I don't own Star Wars. This is a work of fanfiction, and I'm not making any money off this.
This is a sequel to Loyalty's Boundaries, but it can be read on it's own.
Melika Benderson was sleeping very soundly when a loud banging on her door woke her. She groaned.
"What is it?" she asked, as loudly and as clearly as she could in her sleep-fogged condition.
"Urgent job for you," a voice called from the hallway. She couldn't tell whose.
"I just got back from, a mission," she said, nearly letting slip where she had been. "This is my first real sleep in four days. Find someone else."
"You're the only one," the voice replied. Melika swore vengeance on it's owner as she sat up.
"Half the techs can -" she started.
"An astromech was skimmed by a turbolaser. You need to fix it. The pilot is driving us nuts."
Melika looked at her chrono. She'd only been sleeping for ten hours. She thought several curses her mother would have never dreamed of, then said, "Give me a few minutes to dress and have caf waiting for me. Strong enough to melt durasteel."
Footsteps headed away from her door, and Melika forced herself out of her warm, comfy bunk and into her clothes before staggering into the hall and in the direction she thought might be towards the droid maintenance room.
She had never been to the Yavin IV base before, and the muggy heat did nothing to help her mood. The thick stone walls of the building helped, but not enough. After several wrong turns and two stops for directions, Melika finally found the right room.
Inside was an eager young man with a cup of very dark caf that was barely steaming.
"Are you Melika?" he asked, holding out the cup.
"Yes," Melika said shortly. She took a gulp of caf, then said, "What's so blasted important some other tech with more sleep couldn't handle?"
The young man broke off staring at her to point. "That astromech got hit by a TIE's lasers, and the pilot wants it fixed immediately."
Blast those pilots, Melika thought sourly, but she only said, "Good caf. Why can't it wait until I've enough sleep to do the job properly?"
"I dunno," the tech said, "but the higher-ups want it done immediately, and no one else can do it. Ma'am."
So now you notice, Melika thought. Why it was that most techs didn't notice her lieutenant's ranking until well into a conversation was beyond her. It wasn't like she hid the marks. She had worked hard for them, and seen many comrades lost.
She swallowed the caf and handed him the cup, then walked over to the astromech. It's blue and white casing was blackened, and the top was shot off. Not a direct hit, then, or this little droid would be atoms floating in space.
As she got to work, Melika wondered what in star's name the pilot had done that Command would pay attention to such an inflated request.
Several hours into the job of replacing most of the distinctive dome of an R2 unit, Melika was surprised by a young man bearing a tray. He was obviously a new recruit, fresh off the farm, as his tough clothes and work-roughen hands suggested.
"Thank you for repairing Artoo," he said in a very Outer Rim accent.
"So you're the pilot who messed this droid up," Melika said, her temper not improved by several hours of hard, fussy work and a few unpleasant surprises. "You need to learn to fly better."
The pilot winced. "Sorry," he said. "It was my first time up."
"At least you survived," Melika said, softening a little. If it had really been his first time up, then he would have had a rough time. Few rookie pilots survived combat.
"Is he badly hurt?" he asked. Melika was puzzled for a moment, then realized he meant the droid. From the look of him, he wouldn't understand a the tech's answer, so she gave him the answer for those uninitiated in the wonder of all the ways droids could go wrong.
"He's seen better days. I might be able to get him running, maybe even as good as before he was shot."
"What about his personality?" the pilot asked
"Huh?" Melika asked.
The pilot looked a little shamefaced, then said, "My uncle bought him from some Jawas. I don't know when he last had a memory wipe."
"Ah," Melika said. She knew that droids that didn't get regular memory wipes were...different from other droids. They did seem to have personalities. Certainly POJ had had one. "I don't know. Those memory cores are further down than I've gotten."
"Can I help?" the pilot asked.
"Not really," Melika said. She had had plenty of inexperienced help in the past. She didn't need it now. "There's really only space for one person at a time."
"Oh," he said, disappointed.
"However," she added. "If you would fetch the oil solvent, I would appreciate it. I think I'll try the meal you brought."
His face brightened, and he hurried off on his task. Yes, Melika thought. A meal, a nap, and then back to work.
Melika was snoozing soundly under a workbench when someone kicked her. "Wake up," a voice hissed.
Melika rolled out from under the bench and managed to look suitably alert, drinking more strong, bitter caf, when none other than Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan walked in. So the rumor that the Senate had been dissolved was true. Otherwise she never would have openly been in a Rebel base.
The Princess walked straight up to the farm boy pilot, who was polishing the black marks off his droid's casing. "How is the repair work going?" she asked.
"You should ask the lieutenant," he replied, with a nod in Melika's direction. "She's been doing all the work. Doing a good job too."
The Princess then turned to Melika. "Why are you not working, lieutenant?" she asked.
Melika hadn't heard that Princess Leia was such a snob, but she could deal with it. It wasn't like the Princess was the first snob she had met. "Because after a sleepless four-day mission and only ten hours of sleep, even a simple mechanic can't work without a little caf in her system," Melika said, more acerbically than she intended to.
The Princess almost took a step back, and her face softened. "I'm sorry," she said. "I'm a little on edge. And General Reekan wants this droid online and clean for the medal presentation."
So. This farm-boy-turned-pilot had done something to earn a medal. Good for him. And the Princess was probably a little off-kilter. The Rebel Alliance was almost certainly a far cry from the Imperial Senate.
Don't let your tongue run away with you, Melika, she scolded herself. Lack of sleep is no excuse.
Gulping down the last of her caf, she got back to work on the little astromech. She thought she'd be able to save his personality. Pushing aside thoughts of poor POJ, she rolled up her sleeves and plunged back into the oily mess of droid innards.
After a while of the pilot watching her in silence, Melika grew unnerved, and broke the silence. "What did you do to deserve a medal in your first combat?"
"I blew up the Death Star," the pilot said, with a combination of pride and grief Melika knew well.
"Good for you," said Melika. She had no idea what a Death Star was, though she had heard the name in gossip. She personally didn't believe in gossip, thinking it a security risk. Something she avoided like the plague ever since Galbraith's death.
There was silence between them, then the pilot said, "Is that all?"
"You blew something up," Melika said. "You'll do a lot of that if you survive your next mission. Hand me that smallest hydrospanner, please."
He complied, then said, "Thanks for not getting so excited. Seems everyone else here goes a little crazy around me."
"You're just another pilot," Melika said. There was a pause, then, "Which squadron did you fly in?"
"Red Squadron," he said, sounding suddenly sad. Melika looked up from fishing out a stubborn wire to see him almost ready to cry. Not many had made it then.
"I can't say I'm familiar with that outfit," she said casually. "Then again, this is my first time to this base."
"There are others?" the pilot said in surprise. Definitely green then. And not given to gossip, or he'd know the answer to that.
"Maybe," Melika said.
"Maybe?" he asked.
"Maybe," she replied firmly. "The less you know, the less can be tortured out of you if the Empire catches you."
"That makes sense, I guess," he said slowly. "So why does everyone here gossip so much?"
"Because not everyone here is as sensible as I am," Melika said.
The pilot nodded, then jumped as his comlink beeped. "You had better go," said Melika. "I've saved his personality, and the rest is easy to fix, it will just take a long time."
The pilot nodded, then hurried off.
By the time the pilot returned, Melika was beginning to get very annoyed with whatever former owner had decided to play around inside his droid.
"How is he now?" the pilot asked.
"He'll be alright," Melika said. "But if I ever figure out who messed around with his insides, I swear that person will first get a rant from me, then a very high position in the Alliance."
"Huh?" he asked.
Melika smiled. "I meant that your little friend's insides are very unusual, but they also work every bit as well as another astromech, and I can see at least three upgrades that are most assuredly not standard, but very useful. Whoever messed around with him knew their droids."
"Oh," the pilot replied.
After another few minutes of Melika tinkering with a particular connection that was being stubborn and the pilot watching he asked, "How did you learn so much about droids?"
"My father was a mechanic," Melika said shortly. That much wasn't a risk, since her only family left, her brother Darvin, was also in the Rebel Alliance, and not likely to be in a position to suffer Imperial reprisals.
"I thought I knew a lot about droids and droid repair," the pilot said. "I used to help my uncle on Ta-"
"Don't say it!" Melika warned. "The less I know about your identity, the less I can accidentally reveal to the wrong beings. If the Empire learns where you are, they'll take it out on your family."
"I don't have a family anymore," the pilot said, softly. "The Empire killed them."
"Is that why you joined?" Melika asked as she soldered a connection.
"Kinda," the pilot said, "It's, well, it's complicated."
He didn't seem interested in talking about it, so Melika worked in silence for quite a while. The other techs were off somewhere else, so when Melika heard boot heels ringing on the stone floor, she expected to see an officer.
In fact, the scruffy human male who walked into the room looked more like a small-time smuggler than anything else. Of course, lots of small-time smugglers worked for the Alliance. This one seemed to be a Corellian, by the blood stripe running down the side of his pants.
"Hey, Kid," he said, then stopped as he caught sight of Melika.
"I didn't realize you had company," he said, a smirk on his face.
"If you want to have a discussion, go outside and leave me to my work," Melika said. She had had enough of self-confidant men trying to weasel their way into her affections. This smuggler was far too young in any case. She guessed he was about a decade younger than her, though possibly a bit less.
"No need," the smuggler said, recovering smoothly. "I just want to talk to Luke for a little bit."
"Well, talk to him elsewhere. I have work to do," Melika grumbled. She downed another mug of caf as the smuggler and the pilot – Luke – left.
Melika was almost done with the mechanical part of the repair, when in walked General Reekan. Not that she had ever met him before, but we was a relatively well-known Alliance leader.
"Ah, Lieutenant Benderson," he said. "Do you think the repairs will be done in an hour?"
Melika was so startled that she dropped the wire she needed for the final repair before she attached the new dome that had been provided.
Since it was generally not considered polite to swear in front of one's superiors, Melika merely thought her way through the list and said, "Maybe, sir, but I doubt it."
General Reekan look disappointed, and said, "Are you quite sure?"
"Pretty much, sir," Melika replied. "I have a final connection to make, and I have to attach the new dome."
"You may have as many helpers as you need," General Reekan said.
"This is a one-being job, sir," Melika said. "More than two workers would get in each other's way."
"Very well," the general said. "If that's how things stand, we will simply have to make the best of it. Good day, Lieutenant." And he was gone.
Melika ignored the stares of the other mechanics and began fishing out the end of the wire she had dropped.
"There," Melika said, setting down the buffing cloth. Her father had always taught her never to stop a job without making the finished product look good. And indeed, the astromech looked like new. All the carbon scoring from the TIE's lasers was gone, and she had managed to make a clean join between the new dome and the old body.
"Time to turn you on," Melika said, half to herself and half to the droid. She reached out and pressed the power button.
The little droid came to life, swirled his dome around, then fixed it's optical sensor on Melika and beeped inquiringly.
"Good," Melika said. "You're working fine. You fell afoul of a TIE's lasers, and I fixed you. Your pilot has been most concerned about you. Incidentally, whoever it was tinkered with you really knows his droids. Any chance of attracting him or her to the Alliance?"
The little droid beeped a sad-sounding negative. Melika was about to respond when the young tech who had handed her her caf all those hours ago when she had first walked into the workshop rounded the door frame at top speed.
"General Reekan wants to know if you're done," he panted out.
"Yes," Melika said. Then she turned to the droid. "General Reekan wants you to attend some ceremony or other. We had better hurry."
The little droid rocked back and tried to put down his third wheel. There was a grinding sound, but nothing happened.
"What's wrong?" Melika asked. "Can't you put your wheel down?"
The droid bleeped a negative.
"Oh, for the love of -" Melika stopped. There, by the wall, was a hovercart. "You," she commanded the other tech. "Help me get the droid on that hovercart."
It took some strength, but the two of them got the astromech onto the hovercart, and the other tech led them through more stone passages and rooms than Melika really wanted to think about. The super-strong caf was leaving her system, and she had a desperate need for a 'fresher and her bed.
They passed the doorway of a big room full of people, but the other tech led her to a smaller entrance that allowed entry to the back of the dais. They wrestled the droid off the hovercart, and carried him through the small door.
When they set him on his rollers, Melika said, "Go on, droid. This is where General Reekan wants you." Which might not be entirely true, but Melika was too tired to care.
As she headed back down the hallway, she hear the little droid's excited beeps and whistles. "Lieutenant," the other tech called after her. "Where are you going?"
"To find a fresher and my room," Melika responded. "I've done my bit, and now I need at least ten hours of uninterupted sleep, maybe more."
As I mentioned above, this is a sequel to Loyalty's Boundaries, where you can learn all about Galbraith and POJ. There may or may not be another of these, as Melika is still mad at me for trying to make her talk about Galbraith's death. She flat out refuses to, and is getting back at me by not sharing any of her other adventures.