Huge feet touched down. There was the loud hiss of hydraulics taking incredible weight, and then silence.
“And you’re down; Welcome to Darlaak, Kaladon Ghost – you are scheduled for departure tomorrow morning; bright and early – if you’re looking to stay longer, we’re going to need at least five hours notice”
“Copy that, control” Kari mumbled into the mouth piece before taking the headset off and placing it neatly on the console in front of her as she deactivated the engines and all other systems which were unnecessarily when on a planet with normal gravity and a breathable environment.
Spinning the pilot’s chair to face the door, she pushed herself up and headed through the ship, making for the cargo bay. She was fairly certain that the others would already be waiting; desperate to stretch their legs and take in lungfuls of fresh air, not the reprocessed, re-oxygenated soup they had been breathing since fleeing Akanephin 5.
Reaching the hold, Kari found herself to be the last to arrive.
She gave Valin a warm smile, which reduced slightly as she looked to Quan and had disappeared entirely by the time her gaze made its way to Kaz. Passing them all, she moved to the controls for the down-ramp, and watched as the huge jaws of the ship opened, giving them their first glance at Darlaak – the “other” smugglers moon: The poor man’s Nar Shaddaa. She narrowed her eyes against the glare, shying away slightly as she was assaulted by pinks and blues and greens and yellows; a barrage of neon all vying for her attention, and the attention of the crowds which milled about between the bars, striptease parlours, and brothels they advertised. She could feel her anxiety growing as her eyes grew accustomed to the flashing colours and the sea of people came into sharper focus – hundreds of them, thousands even; Twi’lek, Mirialans, humans, Rodians, the woman gave a gentle gasp of surprise as even a Wookie strolled past her gaze. She found that she was hiding from them, peeking round the side of the ship at the throngs, none of whom had any interest in her presence anyway. Mistrustfully, she glanced out again, a look of clear worry on her face as she turned and headed back to the group.
She realised, as she got there, that while she had been looking at Darlaak’s populace, they had been talking.
“Come on, Valin….” Kaz was imploring, “I’ve got nowhere else to go!”
Kari pondered this. For the first time, she truly considered what their run-in with the Imperials on the mining world meant, what it had cost: They were wanted criminals, the ship was probably already blacklisted in the Galactic core, only on worlds here, in the outer rim, would they be safe. A frown appeared on her face as she realised too, that Tros-ssikar was lost to her.
“Neither do we, now…” she muttered quietly. This was mostly to herself and ran parallel to whatever conversation they were having, but Valin seemed to nod his agreement.
She tried to think of something else, but the realisation filled her mind, growing quickly and making other ideas wither in its shadow – Never again would she see the huge factories of her home world, the foundries, so large they made the cities glow orange from space, and produced armies of droids daily. A pang of anguish settled in her as she realised there was nothing she could do about it – it was already too late.
She blinked back a tear just in time to see Valin approach her, giving her a gentle kiss on the cheek he said, “We’re going to Isoder’s place. I’m guessing you don’t want to come?”
She shook her head.
“Ok, be safe – we’ll be as quick as we can”
With that he was gone, taking the others with him.
Kari stood alone in the cargo bay, staring out at Darlaak’s multicoloured night: so this was it now? The rest of her life spent jumping between shitholes? The woman sighed, “Yes…” she said to the warm air.
The halogen lights clunked on in sets of two, shooing away the darkness which had sprawled out over the large garage at the rear of the Orphanage site.
The tall, thin man closed the door behind him, took off his coat and hung it up, before fishing in its pocket and pulling out his keys. As he turned, he gave a gentle sigh, “Again, Kari?” he asked, seeing the small form sitting at his work bench.
She turned to face him, a large bruise on her right cheek and a split lip, she only nodded.
He headed over to her as quick as his gammy leg would allow, putting out a hand for support onto the side of the old hover-bus , and inspected the damage close up.
“Third time this week…” he commented, taking her chin in a gentle pistol grip and turning her face left and right slowly, “I’m going to have to tell someone”
She shook her head as best she could in the grip, “Scared it’ll get worse?” he asked, sceptically, “Not sure that’s possible, pretty one” he frowned, stepping back and moving to his first aid box, which hung in its health and safety appointed location on the wall. He returned and cracked it open, getting a tissue and tipping some anti-septic onto it. The girl tried to shy away, remembering its sting from previous times doing this. As the tissue finally caught up with her lip, she hissed loudly, the pain surging from the cut around her whole face, making the bruise on her cheek seem more intense, “Shh, child…” he said, “You know it’s for the best”.
The searing pain only lasted a few more seconds, as the anti-septic was replaced with a bacta patch for her cheek, which was wiped gently over her cut lip first.
The girl brushed the back of her hand along her nose and sniffed, her face still carrying all the hallmarks of the hour she had spent crying in the dark before his return “You know what I do when I’m upset?” he asked her as he stowed the medkit again.
She shook her head.
“I stop being upset and build something – what’s the point in letting someone make you feel hurt and angry? Wasted energy is what that is! Put that energy into making something, and instead of slowing you down, they’ve fuelled you” he explained, a wide smile spreading over his lips as he looked at the attractive young girl sat at his bench.
She raised an eyebrow as he turned and headed to his bits box, returning moments later with a piece of circuit board, some resisters, a button, and a small light bulb, “Right; time for you to learn some new skills” he said, turning her around on her seat, his hands squeezing her thighs slightly as he rotated her, “This,” he said, “is a soldering iron – careful; it gets real hot real quick”.
For ten minutes, he guided her through making a very basic light. He knew he had done the right thing when she laughed with joy as the bulb illuminated the first time. Her small finger pressing it on and off with glee.
The next half hour was spent explaining why the bulb lit up. Following that, he fetched more bulbs, introducing the idea of parallel and series circuits, watching over her shoulder as she placed the components carefully. He brushed her hair gently out of the way, his fingers tickling the sides of her neck to collect every strand, tucking it down the back of her top; out of the soldering iron’s way, his thumb lingering a second on the nape her neck.
As she finished what she was working on, she returned the tool to its home before pushing the light switch again, grinning excitedly as the three bulbs lit up.
“I did it!” she beamed, laughing, the pain from earlier all but forgotten.
“Clever girl” he smiled, resting his hands on her narrow shoulders and squeezing lightly, before planting a kiss on the top of her head, inhaling her delicate scent for a long moment as she continued to click the lights on and off.
“Build something” Kari said firmly to herself, turning her back on the port and looking around the hanger bay – the Bacta Tanks would be a good project as soon as she could get her hands on some Bacta, but the bacterial solution wasn’t cheap, and she wasn’t sure she would trust anyone who could claim to get their hands on that much of it in this place.
The communicator in her pocket started to chatter. Glancing down, she put her hand into her pocket and pulled it out. Quan’s voice echoed from the small device, “Kari, do you want us to pick you up any food while we’re out?” She smiled despite herself; it was a kind thought. She pressed in the small activation button and started to raise the comms unit, before it reached her mouth, she spotted something. She paused and a smile came to her lips, she forgot all about replying to Quan and, instead, marched across the big room to stand before the crumpled form in the corner.
Looking down, Kari tucked the communicator back into her pocket and accessed the basic skeletal form at her feet; its spindly, lone arm was not suitable for heavy lifting or, with its wide, non-independently moving fingers, could it perform precision tasks. The Battle Droid, as its name suggested, was geared to a single task – shooting a blaster. Merely by looking, she could not tell if this was a B1 model, or the older OOM-series, which (apparently) had more propensity for independent thought. Either way, history told that they were vulnerable to tricks, their targeting system was notoriously buggy, and their power packs often failed to hold charge in prolonged campaigns. Perfect – something to restore then improve, she thought to herself, leaning over and flicking on the power switch gently.
Her brow furrowed slightly. Kari waited patiently for a moment, and was rewarded with a whirring of motors. After shaking for a second, the droid stood up, his legs propelling his torso upwards a little shakily, trying to throw off the years since their last activation.
“What are your orders?” the droid said in an automated tone, looking straight ahead.
Kari ignored it, pacing round the unit slowly. There was extensive damage to the legs which she had not noticed while he had been folded up; Tatooine’s harsh sands had taken their toll on some of the joints. It would be easy enough to sort, but would take time. Stopping next to his empty shoulder socket, she leaned up and inspected gently.
“What are your orders?” it asked again, turning its head slowly and watching her. As though suddenly realising its arm was missing, it gave a sound of alarm, “I have been damaged in battle!?”
Kari shook her head, “I don’t think so”
The droid was obviously trying to move its missing arm, within its shoulder-mount gears whirred.
“Wherever your arm is, it’s intact” she explained, “It was removed, not shot off”
The battle droid said nothing.
“That’s good news” She told it, “It means the connections probably haven’t taken damage…attaching another arm should be relatively simply”. She looked up at the droid and issued her first command, “Come with me…I can’t fix you in the cargo bay”
Heading through the ship, Kari turned and observed the droid’s movements, “Not very quick, are you?” she asked, “Run a self-diagnostic”
“Roger,” There was a second of silence before it said, “Sand contamination at 73% – impeding movement to a near terminal degree”
She nodded, “Thought so…looks like first order of business will be an oil bath”
The machine did not respond, simply following her into Engineering.
It took a while to fill the oil bath. Kari used the time to inspect the arm socket again, checking the connections for damage more thoroughly, and taking up her ammeter to checking a current was still running to them. As she had suspected; the arm had been removed for some reason – most likely to supplement an already operational droid. She deposited the device on her desk again and rounded the droid, inspecting its present arm carefully. Looking at the construction; how it fitted together, what had been made as one piece, and what was added later.
It was a basic design. It had to be. From what she had heard, B1s and OOMs had made up the vast majority of the Separatist armies, and their advantage came in numbers, not tactical superiority. To build the necessary quantity in a timely fashion, simplicity would be key.
Kari stared for a long second, her mind deconstructing the arm into its component parts, holding them in the air before her as she evaluated the easiest moulding method. A high pitched Ping shattered her thoughts, and brought her back to the real world. She glanced over at the oil bath and nodded towards it, “Go on” she smiled warmly, “Get in – You’ll feel a lot better afterwards, I’m sure”
The droid stepped down the stairs into the bath slowly, before standing thigh deep in the lubricants. Kari giggled, “You have to sit down…” she explained, “The idea is it covers you!”
It did as she requested, submerging itself totally.
Three hours later, she emptied the bath.
“Better?” she asked.
“Yes” the droid said, without standing up, still folded up into its transportation configuration.
“Told you” she grinned, “Stand up and come here” she said, before turning to Reggie, “Sorry, little guy – I’m going to need your charging pad”
“Gonk…gonkgonkgonk!” he said enthusiastically.
“That’s sweet…” she smiled at him, putting a hand on his head lightly, “But I think the pad is the best route. Its battery probably hasn’t been charged in over twenty years! I don’t want to risk blowing it by recharging too quickly”
“Gonk” he said, shuffling off the floor pad on which he stood and ambling to the far end of the room.
Kari smiled after him warmly, before turning back to the battle droid, “Come and stand here” she pointed, “you could probably do with some juice…”
It moved across the room with a pace it had given no hint of prior to the bath, and stood exactly where she had pointed, “What’s your designation?” she asked politely,
“I am B1-T3R” it chimed.
“Biter?” she asked, a hint of amusement in her tone, “Well, Biter, I’m going to power you down while you charge…I want to have a look at your programming” she explained as she reached forwards and flicked the small switch again.
The droid slumped forwards slightly.
Kari turned from him and rummaged on her desk, finding the cable she needed, she grabbed it and found the corresponding port on the battle droid. Plugging the cable in, she connected him to her computer and waited while it accessed his systems. Navigating through its libraries of code, she found the file she was looking for – the system set up was similar to most droids, even today – and then uploaded a file from her computer. It was a pet project of hers, something she had been working on for years; a program which would, if it operated correctly, enable B1-T3R to learn independently, and more importantly, apply that learnt behaviour to a wide variety of situations, not just reuse tactics in a single way.
She watched the upload bar inch forwards slowly for a second, before again turning her attention to its arm: it would be easier to plan without him questioning and moving, she decided, so made a detailed sketch of his existing arm, adding specific measurements to each piece, ensuring to flip the architecture around so it was simply a matter of building what was on the diagram.
The rest of the evening was spent making moulds, a task Kari lost herself in totally, only lifting her head from her work when she heard Quan, Kaz, and Valin come back on board. She did not bother leaving engineering to greet them – no doubt she would hear all about it in the morning.