The Big Chill: Syntax's Tale
The Corellian Corvette Interloper tumbled through the planet's
atmosphere, its bridge section exploded outward and still flaming.
The Corvette went into a roll, the craft spinning end over end in
an uncontrolled twirl that brought it towards an open area on the
planet's surface. Two Z-95 Headhunters were hot on the Interloper's
tail as it careened towards the planet's surface, gaining speed
as the hull began to heat up. The Corvette struck the ground with
explosive force, debris flying high into the air as the hull snapped
in half, scattering shards of metal and raining fire on the landscape.
Not that the fires mattered much: the Interloper had just
crash-landed on the icy plains of Hoth.
"Alright, we are 12 klicks out from Echo Base, heading west on
a vector of 11.295," 9-LOM spoke into the comm of the snowspeeder
he piloted across the endless fields of snow. 9-LOM was a machine,
about 1.8 meters tall. Modeled closely after many insectile races
in the galaxy, 9-LOM was meant for protocol. However, that was not
his current profession. "You alright back there, Janson?"
"As comfortable as I'll ever be," was the reply of Lt. Wes Janson,
9-LOM's gunner for this recon mission.
"Recon 4, your target is the Corellian Corvette Interloper,
or whatever is left of it," came a voice over the speeder's comm,
"Our scanners say it should be a little farther west of your position,
and is mainly intact. You are to recover a device, which the Interloper
was trying to transport to Alliance High Command before it was intercepted
by pirate raiders and chased here. The device is a new type of explosive,
stored in a liquid stasis container. When cooled, however, the solution
begins to crystallize, and becomes highly unstable. When the substance
is fully crystallized, it will go critical and explode. You must
recover it before this happens. As you may have noticed, an extra
heater has been retrofitted into your snowspeeder, to prevent the
solution from crystallizing. Good luck, and watch for pirates. They
may still be in the area. Echo Base out."
"Well, you heard them," Janson said. "Let's find that container."
"I've got debris off the starboard bow," 9-LOM said. "That's probably
a good sign."
The debris stretched on for another few hundred meters before the
two of them came up on the smoking debris of the Interloper. The
fires were dying down, and most of the snow had settled.
"I'll set down next to the docking bay. It appears to be blown
"Alright, then we'll search the cargo holds. Try to make it fast,
though. You heard what High Command said about what happens when
that container gets cold. I don't wanna be around when that happens."
"I roger that."
They set the snowspeeder down, and popped the cockpits. As they
approached the Interloper, they noticed that the main docking
door had been blown out, due to the impact of the collision. It
lay about 30 meters away, in a snowdrift. 9-LOM and Janson climbed
up into the hatch, and looked around. The bulkheads of the Corvette
were a little crumpled, but the craft was otherwise intact, except
for the destroyed bridge section. Janson unclipped a flashlight
from his belt, and shined it around in the main hallway.
"Well, I sure wouldn't have wanted to have been here when this
thing crashed," he said as he swing his light around, illuminating a
few dead bodies. "When this thing hit, it must have hit hard."
"Yes, it appears so."
As they continued towards the cargo hatch, they were mainly silent,
until Janson decided to speak up.
"Are you always this quiet."
"Usually, when I have a job to do, and nothing's shooting at me,"
The droid replied.
"Why don't you try to lighten things up? I mean, most humans engage
in some form of small-talk to pass the time."
"'Small-talk'? This does not compute."
"'Does not compute'? That sounds like some sort of syntax error
that a machine would say."
"Syntax error. I'll have to remember that. I am a machine, you
"Yes, I believe I noticed that," Janson said with a grin.
They stepped through the cargo access hatch, and looked around.
Equipment was strewn everywhere, glass was broken, and shelves were
tipped. 9-LOM walked into the rear area of the cargo compartment,
and sifted through some junk. He came up with a container, about
2 feet in length, filled with clear liquid.
"I think this is what we came here for."
"Yep, that looks like it. Let's get out of here before those pirates
The two of them backtracked to the external hatch of the Interloper,
and started out towards the snowspeeder. However, the sound of fighter
engines stopped them dead in their tracks.
Two Z-95s swooped in from overhead, and popped a few shots at the
ground in front of them. 9-LOM lobbed the container to Janson, and
motioned for him to head towards the snowspeeder.
"Go! Go! I'll keep them busy! Prep the ship!" he yelled, and unslung
his disruptor rifle. Janson sprinted out into the clear, making
a mad dash for the snowspeeder. 9-LOM switched off the safety on
the rifle, and took aim at one of the Headhunters as it came around
for another strafing run. Shots traced up the snow towards 9-LOM's
feet, but he stepped out of the way just in time, spinning around
and popping a shot up into the craft's engines as it blew over his
head. Janson stopped just long enough to turn around and see the
disruptor bolt hit the Headhunter in the left engine, blowing it
and the left wing clean off. The Z-95 rocketed into the ground,
destroying itself on impact. The second Headhunter peeled away for
the moment, and 9-LOM took advantage of this opportunity. He slung
his rifle back over his shoulder, and ran for the snowspeeder. Janson
hopped into the gunnery seat as 9-LOM got into the pilot's section.
"Nice shot," Janson said as he closed his cockpit, and armed the
power harpoon on the rear of the snowspeeder.
"Thanks, I get that a lot," 9-LOM said as he closed his cockpit and
lifted the speeder off. He brought the ship around, and throttled
up to maximum, vectoring in on Echo Base. However, the other Z-95
Headhunter came in from above, popping a few shots at the unshielded
"Aah! We're losing power'" 9-LOM said. "Let's see if we can drop
this loser, though. Arm the tow cable."
"I copy," Janson replied.
The Headhunter pulled in behind them, and tried to go for a good
firing angle. 9-LOM kept weaving and dodging side to side, to keep
the Z-95 from getting an accurate shot. Laser blasts flew past on
the left and right, but none hit the snowspeeder.
"Ready with that harpoon," 9-LOM called back to Janson.
"I'm way ahead of you'"
Janson fired off the power harpoon, which sailed back and connected
with the cockpit of the Z-95, the fusion tip boring though the duraplast
cockpit and securing itself just to the left of the pilot's face.
9-LOM immediately felt the tow cable get taut as the Z-95 pilot
instinctively tried to evade, and then 9-LOM swung the snowspeeder
up, and then back down. The motion of the speeder had a whiplike
effect on the tow cable, lifting the Headhunter up a bit, and then
slamming it back down.
Janson flipped a switch, and the tow cable lanyard pulled itself
out of the snowspeeder's rear compartment just as the Z-95 hit the
ground. The right wing crumpled as the Z-95 hit, and the craft began
to spin before catching on fire. The pilot ejected from the critically
damaged craft, just barely getting clear before it exploded.
9-LOM's snowspeeder dipped a bit, and then began to slow down.
"We're losing power' auxiliary heater, offline. Engine thrusters,
offline. Weapons systems, offline. I'm gonna bring it in for a landing.
We're gonna have to walk for the rest of this trip." 9-LOM heard
Janson sigh, and then he landed the speeder and got out. Janson
hopped out, carrying the solution's container and an emergency pack,
which is standard issue on all recon missions.
"Here, you take this," Janson said as he hefted the large emergency
pack to 9-LOM. 9-LOM took it, and slung it over his shoulders. "How
far are we from Echo Base?"
"The last reading said about 4 klicks. Not too bad."
"Maybe not for you. You're a machine. I'm a human, and it's cold
"I like griping'"
They continued on like this for another few minutes, with Janson
griping, and 9-LOM telling him to shut up, before something dawned
"Hey Janson, check the container."
"Oh yeah'" He said as he pulled the capsule out of his backpack,
and held it to the light. "Oh damn."
"What is it?"
"It's starting to crystallize. We've got problems'"
"Yeah, we do. We'd better get back to base as soon as possible.
You have a comm on you?"
"No' It was damaged when we took the snowspeeder down. Sorry."
"Well, it looks like we'll be sticking together until we get to
base, or they send someone out to find us."
"Great. They'll probably send someone out when this bomb
we're carrying goes off," 9-LOM said.
So the two of them trudged on through the snow, the container continued
to crystallize, and the sun began to set. It was pretty boring,
but it didn't stay that way.
"Put your hands up!" called a voice from behind Janson, who instinctively
did as he was told. 9-LOM turned' to see a human of about medium
height with short brown hair, holding a holdout blaster to the back
of Wes Janson's head. "I want that capsule. You shot down my partner,
but I am not going away from here empty-handed."
9-LOM took advantage of the apparent pirate's involvement with
holding Janson hostage and whipped out his machine pistol, leveling
it off at the pirate's head. "Drop it, or I'll put you all over
the snow. It won't be any big loss to me."
The pirate spun to fire on 9-LOM, but the droid was faster, stepping
in towards the man and elbowing him in the gut, then kicking him
in the shin. 9-LOM then grabbed the pistol from the man's hand,
and lobbed it out into the snow. "I suggest you do as your told."
Janson turned around and unholstered his own standard-issue blaster
pistol, aiming at the pirate. "I figured you'd had enough when we
towed you into the ground."
"I don't die easily," the pirate said with a smirk.
"Well, it doesn't look like you're getting the capsule from us,"
9-LOM said. "I doubt you know the real deal behind it, and anyway,
how are you going to get off-planet if you do manage to somehow
get it from us?"
"Um' I didn't think of that."
"That's what I thought."
"Hey, it could be worse. The solution could have started crystallizing'"
However, a slight hissing emanating from Janson's pack interrupted
their conversation. Janson quickly shrugged the pack off, and pulled
out the container holding the solution. It was almost completely
crystallized now, and the top was starting to hiss, as if pressure
was building inside. Janson dropped the container out of reflex,
but 9-LOM stepped in and caught it before it could hit the snow.
"You moron! Dropping it in the snow would just accelerate the crystallization
process. Do you want it to blow up right here and now?" 9-LOM exclaimed.
"Whoa now. 'Crystallization process'? 'Blow up'? What are you talking
"Son, you clearly don't know what you're dealing with here, do
you?" 9-LOM inquired.
"My boss said I was to pick up a container of some highly-valuable
liquid off of a Corellian Corvette."
"That's all he told you?"
"What we're holding here is a bomb. If it gets cold, it
crystallizes. When it's done crystallizing, it'll vaporize a large
chunk of wherever it is. I do not want to be around when
that happens. Does this make more sense to you know?"
The pirate stepped back a foot, then stared wide-eyed at the bomb,
then at 9-LOM, and then at Janson. "I'm getting out of here!"
"Oh no you're not," Janson said. "We need to bring you in for interrogation.
Besides, if we let you go, who knows where you'll go, or what you'll
do. You're with us now."
The pirate's shoulders slumped, and he stepped back towards the
two Alliance personnel. "Alright, you win."
"I knew he'd see it our way," Janson said with a grin.
The three of them trekked on into the fields of ice as the sun
began to set. The wind picked up, and the temperature dropped. Janson
pulled out a field lamp from the emergency pack, and turned it on.
It did very little in the windy snowstorm that swirled around them.
Eventually, the three of them stopped to rest, setting up an emergency
tent and passing emergency rations amongst themselves. 9-LOM didn't
eat anything, being a droid.
"By the way, my name's Harker. Mitchell Harker," the pirate said
"What?" Janson asked as he started to doze off.
"My name. It's Mitchell Harker."
"Ah, I'm Wes Janson, and my partner for this lovely evening is
9-LOM, part of the Infiltrators, I think."
"This is correct."
Harker nodded, and looked around. "Well, what do we do now?"
"We wait until daylight, and then we can keep moving."
"Is it going to get much colder?"
"This is Hoth. Of course it gets colder."
"Hey, at least the bomb seems to have stabilized itself'"
The container took this opportunity to start hissing again, louder
than before. Janson lifted it out of the pack, and shone the emergency
light on it.
"If there's any one thing I learned from being a protocol droid,
it's that 'uh oh' is bad in any language. It's done crystallizing,
"Yep," Janson replied with a nod.
"Well, can't we rig up some sort of beacon or something? Something
that'll get someone down here to help us?" Harker asked.
"Nope, my comm's busted," Janson said.
"I can rig up something, if you know the Alliance base frequency,
and if you've got a transmitter and some sort of power source."
Harker said as the hissing increased.
"It might work'" Janson replied as he pulled out his comm unit,
and popped it open. He handed it to Harker, who started fiddling
with some wires.
"I just need a power source now."
"I've got one," 9-LOM said.
"Where?" Janson and Harker asked in unison.
"In my head. My servomotor generator can create enough charge to
run a comm for a while, at least."
"Better than nothin'," Harker said as 9-LOM popped open a panel
on the back of this head, and told Janson what to remove.
"Remember, I won't be able to move, but I'll still be able to talk.
"Oh, like kicking you while you're down, or spray-painting you
weird colors, or-" Janson asked.
"Yeah, that kind of stuff. If you do any of that, I swear-"
"You'll do what?" Janson asked as he removed the power generator.
"You can't move," he said with a grin.
"I, oh, yeah."
Harker rigged up the generator to the comm, and fiddled with it
a bit. "Alright, I just need the Alliance frequency, and then I'll
start transmitting a distress beacon message."
Janson tapped in the code, and the homemade beacon started up.
"Sir," Toryn Farr, Echo Base's comm officer said to Carlist Rieekan,
the commanding officer of the Rebel base. "I've got a distress beacon
at mark 2.16. It's along the vector that the Recon 2 snowspeeder
took before we lost contact. Should I send a scout?"
"Wait on that, Farr. We'll see what we pick up."
"As ordered sir."
"Well, the beacon's up," Harker said, but then the hissing got
louder from the container. "Oh man' this is bad."
"Ya' think? When did the idea dawn on you?" Janson asked sarcastically.
"Well, I say we unhook the beacon, and start 9-LOM here back up."
Janson rose to unplug the generator from the comm unit.
"No! We'll stand a better chance if we leave the beacon up."
"Are you crazy?" 9-LOM asked.
"We are not leaving 9-LOM here. Now give me the generator, so we
can leave. Besides, what good does the beacon do us if this capsule
explodes while we sit next to it?"
"Yes, yes, do what Janson says." 9-LOM said hastily.
Janson reached over and unplugged the beacon, and then set it back
in place in the back of 9-LOM's head. 9-LOM stood, and then gestured
for the three of them to start off.
"What about the container?" Janson asked.
"What about it? I'm not prepared to hold it as it explodes. I want
to live past today."
"Good point." Janson said, and then hurried over to 9-LOM's side
as he broke into a jog.
"I say we get the hell outta here, as fast as we can," 9-LOM said,
hearing the hiss from the container increase in volume. The container
cracked, and the crystal spread out from the container. Harker caught
up with them, and the three of them sprinted through the snow, desperate
to get as far away from the cooling time bomb as they could.
They got out about two hundred meters before Harker stopped, struggling
to catch his breath. "How... much farther... before... we're clear?"
"I don't know. Echo Base didn't tell us-"
And that's when the bomb went off. Night turned to day as the container
lit up the sky. The crystal structure completely forming and igniting,
blowing the emergency camp apart before the explosion started to
spread. The shockwave hit the three of them like gale-force winds,
lifting them up and throwing them backwards. They hit the ground
hard, and that's when everything went black.
"Sir, the beacon is gone. We've lost contact."
"Well, keep scanning the sector-"
The scanners lit up as they picked up the explosion. A few seconds
later, the shockwave rolled in and rocked the foundation of the
base a bit, causing some loose snow to drop from the ceiling.
Daylight came up on the fields of Hoth shining off the newly fallen
snow. The debris had settled, and 9-LOM brought himself online,
and found himself staring into the face of Harker.
"Syntax error... system malfunction," 9-LOM mumbled before he righted
himself, and got his bearings. "What happened?"
"You took a blow to the head, apparently," 9-LOM heard Janson's
voice and he looked to his left. Janson walked over, a bruise on
his right cheek, but otherwise okay. He grinned widely and held
up his comm. "The explosion jarred my comm, and it's fixed. I called Echo Base, and they're sending a rescue team. We're gonna be
alright. By the way, you've mumbled about 'syntax' on two separate
occasions. Any particular fascination with that word?"
9-LOM stood, and dusted snow off his armored chassis. "It's part
of what I am. Mechanical language for the droid part, sentence structure
for the protocol programming. I guess it's just something I can't
"Well, 9-LOM sounds a little ungainly. Would you mind being called
9-LOM thought about this for a moment, and then looked at Janson.
"Why no, no I wouldn't," 9-LOM, or rather, Syntax, replied.
"Syntax, it has a nice ring to it," Harker said with a grin.
"Yes, it does, doesn't it?" the droid replied as a pair of rescue
snowspeeders skimmed overhead and slowed to a stop.