So, it's not very action-filled, but it had some things I wanted to add in. It'll pick up soon (muhahaha)...

Marching Far Away

* * * Mera * * *

It took us past midnight to find a good camp far enough away from the city, but at least we found a good one - as campsites go, it could definitely be worse. The whole planet was basically hard gray dirt, swamp and rock, but it did have some dense clumps of trees and brush. Unfortunately, most were near cities, as the original inhabitants apparently liked to settle near cover – the thickets provided good hunting, protection, and a break from the wide-open plain. We'd been lucky to find this one, out in the middle of nowhere as we were.

By that time, I truly hated that blasted dress – it had an uncanny gift for snagging on every single stick, rock and bush out there, as well as tripping me up at every opportunity it got. The thing was dangerous; I could've sworn it was out to get me.

After I slipped on my usual red and gold jumpsuit (with a feeling of immense relief), I walked out of the thicket so that Chet and the guys could change out, too. They took it in turns to don their bulky commando armor, which they'd strapped to the outside of their smaller-sized packs with their various weapons. Like Jedi, they didn't have many possessions – a tunic or two, their armor, a few personal effects. You didn't need much more than a carry-on for that.

They seemed different in their armor, and not only because the dull gray color blended in so well with the landscape that in the darkness they looked like floating heads. They acted the same, but the armor was a cruel reminder of the way things worked. I was the General, they were my soldiers.

I gritted my teeth. Stupid rules.

I got to my feet to check up on how everyone was doing. Stupid, unfair hierarchy or not, they were still my friends.

* * * Ace * * *

I dropped my pack and set up my bedroll, then sat apart from the others on a nearby fallen log.

I admit it, I'm a loner. I always was, even before my squad was massacred. Didn't make sense to get to know someone if they were only going to get shot and die eventually. But when you fight alongside people, getting to know them is something you can't stop from happening, no matter how much you want to. And when they do get killed, you've got this empty hole gouged out inside of you, and you're on our own, trying to find some way to cope, to stay standing. Even though you're the only one left.

The existence of a clone can be summed up in four words: life sucks, then you die.

My way of dealing with it is simple. Not perfect, but it works – I'm still here, after all.

For every comrade that died, I had their ID tags. Part of my memorial service, I guess you could call it. I'm just relieved that we made it out of town safely and I don't have another pair to add to my collection. It gets hard to keep track of them all.

I slipped the tags out of my belt and turned them over in my hand, the metal as cold as the barrel of my rifle leaning against my arm.

"Ni su'cuyi, gar kyr'adyc, ni partayli, gar darasuum," I muttered. As I spoke, I turned over each tag, rubbing my thumb over the letters engraved. I already knew what they said. "Joker. Scotch. Fixer. Davon. Teach. Aron." I heard boots approaching and looked up.

"Hey, Ace," the General greeted, friendly as ever. "What're you doing?"

The General was okay, I suppose – far better than other people I'd had the misfortune to meet - but I'm not exactly the most social of people. I shrugged, hoping she'd just keep on walking.

She didn't. She sat down at the other end of the log. Oh, joy.

I could just stay silent, or chase her away, or get up and leave. All tempting options. But as shocking as it is, I'm not completely without manners. If someone asks you a direct question, you ought to take a moment to answer. So I sighed and sucked it up.

"Remembering," I answered shortly.

She winced. "Oh. Sorry."

I shrugged. "It's fine. I was done anyways."

The General ducked her head. "Do you mind if I ask you a question?"

I shrugged again.

"Ni su'cuyi, gar kyr'adyc, ni partayli, gar darasuum," she recalled.

She must've heard me earlier. Omwati and their perfect memories.

"What does that mean? I don't know Mando'a completely," she admitted.

I touched the tags again. Their chains clicked together. "It means, 'I'm still alive, but you are dead. I remember you, so you are eternal'," I said quietly.

The General thought that over. "…It's beautiful," she said softly.

"You follow it by saying the names of those remembered. It's a Mando tradition," I finished. There. Question answered. Walk away now.

The General considered that, then got to her feet, getting that I was done talking. Sometimes that Jedi intuition comes in handy. "Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, Ace," she said sincerely.


She nodded and smiled, then padded off to help Vick, who was clearing sticks and stones out from under his bedroll. If the planet had nothing else, it had rocks, and lots of them. But that didn't seem to bother the General at all – she simply Force-pushed the whole lot away. A tired Vick nodded thankfully.

You know, she really wasn't so bad.

For a Jedi, that is.

* * * Mera * * *

After Ace, Vick was the last person to check up on. And I had a nagging feeling that it was Vick who needed it most.

"So, how was your first battle?" I asked Vick, after I swept out the rocks for him.

He picked up a stick and doodled in the dirt, avoiding my eyes. "…Cool," he said uncertainly.

I tilted my head, worried. "You sure? You know you can tell me the truth. I don't bite."

Vick hesitated, then sighed. "It wasn't anything like I expected," he admitted. "I mean, all my life I trained for a real fight, and I was excited to finally get to do it. I mean, it's what I was made to do…But it wasn't exactly like how they said."

"It never is," I told him. "Nothing can really prepare you for war."

"They made it sound like it was the greatest thing we could ever do, fight and die for the Republic. It was the only thing us clones could do," he added bitterly. "Still, though, I was glad to fight. But…I was scared," he confessed. This was what had been really bothering him, I could tell. "I didn't want to die. I didn't want any of us to die." He hung his head. "I'm a coward."

"Hey," I said sharply – he wouldn't listen if I spoke gently.

Vick looked up, surprised.

"You'd be stupid if you weren't afraid when you fight. Fear helps keep you and yours alive. It's okay to be brave, but it's just dumb to be totally fearless. You did good, Vick. You were afraid, but you still stayed, right? A coward lets fear rule them and runs when things get tough."

He nodded and looked a bit better, but my heart still throbbed with sympathy. I put a hand on his shoulder. Vick stiffened, but didn't flinch away, which I took as a good sign.

"If you ever need to talk about anything," I reminded him. "I'm here. No war lasts forever."

He smiled, the shame vanishing from his face. "Thanks, General," he said softly.

"Anytime, Vick."

I got up to give him some time to think. Poor guy…he'd just been given a hard, cold reality check. Well, more like a reality slap. He'd need some time to get used to it – something no one could help him do, but himself.

Now that my job was done, I took a moment to think thought about what Ace said. I got an idea.

I walked over to my duffel bag that I'd dumped on top of my bedroll and took out my holoprojector, but I hesitated before I pressed the button. A few months before IT happened, to celebrate Lifeday, I took pictures of everyone – Master, Jas, Wings, Tank – and gave them all (including me) their own holoprojector with the pictures I took on it. Then we went on that last mission (IT), and I didn't take my holoprojector out anymore. It just reopened wounds that were having trouble healing in the first place.

But now…I wanted to look at the pictures again. To – remember. Not the bad stuff, like IT, but the good times before that. I took a deep breath, shoved away my nervousness, and pressed the on-button.

The very first picture that popped up was one I hadn't thought about in a while. There were Wings, Tank, and Les, sneaking up on Jas with cans of whipped cream and looking at the camera with cheeky smiles. Once I got over the kicked-in-the-gut feeling that came with the realization that I'd never see them again, I grinned a little at the memory. That had been such an awesome prank…I stared into their faces and whispered the Mando phrase Ace taught me.

"Ni su'cuyi, gar kyr'adyc, ni partayli, gar darasuum. Wings. Tank. Les."

I went to the next one, and there was Flex, tinkering with his prosthetic arm, showing me the wiring and structure of it. I think Jas took that one... "Flex."

Next picture. Jett and Timer, beaming at the camera. Timer was holding up a handheld remote, his finger on a red button, and behind them, a bomb was frozen in mid-explosion. "Jett. Timer."

A candid photo of Tracker, who looked totally surprised, his mouth half-open. I had to laugh at his expression. "Tracker."

A clone, more lanky than his brothers, was bending over and stroking the sleek black fur of a spukama (a Corellian cat). It was rubbing its cheek against his hand, eyes closed. Skit always did have a way with animals, even if he wasn't the greatest people-person. Skit tended to be a bit skittish around people. "Skit."

The next one made my self-control crumble. "Master..." I whispered, sounding like I was choking.

When we got bored, waiting for something to happen, we'd think of random games. This one used to be one of our favorites. Master had a small cookie in the center of his forehead, and he was trying to get it down to his mouth. You couldn't use your hands or the Force, just your facial muslces. Master's face was scrunched up, with one eye open and the other shut, and he was laughing, even though as far as the game went, he was failing epically.

I couldn't help it. Through my tears, I started to laugh too. The two combined to make a bizarre, hiccupping-choking noise. If my squad didn't already think I was crazy, they would now.

Behind me, someone coughed. I quickly mopped my face off, fixed a smile in place, and turned. "What's up?"

Chet gave me a piercing stare. "You all right?"

"Fine," I said. Even to me, I didn't sound very convincing.

He hesitated. "You sure…?"

I nodded. But of course, Chet took that as a no. Stubborn ARC.

He started to sit, and with a sigh I reluctantly scooted over to make room on my bedroll so he wouldn't have to sit on the ground.

Chet shifted uncomfortably - the Katarn-class commando armor was supposed to be horrible to sit in - and cupped his chin in his hand, his elbow resting on his knee. "What's up, Princess? And don't give me that look. You checked up on everyone, and now you need someone to check up on you."

I shrugged, not even bothering to shoot him a glare for that nickname. "Eh, just my usual issues coming back to haunt me."

"Ah." He blinked sympathetically. "Want to talk about it?"

He'd force it out of me sooner or later. I showed him my holoprojector and told him its story.

He listened quietly. "They're not gone," he corrected when I was finished. "Nu kyr'adyc, shi taab'echaaj'la. Not gone, merely -"

"- marching far away," I completed, finishing the translation of a Mandalorian phrase for the departed I'd forgotten about. It used to be one of Jas' favorite sayings…it started lifting my spirits instantly. For that matter, just talking to Chet made me feel better. He was just one of those people you could confide in.

We sat in silence for a moment, then I spoke up. "My turn to ask a question."

He raised an eyebrow. "Sure you're not just changing the subject?"

"I'm not changing the subject, Chet."

He grinned. "Just checking. Fire away."

"Can you tell me what's on your armor?" I asked curiously. There was something sketched in dark ink on his right arm, on his chestplate, and more on his left arm, but it was too dark to see it well.

Chet's smile got bigger. "'Course, Princess." He looked down at his armor. "Hmm…well, to start off with, everyone in the squad's got the letter for 'gamma' painted over his heart." It was a symbol shaped like an upside-down L – an Γ – and not very fancy, but I liked it. "We decided bright colors wouldn't help much in the stealth department, so that's why everything's drawn in black."

I laughed. "Makes sense."

Chet grinned and continued. "I've got a circle of ten dots on my left shoulder pad to show my rank in the squad. In the center is a 'C' for Chet – or captain. Take your pick. And on my right arm I've got a rough sketch of a krayt dragon."

"Can I see it?" I asked.

Chet nodded. I reached out and took his arm, angling it towards the small lamp Scout had set up on the far side of the camp so I could see the design.

"Wow," I breathed. The roaring, sinuous krayt dragon, painted on the different sections of armor plating that covered his arm, twisted upwards from his knuckle plate to his shoulder plate. It was pretty impressive; not very detailed, but very fierce. I traced the five horns on its crest and its spiny dorsal ridge.

Chet flushed. "Like I said, it's a rough sketch, not very fancy. I was going to finish it, but I never got around to it, and I'd probably mess it up anyways -"

I interrupted his rambling. "Hey, 'wow' means I like it. It's great! Does it stand for anything in particular?"

His flush got deeper. "Uh…courage, perseverance, power. Warrior stuff," he mumbled.

I let go of his arm and shoved him. "Don't be embarrassed. It fits."

Chet smiled. "Thanks, Princess." He eyed his arm, his gloved hand following the same path I'd traced. "Would…would you like to finish it for me?"

My jaw dropped. A clone's armor is something near and dear to his heart, something that told his story and his part in the war. And Chet was offering me the honor of adding to it?

Chet rubbed the back of his neck. "You don't have to if you don't want to," he said softly.

I flung my arms around his neck, surprising both him and me. I coughed and moved away a little. "Of course I want to, Soldier Boy," I said, touched. "Thank you."

Chet gave me a smile, a real one that lit up his face. "You're the one doing me a favor. You draw much better than I do."

"Thank - Wait a second." I narrowed my eyes. "How do you know I draw?" Had he seen my drawings of him and the rest of the squad? Oh, snap…

"Uh, just a hunch," Chet quickly explained. "You seem like the artistic type."

Hmm. Suspicious much?

"Hey, General, Chetster!" Flash called, him and the rest of the squad gathered around the lamp. "Time to rejoin the living!"

"Coming," I called back. Chet quickly stood and offered me his hand, which I took with a smile. He took care to tug lightly, so I wouldn't be flung to the other side of the thicket when he pulled me to my feet.

We walked back to the lamp together. I shot Chet a glance out of the corner of my eye, and something inside me…changed. I might've been his General, and Chet my soldier, but he was my best friend. I wasn't going to be all distant and calculating and view him as a tool to be used and thrown away like I was supposed to. Master hadn't cared about rules, either – I'd take a leaf out of his book and do the same.

After all, a very wise person once said that rules were made to be broken.

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