Eggs are Fragile Things II
It was called the planet killer and there were humans and humanoids there; Twi'leks, Wroonians, humans… but mostly there were Wookies. Big, strong, intelligent howlers with a keen sense of patience in dealing with nano-electronics and microphase particles. Their long hair was wild, unkempt and filthy; they were given no grooming time. Their eyes were rimmed in red anger. There were restraint collars on most of them – evidence they weren't there willingly.
Shy found out the only reason the troopers could guard them without being torn apart was because families were separated without communication and held hostage for each other.
There were a few clones, deserters. He recognized Backup. Shy tilted his head and wondered if Checkout was here as well. Backup and Checkout had never been apart.
Instead of the tracking collars they'd all had in prison, Backup had a surgically precise scar on the junction of his shoulder where the deltoid muscle met the trapezius.
"Track and pied," explained the sergeant leading Shy on his shakedown assignment as he gestured to Backup. For his part, Backup only glanced back lifelessly as he continued working, the sleeveless orange shirt brushing back, showing the scar as he lifted the boxes to the pallet; revealing long lines of red and purple bruising on his inner arms.
"Pied?" Shy tilted his head. Backup didn't look as healthy as the other clones; he looked thinner as though he was wasting away, as though dispair was eating him. The other deserters glared at him with hatred or disgust or even envy; Backup's eyes expressed no emotion.
"Personal implanted explosive device. Only a few of the prisoners get those, all the deserters and a few others. Leaving certain boundaries activates it."
Shy frowned. "Do they know the boundaries? Is the explosion instantaneous?"
The new flesh droid sergeant laughed. "Worried they'll jump you on your rounds? Don't be, your proximity deactivates the device."
Opportunity, whispered something in his mind.
"Is that wise, sir? Couldn't they hold a guard hostage as they…" Shy raised a hand in thought, "I don't know, stole a ship or found tools to deactivate the devices."
The flesh droid laughed. "We have contingencies and overrides for that as well."
Shy nodded. "That's good to know, sir." He paused and glanced at the flesh droid. "I'd simply deactivate the guard's armor." Flesh droid paused and Shy knew that was at least one of the contingencies.
# # #
It was easy to know which ones would try to escape; they didn't stare at him with hate, they stared with contemplation wondering where he was weak, wondering how they could take him, wondering if they should try him or take their chance with the next guard. Shy was alert to all this and they didn't try him.
Shy's first week there was an escape attempt in the warehouse room. Two Wroonians took down a guard with a makeshift buzzknife while a wookie took out the second guard. Maybe it was simply suicide. They were shot where they stood, the wookie landing over the guard bleeding out on the deck, one arm in the wookie's twitching paw, the other some distance away. Shy had heard that a wookie could rip a man's arms off; he'd never really known it was true.
When they pulled the wookie's file to punish his family, they discovered his mate and young one had already died; his mate in one of the frequent accidents dealing with the peizo-electric crystals and the young one from lack of nutrition.
Shy needed to think about that more, there was something here to know but he didn't let his mind wander as the prisoners stared at him with contemplation.
First objective, then; figure out how the wookies knew what happened in other sections.
Backup was in the warehouse room when the attempt happened. He didn't stare at the attempt, didn't look at anyone or anything, didn't tense as the stormtroopers filed into the room firing at the three. He simply continued unloading the boxes from the transport pallet until some stormtrooper ordered him against the wall where he went and stood.
Backup did as he was ordered, but nothing more and never with any emotion. His eyes didn't hold anything. Shy knew then Checkout was dead.
Late one night in the barracks, Shy was staring, looking for non-existent points when he caught two; not one but two.
Shy held his breath for a moment, the let the points fade into non-existence again, leaning back in his rack and closing his eyes. Slowly, in controlled measure, he released his breath. He'd caught two; he'd never caught two before. That meant luck. That meant good things would occur. He gave a nod then sat up and reached for his helmet to begin running a check of the electronics. If something good was going to happen, he'd have to be ready for it. His armor would need to be in perfect shape.
The receivers of his helmet were set to default optimal. Shy considered leaving them at the default then remembered that you couldn't count on good things landing in your lap; you had to reach for them like reaching for a goldenfruit growing on a tree. Shy opened the receivers as wide as they would cover without permanently damaging his hearing.
It was an eye-opening experience. The battle-station was like a living creature, groaning as metal expanded and contracted in its daily turns around the star, humming as the piezo-crystals vibrated, whirring from small engines, whistling from the transports landing and departing. And it whispered the secrets of the wookies to him.
Two secrets were revealed when Shy was guarding where the young wookies were kept. Even they worked; nothing delicate like their parents, but hauling boxes, unpacking things and, for some of them, checking over manifests and minor accounting. Shy had raised his eyebrow over that; enemy younglings doing the accounting and Emperor Palpatine expected a balanced budget?
One of the younglings had a small temper tantrum and threw a box at Six seventy three. Six seventy three was about to pull the youngster out for solitary but Shy called through the channels. "Don't, Six seventy three. I want to see what happens. I'll owe you a favor."
"Fine," had been the hard reply then, in a less emotional voice, "you'd better do something about your helmet; I'm getting a lot of feedback static."
"Will do," replied Shy as he watched an older wookie youngling, only slightly shorter than any of the guards, quickly move and quiet the one throwing a tantrum. Shy had no doubt her words were unheard by the other guards, his own helmet barely caught the low, sub-audible tones as she hooted softly, quietly. Shy grunted in discovery and taped the few words as she spoke them. He'd run them through translation later.
Shy continued watching. He'd caught two points so there would be something else to discover.
Her brown furry fingers flicked through the younger one's pelt as her hoots came into audible range. He watched as she nuzzled the young one behind the ears and on his shoulders. Calming, the smaller put a hand on her arm, his own stubby fingers rubbing through her fur. Grooming her as a child would an adult, then bent his head to her elbow and took a deep sniff, rubbing his head on her arm.
"Satisfied?" Six seventy three mocked and Shy nodded, stepping into the pen and moved with quick step to the two.
"Back to work," he said as his hand smacked the female, his fingers catching in the tangled fur of her arm where the other had rubbed his head. He pulled in a hard jerk and she yelped, jumping back and turning toward the manifests.
"Filthy beasts," growled Six seventy three.
"They are," Shy agreed and wiped his hand against his armor, surreptitiously wedging the clump of fur into his belt, an idea blooming in his mind. "That favor, Six seventy three; you have duty for the piezo-crystal section tomorrow, don't you?"
Six seventy three didn't move for a moment and Shy knew he was terrified of the big wookies that worked there. "Yeah," he mumbled.
"Tomorrow's my off day and it's a big favor so I think you'll owe me, but I'll take the second half of your duty."
When Shy reported for the second half of Six seventy three's duty, he took a detour through where the young wookies were working. While there wasn't a change in the audible volume of the room, Shy's helmet went quiet of everything sub-sonic except the sound of the battle-station itself; then a small litany of wookie sounds came from one and only one wookie.
Very interesting, Shy thought as he made his way to where the adult wookies, the females, worked on the crystals. Here his helmet once again picked up the sub-audible vocals of the wookies interspersed among their audible growls and snarls.
Six seventy three was jubilant to see him and was out the door with thanks almost before Shy was in position.
Shy understood his desire to shorten his duty. These wookies stared with both hate and contemplation. Fatalities among the stormtroopers was highest when guarding the female wookies.
"That's your subject," Six seventy three had pointed to a tall, broad-shoulder wook with light-tipped fur on his way out the door.
Shy moved to her, watching her fingers clench tightly on the tool in her hand. Shy had no doubt she was wishing it was his throat or the throat of any other stormtrooper. Her upper lip curled in preparation for a growl but before she could speak her eyes flared open. She raised her head higher, her nostrils wide as she sniffed the air.
"You know, don't you," Shy thought to himself. "You know I've been in the room with the younglings. Let's see how you like this." He flicked on the external speaker of his helmet and the sub-audible hoots he'd recorded yesterday flowed into the room already crowded with noise from the vibrating crystals.
The volume was low even though Shy was certain the others had the default setting on their helmets. The wookies, Shy decided, must have amazingly good hearing. The entire room went quiet of sub-audibles except the two voices from his helmet; a young child missing his mother and a big sister giving comfort.
Shy had known that from watching them, from seeing their interaction so similar to what he'd seen on Saleucami between Shaeeah and Keeli during the women's quarantine.
The anger went out of the big female and she turned back to her work on the crystals. Shy glanced around at the other guards. They were intent upon their own charges so Shy turned and teased out the small clump of fur he'd tucked in his armor. For a moment it sat, like a dark, fuzzy chick on his belt then fell. It drifted toward the floor but didn't make it before the female wookie had it in her hand. She rubbed the back of her furry fingers to her nose with a sniff as if she had a bit of dust tickling her then her hands moved back to their work. Shy had no idea where that small clump of fur had gone.
Shy was glad he had the recorder on. Immediately the sub-audibles became more than intense and directed. This was the exchange of information. Shy nodded as he took a step back from the big girl and observed the room.
The trooper-droids were oblivious. During break he'd run the new message in his helmet through translation and make sure it didn't say anything like 'Rip his arms off, mom. He touched me." Then he'd play it for them.
It was a start.
More later... maybe in a week. At the moment, I'm finishing up Scars and then plan a break of a few days from posting.
As always... read, enjoy, review...