Odd Ball Friend Rating: PG-13
Diana & MaceVindaloo

Obi-wan rather preferred the nicknames the Clone soldiers took for themselves. It made them more human.

For Obi-wan, like for most of the galaxy, he could not think of the Clone troopers as full humans. They didn't have parents, they had no choices. They were bred to master a particular set of skills, and really for nothing else. They were curiously limited, despite their human looks and nature.

He did occasionally enjoy their company and relied on them, and he found they could be good friends ... if he could use that word. The term "friend" seemed to have warped lately. He used to know what a friend was, and he used to know who among those around him was a friend.

In these dangerous times, it would be wise to keep one's friends close ... but Master Windu had warned him, "Keep your enemies closer."

The problem was that he couldn't tell who his enemies were, either.

There was Count Dooku, of course. But that thought bothered him, for Dooku had been Obi-wan's master's master. It made Obi-wan feel tainted, as if the dark side which covered the former Jedi had conveyed itself somehow through to the himself.

In this way, the clones were preferable. They had been engineered to have no free will, it was true. But that meant there was no intrinsic evil within their cloned souls. Even the extreme individualism in Jango Fett, the bounty hunter who was their genetic template, was scrubbed out of them.

All the good parts, none of the dross.

Still, they had enough humanity left in them that did evolve as time went on. They aged at twice the rate of normal humans, so some who'd fought under Obi-wan's command were already retired from combat. The effect was as if Obi-wan himself had grown older, faster, too. It telescoped time compressively, so that he found himself thinking of the war in terms of clone-lives, rather than in normal human-lifetimes.

He remembered "Alpha" with whom he had escaped imprisonment and torture by Asaji Ventress on Jabim. That clone simply had taken a part of his official numerical ARC trooper designation as his name; there were 100 of them, and they were all called "Alpha." The command-level clone held some disdain for Jedi Knights, simply because they'd been bred from a more pure genetic stock taken from Jango Fett, which even included some of his memories. They did respect the Jedi, however, "for they killed Jango." It was a strange, begrudged respect, but Obi-wan didn't mind; it made the clones less like mindless puppets.

He also remembered A-98, or "Nate", one of the four ARC troopers who'd come with him and Kit Fisto to Cestus. That clone had become a human, in Obi-wan's eyes. It wasn't that he truly cared for others who were not his own military brethren, and it wasn't that he'd fathered a child before he'd died. "Nate" had touched the Force in a way the other clones had not before, and it opened Obi-wan's ability to trust and train with other clones.

He smiled as he remembered that not all clones were born identical. Some were programmed and trained as ARC (Advanced Reconnaissance Clone) troopers specializing in command or specific tasks; those were the ones who seemed to be able to reach individual sentience, being more like Jango than the grunts. But others were born with physical imperfections which might have resulted in their early terminations. But as the war wore on, the need for more soldiers had been anticipated by the Kaminoan cloners, and they had retained those imperfect specimens which could still be used as specified.

Of course, as they grew, some clones retained scars or became injured. In war, they lost body parts and since they'd been engineered to accept prosthetics readily, many functioned at nearly 100% capacity with artificial limbs.

Sometimes, the body part could be lost and no one would be the wiser.

Obi-wan himself knew the terrible secret of the imperfect clone flying beside him. For he'd done the highly illegal surgery to save his life, and was also thus privy to the nickname the clone bore.

* * * * *

Commander A-1175 had separated himself from his fellow pilots, and he came directly to Obi-wan with the attitude of a man about to make a confession.

"I don't want to tell the medics or the bro's," he'd said, referring to the soldiers he commanded. "They're not tolerant of deviations. So, I'm coming to you, in confidence, sir."

Obi-wan didn't look worried. How deviant could an engineered clone be? "What is it?" He didn't like referring to the clones by their coded designations.

"It's my ... testicle, sir. There's a lump on it." A-1175 looked only slightly stressed as he said this.

"Hernia? The medic would be able to treat —"

"No, sir. It's right on the bottom of my left testicle. I think it's a cancer, sir. And ... and they say you're a gifted healer, sir." The clone continued to look calm, though the speed of his speech belied his stress and nervousness.

Waves of worry through the Force had been emanating from the clone trooper were pure, and Obi-wan felt empathy for this perfect man. "Well, let's take a look. Drop 'em, please."

Obi-wan did indeed find a hard lump on the man's testicle. When he squeezed it gently, the clone let out an unsuccessfully restrained grunt through gritted teeth.

Obi-wan sighed, "Well, that must hurt ... it'll have to go, I'm sorry."

Beads of perspiration appeared suddenly, unprompted, on the clone's forehead. "Yes, sir. Can you do it now?"

Obi-wan was not purely a healer like other Jedi; his strong talents lay elsewhere. Still, he had more than average skills and he was able to perform more than just first aid, due to his particularly strong connection to the Force. He was actually an excellent surgeon for a variety of species. Mace Windu often joked that Obi-wan was the one person who would have been hindered by a formal education; it would have just gotten in the way of his innate talent.

As Obi-wan opened his medpaks and powered up the sanitizing units to use as sterilization equipment, he explained to A-1175 that what he was about to do was highly irregular, and he might be court-martialed if he were found to be doing non-essential field surgery on an active soldier!

The clone smiled at the Jedi Knight's concerns. "I doubt they'd question a General's actions when it saves a soldier, sir."

Obi-wan smiled back. "Yes ... well, hopefully the cure doesn't kill you." Then he explained to the clone that with a cancer, one of the concerns is that the tumor remain intact and not "spill" to adjacent tissue.

"So, I'm making the incision up in your abdomen, and pulling the testicle up through the channels in your groin, and cut it off there. This way, it won't infect all the other stuff in your scrotum, and we get to see if any of the abnormal cells made it to your lymph." Obi-wan traced the area on the clone's body, so he'd know where to expect the pain. "I'm sorry, but I don't have much in the way of anesthetic in this triage-kit. Only some topical ..."

"It's okay, sir," the clone smiled again, albeit grimly. "I'm trained to handle pain. You'll find that surgical pain is nothing to me."

Obi-wan smiled too, "Well, you're a better man than me ..."

"No sir," replied A-1175, "I'm a clone trooper, Grand Army of the Republic, sir. I do my brethren proud, sir."

"Okay ... okay, you'll feel a little pinch ..." Obi-wan winced, remembering being told this before receiving injections and inoculations, and knowing it was never "a little pinch." He made the cut swiftly and skillfully, and pulled the underlying muscle fibers apart, found the next bit he needed to cut, then forced clamps down to lift out the diseased gonad ...

As Obi-wan stitched the living flesh together, layer after layer, it occurred to him that he'd heard nothing from the trooper. He was surprised to see the clone had become unconscious!

Human after all, mused Obi-wan, as he cleaned up the wound.

He'd given standard antibiotic packs to A-1175 when he'd recovered consciousness, to avoid the onset of infection. Obi-wan also had run some pathology observations on the extracted testicle and had confirmed to the trooper that it was indeed a semiotic cancer, but the margins were clean, "That is, the cancer was caught in time. It hadn't spread. Barring getting killed in battle, you should live to a ripe old age!"

The clone saluted to Obi-wan. "Thank you, sir. I very much appreciate what you've done, and I promise to save your life, too."

Obi-wan smiled, "I know ... it's your job. I appreciate the sentiment, and don't think I won't remember that. And by the way ... I won't tell, if you won't!"

The solider smiled at Obi-wan, terminated his salute, and left Obi-wan's field office, not even limping in reaction to the quick surgery. Obi-wan marvelled at the Clone's tolerance to pain. The Jedi had only known of women who could endure such pain, never men, and then only in childbirth ...

* * * * *

Over Coruscant, Squad Seven flew piquet duty and thus were the first to inform the Jedi and the Chancellor of the arrival of General Grievous's fleet and flagship! The enemy separatists had brought the battle to the capitol.

The orbital battle raged and with a lack of adequate protection, the Chancellor was kidnapped!

In the Jedi Temple war room, the commander of Squad Seven stood amidst Jedi and statesmen, who were squabbling over what to do? They could not confront Grievous directly for fear of him executing the leader of the Republic. And too, they had sent so many Jedi and troops to the outer rim planets, they were woefully undermanned to do direct battle, in any case.

Jedi Master Windu outlined a plan to have lone Jedi infiltrate the flagship ... but had to admit that the Temple currently lacked Jedi with enough piloting and combat skill who also specialized in infiltration.

"Sir, may I suggest something?" The Squad Seven commander spoke. "Perhaps two of your best warriors could be recalled? If they could get here in a day or so, my pilots and I will harass the fleet and prevent them from leaving. And then perhaps the politicians could attempt negotiations, to stall for time."

Windu looked startled, "Yes ... yes, my thoughts exactly. But we'd need Kenobi — he's a superb pilot and possibly the best warrior, with the capacity to negotiate. But he's out in the field, at least a week away, with Skywalker."

"Are they still alive," blustered Orn Free Taa, the senator from Ryloth. "I had heard — from good sources — that Skywalker had been killed and Kenobi taken prisoner!"

He felt a startled feeling of panic and surprise through the Force coming from the direction of the politicians. The sorrow and fear were concentrated especially around Senator Amidala of Naboo.

Windu refused to acknowledge the rumor or the Senator and instead turned to the pilot-commander. "How long can you stall Grievous? You'll need to prevent the Hand from leaving the system." He was referring to the ship from which Chancellor Palpatine's homing beacon was signaling.

The clone replied crisply, "If you're recalling General Kenobi, we can give you all the time he needs. He'll make it back in time, I'm sure of it."

Windu smiled for the first time, albeit grimly. "I'm glad to hear your opinion of the General's skills; he may well find a way to time travel! Submit your plan to the Council, and I'll have Kenobi's orders delivered. Dismissed."

As he left the war room, the Jedi Master felt confusion and more panic from the assembled senators, but he also felt a pure thread of glee and happiness coming from the clone. It was not usual for Windu to discern any extremes in emotion from clones, so it gave him pause. But he decided it was a good thing that the man enjoyed his job.

* * * * *

General Kenobi and Commander Skywalker had returned to the capitol system quickly; they indeed had arrived faster than anyone could have predicted.

It was not well known that Mace Windu was a time traveler; it was one of the things which made him unusual and outstanding even among the Jedi. He could not do it at will; it was the Force which controlled his ability to move through time. But there were aspects of the experience he was able to teach to others, so that they could use some ideas to travel more quickly through space.

In addition, Skywalker had developed many flight tactics which involved hyperspace manipulation, and though traveling under such conditions were not true time-travel, in practice, it did shave off hours off a long trip. And so the two Jedi arrived on the outer planets of the Coruscant system mere days after receiving their orders.

Obi-wan was irritable; he loved being with Anakin Skywalker more than anyone else, but sometimes Anakin's restlessness and headstrong approach to battle tactics were simply exhausting. It was mostly the exhaustion, plus the cold fact that Obi-wan had recently been forced to sacrifice a small specialist unit of ARC troopers. Though he repeatedly told himself that the clones were not really human, he also knew that they were good men. They were engineered to be good, and they did not deserve to be reviled because they'd been created by cloners to do the dirty work the general population had not wished to do themselves. Despite his battle-hardened exterior, the deaths of sentients always bothered Obi-wan.

So the two Jedi were very quiet as they checked their respective spacecraft. They had learned not to get too close to others on dangerous commando-style missions, because their eventual deaths in battle would otherwise sting at them too hard.

And they knew this assignment would have many, many casualties. They had to hope, that for the good of the Republic, that they themselves did not become two more listed kills in battle. They had heard the rumors that both were dead or captured, and they had no desire to confirm them.

Anakin went to the 'droid bay to check on his personal astromech, R2D2. Obi-wan felt it was bad form to have a "personal 'droid" — after all, the Jedi were to own nothing, so that they would have nothing to lose.

Anakin got around the ownership question at the Temple by explaining that it was a loan from Senator Amidala, who had received the 'droid when she retired as Queen of Naboo. It was the only gift she'd specifically requested from the government, but she had found that she could not use the 'droid to his full capacity. "Besides," she'd said, "R2 craves excitement and seems to be happier with you," she'd told the Jedi.

Obi-wan had been mulling over all these irregularities — was R2 truly only a loaner 'droid? — that he did not realize one of the clones had approached him, and was clearing his throat, waiting to be recognized.

Seeing the yellow markings on the uniform and helmet of the man before him, he recognized him as an elite ARC trooper. "Yes, Commander?"

"General Kenobi, it's a pleasure to see you again."

Obi-wan was perplexed by the "again," but smiled, "You have me at a disadvantage, Commander. All clones are meant to look alike ..."

The clone laughed, "Look alike, yes. But not all of us are perfect." He extended his hand, "You may remember me, I'm the one they call 'Odd Ball'."

Obi-wan looked closely at the clone, "Cato Neimoidia?"

The clone smiled again and their hands parted. "No, sir, I did fight there but not with you. Whether you recall me or not, I have to say that it's a pleasure for me to see you again, and I thought you might like to have known that your potential act of court-martial did save my life. And on this mission, I will fulfill my promise to save yours!"

A tender smile crept across Obi-wan's face, signalling to the clone that at last, he was remembered. "Odd Ball ... quite an apt nickname! Did the bro's discover your imperfection?"

"No, sir," replied Odd Ball, "I must say, you are talented at stitching! It looked like any other grievous battle scar."

Obi-wan laughed, and it felt good. "You're certainly odd enough to have received that nickname some other way, I see!"

The man smiled crookedly, with a touch of pride. "Thank you, sir. Though only you and I know what it really means."

They continued to banter and laugh for so long that Anakin had come back from the 'droid pool, R2D2 in tow. The site of his mentor yucking it up with a clone was a startling site. Anakin often wondered if his old-before-his-time master even knew how to have fun.

Obi-wan didn't see him till his former Padawan was right beside him, "Master?"

"Anakin!" There was pure and honest glee in Obi-wan's face, "Here! Meet my 'odd balled' friend, an old friend from a few battles back — Commander Odd Ball, of Squad Seven. They're going to be running interference for us and watching our tails ... though I'd warned him that anyone watching your tail was in danger of being vaped along with you! Odd Ball, this is Anakin!"

The clone pumped the younger man's hand vigorously, "A pleasure to know you! Any friend of the General's ... well, is a friend of the General's!"

Anakin was startled at this display of humor from a clone, "Is this why you're called Odd Ball?"

"Why yes it is, Anakin," gasped Obi-wan, laughing harder. "Why else would you call a perfect man such a thing?" And the clone joined him in chuckling.

It was obviously their own little joke, and even though Anakin knew he was being excluded from the true meaning, he smiled for he liked seeing Obi-wan happy. "Well, any friend of Obi-wan ... is a friend of Obi-wan's!"

The three had to part to attend the briefing, and all put on their serious miens for the benefit of the holograms they stood with. But they were lighthearted getting into their ships, despite the grimness of their upcoming project.

Obi-wan even had some nice things to say to R2D2, "Take good care of Anakin, my little friend. The galaxy needs men like him." He even pat his dome affectionately.

Anakin did wonder what had gone on in his master's past that a clone — a man who was manufactured and crafted like a 'droid was built — could get past Obi-wan's battle-hardened shell. He wondered what secrets those men had between them?

As he climbed into his fighter, he thought of his own secret and smiled broadly. He'd been overjoyed to be recalled to Coruscant, even for this suicide mission. For his secret wife was on planet! He would get to see her as soon as this mission was over!

He whistled merrily into the comlink so that Obi-wan could hear his happy sounds, which made Obi-wan cranky, which in turn made Anakin cheerful. It was their routine, between friends.

Best not to ask, reflected Anakin, as he put on his headgear and ran through the starfighter's checklist. We all have our secrets. Harmless little things, really ...

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