Sunday, July 8, 2007

Honka’s Final Favor

Honka forced his way through the last of the grapple weeds and hauled himself up onto a mossy plateau overlooking the undulating, crimson marsh he had just traversed. He peered back into the rising mist, his antennae twitching, frantically trying to locate sounds that did not belong in this forsaken swamp. Almost masked by the hoots of squarmiks, the whistling chirrups of tankoo grubs and the soft bubbling of the marsh itself, the sounds soon came; several wheezing breaths, high pitched at first, and then dropping in timbre as his pursuers gained on him. Honka turned to look at the mangrove that sprawled between him and his ship, and to his relief he could see that the stubby blonna trees were lightly spread, hovering above the water and gently drifting in the warm air currents.

The Blonna Mangroves were the only reason for visitors to come to Yasooka, the largest inner moon of Rodia. Second only to the Whistling Waterfalls of Kiffex, the mangroves romanced touring lovers with their serene bobbing and drifting, lulling them into hitherto unheard of relaxed states through the melodic chimes of their sap-lined leaves. The trees themselves rode the airstreams, their musical leaves extracting moisture from the wind, a process within the heart of their stout trunks converting that moisture into food and fuel, the latter of which was then expelled through their roots, making the trees float. These thick, gas filled tubers were known as ‘booster roots’, and the children of Rodian settlers frequently sucked on them for a cheap thrill, that usually ended with a messy landing as the gas was released.

Honka knew that a couple of clicks of blonna trees shouldn’t be too taxing for a Rodian in his shape, but his legs were already tired from struggling through the damp grappler weeds, and now the hounds sounded even closer. He checked his inner pocket and felt the small box next to his chest, and then gritted his teeth as he plunged between the trees.

Drifting saplings glided out of his way as he splashed on, but the older trees were less forgiving, and Honka soon found himself skirting around several stoic groups, slowing his escape. Diamonds of moonlight sparkled through the branches ahead and he sighed a little trumpet through his snout as he realized he was close to the edge of the mangrove, and therefore close to the rocky island where he had landed just a short time ago. His elation was soon dashed however, when he heard the sound of trees slamming into each other, and the victorious baying of the hounds. He spun around, wishing his blaster was in its holster, peering frantically into the murky liquid for a weapon of any kind, but to no avail. A small tree skidded across the surface toward him, barely missing his left shoulder, and two larger trunks parted like blast doors to reveal the pack leader, one of three goor hounds. The beast paced forward, each of its three muscular legs picking a sure footing between the booster roots, its trio of limbs joined at their apex in a large, ugly mass that was all brain and teeth. The goor hound knew the chase was over and it purred contentedly as its companions appeared, flanking Honka, savoring the final kill. Honka quickly turned his back, knowing this would afford him vital seconds as the hounds tried to comprehend his strategy, then he quickly sank, gathering up one, fat root and plonking it into his snout, sucking on it furiously. His cheeks and throat swelled as the gas poured into his body and he felt his chest would explode, which was infinitely preferable to what the goor hounds had in mind. Just as the lead hound leaped forward, its head peeled back to display innumerable rows of teeth, Honka floated up, and the hound flew beneath him. Honka grabbed onto an upper bough, his chest arched to the sky, his legs dangling, as the hound’s momentum sent it crashing teeth-first into the tree. Evolutionary instinct kicked in, and against its better judgment, its jaws slammed shut, tearing a jetpack-sized chunk out of the side of the trunk. As raw fuel erupted from the wound the tree burst forward, shooting the hound back like a cork from a bottle of Ithorian plum fizz, slamming it away into the depths of the mangrove. The other two goor hounds watched, dumbfounded, as Honka’s tree sped off, scattering all plants in its path. Deciding the hunt was over, the hounds snuffled at each other and then began the long trot back to their master’s mansion.

Honka held on tightly, his adrenalin a cocktail of terror and exhilaration. High branches whipped at his face and torso, singing as they beat him relentlessly, and he curled up into a green ball to protect his delicate eyes. After a short spell the whipping subsided, and he risked a look, only to see the small, rocky island drawing closer and rapidly at that. He tentatively released one hand, and realized with alarm that he would not be descending any time soon. So began a frantic attempt to belch, swallowing great gulps of air through his snout, then holding it before letting fly with the contents of his lungs and stomach. The resulting toots sounded like a child’s plastic kloo horn, and he began to panic as the lumpy shape of his camouflaged ship loomed ever closer. Then, as he was almost upon the craft, an enormous expulsion of gas and air bellowed from his snout, and he tumbled to the ground like a blasted mynock, rolling to a stop at the front skid of the ship as the tree continued on its unexpected jaunt across the Yasooka marshland.
Only once Honka was safely strapped in the pilot’s chair, once the nav-comp had plotted the fastest route to Coruscant, and once the ship had broken the moon’s atmosphere, did he allow himself the luxury of contemplating the events of the previous lunar hour.

Landing on Yasooka had been the easy part. A sightseeing visa from the Rodian Ministry of Agriculture was easy to obtain, and this being the low season meant that he would not have to contend with snouty tourists. After piloting his ship to a small, rocky land mass, then activating the camo-tarp, he straddled his mini-skimmer and flew across the mangroves and marshes to Glendo Manor, home of Glendo the Thrice and his clan.

Honka parked the skimmer by the west wall and used a brief repulsor spurt to launch himself over, landing comfortably on the mossy terrace of Glendo’s Naboo-themed garden. He paused, listening intently for any sounds of trouble, especially the kind of trouble that arrived on three legs. When there was none forthcoming, he stole across the immaculate lawn and grasped the base of a towering trellis that snaked up the side of the black stone building. As he climbed, he passed several dark windows, and hoped that Sidewa’s intel was accurate regarding the family’s sleeping pattern. He climbed one more story, then reached a small window that had been slightly cracked open, no doubt to air out the refresher within. Honka slid it fully open, then climbed up a little further before swinging his legs in and sliding into the room. His holster caught briefly on the sill, then snapped in, making a sharp slapping sound against his thigh. The pistol itself was jettisoned from the holster and flew out into the night air, landing several seconds later with a soft thud on the grass below. Honka froze, silently cursed, counted to twenty, and then continued his entry, sliding the window back to its original position.

Judging by the profusion of powders, spice bombs, bejeweled snout tweezers and sweet smelling swabs, he had lucked out. He crept to the door and pressed both antennae to it. Sure enough, the rasping squeak coming from behind the door suggested his target was slumbering deeply. Honka slowly pushed open the door and poked one, bulbous eye in, now fully adjusted to the low light.

The room was huge and frilly. Nowhere could be found a clean edge without some form of fringe, lace or fluff, and the overall hue, when combined with the pale green moonlight slicing through the curtains, was one that would induce nausea in most sentient beings. Soft furnishings lined the walls, one or two with specific functions, the others there merely for show. Artwork depicting nexu kittens hanging from trees and mono-horned nerfs prancing merrily in fields of flaxen craff looked like they would be more at home in a younger child’s bedroom. Hanging over the preening table was a large, signed poster depicting the latest holo-star, Naftrat D’an and his boys, who were currently riding the top of the charts with the kloo horn serenade, ‘You Might Have the Flanks of a Dewback (But I’d Gartal your Kworks Any Day)’.

A hooting snore drew his attention to the far end of the room and there he could see a colossal bed upon which lay the prone form of Prassi Glendo, heiress of the Glendo fortune. Honka tiptoed cautiously in, scanning the room for any hidden pets that might raise the alarm, and reached the bed without incident. He gazed at the sleeping female.

Prassi was certainly attractive, though a little bony for his tastes, and her scarlet mane was spread in a fan on her undulating water pillow. He sidled around to a thin cabinet at her side and slowly pulled open the top drawer, parting hairgrips and snout wipes to find his goal. Eventually his finger suckers brushed a small, hard cube, and he pulled out the box, turning it in his hand in the moonlight, mesmerized by its shimmering surface. Suddenly a hand touched his leg, and he stumbled back in shock.
“Sidewa? Is that you, love?”
Honka froze, staring at the woman as she slowly began to prop herself up on one elbow, raising her eye mask. Honka approximated Sidewa’s voice the best he could.
“Hi, um, baby…”
“What are you doing? Daddy will kill us if he knows you’re in here!”
Honka thought quickly.
“I, er, had to see you… shnooky.”
“Oh, you’re so impetuous! Come here, Sidey, I love it when you do dangerous stuff just for me.”
Honka debated whether or not to make a bolt for the window, but he had no idea what was outside it. He sat on the edge of the bed.
Prassi sat up.
“Turn the light on, lover.”
Honka brushed her hand away from the illuminator cords.
“No, I like it like this; it’s more… romantic…”
Prassi giggled and nuzzled his neck, then pulled away sharply.
“You smell different.”
“I’ve been busy, um, working on the ship.”
“What ship? Not that nasty old needle ship I hope. I thought daddy said he would give you a corvette.”
“I can’t accept his gifts.”
Prassi drew away and, to Honka’s relief, looked the other way.
“Look, Sidey, I know you and daddy don’t see eye to snout, but he was only trying to help you when he got you that job swabbing out the Hutt suites. He thinks you should work your way up as he did, that you would appreciate your position once we inherit his hotel chain.”
“It’s not that,” countered Honka, almost enjoying the charade now, “I just want to be my own Rodian, earn my rides rather than be given them.”
“Oh, Sidey!” exclaimed Prassi, swinging around and embracing him, “you have no idea how many of my suitors are no good deadbeats who just want to enjoy my fortune without lifting a suction cup!”
She grabbed Honka firmly by the back of his head and planted her snout firmly on his.
The kiss was hot, sweet, and all too brief,
“You’re not Sidewa!” Prassi screamed, lashing out with her foot and kicking Honka to the floor, then punching her security alarm.

As sirens blared and the room was flooded in blinding yellow light, Honka staggered to his feet, pocketing the box and shielding his eyes.
“I can explain.”
Suddenly the bedroom door flew open, and the silhouette of an enormous Rodian filled the frame.
“What’s going on in here!?”
Honka decided against an explanation, especially when he recognized the outline of the disintegrator in the huge newcomer’s hand.

He threw himself at the bathroom door, barely squeezing through as a blue beam disassembled the wall behind him. As he lunged at the small window he heard the unmistakable sound of a comlink being activated, and a gruff Rodian voice shouting, “Release the hounds!”

Honka’s descent was markedly quicker than the climb up, and he surprised himself when he reached the top of the surrounding west wall on his first leap. He turned to see three gruesome shapes bounding across the lawn in his direction, and dropped off onto the edge of the marsh, where his skimmer should have been. The spongy ground was barren, save for some small pebbles, and then Honka saw the tip of the skimmer disappearing into the murky swamp, pulled under by the indiscriminate grappler weeds. With no time for a flowery curse, Honka launched himself into the swamp.

Honka idly tapped the edge of the box on the tabletop as he watched Sidewa finish the last drop of his jawa juice with a noisy slurp. Behind his friend, a brown robed human had just entered and was at this moment being greeted by the greasy owner of this equally greasy establishment.

Sidewa pushed the glass away and wiped his snout on his sleeve, then held out his hand.
“Can I have it, Honka?”
“Where’s the chip first?”
Sidewa dramatically slapped his own forehead.
“Of course, how could I forget?”
“Pretty easily, “murmured Honka as Sidewa reached into a side pocket and pulled out a small metal wafer. Honka took the chip and inserted it into his wrist reader. The display read ‘2000’.
“This seems to be in order,” Honka said, pushing the box over to Sidewa, “now we’re even.”
“Consider it so,” replied Sidewa, picking up the box and pressing the edges so that it sprung open, revealing a cheap and deeply flawed tann crystal ring, “good work, my friend.”
“Here’s a suggestion,” offered Honka as Sidewa closed the box, sealing in the ring, and pocketed it, “next time you want to propose to an heiress, be ready to get your hands dirty.”
Sidewa snuffled a laugh and held out his hands.
“These are the hands of an artiste, not a Hutt scrubber.” He grinned, and started to leave. “Thanks for breakfast by the way.”
“Wha…?” began Honka, but his friend was already out the door.
The waitress droid rolled over. “Anything else, hun?”
“No, nothing.”
“That’ll be twenty two creds then.” The droid held out her check cube and Honka slid in his new credit chip, adding a one-credit tip, his customary gesture.
“Thanks hun, have a nice day.” The droid rolled away and Honka checked the chip once again. It read ‘1977’.
‘A fairly decent number’ he thought to himself and, snuffling up the last of his pastry crumbs, sauntered outside to hail an air cab.

©July 2007, Neil Baker