This is my first submission here. Critical review welcome. Since I am new - if you have any technical advice, please be detailed.

Assumptions: I don't own Star Wars. I have seen the movies and animations, but haven't read a single Star Wars book. Go figure. My only 'change' from cannon, as I know it, is that some clones have a slight mutation which allows them to reach full maturity at 12 instead of 10 and they have a normal lifespan. Assuming they get really lucky and survive everything else. A simple game while you're reading - figure out which clone here has this mutation.

Please enjoy.

Chapter 1

Most of the troopers gulped the ration bars in chunks but Rex tucked bits in his cheek to let it soften. It lasted longer, was better digested and staved off hunger longer. He sucked the sweetness out of it. He leaned against a crack in the boulder, letting stone take the force of the wind. In the darkness the remains of Rishi Outpost and the Obex looked like the boulders of the cratered moon. The infrareds in his helmet illumed where an eel was hibernating in its den and the light-glints of his brother clones through the broken ribs and charred walls of the building. There was no other movement. He could hear Cody, Echo and Fives through the com unit as they searched through the building remains. Rex breathed deeply, expecting the tang of smoke but smelling only the chill atmosphere. There was nothing out here but you still set a guard. Normally that would have been the lower ranked Echo or Fives, but Rex had volunteered so the remainder of Hevy's squad could search for his remains. That loyalty had been bred into them. During battle you ignored anything not your objective, but after battle you searched. Afterwards, you went and you found your squad brothers – alive and wounded or dead and beyond any further pain. They'd found the remains of the others – even Cutup's body in mutilated armor by one of the shallow craters near the station. But Hevy had detonated the explosive manually. He'd been in the center of that maelstrom of fire and pyroclastic shards.

They'd gone through what wreckage they could immediately after the explosion with help from the LAAR/tis., but fire and hot metal had stalled their search for Hevy's remains. It wouldn't have been a long wait until the fire burned itself out. There were few flammable items on the outpost outside the armory and the LT would have burnt out in only a few hours. But the call had come from Kamino first and The Resolute had been rushed back to the only planet the clones knew as home. Even now, they were officially off-duty and had only a limited time before The Resolute moved onward in the slow, never-ending chase. General Skywalker had given them what time he could.

"He should be here." That was Fives' voice, frustrated. There was the rattle of metal on the stone of the outpost's floor as though he'd pushed aside metal debris. "

"Here are the remains of the plunk. Flowered out and shrapneled." Cody was referring to the distinctive pattern of an explosive in an enclosed space.

There was silence although Rex could hear them moving about, Fives hissing under his breath , each clone shoving aside whatever was in his way.

"I don't like this." Cody's voice was soft.

"What, Commander?"

"Hevy isn't here, but what else do you not see?"

Echo was the one who answered. Echo was quiet but didn't seem to miss anything. "No droids. No parts."

And that was bad news. Droids would take droid parts from a battlefield, although not for the same reasons that the clones were looking for Hevy. Tinnies could use those extra parts for repair or reuse. A self-resurrecting army so to speak; but they'd have no use for a human body. Rex pushed himself from the stone and loped towards the remnants of the outpost. "No use for a dead body," he muttered softly, "and only limited use for a live one."

If your brother wasn't there, you moved on. Moreover, they'd have to report to General Skywalker that someone – very likely the Separtists – had returned to the moon and picked up the pieces.

"Check the computer terminals. See if they've been accessed." Rex ordered. "Someone has come by and removed a few souvenirs, including Hevy's remains. Make sure they weren't able to retrieve any information or find out what they did remove."

Commander Cody was giving his own orders. "Check the armory, make sure there's nothing useful. Check for any attempts at unauthorized entry."

"Yes, sir." Replied Echo and Fives each moving to a task with Cody and Rex to back them up. Echo quickly checked computer consoles with Rex glancing over his shoulder. Fives and Cody quickly moved towards the armory.

Fives tossed his helmet onto his bunk. "Nothing," He said angrily. "There isn't enough of Hevy to …." He stopped, at a loss for words and scowled. Fives leaned against the wall and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Just some bloody smears."

"That doesn't make sense," said Echo as he glanced up. "LT blows up and out. It sublimates and it's the fumes that burn. It only exploded because it was enclosed in the plunk droid. It doesn't burn hot enough to disintegrate things. Not droid metal. Not armor." He reached towards one of his manuals but was sure of the facts. "Not flesh."

"That's what the Captain said. But at the moment it's all wipe up from Kamino and chasing bad guys so they're assuming Hevy's body was eaten by one of the eels or removed by the droids when they came and got their part-ners." He dragged out the last word to make a pun which was ignored. Fives sat heavily on his bunk and began removing his armor from his hands and arms. "That doesn't sit well with the Commander or Captain. Even the Jedis don't like it but can't think of anything else." He turned slightly, giving his back to Echo, who absently detached the backplate for him. Fives took it and placed it with his lames and vambraces then removed the breastplate. Relieved of the upper half of his armor, he stretched his shoulders and arms to loosen his cramped muscles then lay back with his head against the wall. He'd been lucky to be assigned the corner bunk, usually the privilege of a more senior trooper.

Echo thumbed through several pages of his manual. "You need your armor resized if you get …hey, what's this?" He peered at the manual, slowly turning to the next page then flipped back, his lips moving as though he were reading. "Fives, hand me your bucket." Echo reached out a hand to take the helmet which Fives handed him. "You were searching the epicenter of the blast weren't you? Where Hevy had to have been?"

"Yeah. He had to detonate manually. If he'd fixed the remote, Hevy would have been out of there and down with us watching the fireworks." Fives closed his eyes and was asleep in seconds, his breath soft and even.

Cross-legged on his new bunk, Echo tinkered with the controls in Fives' helmet, going back to just a few days ago. Before Kamino – now that had taken the shine off their armor. He yawned, as exhausted as Fives, but his mind wouldn't let him sleep. Echo watched what Fives' helmet had recorded as they had searched for Hevy's remains. It had been uploaded into the main computer and was available on the main vids, if anyone wanted to see them, but Rishi Outpost was a dead issue now. Its importance had been to observe for an attack and it had served that purpose. Echo preferred the helmet view since there was none of the slight distortion evident in moving from the curved inner screen to a flat holovid screen. There was no interference from someone wanting to watch a bolo game. On a 24-hour ship, someone was always watching the common room vid.

He watched the playback, seeing with new eyes what Fives had seen as they searched Rishi. Echo had taken the outer rooms of the outpost, marking O'Niner and finding Cutup. Commander Cody had been there, but the station had been theirs and he had let them search in their way and fashion, pointing out only those things he had from experience. Captain Rex had even taken perimeter guard duty, usually reserved for the rawest shiny. The monitors in Fives helmet clicked on to their search. Echo saw the pit of the blast center, floors, mottled black where tibanna had spilled and burned on the floor, dark scorched in other areas. Among the scorching were elongated outlines. He zoomed back, the helmet extrapolating the data as if he were 3 meters above the blast epicenter, and gasped. "Up and out," he whispered to himself then smiled.


"What?" muttered Fives, instantly awake and not happy about it.

"Hevy didn't die in the blast."

Rex looked at Echo and Fives. He hadn't been happy to be woken but he had, apparently, more rest then either of them. In exhaustion their traits had reversed. The normally verbal Fives was standing quietly while Echo spoke and waved his hands to the helmet.

"See, sir? It's like a circular target." He gestured at the screen where he'd sent the vid to his captain. "The pit – that's the blast epicenter. It isn't that deep because tibanna's burns as a gas. It blows up. Directionally up and then out." Echo pointed to emphasize the direction then waved his arms in a circle as if to illustration the explosion's actions. "Less downward force." Echo stopped the vid at a point where Fives had been looking at the walls of the burnt-out shell and pointed. A black band about chest high was evident. "You can see here." Again he pointed, "And here where the major portion of the blast hit the walls." He touched a slightly lighter spot on the screen. "Here's the outline of one of the OOMs – too skinny for a clone." Echo glanced into Rex's face who nodded as he saw the curved outline of a B1 droid head. "And here," he touched the controls and the view spun slightly, "here's a super. Obviously not Hevy." Echo touched the controls and the image slowly circled. "No blast shadow for a clone on the blast going out. And as for up," He paused.

Rex spoke for him. "We'll assume Hevy wasn't sitting on the plunks."

"Even if he had been, we would have found more traces of him where we found pieces of the plunk – the blast perimeter." Echo slowed as he spoke of Hevy, then his voice picked up animation again. "But look here." Again, Echo manipulated the image. "This is extrapolated from the images. I've added some light to the extrapolation. We were searching at night and the helmet lights wouldn't be sufficient." The view seemed to be above the blast site, about ceiling high, and daylight rather than the moving circles of light from helmets. From that image Rex could see what had caused Echo's excitement. In the center of the target was the shallow blast pit circled by scorch marks circled, in turn, by the blackness of burn that crept up the wall to the ceiling and had destroyed the droids. A clone size, clone shaped area on the floor next to the pit was untouched and it was in the scorched area rather than the burnt blackness.

"I've done the calculations, Captain. And had one of the engineer droids check my numbers. This area," Echo's finger rested on the scorched circle. "Wouldn't have gotten any hotter than the tolerances of his armor. Hevy could have survived, sir. Captain." His voluble stream of words flagged.

Rex looked at Fives and the trooper straightened. "He's doing all the talking. Why are you here."

"To make sure he didn't bring his manuals and the calculations, sir. And to catch him when he falls."

"Ah," murmured Rex. "Good man. Returned to your quarters and get some sleep gentlemen. That IS an order. Bring me the calculations later." He gestured them out as he touched the vid screen. The two clones moved from the Captain's quarters as Rex leaned over the screen. He brought up the duty schedule and check for Echo and Fives next duty. Echo was to report in two hours and Rex shifted it back, substituting another trooper. Fives was coming onto a break, no change needed there. Rex sent a message to General Skywalker – not a wake-up call as the clones had done him – about the new evidence and then he went into Hevy's file and changed the KIA to MIA and set it aside. He wasn't pleased about this. Echo and Fives had been too tired to think beyond Hevy's survival but it would come to them. If Hevy had survived, then it was very likely that he had been picked up by Separatist forces on the rebound from Kamino. If that was the case, then it would probably have been better if Hevy had died quickly in the explosion.