Authors: Jean Rabe
“Lovely planet they sent us to, El-Tee. Positively rustic. I might even go so far as to call it quaint”
“Quit complaining, Arvee. Vengler’s just a little primitive, that’s all.”
“Primitive? We landed on a plateau, not in a spaceport. No amenities. Not a cantina in sight. Why not call the place what it really is, sir? A dirtball.”
The Rebel lieutenant scowled at the toadlike quadruped, his second-in-command, then pointed toward the darkening hills. “A little dirt never hurt anyone. ’Sides, we won’t be here long. We cut through that gap and surprise the Imperials on the other side. There’s not many. A couple dozen stormtroopers, support staff. Should be able to take them without much of a fight. We’ve got plenty of room on the shuttle for prisoners.”
“Yeah, prisoners. This’ll be easy, Arvee. Piece of Mundlop zilg-dicody.”
“Easy,” Arvee repeated. “Too bad I’m allergic to zilg.”
“We free the miners,” the lieutenant continued, “then it’s leave time for all of us on a big Ithorian herd ship.”
The lieutenant had to admit he shared Arvee’s view of the backwater world. Vengler was largely uncivilized, particularly this continent, and being on the fringe made it easy pickings for the small Imperial unit that was reported to have moved in and taken over the quendek mine. If it hadn’t been for an Alliance spy planted in the complement of a passing merchant frigate, the Imperial presence on Vengler probably would have gone unnoticed for years. Better to bring in a detachment now and shut it down right away, the lieutenant thought—before the Imperials have a chance to build weapon emplacements and set up a base.
“Easy. Phfhffftt!” Arvee squatted on his rear legs, scratched at a wart, and reached for the blaster rifle slung over his mottled back. “Right, El-Tee. Easy for you humans.” He scrunched his lips into the approximation of a pout and eyed the rest of the Rebel force—nearly all of the 150 were Corellian recruits. There were a few Devaronians and a couple of Sullustans in the mix, but he was the only one who walked on all fours. “Easy ’cause all this dust doesn’t bother you two-leggers much. At least this beats resting in my bunk and watching the stars go by,” Arvee huffed. “One small outpost. Too bad there aren’t two or three. I really like to shoot stormtroopers. I’m good at it, too.” Arvee hunkered down, his brown bumpy hide helping him blend in with the rough landscape. A hint of a smile crossed his bulbous lips. “Hey, El-Tee, can I take point?”
The lieutenant nodded, and the toadlike scout scuttled quickly ahead. The rest of the Rebels trailed behind him. As the stars began to wink into view, they quietly made their way through the gap in the hills.
Arvee sneezed. “I really hate all this dust,” he cursed under his breath, as he ran a webbed digit across the blaster rifle’s trigger. “Good thing we won’t be here long.” He reached the far end of the gap and glanced across an uneven arid field. “Why, I could take them all out without a bother. Fast. All by my scaly lonesome. Forget prisoners. And then…” His raspy breath caught in his throat and his legs locked in place as he spotted something at the edge of his vision—several Imperial system patrol craft. There was a building behind the ships. “That isn’t one outpost,” he whispered in as soft a voice as he could manage. “Or two or three. It’s an Imperial base. With lots of weapon emplacements.” The dust swirled around his hind legs as his comrades caught up with him.
“It’s all this dust!” the freighter pilot groaned. “Dust ’n sand. Every time I stay in Mos Eisley for more ’n a few days the stuff gets in my droid’s joints. Makes it act up or shut down. Can ya do somethin’ about it?”
Amalk Wulqpark eyed the sand-pitted protocol droid the pilot had roughly ushered into his shop. “You shouldn’t leave him outside then,” Amalk suggested. “Dust wouldn’t be a problem if you kept him on your ship.”
“Can’t keep it on my ship. I need it nearby ’n case I come across someone or somethin’ I wanna talk to. For business.”
“And you conduct your business on the street?”
“Sometimes. ’N in the cantina, too. But the cantina rules… well, they won’t let me take it inside,” the pilot returned. “So I keep it just outside the door. Next best thing.”
Then you must spend an awful lot of time inside the cantina,
for all this dust damage to occur.
Amalk leaned across the counter and ran his age-spotted hands over the droid’s tarnished face. It was a kind gesture that was lost on the pilot, but not on the ailing droid. “You’re in need of an oil bath, my new friend,” Amalk said softly. “Hammer out a few of these dents.”
“I said fixing him shouldn’t be too much of a problem,” he said more loudly. “It looks like his photoreceptors are damaged.”
The pilot raised an eyebrow and his lips parted in an unspoken question.
“Photoreceptors,” Amalk explained. “Your droid’s eyes, the devices that snag the light rays—natural and manufactured—and convert them into electronic signals. The signals are processed by the video computer at the base of his head and are translated into images so he can see. Operates on the same principle as human eyes. In any event, the casings are cracked. Dust got inside and choked the workings.”
“Hate all this dust,” the pilot grumbled.
Amalk’s rheumy blue eyes narrowed. “Hmm. Not just the casings. You’ve got other problems, too, don’t you fellow?” He was chatting to the droid, and the droid began to talk back.
“What’s that noise?” the pilot cut in. “That squawky stuff? Somethin’ wrong with its vocalizer?”
“Vocabulator. Speech synthesizer.”
“Yeah. That’s what I meant. Is it broken, too?”
Amalk shook his head. “It’s not noise,” he muttered. “It’s language.”
“Not one I understand,” the pilot retorted.
But Amalk was one of those few. What sounded like insects buzzing around the cramped shop’s interior was a specialized program language. Droids often used it to communicate among themselves. It was largely unintelligible to organics. Amalk buzzed fluently—questions upon questions tumbling from his lips. The droid quickly provided answers.
“So you travel a lot, I imagine, being a freighter pilot,” Amalk said, finally returning his attention to the pilot.
“Get to see much of the galaxy?”
“Yeah. I get around. Even been to the Corporate Sector a few times.”
“Ever travel in Imperial territory?” Amalk asked as he popped the chestplate off the droid and looked inside.
“Yeah. Not that it’s any of your business, though.”
“I’d bet that’s dangerous. Imperial assault shuttles buzzing around, maybe even a Star Destroyer. But then you look like you’re not afraid of much.”
“I’m not.” The pilot puffed out his chest. “Besides, it’s not all that dangerous for me. I got some contacts, do some odd jobs for ’em now and again. Just occasional stuff. Stay friendly with ’em and you’re better off. Healthier and wealthier. Know what I mean?”
“Indeed I do.” Amalk’s thick fingers prodded the droid’s wires and circuits. “Hmmm. What have we here?”
The pilot moved closer, tried to peer over Amalk’s shoulder to get a look inside the droid’s chest.
“Not good,” Amalk tsked. “Not good at all. See this?”
“What? Dust got inside there, too?”
“No. The locomotor. It’s wearing out. It will need to be replaced right away. Your droid probably won’t be able to take more than another hundred steps or so under his own power before the locomotor burns out.”
“Good thing I brought it to ya to fix then.” The pilot looked pleased with himself. “Back at the hangar, they said ya was the best. Also said that your lift tube didn’t go all the way to the top level… if ya know what I mean. Said ya think more of droids than people. Don’t matter to me none about your preferences. Me, I’m just passin’ through, an’ I need ya to fix it.”
“Fix him. Fix your droid.”
“Yeah. What’s a locomotor? I know ships ’n all. Been flyin’ a freighter for years. Droids, well, that’s somethin’ I never took to studyin’.”
“A locomotor is the servomechanism that gives your droid—and other protocol droids, scout droids, and others like them—the ability to walk, to move.”
“So can you replace it?”
“Yes. No problem. But not at the moment. I don’t have any spare locomotors in the shop. They’re on order. Expected on the next merchant transport.”
“When’ll that be.”
“So whadda I do? I gotta be leavin’ in a day, no more ’n two. Got someplace I gotta go, an appointment ta keep. I need it ta translate for me.”
“Yeah. I need
ta translate for me.”
“You could buy another protocol unit. I have a few on sale.” Amalk eased away from the pilot’s droid and gestured at his shop’s walls.
Amalk’s shop consisted of one large room, which when it was built would have been called spacious. Now it seemed small and crowded. The walls were lined with droids. Like soldiers, a few dozen protocol droids stood in a row, their silver, gold, brass, and bronze metal plating gleaming in the light that spilled through the lone window.
Nearby were several R2, R4, and R5 units, and something that looked like a prototype or a modification of another R-series model. Remotes of various sizes hung from the celling, blinking and whirring like cantina decorations. Not true droids, they were programmable to perform simple functions and had no independent initiative.