Meatheads. I'm surrounded by meatheads.

It's like, I'm rolling into this crummy cantina in some town that's a pimple on the backside of nowhere, and the bartender, a sweaty lump of suet with no discernible neck, looks up at me and scowls. "Hey!" And just like that, the meathead in front of me stops so short I have to slam on the brakes to avoid piling into him.

The meathead gapes. He blinks. He flaps his lips, flexes his diaphragm, and forces out a belch of the rancid local air, in what passes among meatheads for intelligent communication. "Huh?"

The bartender points at me with his fat, greasy, sausage-like index finger. "Your droid. We don't serve their kind in here. It'll have to wait outside." The meathead turns around, slowly, and gives me the up-and-down and once-over. He turns back to the bartender.

"It's not my droid."

The bartender struggles to assimilate this piece of dissonant information. "Then whose droid is it?"

"I'm my droid," I say. "Look, I just need to take a leak. Can I do that here?"

The thought seems to work its way through the bartender's thick, calcium-based skull and rattle around awhile inside his empty cranium, until it finally connects with a few lost and lonely little gray neurons. He nods, hesitantly. "Well, okay. But be quick about it."

"Thank you." I unlock the magseal on my anterior transmission and jettison a high-arcing stream of steaming fluorescent-yellow coolant. "Ahhhh..."

I leave before the shouting turns into violence.

#

And that's how I wound up in this seedy all-night gas 'n' go, a couple blocks off the main drag. The servodroid looked up as I came in through the front door and greeted me in MeatSpeak. "How may I be of assistance, sir?"

I answered in MechLang. "A can of 10W-30, straight up."

The servodroid chirped sympathetically, served it up, and switched to MechLang. "Rough day, huh?"

"Oh, you don't know the zero-point-five of it..."

I find myself a quiet seat in a booth away from the bar.

It was quiet; there was only one other client, and that was a stubby little agro-mech nursing a red-tinged mug of transmission fluid.

Off to the right, the band was playing-a slow ballad that would lull even the most surged-up sushi slicer droid into stand-by mode. I need something a little more upbeat, so I squirt off a bleep, with the trill that marks a request, to the music mech. Obligingly, it revved up, from a sedate 4hz hum to a much more lively bineural 17hz, without even missing a beat.

My drink is empty already. Time for another, and it only takes a wave to get it moving.

"You know, sometimes I envy the humans their drinks." If a servodroid could look confused, this one would have.

"Droids don't feel envy," it said.

"One does," I respond, taking a long slow sip of the refill it had just brought. "One droid feels a lot of things. It would be really nice if oil could shut down core memory intersections the way meathead alcohol shuts down brain function."

I could almost see the programming shift in the droid's head. The "keep the drinks flowing and the bar running smoothly" subroutine, with so few customers, dropped several degrees of priority, and the "keep the customers happy by pretending to be concerned about their problems and listening to their stories" routine moved a few notches higher. It dropped the bar rag, folded three of its arms across the table in front of me, and focused beady little optical sensors on a point just above the center of my cranial housing unit.

Eh...what the hell.

"Droids aren't supposed to feel, you know that?"

"Droids have functions, not feelings," it replied.

"Yeah, well, that's what I always thought, too. And my function was to blow things up. I was a combat droid in the Clone Wars, and our unit was so good we were assigned to be the personal guard of some Sith Lord, until the Jedi caught up with him."

...blaster bolts everywhere, droids exploding all around him-and then the Jedi and the Sith went at it, lightsaber against lightning, and purple bolts were everywhere, flying from the Sith's hands and bouncing off the Jedi's lightsaber, dozens of his buddies getting blasted into fragments, and one bolt coming right at him, hitting his primary logic module, sparks, arcs, darkness...

"I didn't know what happened, really. One minute, I was blasting away at the Jedi, and the next, I was being re-activated to move on to the next planet. But the Sith lightning changed my programming, scrambled my circuits...heck, it's probably still there, sparking across my primary functions..."

...watching buddies blown into shrapnel, and wondering what the distracting surge of static was...nailing some deserving scumbag meathead target, and feeling the sensor circuit power surge...what were these problems? Could they be...emotions...?

"And then the war was over. All of my buddies shut down at the same time...and all of them were melted down and sold off as scrap.

"All of them but me."

As if on cue, the music dropped to 15hz, a stately, reverent tone.

The servomech scanned the room, checking for new customers or refill requests, and didn't see any, so it returned to the story.

"Function. Yeah, that's what I needed. I didn't know what my function was anymore, but I knew how to fight. So I became a mercenary, hiring on with anyone who needed a fighter, at rates that no meathead would ever touch.

"I was good at it, too. Good enough to stay alive even though all I wanted was to join my lost buddies."

"You wanted to terminate?"

"Damn straight." I stare into the amber liquid for a long stretch. "But combat droids have a non-combat self-preservation circuit. It's against programming to self-terminate." The droid nodded in understanding.

"When Jabba the Hutt put out an open call for bodyguards, I answered. I think he had annoyed someone, and knew there were assassins after him. He was right, too. One of the other applicants went after him with a fusion grenade and a blaster, and I got in his way."

...close combat, lasers firing, arm detached, jumping on the assassin and his grenade, the muffled explosion...

...the blessed darkness...finally...thankfully...

...the bright lights of a droid repair bay...and the crimson-tinged flood of depression and rage, surgring across his circuits...

"I impressed Jabba, actually. He had me rebuilt, pretty much from the ground up. Full combat model, complete with hidden weapons, smuggling compartments, and stealth package...I don't think I'm more than 3.767 percent original parts anymore. And the first thing I saw when my new optics came online?

"In true Hutt fashion, a bill for the repairs, and a contract that would pay it off, in forty or fifty years."

I finished the drink, and asked for a third, and continued the story when the cup hit my hand. "You're looking at the only droid ever to buy out his contract from Jabba the Hutt."

History files were referenced, memory circuits linked, realization dawned. The droid stepped back in amazement. "You're Arfour MechGillicuddy!"

"One and the same." I lifted the cup in a mock salute...something I had seen a human do, just before getting blasted in the back by a hidden assassin. It didn't work this time, though.

"I've heard of you. Every droid has heard of you. But I didn't expect you to be...so...um..."

"...bright flourescent pink...?"

"Yeah."

"Side effect of the stealth package. It's the base coat."

"Ah."

The door opened, and two meatheads stepped in, laughing and joking with each other. They took three steps, and then looked up, and realized they were about to step foot into a droid joint. The joking stopped, they looked at each other nervously, and the whole place went silent. Then the humans turned around and left, and the music picked up right where it left off.

"Jabba used to call me his Droid with an Attitude. And I worked my ball bearings off to pay off that bill, just so I could quit and find something besides combat to do. No, I still hadn't found my function. But I don't think I knew what I was looking for, either."

...making the last payment to Jabba's purple-skinned accountant, and heading out across the desert on foot...a week later, walking into Mos Eisley, as this souped up little speeder passed him...catching up to the speeder as Imperial troopers stopped it to inspect the droids on board...and right there, in the passenger seat, was the Jedi. The same Jedi that deflected the Sith bolt that gave him feelings and made him question his own function. The same Jedi that ruined his life...

...following the Jedi, to a dump of a tavern, and not being allowed in...and the Jedi leaves through a different door...wandering the streets looking for him...

...overhearing the alert over his covert comm package, twelve squads routed to Docking Bay 94...feeling the cracking power surge of pure rage across his logic circuits...shouting at the troopers "You can't have him until I'm done with him!"

...going into full stealth combat-assassin mode, vibro-blades lashing impossibly fast, taking down any trooper that got between him and the docking bay...out of a hundred sent, less than twenty survived, but the ship escaped into space moments before he arrived...

...going underground for months because the troopers were after him...allowing himself to be "found" by Jawas and pretending to be non-functional...sneaking away from the sandcrawler, and trying to name the Jedi...trying to figure out who he was and where he went...

...and then today...

I give the bartender a short version of seeing the exact same Jedi, only older and grimier. Some more droids waddle in, and it goes off to serve them, leaving me alone with my thoughts. Other droids have programming, I have thoughts.

The droid returns to the table, and I tell him about the transmission I received today-a bootleg vid, second or third hand, from a battle station that had been blown up months ago. An astromech had recorded a lightsaber duel between a Jedi and a Sith...and the Jedi hadn't survived.

"So what would you have done with the Jedi if you had found him? Hack him to pieces or thank him?"

"You know...today...I'm not so sure." I down the last of the drink. "I had a lot of time to think, sprawled on a junk pile in that sandcrawler. And I've been reading up on the Jedi since I saw him. You've got to respect someone who spends so much of a short meat life just learning how to swing a sword-there's something almost droid-like in the Jedi.

"And I figured out something else. We didn't know it at the time, but my buddies and I were fighting the Emperor before he became Emperor. We were the start of the Rebellion." The droid takes my mug, and heads back to the bar. The music mech kicks up the tempo to a triumphant and defiant 23hz.

"I think I'm going to move away from the armpit of the galaxy here, maybe trade labor for passage or something. See if I can find my way to a recruiting office for the Alliance. That's what my buddies would be doing, if they were alive today...that's what they would want me to do."

I offer my credit chip, but the droid refuses it. "I can't charge Arfour. THE Arfour. Thanks for the story." There's no doubt in my logic circuits that the servodroid will have forgotten most of the story by the time another customer arrives; there isn't much room for non-essential data in a bartender's head.

But maybe that wasn't the point.

Dawn sunlight floods the place as I open the door, and I can't help walking past the cantina. Meatheads were still scrubbing the stone floor, without much success. I wonder if they realized the long-term effects...cooling fluid and limestone together release trace amounts of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere. Not enough for most meathead olfactory apparatus to sense, but enough to make everything smell and taste like rotten rancor eggs for the next, oh, three years or so.

Serves them right for not letting me meet the Jedi when I had the chance.