by Max Barry

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by The Swinging Jungle of Baloo Kingdom. . 23 reads.

Rome Wars: A New Pope (Part 2)


[The gargantuan rock formations are shrouded in a strange foreboding mist and the ominous sounds of unearthly creatures fill the air. KOE moves cautiously through the creepy rock canyon, inadvertently making a loud clicking noise as he goes. He hears a distant, hard, metallic sound and stops for a moment. Convinced he is alone, he continues on his way. In the distance, a pebble tumbles down the steep canyon wall, and a small dark figure darts into the shadows. A little further up the canyon, a slight flicker of light reveals a pair of eyes in the dark recesses only a few feet from the narrow path. The unsuspecting robot waddles along the rugged trail until suddenly, out of nowhere, a powerful magnetic ray shoots out of the rocks and engulfs him in an eerie glow. He manages one short electronic squeak before he topples over onto his back. His bright computer lights flicker off, then on, then off again. Out of the rocks scurry three Deflators, no taller than KOE. They holster strange and complex weapons as they cautiously approach the robot. They wear grubby cloaks and their faces are shrouded so only their glowing eyes can be seen. They hiss and make odd guttural sounds as they heave the heavy robot onto their shoulders and carry him off down the trail.]


[The eight Deflators carry KOE out of the canyon to a huge tank-like vehicle the size of a four-story house. They weld a small disk on the side of KOE and then put him under a large tube on the side of the vehicle and the little robot is sucked into the giant machine. The filthy little Deflators scurry like rats up small ladders and enter the main cabin of the behemoth transport.]


[It is dim inside the holding area of the Cardcrawler. KOE switches on a small floodlight on his forehead and stumbles around the scrap heap. The narrow beam swings across rusty metal rocket parts and an array of grotesquely twisted and maimed astro-robots. He lets out a pathetic electronic whimper and stumbles off toward what appears to be a door at the end of the chamber.]


[KOE enters a wide room with a four-foot ceiling. In the middle of the scrap heap sit a dozen or so robots of various shapes and sizes. Some are engaged in electronic conversation, while others simply mill about. A voice of recognition calls out from the gloom.]

NAIS: KOE? KOE! It is you! It is you!

[A battered NAIS scrambles up to KOE and embraces him.]


[The enormous Cardcrawler lumbers off toward the magnificent twin suns, which are slowly setting over a distant mountain ridge.]


[Four Callistan tsartroopers mill about in front of the half-buried lifepod that brought KOE and NAIS to Tatooine. A trooper yells to an officer some distance away.]

First Tsartrooper: Someone was in the pod. The tracks go off in this direction.

[A second tsartrooper picks a small bit of metal out of the sand and gives it to the first tsartrooper.]

Second Tsartrooper: Look, sir -- droids.


[The Cardcrawler moves slowly down a great sand dune.]


[NAIS and KOE noisily bounce along inside the cramped prison chamber. KOE appears to be shut off.]

NAIS: Wake up! Wake up!

[Suddenly the shaking and bouncing of the Cardcrawler stops, creating quite a commotion among the mechanical men. NAISís fist bangs the head of KOE whose computer lights pop on as he begins beeping. At the far end of the long chamber a hatch opens, filling the chamber with blinding white light. a dozen or so Deflators make their way through the odd assortment of robots.]

NAIS: Weíre doomed.

[A Deflator starts moving toward them.]

NAIS: Do you think theyíll melt us down?

[KOE responds, making beeping sounds.]

NAIS: Donít shoot! Donít shoot! Will this never end?


[The Deflators mutter gibberish as they busily line up their battered captives, including KOE and NAIS, in front of the enormous Cardcrawler, which is parked beside a small homestead consisting of three large holes in the ground surrounded by several tall moisture vaporators and one small adobe block house. The Deflators scurry around fussing over the robots, straightening them up or brushing some dust from a dented metallic elbow. The shrouded little creatures smell horribly, attracting small insects to the dark areas when their mouths and nostrils should be. Out of the shadows of a dingy side-building limps Terra Nova, a large burly man in his mid-fifties. His reddish eyes are sunken in a dust-covered face. As the farmer carefully inspects each robot, he is closely followed by his slump- shouldered nephew, Baloo. One of the vile little Deflators walks ahead of the farmer spouting an animated sales pitch in a queer, unintelligible language. A voice calls out from one of the huge holes that form the homestead. Baloo goes over to the edge and sees his Dollystana standing in the main courtyard.]

Dollystana: Baloo, tell Terra Nova that if he gets a translator to be sure it speaks NSG.

Baloo: It looks like we donít have much of a choice but Iíll remind him.

[Baloo returns to his uncle as they look over the equipment for sale with the Deflator leader.]

Terra Nova: I have no need for a protocol droid.

NAIS: (quickly) Sir -- not in an environment such as this -- thatís why Iíve also been programmed for over thirty secondary functions thatÖ

Terra Nova: What I really need is a droid that understands the binary language of moisture vaporators.

NAIS: Vaporators! Sir -- My first job was programming binary load lifterÖ very similar to your vaporators. You could sayÖ

Terra Nova: Do you speak NSG?

NAIS: Of course I can, sir. Itís like a second language for meÖ Iím as fluent in NSG.

NAIS: All right shut up! (turning to Deflator) Iíll take this one.

NAIS: Shutting up, sir.

Terra Nova: Baloo, take these two over to the garage, will you? I want you to have both of them cleaned up before dinner.

Baloo: But I was going into Koishi Station to pick up some power convertersÖ

Terra Nova: You can waste time with your friends when your chores are done. Now come on, get to it!

Baloo: All right, come on! And the red one, come on. Well, come on, Red, letís go.

[As the Deflators start to lead the three remaining robots back into the Cardcrawler, KOE lets out a pathetic little beep and starts after his old friend NAIS. He is restrained by a slimy Deflator, who zaps him with a control box. Terra Nova is negotiating with the head Deflator. Baloo and the two robots start off for the garage when a plate pops off the head of the red astro-droidís head plate and it sparks wildly.]

Baloo: Uncle NovaÖ

Terra Nova: Yeah?

Baloo: This K-O unit has a bad motivator. Look!

Terra Nova: (to the head Deflator) Hey, whatíre you trying to push on us?

[The Deflator goes into a loud spiel. Meanwhile, KOE has sneaked out of line and is moving up and down trying to attract attention. He lets out with a low whistle. NAIS taps Baloo on the shoulder.]

NAIS: (pointing to KOE) Excuse me, sir, but that K-O unit is in prime condition. A real bargain.

Baloo: Uncle NovaÖ

Terra Nova: Yeah?

Baloo What about that one?

Terra Nova: (to Deflator) What about that blue one? Weíll take that one.

[With a little reluctance the scruffy dwarf trades the damaged astro-droid for KOE.]

Baloo: Yeah, take it away.

NAIS: Uh, Iím quite sure youíll be very pleased with that one, sir. He really is in first-class condition. Iíve worked with him before. Here he comes.

[Terra Nova pays off the whining Deflator as Baloo and the two robots trudge off toward a grimy homestead entry.]

Baloo: Okay, letís go.

NAIS: (to KOE) Now, donít you forget this! Why I should stick my neck out for you is quite beyond my capacity!


[The garage is cluttered and worn, but a friendly peaceful atmosphere permeates the low grey chamber. NAIS lowers himself into a large tub filled with warm oil. Near the battered Landspeeder little KOE rests on a large battery with a cord to his face.]

NAIS: Thank the maker! This oil bath is going to feel so good. Iíve got such a bad case of dust contamination, I can barely move!

[KOE beeps a muffled reply. Baloo seems to be lost in thought as he runs his hand over the damaged fin of a small two-man Skyhopper spaceship resting in a low hangar off the garage. Finally Balooís frustrations get the better of him and he slams a wrench across the workbench.]

Baloo: It just isnít fair. Oh, Mongo is right. Iím never gonna get out of here!

NAIS: Is there anything I might do to help?

[Baloo glances at the battered robot. A bit of his anger drains and a tiny smile creeps across his face.]

Baloo: Well, not unless you can alter time, speed up the harvest, or teleport me off this rock!

NAIS: I donít think so, sir. Iím only a droid and not very knowledgeable about such things. Not in this region, anyways. As a matter of fact, Iím not even sure which region Iím in.

Baloo: Well, if thereís a bright center to the universe, youíre in the region that itís farthest from.

NAIS: I see, sir.

Baloo: Uh, you can call me Baloo.

NAIS: I see, sir Baloo.

Baloo: (laughing) Just Baloo.

NAIS: And I am NA-IS, human-cyborg relations, and this is my counterpart, KOE.

Baloo: Hello.

[KOE beeps in response. Baloo unplugs KOE and begins to scrape several connectors on the robotís head with a chrome pick. NAIS climbs out of the oil tub and begins wiping oil from his bronze body.]

Baloo: You got a lot of carbon scoring here. It looks like you boys have seen a lot of action.

NAIS: With all weíve been through, sometimes Iím amazed weíre in as good condition as we are, what with the Bluecrownites and all.

Baloo: You know of the Rebellion against the Callistan Empire?

NAIS: Thatís how we came to be in your service, if you take my meaning, sir.

Baloo: Have you been in many battles?

NAIS: Several, I think. Actually, thereís not much to tell. Iím not much more than an interpreter, and not very good at telling stories. Well, not at making them interesting, anyways.

[Baloo struggles to remove a small metal fragment from KOEís neck joint. He uses a larger pick.]

Baloo: Well, my little friend, youíve got something jammed in here real good. Were you on a cruiser orÖ

[The fragment breaks loose with a snap, sending Baloo tumbling head over heels. He sits up and sees a twelve-inch three-dimensional hologram of The Gold Mines, the Bluecrownite senator, being projected from the face of little KOE. The image is a rainbow of colors as it flickers and jiggles in the dimly lit garage. Balooís mouth hangs open in awe.]

The Gold Mines: Help me, Kirby. Youíre my only hope.

Baloo: Whatís this?

[KOE looks around and sheepishly beeps an answer for NAIS to translate. The Gold Mines continues to repeat the sentence fragment over and over.]

NAIS: What is what?!? He asked you a questionÖ (pointing to The Gold Mines) What is that?

[KOE whistles his surprise as he pretends to just notice the hologram. He looks around and sheepishly beeps an answer for NAIS to translate. The Gold Mines continues to repeat the sentence fragment over and over.]

The Gold Mines: Help me, Kirby. Youíre my only hope. Help me, Kirby. Youíre my only hope.

NAIS: Oh, he says itís nothing, sir. Merely a malfunction. Old data. Pay it no mind.

[Baloo becomes intrigued by the beautiful girl.]

Baloo: Who is she? Sheís beautiful.

NAIS Iím afraid Iím not quite sure, sir.

The Gold Mines: Help me, KirbyÖ

NAIS: I think she was a passenger on our last voyage. A person of some importance, sir -- I believe. Our captain was attached toÖ

Baloo: Is there more to this recording?

[Baloo reaches out for KOE but he lets out several frantic squeaks and a whistle.]

NAIS: Behave yourself, KOE. Youíre going to get us in trouble. Itís all right, you can trust him. Heís our new master.

[KOE whistles and beeps a long message to NAIS.]

NAIS: He says heís the property of Kirby, a resident of these parts. And itís a private message for him. Quite frankly, sir I donít know what heís talking about. Our last master was Captain SCPF, but with what weíve been through, this little K-O unit has become a bit eccentric.

Baloo: Kirby? I wonder if he means old man Kirb?

NAIS: I beg your pardon, sir, but do you know what heís talking about?

Baloo: Well, I donít know anyone named Kirby, but old Kirb lives out beyond the dune sea. Heís kind of a strange old hermit.

[Balooís gazes at the beautiful young princess for a few moments.]

Baloo: I wonder who she is. It sounds like sheís in trouble. Iíd better play back the whole thing.

[KOE beeps something to NAIS.]

NAIS: He says the restraining bolt has short circuited his recording system. He suggests that if you remove the bolt, he might be able to play back the entire recording.

[Baloo looks longingly at the lovely, little princess and hasnít really heard what NAIS has been saying.]

Baloo: Hím? Oh, yeah, well, I guess youíre too small to run away on me if I take this off! Okay.

[Baloo takes a wedged bar and pops the restraining bolt off KOEís side.]

Baloo: There you go.

[The princess immediately disappearsÖ]

Baloo: Well, wait a minute. Whereíd she go? Bring her back! Play back the entire message.

[KOE beeps an innocent reply as NAIS sits up in embarrassment.]

NAIS: What message? The one youíre carrying inside your rusty innards!

[A woman's voice calls out from another room.]

Dollystana: Baloo? Baloo! Come to dinner!

[Baloo stands up and shakes his head at the malfunctioning robot.]

Baloo: All right, Iíll be right there, Aunt Dollystana.

NAIS: Iím sorry, sir, but he appears to have picked up a slight flutter.

[Baloo tosses KOEís restraining bolt on the workbench and hurries out of the room.]

Baloo: Well, see what you can do with him. Iíll be right back.

NAIS: (to KOE) Just you reconsider playing that message for him.

[KOE beeps in response.]

NAIS: No, I donít think he likes you at all.

[KOE beeps.]

NAIS: No, I donít like you either.


[Balooís Aunt Dollystana, a warm, motherly woman, fills a pitcher with blue fluid from a refrigerated container in the well- used kitchen. She puts the pitcher on a tray with some bowls of food and starts for the dining area. Baloo sits with his Uncle Nova before a table covered with steaming bowls of food as Aunt Dollystana carries in a bowl of red grain.]

Baloo: You know, I think that K-O unit we bought might have been stolen.

Terra Nova: What makes you think that?

Baloo: Well, I stumbled across a recording while I was cleaning him. He says he belongs to someone called Kirby.

[Terra Nova is greatly alarmed at the mention of his name, but manages to control himself.]

Baloo: I thought he might have meant old Kirb. Do you know what heís talking about? Well, I wonder if heís related to Kirb.

[Terra Nova breaks loose with a fit of uncontrolled anger.]

Terra Nova: That old manís just a crazy old wizard. Tomorrow I want you to take that K-O unit into Moorhead and have its memory flushed. Thatíll be the end of it. It belongs to us now.

Baloo: But what if this Kirby comes looking for him?

Terra Nova: He wonít, I donít think he exists any more. He died about the same time as your father.

Baloo: He knew my father?

Terra Nova: I told you to forget it. Your only concern is to prepare the new droids for tomorrow. In the morning I want them on the south ridge working out those condensers.

Baloo: Yes, sir. I think those new droids are going to work out fine. In fact, I, uh, was also thinking about our agreement about my staying on another season. And if these new droids do work out, I want to transmit my application to the Callistan Academy this year.

[Terra Novaís face becomes a scowl, although he tries to suppress it.]

Terra Nova: You mean the next semester before harvest?

Baloo: Sure, thereíre more than enough droids.

Terra Nova: Harvest is when I need you the most. Only one more season. This year weíll make enough on the harvest so Iíll be able to hire some more hands. And then you can go to the Callistan Academy next year.

[Baloo continues to toy with his food, not looking at his uncle.]

Terra Nova: You must understand I need you here, Baloo.

Baloo: But itís a whole Ďnother year.

Terra Nova: Look, itís only one more season.

[Baloo pushes his half-eaten plate of food aside and stands.]

Baloo: Yeah, thatís what you said last year when Mongo left.

Dollystana: Where are you going?

Baloo: It looks like Iím going nowhere. I have to finish cleaning those droids.

[Resigned to his fate, Baloo paddles out of the room. Terra Nova mechanically finishes his dinner.]

Dollystana: Terra, he canít stay here forever. Most of his friends have gone. It means so much to him.

Terra Nova: Iíll make it up to him next year. I promise.

Dollystana: Balooís just not a farmer, Terra. He has too much of his father in him.

Terra Nova: Thatís what Iím afraid of.


[The giant twin suns of Tatooine slowly disappear behind a distant dune range. Baloo stands watching them for a few moments, then reluctantly enters the doomed entrance to the homestead.]


[Baloo enters the garage to discover the robots nowhere in sight. He takes a small control box from his utility belt similar to the one the Deflators were carrying. He activates the box, which creates a low hum, and NAIS, letting out a short yell, pops up from behind the Skyhopper spaceship.]

Baloo: What are you doing hiding there?

[NAIS stumbles forward, but KOE is still nowhere in sight.]

NAIS: It wasnít my fault, sir. Please donít deactivate me. I told him not to go, but heís faulty, malfunctioning; kept babbling on about his mission.

Baloo: Oh, no!

[Baloo races out of the garage followed by NAIS.]