The Jedi’s Astromech

The tune sounded like it was coming from the inside of a tin can. Ritzy and unconventional, the occasional static added to its character, even as it overwrote the lines Lathril knew so well.

And it didn’t belong at all in Imperial space. 

Lathril sat up so fast he hit his head on the underbelly of the starfighter he had been working on. The tune was common to the Core Worlds, Republic territory, and either it came from a recording or it was being transmitted over a holocom. Neither was authorized, not even on Sarak’s ship.

Lathril slipped the wrench he had been wielding into the pocket of his leather work apron and shoved his goggles up onto his head. He got up as silently as he could, creeping sideways through the starfighters, anchored in their places like solemn soldiers standing guard duty. Only they were derelict, the long shadows from Lathril’s lantern hiding the mess of cables and piping spilling from their battle wounds.

And somewhere from all that mess came the tune.

Lathril climbed over a decommissioned Mk VI and stepped over the fuel line of another. He rounded one long wing — mindful of the pointed end — and inched sideways between two starfighters pressed nose to flank. A shower of sparks directed him to the back of a shuttle, where the maintenance hatch was open and the illegal tunester was crouched. The silhouetted dark form was impossible to make out a species, let alone a face.

“Bett? Is that you? Where’d you get the song?”

The humming mechanic squeaked, rotating its wide, flat head and shining a headlamp back Lathril’s way, momentarily blinding him. He held up a hand to shade his eye as the the thing backed out and then sat down at the floor. Soon, he could make out a battered T7 astromech looking up at him and whistling a greeting.

“Oh. Hello, little guy,” said Lathril, some part of him sinking in disappointment. The music had transported him back to a calmer time, and he had almost hoped he’d found a confidant: someone who could understand the trials of being so far from home.

Yet if not from a stowaway or fellow immigrant of Republic, where had the droid gotten the song from?

“What were you doing back there?” Lathril asked.

T7 = certified mechanic. Obeying bridge officer + repairing damaged shuttle = T7’s duty, reported the droid.

“Was the music part of your duty too?”

The astromech spun its head back and forth a few times, looking for the world like a child caught with their hand in the sweets jar. 

“That is a Coruscanti show tune. It is illegal to play it here.”

The droid whistled a question.

“Yes, I know because I used to live there.”

The astromech didn’t seem to know what to make of this. Worried it might get stuck in a logical error loop, Lathril paced around it, looking for the reboot switch, but his gaze only landed on the restraining bolt tacked to one side. It was clearly newer than the rest of the droid. “What were you before you worked on an Imperial craft?” Lathril wondered outloud.

T7 = not authorized to say, said the droid. 

“You mean you don’t remember?” said Lathril curiously. A droid that had gone through the mandated memory wipe would have said that instead.

Another ponderous headspin, and the droid repeated, T7 = not authorized to say.

“And what would you say if I brought you to Engineering for a proper search through your memory bank?” Lathril asked mildly, tensing a few seconds later. It occurred to him that if this was a Jedi’s droid, and the astromech was loyal to its master like most T7 units were, he could expect a lightsaber or stunbolt to the neck in seconds…

But nothing happened, just another confused headspin. Then the droid straightened up, pointing its camera more directly at Lathril’s face.

“Why didn’t I bring you there already?” Lathril answered the droid’s question with one of his own. 

The T7 beeped out a longer question.

“Let’s just say you remind me of someone,” said Lathril softly. “Besides, an error like that would more likely get you melted down, and I could use all the help I can get with these repairs. I’ll make a deal. No more whistling while you work, and I won’t report the malfunction — but don’t cause anymore trouble on this ship or I might. Clear?”

New friend = perfectly clear, beeped the droid. T7 + new friend = co-conspirators!

“I wouldn’t be that dramatic about it,” said Lathril sardonically, then nodded at the open shuttle hatch. “Finish your work in there, little friend, then come find me. This starfighter I’m working on needs your powercutter.”

Lathril lay awake sometime later in his bunk. The droid had ambled away once the starfighter had been fully repaired, and Lathril had turned his attention to the next starfighter in the long line of others that needed servicing. The unending work had driven all thought of the strange droid out of his mind, until now.

There was something there, something hidden in the dark times that had heralded Lathril’s coming to the Empire — a faint memory that he couldn’t quite grasp a hold of. This was nothing new; between the damage done to the cybernetic in his head and the Empire’s re-education programs, there were a lot of memories Lathril couldn’t access anymore. 

For all that, he could’ve sworn he knew that droid from somewhere. 

Further down the hall, crewmen shuffled in and out of their bunks as they changed shifts, and after a moment’s hesitation, Lathril got up and joined them, giving up on sleep. He went to the hangar where he was normally stationed and where he had first met the droid. The droid wasn’t there. Perhaps all for the better, Lathril thought, as he climbed up into the shuttle it had been servicing when Lathril had run across it, and double-checked its work.

No sabotage, which had been Lathril’s first concern, but also no wobbly weld lines, loose screws, or gaps between the plating, which might indicate a motivator gone bad. The droid had done the repair work with the high quality Lathril had come to expect of T7 units.

Lathril blinked. Now why did he expect quality out of a droid type he has never worked with before?

Unless… he had?

The whistle of an astromech broke him from the thought, but not from the sudden, gut-gripping fear. Lathril wiggled out of the shuttle’s service hatch and watched as the T7 trundled past him. It was playing music again, but this time it was an Imperial march, not at all heretical.

Later on when he was reporting this whole absurd situation to Lord Sarak, Lathril couldn’t say why he did it: perhaps it was a nudge from the Force. Yet Lathril had reached out to the droid then, touching it with a bare palm as he flung himself into the layers of emotional residue knit about its frame. Droids didn’t have emotions of their own, but sometimes you could catch a glimpse of their old owner through such resonances. Lathril couldn’t figure out why he knew that little factoid about droids either, as he had never owned one, but suddenly the Force yawed upfront of him, and he was falling sideways into someone’s memory…

They were hunting him, coming up fast on his left flank. The Jedi slipped a hand down to his lightsaber, praying silently he would not have to use it. He was not out here to battle Sith this time, but on another mission: the nearby shield generator needed to go down, and he was one of the only Jedi stationed out here that knew how to do it, with his knowledge of slicing.

Knew how to do it, and knew how to keep his presence in the Force drawn down to a pinprick, so that the resident Sith guardian of the generator wouldn’t sense him coming. 

He held his breath as the black-robed figure paced past, studying her gait for the slightest hint of hesitation that might indicate she noticed him there. Nothing… still nothing… then she was clear and gone, and he let out his breath in relief.

There was no time to waste, and seconds later, he resumed his crawl towards the generator facility. Edging around a couple of parked speeders, coming up on the wall, he slipped around a bend and then just inside a doorway and the computer terminal next to it. He plugged in a data spike, at the same time sending out a signal to his T7 unit, waiting concealed over the hill and inside a rotten log.

“I’m plugged in, T7, transmitting the code now. What do you make of it?”

The T7 whistled in his earjack.

“That line there, with the variable named ‘greenSL’? Are you sure?”

The T7 beeped a confirmation.

The Jedi plugged the other end of the data spike into his datapad, finding the appropriate line with a keyword search. It was good he had T7 with him: a manual search for this vulnerability would have taken hours by himself, and now he was able to slice in a different variable than “greenSL” and get inside the blast doors within minutes…

And there it was. The blast doors opened on his command, and retrieving his slicing gear from the terminal, the Jedi stepped inside. And then–

A burst of pain in his temple, like Lathril hadn’t experienced since his cybernetic had gone bad. He wasn’t sure if it was the Psychometry or if his cybernetic truly was malfunctioning again, but he sank to one knee, hanging onto the droid for balance as it beeped at him inquiringly. 

“Just a memory,” Lathril told it as the pain receded as abruptly as it had come and he recovered.

Memory = painful? the T7 asked.

“Sometimes,” said Lathril. “For war-weary soldiers, sometimes…”  He paused. “You were once stationed on Balmorra, weren’t you? I recognize the landscape.”

T7 = memory-wiped, the T7 reminded him. T7 does not recall.

“But you weren’t memory-wiped,” murmured Lathril. “Your responses to my questioning were not standard, and you carry a restraining bolt. Someone planted you here, that much is clear. Some Jedi…”

Lathril frowned. The Jedi in his vision had clearly been good at stealth, like that of a Jedi Shadow. Was Lord Sarak’s life in danger from an assassination attempt?

It was a very thin line of reasoning. More likely, the droid had been captured, its old master killed in that same generator facility. That would also explain the pain in Lathril’s head — if that blow to the temple had been the Jedi’s death…

Yet if that weren’t the case, and a Jedi Shadow had slipped onto the ISS-Phoenix, the consequences of letting it go… Lathril glanced at the droid’s restraining bolt, thinking hard. It was illegal to remove it, and who knew how the droid would respond if he did, but Lathril had no other lead to go on, and the consequences for if he did not act could prove fatal. Whatever this strange droid remembered — and it clearly remembered something, or it would not have been whistling a Coruscanti show tune — Lathril had to know it, too.

“Come with me,” he told it grimly. “It’s time we took a look inside that memory bank of yours.”

The Jedi fell down on one knee as lightning streamed through his head and body, making his teeth chatter. The Sith had been hiding behind the door, lying in wait: the Jedi recognized her slow, stalking approach as she came closer to him, keeping up her stream of lightning. If her gait had been unbroken before, now it was the prowl of a predator, certain of its kill.

Two could play the ambush game, however. The Jedi continued to sink to the ground, pretending to be overcome by the pain of the electricity still rattling through his skull. He did not have to pretend hard, and it took all his willpower to push past it, laying a hand on his lightsaber and igniting it as soon as the Sith was in range.

It speared the gap between them. The lightning stream abruptly halted as the Sith jumped back, no longer smiling, now wary of him. The Jedi slashed at her as he backed further into the room. He had a job to do, and the Sith was more of a distraction than anything.

She glared at him, and it felt like a stab through his eyes. The echo of the lightning’s pain twisted and pulled in his head, and he grit his teeth against the uncomfortable buzzing in his ears. A mind trick was likely coming if that gaze was anything to go by, and Jedi steeled his will against it, like transferring a starfighter’s shields to the forward quadrants.

Only the buzzing just increased, and then something… twisted. He felt the Sith’s power moving in his head, and suddenly he was on his side, looking up at her in shock and growing realization. It wasn’t a mind trick at all. She had… she was…

“T7!” he gasped out. “I need you to deactivate our commlink!”

But Jedi – link = blind, said the T7 in some confusion.

The Sith was still advancing on him, letting out another ripple of lightning. The Jedi gagged on the pain, it was so bad, like a migraine. He was unable to do much but reach for his lightsaber, as the electricity seized onto his earjack, breaking into it, breaking into something further inside… “Just do it,” the Jedi grunted.

T7 = won’t leave Jedi! wailed the droid.

The Jedi didn’t have time to answer, as the foot of the Sith came down upfront of his face. He rolled away, acting only on instinct and muscle memory now, as he glided up onto his feet and thrust his saber between them. It caught some of the lightning, deflected it, even as he felt its sparks on his hands and the lightsaber hilt growing hot against his palms. Such blades were made for blocking blaster bolts, not Sith magic… and the Sith knew it, grinning again, bringing up her other hand and intensifying that terrible lightning…

In the aftermath of her next blast, the Jedi felt like he was stepping outside of himself, as his jaw unscrewed and clenched again without his consent, over and over, and he felt wet on his chin before he could comprehend he had bitten his own tongue. Yet it brought clarity, strangely, as he drifted over and above the pain, his attention sliding away from the Sith and to what was just behind her.

The shield generator.

He had originally planned to use T7’s help to do a neat slicing job on it, to bring it down for the waiting Republic troopers, but that wasn’t a possibility now. Yet, if Sith lightning could play havoc on electronics and cybernetics, surely it’d do the same on the generator…

The Jedi came back to himself abruptly and, just as abruptly, rushed the Sith. Puzzled, she merely stepped out of his way, but she hadn’t been his real target. He smacked into the side of the generator, feeling some measure of relief as the metal hungrily gulped down the Sith lightning and distributed it, but what was a relief for him was deadly for the delicate inner workings and the computer chips managing the energy cycles of the generator. There was a pop of air in his eardrums, as the shield outside went down completely. 

“Mission complete,” he told his droid.

Jedi = in danger! T7 help!

“No… I will either be captured or dead by the time you get here,” said the Jedi, as he turned his lightsaber halfway to deflect a stab from the Sith’s red one. The Jedi wasn’t sure she knew what she’d help him do, but promised death was in her eyes. “Take what you can of what I have seen, and bring it back to Command. My eye — my eye should have all the data.”

T7 = will not leave Jedi! Despite the declaration, the T7 grudgingly recognized the logic of the Jedi’s order and obeyed him. The Jedi felt a faint click in his head through the Mechu-Daru-caused buzzing, as the astromech quickly grabbed and downloaded all that it could find from his eye. The earjack went dead as it finally broke off the connection, and with a wrench of his will, the Jedi faced the Sith grimly. The lightning still jangled like music in his ears.

“So you want to kill me?” whispered the Jedi. “Then let us dance, Sith…” 

And Lathril recognized the music the Jedi was moving to, with the occasional static from his dying cybernetic only adding to its character. Lathril sat back in stunned amazement, staring at the holocom playing upfront of him, recreated out of the last datapoints drawn from that Jedi’s eye cybernetic — drawn and translated by this droid, now beeping and whistling at him in the excitement of recognition. With the restraining bolt removed, the droid’s memory had come back.

And through it… Lathril’s… The holo showed his last moments of freedom, before the Sith had caught him and burned it all out of his head with that terrible lightning.

“T7… you really shouldn’t have.”

T7 will never leave Jedi, vowed the T7.

Lathril numbly kneeled before it, staring into its camera. His new cybernetic, crafted by the Imperials, had no such recording device, but it could still detect the electricity flowing through the droid, the heat of its motors, and the very familiar coat of paint on its outsides, scratched and marred by Imperial symbols as it was now.

“But I am not a Jedi, and nor are you a Republic droid anymore,” Lathril told it. “There is no escape from here. You have doomed yourself just as much as I am by allowing yourself to be caught.”

T7 + Jedi = not dead or deactivated, reasoned the droid. Not dead = still hope. Allegiance to Empire doesn’t matter. Jedi = T7’s master + T7 would follow master anywhere.

“And so you did,” says Lathril softly, and he felt a smile tug his lips apart. “Well then, come along, my little friend. I will have to introduce Lord Sarak to you — and one more thing. Address me as Sith apprentice or Lathril now, do you understand?”

The T7 turned its head back and forth as it processed this. Jedi =/= Sith apprentice. Lathril = master, it declared.

Lathril eyed the droid at its refusal to identify him as a Sith, but then shook his head. So long as the droid wasn’t spouting Republic titles or music at him, or really Republic anything, he supposed it didn’t matter. 

Well… maybe he’d let it play a little Republic music, when they were alone. After all, it was good to have a friend who understood him. They had shared the same fate.

“Do you have any other memories of mine locked in that head of yours?” Lathril asked as they left the Engineering deck. “I suppose the Imperials would have sifted through them all exhaustively.”

Memory scan = only 88% complete, said the droid, and if it was possible for beeping to sound smug, T7 managed it. Imperials = not interested in Coruscanti showtunes. 

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