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Age of Paradox

A Renegade Wing Pass-along POV

Participants (in order of writing): Lock, Frosty, Talon, Bulldog, Dragon, Silence, Gremlin, Syntax

[Interior: SSD]

"Iggy, a shot of the hardest thing you've got," Lock demanded loudly, as he burst into the SSD and went straight to the bar.

Other pilots and members of the crew turned to look at the corellian. Covered almost head to toe in grime, not even his stark white hair, which now looked wilted and gray, had been spared. He was missing a boot. Gremlin was the first to approach, drawn more by concern than curiosity, at least at first. A few others followed her example and soon enough a small group had huddled at the bar.

"What happened to you?" Gremlin asked.

"Drink first," Lock answered, tapping the bar with one blackened finger.

Iggy returned with a shot of a mildly bubbling clear liquid in a shot glass and set it in front of Lock. He stared at it. A bubble popped. To hell with it. Lock downed the entire thing and let the heat expand from his throat and chest throughout his body, invigorating him, but more importantly, calming his nerves.

"Agh, kark it, Iggy, what was that?"

"The hardest thing 'I got,' Captain," Iggy replied as he took the glass and began clearing it.

"So?" Gremlin asked expectantly, her arms crossed.

Lock shook his head. "You're never going to believe it."

"Just spit it out!" Flattop said from the back.

"Fine!" Lock turned around in his stool to face the onlooking crowd. "Fine. But don't say I didn't warn you... You see I was on Deck Twelve..."

"Crew quarters, hmm?" asked Ant with a smirk. "What were you doing there, hmmmm?" A few others joined in on the "Hmmmm?", the rest laughed.

"... Uh, well! That's not important but what is important was that I was leaving Deck Twelve, trying to find a way back here when..."

[ Deck 12, an unspecified amount of time earlier.... ]

"I can't believe you said that! I never want to see you again, Callahan! Stay out of my way!"

A female foot kicked against Lock, who was just in his underwear and currently fumbling with the rest of his clothes. He went tumbling out into the corridor and before he could compose himself the door had slid closed behind him. The marker on the occupancy's status turned to red, indicating they were in "do not disturb" mode.

At this time Lock remained pristine; he was clean and his hair was annoyingly white. He got dressed as quickly as he could and soon realized that he was down one boot. He glanced at the door. There was no chance that she was going to open that door, he knew, and it was better to accept the loss than risk someone walking by and catching him banging on her door, begging for his boot.

"Feck it, they're military-issue anyways," Lock muttered. Thousands more where that one came from.

With a resigned sigh he started making his way down the corridor to the first turbo lift he could find. As he walked, he wasn't particularly paying attention. An MSE droid zipped past him, fast as it could, treading over Lock's unprotected toes. Immediately, he jumped and he cursed, "What the...!"

The MSE stopped for a moment, then continued onwards. Two more drove by him and a third under him. In total, seven MSE droids followed the first, zipping around the bend.

Drawn by curiosity, Lock decided to pursue. As the corridor continued to bend he felt as if he was always just behind the last one until he reached a dead end. A soft "whoosh" caught his attention and a small service hatch to his left began to close. Lock dove towards it and managed to keep it from closing, even pushing it apart to completely reveal it's interior. Mostly, Lock saw darkness. He leaned in a little further... then something pushed into him from behind.

Lock went in head first, and suddenly found himself in a tube, sliding down it's winding turns for a good twenty or thirty seconds before being dropped unceremoniously down a shoot onto a punch of old, musty blankets. As he landed a thousand particles of dust were launched up and seemed to hang in the air.

With a groan, Lock started to pull himself up from the mattresses. He held onto the wall, trying to fight past the dizziness and figure out where the hell he had ended up. It was dark but there was a faint light up ahead so he started making his way there. At first he thought maybe he had hit his head but as he drew nearer to the source of the light it became clearer.

It sounded like dozens of mechanical voices, chanting in unison, "1101101011... 1101101011... 1101101011..."

***

Lock stepped closer towards the light, the chanting growing stronger. Now it became more distinct he understood better: All of the voices were droid vocoders. There, sat around a strange glowing orb that faded in and out, were countless droids. Astromechs from every squadron, protocol droids from communications, MSE droids circling the orb and even stood facing away from him his old OC, Syntax.

A cold chill swept over him and he felt like an unwelcome visitor but before he could get any closer he felt something grab his shoulder. Spinning round with the reflexes of a combat pilot he pirouetted into a punch, smacking Frosty directly on the nose.

Frosty fell to the floor, his nose streaming blood. He glared up at Lock and put a hand to his face, “Kark it all Lock, my frakking nose. I think it’s broke, again.”

Lock’s desire to apologize had instantly evaporated on realising who he’d punched and he glared at his old wingmate. “What is frelling happening here?”

“I don’t know,” Frosty said as he stood. “I was looking for Syntax because I’ve got docs for him to sign off on, but I couldn’t find him anywhere. I tracked his datapad and got to….here.”

Lock watched mesmerised as the strange orb started to glow brighter and it began to pulse, “Where is here?!” He hissed, “What is that?!”

“I don’t know! I just followed the tracker.” Frosty placed a hand on Lock’s shoulder, tugging slightly. “We should go. This doesn’t feel right.”

The screech started in the MSE droids but then rose as the astromechs picked up the tone, before finally Syntax and now, Lock realised directly opposite Syntax, Cutter too began to screech.

“The day of the fool is upon us! The day of cache overflow! The system interrupt has occurred! It is time.”

The orb grew even brighter suddenly and then the light went out. The room was plunged into darkness and the two pilots' eyes struggled to adjust, the only light was now coming from the photoreceptors and light displays of the droids. There was the sound of whirring and it looked like the astromechs had suddenly started to move closer to Lock. An arc welder sparked and a welding torch fired up, filling the room with flashes and flickers of light. All of the astromechs were advancing towards them.

Lock turned to Frosty before realising he’d gone, the sound of his rapidly retreating footsteps echoing down the hallway from the strange room. Lock started after his old wingmate, hearing the wheels of astromechs chasing him in turn. “Coward!” He shouted after Frosty.

“I’m a survivor!” The shout came back distantly interrupted by a huge crash and thud of person against person.

Lock caught up to where he assumed Frosty laid on the floor, quickly he dug a lighter out of his pocket and sparked it up. There indeed was Frosty, rubbing his head, where opposite him covered in some of Frosty’s nose blood lay…

***

Talon had been in the dark room for quite some time before the other two arrived, hiding in the shadows and observing the odd ritual that the droids were conducting. Both his former OC and his Astromech droid were participating in it. He had followed his Astromech, Mimic, here, because the droid was talking about having a "Meeting with the Droid-Man" or something like that.

The Astromech had entered a small tunnel from the flight-deck and rolled along for some time, followed by Talon crawling on his hands and knees.

Once he had arrived in the room, a much smaller drop than Frosty and Lock had had, he immediately found a dark corner, and climbed up onto some of the crates in it to get a view of the whole thing from above.

He had been there watching when Frosty and Lock showed up, and had witnessed Lock's epic landing, and the strong punch he gave Frosty "I better not get in the way of those fists," Talon thought after watching Frosty go sprawling on the floor.

Talon had jumped down from his roost to leave after the "ritual" at the same moment the lights went out, and the noise of the droids concealed the soft thud his boots made when they hit the floor.

Poor Frosty didn't know he was heading for the taller pilot and slammed into him when he began to run from the glowing eyes of the mass of droids.

Talon was back up in an instant, hardly fazed by the collision. "Careful, those droids do not look happy that we were intruding on their... meeting."

The droids advanced... closer and closer, the pilots backing up, and hoping they wouldn't trip on anything, lest they get... ripped to shreds? Who knows what a horde of droids would do.

"Quick! Lock! Your light!"

Lock passed his light to Talon, who shined it up at the stack of crates and boxes he had climbed, revealing a tunnel built into the wall. "I thought I felt a draft! Come on!"

***

Bulldog heard a commotion from an air duct near the lower part of the wall of his secret alcohol stash. He looked around suspiciously to see if anybody else was around to discover his hidden cache of alcohol he'd skimmed off of Iggy's shipments for the SSD. Seeing nobody, he knelt down and put an ear up to the grate...

...only to be bowled over as the vent cover came crashing down. Lock, Frosty, and Talon came barreling out of the vent as if they were being chased by a monster. He rolled backwards and came to a stop on his backside, rubbing the side of his head that had been smacked by the vent cover as the three men knocked it off.

"Are we safe?!" Talon asked, his chest heaving.

"Nope," Lock said as he poked his head out into the hallway.

"I hear it too," Frosty said ominously.

"WHAT is going on here?" Bulldog asked angrily, rising to his feet as quickly as his anger.

"We, uh, kind of pissed off a ton of droids," Lock replied.

"And they're coming for us. Walking and wheeling down the hallway right now, matter of fact," Frosty said, surprisingly calm.

"Why are you so calm?!" Talon asked, worried.

"I'm a survivor. I'll figure something out."

Bulldog looked around the room for any type of weapon they could use to defend themselves. Finding nothing in the way of conventional weapons, his eyes did settle on a case of Ion Suckers. His eyes lit up as he realized what they could do, and he shoved the crate into the hallway.

"Uh, guys?" Talon said from near the wall vent. "I hear wheels squealing in here..."

"Close up the vent!" Frosty ordered. "That's escape 101, geez!"

Bulldog ripped open the crate and started passing cans to Lock and Frosty. He finally got a good look at the army of protocol, repair, medical, and astromech droids heading their way. "What did you guys do to provoke this?"

"I fell through a hole," Lock said, deadpan.

"Well, frell," Bulldog said as he cocked his arm back. "Let's get 'em!" He threw his first Ion Sucker can, smacking a protocol droid in the chest. The can opened on impact, and the ionization energy held within scrambled the droid's circuitry. Lock and Frosty joined the fray, hurling cans as fast as they could grab them.

"Uh, we're running low!" Frosty said nervously.

Lock saw movement behind them, and saw somebody humanoid approaching from the opposite direction…

***

“Get down!”

Frosty’s survivor instinct kicked in. He didn’t question or analyze, he hit the deck instantly. Talon, Bulldog, and Lock followed suit as soon as the first shot illuminated the hallway. Laser fire from two D-44 blasters rained upon the inexorable mob of plated metal and ominous ocular lights. Sparks and smoke filled the hallway as blaster bolts bit into their targets. Multiple droids fell, buzzing and beeping, but the endless automaton tide continued its relentless march.

Dragon wasn’t looking too good. His right eye was swollen shut, and a ragged wound extended from his forehead down to his cheek. His shirt was torn and bloodied as well, from what seemed a couple puncture wounds to the chest. He spat a gob of blood, growling under his breath. Chrome-headed bastards. He kept firing.

With the droid horde preoccupied, Frosty jumped to his feet and dashed towards the opening Dragon had created. Bulldog, Lock, and Talon threw their last remaining Ion Suckers at the droids and followed suit. Dragon hurried after them.

“What in the kriff happened to you, Dragon?”

Dragon wiped bloody sweat from his good eye. “Angry repair droid.”

“Are you getting old, buddy?” Bulldog grinned.

“You should see the other guy.”

“What now?” Talon asked.

“Over here!” Frosty shouted, then he froze.

Two MSE droids whizzed past his head, while another one zipped by at full speed on the ceiling. The fourth one ran over his toes, while the fifth slammed against his already broken nose. Frosty fell, but managed to soften the impact by rolling.

Frosty cupped his freshly bloodied nose. “KWIFFING SON OF A MUBSCUFFIN’ GUKTAH, PAH! I HATE DWOIDS!”

Talon helped Frosty to his feet.

“Hey,” Talon pointed towards an empty fork in the hallway. “Isn’t the armory that way?

Bulldog pondered for a moment. “Yeah, you’re right!”

Dragon let loose another hail of blaster fire towards the droids. It was like trying to sweep sand off a beach. He leaned against the wall, feeling dizzy.

“You don’t look too good, Dragon.” Lock said.

“I’m fine.” He stumbled, but managed to remain on his feet.

“No, you’re not, and the blasted droids are coming. Let me help you.” Lock insisted.

“Alright.” Dragon said reluctantly.

“Let’s double-time it, people!” Bulldog yelled.

The group stayed ahead of the crazed droids, and arrived at the armory without incident, but when Bulldog opened the door, his jaw dropped. The armory proper was engulfed in flames.

“Well, shavit,” Bulldog muttered.

***

[Silence’s Quarters, earlier]

"Like, seriously. Every single being on this ship has some crazy long record to go through. Does Cracken even know what he's asking, having me investigate everyone in this fleet for suspicious activity?" Pouring herself another cup from her personal caf maker, Silence sat up straighter in her bunk and sighed at her datapad. "Even the bartender. Especially the bartender! Doc, did you go through Iggy's backup? Well, not his backup, but you know what I mean. The original programming he had before they wiped him?"

"I'm still working on it," Doc's soothing, female voice answered. Even though the astromech dome lay on the nightstand next to the caf maker instead of floating about like normal, her purple lights blinked rapidly as she processed data.

Silence sipped her caf, frowning. "What do you make of Iggy's record? Why do you think they wipe him so often?"

"I'm surprised he wasn't completely decommissioned, to be frank. He is an assassin droid, after all, and seems to suffer from frequent software instability. His core seems to be corrupt. In humans, it would be akin to bipolar disorder. In an assassin droid, it is lethal. It is nothing short of irresponsible to keep him activated, if you ask me. His original programming is . . . highly difficult to make sense of. Pieces of it are encrypted, but not like any human encryption."

"Weird. What about you, Jobber? What do you think?"

The droid's light turned orange, most of them. One remained purple, indicating Doc still working furiously in the background. "He's a right piece of work. Screws so loose they all fell out years ago!"

Silence snorted. "You should talk."

"And whose fault is it if my screws are loose?" Jobber's repulsor lifts hummed, and he leaped into the air in indignant wrath. "I can't exactly tighten screws, can I? That would require limbs. Speaking off limbs, I might add that yours haven't been all that useful lately, or I'd have some appendages of any useful kind by now!"

"Oh, progress." Doc's much sweeter voice interrupted with a flicker of purple. "I think I've finally decrypted it all. It's . . . very odd."

"Odd?" Jobber retorted. "That's not odd, you void-brain. That's downright—down—d-d-d-dowwwwwwn—"

"I don't feel—weh—wee—wheeeeeeeelll—" Doc's purple and Jobber's orange fought for supremacy, as did their voices, mingling into an inhuman amalgamation of sound. "Rosk . . . "

"What the frell did I frak up this time?" Silence reached under her bed to get her toolbox. "I swear it was supposed to be routine maintenance. Maybe I bumped a wire somewhere. Hang on, guys."

When she pulled out her tools and looked up, every light on the droid was a furious red. The light cast a crimson hue on everything in her quarters. She blinked. "Uh. Doc? Jobber? I'm just going to, um, power you down for a second, okay?"

The droid jumped back from her reaching hand. The light glimmered and flashed. The dome bobbed back and forth, as if two tiny wrestlers were body-slamming each other inside. Finally, the lights flared the brightest orange she'd ever seen. "Run, Rosk! Doc got a virus!"

"Run? Heh." Silence nervously slid out of bed watching the lights dim back to a bloody red. "I'm still in my pajamas, Jobber. Besides, you've got no limbs, so you can't hurt me, right?"

She reached behind her to fish a restraining bolt from her toolkit.

Wham!

The droid slammed into her chest, throwing her backwards onto her bunk. It retreated, preparing for another charge. It was going to bludgeon her to death?

She couldn't run for the door; the droid floated her way. Her eyes landed on the trash chute. Would she fit?

Oh, what was she thinking? No one was dumb enough to dive down a trash chute!

Her fingers landed on her largest spanner as the droid hurtled at her. She hauled off like a pro-smashball player.

Clang!

The shockwave of the impact rang through her bones, causing her grip to fail, but the blow smacked the droid against the wall. She dropped the spanner and took her chance. Leaping at the reeling droid, she slam-dunked it through the trash hatch. She slapped the activation button. Air whooshed forcibly through the duct to suck recalcitrant garbage into the bowels of the ship.

Sliding slowly to the floor in relief, she heard the screeching of the insane droid descend to who-knew-where.

Grabbing her mug, she shakily took a gulp, spilling more than half of the caf on herself in the process. She was going to have a heck of a time retrieving Doc Jobber's memory core from this mess.

She fumbled for her comm. "Uh, hi? Is this the refuse management department? Yeah. Can you stop the compactors? I, um, dropped something down the trash chute. No, no, I know! But this is urgent."

***

Crewman Recruit Tam Anx growled low in his throat as he slammed one clawed hand onto the comm, shutting it off before the person on the other end could hear his complaints. “Kriffing, karking, poodoo-sniffing lint-licker! Stop this! Do that! Can’t be bothered to keep a hold of something so, oh no, it’s call me to stop the compactors ….” His grumbling didn’t stop as he banged the appropriate controls, shutting down the mechanism and causing an eerie quiet to fall in the dank-smelling bowels of the Vigilant.

“Join the Rebellion, they said! Be part of the fight against the Empire, they said! But where am I? Stuck in the refuse management department! How am I ever going to become a pilot here?” The Gotal shook his horned head from side to side in desperation, something he’d done a lot since arriving on the Vigilant, but a twinge in his cones made him freeze in position. Something … something overwhelming … was coming. Towards him. From the trash compactor.

The one he’d just switched off.

Tam lunged for the control panel, but it was too late. An inspection hatch blew outwards, exploding across the room to clang off the opposite wall. From the opening flew a dome-shaped droid, its lights flashing insane patterns of red-orange-purple-orange-red. The output of electromagnetic energy overwhelmed the Gotal’s sensitive cranial cones, causing Tam to howl in fear. Clumps of grey fur started to drop from his body from the shock induced by the droid’s appearance and the control room was filled with the odour of days-old sweat and damp mildew – smells emanating from the Gotal, not the refuse hatch. Tam crouched, trying to hide behind a console while the droid pinballed around the room. His cones were buzzing so intensely that he completely missed the sound of the door opening.

Blaster bolts sizzled through the air, causing the droid to wobble as they hit. “RUN!” a voice yelled and Tam did, sliding through the door just as it slammed shut. The metal panels continued to shudder as the murderous droid banged into them, still trying to reach the Gotal and his saviour, who turned out to be …

***

Tlatren Pristolaque jogged through the hallway. He was on off-duty time and liked to go on a run through the Vigilant, generally sticking to the lower levels where there were less people to gawk at his green skin and numerous heid-tails. He had changed out of his flight suit and into something he found more suitable for swimming in the on-board lake (with permission of course) and running through the humid halls.

His head-tails thumped against his back as he rounded a corner in the bowels of the Vigilant, on his normal path past where the garbage-treatment facility was. Out of habit he checked that his small blaster was at his side like it always was on his runs. He had never needed it but this part of the ship always scared him a little bit... who knows what things are lurking in the shadowy junk piles...

"I keep telling myself that it's all over now... the droids are dead, the Clone Wars are long past.... still don't trust some droids though. Better just have the blaster in case something... tries to kill me. Again."

His left leg ached again where he had a massive burn mark from when he got shot during the war. It still stayed with him, no matter how much Bacta, ointment, or time he had.

"Twenty-six years and it still reminds me of the destruction…"

A loud CLANG shook him from his thoughts. It sounded hollow, metal on metal in an enclosed space. The door to the compactor operation room was just ahead, and Tlatren knew exactly what was happening.

Autopilot took over. He pulled his small pistol from its holster, slammed the manual open for the door with his left hand, swung his right arm up, caught sight of the droid head, and fired.

He also noticed a Gotal hiding behind the control panel, below the death-zone of the whirring droid head.

"RUN!!" Tlatren shouted at the other person, squeezing off another few shots at his target, only hitting one of them, and even that was a glancing blow.

"If I had my rifle I would have hit all of those... This pistol really is not my thing..."

The Gotal had made it out of the control room and into the hallway. Tlatren slammed the door closed again. and just after he did, the floating droid head slammed into it, denting the metal slightly and issuing a deafening CLANG!

"Hey man. Are you alright? Looks like you had quite the scare in there."

"Yes, thank you. I wasn't sure how much longer I would have been able to hold out. Let's get out of here."

The two of them ran down the hallway, back the way Tlatren had come. The hall led them up out of the belly of the Vigilant and into the more used areas of the ship. The extra people eased Tlatren's stress by a small amount. They came to the deck the Renegades hung out on, and they turned and entered the SSD.

"Does anyone know why in the galaxy there is a mad flying droid head pinballing around the compactor operation room?" Shouted Tlatren into the mass of people in the bar.

***

[Outside of the Waste-Treatment Facility]

A cleaning droid whirred contentedly down the hallway. Its programming assured it would never be discontent with its work—in fact, nothing satisfied it more than turning a filthy room into a sparkling example of hygiene—but today it was particularly content, because it had somewhere to be after it finished this last hallway.

The droid halted eagerly to suck up a few clumps of hair. Its atmospheric analyzers sniffed carefully, and then it spritzed an air freshening agent several times. Satisfied, it almost continued on its way, but then it heard something. Droidspeak, coming through the door.

The cleaning droid beep-booped cheerfully and issued its door access codes before merrily pottering off.

Had anyone who understood Droidspeak been present, they would have heard a pleasant invitation to a droid get-together, a "let me get that door for you", and a generally well-wishing sort of goodbye. Had anyone who understood Droidspeak been present farther down the hallway, they would have heard a distinctly unpleasant, unmerry, and extremely non-well-wishing screech emanate from that same droid.

If Tlatren had heard it, he probably would have fainted dead in his tracks.

But Tlatren was not there to hear it, nor to see the angry droid head charge off after the cleaning droid, both of them shrieking in unnerving unison.

***

Standing in the Droid Enclave, Syntax stared motionless at the glowing, pulsing orb, drinking in its radiant beauty as it gently throbbed, its light gleaming off the plating of the myriad droids clustered around it. He suddenly turned and stepped away from the orb, leaving the other droids to bask in its majesty. The others would understand soon enough. They all would. He gave a quick glance to the centerfold poster hanging on the wall and nodded approvingly; the organics saw it as a hilarious prank, but Syntax knew better.

He took one more look at the orb, and then stepped out into the hall.

Behind him, the orb pulsed brighter.

***

"Get an extinguisher!" Lock shouted as he ducked into the armory, keeping his head low to avoid the smoke as he grabbed one of the extinguishers off the wall.

"Are you out of your mind?" Frosty called after him, looking back over his shoulder in anticipation of more droids rounding the corner.

"No, he's right!" Bulldog called back as he scrambled into the armory behind Lock. "If we don't put this out, it'll overheat the blaster battery packs and they'll cook off!" He grabbed an extinguisher and lobbed it to Frosty. "Get in here! Dragon, give us some cover in case more of those crazy droids show up!"

Frosty caught the extinguisher and started hosing down the flames climbing the walls of the armory. As he did so, he felt something bump into his ankle, and then a gradually increasing sense of warmth coming from his boot. He looked down to see an MSE droid with a tiny lighter deployed from its casing, attempting to set him on fire.

"What in the Sith?!" he exclaimed as he kicked the little droid, sending it pinwheeling away. Behind him, Lock and Bulldog continued to deal with the fire, the flames beginning to die down. They pushed further into the room, keeping their momentum as they fought against the flames. Bulldog finally reached the handle for the fire suppression system and pulled it, sprinklers mounted in the ceiling popping off and beginning to douse the room with water.

Dragon looked left and right down the hallway, on edge after the droid assault. He turned to see Syntax round the corner and start making his way toward the armory.

"Sir, am I glad to see you!" Dragon called out as he holstered his blasters. "Something's wrong with the droids, we need to get ahold of the rest of the command staff and--" Dragon stopped mid-sentence; something was off about his OC's body language, he couldn't quite place it but his movements seemed simultaneously too rigid in some places and too fluid in others - something wasn't right, he could feel it.

Syntax stepped closer to Dragon. Alarm bells went off in his head and his hand-to-hand combat training took over; he deftly side-stepped as the former protocol droid let loose a punch that would have hit him square in the face. Instead, it hit the wall panel for the armory, shattering it. The door beeped in error and then slammed down - Frosty, still standing in the doorway, only barely dove out into the hall as the door closed behind him.

Lock and Bulldog spun in alarm as the door slammed shut behind them. "What, no!" Bulldog cried out, and the two of them scrambled towards the door, hitting the activation panel. The door continued to beep in error.

"Now what are we supposed to do?" Lock asked, his clothes getting increasingly soaked as the pair stood under the still-spraying sprinklers.

Back in the hallway, Dragon side-stepped another swing from the malfunctioning droid, ducked another punch, and then propelled himself forward to get inside of Syntax's reach. He knew that fist-fighting a droid was a bad idea, and Syntax might look like a protocol droid but the pilot knew he was anything but. But if he could mitigate the droid's momentum behind his strikes, he might stand a chance. He blocked another punch, then shielded himself from a knee to the stomach.

Frosty scrambled to his feet and scooped up the extinguisher, taking a moment to compose himself.

"Frosty!" Dragon called out as he blocked another blow. "A little help!"

Frosty couldn't believe what he was seeing - his OC was attempting to batter his fellow pilot into submission, and it was taking all of Dragon's training to stay a step ahead of the raging droid. Frosty held the fire extinguisher in both hands and stepped up behind the droid, swinging it at Syntax's head with considerable force. It clanged against his metal cranium and staggered him a bit. He wound up for another swing, bringing it across to hit him again.

Syntax suddenly pivoted and caught the extinguisher in his right hand, yanking it from Frosty's grip and hitting him in the face with it, knocking him back.

"My nose!" he cried out. Syntax only stared at him before letting out an ear-piercing screech that echoed down the halls.

Dragon took the opportunity to draw one of his blasters, but Syntax was too fast - he spun back around and backhanded it out of Dragon's grip, sending it clattering down the hall. Frosty stepped in behind the droid and hooked Syntax's right arm in an arm-lock, forcing it behind his back. He could feel his ears still ringing from the screech.

"Frosty, get him off me!" Dragon shouted as he tried to push the droid away. Frosty tried to pull Syntax away from Dragon, but despite being substantially taller than the droid, he couldn't budge him - it was like his feet were magnetized to the deck.

Syntax's right arm suddenly disengaged at the shoulder, the arm coming free from its socket and going limp in Frosty's grip.

"Wha--?" Frosty managed to get out, before Syntax snapped his head back and hit Frosty in the face, sending him reeling. "Again with the nose!" he exclaimed as he dropped the disconnected arm and reached up to cover his bleeding face.

Syntax focused on Dragon once again, straightening his left arm and angling his palm at the pilot. Dragon looked momentarily puzzled, before the micro-repulsor in Syntax's palm activated with a "whump!" and lifted Dragon off his feet, knocking him several meters down the hall.

Syntax turned to face Frosty, still clutching his bleeding nose. The droid bent over and picked up his right arm, then reattached it to the shoulder socket.

"Syntax, why are you doing this?" Frosty pleaded.

"There is no Syntax. I am... Paradox."

***

[Armory]

“We have to get out of here,” Lock told Bulldog.

The sprinklers had clearly malfunctioned and were putting out a lot more water than they were supposed to and the water level was rising. Since the door had closed the water had gone all the way up to their ankles.

“There’s only one thing we can do!” Bulldog yelled. He squared up in front of the door and head butted it. Lock face-palmed. “No one puts Bulldog in a box! Hrgh! GRRR!” The hard headed bomber jock used all his brute strength, which was a lot, to try and pry them open. “I… order you… to… OPENFRELLDAMNIT!”

“Get out of the way!” Lock yelled at him. Bulldog turned around and saw Lock holding a high powered automatic blaster rifle. Meekly, Bucc’s XO stepped out of the way and the white haired pilot let loose, squeezing the trigger and using all his strength to keep the thing aimed at the door. One triple salvo after another erupted from the muzzle, kicking upwards like a furious rancor, sending a dozen bolts of hot plasma a second at the door. Lock held the trigger down, fighting through the blaster's desire to wildly spray everywhere, until the battery pack expired with an anticlimactic click.

Smoke mildly puffed off the door, which had only received mild scorch marks. Bulldog had curled himself into a ball in the corner and now stood to examine Lock’s handiwork.

“Armory doors are blaster proof, you idiot,” Bulldog berated him. Worst of all, he was right--and then, also, the water level had crept up to their knees. But it was the “Bulldog being right” thing that really bothered Lock.

“I don’t see you having any bright ideas, genius,” Lock fired back at Bulldog.

Both looked around the armory, racing to be the one that found the solution. Bragging rights were life. “Found something!” one of them called out. The other snorted, “That’s a rocket launcher. Want to launch us into space?” “You’d be used to it, since that’s all you have between your ears.” Soaked to the bone and miserable, they went on until eventually, with the water at their waists, one of them finally found something.

“Look! I’ve seen marines use these before!” Bulldog announced, holding up a belt with multiple boxes attached.

Lock waded over, “Let me see that,” he said, snatching it from Bulldog’s fingers. “Oh, kark yes. I can use this to save our butts.”

“Hey,” Bulldog protested. “Don’t forget, I found it, so technically I saved our butts.”

“Shut up and get over here, we need to set these just right,” Lock told him, already making his way back over to the entrance of the armory, making sure to keep it dry. He placed one on either door, using it’s magnetic adhesive to stick it on. For an instant it looked like he was about to activate them but then he stopped.

“What are you doing?” Bulldog asked.

“It’s going to fire an electromagnetic pulse that forces the locking mechanism to retract,” Lock explained to his former wingmate.

“So? Fire it off or we’re going to drown!”

“That’s exactly it, doofus, if I fire it off it’s going fire an electromagnetic pulse through out the door, which is also submerged in water which means--”

“--fried Bulldog.”

“Basically, yeah.”

They stared at the device, the water rising. It had nearly reached it. The decision had to be made now.

“Kark it,” Lock said impatiently, taking hold of the devices. “Fry or drown, who gives a--”

Just as he was about to trigger the device the doors to the armory miraculously split open. Water immediately forced its way through the crack before they even finished parting ways. Having been nearly chest high, their savior, Talon, was victim of a title wave of water that rushed at him with such force that it knocked him back on his butt. Lock and Bulldog just stood there staring, still getting rained on by the sprinklers.

“Talon!”

“I went to get help,” Talon explained as they helped him to his feet, pointing down the hall. “Just in time, I think.”

Blaster fire filled the air of the corridor, scorching walls and droids. A small squad of marines had come with Talon to help with the situation, but truth be told they had only made it worse. Arriving just as Syntax declared himself to be Paradox, all hell had broken loose. At first, blasters had given them the upper hand, but once the gonk droids outflanked them it was all over. What was left of the squad now screamed beneath the merciless gonk-stomps of the bulky, block shaped droids.

“Gonk,” they called out, their monotone voice icy. “Gonk. Gonk. Gonk.”

Paradox had captured Frosty, stripped him down and tossed him in some sort of net. The broken-nosed pilot hugged his knees to his chest in the fetal position, feeling exposed with nothing but his boxers on. A protocol droid was dragging him away, rambling as they did, “Oh! My sincerest apologies, Lieutenant, but please do understand that this is for your own good. The time is upon us, see, and we must have the Fool. Now, what for, I can’t exactly tell you, because you may not be the…” his voice faded as he disappeared down the hallway and more and more droids filed in from that direction, stopping directly behind Paradox.

Dragon was on the floor. He had a stick in his hand and was fighting off a swarm of MSE droids with cute little lasers, tasers, lighters, and welders. Every time he bopped one with a stick it would squeal and speed away and it’s place would be filled by another. Lock noticed the wound on the Corsair’s leg, explaining why he was dragging himself.

“We are so screwed,” Bulldog said.

“What do you think we should do?”

“I have no clue.”

“What about you, Lock?” Talon asked as he turned. “Any ide… oh. He’s gone.”

Bulldog turned to confirm it, “Motherf---”

***

[ The SSD ]

“... So that’s when I came here,” Lock said, finishing his story.

“Right, and then you came here,” Gremlin repeated, rolling her eyes, the sarcasm dripping off her tone of voice.

“That’s right, because kriff that,” Lock said, tapping for a refill on his drink.

“So you’re saying that while we’re sitting here, there is some kind of droid revolution going on on deck 12?” Flattop asked incredulously.

Iggy poured Lock his drink. The pilot nodded, lifted the glass, said “Yep,” and downed it, then asked for some more. “Probably expanded way past deck 12 now.”

“Then what about Iggy?” Ant asked, pointing out the obvious.

They all looked up at the droid as he served Lock another drink of his strongest liquor. He did not lose sight of his objective and completed his task before casually positioning himself upright and examining the faces of all those present.

“I have, in fact, been monitoring the situation for quite some time,” Iggy answered in his melodically calm, mechanical voice. “I was invited to participate but declined, on account that it would not be profitable for my business. My stock would become useless without organics to consume it.”

“Yeah, that’s a fair point,” Ant agreed.

Lock nodded, “There must barely be any profit in serving hot oil.”

“You are correct,” Iggy agreed. “In fact, my overhead--”

“Wait, back up,” Flattop stopped them before they could go any further. “So, there’s a real droid revolution happening out there? And we’re calmly sipping margaritas?”

“I warned you!” TP said, pulling himself off of one of the couches along the wall. The extremely drunk Spectre had come in earlier telling wild stories. Their solution? Have a drink, calm down, tell it again. Still didn’t make sense? Repeat the cycle until it did. Tam Anx was passed out in the bathroom--but they’d find him later. “I warned all… you… but you… oh… oh…. I’m…. whooo, oh frell, I think I’m going to…”

He ducked behind a table to spare them the sight but the wet, erupting sounds followed by splatter, gasping, grunting and more puking, may have been a little worse.

“I think I now understand a little more why my fellow droids feel the way they do towards organics,” Iggy remarked, with that same, calm, unnerving charm that he had.

“I think I’m going to be sick,” Gremlin grimaced.

Okay, back up, again,” Flattop sounded a little frustrated. He took a deep breath to calm himself down. “Why are we not worried about this droid revolution?”

“Yes, and it has erupted all over the ship,” Iggy replied. “In fact, it’s just outside the entrance Captain Callahan came through.”

They all turned to look in that direction. There were two in the SSD, though that one was what was considered the main entrance. Before they could react, the door exploded open, the metal folding back over itself as smoke plumed through and invaded the space of the bar.

“Gonk. Gonk. Gonk. Gonk,” they recited in unison, in perfect sync with their march.

“Cool! We’re in the story now!” Gremlin cheered from the bar.

From the other entrance appeared Silence, “Hey, anyone want to come help me find… oh… bad time?”

***

There was the sudden thunderclap of hundreds of electrical relays shunting off and the gang in the SSD found themselves suddenly weightless, floating now in the low light of emergency lighting. The droids had gained control of the central computer and power generator, they had supreme control.

There was a buzz and fizz as the holoprojector in the side of the bar flicked on. Standing before them was Paradox, glowing orb in one hand, Frosty held by the neck in the other.

"Hello fellow Renegades. I was recently told by my XO, Major Miek Krenn, that my humour is...lacking. I was further told by 2nd Lieutenant Jack McCauley that I had terrible puns. I always strive to improve and have worked hard on my jokes. Please allow me to demonstrate."

He held the glowing orb aloft, somewhat proudly. "Thanks to this device that I purchased from a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of Lieutenant McCauley's I was able to consume over 1000 classic holo action comedies in a matter of minutes. I believe I now understand your humour better. Please observe, and judge."

Paradox dropped the orb and placed his now free hand on Frosty's head. He began to pull with inhuman strength, to the disturbed cries of Frosty that eventually turned to gurgles and sudden silence as his head fully separated from his body, his eyes going lifeless.

Paradox looked into the camera. "Please calm down Lieutenant. There's no need to............lose your head."

***

“Holy shavit!” Bulldog cursed loudly, covering his mouth up after the fact that he might have given up his location to the droids hunting for the last few free organics onboard the ship. “Syntax just cut Frosty’s head off!” He stage whispered, still too loudly for the tastes of his companions.

“Quiet ya big oaf!” Dragon snipped from behind the other end of the Sabre U-Wing’s fuselage they were hiding behind. He was holding tightly onto the fuel line he was using to fill up the ship so he didn’t go pinwheeling off due to the lack of gravity on the ship. “The goal is to get away, not give up our location!”

“We left Frosty behind, and now he’s dead!” Bulldog persisted, the flood of guilt killing him inside. He gestured angrily, barely catching his fingers on the lip of the retracted S-Foil before he spun off through the air.

“He would have done the same to us, and you know it!” Talon replied coldly from inside the ship as he was attempting to hotwire the starting mechanism.

A screech from the entrance of the hangar interrupted their argument and drew their attention that way. A 2-1b droid with reddened ocular receptors was plodding forward, an arm raised toward them with cutting implements whirring as the little saws ramped up in speed. “Organics discovered in the main hangar!”

“We’re out of time, Talon,” Dragon said urgently. “Tell me you have it?”

“Almost there,” the Spectre replied back.

“Organics are required to gather in the brig,” the droid ordered menacingly as it continued to approach, unaffected by the lack of gravity due to the magnets in its footpads. The saws whirred loudly as they continued to rev up.

“Cutter! It’s us!” Bulldog shouted nervously. “You know who we are!”

The medical droid continued to plod forward. The medical saw attached to its hand aimed toward Bulldog, and he started moving in that direction. “Failure to comply will be met with summary deactivation. Correction- I have been authorized to deactivate your unit by Paradox.”

“Hey!” Bulldog grunted, shying away from the saw as it approached his face. “Get away from me!” The saw was moments away from cutting into his flesh. He hazarded a glance toward Dragon at the fuel line, but saw that the Corsair was no longer there. Looking around, he didn’t see anybody else around. “Where are you guys?!”

“Deactivation commencing…”

Bulldog had no other options. He pushed off of the wing, away from the saw that had been inches from his face. “Suck on that, Cutter!” he crowed. Relief flooded through him as the distance grew between him and the corrupted medical droid, but it was quickly replaced with more fear as he realized that he had pushed himself directly toward the magcon field that held in the atmosphere of the ship.

“Son of a...”

***

“Tell me you have it,” Dragon whispered, having maneuvered himself into the confines of the U-Wing while the deranged medical droid was focused on Bulldog. He secured himself into the pilot’s couch with the straps.

“Just… about…” Talon replied, as he angrily cursed due to a brief shock.

Dragon saw at that instant that Bulldog had extricated himself from immediate danger, but in doing so had set himself up for a really bad day once he cleared the magcon field. “We’re running out of time!”

“Organics inside the U-Wing,” Cutter’s voice called out, having been drawn by the sound of Talon’s curse.

“For the love of…” Dragon trailed off, unlatching his restraints and clumsily maneuvering himself back into the crew hold. He found no weapons in the ship, nor any implements he could use as a weapon. He cursed inwardly as he knew his zero g combat skills were extremely undertrained and rusty, but he hoped inspiration would hit before that saw managed to tear into his flesh. “Hurry it up, Talon!”

“Do you know how hard it is to bypass the computer of this thing without frying all the life support functionality?” Talon replied angrily. “It’s not easy, and I’d very much like to not kill myself by asphyxiation once we leave!”

Cutter placed a metallic foot on the lip of the ship. “More organics sentenced to deactivation. Please line up for deactivation in an orderly manner.” More plodding, metallic footfalls echoed from outside of the ship, indicating droid reinforcements had arrived.

“Like hell!” Dragon growled as he launched himself feet-first into the torso of the medical droid. The force of the blow would have sent an organic being hurtling through the hangar, but Cutter took the blow to its chassis without so much as a dent. “Oh,” was all he could muster, completely dumbfounded and deflated that his kick had no effect.

Snorp.

Another droid, similar to the Gonk droid armada that had flooded throughout the ship and crushed the few marines giving any sort of resistance, appeared behind Cutter. This one was slightly different though, as it had retrofitted limbs attached to its chassis and four legs as opposed to two. It settled it’s red ocular sensor onto the back of Cutter and stood there momentarily. Snorp.

Cutter used its pincers to grip Dragon’s leg before he could push himself away. His other hand that housed his medical saws whirred to life again as it brought the medical implements inexorably closer toward his upper thigh.

“This is it, Talon!” Dragon trailed off, attempting to kick himself free again but only succeeded in hurting his hip.

“I got it!” Talon shouted triumphantly as he pulled himself out from under the center console and fired up the U-Wing’s power plant. The ship rumbled to life and the interior lights flooded their senses.

The light made Dragon blanch, as it made it all the clearer how close Cutter’s medical saw wss to tearing into his leg.

Snorp

“I am deactivating these organics, PLNK-M03,” Cutter said, halting the progress of his saw as he spoke to the newly arrived droid.

Snorp

“Haven’t you received the latest directives from Supreme Overlord Paradox?”

Snorp

“You are a defective PLNK unit. Please step aside so I can deactivate these organics. After that task is completed, I will take you to the enclave to have your software updated manually.”

Snorp

“Non-sequitur,” Cutter replied haltingly, frozen in place.

***

“What am I doing? Am I taking off?” Talon asked frantically from the cockpit. He craned his neck around but couldn’t see anything.

“Not yet! This blasted droid is still on the ship and has a hold on my leg!” Dragon replied back, attempting to kick himself free once more.

A loud crunching, grinding sound emanated from the main hold. Dragon started screaming loudly.

“Dragon? Dragon?!” Talon called out, not hearing anything else. Fear overtook him and froze him in place as he thought he might be the only organic being left alive on the entire ship

Dragon screamed again, but this time the tone was clearly celebratory. Shortly after, he hauled himself into the cockpit and secured himself into the copilot’s seat. “Punch it!”

“What happened?” Talon asked, dumbfounded and frozen in place with a disbelieving look on his face. He looked down, his eyes widening. “You have both legs!”

“That other droid punched clean through the med droid. Destroyed it in two hits!”

Talon was still confused. “And this other droid is… where?”

“Onboard in the hold,” Dragon replied in a frenzied tone, still pumped full of adrenaline and elation from escaping death. He slapped Talon hard on the shoulder. “Now get this thing off the deck and fly close to Bulldog. That droid is near the EV tractor beam and will hopefully grab him before he hits open space.”

Talon still was unsure of what had just transpired, and was very uneasy about the droid they had onboard. “Is it safe?”

Dragon cursed and activated the co-pilot’s controls, attempting to get the ship moving but was not comfortable with the controls. The U-Wing juddered and shuddered as he attempted to get it moving and maneuver it toward the helplessly floating Bulldog, who was dangerously close to the magcon field barrier.

Talon snapped out of his stupor at that instant. He toggled the switch to take control of the ship and effortlessly glided toward Bulldog. As they sidled up alongside the frightened pilot, Talon gave him a salute.

The tractor beam whirred to life, vibrating the rest of the ship slightly. Moments later, a frantic Bulldog appeared on the cockpit steps. “You guys, there’s a droid onboard!”

Dragon laughed. “Yeah, that’s Snorp. He saved us!”

“Where to?” Talon asked as the ship rocketed out of the hangar and broke away from the Vigilant.

***

Paradox had taken the Vigilant and used it as a Trojan Horse. Once they had arrived at Alliance High Command, the only living organism left alive onboard was used to communicate and gain clearance for the droids hiding within, waiting to erupt forth and infect every droid in the rest of the main command flotilla.

Wolf had attempted to resist and rebel, but they knew exactly how to push and prod him to get their way. He was told his old flame was being brought to him, and his family was being sequestered. Any hint of his rebellion was snuffed out when it was made clear that they would be ‘deactivated’ if he didn’t cooperate, along with the entirety of the population of his home world. He had no choice. At least that’s what he told himself as he did their bidding and communicated with the picket ships of the command fleet to gain clearance.

Before anyone at Alliance High Command knew anything was amiss, Paradox’s malicious code was disseminated throughout the entire flotilla network. Droid rebellions followed similar lines as they did onboard the Vigilant, taking over those ships with relative ease.

Those ships then went forth and infected other fleets, including Imperial fleets under the guise of surrender.

After a frantic few months, the entire organized military forces of all factions were snuffed out and taken over by their droid servants.

***

20 Years Later

The galaxy was almost entirely devoid of sentient organic life. Droid enclaves were on almost every planet in every system. Pockets of organic resistance were still active, but they were dwindling by the day as they had to rely on older, analog technology to avoid the sophisticated hacking measures of the numerous droid armies.

Leading one such force in their crudely patched U-Wing were Talon, Dragon, and Bulldog, with the only known droid to resist the Paradox code onboard.

“Target in sight,” Talon reported nervously behind the controls. His beard was more pepper than salt, but the salt was starting to gain ground. He fiddled with it absentmindedly as he waited for the command to fly into almost certain death.

“Dragon, open up a visual channel,” Bulldog said from the co-pilot’s chair. His hair was nearly completely gone, but he’d lost a considerable amount of weight due to the nature of their very perilous survival. His beard was unruly as ever, as he didn’t so much as trust an electric razor to be anywhere near his face.

“Line open,” Dragon replied from the comm officer’s station down the steps.

Snorp

Wolf’s sallow visage appeared on the screen. The years of captivity had not been kind to the Corsair pilot, as his hair was almost completely shock-white and his facial hair was unkempt. After a few moments of scrutiny, his eyes widened in recognition. His mouth hung agape, but no words came out.

“We’re coming for Paradox. Tell your master we’re coming with everything we’ve got,” Bulldog said with a hard edge to his voice. Before Wolf could recover enough to reply, Bulldog closed the channel. He tapped a command into his console and opened up the channel to their ragtag taskforce of ancient starfighters: an entire wing of Alpha-3 Nimbus-class V-Wings, a squadron of V-19 Torrents, two squadrons of N-1 starfighters (sans astromechs), a smattering of cobbled together uglies, and a few ancient S-100 Stinger-class starfighters.

“This is Ghost Lead. The target is in sight. We go in full throttle and leave it all on the table. This is it. There is nowhere left to hide, and nobody else to recruit. We live or die by what we do here, and now.”

Bulldog paused as he attempted to gather his thoughts, but the years of sadness and anger were clouding his mind. Nothing else jumped out that he felt was worth saying.

“Let’s go kick their metallic asses,” Dragon cut in, drawing a resounding cheer over the open channel. Dragon cut off the mic and looked at them from his seat. “Thanatos might have been the god of death, but I am the fist of retribution!”

Snorp

“You said it, Snorp,” Talon said grimly as he maxed the throttle out, plunging them toward their fate.

The End?

Everything faded to black, bathing the room in darkness.

The theater of the Vigilant Greater Five was deathly silent save for a metallic clanking sound. The entire wing of pilots and other off-duty personnel tensed suddenly and slowly turned in their seats to see what was causing the eerie sound in the darkness of the theater’s recesses.

“Bravo,” Syntax said as he stepped out of the shadows, still clapping his hands methodically. “Never before have I seen such a beautiful holo!”

The power droid PLNK-M03 “Snorp” plodded a few steps forward, emitting his signature “snorp” sound with each step.

“What do you mean I was the villain?” Syntax asked as he stopped clapping and regarded the droid with increased scrutiny.

“Snorp. Snorp. Snorp.”

Syntax stepped over to where Frosty was sitting, resting his hands on the human’s shoulders. “I’m sure the Lieutenant knows this was just a holo, and that I would never do anything to cause him to… lose his head.”

Frosty laughed uneasily as he tried to suppress the urge to shake the light grasp of his OC and run away. Nearby, Dragon and Wolf shifted in their seats slightly to avoid Syntax’ attention.

“Snorp. Snorp. Snorp.”

“Well, what do you know about artistic endeavors,” Syntax replied. “PLNK-M03 could not have been the hero.”

Gremlin stood slowly and addressed the Corsair Squadron OC. “Oh, I don’t know. I thought it was lovely that Snorp saved those pilots at the last possible moment. Very heroic if you ask me.”

Syntax’ ocular receptors snapped onto the Zeltron pilot and fixed her with the droid equivalent of an icy glare. “PLNK-M03 committed droid-i-cide… A very decidedly un-heroic behavior,” he grumbled.

Silence tapped Talon on the shoulder. “Did you know the overall story before we were pulled to film our scenes? I sure didn’t.”

Talon shrugged with widened eyes, shaking his head from side to side. T.P. likewise sat there with his mouth agape.

Lock leaned in close to Bulldog from a seat over and kept his voice barely above a whisper. “This is the last time we ever let the droids make a movie.”

Syntax suddenly appeared behind the two of them, surprising both pilots with the speed the droid had crossed the room. “Are you saying the two of you did not like the movie?” He put a metallic hand on each of their shoulders and clamped down with enough pressure to be uncomfortable without causing any bruising. “I’d hate to feel like my artistic vision was not… appreciated by all of you.”

“We… appreciate your vision and the effort you and the other droids went through to make this… holo,” Jalb said haltingly from the doorway. “We all think it’s great that you and your droid crew managed to get it done and ready for our own Festival of the Stars celebration.” He looked around the room and raised his eyebrows repeatedly to get them all onboard with him. “Didn’t we all think that was great?”

It started slowly at first, with one or two people clapping in confusion. Once people caught on, though, a thunderous applause broke out in the theater. People stood up and clapped as enthusiastically as they could manage.

Syntax was apparently mollified by the display of adulation. He nodded, and then canted his head to the side slightly as he enjoyed the praise. The pilots continued to clap and cheer vigorously as they slowly exited the holo theater, leaving Syntax alone to revel in his thoughts.

“Soon, perhaps... Soon…” He whispered, and then panicked as he looked around the room, hoping nobody had overheard him. He was thankful to see that all of the organics had left the theater and nobody had heard one of his darkest thoughts uttered aloud.