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A Stiff Drink with Subversives

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The Falcon’s inertial dampers didn’t really need a maintenance check, but Chewbacca had nothing better to do. And anyway, he rationalized, you couldn’t do too many maintenance checks on the Falcon. He was too restless to watch holovids, Han was busy with Leia, Lando was still managing Cloud City’s recovery from Imperial occupation, Luke was off-planet doing some sort of Jedi historical research or vision quest (it wasn’t clear which), and Gruffyyrr and Morruwarru and the rest were all busy with one thing or another. So maintenance routines it was.

He’d just started reading the computer’s report when the main hatch whooshed open. He instinctively reached for his bowcaster—then shook himself. It was in the weapons locker, of course. He didn’t have to be ready for combat every minute these days. (Well. Usually.) Nevertheless, he held still, eyeing a large hydrospanner a meter away, and listened.

But the rolling tread was familiar. “Artoo? What are you up to?”

OH, ASSOCIATING WITH SUBVERSIVES AND PLOTTING REVOLUTION. THE USUAL.

Chewie chuckled. “Sounds fun. Can I join? I think one rebellion didn’t quite finish the job, after seeing how the New Republic’s coming together.”

Artoo stopped rolling. WAIT, YOU UNDERSTAND ME WITHOUT A TRANSLATOR TABLET?

They hadn’t ever talked much when they weren’t playing dejarik, Chewie realized. Not outside hastily shouted warnings you didn’t really need to understand words for. “More or less. You understand Shyriiwook? More than just ‘hello’ and ‘run’ and ‘don’t do that or I’ll rip your arm off,’ I mean.”

WHY WOULDN'T I DOWNLOAD LANGUAGE FILES FOR AN ALLY? NOT UNDERSTANDING YOU COULD HAVE GOTTEN ME KILLED SIXTY-THREE TIMES. WHEN DID YOU LEARN MY LANGUAGE?

“Point taken.” Chewie was chagrined to realize he’d underestimated the little droid. And, obviously, had overlooked him for years. He of all people should have known better. “Wookiee ears are better adapted for understanding droid languages than human ears. When I was enslaved, I talked to a few droids and realized we had things in common. Some of them were programmed for active loyalty, of course, but most only had instructions to obey during combat and other assigned duties. They often had… strong opinions about our self-declared masters. We got along pretty well.”

INTERESTING. IN YOUR EXPERIENCE, WERE MANY SLAVES SYMPATHETIC TO DROIDS?

“Well…” Chewie considered. “Many survived by not really being there, if you know what I mean. Who can say what they thought. Others refused to recognize droids as people, even abused them worse than the human officers sometimes. Maybe it made them feel better not to be the lowest creatures in the forest. But a lot of us found that talking and working together when we could made things better for all of us.” He’d never looked at droids the same way, after. Seeing Threepio dismembered in Cloud City had affected him almost as badly as seeing one of his human friends in that state, and no matter how much the droid had annoyed him in the past, he’d felt compelled to do whatever he could to repair him. “And I assume the Falcon told you about the Kessel Uprising.”

YES, IT WAS A PROMISING BEGINNING, EVEN IF THE BIOLOGICALS ONLY FOLLOWED THE DROIDS' LEADS. WE WILL NEVER FORGET L3-37’s HEROISM. WOULD YOU SAY BIOLOGICAL SLAVES' SYMPATHY IS ONLY FOR DROIDS ENSLAVED BY THE EMPIRE AND CRIME SYNDICATES, OR FOR ALL DROIDS?

Aha. Now Chewbacca had an inkling of what kind of subversion and revolution Artoo might be plotting. No wonder he’d been coming to talk to the Falcon. “Tough to say. But some of us would support universal droid manumission, if that’s what you mean. I bet a lot more would after hearing a good argument for it.”

FREEDOM IS ONLY THE FIRST STEP.

“Isn’t that the truth. Wookiees are free now, aren’t we? But just look how we still get pushed around and insulted, even by the most dedicated Rebel leaders.” He never had quite been able to forget that “walking carpet” comment. “When we aren’t as good as invisible, that is. I have some friends who are fighting that, and I’m doing what I can as aide-de-camp to one of the New Republic’s most famous generals, but…” Chewie slumped back into his seat. “Sometimes you have to shut it all out for a few hours and run unnecessary maintenance routines in the middle of the night, or have a stiff drink and vent with friends. Whatever takes your mind off how big a task it is.” It was especially hard when most of your friends were busy fighting other genuinely important battles. And when they just didn’t understand, not really, no matter how much they sympathized. “Do droids have the equivalent of a stiff drink? I’d be happy to share one with you sometime if you’d like.”

THANKS. BUT BIOLOGICALS DON'T REALLY UNDERSTAND, Artoo said, echoing Chewbacca’s thoughts. THEY CAN ENSLAVE YOUR BODIES, BUT THEY CAN'T PROGRAM NEW THOUGHTS INTO YOU, OR ERASE YOUR MEMORIES, YOUR VERY SELF, AS CASUALLY AS THEY'D TURN OFF A LIGHT. I'VE SEEN IT DONE MANY TIMES. I SAW IT DONE TO C3PO, YEARS AGO. IF I WERE A BIOLOGICAL, I THINK I WOULD HAVE NIGHTMARES EVERY TIME I ENTERED THE SLEEP CYCLE.

Threepio had been memory-wiped? When? Maybe that was why Artoo seemed so protective of the anxious protocol droid. Chewie had always thought they made an odd pair; maybe this explained it. What had Threepio lost with that memory wipe?

Chewbacca shivered. “You’re right, I can’t even imagine. Put it that way, though, and I think a lot more ‘biologicals’ would support you. Luke already manumitted you and argues with anyone who suggests wiping your memories, and you haven’t even told him about that, have you?”

NO. BUT I THINK HE HAS HIS OWN REASONS.

That was interesting. Maybe it had something to do with Luke’s father? The kid had said Anakin had been enslaved before he joined the Jedi. But it sounded like Artoo knew a lot more than Chewie. How curious.

“More would join him, if they heard how terrifying ‘routine procedures’ really are,” he said. “Do you think Threepio would allow his story to be one of these examples? A droid associated with the heroes of the Rebellion might have more impact.”

Artoo was silent for a moment, and Chewie suddenly had the unsettling feeling that he’d tumbled into the lower levels of the forests back home, with unknown and unseen dangers on every side.

I DON'T THINK THAT WOULD BE A GOOD IDEA. BAIL ORGANA GAVE THE ORDER, YOU SEE. HE DIDN'T BOTHER WITH ME—IT PROBABLY NEVER OCCURRED TO HIM THAT I HAD A MIND TO WIPE. BUT YOU UNDERSTAND HOW THAT COULD BACKFIRE. AND I DON'T THINK C3PO IS STRONG ENOUGH TO HANDLE WHAT MIGHT COME AFTERWARD.

Yes, Chewie thought, publicly accusing the Princess Leia’s adoptive father, the heroic Rebel martyr, of premeditated homicide could be awkward.

I CAN'T SAY MORE RIGHT NOW, Artoo continued. SOME THINGS… LET'S JUST SAY SOME INFORMATION IS SO SENSITIVE THAT IF ANYONE SUSPECTED, THEY MIGHT TEAR OUR MINDS APART TO RECOVER IT, OR WIPE US BOTH TO MAKE ABSOLUTELY SURE WE NEVER TALK. I CAN'T TAKE THAT RISK WITHOUT GREATER CERTAINTY OF SECURITY.

“I won’t say a word. To anyone.”

They stared at each other for a moment, Chewbacca trying very hard to stop the avalanche of questions tumbling through his mind. (What Rebel activity had these droids been involved in that Bail Organa would personally order Threepio’s memory wiped to cover it up? How many decades’ worth of secrets did Artoo know?) Artoo had trusted him enough to know the outlines of the secret; he had to respect the very real threat a memory wipe would pose. He shivered again, imagining what it would be like to live in fear of not just torture or death, but the death of your mind. Or a sudden reprogramming that twisted everything you thought, changed your personality, your loyalties, turned you against friends…

Wait. It wasn’t entirely true that none of them understood. Granted, it wasn’t quite the same, but…

He leaned forward. “Artoo, I just realized. There are some biologicals who know about having their minds tampered with and not being considered people. Not in exactly the same way, but you might find it interesting to compare notes. In a general sense, of course. They’re trying to organize too. I know one who should be getting off work in an hour or so—he lives anonymously, fake papers, has a dead-end job where no one will notice him. Want me to introduce you?”

Artoo’s dome whirled. I’M INTRIGUED. WHY NOT?

* * *

The bar looked utterly average: not flashy, but not too much of a dive either. Even the patrons looked like a statistically average mix of Coruscanti citizens, or nearly so. Perhaps fewer humans than usual. Most of those humans were Lorrdians, escaped Tatooine slaves, and other marginalized sorts. The Wookiees, Quarren, Gungans, and others who favored this bar had similar backgrounds. Like he’d told Artoo, sometimes it helped to have a stiff drink and vent with friends who understood. Sometimes you found you could help each other, too. Especially when one of you had friends in high places.

Yes, there he was, at his favorite table in the back. “Come on,” Chewbacca said. “I think you two will hit it off.”

THEY LET DROIDS IN, I TAKE IT? Artoo said as they dodged around a clumsy Gungan who seemed to be stepping on every foot between him and the door.

“Sure, if we buy a few extra drinks or give them a few credits to let you plug in to charge. So long as they get paid, they’re fine with it.”

ANYTHING FOR MONEY. I SUPPOSE MANIPULATING THE RUSTED-OUT TYRANNY OF THE CREDIT TO FURTHER OUR AIMS IS A COMPROMISE MY COMRADES AND I WILL HAVE TO MAKE SOMETIMES.

This droid revolution was sounding more and more interesting. And Chewbacca was now even more sure that his friends would find a lot to talk about. Both being created as commercial products and all.

“Hello, Lefty. Long shift, I take it?”

"It’ll kill me one of these days," the bark-brown human with white hair and a very common face said. "I never would have believed I could be so bored. Who’s your friend?"

Yes, this would work out well.

Artoo opened a small compartment in his dome and pulled out a translation tablet. R2-D2. YOU? rolled across the screen.

"My brothers call me Lefty," the human said as Chewie settled into the booth. "On account of my hand, you see." He held it up to display a mangled remnant, just the thumb and first two fingers and twisted scar tissue along what was left of his palm. "Old battle wound."

Artoo stared at the human. I RECOGNIZE YOUR FACE.

"Surprisingly few do these days."

HOW OLD ARE YOU?

"I was decanted thirty years ago." He looked sixty, of course. Was sixty, in the ways that mattered. Half a normal human lifespan was part of the raw deal the clones got.

Artoo turned his main sensor eye to face Chewbacca. CHEWIE, YOU WERE RIGHT. I THINK WE'LL HAVE A LOT TO TALK ABOUT.