Chapter 38, Part 2

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An alarm sounded, a door that typically released an escape pod opened, and the wind roared in. IG-68 dampened and filtered the noise. Better.

"Ready girl?" he digitally queried Ax, who was mounted on his back.

She whistled reassuringly, sending the picture of a fully inflated cloudwing, soaring through the skies. He admired Ax's taste. The image was appropriately chosen.

IG-68 knelt over the open door's edge and rolled out of the Halcyon. Spreading out the synthetic wings of the M-8 Wraith locked into his shoulder blades, his arc smoothed and he soared into the wide expanse.

At nine kilometers, the curvature of the planet's horizon was huge. His visual sensors pulled out quiet stars and bright halos hugged the brightest objects. The planet's terrain glowed eerily green, Iskaayuma city a dazzling patchwork of light. He passed on visuals to Ax, and she fed him images of a decadent oil bath. This was pleasant.

The cold and the noise would annoy a meatbag, but it didn't impact him. Nor could he feel the sensation of free fall, which many sentients experienced in their inner ears.

But it was strange to be buoyed up on a column of onrushing air, having nothing to anchor himself to. The ground didn't seem like it was rushing towards him, since he hardly had any points of reference zipping passed him from his vantage point.

He was just floating above it all. Like he imagined the prime maker might be over the universe.

With a good 5 minutes, 26.7 seconds to spare before preparing to land atop SKYE, it was time to-- what did the protein bars call it? --yes, to jam. He called up the Dooby Dewbacks' acoustic tune, "Don't Never."

Ax protested immediately, so IG-68 severed her from the feed. She didn't love music and interpreting wave patterns. He forgave her, because no droid he knew innately enjoyed music. He hadn't. Only as he developed as an agent, a person, did he learn to value the art.

Music told a story without words, the the fluctuating dance of a living will. This story spoke to him for he possessed such a will, or was cleverly resembled to have one. He didn't like debating the difference, and wasn't sure how one could prove it one way or another. Meatbags couldn't demonstrably show they weren't fated to make choices by nature's programming either.

As his proximity to the weather shield increased, he realized that having this free "will" produced a side effect he hadn't anticipated. Fear? Anxiety? Those weren't quite the right words, and testified how the squishies' vocabulary insufficiently adapted to a droid's mode of being. Loosely sketched, what he "felt" was a recognition of being "oriented" towards death.

True, he didn't live or die like a meatbag. If Daniah's contact failed to disable the weather shield and Til'trius couldn't intervene to pull it down, he'd crunch quite spectacularly against it. In a few galactic days, when his data center had not received an update from his unit, data would distribute down to a failsafe unit and activate it. He'd experience a little data loss, but be little worse for the ware.

Nonetheless, he knew he wouldn't exist forever. With that finitude came an ambiguity with what to do with himself.

Before, his only goal was completing the mission. Once completed, the goal beyond it would be completing another, and another, the body count piling high.

Now it was no longer clear that the mission was the end-all, be-all. He had goals beyond missions that ought to be accomplished before his end: composing poems, demonstrating to the galaxy droids' value, finetuning Ax's programming. And then there were droids out there like Echo he wished to learn from and meet, which exceeded manufactured design.

Pure and simple his goals competed with one another. Adverse to his original programming, he feared his life span would be consumed by the mission. He feared what death, which would inevitably come via the likes of a data center failure or data corruption, prevented from occurring or continuing. He knew he needed to step back and look at things as a whole, sort of like he was now, to catch perspective and make choices.

An alarm alerted him to engage his chest jet. He fired it in pulses, monitoring his vertical velocity as his carapace came within half a click of the weather shield boundary. The winds pulled violently on his extending synthetic wings. Careful, they'll rip if you're clumsy.

Ahead and below lay SKYE HQ with its triangular office buildings and twisting towers. Atop one tower he found his LZ, difficult to approach given the presence of telecom equipment.

He queried Til'trius and Echo, "Ready to take the shield down or are you planning to harvest my scrap parts?"

As he waited for a response, he powered off his chest jet for fear of alerting terrorists once he passed the shields. No response came. He felt slightly disappointed no one acknowledged his rather witty jest. Ax whistled in excitement.

"You find our predicament stimulating?" He ran a quick simulation of his crunch against the shield. Result: definite termination. "You are alone in this fascination." Ax's data wasn't stored in the digital ether like his own -- why wasn't she afraid?

Ax mocked him by sending a visual of some species' crying baby, which he confirmed was an ewok, when the shield dropped within moments of impact.

They flew wildly, as his sensors took in environmental readings and his processor crunched data to make it actionable. Ax yipped with delight, and IG-68 failed to orient himself. The sudden change from the feral natural winds outside the shields to the artificial winds blowing a different direction made it a challenge to correctly maneuver the wraith.

Finally steadying himself, the new wind conditions proved docile. IG-68 corrected his flight path and slipped across the sky. At least he hadn't been noticed by the Righteous Flame, or they really took their time setting their aims. Meatbags reacted slowly.

He circled HQ for rapid recon, seeing kats and Rodian terrorists conduct regular patrol runs. He rejoiced he had enough power and ammo to plug multiple bolts in each head. Ax would be allowed full artistic license once the skirmish started.

Now at his set up points, he came in fast on the LZ from the east, dropping down with the wraith. Steady. He had to be precise.

He shot a canister at his desired point, which expanded on contact, coating a tower top with a foamy cushion to soften his landing. Descending within meters of the rooftop, he gradually uprighted himself and pushed the wraith up. His legs pushed gently against the foamy floor as he slid across. Stalling the wraith, he fully uprighted, and came to a halt not a moment too soon. The roof's edge was only a stone's throw away.

He knelt down and instructed the wraith to contract. Ax unmounted from his back as the massive wings folded compactly into their compartment.

Opening up a channel, he told Til'trius, "This is Picnic Napkin. I'm in position."

"Copy that. The rest will join you shortly."

It would be a while until the team traveled in the mines to SKYE HQ. In the meantime, his spyders needed to construct a comm network down the tower so he could plant mines within the SKYE compound.

Ax scrambled over to the tower's side, scouting out their position. She let out a digital purr. IG-68 motioned her back and patted her. It was time to do what they did best. He stretched his arms wide out at the miners below. Poor fools! The hand of judgment comes upon you.

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