by John Thomas
On the small, forested planet of Hundoo, a rusty ribbed boat trolled the shallows of Hilltawn Bay. It had been a productive morning. Kernisha had almost filled her main cooler, when the storm that’d been crawling her way since daybreak, decided to leap over the mountains. Luckily, Kernisha knew the bay like the back of her hand – the one she was born with, not the franken-mech thing that seemed to have a mind of it's own. She yanked in her lines and beached her boat on a rocky pile of an island just as all hell broke loose!
She sprinted across the pebbles, while purple lightning shredded the sky and the Thunder Hounds from her father's stories wailed inside the bruised clouds. “Bark your throats dry you mutts!” Kernisha laughed, ducking into a cave dug out of the bone colored cliff.
"It was time for a smoke break anyways," she panted.
Kernisha tossed her wet jacket on a rock, her butt on another, and sparked her pipe. Smoke danced across the scar on her face, while Nish (as she was known on the docks) watched the rain attack her boat like a swarm of angry grites.
“Glad we didn’t head out to Rooka Ledge, Koo,” Nish said, tapping embers out of her pipe. “We’d have had our asses handed to us.”
“Koo?” she chirped, looking around.
“Dammit Koo! I swear those Jawas must’ve stripped every slaggin piece of common sense out of your hard drive.”
Nish slunk to the opening. “KOO!” she hollered over the storm. “GET IN – ”
Before she could finish, a fiesty K-ZERO-ZERO droid hopped out of the boat and clattered across the beach. It looked like an oversized thermos, with four spidery legs, pencil-thin arms, and metal banana for a head.
“You’re lucky you didn’t get zapped,” Nish scolded. “I don’t need another anchor.”
Koo whistled and chirped excitedly, then shook the water off like a dog.
“Don't worry,” Nish said, bending down and wiping Koo’s optical lenses with the sleeve of her shirt. "It'll probably be a quick one."
“Bee-a-ROOT!” Koo cooed.
“Nah. I’d never toss you overboard,” Nish said. “Well . . . not before I stripped the fractal plates off your remodulator unit to make some shiny new lures!”
Koo let out a flurry of mechanical chatter and skittered behind the rock wearing Nish’s jacket.
“Ahh, don’t worry,” Nish laughed. “You’re stuck with me until I sail the sea between the Heavens. After that, your fate’s in the hands of the Robot Gods . . . I guess.”
The storm, it seemed, was in no hurry at all, and decided to stomp around the bay like a sulking giant. “Guess we better make ourselves at home,” Nish said, groaning as she plopped back down on her rock.
“Thanks,” Nish said, reloading her pipe. “A fire’d be great.”
Koo dashed into the darkness and began rummaging for driftwood. Metal clattered . . . Beeps echoed . . . And junk was tossed. Nish’s wide grin glowed in matchlight while she listened to the sounds of the busy little droid. Koo was the one thing left in Nish's world that she trusted. The only family she had.
“Perfect!” Nish said through a cloud of fragrant smoke, when Koo unloaded a small pile of debris in front of her. Nish picked through it offhandedly, pushing aside the metal, plastic, and bones, then squinted at something unlike everything else. She held the object up as lightning danced outside.
“Looks like someone forgot their diary,” she said.
Nish fanned through the pages between the tattered leather cover. There were drawings and scratchy handwriting. It didn’t look old enough to be worth any credits. And, from the few words she could make out, mentioned nothing about secret fishing spots or tides.
“This’ll work,” she said, tucking the book under the pyramid of sticks she’d built. She struck a match, and had barely touched it to the paper’s edge, when Koo snatched it from the pile.
“Koo!” Nish squawked. “Put that back!”
The little droid ducked behind the rock again, peering over Nish's jacket, and beeping like someone was trying to flick its kill switch.
“Don't tell me you're going soft you rusty nut," Nish laughed. "What, are you going to start writing down all your pretty little thoughts and dreams in that thing?”
Koo stayed hidden, while Nish took a long, contemplative pull from her pipe.
“Fine,” she said, exhaling heavily. “If you're not scared of being dragged into the darkness by whatever's hiding in here . . . then neither am I."
Nish heard frantic beeps, and a slow tear, before a tight ball of paper came flying up from behind the rock and landed at her feet. She chuckled as she wedged it under the sticks. “We’re fishermen, Koo,” she said, putting a match to it, “Not poets.”
The old paper went up quickly; fire devouring the name Nish continued sounding out in her head long after it was consumed.
K-ZERO-ZERO’s hearing receptors registered Kernisha’s words, but the little droid was too busy studying the details inside the book to hold any sort of conversation with its owner. Unlike the other deckhand droids, Koo had an intricately designed system, with the capacity to store and cross-reference enormous amounts of nonlinear data. But this . . . manual . . . as Koo began to think of it, was unlike the ones it was currently programmed to translate to assist Kernisha. It was more irregular. Much more . . . unique. Koo decided it needed to be stored in a very special place – far from all the technical junk. A file was created, designated: THE MOOT MANUAL.
Koo calculated that there wasn’t enough time to scan and store every page before the sky cleared. It could wait until the Fresolon, called Nish, slept. But Koo’s circuits hummed hungrily. So there, in a damp cave, on a crumb of an island, on a remote planet, Koo began a project that would make it one of the most hunted droids in the entire galaxy.
The storm, it turned out, had only just begun.