Chapter 1

"TK-421, why aren't you at your post?"

Damn it, TK-421 sighed, running through the dusty alleyways of Mos Eisley as he returned from the refresher. This job sucks.

When he had applied for a position as an Imperial Stormtrooper two months ago, it had all seemed so easy. Travel the galaxy, the advertisement had promised. Embark on an exciting adventure! "Yeah, right," TK-421 muttered to himself now. "It's more like - 'work your butt off in sweltering armor and get yelled at all day long'," he sighed.

It had been the same thing for the past two months. TK-421, your report is overdue… TK-421, why isn't your bed made? TK-421, your chestplate is on backwards... "Give me a break," TK-421 grumbled, returning to his post.

"Where have you been?" his supervisor asked.

"Uh, I was just - " TK-421 began.

"Never mind," his supervisor interrupted. "We just got a report from Lord Vader; we're to search for two missing droids," he informed him. "A protocol droid, serial number C-3PO, and an astrodroid, serial number R2-D2."

"Two droids; all right," TK-421 nodded. "I'm on it."

TK-421 stationed himself in the middle of the road, holding his blaster securely and trying to look important. They don't pay me nearly enough for this job, he thought. He'd spent the better part of the morning chasing Jawas through the desert, only to be called back to Mos Eisley and assigned to boring guard duty. Now he was hot, and tired, and his armor was all dusty; he was sure to get yelled at for that too, before this day was over.

But now he squinted suspiciously as he saw a speeder approaching, carrying a golden protocol droid in the back seat, along with a smaller blue-and-white astrodroid. That's got to be them, he quickly deduced, reaching for his comlink to alert his supervisor. Finally, something is going right for me today.

"Yeah, I think I've got something here," TK-421 reported. "Red speeder approaching from the south, with two droids matching the description."

"All right, I'm on my way," his supervisor replied. "Everyone, follow me." A few moments later TK-421 was joined by the rest of his team, and his supervisor gave him a curt nod, indicating for him to pull the speeder over.

What, me? TK-421 blinked; he was just a lowly Stormtrooper-in-training, as was glaringly obvious by the bright orange shoulderguard he wore. But his supervisor wanted him to handle this, so he raised a hand now, flagging down the speeder as the rest of his team stood by and watched.

"How long have you had these droids?" TK-421 asked the driver, trying to sound less nervous than he felt; he was suddenly grateful for the vocal modulator in his helmet, which made his voice sound strangely official, just like every other Stormtrooper in the galaxy.

The blond-haired farm kid looked uncertain. "About three or four seasons?"

"They are for sale, if you want them," the old man beside him offered helpfully.

Oh? TK-421 blinked in surprise. I DO want them... Something in the old man's tone made TK-421 consider the offer seriously, and he glanced at the droids now, feeling an inexplicable temptation to buy them. They're in pretty good shape, he confessed; but then he sighed, dismissing the idea. Nah, there's no way I could afford them, he admitted. Besides, I'm supposed to be working here...

"Let me see your identification," TK-421 said, getting back to business.

The wise old man gave him a kindly look. "You don't need to see his identification."

No? TK-421 cringed, realizing he was probably doing this all wrong. Sorry, I'm new here. "We don't need to see his identification," he conceded diplomatically, with an apologetic nod to his supervisor.

"These aren't the droids you're looking for," the old man added, helping him out.

Right; obviously, TK-421 agreed. "These aren't the droids we're looking for," he explained to the others.

The old man nodded sagely. "He can go about his business."

"You can go about your business," TK-421 instructed them; the blond-haired boy was looking at him as though he were totally insane, but TK-421 was grateful for the old man's patience and understanding. Yeah, I'm a noob, TK-421 sighed. Sorry about that.

"Move along," the old man said to his driver, with gentle authority.

Yep... "Move along," TK-421 repeated confidently, waving them past. "Move along."

That wasn't so bad, he thought to himself, proud of handling his first civilian interrogation. He had been firm, yet reasonable; all in all it had gone pretty well. I think I'm getting the hang of this Stormtrooper thing.

Suddenly he felt a sharp pain in his shoulder as his supervisor grabbed him by the arm, yanking him aside. Oww! "What the hell was that?" his boss demanded, gesturing toward the disappearing speeder; he sounded annoyed. "Why did you let them go?"

"Uh - " TK-421 blinked anxiously. Crap, did I do something wrong? "Those - those aren't the droids we're looking for," he stammered lamely, trying to explain his actions.

"And you know that... how?" his supervisor challenged him. "Did you check their serial numbers?"

Damn it... "No, sir," TK-421 admitted. Aghh, why didn't I think of that?

His supervisor shook his head in disgust, pulling out his comlink. "TK-350, this is TK-286," he radioed ahead to the other team leader. "There's a red speeder heading your way, carrying two droids - "

"Yeah, I see it," came the crackling reply over the comlink. "They've pulled over; they're heading into the cantina now," TK-350 informed them. "Want me to detain them?"

"No, we'll handle it," TK-286 replied, shaking his head wearily. "Thanks." He clipped his comlink back on his belt, turning to TK-421. "Come with me," he ordered him curtly, marching along the dusty street. "They've gone into the cantina; I want you to get it right this time," he reprimanded TK-421. "Check their identification; look at their serial numbers," he instructed him. "Don't screw this up."

"Yes, sir," TK-421 nodded, hurrying to keep up with him. "I mean - no, sir," he stammered helplessly. Damn, I suck at this, he confessed, regretting for the thousandth time his decision to become a Stormtrooper. What the hell was I thinking? he sighed, as they entered the cantina.

The place was busy; TK-421 glanced around the entryway, hoping to spot the missing droids. He was surrounded by aliens of all species, chatting in various languages and enjoying their drinks while listening to live band music. The cantina reminded TK-421 of a place where he'd used to work, back on Coruscant. I should have stayed there, he sighed regretfully; he'd only been a dishwasher boy, and the pay hadn't been great, but -

Well that's not right, TK-421 frowned suddenly, seeing a bloody, severed, fur-covered arm on the floor. What the hell - ?

"Looks like there's been some kind of trouble in here," his supervisor remarked; the bartender was pointing them toward the back of the cantina now, near where the band was playing. "All right, we'll check it out," TK-286 assured the man.

That's... kinda gross, TK-421 thought, stepping over the severed arm as they continued their sweep of the cantina. But he realized it probably had nothing to do with their own assignment; the kindly old man in the speeder hadn't seemed the murderous, arm-hacking type, nor had the blond kid. Or the droids, for that matter, TK-421 admitted, focusing on the task at hand.

As they passed through the cantina, TK-421 noticed a video screen mounted on the wall, broadcasting a local pod racing event. That looks like fun, he thought, intrigued by the sport; but now it went to commercial, and TK-421 grinned to himself, recognizing the familiar advertisement.

"Do you hate your job?" the voice in the commercial asked.

Yeah, TK-421 sighed ruefully, still looking around for the missing droids. I really, really do.

"Is life passing you by, while you're stuck at work, getting older every day? DoubleYou can help!" the advertisement proclaimed. "Through the miracle of medical technology, you could have a fully-functional clone produced in just hours, to do your work for you..."

Haha, I wish, TK-421 thought to himself, as they continued toward the back of the cantina. Work-replacement clones had been on the market for years now, though only wealthy businessmen could afford them. If I had the money to pay for that sort of thing, why would I be working at this stupid job to begin with? he sighed, realizing the cruel irony. Besides, cloning technology was highly regulated; they did extensive background checks, and would not clone anyone who had a criminal record, or history of mental illness, among other things.

And the way this day has gone, I'd probably get turned down on that second count, TK-421 thought ruefully. I was crazy to take this job, he confessed, remembering that he'd be stuck doing this for at least another four months, until his contract was up. But then I'm getting out, he vowed. I'll save up enough to enroll in flight training school, and get my pilot's license, he promised himself once again. And then I can REALLY see the galaxy, and have exciting adventures, he thought, planning for a brighter future.

It would be so cool to have my own ship one day, TK-421 sighed, daydreaming for a moment. Be my own boss; go anywhere I want... Like this guy, he thought, as they came to a dark-haired Corellian pilot having a drink in the back corner, with his Wookiee friend. He's only a couple years older than me, TK-421 estimated. If I really work hard at it... who knows? he told himself optimistically.

But they'd finished their sweep of the cantina now, and there had been no sign of the old man, the blond boy, or the two droids. "They must have gone out the back exit," his supervisor guessed, as TK-421 nodded in agreement, following him out the door. "Get back to your post," his supervisor instructed him. "I need to follow up on this severed arm business," he said, as TK-421 nodded, trudging back through the dusty alleyway. "And keep your eyes out for those droids!" his supervisor called after him.

TK-421 spent the next twenty minutes wandering through the streets of Mos Eisley, knocking on doors and searching in vain for the elusive droids; but finally the search was called off, as his supervisor received word from TK-350 that their suspects had just blasted away from docking bay ninety-four.

Great, TK-421 sighed, boarding a transport with the others as they prepared to return to their ship. Another perfectly good morning spent trudging around a stupid planet in the middle of nowhere, with nothing to show for it, he grumbled to himself, though he admitted regretfully that part of that had been his own fault.

Yeah, TK-421 confessed unhappily, trying to avoid his supervisor's annoyed glare as their transport took off from Mos Eisley, returning the Stormtroopers to their Star Destroyer. I really hate this job.