Chapter 24

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The troopers from the Stormsong sorted through their gear, and arranged merchandise brought aboard to replace the Halcyon's vented cargo. They talked freely, telling jokes, bragging about past adventures, and patently ignoring an imposing, tall droid. Confined to a bubble of loneliness, except for the weapon droid wrapped around his leg, the metal outcost walked carefully, carrying a cumbersome box in his arms. Each of his slow steps shook the ground, indicating the weight he bore.

Ben, who glided down the stairs, felt irritated about the troopers' lack of assistance. They probably figured "he was just a sparky," and could do it himself. What annoyed Ben most was that he could sympathize with that. Droids were tools, they provided means to ends. You might grow to love your own tool, a trusty hammer just as much as a droid, but you didn't care for another's. Droids weren't of value in and of themselves. They weren't people.

And then there was IG-68, who didn't fit the mold. Which made Ben wonder, did the troopers avoid Idge because he was just a droid and that's what one did, or was it because he made them feel uncomfortable?

"Commander," acknowledged IG-68 as Ben approached, "I recognize that heat signature." The other troopers turned around and stammered greetings. Ben nodded to them, but turned his attention to the droid.

"Idge. That box hold your glider?"

"Oh yes," IG-68 glowed. "The M-8 Wraith. Radio absorbent material used in construction, passive cooling of leading edges, highly durable expandable wings with multiple configurations..." He made a digitized groan of pleasure. "You know, every once in awhile I think of quitting the military and committing myself completely to the arts, but then they get me with these neat toys."

"They'll make a lifer out of you yet."

"Probably if they keep giving me these... beauties." Ax warbled her agreement. "Though she is a little heavy. Nothing I can't handle, but I'd lighten her for the next gen model."

"Holding out on the girl just because she's overweight? There's something wrong with the galaxy when even droids are shallow."

Ben focused with the force and the box floated out of the droid's arms. Isolating the force's area of effect proved difficult, and IG-68 got slightly nudged and lifted into the air for a moment before coming back to the ground.

"She doesn't seem that heavy, Idge. Who knows? Maybe we could add an AI to her and the two of you could date. It might work. You could... exchange data packets, examine one another's drivers... do some networking. Run diags."

Ax warbled in confusion. "Never mind that, Ax. I believe the Commander uttered a random string of technobabble in an attempt to construct a euphemism." Lights flickered on the assassin droid's head. "Hmm. Interesting technique. I'll have to incorporate that method in future work."

"I'm taking all the credit for teaching you that."

As Ben directed the box towards some cargo containers with the force, Ax whistled in amazement. She detached from IG-68's leg, and hopped along, following the floating box. It was probably the first time she'd seen a Jedi use the force.

It was a proper response to witnessing it. It had amazed him, when as a child, he'd first seen a Trandoshan make a chain dance with his mind, wrap around a balcony, and lift himself up. Ben was more astonished upon discovering he could do things like that himself, such as push his younger sister Nel in a swing without using his hands by exerting the force on the seat.

Over time, he'd lost that sense of wonder, as would be expected. He took it for granted, like breathing, or keeping his balance.

Ben gently rested the box on the floor. Ax prodded it with her leg curiously, as if it might move or attack, not quite sure what caused its prior levitation, or if more surprises were in store.

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