The Hükk Hunts
What do Hükk do? Part 2, Antares fiction by Tim Bancroft.
Ban Stass wiped his hands down the front of his coveralls. The hold stank – whether it was from the cargo of rotting flepods he’d just unloaded to the Ghar or from the filthy Outcasts themselves he didn’t know. The stars only knew what the Ghar used the flepods for, but they found them highly desirable. He flicked his comband. ‘Ship, send a posse of cleaning drones down to Number One Hold. Sterilise it.’
‘Very well, Captain. The Cargomaster asks if we have any schedule for payment?’
‘It’s goods-in-exchange. And tell him they say they have to gain special permission for plasma reactors.’
‘I must issue a warning, Captain. Plasma reactors are not only banned on most worlds in the Determinate but are also very dangerous.’
‘Thank you, Ship, but we won’t have them for long.’
‘Do you have a destination in mind?’
‘Certainly. And they’re begging for them.’
Ship was silent a moment. ‘I have a projection.’
‘Well, don’t announce it yet.’ There was a hum and light flared as a pack of cleaning drones appeared on the hold’s ship-bound transmat. ‘Thanks, Ship. I’ll leave them to it.’ Stass waited for the drones to start working then transmatted to his quarters, his drone cloud hovering around him: he needed a shower. No matter how well the transmat cleansed the dirt and ordure from his clothes and boots, somehow the stink of rotting flepods lingered…
Stass had only just entered his quarters when his comband buzzed. ‘Stass here.’
‘Captain, the Ghar have returned already.’
He sighed. ‘Send out the negotiation drone, again. I’ll come up to the bridge.’ The drone was wheeled and slow – deliberately – so as not to annoy the Ghar. By the time he arrived at the bridge it would have driven down the ramp and be in place to negotiate with the Ghar Trademaster. It was a necessity: Ghar struggled to deal directly with humans.
On the bridge, his drones settled into the niches on the rear wall: here, at least, was secure. The First Lieutenant vacated the command chair as he arrived and nodded to a side screen. ‘They’re waiting.’ The image showed a maglash-armed group of Ghar, behind them squads of Outcasts carrying or pulling cargo on trolleys.
‘Build the overlay, Ship. Put me on.’ Another screen flickered into existence and showed the projection that the Ghar would see: a dark control room with a hideously deformed, bipedal alien – a nonhuman. Flickers of a blue-green gas swirled around the alien figure. Stass spoke and the image’s mandibles moved in time with his speech, the ship translating into the simple Ghar language. ‘Trademaster. The Amej hive sends greetings.’
‘It is a pity that your atmosphere is incompatible with ours,’ said the Trademaster.
‘We would prefer dealing in person.’
Stass looked to one side as if conferring, then back to the screen. ‘The hive would be too many, Trademaster. I speak for all.’
‘Are you ready to receive our goods in return?’
‘The hold will be ready in moments. We clear out our atmosphere.’ Stass paused. ‘Did you match our requirements?’
‘No. We will not trade our advanced amplifiers and have only twenty refurbished reactors to spare.’
‘Then why are you here? Has not trust been broken?’
The Trademaster looked affronted. ‘It is only humans you cannot trust. We bring goods that we trust will be of equal value. Refurbished parts, crawler feet and actuators, reactor dump valves, pressure connectors and sensors.’ The Ghar pointed to the crates as it mentioned each component. It finished by waving to a pair of large containers on powered trolleys. ‘And oversupplies from our workshops.’
The Trademaster held up an imaging pad before the negotiation drone. Images flowed across its surface: large quantities of spare parts for Ghar machinery, footwear, vac-suits, communications equipment.
Stass glanced to his Cargomaster, who was frantically recalculating his manifest, a profit-and-loss surface plot changing shape as he did so. He hushed the transmission. ‘Marit? Is it okay?’ The plot surface turned green and Cargomaster Marit gave a silent thumbs up. Stass turned back to the screen, turned on the sound. ‘We find that acceptable. There are Amej hives who will find Ghar goods aesthetically pleasing.’ He cringed even as he said the words. Do they really believe this?
‘It is superfluous,’ said the Trademaster. He waved the Outcasts forward. Maglashes crackled and the sullen creatures tramped up the ramp with their loads. The ship flashed up images of the hold, markings on the floor lighting up to show the bearers where to put their loads.
Stass turned off the transmission. ‘It seems they are as gullible as we thought.’
‘Outside the battlefield,’ murmured Marit. He was intent on the screens, tracking the loading. Ship may have automated the routes and stowage areas, but Marit felt a good Cargomaster always supervised, always watched out for anomalies.
Stass nodded. ‘Outside that, sure…’ and he trailed off. He was watching the loading and could not help but frown as the big crates were levered into place. One crashed down; the other was lowered gently. Why are they treating that one so carefully? ‘Marit, any chance of a scan on those crates?’
‘Already on it,’ said the Cargomaster. ‘Strange: both crates are lined.’ He pulled up the manifest, again. ‘Mind you, that one’s supposed to have the vac-suits and clothing. It’s lighter.’
Stass scratched his stubble. ‘Might be nothing in it. Still, when we launch, before we go through the gate, we’ll check it. In vacuum. They may have caught on that we’re human, after all. I don’t trust Karg’s Ghar as far as I can throw them.’ If I could even hold them and mind the stench, that is!
* * *
Despite listening to the initial proposal, Ashgherk had otherwise ignored the Snivelling Messenger, though it appeared to be accompanied by several personal servants. The one who was in charge, though… yes, they appeared to be of some worth. There was an air about it – him, thought Ashgherk – an air of confidence and watchfulness that suggested that he, too, was a hunter of some experience, one with much hürakh. F’Mahhrr it – he – was called, LydAjun F’Mahhrr. Ashgherk practiced the name as worthy of notice: F’Mahhrr could be dealt with.
The hunt so far had been disappointingly easy – though perhaps that was due to the competence of F’Mahhrr and his intelligence data. They were on board an Algoryn scoutship, one equipped with stealth landers to insert them onto the world where the prey was expected to be a few days hence. The hangar bay in which they were meeting stank of metal and human and it was all Ashgherk could do to restrain his angkriz from snapping at every crewman who walked too close. Well, everyone apart from the one who had its arm mauled: it was good the beasts were trained so well as to drop their prey on command.
The human hunter, F’Mahhrr, was talking, apparently unafraid of the angkriz arrayed around Ashgherk. He beckoned forward a comm-tech who, in turn, nervously offered Ashgherk a contact communicator. The tech spoke: ‘Just put it against your, er, jaw and it will pick up your voice, give a feed into our combat shard.’
As if a Hükk would not know a combat communicator when they saw one!
Ashgherk almost killed the tech there and then for the insult but restrained itself – the human morph wasn’t a hunter, after all, and could know nothing of respect. By the way it was scolded by F’Mahhrr, the panhuman hunter recognised the lack of respect. But why he wasted his breath, Ashgherk could not fathom.
The comm. came alive and Ashgherk paired it with his hunting rifle, a custom-built mag gun. F’Mahhrr had meanwhile extracted three more contact communicators from the comm-tech: he offered these to Ashgherk: no doubt for the angkriz.
Ashgherk felt some satisfaction, he was right. F’Mahhrr understood the hunt.
A holomap flickered into existence at their feet and F’Mahhrr bent over, waited for Ashgherk to comment. The Snivelling Messenger joined them as if it had a right to contribute. The image was hazy, flickering in and out of focus – apparently the result of severe atmospheric distortions and radiation surges on this planet. It showed a path through rough and scrub-laden terrain, a clear landing area, a distant camp: Ghar Rebels.
‘We’ve identified the traitor’s landing point,’ said the underling. Ashgherk ignored the obvious statement. ‘They trade with the Rebels at the camp marked. They, I mean the Rebels, have their own landing point a bit further away. We’ll be inserted nearby and move to here—’
‘Let the hunter do his job,’ interrupted F’Mahhrr. Ashgherk was sure there was a note of distaste in F’Mahhrr’s tone: why did he still tolerate the Snivelling Messenger? But then human society was opaque to Ashgherk, even that of warrior humans like the Algoryn.
Ashgherk studied the map, then pointed. F’Mahhrr waved her hands the map zoomed in to show more detail where he pointed. ‘Yes. I will need only a few packs to herd the prey.’
‘Understood,’ said F’Mahhrr. ‘You state the breed.’ There was a noise from the Snivelling Messenger: indignance, perhaps? Ashgherk put a hand on its mag pistol, ready to take cue from F’Mahhrr over such an insult.
The human hunter was amazingly restrained, merely flicking a hand at the Snivelling Messenger. The map disappeared and the Messenger withdraw, head bowed. F’Mahhrr held out a small capsule. ‘I’ve downloaded all the relevant data here. Let me know and I’ll co-ordinate the packs for you.’ He paused. ‘This is a hunt; you are the hunter. You are Hükk.’ Ashgherk gently took the data capsule from F’Mahhrr’s outstretched hand, then bowed; the human returned the bow, never once taking their eyes off the Hükk.
Caution. Truly, this was a human who knew how to show respect.
*** To Be Continued ***
Re-read part 1:
The Hükk Bounty Hunter
Deep within the C3 IMTel or central databanks and on many worlds there can be found details on these Hükk. Whether in the Concord, Senatex, Prosperate, Spill, Determinate or Vorl, they’re endemic to Antares.
This tough Mercenary brings a new element to your battles within Gates of Antares. Whose side will he fight on, what new scenarios will be issued? Find out more in the FREE PDFs plus more news over on the Nexus, the hub for all knowledge on the gates, races, tech, and aliens found in Beyond the Gates of Antares.