly was engaged with eating her garden salad.

Spark had definitely forgotten the rule about not eating until getting to the table.  He was scooping spoonfuls of skwaalor soup into his mouth as he slid into the booth. Echo was horrified.

“You!” Echo stammered, “You broke a rule!”

Ahsoka was mortified.  “Oh—-uh—-Spark. I forgot to tell you, there’s this thing called a bowl, and its for very liquidy foods like th-that.”

“Spark knows what a bowl is,” said Echo for Spark, who was too busy eating to reply.  There was some awkward silence as they all chewed.

Noticing Echo’s empty plate, Fives shifted in his seat.  “Echo, you want to get some more food?”

“No, it’s okay.  I’ll wait till you’re done.”

“Ugh, why are you always waiting for me?”

“It’s boring without you, you know.”

Fives looked at Echo.  Echo had the most utterly trusting look on his face.  Fives, feeling slightly embarrassed for him, said, “Oh, Echo…” He shook his head.  Echo sometimes did not act befitting an ARC.

A green-skinned Twi’lek waitress glided to the edge of the table.  “Good evening, boys…” She smiled at them all, then saw Ahsoka. “Oh, and miss.  Is there anything I can get you? A drink? The Midnight-Murder and Shot-of-Pain are pretty popular.”

Ahsoka laughed.  “Technically none of us have hit the Coruscant drinking age yet,” she admitted, “how about six ruby biels?”

The waitress scribbled something on her datapad, “Coming right up.  Would you like it sweetened?”

“Of course,” Ahsoka replied.

“All right, six sweetened ruby biels.” She tapped the datapad and winked, somewhere in Fives’ direction.  He scowled.

“All right Echo, let’s get some food.”

Echo excitedly tumbled out of the booth, followed by Spark, who had finished his plate.  Rex and Jesse exchanged looks and slid out with Ahsoka, ready for a second round.

“Now, this is the best part,” said Ahsoka, raising her voice over the chatter, laughter, and clatter of various loud conversations going on in a raucous confusion around them.  It was nearly smothering the troopers: the heat and noise and dim lighting. Harsh orange light issued from the hovering buffet tables. Ahsoka led them to the most densely populated part of the buffet, which could only be accessed after shoving their way through people.  The troopers had no difficulty doing so, and Spark nearly became violent when a little Rodian girl spent too long picking out her jogan fruit.

Between the fruit table and the cakes and pastry table, sat a flowing fountain of dark, creamy syrup.  Jesse was appalled.

“Rex.” He nudged his captain.  “Is that what I think it is?”

“Choco-bean syrup,” Rex confirmed.

Jesse ran his gauntlet a few centimeters over the surface of the oily substance.  He made a face. “I’m getting high readings of bacillococorrium stephalochorid,” Jesse reported.

“Can’t be,” said Echo with certainty.  “This is the finest restaurant on Coruscant!”

“Unfortunately,” Jesse shook his head, “a business is a business.  Money-hungry tycoons like that Sullustan chakaar don’t care about health.”

“Racist,” said Echo.

“I’m not racist.  I didn’t say anything.  I was merely pointing out that he was a thief, who happens to be a Sullustan thief, and I wasn’t judging at all.  No hard feelings, no harm done,” Jesse defended himself.

“You don’t even know if that guy is the owner,” Echo pointed out.

Fives was ladling the choco into a bowl.  Ahsoka, using a mind trick on a hapless iced-crème-seeker to make him hurry up, was distracted and did not notice.  Fives used his spoon to fill his soup bowl halfway and headed toward the table.

Ahsoka was engrossed in trying to decide which layered cake slice she should get.  Hmm, lima or rasp-berry? She usually got rasp, so this time she settled for the light yellow-green lima tart.  She shoveled three onto her plate and began heading back to the table.

“That is disgusting, Fives, why are you eating that?” Jesse wrinkled his nose.

Fives stopped with his spoon halfway to his mouth, choco-bean syrup dribbling down his goatee.  “This is the best thing so far,” he said, closing his eyes in ecstasy.

“Am I missing out on something? Maybe I should try some,” mused Rex.

“Don’t,” Jesse pleaded.  “You’ll all be seeing Kix before the day’s out.”

“What does Kix know about food poisoning?” Fives grumbled, guiltily staring down at his bowl.

“A lot, actually.  Ever since he ate that jogan fruit on Saleucami,” Jesse explained.

“You two, stop bickering,” Rex ordered, looking up from his canta-melon and tart-candy lozenges.  “Do you realize the commander isn’t doing this for us so much as she’s doing it for herself? It’s to make her feel good.  We better live up to that.”

Fives scraped the last drops from his bowl.  “She can think what she wants and you can think what you want, but I’m going to take advantage of this for myself.  In my opinion, this is for me.”

Rex and Jesse looked at each other uncertainly.  The Twi’lek waitress reappeared and took away Fives’ bowl, while dropping off six ruby biels.  Tentatively, Fives took some into his mouth and swirled it around. After swallowing he drained the whole glass rapidly, drinking like there was no tomorrow.  “Yup, this is for me.”

“Shh,” Jesse cautioned, “here she comes.”

The troopers sat back in their seats and looked over at the colorful Togrutan padawan coming towards them with a plate of cake.  She slid into the booth beside Rex.

“Hey, have any of you seen Spark and Echo?” She asked, before sipping from her drink.  Rex pulled a flimsi-thin stick of metal from one of the various plastic things on his armor and stuck it into the drink.  After a few seconds he pulled it out and tasted the drink. He raised his eyebrows and didn’t touch it again.

Jesse stared at the red drink in obvious disgust and nudged it to the end of the table.  “No, but I last saw them by the sweet foods.”

Suddenly there were loud protesting exclamations from several buffet-goers on the far side of the room.  It was followed by hysterical giggling.

Rex took a sip and coughed into his elbow.  “Ahem–I believe those are our missing culprits.  Jesse, I told you to watch the shiny.”

Ahsoka looked up and slammed down her glass.  “Oh, great,” she muttered, and followed the sound of commotion.  Jesse reluctantly followed.

She was met by several annoyed customers who gave her dirty looks as she passed.  She overheard someone whispering a little too loudly that “those clones need to learn some manners”.  Ahsoka felt anger simmer in her chest, but she quickly recited the Jedi Code and calmed herself.

Echo was keeled over a buffet table giggling like a teenage girl encountering her crush while suffering from insanity, right underneath a sign that read, Patrons please do not lean on the buffet tables.  Repulsorlifts grumbled in protest.  To his left Spark was hanging weakly on a lever, filling and overfilling his plate with undulating log-like swirls of choco-bean flavored iced crème.  It was all over him.

Ahsoka’s lips parted in a slight oh, as she stood there paralyzed by laughter and humiliation.  Jesse didn’t look entertained.

“It—-It looks-ks like…” Echo gasped.  His cheeks hurt from smiling so hard.

“Gross,” said Jesse, as Ahsoka convinced Spark to let go of the lever.  An angry waitress shooed them out of there before Echo could break the buffet table.  Spark managed to rescue his iced crème filled plate.

Spark was all sticky when he sat down at the booth.  He was grinning ridiculously and eating iced-crème faster than anyone could eat.  He didn’t swallow, just shoveled it down his throat.

“What—” Fives began, “—is that?”

“Choco-bean iced-crème,” Ahsoka explained.

“It looks like…” Fives said.

“Yeah, and we’ll leave it at that,” Rex interrupted as Echo began giggling again, while Spark inhaled his dessert.

Ahsoka buried her face in her hands.  Fives eyed Jesse’s drink.

“You gonna drink that?”

“No, of course not.  It—”

Rex glared at Jesse and whatever he was going to say was lost.  Fives grabbed the drink and slugged it.

A huge Besalisk, most likely the owner, came running up to them and was yelling something, all the while pointing at two signs in Aurebesh.  The first read, We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.  The second was illustrated with tiny blue animated holograms and said, No shirt no shoes no service.

“Now wait,” Ahsoka said, as he dragged her off and threw her outside.  Rex, followed by the other four troopers, rushed after her, abandoning their dessert.  They were pretty full by now anyway. Fives quickly slurped up the rest of Echo’s abandoned drink.

“Hey,” said a sultry voice behind Fives, “Can I have your comm code?”

It was the Twi’lek waitress.  Fives said no. He didn’t give his comm code to strangers, he said.  He didn’t tell her the fact he actually didn’t have a code.

She frowned, then quirked up her lips into a hypnotic smile, showing off two rows of neatly white, sharp, needle-like teeth.  “I’m not a stranger,” she purred, “besides, don’t you give your code to the tellers at the store? They’re strangers.”

Fives had never even seen the outside of a store, only in battle sims on Kamino (which he was usually tasked to blow up), but he knew a bad argument when he heard one.  

“You haven’t convinced me,” Fives said, quickly exiting the place.  He felt extremely uncomfortable. Girls made him uncomfortable, besides, he had to pee really bad.

“Aren’t you going to leave a tip?” She squealed.

“No,” Fives shouted firmly over his shoulder.  “Where’s the osikla ’fresher?”

“Fives, get over here!” It was Echo.

Fives gladly stepped out of sight of the waitress but he still needed to use the ’fresher.  He found Echo standing nearby the group of clones and Ahsoka.

“So,” Fives said, “we got kicked out of the buffet.  What next?”

“Shut up, trooper,” Rex growled.

“Go home,” Ahsoka said blankly.  “That’s what we’ll do.”

“Does anyone have hand sanitizer?” Jesse asked.

“I didn’t get to finish my plate,” Spark complained.

“Wait, where’s the speeder?”

Panic crept into Ahsoka’s voice.  She paced up and down the block, montrals bobbing like two dark loth-cat ears in the streetlights.  “I’m pretty sure I left it right here.”

“If I remember correctly,” Rex said slowly, “It was right there.”

“But now it’s not,” Echo stated bluntly.

“Oh, this is just great,” Fives said, looking up at a shimmering sign.  

NO PARKING FROM 2000 TO 0400

VIOLATORS WILL BE TOWED

“Now how will we get back?” Spark muttered.

Distraught, Ahsoka sucked in a labored breath.  “That was Anakin’s speeder. We got to go to the tow lot and get it back.

Looking strained and taking deep breaths, Fives paced up and down the block.  Ahsoka seemed to not notice. “Okay, we need to find a comm-booth,” she muttered.  

“Aww, this is just great!” Spark yelled into the sky, which twinkled with multicolored lights, like a flight map.  

“Yes, we need to call every nearby towing company,” clone captains like Rex caught on quickly.  “The problem is—”

“Yeah, yeah, I know, we don’t have credits, so that’s bad.” Exasperatedly, Ahsoka buried her face in her small hands and tried to think.  She was nearly distraught.

“So, Echo,” Fives began.

“Shut it!  I’m trying to think!”

As he turned his head, Echo made an oh expression and raised his eyebrows.

A stomp on the duracrete sidewalk snapped them to attention.  “Alright, boys, we’re going for a walk.”

“I hate it when she says that,” Jesse hissed to Rex.  “It looks like we’re on duty now.”


Appearing small and vulnerable, Ahsoka scrambled to the top of the junk heap.  Her thin, stick-like arms were covered in dirt. Even the sienna hue of her skin was grimy.  

Disembodied, a voice wafted out of a smaller, dripping canister beside the far end of the alley, “Hey Jesse, are you going to help?”  Fives’ bare head, hair plastered flat by accumulated rain water, emerged from the rusted opening.

“No way.  I’m so tired, my legs are killing me.  I believe I’m fatigued. And I don’t have a canteen to drink from, or—”

“Aww, that walk was at most, two klicks!   You’re just afraid of getting your hands dirty!”  Rapidly, Fives vanished back into the canister, words echoing.  

“How hard is it to find a piece of flimsi-board?” Spark complained.  Echo gingerly lifted a soaked plastibag and exclaimed in exultation. “Here’s one!”

“Neat.” Taking the board from Echo, she smiled.  “Now who here is a good actor?”

Despite pleading glances and desperate hand signals, Echo offered, “Fives isn’t bad.”

“Ah—”

“That’s great, Fives!  You’ll be our beggar! We need ten credits.  Put on your sad, beaten up little boy face.”

“In my armor?  I’m afraid I look rather intimidating and muscular, you know, like I can take care of myself.”

“I found this really great sweatshirt in a plastibag of clothes,” Spark said from the other side of the alley.

“Yeah, use that!” Ahsoka exclaimed enthusiastically, glad that Fives was shutting up.  She eyed the shirt with satisfaction. It was grey, falling apart, very thin, and dirty, exactly what they needed.

As he removed his armor plates with Echo’s unwanted assistance, Fives growled softly in the back of his throat.  “Why can’t Rex do this?”

“You’re the actor, vod.”

“Uh—”

“Just get us the credits and we’ll be on our way.” Rex ran a hand over his mucky armor.  “You’ll be fine.”

“Isn’t begging illegal on Coruscant?” Echo asked.

“Well,” said Ahsoka, tilting her head, “it’s not really so in the lower levels.”

“Oh great.”

“Ready, Fives?”

“Can’t you do it?”

“No way, you’re the actor.  We’ll be waiting right here when you come back.”

“I really wish I had my DC.”

“It was in the speeder.  Besides, beggars don’t carry fancy guns.”

Taking a deep breath, Fives plunged into the night.

“Won’t it be faster if we just hold someone at gunpoint at say, ‘gimme all your money’?”  

Sighing, Ahsoka sat down on a wide durasteel tube.  “We don’t have blasters and that would be too noticeable.  Oh, Anakin’ll never let me hear the end of this.”

“I’m sure of it, Ahsoka.  But I’ll do my best to defend you.”

“It’s all my fault, in the end.  I just wanted to let you guys have some fun.  I turned it into a disaster.”

“We like disasters,” Spark chirped.

“Well said, shiny,” Jesse had refused to sit down and was standing in the corner.  “I’m really hungry.”

“No surprise, since all you ate was a tato root.  I have an extra prote bar if you want it.”

“Not from your gross hands, Echo.”

Gesturing with a gloved hand at Jesse, Echo wondered annoyedly, “How does this guy survive missions?”

“He gets into a battle mode, I guess.” Rex adjusted his kama.  “I want my HUD back.”

“We all do.”

“Well, I have my HUD.”  Jesse tapped the side of his helmet.

“Can I borrow it?”

“No!”

Growing tired of the bickering, Ahsoka walked over to Echo and Spark.  “Wonder how Fives is doing?” She mused.


Fives held up the sign.  It said, Need credits for a comm-call.  Thanks.

He must have been sitting there for ten minutes, and no one even glanced at him.  So he hid the flimsi-board and tried a different tactic.

A tired-looking Pantoran girl was exiting a nearby tavern.  She looked worn, but young and caring, beautiful, and not horribly poor.  He stood at the end of the alley.

“Please,” he pleaded convincingly.  His words came in a rushing torrent.  “I’m sixteen and my girlfriend just kicked me out of her house and I’m raising my baby son alone…I—I just need ten credits to buy breakfast for tomorrow and—”

“Get lost, beggar,” she said in a beautiful accent.  Her lips tightened and her eyes narrowed. She hurried down the alley.

Willing everything in himself, Fives managed to squeeze out a few tears.  They trickled convincingly down his face. “Please!” He tried again, in an anguished voice.

Just before she turned the corner, she looked back.  A hand came up from under her robe. Credits clattered on the floor, and she disappeared.

Fives was on his hands and knees, groveling like a strill and scrambling after the credits.  “Thank you!” He managed to make his voice crack at the end.

After he was sure she was gone, he grinned.

“We were afraid it wouldn’t work,” Ahsoka said, shaking her head and taking the credits.  “How’d you do it?”

Giving a smug smile, he crooned, “I’m the actor, remember?  Besides, I’ve got magnetic charm.”

Everyone face palmed and groaned.  Ahsoka rolled her eyes.

“Now can I have my armor back?” Fives’ voice sounded loud in the dark, and his shadowy figure kept twitching.  “I think this sweatshirt has fleas.”


“No no no, it’s not green, it’s red.  Yes.  No! No!   No! Ugh, are you even listening?”  Ahsoka yelled at the hologram. Patiently, the five troopers waited outside the booth.

“I think she’s on the fifth tow company by now.” Echo paced back and forth.

“Okay, so it’s lost.  Can we sleep now?” Fives complained.

“Just shut up.” Rex gave that Scary Captain, don’t-you-dare look.  “You read me?”

“Oh ooh, okay okay.  I get it.” Fives put up his hands in mock self-defense and backed up, right into the rickety swinging door of the comm-booth.

Fives rubbed his face, while Ahsoka raved.  He wisely kept silent.

“UGH!!!  I just HATE this booth!   I hate the SLEEMO comm connection!   I hate the tow companies! I hate EVERYTHING!  I hate YOU!” The last statement was thrown carelessly out into the grey-black night sky.  It was nearly 0130.

“I’m sorry, Commander, if I offended you,” Fives said carefully.  

Jesse elbowed Spark.  “You know,” he murmured under his breath, “that when people yell, their spit can fly up to a meter?  And the mouth has been clinically shown to be the dirtiest—”

Echo was making rapid movements with his hands and fingers.

“What’s that for?” Jesse asked loudly.

“ARC hand signals.  Of course, I forgot.  You aren’t an ARC.”

“Shut it, everyone,” Spark hissed tightly.  Ahsoka was leaning desolately against the holocomm projector, almost in tears, but not quite.

“I did an Anakin,” she sighed, deadly calm.  “I’m sorry everyone. I don’t hate you. Thereisnoemotionthereispeace…” She began breathing deeply and frantically reciting the Jedi Code.  The troopers looked at one another uncertainly, feeling rather awkward.  Ahsoka migrated over to the duracrete sidewalk and sat down cross legged, murmuring and uttering incomprehensible babbles.  Spark raised his eyebrows and stepped back.

“What the—”

“Ah—Jedi, brother.  They do what they do.”  Fives fingered the edge of his kama with his left hand.

Spark gave an okay, but that’s weird sort of expression and nodded carefully.  

Ahsoka’s eyes fluttered open like a butterfly ready for flight.  “Oh, that’s much better.  Rex?”

Heralded by the squeak of the door, Rex emerged from the comm-booth.  “Commander. I managed to reconnect the booth to satellite, and it’s a little slow, but it works.  I contacted the tow companies again and it seems like they don’t happen to have a red speeder with license number 113ASX, so the most likely scenario is that someone stole it, because the keys were left in the speeder’s ignition.”

Fives resumed his role as Rex’s second-in-command.  “Okay, so sitrep: no weapons, no credits, no supplies but a squished, most likely expired, prote snack and one HUD that Jesse won’t share with anyone.  That’s it. And we have to navigate to the CSF headquarters now and file a report.”

“And a bottle of hand sanitizer, but I don’t know how that will help,” Echo said.

“Hey that’s mine!   Give it back to me!”

Ahsoka gave them a death glare, which immediately silenced them.  “The junkyard has an infinite number of supplies, and Fives can generate a lot of credits.  Plus, we have us. A Jedi, and five highly-trained clone troopers, two of which are ARCs and one is a captain.  We can get out of this.”

“I am not getting into that flea-bag sweatshirt again,” Fives stated adamantly.  

Ahsoka looked crushed.  “I guess we’re on to plan b.  Hike to the entertainment sector and raid creds from the fountains.”

“Eww,” Jesse wrinkled his nose with disgust, “do you know how gross that is?”

“I refuse to walk another step,” Echo punctuated his statement by leaning heavily against the wall with a clack sound.

Eyes widening, Ahsoka’s jaw flopped open.  “You just took out plan b, plan c, and plan d.  At least I have plan—”

“Commander, I am going to comm General Skywalker right now.  We’ve played your games for far too long.”

Ahsoka whimpered.  “There goes plan e.  And please, Rexster, I order you, do not get Anakin…”

Rex winced.  “I’m sorry, Commander, but I have to do what is right.”

“Will you stop calling me Commander?  And no, Rex, you will not—”

“Oh, there you are, Ahsoka.  Thank the Force you’re not kidnapped.  Anakin was worried you might be dead, but I knew you were too smart for that.”

“He means, ‘hop in’,” Cody translated.

The six climbed into Obi-Wan’s speeder.

“You realize I still haven’t found a ’fresher yet,” Fives told Echo.  

“You must be really uncomfortable.”

   “Well, I had to go so bad, the urge kind of faded away.  My brain has the ability to switch on emergency functions.  Isn’t that interesting?”

“Um…yes?”

“TMI, Fives,” Ahsoka nudged him.  

“Cody doesn’t want to hear all that.  Right, Cody? He has delicate ears.” Obi-Wan skillfully and smoothly navigated the speeder back to the Jedi Temple, following all traffic laws, staying within the speed limit, and preventing barf art on the shoulders of the pedestrians below them, unlike Ahsoka earlier.

“Uh, how’s Anakin?” Ahsoka asked, trying to sound casual to cover up for her nervousness.  Unfortunately for her, it utterly failed.

“I will assure you, padawan, that he is responding to your midnight caper as you naturally would expect him to.  Ah, here we are, the Jedi Temple.” Obi-Wan paused the speeder, hovering right at the grand steps to the entrance of it.  “I am going to drop off the clones at the barracks, so this is your stop, Padawan Tano. Say hello to Anakin for me, and have a very nice evening—-or should I say, morning?”  While Ahsoka clambered out, Obi-Wan glanced at the blushing horizon.  “Yes, a lovely morning. For the most part of Coruscant.”

Ahsoka gave Obi-Wan a forced, stiff smile.  “Thank you, Master Kenobi, for the ride.” He touched his brow, a taunting salute, and swiftly glided out into the quiet, sunrise cityscape.

Ahsoka, taking a deep breath and steeling her face into a calm, hopefully-innocent smile, walked up the steps and into the Jedi Temple, to face the wrath of Anakin Skywalker.


“AHSOKA!” Anakin fumed, a dark specter of death, pacing back and forth like a hungry animal in front of his ashamed padawan.  His arms were tight across his chest, folded, like a guilty sentence hanging over a criminal.

“I let you borrow my speeder, and what do you do?  Run off into the Coruscant night with Rex and some clones.  Plus get them sick, and get my speeder stolen, along with their very expensive helmets and DCs.  And that’s nothing compared with what you really did.  Do you know what you were doing by committing those shameful deeds?  You disgraced me!  You give the Jedi Order a bad name!!!”

Ahsoka shuffled in her seat.  “But Master,” she whined loudly and annoyingly, “it wasn’t on purpose, I—-”

“CALM DOWN, AHSOKA!   Okay, so now you’re saying it was an accident?”

Ahsoka crossed her arms, mimicking Anakin.  She smirked. “Who needs to calm down again?”

Anakin clenched his gloved prosthetic hand, a vice of black ire.  “And you didn’t even invite me!!!” he yelled.


The clones made it back to the barracks in time for EME, or early-morning exercises.  While endeavoring to lead the 501st in the yoga-like moves, Rex had to constantly jerk himself awake.  He nearly fell asleep during the back stretches. He decided, then and there, to never go anywhere with Ahsoka without General Skywalker’s knowledge.  Hopefully, he wouldn’t be blamed with the responsibility of Ahsoka’s adventure. He had quite a long, wild night—-a long, wild night with no sleep.

When the speeder stopped at the barracks door, Fives jumped out first and sped to the ’fresher.  Spark watched in awe, as Fives stood at the urinal for a full minute.

“Woah, I never knew anyone could have that much pee,” he stammered.

Calmly, Fives reattached the crotch-area of his bodysuit.  “ARCs can retain a lot of urine. It’s a necessary skill for us.”  He bumped shoulders with Echo. “Right, brother?”

Echo blinked.  “Uh—-yeah.” He then changed the subject, teasing his brother to get back at him for the chokehold.  Clones didn’t forget easily. “I hope you had fun with the Commander.  Exciting, huh?”

Fives stopped.  “I’m now convinced she’s nothing more than a whiny, immature little adolescent kid.”

Jesse, from the showers, yelled, “Shut up Fives!   You could get court-martialed for that statement! And hurry up!   EME in five minutes!” An empty stack of prote snacks sat on the floor next to his shower stall.  Another one flew through the slightly ajar shower door.

“You know, I have a stomachache,” Spark admitted.  “Some awful diarrhea too.”

Jesse emerged from the showers, wet and glistening.  “That’s it. My hunch was right. The buffet food was contaminated.  Let’s go see Kix right now this minute and maybe our lives can be salvaged.  C’mon.”

“Sure, right now,” Spark said sarcastically.  “With Jesse completely naked and Fives with his crotch-piece armor missing.  Totally. Rex’ll fry us.”

“Rex will personally blast us one by one of we miss EME, so goodbye everyone, it’s very nice knowing you.  See you at the training room.”  Echo groaned and walked out of the room, not before vomiting in the trash can.

“Gross,” Jesse said.  “Couldn’t you have done that in the toilet?”

“I’m okay everyone,” Echo announced randomly.  He rinsed out his mouth in the sink and stalked out, clutching his stomach.

“That’s strange,” Fives said.  “Echo has never gotten sick in his life.  Never.  Maybe it was the food—or the choco-bean syrup.”

 

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