I was trying to write something else and this happened instead. Untitled, 2000 words, set shortly after Poe defects to the Resistance, a little while before the events of the film, well before the events of the story I’m working on. A discussion with a mechanic on the care and maintenance of astromech droids. I meant this to be cute, but, TW for mention of droid abuse.
“You know,” Goss Toowers said, leaning in the doorway, “our mechanics are equipped to work on astromechs too.”
Poe glanced up at the Shozer mechanic, caught flat-footed; he had BB-8’s sensor array all spread out on a dropcloth in front of him, and it was clear as anything he was doing his own maintenance work, and he hadn’t planned on rubbing it in anyone’s face exactly, but this was a little bit irregular.
Great start to working with the Resistance, champ, he told himself. Very diplomatic.
“I, ah,” he said. He set the multitool in his hand down carefully. He was a bit nervous as a mechanic, especially with sensitive stuff like this; he always had to lay it out carefully and then constantly re-check and keep everything in relative position so he remembered where it went to put it back together. “You know, you guys have enough to do, keeping up with all the dumb shit I do to the damn craft, I figured, I’d just do the shit I know how to do and not bother you unless it was really a problem.”
Shozer facial expressions were hard to read, since they were big reptilian things; Poe really hoped this guy wasn’t as disgruntled as he looked.
“Fair enough,” Goss said. “But we’ve all been wanting a look at that little astro of yours, he’s different.”
“BB-8 is one of a kind,” Poe said, and it was a defensive catchphrase. He had a reputation for spoiling his droid, for being inappropriately indulgent of the thing, but it was all a pretty calculated plan, which he camouflaged by being really flippant about it. “And um. My mom never let me have a pet so I’ve kind of. Done all the things you’re not supposed to do.”
Goss made an alarming noise, but it was pretty clearly a laugh. “Pilots always fuck up their astromechs,” he said, “we’re used to it. What’s yours do now?”
“Ehm,” Poe said. “Well, I mean. I’m just cleaning the sensor array, I think the weatherseal is starting to go. But you mean, specifically or in general, what’s BB-8’s deal?”
“Yeah,” Goss said, “both specifically and in general. There’s only ever two ways this goes– a pilot either treats their astromech super shitty and the thing gets a complex, or the pilot treats it way too nice and it gets a complex. So I’m figuring, since you’re in here doing this instead of hitting on girls or whatever it is that you hit on, because that’s what pilots do, you’re probably the second kind. So what kind of complex does BB-8 have?”
Poe laughed so hard he almost lost his place, and had to take a moment to re-count the lenses of the sensor array to make sure he had them in the right order. “Oh,” he said, “so you’ve worked with pilots before. Fleet pilots are the worst ones, don’t you think?”
“Depends what you mean by worst,” Goss said, hunkering down to look at the assembly. “Oh holy shit you upgraded the holocam in this thing, that’s like a protocol droid rig.”
“I did,” Poe said. “BB-8, um, really likes taking pictures.” And BB’s love of obsessively-documenting things had, in the past, been extremely useful to Poe, and that was not the sort of thing one mentioned when one was trying to come across stupider than one was. “Also I got a good deal on the parts, don’t get me wrong. I spoil the shit out of my droid but I’m not crazy.”
“So you have a lot of non-spec parts in there, is what I’m getting from this,” Goss said.
“Mm,” Poe said, and shot him a sidelong look, “yes.”
“I bet he’s got a lot of non-standard programming too,” Goss said.
“A little,” Poe said. “I’ve also– I’ve let the AI kind of, develop? I know most people’s policy is to prune that shit back every so often but I’ve found that if you let the quirks work themselves out, the thing winds up smarter? A little idiosyncrasy is kind of worth putting up with if it’s meanwhile developed the smarts to save your ass.”
“Idiosyncrasy,” Goss said, skeptical.
Poe blew dust off the lens assembly, gave it a final polish, and started reassembling it. “BB-8’s got some preferences,” he said, “and I’ve found that instead of trying to rewrite the subroutines that gave rise to them, if I just go with it, I tend to get a better end result? So like. Um.” He was always a little self-conscious about this, because some people got so worked-up over it, like it was a ridiculous request or something. “BB-8’s not a he, or a she, or an it, because a droid isn’t male or female or an object.”
“Oh,” Goss said, sounding interested. “Then what is– BB-8?” He didn’t use a pronoun, and that was hopeful.
“BB-8 likes it when you say ey instead of he or she,” Poe said. “And like. Em for him or her. Eir for his or hers. Emself, not him- or herself.”
“Ey,” Goss said. He squinted, or something like that. Poe had never known a Shozer closely before but he’d had conversations with them. “I think I knew someone who used those before. Well, I’ll try to remember. Does ey get mad if you forget?”
“No no no,” Poe said, immeasurably relieved, “ey’s usually delighted you bothered to try. BB’s spoiled a little, but that doesn’t mean ey’s a total asshole.” He considered that a moment. “Well. I mean. Ey is a total asshole, but not about that.”
“Show me an astro that’s not a total asshole, and I’ll show you an astro whose owner spends way too much time resetting it,” Goss said. “Had a pilot who’d reformat the thing every time it needed a recharge. It had zero personality, never had a chance to develop one– just, back to straight out of the box programming every week or two.”
“That’s awful,” Poe said, sincerely horrified; he had to set down the lens assembly to recover for a moment. There was nothing more uncanny and unpleasant than a brand-new astromech.
“Right?” Goss shook his head. “The thing was so dumb, too, I mean, it had no chance for the learning AI to ever learn anything. Worst part, though?”
“There’s a part that’s worse?” Poe asked.
“Oh yeah,” Goss said. “Worst part is, it knew it. Reformats wipe it clean but that don’t mean it didn’t know that had happened. It fucking knew how dumb it was and that it wasn’t right. So it was all the fun and total lack of sense of humor of a brand-new AI, plus all the glitchy weirdness of an old poorly-maintained AI.”
“I might be sick,” Poe said, and he was kidding, but he actually felt a little queasy. “That’s– isn’t there a law against that?”
“There’s no laws for shit,” Goss said. “I have no idea what happened to that thing, but it don’t half keep me up sometimes at night. It used to cry when its battery got low because it knew what was coming. What a horrorshow. I didn’t know droids could cry. Talk about nightmare fuel.”
“No kidding,” Poe said. He swallowed hard, and picked the lens assembly back up, and finished fitting it back together. He’d used the compressor to get all the sand out of the socket for the lens assembly, then swabbed it out with solvent; now he rubbed it with the cleaning rag before fitting the lens assembly back into it.
“I might have a set of weathersealing gaskets,” Goss said. “If you wanted to replace those instead of cleaning ‘em out all the time.”
“Really?” Poe looked hopeful. “I mean, I thought these were still good, but then ey had condensation inside the lens this morning, and I dunno, I found a lot of grit in there.”
Goss bent in and looked at the gasket. “I mean,” he said, “if it was anything else, I’d say it’s fine, but you cause more damage taking it apart and everything, so if it was bad before it’ll be worse now. For something this sensitive, I’d just replace the gasket. They’re cheap enough. Hang on, I’ll be right back.”
“That’d be so sweet,” Poe said. He pulled the lens assembly back out, and set it carefully down on the dropcloth. To stay busy, he used the compressor to clean out the vent filters in the body seam, they always got dusty.
“Here we go,” Goss said, coming back in with a little box. “I don’t got the custom ones, gotta cut ‘em to size, but you got small fingers, you can probably do it without special tools.”
Shozers only had three fingers, big ones, on each forelimb, and Poe hadn’t really thought about that. “Oh yeah,” he said, “I’ve done it before.”
“You can see why it ain’t my specialty,” Goss said.
“Yeah,” Poe said. He peeled out the old weatherstripping, and sure enough, now he could see where there were cracks in it. Goss held a headlamp to give him more focused light so he could cut the new stuff exactly– the box had a good cutting surface in it, and then Goss helped him with the adhesive to get it to the right consistency. It took about fifteen minutes, but Poe had just spent an hour on the cleaning, so it was a pretty small investment of time, all told.
“That’ll hold better,” Goss said. “Should do you a couple months at least.”
“I think the last time it got replaced was almost a year ago,” Poe said. “I don’t like letting it go that long but.” He made a face. “Fleet requisitions are sometimes a little tricky.”
“You mean you hadn’t sucked up enough to the mechanics,” Goss said.
Poe nodded. “Believe me,” he said, “I know about sucking up to the mechanics. But I ah. I married a fabrication engineer, and that made things– well, you know, just complicated.”
“Oh,” Goss said, “I didn’t know you– oh– uhh.” He was trying to sound polite, but Poe recognized the distinctive sound of someone mid-sentence realizing they’d just flailed themselves into a brick wall of awkwardness. Because yeah. Poe had just defected, and he’d come here alone, and clearly Goss knew that, everyone knew that.
“We got divorced,” Poe said, “like, a year ago, it’s okay. She’s very much a Republic loyalist, it wasn’t going to work out.”
“Sorry,” Goss said.
“I am too,” Poe said. “So you can imagine, like, on top of the personal shit, that just made it real awkward to bother the mechanics about anything.”
“Yeah,” Goss said.
The rest of BB-8’s reassembly, Poe knew like the back of his hand; he tended to give BB-8 a good cleaning once or twice a month, on average, more when it was muddy, and this stuff was easy. Just a big brush, and a couple of screws, and about half an hour of work, and BB-8 was always so pleased upon reboot. Ey had a little just-been-cleaned dance ey always did, and it was one of Poe’s purest delights in this world.
“You wanna see something great?” he asked.
“Sure,” Goss said.
“Lemme just boot em up,” Poe said. “BB-8 loves a cleaning, it’s like, eir favorite thing. Then watch what ey does.”
He fitted the last bit of plating, tightened the screw down until the cover flipped easily over it, and then toggled the reboot switch. BB-8 spun up immediately, eir sensors blinking to awareness, and recognized Poe with a happy little trill.
“Cleaned?” BB-8 asked.
“All clean,” Poe said, grinning at him.
“Whee!” BB-8 said, and did eir dance, spinning in place and then completing a full revolution of the lower sphere, with an abrupt stop and reversal at the end, bringing em straight back to the spot where ey’d started, right next to Poe. “Yay!”
“Aw that’s adorable,” Goss said.
“I told you,” Poe said.
BB-8 noticed Goss, and rolled a little closer to Poe, trilling a wordless little sound of embarrassment. “Hi,” Goss said.
“That’s Goss,” Poe said, “he’s a mechanic here. He helped me replace your weatherproofing seal, your lens won’t fog up anymore!”
“Thanks!” BB-8 said, rolling a little in place. Ey was definitely doing eir best “cute” act. Poe leaned in and kissed the plating just behind eir sensor, where nothing would get smudged.
“That’s my little beep,” Poe said, indulgent like a proud parent. “Pretending like ey has manners, and all.”
“I mean,” Goss said, “for an astromech, that’s very mannerly. You’re welcome, BB-8.”
BB pretended to be shy and burrowed further into Poe’s arms.