Chapter 6 - “Mudholes, Mudmen, and Money”
Jabiim was indeed a mud hole. Its entire surface was lathered in mud. Constant torrential rains kept the surface in an unending boggy soup. The people who lived here spent their existence indoors or underground in the vast, sprawling mines. Suicide was a common occurrence among the population and largely ignored by local law enforcement. As a result, the mining guilds who ruled the world tried their best to distract the workers with a smorgasbord of entertainment dens.
Yet like all insignificant worlds, Jabiim tried to act like they were important. Thus Tarsulla, Boldo, and Uji found themselves in line at one of the planet’s customs facilities.
“Next.” Cried out a droning monotone voice.
The line shifted forward, Tarsulla slithered through the gate.
“Beep, beep, beep.” Lights flashed and buzzers shrilled on the security portal.
“Sir, please step aside.” The monotone voice moaned.
Tarsulla slugged off to the side where a stout Besalisk waited. The four armed guard waved two wands over and along Tarsulla’s body. The wands beeped incessantly. The Besalisk looked over at the monotone voiced customs agent and shrugged. Out of the corner of one of his bulbous eyes, Tarsulla noticed a Gossam briskly walking over.
“What’s going on here?” The Gossam interjected with sharp authority.
The Besalisk spoke first, in a gruff voice. “Sir, this individual is setting off all the scanners.”
A disgruntled sneer manifested on the Gossam’s face. “You fool! Don’t you know-“ he stopped short of completing the thought, “-no, I guess not.”
The Gossam’s face turned toward Tarsulla with an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry sir, but we don’t get many Hutts through here. Our security equipment is rather sensitive to volatile chemicals and sometimes species with very distinct metabolisms can trigger the sensors. I’m sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused you. I’ll be sure to go over with the staff to correct this deficiency and prevent any future incidents.”
“That’s quite all right.” Tarsulla replied.
“Please sir, forgive us for the trouble. May your stay here on Jabiim be much more pleasant.” The Gossam’s smile was so wide it threatened to eat his ears.
Tarsulla simply nodded to the little man and went over to grab his luggage.
Uji stepped through the gate which erupted into another howl of whistles and buzzers.
“Sir, please step to the side.”
Again the Besalisk swept his wands and again they buzzed in protest. He looked over at the Gossam customs manager for insight.
The little man approached Uji, both of them were very similar in height. “Sir, may I inquire what species you are?”
“Noghri.” Uji growled.
“One moment.” The Gossam entered Noghri into his datapad and skimmed over the results. “Nothing unusual here. Sir, would you please empty your pockets into the bin?”
Uji walked over to the little plasteel basket and began emptying his pockets. He dumped out a handful of credit chips, a nek hide wallet, a pair of sun goggles, and a chain of assorted bone charms. The Gossam nodded to the Besalisk to scan him again.
He still beeped.
“Is there anything else you might be carrying on your person?”
Uji walked over to the basket. This time he reached into his coat and pulled out a long, twisted blade with a fully serrated edge. Then he withdrew a fist sized round weight connected to a chain which, as he continued to draw out the chain, was connected to a curved sickle. Next was a small hold out blaster, followed by two pieces of a double barrel Verpine shatter gun and the stock, another knife, this one was a small folder, and finally a punch blade.
“Is that all sir?” The Gossam’s voice hinted both sarcasm and exasperation.
Uji hesitated a second, then remembered one more thing. He bent down to one knee, pulled up his pant leg and reached into his boot. His hand came out holding a mini thermal detonator. It too went into the basket. The Besalisk glanced over at his manager and got a curt go ahead. This time he cleared the scan.
For a moment the manager simply tapped his foot and stared at the little reptilian. Tarsulla waited tensely, droplets of sweat beginning to seep out from his folds of fat. Just as he was about to try offering a bribe to the manager, the Gossam made up his mind.
“All right, you’re clear. Gather your…belongings…and don’t make any trouble.”
Uji returned a snaggle toothed grin, picked up his stuff and stood over by Tarsulla.
“-hold it.” The Gossam looked over at Tarsulla and Uji. “Is this man with you?” He pointed over at a masked humanoid. They shook their heads no.
“All right, continue.”
“Uh, but that guy over there is.” Tarsulla pointed his stubby arm at a towering Herglic three stalls down.
Boldo was wrestling with a purple skinned Ho’Din while two humans straddled his legs in an effort to slow him down.
The Gossam yelled out, “Let the Herglic go!”
All four of them froze. Boldo released the Ho’Din’s throat, then the other two guards released his legs and scrambled to their feet.
The customs manager let out a long, tired sigh. “Is that all the people in your party?” Tarsulla nodded in the affirmative. “Good. Now get out!”
Without another word the three mercs left were their things. The customs manager was relieved with their departure and made a note not to hassle them in the future. He knew trouble when he seen it.
Outside the spaceport there was a small town of plasteel buildings. Interestingly enough, the plain simple homes came in a wide assortment of garish colors. From marble blues to zebra striped crimson cubes.
“What a dump.”
Tarsulla looked over at Boldo and agreed. He much preferred a bog to a mud puddle. While they admired the architecture, Uji eyeballed a rodent tunneling under the mud. With a slight flinch and a flash of steel, the small burrowing lump came to a stop with 8 centimeters of blade stuck dead on.
“Good shot.” Boldo grinned.
Tarsulla glanced around. “Come on. Let’s get rid of our luggage and meet the contact. Time to make some money.”
Later that evening.
Tarsulla, Boldo, and Uji found themselves in one of the modest prebuilt plasteel homes. In front of them, seated in an oversized form fit chair, was their contact.
“So Mr. Balldosa, what would you like us to do?” Tarsulla’s squinted eyes carefully watched the bearded human’s generous smile.
Mr. Balldosa spoke in a low rasping voice, “The Durhost Guild needs to be checked. They’re hiring muscle, preparing for something big. I want them taken out before they’re ready.” Balldosa took a big gulp from his tankard.
“Do you know what sort of numbers we’ll be going up against?”
“Absolutely.” Balldosa sighed as the tankard clanked emptily to the table. “I have a spy. So far they’ve recruited five men. And I have it on good word that a sixth has just signed up.”
Tarsulla reared back gently as he considered the numbers. Two to one odds was fine as long as you had surprise, yet unfamiliar territory played against the advantage.
“What’s the plan?”
“Plan?” Balldosa stared blankly. “Why that’s what you are for. I can tell you where the guild’s office is and where the guild’s leader lives, but that’s about all the details I have.” Absent mindedly, he toyed with his empty mug, unconcerned with the merc’s troubles.
Fine. We’ll have to do this blind. “Very well, we’ll take care of the problem, but I want the money up front. We won’t be able to stick around to collect after the job.”
Now Balldosa looked angry, but there was restraint as well.
“Tell us where the guild leader lives and we’ll have this done tonight.”
That caught the man’s attention. He reached into his robe without a word and pulled out a cred marker. The chip fell flat on the table like a dead weight being heaved off. “He lives at the other end of Lake Jenson, as the locals call it. A wallowed out sea of mud that stretches out North of town. You can’t miss it at night, he lights the place up like a Kuati starliner.” Balldosa reached over to a pitcher in the center of the table and poured himself another drink.“ You’ll see it.”
Later that night.
Jabiim’s sky was pitch black. No one could see the ground they walked on, but Tarsulla stood by his bearings. The house was in front of them. Somewhere. It had to be.
Uji took particular care in slipping his feet, nimbly, in and out of the mud. The stuff was everywhere, and sometimes it was neck deep, or worse.
“Rub it in Uji, rub it in.” Boldo griped. “But their aint no way I’m going into a fight without shoes on.”
The Noghri flashed one of his toothy grins, his bare feet slipping in and out of the endless quagmire with ease.
“Enough. We must be quiet. Besides, at least it’s not raining…for once.” Tarsulla looked back out into the blackness.
Boldo grumbled to himself as his big feet sank down into the mud, his legs plunging knee deep into the slop. Easy for you guys. As Uji poked his way across, Tarsulla simply glided along. Regardless of his large size and immense weight, his wide berth played in his favor. His muscles contracted and stretched, pulling his body along like a tread on a loader droid. The amount of ground he covered at once allowed him to spread his weight out, exhibiting a wider foot print, and it kept him from sinking. Meanwhile Boldo sank down to his hips, air bursting out of his blow hole in pure frustration.
Four hours passed before they could make out the warm glow of light in the distance. And just as soon as it appeared, it began to rain.
“Firefeking cursed shab blasted stars off a Houk’s ass…”
Tarsulla looked back at Boldo, but he didn’t say anything. He could see the Herglic’s milky white teeth as they gave off a faint glow in the darkness, in between his lengthy string of curses. Tarsulla could tell that his friend had had enough.
“I know, I know, we gotta go on so let’s keep goin’.” Boldo drudged himself out and plopped over a few meters farther. “At least they won’t hear us now with the sound of the rain, probably won’t even see us.”
And so they trudged on. It took four more hours to reach what turned into a compound. The leader of the Durhost Guild, whose name they oddly didn’t even know, lived in what looked to be a short little tower surrounded by three interconnecting two-story buildings. All of them were awash in a sea of sunlight generated from no less than sixteen massive spotlights. Sparkling rays glared off them as the rain poured down.
Boldo lowered his voice, “I don’t see any guards.”
Tarsulla bobbed his head around as he surveyed the ground. Uji narrowed his eyes to a get better look. “No.” He growled. “Two hide under canopy. Another up top of rear building, in open.”
Now Tarsulla could see them, “Those two staying dry will be easy. Uji, you take that one up on the roof. We’ll attack simultaneously from different angles.”
Uji nodded his head but realized the gesture was wasted. “Give me ten minutes to sneak into position.”
“Okay, ten minutes.”
Uji slipped into the night like a shadow. He circled far around the complex, staying out of reach of the spotlights. When he got to the angle he wanted to approach by, he burrowed himself into the mud. It was slow going but efficient. Tunneling underneath a meter layer of watery muck, he made his way to the base of the tower, just as his lungs were about to burst from lack of air. He popped up, drawing in a deep breath, right when Tarsulla and Boldo attacked. The Hutt charged forward, his fatty frame convulsing madly as he burst over the muddy ground. Boldo stood back, laying down a fierce covering fire, the screeching of bolts pierced the quiet calm of the night. Amazingly the first four beams from Boldo’s assault rifle all found their mark, flying straight and true. The two dry guards crumpled to the mud as the bolts slammed into their body.
Heaving and short winded, Tarsulla stopped to catch his breath halfway from the dead men’s bodies, his eyes glued to the astounding feat of marksmanship. He hadn’t expected that Boldo would’ve cut them down from such a distance in the rain.
“I guess he’s a better shot when he’s mad.” Tarsulla chuckled to himself.
He slid on until he reached the front of the tower, Boldo struggled behind him, galloping through the soupy mud as the rain poured down even heavier.
“Where’s the rest?” Boldo half yelled.
Tarsulla noticed how much the rain dampened the sound of his friend’s voice. “Rain must have drowned out the noise!”
A body fell off the roof and plopped into the mud. It submerged instantly, disappearing from sight.
Both of the mercs stared at the spot, uncertain whether the small framed body belonged to Uji or the guard.
Then another body fell off the roof, disappearing into the mud, but this time little clawed hands stuck out grasping for help. Boldo reached down and scooped Uji up, big smiles plastered on their faces as they exchanged a laugh. But there was little time for enjoying the moment. They quickly refocused their minds back to the battle and readied their weapons.
Tarsulla nodded, “Time to go in.” He pulled a grenade off of his combat webbing and pointed to Boldo. The Herglic raised his assault rifle and blasted the key pad on the door before them. With a powerful snap kick, he broke the plasteel plate of the door right off its horizontal rotors.
In went the grenade.
A deafening blast and a cloud of debris followed suit. No one moved in until the cloud settled down.
Tarsulla was the first to bolt in, then Boldo, and Uji brought up the rear. Inside they ran through a short hallway coming quickly to a vast open living room. With sharp eyes they scanned the area. The living area was divided into a kitchen, a dining, and a lounging area, all of which were now tattered by the grenade. Two humans cowered behind a rolled over couch, a Sullistan sat at the dining table, pieces of food still hanging from his mouth. Above them was a second floor guarded with a banister. More rooms could be seen up there but there was no movement.
The Sullistan’s black lifeless eyes grew large as he gazed at the intruders. A terrifying shrill emitted from his lungs. “MUDMEN!”
Tarsulla recoiled at the screeching blast that echoed through the room. His mind struggling to make sense of it all. Mudmen? He looked over at Boldo. The Herglic was covered head to foot in a thick brown goopy layer of mud. It was almost as if he were wearing earthen body armor. Uji walked up behind him with mud literally slopping off of him as he moved. Tarsulla looked at himself and saw that he was no different. In fact to any normal bystander he looked like a massive mud worm flushed out of the ground by the drowning rain.
As everyone stood motionless and shocked by the Sullistan’s scream and the mud soaked intruders, a Mandalorian stepped out of the fresher door on the second floor. His T-slit visor peered down at the frozen bodies below, his gleaming mahogany armor towering above them like a fearless statue of reason.
“What the hell are you waiting for? Shoot the shabla bastards!”
One of the humans careened his head up at the armored sentinel and squeaked, “But their mudmen! The eternal beings of the wastes! You’ll be cursed if you strike them!”
The Mando didn’t know anything about the mystical customs and folklore of the people of Jabiim. Neither did Tarsulla and his crew. But the merc in full beskar’gam armor was not a man to let foolish traditions get in his way.
He was a man of action.
Jet boots roared to life as the Mando plunged over the banister and down into the living room. A Verpine shatter gun erupted into a thunderous wail in his arms, a wave of deadly pellets raining down upon his prey. The canister shot peppered Tarsulla’s thick hide, shooting tendrils of pain into his body. Boldo took shrapnel to his shin, forearms, and stomach. The blows sent him crashing to the ground in a spatter of blood.
“You fool! You’ll curse us all!” The Sullistan bellowed with rage.
“Shut up-“ A blaster bolt slammed into the back of the Mando’s head, the energy beam bouncing off into a tapestry on the wall. He looked back and saw the crazy Sullistan with a heavy duty Arkanian blaster pistol quivering in his hands.
“You SHOT ME!” The Mandalorian yelled in disbelief.
“I-“ the Sullistan’s words were cut off by the booming echo of the shattergun. His battered body collapsed to the table, splashing into his plate of food. The Mandalorian’s armored form stood aimed at the traitor, his hands already pumping another round into the chamber.
Then there was a flicker of light, a glint of steel sparkling as it slipped into the Mandalorian’s helmet, right beneath his chin.
The Mando stumbled, nearly falling. His head tilted cockeyed, the shattergun struggling to rise. To the simple man from Mandalore, it felt like the gun weighed a ton and the room was being flushed down a drain. For some reason his tongue felt like it had been stung by a 1,000 tiny wasps, overwhelmed with a numb tingling sensation.
Funny, its never felt like that before.
His last though followed him to the floor. It clanked as it hit the hard smooth surface of the polished tile.
Uji glanced over at the two humans cowering behind the couch. Without a word he flicked the blood off his blade, the drops splattering on their faces. He stared them down with his cold, murderous gray eyes.
Tarsulla slinked himself forward, ignoring the pain from his wounds even as fluids gushed from the openings in his flesh. His voice still grasped for a tone of authority, “What are your names?”
The taller one stepped forward. “Lredd Fulkassan.”
Tarsulla raised his arms, a Merr-Sonn blaster in each hand, and the reports rang out in stereo as the bolts screamed across the room in the blink of an eye. Two neatly formed holes belched plumes of smoke out of Falkassan’s chest. Yet his body didn’t immediately fall over. Instead it lingered there, standing in place, uncertain whether it was living or dead. All of them, even Boldo with his grieving wounds, stood dumbfounded in amazement as they waited for the man to fall. Either that, or spread wings, breath fire, and fly away.
In the end, he fell.
“What’s your name?” The Hutt’s voice rang like a death sentence as it reverberated off the furnished walls.
The remaining human shivered uncontrollably in fear. “Tt—t-t-t-tt-Tuujack-ddd-d-Dd-Durh-ho-ost.”
Tarsulla’s arms lowered. The blasters hanging harmlessly by his sides. “Your hired thugs are dead. Don’t buy any more.” He started to turn to the door but his large head twisted back. “And next time you try to snuff out the other guilds, you might want to think twice.” He lurched forward and headed over to Boldo.
Leaning down, he helped the big man up, and they began to leave. “Uji? What are you doing?”
As they were beginning to leave, Uji was still huddled over the Mando.
The little Noghri looked up, not knowing what the problem was. His friends gazed back questioningly. “Not leaving without this.” He bent down and went back to work at trying to loosen the Mando’s armored plates.
“We don’t have time-“
Uji flashed an evil eyed stare at the two. He wasn’t leaving without the armor, and that was that. Yanking on the boots, helmet, and body plates, he got the stuff off. He grabbed a blanket draped over the couch, rolled the armor into it, then slung it over his shoulder and heaved it with him.
“Now I’m ready.”
Durhost stood shaking as he watched them leave. Bodies sprawled out across his immaculate mansion, now stained with blood, scorched from blaster fire, and a crater from an explosion. His eyes lingered on the bodies, each resting peacefully in a small crimson puddle.
Never again would he play this game.
By morning the clouds lightened as the sun rose behind them, even though the rain continued to pour. Tarsulla, Boldo, and Uji arrived at the customs depot soaked, bloody, and muddy. Their guns were packed neatly in their luggage, along with Uji’s complete set of beskar’gam armor. When the Gossam customs manager caught sight of them he hurriedly sped them along their way, past the long lines and sensitive scanners. He personally escorted them to their shuttle and waved them good bye as it took off.
An old saying crossed his lips as he watched them go, “Good bye and good riddance to bad scum.”
And yet the Gossam cracked a smile. Part of him envied their freedom, their adventure.
“Nah. Who am I kidding.” He waved his arm one last time and returned to his post and the lines of immigrant traffic.
"I believe toys resonate with us as humans, we can hold them, it's tactile, real! They are totems for our extended beliefs and imaginations. A fetish for ideas that hold as much interest and passion as old religious relics for some. We display them in our homes. They show who we are. They are signals for similar thinking people. A way we connect with each other...and I guess thats why I do toys. That connection." -Ashley Wood