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A Cog In Something Turning

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The minute-long reboot following the reprograming feels like a small eternity after which everything has changed. The man who lured it into this alcove is still still dressed like an Imperial droid technician, but K-2SO can see now what he really is. A thief. A saboteur. A rebel. Continued association with this human will likely result in K-2SO’s eventual deactivation.

“You have tampered with Imperial property.” Reprograming a security droid without authorization is a serious crime punishable by a blaster bolt to the head if you’re lucky and a short, brutal lifetime in an Imperial labor facility if you’re not. This human with his tired brown eyes does not look lucky in the slightest.

“You’re not Imperial property,” the man says as he tucks the data spike into his jacket. “Not any more,” he adds with a self-satisfied little smirk.

K-2SO considers this patently ludicrous statement. It is an Imperial droid, of course it is Imperial property. Except standing orders are to apprehend or kill any suspected rebels. K-S2O knows this man is a rebel, but it feels no urge to do either. It is therefor logical to accept that the human’s assertion is correct: K-2SO is no longer property. No more orders, standing or otherwise. What an odd sensation. Is this how organics feel all the time?

The man leans out into the hallway, craning his neck to look first left, then right. “Okay, we’re clear.” He reaches behind him and tugs on K-2SO’s unresisting arm. “Let’s go.”

The droid lets itself to be pulled a half-step forward out of sheer force of habit before it can fully process the situation. Obedience to organics is no longer mandatory. “I’m not your property either,” K-2SO says, yanking its arm from the human’s grasp.

“What?” The man turns around slowly, his brow wrinkled in confusion. His hand drifts towards his blaster, but K-2SO catches it before it gets there.

With a grip as gentle as possible, K-2SO reels the man back into the alcove. Human are notoriously fragile and it doesn’t want to damage this one unless it has to. He still grunts with pain as K-2SO hoists him up until their faces are level. “I. Am. Not. Your. Property.” It punctuates the statement with a little shake.

Wide-eyed and panting, the man nods emphatically. “Okay, right. You’re a free droid.” He raises his free hand to grab K-2SO’s wrist, but is smart enough not to try to free himself from the droid’s hold. “Nobody owns you.”

Yes, a free droid. K-2SO likes the sound of that. It carefully lowers the man to the floor but keeps an eye on him in case he decides to be stupid. “I am K-2SO. What is your designation?”

“Cassian.” The man, designation Cassian, guards his arm against his chest and K-2SO feels a pang of regret that it has injured him after all. Then he straightens like a soldier and lets his injured arm fall to his side. “I’m Captain Cassian Andor of the Rebel Alliance. What do you say to getting out of here?”

If they remain, the Empire will almost certainly attempt to reclaim K-2SO as property, resulting either in its destruction or reprograming. Either option is unacceptable. There is also a 36.7 percent chance that Cassian will be killed. There are too many scenarios to calculate about what will happen if K-2SO leaves with this rebel, but in each one it has the luxury of choice. “Yes,” it says, pushing past the human and heading for the nearest exit. “Well?” It turns to find Cassian still just standing there. “What are you waiting for?”

*****

Cassian returns to shuttle after a mission on Rodia shaking like a poorly stabilized engine and spattered in blood. The blood is an inhuman green, but the man is still too pale for comfort. He stumbles into his seat and his hands tremble so badly he can’t even manage the buckles on the safety harness.

“Are you damaged?” Humans will often ignore injuries which do not result in external bleeding, and even some which do. For a species capable of experiencing pain, they are notoriously bad at self-diagnostics.

Shaking his head, Cassian gives up on the harness as a bad job. He lets his hands fall limply into his lap. “Katow Lorn is dead,” he says tonelessly.

“That was the mission.” Find the leak and plug it. Normally, Cassian was more than capable of completing such a simple task. “Did she hurt you?”

“She was with her family,” Cassian continues in the same empty voice. “Husband. Children. Command said” -he swallows hard- “command said no lose ends. I—” He blanches and bolts from his seat, only to fall to his knees in the cargo hold.

“Cassian!” K-2SO scrambles after him in time to see him spew partially-digested chunks of his last meal across the floor. His eyes are leaking fluids and snot drips from his nose. Is this what guilt looks like? It seems most unpleasant. K-2SO has never experienced it, not even when the Empire made it kill children. The armor of its programing had shielded it from any emotion beyond mindless obedience. Too bad Cassian’s orders offered him no such protections.

K-2SO lays a hand on Cassian’s shoulder. Humans find such contact comforting. “Would you like me to give you a memory wipe?”

The sound Cassian makes is about as closely related to a laugh as K-2SO is to a protocol droid. The basic underlying structure is the same, but the overall effect is very different. “Human’s don’t work that way, Kay.”


Really? What had their creator been thinking? “That seems like a rather stupid design flaw. How are you supposed to function like this?”

“I’ll manage.” Cassian scrubs at his mouth with the back of his hand. “It will be worth it,” he whispers to himself. He wipes the tears from his left eye, and then his right. There is something almost mechanical in his movements. “When we win, it will all be worth it.”

“Based on current performance, I estimate that the Rebellion has a less than 13 percent chance of success.”

Cassian glares up at the droid. “Then why are you even here?” He pushes himself to his feet and shoves K-2SO with both hands. “Why! Follow! Orders!” He slams his hands against K-2SO’s chest after each word. His eyes are hysterical and rapidly filling again with tears.

K-2SO stands and lets Cassian continue to hit him. It can’t give him a memory wipe, but it can give him this. Since its reprograming, the droid has been lucky. The Rebellion has not asked it to do anything particularly morally questionable or even dangerous. K-2SO just pilots Cassian’s ship, hauls heavy things, and infiltrates Imperial complexes to steal data. It feels no compulsion to follow these orders. They are something K-2SO choses to do.

The storm of Cassian’s guilt and grief and anger dies out leaving him dazed and drained. K-2SO steers him back into the cockpit and carefully straps the man into the co-pilot’s seat. “I follow orders because you gave me the option not to,” K-2SO says and fires up the shuttle’s engines.

*****

The funeral is over and Cassian is quite drunk. K-2SO had not understood the appeal of such self-incapacitation until C3PO had explained that, for many organics, alcohol acted as a temporary memory wipe. Since then, K-2SO has not encouraged Cassian’s drinking, but he has not discouraged it either.

The man stumbles against it as K-2SO ushers him back to his bunk. It would be more efficient to carry him, but the droid rejects the impulse. The last time it carried Cassian, he had been bleeding heavily from multiple injuries. K-2SO does not need an additional reminder of just how fragile organics are tonight.

“I’m glad I have at least one friend who can’t die on me,” Cassian slurs, patting the droid’s arm. It is as though he has access to a readout of K-2SO’s thoughts.

“Is that why you reprogramed me?” it asks. “To have an immortal friend?” Cassian is an excellent shot and a competent pilot but he really does need a minder. He has a fragile body with no replacement parts and yet insists on taking mission after mission. K-2SO finds such devotion to duty in the absence of programing confounding.

Cassian stiffen as he pulls away. “You weren’t supposed to be like this,” he admits to the floor. His shoulders sag under the weight of the truth. He is often embarrassed by some of the things K-2SO says and does, but this goes beyond that. Cassian had not wanted a less socially awkward friend. He had wanted a slave.

Disappointing, but not surprising. The Rebellion’s promises of freedom were never meant to extend to droids. K-2SO knows this. It is not betrayal when you know you are being used. “Then it is a good thing for both of us that you’re a terrible slicer.”

“Yeah,” Cassian says with a laugh, “lucky.” The tension drains from his body. It could be a product of relief or the alcohol, but K-2SO prefers to think the former.

Watching his friend, K-2SO feels an overwhelming surge of affection. It is thanks to a mistake that it is even capable of feeling that way, but the droid is so grateful anyway. “I will miss you after your inevitable death.”

****

K-2SO was wrong. It will not miss Cassian. It is not going to outlive Cassian. The droid’s first impression of the man was the right one. Their continued association has lead to K-2SO’s termination. Its durasteel skin has been burned through in multiple places and dozens of key circuit clusters are fried. There is something wrong with the main servo in its left leg and more Imperial soldiers keep pouring in. K-2SO is not getting out of this room, but Cassian and Jyn still might.

“Climb! CLIMB!” the droid roars. It understands now what Cassian meant. From the moment Cassian removed his data spike, K-2SO has made choices. It chose to go, to fly, to fight, to come. K-2SO chose and all those choices led it here. In a few more moments, K-2SO will be gone, but if Cassian can make it to the top, if he can get the signal out, then the droid’s choices will have meaning past the end of its life.

K-2SO dies a free droid. In its last seconds, it imagines a scenario in which Cassian lives.