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The Very Pulse of the Machine

And now I see, with eye serene, the very pulse of the machine - William Wordsworth

9-LOM glanced around his new quarters assignment, his photoreceptors tracking along the blank walls, the unused closet, the unnecessary refresher, the useless bed. He looked back to the doorway, up along the ceiling to the atmospheric control vents which regulated temperature, to the controls on the wall, to the lights, to the mirror mounted on one of the walls, left there from the room's previous occupant. A Quarren, according to the datafiles he'd archived. He looked down along the plush carpeting and over to his R3 unit, R3-T7, Hero, who sat there, waiting for his master to act. Funny, how one droid can own another droid, or so it seemed. Also funny how the mind can wander, even a mechanical mind, allegedly nonsentient, allegedly incapable of surpassing its droid programming. Then again, perhaps 9-LOM wasn't a droid, in the literal sense of the word. 9-LOM looked around, his gaze settling on a specific wall, looking up, then down, analyzing it. He repeated this with the other walls, and then cocked his head to the side. 9-LOM kept his head tilted to the side, listening. His audio receptors allowed him to pick up sounds at frequencies that other organics could not, and he heard the hum of the Mon Cal cruiser's engines. He listened, hearing the engines, and picked up on the idiosyncrasies of the sublights. He had become attuned to the sound of the cruiser's drive motors, but this presented something different. For all intents and purposes, his bunk assignment was identical to what it had been. Still down the hall from Gabriel Leventhal, across the hall from Michael Tolle. Broom closet three doors down on the left, lift at the end of the corridor. What had differed was the location of his bunk. No longer on the MC80 Mon Calamari Cruiser Liberty, but on the Vigilant.

The Liberty, after all, had been destroyed at Endor, but a week or so prior.

Luckily, much of 9-LOM's confidants hadn't been present on the Liberty, but had instead been out defending all they believed in, against the tyranny of the Empire, in their weapons of mass destruction known as X-wings. Yes, the pilots of Rogue, of which 9-LOM had been a member of their ranks. Now, however, he was the leader of Corsair Squadron, the A-wing squadron which he'd started out when he had joined the Starfighter Corps. 9-LOM continued listening, hearing the minute differences in the frequencies of the engines, the tiny variations that allowed high-tech scanners to pick up on the differences in ships of the same class. The literal "fingerprints" of spacefaring vessels. Mon Cal craft emphasized this, through the nature of their design, each one being slightly different, even from within the same model number of ship. And now 9-LOM stood there, listening. This isn't home, 9-LOM thought, straightening his head out. Home... what an abstract thought, especially for a machine. 9-LOM looked back to the walls, then turned around and pointed at Hero. "You stay here," 9-LOM said to the little droid, and then walked out of his quarters, Hero warbling something to the extent of "psychopath..." as he left.

"Watch it with that welder!" Staff Sergeant Mike Hawkyard said, walking over to one of the new techs on the ship as he worked on Hellcat's X-wing. "Give me that!" he said, sounding rather irate as he grabbed the welder out of the tech's hands. "Do you know what you're doing? You could have disrupted the cyclonic fuzial thrust dampening axis drive motor on this craft's top-left engine! Hit the bunks," he said, pointing off to one of the doors leading to the bowels of the ship. "I want you out of my sight. Now move!" By the Sith... Mike thought, How'd I get set up with such low-grade techs? If I had my old staff... he stopped in mid-thought, realizing that the majority of his old staff was dead. He looked back over his shoulder at the Magnetic Containment field, off to the stars, the serene sight that had always calmed him down. He wasn't able to gaze off for long, however, as he heard a loud crash behind him. He turned around to see the left landing strut of Jalb_K's X-wing give way, a Mon Calamari technician leaping away from the collapsing craft just as the left laser cannon smacked into the deck, bending in with a groan that echoed across the hangar, stopping all personnel in their tracks. A pair of Rodians helped the downed Mon Cal tech to his feet, and another group of six techs primed the winch assembly in the ceiling of the hangar to recover the new Rogue Leader's damaged X-wing. Mike squinted, surveying the damage done to the laser cannon, and winced. Chris is gonna kill me... Mike thought. They'd better not need to scramble Corsair right now, or I'm screwed. Knowing his luck, Mike quickly looked up at the scramble warning lights, to make sure they wouldn't begin flashing... and caught something out of the corner of his eye. He slowly turned around, noticing that the majority of the techs were staring at him, the looks on their faces saying "why aren't you in control of the situation?" Mike sighed, resisting the urge to toss a tech, any tech - they were all trying his patience, right through the MagCon field. He pointed to the downed A-wing. "You three, assist them with the cleanup. I want that thing fully operational within the hour," "Yes, sir," the techs replied, and scurried off like little rodents to complete the task. Mike turned around, drawing the back of his hand across his brow, and looked to the entranceway to the hangar. The being who entered was not another techie, nor was it one of the commanding personnel on this ship. The being wasn't even living, per se. It was that droid pilot, 9-LOM or whatever he called himself, wandering into the hangar. He threw a salute, which Mike returned, and then he leaned back against a section of scaffolding. "'ello, Syntax," Mike said, remembering the Corsair pilot's callsign. The two of them had never really met formally, so a greeting was probably in order. "Hello, Staff Sergeant," the droid replied, and continued past him. Mike didn't turn to see where he went, for something else caught his attention. "No, no!" Mike started, standing up and pointing at a Gotal mechanic. "The cord goes into the left port, the left! No, your other left! That's it..." Mike sighed and leaned back against the scaffolding... to find that it wasn't there. Mike went straight back hard on his rear, landing in a clatter of tools hanging at his belt, but rebounded almost as quickly and looked around to make sure no one had seen, or at least that no one was making it look like they'd seen. After confirming his innocence, he glanced around to find the scaffolding that had mysteriously walked away. Upon closer inspection, Syntax was gone, as well.

Matt "Krayt" Houseman perked up at the sound of someone tapping at his office door.
"Enter."
Syntax walked into the room, and looked around, then threw a salute. Krayt returned it, and then nodded to a chair.
"Take a seat, Syntax." The droid did as he was told.
"What brings you this way?"
"I have a request." "Shoot."
"I have a project, and I need certain supplies. Is there a means to acquire these supplies?"
"What's the project?" the Rogue XO asked, his interest piquing.
"I cannot say, sir."
"You can't say... Well, who gave you this project."
"I did."
"Alright... what do you need the supplies for?"
"For my project."
"Ah, I see..." Matt said, perplexed at the droid's roundabout response. "I mean, what are you doing with these supplies?"
"Building my project, of course."

Krayt felt a headache coming on. Matt rubbed his forehead with his hand, setting his datapad down, and then looked Syntax directly in the photoreceptors. "Okay, I'll be straight with you. Basically, all requests go through Mr. Tuttle Dundee, and even then, you'll need to fill out acquisition forms. Forms that include reasons for why you need the materials. You can try to sucker him into getting you what you need, but it isn't likely. Tuttle has other requests to see to right now. It's a very busy time for all of us. I'm sorry." Krayt picked his datapad back up and resumed his work. Syntax nodded once, and then left the room.

Krayt sighed, looking around his relatively-new office, or at least new to him, and put his datapad back down. He looked to the holo of his parents that was sitting atop his desk, and sighed again. And then did a double take. The holo, which Krayt rarely touched, was slightly askew on his desk. It was propped against a small paperweight on the desk, instead of freestanding like it normally was. Krayt picked it up and turned it over, looking at the back of the holo, and noticed that the assembly that allowed the frame to sprout legs and stand on its own had been totally removed from the back of the frame, along with the hinge. Looking along his desk, Krayt noticed that the laser-opener he used to open classified documents was gone as well.

Josh "Hellcat" Kinney walked down the hall towards his bunk, whistling an old Devaronian drinking song, feeling rather pleased with himself. He'd just come from the Sims, being one of the first Rogues to test out the Vigilant's sim chambers. He'd managed to bag an ISD on his first mission and another 9 TIEs in the second, so all in all, life was good. Except, of course, for the destruction of the Liberty, and everything he'd known for the past three years. However, times change, bad things happen, and one learns to move on, taking the good with the bad in stride. No need to dwell on the past, or at least not TOO much. Far better to look to the future, or if you want to consider the past, remember the good times. Hellcat rounded the corner near his bunk, and saw Syntax. More specifically, he saw Syntax standing on a stool, tearing lights out of the ceiling, right outside his bunk. The droid had managed to get one free, and it was sitting in a box on the floor, wires trailing over the side, and was working on a second one. Syntax flipped open one of the attachments on his UniTool Mk. II, jammed it into the edge of the light, and jiggled it around a bit. Then, with his other hand, he grabbed the casing of the light. With a sharp twist, the light came free. Syntax flipped out a pair of wire cutters out of the UniTool and cut the wires, then let the light drop into the box. He looked down to the fellow Rogue, folding the UniTool back up and stepping down off the stool.

"Hello, Hellcat."
"Um... yeah... Hello, sir," the other pilot said, more than a little confused as the droid picked up the box with one hand, the stool in the other, and walked back into his quarters and closed the door.

9-LOM wandered into the training area of the Vigilant, which housed the firing range, simulators, and other pieces of equipment that the ship's crew members used to keep themselves in peak condition, whatever their task might be. 9-LOM walked over to the firing range, where he spotted Marc "Prowler" Derosiers and Josh "Nova" Caton testing their accuracy on long-range targets. They drained their clips as 9-LOM approached, and then noticed the droid as they reloaded their pistols. Prowler looked up, then smiled.
"Hello, sir,"
"Good day, Prowler, Rancor," the droid replied.
"Just honing my accuracy on the course," Nova said. "Care to join us?"
9-LOM glanced around. No one was in the area except for the three of them. 9-LOM emulated the droid equivalent of a shrug, and walked closer.
"Why not? What form of weaponry are you using?"
"MerrSonn 'Power' 5 pistol," Prowler replied, engaging the safety on his and lobbing it over to 9-LOM, who plucked it out of the air with ease. The droid twirled it forward, then back, and then flicked the safety back off.
"I used to own a pair of these, back in the day..." 9-LOM trailed on, looking back to the two pilots.
"A pair? Were you a gunslinger of some kind?" Nova asked.
"Not entirely."
"Care to tell us about this pair of guns...?" Prowler started, slowly smiling, trying to back the machine into letting loose another one of his enigmatic tales about his background, about which most people knew very little - even High Command.
"Not today," the droid replied, rather curtly, and stepped up to one of the firing booths. Hitting a button on the side of the booth, a holographic target wavered in the air, and then solidified itself. 9-LOM took aim one-handed, switched the fire setting to Kill, and fired off a burst of fire at the target, hitting it in the head and chest multiple times. When the clip was dry, 9-LOM turned back around, twirling the pistol once and flicking the safety back on, and ejected the clip and locked in another one, lobbing the pistol back to Prowler.
"Nice shot," Nova commented as the hologram displayed 9-LOM's point spread.
"Yeah, I get that a lot." The droid looked at the spent clip. "You mind if I keep this? For old-time's sake?"
Prowler looked to his squadmate. "What harm can it do?" Nova shrugged a reply. "Go for it."
"Thank you," 9-LOM replied, and then left the area.
After 9-LOM had left the firing range, Prowler stepped back up to the booth and reset the target. He took aim, pulled the trigger, and *click*. Prowler pulled the trigger again. *Click*. He ejected the powerpack, and looked at it. As he suspected, it was dry. He looked back over his shoulder to the doorway where Syntax had left.

9-LOM walked down the hall to the lift, then stepped inside. He took the lift down two levels, exited, and walked down the corridor to Acquisitions, home base of Tuttle Dundee, who was assisting the Vigilant's existing procurement officer.
"Hallo, 9-LOM!" Tuttle said, waving at the droid as it walked into the jumble of junk strewn all over the floor and walls of the Acquisitions office.
"Good day, Mr. Dundee," 9-LOM replied.
"I need some parts. Specifically, a large section of transparisteel, two clamps, a welding torch head, and a small section of metal grating."
"Aye, I donnae if I ken get what ye requested, seeing as ye have not given me a request farm..." Tuttle replied, gesturing with his hand for 9-LOM to produce a request form.
"Jalb_k requests them, for a special project," 9-LOM lied.
"Ah, a special project, ye say? I'll call him on yer... project," Tuttle said, and walked back through the storeroom to his office, and picked up his comlink.
"Mister Reynolds."
"Yes, Mister Dundee."
"I have one of yer pilots in my office, requesting various parts without a form, for a project that ye sent him on."
"Me? What pilot said this?"
"Aye, t'was Syn--" Tuttle stopped in mid-sentence.
"Dundee? Tuttle, what is it?"
"He's... he's gone." Tuttle replied. What he forgot to add, and didn't realize until a little while later, was that a box was also missing from the Acquisitions office.

Over the course of the next two hours, various pieces of relatively-useless equipment began to turn up missing throughout all decks of the Vigilant, spawning rampant rumors and bets as to who was stealing the items, where they were going, and what they were to be used for. Eventually, through deductive reasoning, a handful of pilots sitting in the Lounge managed to pin the thefts down on Syntax.
"You don't think he finally snapped, do you?" Tony "Kid" Marco asked, nursing his mug of ale.
The Lounge was generally deserted, with many off-duty personnel staking out their bunks, to prevent any of their belongings from being lifted by the renegade droid.
"You bet I do," Michael "Mighty" Tolle replied. "I'm surprised no one's tried confronting him."
"He's changed the locks on his bunk doors," Kevin "Gemini" Koernig, security chief, replied.
"We don't know how he did it, but we've got a team trying to slice the locks."
"And this isn't a breach of privacy?" John "Knight" Vorwald replied.
"Not after he's stolen as much as he has, it's not," Kevin said.
"I've told the slicing team to notify me as soon as the lock's been cleared, and I've got a security team on standby for when we breach his quarters."
The four men looked up at the sound of chuckling, emanating from the Lounge's main doorway.
"Slicing? Security team? Breaching?" Chris "Jalb_k" Reynolds said as he walked over to their booth.
"Sounds like you're planning a full-out assault."
"We're not prepared to take chances. You know what a rogue droid is capable of," Kevin replied.
"I know what the Rogue droid is capable of. He was under my command for nearly a year, and now he leads my squadron. He wouldn't snap."
"He just watched his whole command go into disarray, his personal ship get destroyed, and dozens of his friends and fellow pilots die around him in a hail of TIE Fighter fire. Anyone would snap."
"We didn't. And he's a droid. He's probably got more control than most of us."
"We'll see. We're still going to get into his quarters, even if only for... questioning."
Jalb_k shrugged. "So be it. This is your call." He walked off to the bar.

The night droned on, and odd sounds were heard from within 9-LOM's bunk, none of which people could identify readily. 9-LOM spun at the sound of someone knocking at his door, almost totally out of reflex, but then disregarded it and went back to his work.
"Syntax?"
9-LOM turned again at the sound of the voice, which he could pin down with 98% certainty as being Jalb_k, Rogue Leader.
"Syntax, please open up."
"Negative, sir," 9-LOM replied. Looks like this has moved to the higher-ups... he thought.
"Negative? What's that supposed to mean?"
"I cannot open the door, sir."
"I've tried being civil, Syntax. We need to know what's going on in there. The C-Staff is concerned."
"You are a part of the C-Staff. Talk to them. I am doing nothing wrong."
"Syntax? Syntax." Jalb_k turned to Gemini and shrugged. "I tried."
"Well, sir, if you'll step aside, we'll get to work,"
Jalb_k stepped back, and a pair of armed security team members stepped up to the door. By now, a crowd of personnel had accumulated outside Syntax's bunk, some to witness the action, others to try to re-acquire their lost belongings.
"Rerouting codes now," one of the security officers said, tapping in some commands on his datapad, which was linked into the entry lock mechanism outside Syntax's room.
"We're clear in 3... 2... 1," and the door slid open, Gemini, another security officer, and Jalb_k rushing into the room... and not believing what they saw.
Darklighter and Hellcat followed next, curious about the sudden hushed silence, as well as Locker and Bulldog. Jalb_k looked over to Gemini, his jaw hanging, and then saw him catch himself and straighten himself up, switching his pistol's safety back on and dropping it in his holster. The other security officer did the same. Jalb_k glanced around at the other people in the room, gauging their expressions.
He finally snapped... Hellcat's face seemed to say.
What... is it? Jalb_k read from Bulldog's expression.
Must be that glitch in his programming... Locker's face showed, as he began to grin a bit.
But Jalb_k knew it was far more, something more important, a new step for their droid comrade.
"Nothing to see here, people. Let's go," Jalb_k called out, and ushered everyone out of Syntax's room, leaving the droid to care for the greenhouse he'd built.