(subject to change after discussion with Purplesteve)
“There; that ought to do it”
Kari leaned back with a satisfied smile on her lips, and brushed her right arm over her forehead, wiping away the sweat, but replacing it with an oily smudge. “I really don’t know how you get yourself into these situations…” she mused, her brow furrowing slightly as she placed the wrench that had been in her hand carefully on the deck at her side, the action generating a dull thud of metal on metal, “You’re as bad as Valin” she added, leaning forwards to close the service hatch on XR-EG4’s side.
She had found him on his head, feet in the air, at the bottom of the metal staircase which linked the cockpit to the rest of the ship; she guessed he had been about to start his long descent when the Ghost had broken orbit and the sudden jarring of the ship had radically shorted his journey time.
“Gonk gonk, gonk!” he chimed irritably, shifting his weight from one leg to the other, like a child, stamping his feet.
She giggled at the GNK Power Droid’s display, “Ok, ok…” she conceded, putting up her hands in surrender “Not that bad”
Looking up at the boxy droid, for she was kneeling next to him on the floor, finding that gave the best angle to access the systems she had been working on, she took a last look, ensuring she had knocked the dents out of him, before pushing herself to her feet, “Now,” she said, heading over to the work table to return her wrench to its home, “If you’re quite finished sulking, could you access your secondary subsystem group, please?”
“Gonk. Gonk gonk gonk!”, this was accompanied by a sharp stamp.
“I know it didn’t do anything this morning, but it does now” she said firmly, folding her arms across her chest, “I hope…” she added, losing her confidence slightly, “Go on” she said, crouching down to XR-EG4’s height and offering a wide smile, “Please?”
The droid did not respond for a second, then just as she was about to ask again, she felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end, a slightly, almost unperceivable shiver running down her spine and she knew he had done as she asked, “Ooooo…..” the GNK intoned.
Spinning clumsily from her kneeling position, Kari laughed joyously as she saw the blue energy dome enveloping the pair of them, “It worked!” She said excitedly, before turning back and throwing her arms around the small droid, pressing her cheek against his cold metal side. He tottered from foot to foot, sharing in the excitement; the humiliations of the morning voided from his memory banks.
Turning again, Kari sat on the floor, her back against XR-EG4’s side, and pulled her knees up to her chest, wrapping her arms around them. She sat and watched the blue particle effect of the shield for some minutes in total silence, its near impenetrable field separating her, the droid, and the glazed lizard from the rest of the universe.
After almost ten minutes of absent-mindedly listening to the gentle murmur of the shield generator in the droid’s innards, its soothing tone giving no hint of problems integrating into XR-EG4’s systems, or drawing power directly from his considerable energy reservoir, she stood. Brushing her hands together to free some dust from the floor, she said, “I think I’m going to have to look at getting you a better cooling system,” she smiled to the droid, as she put a hand behind herself to feel her warm back, “You’re getting a little toasty there!”
“….gonk…” he said apologetically
Kari chuckled, “Don’t be silly, it’s not your fault! At least now, when Valin insists on us taking suspect individuals on board, you’ll be ready to help when the inevitable happens” she flipped down a panel on the energy droid’s rear and inspected the small screen which was housed behind it, “Hmm…” she pondered, “Won’t need much, might be able to tweak your existing system to compensate for the extra power draw….” as she considered a few ways to do this, a movement on one of the security monitors caught her eye. Glancing up, she saw Kaz heading up the ramp into the cargo bay, only to stop and take a seat, “Speak of the devil…” she muttered to herself, her eyes fixed on the monitor, before picking up the small box of communicators in front of it on her desk, “Ok, better power down, for now” she said, closing the panel, “I’ll be back in a few” she added, before grabbing a comm. unit and making for the door.
Entering the cargo bay, Kari was met by the dry heat of Tatooine, pouring in through the open doors like an oppressive, invading force. It was like she had crossed some invisible boundary into an area of the ship where every action took more effort, even breathing. She had turned off the environmental controls in the cargo bay shortly after landing, viewing it as a waste of power if the bay doors were to be open anyway, but now she was regretting it. With not even the vaguest hint of a breeze in the large, metal space, the heat was stifling; potentially hotter than outside, though this could have just been her imagination.
Running the back of her arm across her forehead to collect the sweat which was already forming, she looked down in wonderment to find a trail of oil originating just down from her elbow and running to her wrist, giving a sigh of mild irritation, no doubt mostly a result of the heat, she headed further into the furnace to find Kaz.
It did not take her long.
He was sitting exactly where he had positioned himself when she had been watching from the monitors.
He looked awful; pale and drawn. Perhaps a reaction to the heat, she pondered as she drew near. Kaz Tame looked up as she approached, a doleful expression sat on his face; one which robbed the young man of his usual endearing air. .
Kari stopped in her tracks. He continued to look at her for a second, then his gaze dropped, his head sinking between his shoulders again, something was different about him. He seemed….much diminished. Altered from the figure they had collected on Akanephin 5.
She held out her hand with the small device in her palm.
Kaz looked up, saying nothing for a long moment, just looking at the item in her hand.
The silence was deafening.
“It’s a communicator” she said meekly, desperate to interrupt the stasis, “We’re on channel 6”
He reached forwards with a huge paw, the hands of a man who had worked the mines his whole life, and took the small device from her. As soon as it had done so, his hand moved to join its counter-part, his wrists resting on his knees lightly.
He said nothing, simply staring at the deck between his feet. A moment later he gave a long sigh; the kind of sigh that involves the whole body, his chest pulling in an implausible distances, the force of the exhalation rocking his entire being forwards slightly.
“What’s wrong?” she blurted out, instantly marvelling at her own forwardness. What are you doing?! Her mind screamed at her, underlining its disapproval by sending blood to her cheeks, forcing her temperature even higher, “I mean…uh…” she stammered.
Kaz ignored her attempted back pedal and looked up at her, staring into her eyes and said, “Do you ever wonder if there’s even a point? I mean…what’s it all for?”
Kari opened her mouth then closed it again. What was she supposed to say?! Of course, I have! Her inner voice bellowed at him – after my parents were ripped from my life, all those nights lying awake on the floor of the orphanage garage, bruises and welts covering my limbs, even now, operating my whole existence in the grey areas of imperial law, always wondering if the next light speed jump will bring us out facing a star destroyer – have I ever wondered if it’s worth it? If it wouldn’t just be easier to roll over and die? Of course, I have….
Her outer voice, however, said nothing, trapping the tirade in her throat, uncertain if that would help, if it was what he truly wanted to hear….Valin would have known what to say!
She looked longingly at Kaz’s empty form as his head dropped again, she put out a hand tentatively, as though to touch his shoulder, reassure him, but drew back. He was broken, she could see that; his usual algorithms and lines of code, being interrupted by something, but she didn’t know what it would take to fix him.
Hope, she realised, was what he had lost.
That twinkle in his eye which he had maintained since they had first met, that belief that he was coming here for something worthwhile, something which would make a better future, was gone. As her hand hovered in midair before him, she frowned, aware she was woefully out of her depth. Life, it seemed, had not been kind to Kaz this day.
Valin, she knew, would have a way to cheer him right up – to have him laughing and smiling again in seconds. He always did.
She, however, did not. If only he were a droid; she could fix him in minutes, identify the malware or virus he had picked up and eradicate it, perhaps even update some old systems while she was there, but he wasn’t.
He was Human.
As her hand hung there, desperate to just reach out that extra foot to provide some form of comfort, no matter how fleeting, for this young miner, her mind reeled for something, anything to say to console him…a single phrase came to mind.
“At…at least you’re not a lizard on a stick…” she said in little above a whisper, then turned and left.