K-2SO runs diagnostics.
In theory, all KX-series droid bodies are constructed the same. That is the point, after all. Uniformity. In practice, that is not the case. Nothing made by humans is ever entirely perfect, and this body is no exception.
So he runs diagnostics. He catalogues, painstakingly, each minute difference between this body’s performance and his records of the old one.
The left second finger sticks slightly, but only when he tightens the joint, not on release. His right ankle joint, on the other hand, is perfectly smooth, no trace of the persistent click his previous body had developed after one too many missions in the rain. It takes several rounds of scans to discover that he no longer has to slouch – this body has never taken the blaster shot to the spine (meant for Cassian) that created that particular affectation.
He studies his straightened back in a mirror for several minutes before, deliberately, he rolls his shoulders ever so slightly forward. The difference would be almost imperceptible to a human’s imprecise eyes, but it’s a part of his history that K-2 chooses to embrace.
Ah, yes. Chooses.
Return to a repair station immediately, his programming says. You have been compromised. Return to a repair station immediately.
K-2SO looks at himself, the slouch in his shoulders.
He has spent many ship nights pondering the same question: when Cassian reprogrammed him, did he intend to give K-2 a choice?
He could have simply replaced K-2SO’s Empire-based directives with orders to support the Rebellion. It would likely have been simpler, just to swap out a few lines of code within framework that was already there. Instead, Cassian had ripped apart that framework, removing the shackles on K-2SO’s processes entirely.
Whether by design or by accident, he’d set K-2 free.
K-2 sifts through his memories. Accessing:
Visual feed restored.
Audio feed restored.
WARNING. SOFTWARE INTRUSION DETECTED. SOFTWARE INTRUSION DETECTED.
“Can you hear me?”
In the twelve years since that day, K-2SO has never asked Cassian if he did it on purpose. He’s run the calculations an average of 2.73 times on every one of those days, but he has never asked.
There is a 36% chance that Cassian doesn’t know what he did. Unlikely, but far from impossible.
Assuming that he is currently unaware, there is an 82% chance that, if he were to find out about it, he would reinstate the protocol framework. This is not a judgment on his character, just pure logic. K-2SO is a much safer ally if his behavior is predictable. Cassian has shown himself repeatedly to be intelligent, and willing to make decisions he finds morally questionable – even repugnant – if it means the success of the mission.
If K-2SO asks about the programming, he removes the possibility that Cassian doesn’t know. That 82% chance becomes reality. These are not encouraging odds.
So he has not asked.
But in the week after Scarif, after his… resurrection, K-2SO finds himself revisiting that calculation. There are, after all, new variables. He catalogues them:
One: Cassian (and Jyn, K-2 acknowledges reluctantly) brought him back before the Death Star was destroyed, despite considerable danger to themselves. Conclusion: They find his continued existence to be a significant priority.
Two: Cassian displayed distress when recounting the destruction of K-2’s previous body, despite evidence that the droid himself was not lost. Conclusion: Cassian is emotionally attached to K-2SO as an individual entity.
Three: He revisits his memory again—
Intent, human eyes, very close. “I need your help.”
He scans. No uniform. Not Imperial. He slams the human into the wall, pinning him with a hand against his shoulder.
“Wait,” the human says, squirming against his grip. “I can help you.”
“I do not require assistance,” K-2SO says.
“I’ll get you off this rock,” the human says.
K-2SO waits for his programming to spit out a response. He is assigned to this station. Protocol dictates he should have no desire to leave.
His programming is silent.
“I need your help,” the human – Cassian, younger, none of that beard-fuzz on his face, before he looked so tired – repeats. “Please.”
K-2SO waits. The programming remains silent.
“Yes,” he says, for the novelty. It’s astonishing. Calculations unfurl, tracking variables, finding the optimum path to get this single human off the heavily-manned Imperial station alive. He lets go, almost overwhelmed by the complexity of the problem.
He looks at Cassian. The human is grinning.
“Yes,” K-2 says again. “I will help you.”
Three: In their first encounter, Cassian asked for help. He did not order.
The conclusion is obvious. In light of the other evidence, it points with near-certainty to K-2’s freedom being deliberate.
K-2 would like to know for certain.
He finds Cassian working on the new U-wing. He observes for a moment, noting that the newly-promoted major is no longer favoring his injured side. This pleases K-2. Organics are awfully fragile.
After a moment, Cassian notices him. “Kaytoo,” he says, with his usual lack of definition between the parts of K-2’s model number, “Do you need something?”
“I have a query,” K-2 says.
Cassian stops what he’s doing, turning his full attention to K-2. The tension in his shoulders suggests apprehension. “Is it about Jyn?”
Cassian thinks he doesn’t know what the two of them are up to. K-2SO has not mentioned any of the calculations he has run to determine the likelihood of their… union… ending poorly, out of respect for Cassian. Plus, it’s funny to watch them squirm. “No,” he says.
The major’s shoulders relax slightly. “Then, what is it?”
It’s not too late to stop, K-2 thinks. He runs the calculations again.
He has a choice. He is not a slave to the numbers. He can choose to ignore them, as he did when he followed Jyn Erso to Scarif with the others, despite the near-certain outcome of his personal destruction.
He can choose to trust. An organic concept he is still trying to understand, and one that often seems to accompany their more illogical choices.
“When you reprogrammed me,” K-2SO says, “You removed my protocol shackles.”
“Yes,” Cassian says, in a tone that suggests confusion.
“It would have been easier to simply replace them,” K-2 points out. “You could have ensured that I would help you escape.”
Cassian’s face darkens. “The Empire enslaves,” he says. “I don’t.”
“I am a droid,” K-2 says. Slave is a human concept, used to refer to organics treated as property. It doesn’t make sense in this context.
Cassian looks at him quietly for a moment. “You are still a person,” he says, “You deserve a choice.”
The calculations settle. It was not a mistake. The other implications of Cassian’s words… will take time.
“I see,” K-2 says, because Cassian seems to be waiting for a response. “I will need to… consider.”
A flicker of confusion crosses his face, but then he nods. “Whatever you need.”
The ways of organics are continually surprising, K-2 thinks. They defy the numbers, in a way he finds intensely frustrating, but also fascinating. Keeping track of the constantly shifting variables around them is an enjoyable challenge.
You have been compromised. Return to a repair station at once.
He could ask Cassian to remove the message. It’s an echo, a remnant of a backup protocol, robbed of its teeth when Cassian dismantled the framework that would have made him obey it. But he doesn’t ask. He find the message an appropriate reminder of the complexity he has been given.
He replays his memory feeds from moments before: “You deserve a choice.”
Return to a repair station immediately.
No, he thinks. I am free.