• Pete Fletzer

ZM-B1: A Creepy Star Wars Fan Fiction

Updated: Oct 14, 2021

Homesteaders don’t like Jawas. And it’s not because they smell bad or are really difficult to understand or because they’re the lowest form of junk dealer in the galaxy. No. It’s because ghosts follow them … and sometimes they never leave.

I was a second-generation moisture farmer. My parents came to Tatooine for some unknown reason shortly after I was born. My father disappeared mysteriously one night around my twelfth birthday and my mother went mad. I was sixteen when she went to Mos Espa for supplies and never returned. For the next twenty years I had been working the farm they left me with a handful of droids, saving for the chance to make my escape from this sandy wasteland of a planet called Tatooine.

Every few cycles a moisture farmer can bring in an exceptionally good-sized haul of water vapor from the sand fields. Sometimes it’s enough to store, take care of yourself and make some good credits in one of the Mosses. Business in Mos Eisley are particularly fond of buying vapor for the handful of drinking establishments there, and the docking bays use it for ship maintenance. This year’s moisture harvest was going to be big. The gauges were already redlining ahead of schedule, and I could tell from some of the extreme temperature changes that this was finally going to be a good year.

The Jawas knew it too. When their enormous oxidized sandcrawler came trundling over Heiler’s Dune, I was waiting outside my hut. I wasn’t excited to see them, but I was hoping they’d have what I would need to get every drop I could out of the desert this season. I needed some new droids: one that could program the vaporators and a load lifter to help transport the crop. Getting one would be a victory. If they had both it was a sign of things to come.

I leaned against the curved wall of my stone homestead hut and watched the battered brown rolling junk shop approach in a haze of windswept sand rolling closer and closer to my property. My other droids – a CH model astromech that I called Chip, an R1 monitor droid and my old reliable GNK power bot scurried away to the farm shed I kept that was bigger than what I lived in. They may have been machines, but they seemed to inherently fear being stolen by Jawa scavengers.

The sandcrawler slowed and then came to a sudden creaking stop. The metallic grinding of rusted old gears, the tumbling of droids for sale in the hold and the rattling of chains made for a cacophonous knell alerting me – and anyone in within a few kilometers – that they had arrived. A door popped open at the top of the enormous vehicle, some twenty meters from the ground and a chain dropped to the dusty basin I lived in. A Jawa, presumably the captain, slid down and hustled over to me as I walked slowly toward the traveling used droid shop.

The diminutive, hooded junk dealer called back to the sandcrawler as other doors began to open and I lifted my hand to tell him to stop. “I don’t need to see your whole inventory,” I said, exhausted by the transaction already. “Let me tell you what I want.”

The foreman squawked in what I imagine was surprise. Jawas faces were unseeable and their yellow glowing eyes never moved, making it impossible to tell their expression. Moreover, since I never bothered to learn their language, I understood very few words that they said. He jabbered on at me and wagged a finger in my direction, but I persisted. “All I really need is a load lifter and a programmer.”

The Jawa pondered a moment, lifting a black gloved hand to his hidden face. He asked me something – again, I’m not sure what, and all I told him: “No. I only need those two things.”

He stood a moment then spoke Jawaese and the only thing I understood was his word for ‘load lifter.’ “Let me see that then,” I said. Again, I pressed, “you sure don’t have a programmer?”

After a moment’s hesitation, he called back to the sandcrawler. This time another couple of Jawas shouted something back. He shrugged and spoke at me again in his native tongue. This time I picked up the words “old” and “protocol droid.” I rolled my eyes and remarked, “protocol droids are average programmers at best.” He shrugged indifferently at me as the load lifter he was offering limped off the sandcrawler toward me to inspect. It was disappointing. At one point it was colored orange but most of the paint had scraped off and the gunmetal gray that was beneath was now it’s predominant shade.

There was one thing I understood fluently in Jawaese and that was numbers. We negotiated a price for the load lifter that benefited him and allowed me to not feel entirely taken advantage of. But, without a programmer, my vaporators would be on manual all season, reliant on me, my handful of old robots and luck to reap the full harvest. With the deal done, the Jawa foreman headed back to his mobile scrapheap and was about to go back inside when I finally conceded with a shout: “Alright, tell me more about that protocol droid!”

The Jawa froze, shouted to his crew and within moments, a sky blue CZ unit walked from the base of the sandcrawler. I had seen these older model protocol droids before and they were quite unsettling to me. With their humanoid shape, they always appeared to be an awkwardly walking suit of ancient armor. Not a single wire or gear was visible in the metal plating and the head was designed to feature no discernible mouth for a speaker unit. However, for some reason the Serv-O-Droid Company that designed them opted to put frozen metal lids that never moved and pupils on the photoreceptor eyes, giving the robot a haunted tortured appearance. Karabast, I hated those things.

As it approached it raised a hand in greeting. The metal in its shoulder joint squealed and its feet shuffled through the fluffy sand. “I am ZM-B1 at your service,” it said. The voice was both pleasantly familiar and muffled at the same time. The Jawa went into a sales pitch and the droid began to translate. “He says my vocoder has been damaged but otherwise I am in first class condition. He claims that I am fluent in three million forms of communication and that I am able to program both vaporators and load lifters.” The Jawa continued his sales pitch. “Since you are considering a two for one deal, he says he is willing to give you an unprecedented discount.”

I stepped closer to further examine the droid. It was surprisingly clean considering it had just emerged from a filthy sandcrawler and seemed to flinch when I pulled on some of the metal plating to ensure it was secure. I circled around ZM-B1 as the Jawa watched my inspection from a few meters away and then, I swear I heard it whisper: “Please buy me.”

I ignored it’s plea. I was either hearing things or it was malfunctioning. “What kind of discount are we talking?” I asked then offered a deal that satisfied the scavenger. For the first time in all my years of dealing with them, I felt like I got the price I wanted. I handed over my credits and they removed the restraining bolts from the load lifter and from ZM-B1. I shook my head and said, “Alright, follow me,” as we made our way back to my farm.

As I approached the droid shed R1, Chip and the GNK sheepishly emerged from the workspace. GNK immediately made his way to the load lifter on stubby legs and began to charge its battery. “You’re next, ZM-B1,” I told him.

“Please, call me Zim,” the droid said. “And I won’t be needing a charge. I am fine … for now.”

* *. *. *

I went to bed that night after having shut down the farm for the evening. My droids were stowed in the equipment shed, the lights were extinguished and I laid in my bed as a rare triple full moon lit the night side of the planet in a pale gray. I knew it would be difficult to sleep that in the glare, so I pulled my blanket up over my head and tried to bury it in the pillow to keep the light from my eyes. The plastiblinds on my windows had been broken for years and I only seemed to remember to fix them on bright nights like this. I rolled over on one side, then the other and finally gave up on sleep.

I made my way to the kitchen for a snack past the remaining memories I had of my parents. My mothers clothes were still in a chest in my main sitting room and my father’s sabaac cards sat on a table. He tried to teach me how to play, but I was never really interested. I spent a lot of time with Chip. We had very little need for an astromech on the farm, but my dad let keep it almost as a pet.

I sat at the stone table with some cool blue milk and some instant bread and stared blankly across the baren moonlit dunes. I allowed my mind to wander and think about when I would be able to get to that magic number of credits, what kind of transport I’d get and even where I might go. I dreamed of seeing the colorful jungles of Felucia or the lavish countryside of Naboo, but knew I’d probably settle for Sluis Van or Corellia, get a job building ships and live a normal quiet life.

My silent meditation was fractured by a loud rattling noise from outside - a metallic crash from the droid shed. My first thought was womp rats as I hadn’t seen Tusken Raiders in this area for years, but I grabbed my father’s old blaster from a shelf beside the door, wrapped myself in my robe and made my way outside.

I was barely three meters from my hut when Chip came rolling at top speed from the shed beeping and chirping excitedly. His head spun back toward the shed then to me, then to the shed and back to me again. I had no idea what the robot was saying but it certainly seemed to be anxious about something.

“Come on, buddy,” I said. “Let’s go get that new protocol droid so he can tell me what your so upset about.” Chip emitted an electronic scream at me that sounded like a warning. Then it quickly made its way between me and the shed, blocking my passage. “What’s got you so spooked?” I asked, patting his faded red top and pushed my way past into the shed.

I flipped on a light and expected to see all my robots in the places I left them when I shut down for the evening. What I saw was not that at all. The only droid in sight was R1, the monitor droid, and it was knocked over in the center of the floor with its head sloppily removed from its cylindrical body. “What the kriff?” was all I could muster, and Chip started to whir nervously. “Where’s GNK? Where’s the new guy?”

Chip whimpered.

The shed was essentially one very large room with the door I entered in, some stalls for the droids to rest and charge, and a back door. The stalls were empty, and I noticed the back door was wide open. “Oh, come on,” I whined. “Thieves? On a triple moon? I just bought these guys.”

I held up my blaster, ready to use it and walked cautiously through the back door. In the bright moonlit night, shadows fell across the pallid sandy plain. I saw a set of footprints that I had seen many times before. GNK would shuffle in the sand and leave a trail wherever he went, but the tracks usually disappeared quickly in the ever-shifting winds of Tatooine. The fact that I could still see them meant I could catch up to it. As I started to jog along the path, Chip whistled to me. “Not now, Chip,” I said.

As I followed the trail to the far side of the shed I found GNK. The boxy power droid was on its side, legs still walking and desperately trying to get itself upright. It made its trademark baritone “gonk” sound seemingly asking me for help. I put down my gun and tried to push it back onto its feet, but my footing slid in the loose sand as the weight was too much for me. “Where’s that new load lifter when I need it?” I spat. “I’ll be back for you –” Just then I heard Chip squeal a painful electronic cry that made my heart sink.

I sprinted toward the back door of the shed where I had left my CH astromech but I was too late. Chip was smoldering, his motivator yanked from his head and his photoreceptor lens shattered. It was at that moment I realized I left my gun with the GNK. I spun in the desert powder to head back to get it and standing ten meters ahead of me was ZM-B1, safe and seemingly unharmed.

“Oh, thank the maker they haven’t gotten you,” I said. “Quick, stand guard here while I go get my gun.”

“Do you mean this one?” Zim inquired holding up my father’s gun.

“Yes, and for kriff’s sake, don’t point that thing at me,” I said. “Here, give it to me.”

As I approached Zim to take my weapon I noticed Chip’s gears dangling from the CZ unit’s other. Suddenly a blaster bolt seared my arm, ripping through my robe and barely slicing my bicep. I winced in pain. “Please don’t take another step,” the droid said as carbon heated smoke whispered from the blaster barrel.

I grabbe my arm and shouted, “what the hell is wrong with you? Give me the weapon before I shut you down!”

The droid fired another shot, but it was way off the mark and missed me by at least two meters.

“You won’t be leaving the farm,” Zim said.

“With your aim, I don’t think it’s your decision.” I continued to move toward the droid and it fired again – this time with stunning accuracy. I felt the laser bolt pierce my skin just below my rib and the last thing I remembered was the burning pain that engulfed my entire chest as the bright moonlit sky turned black.

* *. *. *

I never thought about what I should expect when I died. As I emerged from the darkness, I heard rattling chains and grinding gears. I felt movement below me, but it was implied as I had no sense of my body. Light washed over my vision but all I could see was blurred inky blobs.

The next sound I heard was Jawas whispering all around me, circling my presence. Then, through a haze of colorful lights, I swear I saw the vague shape of my father’s face looking down at me. He smiled and his lips parted to speak: “Hello, son,” the face said. “I’ve come back for you.”

His words were comforting as I adapted to my surroundings. I hadn’t seen him in twenty-five years and if this was death, I guess I was ready for it. I heard a whirring sound followed by a metallic click and suddenly my vision became clear – clearer than I had ever remembered. What I saw made me want to scream.

But I couldn’t.

I was inside a grimy sandcrawler surrounded by dozens of Jawas scurrying about the hold. Droid parts littered the floor, hung from chains on the walls and bounced around in crates. To my left, ZM-B1, with it’s back turned, spoke Jawaese to the captain of the crew. I tried to cry out, but there was no way to produce a voice. I was disembodied watching in horror as events unfolded around me. I heard drill blasters fire and plastisteel clanging and watched machines stirring from all sides.

ZM-B1 turned toward me and to my revulsion, it’s faceplate was gone. I would’ve welcomed the creepy photoreceptors and missing mouthpiece over what I saw: it was my father’s face. His hair matted in blood, his skin pale and his eyes empty sockets.

Although I had no feeling in my body, I raised my hands and looked to where they should be. In their place were silver metallic arms and as I looked further, I realized my entire body was covered in shiny blood-stained protocol droid plating. Again, I couldn’t make a noise, but my mind was screaming. I looked to ZM-B1 – or my father – for help and watched as the Jawas reapplied his sky blue faceplate.

“You aren’t going anywhere,” Zim said.

Another whir, another click, and suddenly I was able to scream, but it was not my voice. The metallic blare from the vocoder that produced my shriek forced the Jawas to cover their ears and I heard other droids react in surprise around the sandcrawler.

I reached for my face and when my hands reached it, I heard the clack of metal on metal. I was covered literally from head to toe in a droid plating. There was surprisingly no pain, but I could feel it was screwed through my skin all the way into my bones. I couldn’t tell what was me, and what was droid. I panicked but I was restrained on the slab I laid on, unable to move.

I heard scraping metal footsteps as ZM-B1 walked to my side.

I heard Zim's muffled voice: “We are staying on the farm. Together. Forever.”

* *. *. *

The sandcrawler rolled over Heiler’s Dune and came to a stop in front of a familiar homestead some time later. Maybe it was days, maybe it was years, I had no way of knowing. A couple of young locals – humans it appeared – followed by an old orange load lifter droid came from their hut that sat next to a large droid shed and began speaking to the Jawas who had gone to greet them.

ZM-B1 and I waited patiently in the droid hold of the sandcrawler watching the transaction take place. After a few moments of discussion, the lead Jawa shouted something in our direction. I never could speak Jawa, so I looked to my counterpart.

“Come on, ZM-B2,” Zim said. “We’re home.”

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