To Catch a Coyote, Part 1

Brant walked away from the BBA pet class as quietly as he had come. The edge of his robe was soggy where a kath hound had kept gnawing on it, and little imprints of its hoofs were all over his legs and torso where it had kept jumping up on him. He had sensed the beast was only excited to get out of its cage, so Brant hadn’t been particularly hard on it despite the bad behavior.

He knew what that felt like, after all.

Still, an idea had been growing in his head since his master, Hu’izei, had taught him how to control beasts using the Force. He paused briefly at the door to the BBA compound, debating on whether he should ask a question of the instructor, Lee Telich, but then he passed on through without doing it. His mind was on one particular animal: none of those available through the Mandalorian’s contacts within the BBA.

A few shuttle rides later, Brant was back at the Sith Academy. He trailed his way through the corridors, stepping out of the way of the glaring Overseers and their students, not giving them a second glance as it was not them he was interested in. He paused only in a particular courtyard, where several birds were picking over scraps of food that had fallen off of the trash cart from the kitchen. Brant considered them for a moment, before reflecting they were much too small for his purposes.

He went at last down to the stables, where Lord Mindyh had once kept her phalones and where there had a been a variety of other animals owned by the Academy’s adherents. The stalls for the phalones were empty, he noted, as was the old cage where the anooba had been shortly after his Ascension to apprentice.

Brant stopped short. What had he been expecting, after all? It had been months since he had been down here, and that anooba was likely either sold off or had been killed for one of the Sith’s grotesque alchemy experiments. Yet he felt it still as a little loss, a sharp little pang like watching an old part of his life walk away from him.

Brant scowled. He had had quite enough of that already.

He walked over to the Overseer watching the beast pens and asked him about the anooba. Predictably the Overseer harangued him for the trouble, even threatening a shock or two with the lightning snapping around his fingers, but Brant ignored the threats, just watching the man’s eyes and, calmly, coldly, repeating his questions until he got an answer…

The next few shuttle rides he took were long and tedious. Brant made a mental note to start putting money towards a ship of his own, or at least a membership with a private shuttle service… when the transport touched down on Nar Shaddaa, he was one of the first springing towards the ramp, weaving his way through the other civilians like they weren’t there, irritated by how slowly non-Force users could move.

By and by, he came to a more seedy part of the gigantic city, where spiceheads lulled in the alleyways and a few toughs glowered at him from the lightposts they had staked out as their own. Brant walked with his hand on his lightsabers, swaggering a little, and no one gave him trouble. Soon, he came upon the raucous noise and thick smell of a fighting arena, this one lined with screaming bettors and trainers.

Brant slipped up among them, staring down into the fighting pit where a mudhorn and a pack of some large, tailless lizards were duking it out. He listened carefully, expanding the range of his hearing with the Force — despite the headache it gave him in all the noise — until he heard, rather than the screams of frustrated patrons who had just lost a bet, the quick chortling of an auction barker.

He followed the noise out past the arena. The stench grew even worse. An acidic smell of old urine made his eyes water, and his stomach turned, still delicate and wrenching with pain since he had been wounded there. Irritable, he stalked past rows of caged animals until he reached the barker. The man was holding what looked like balls of fur, fancifully dyed in varying colors, though Brant could just see six spindly legs for each, clinging hard to the man’s sleeves as he tried jutting them into potential customers’ faces.

“You want to buy a voorpak?” said the barker as Brant came closer, and the fluffballs were next shoved at him. “Two for ten credits, three for fifteen!”

“No,” said Brant, pushing the voorpaks away. One uncurled slightly, blinking at him from beneath two long, black-tipped ears. “Do you have any anoobas for sale?” he asked instead, as the barker swiftly brought the voorpaks closer to his chest and they all clung to him tighter with little shivers.

The barker whistled through his teeth — or rather, the hole where his two front teeth had been. “Anoobas? Pah! Just about useless for the ring. Why not an akk dog? More durable, big as a landspeeder, able to take down a raging–“

“I said anoobas,” said Brant coldly, and he put the lightsaber on his belt in full view of the man with a little twist of his hip.

The barker whistled again. “Alright, alright, don’t sell the house on me,” he muttered quickly, and started extricating the voorpaks off of his arms and into a box full of the puffballs, packed together like commodities instead of animals. “How much are you looking to pay for your, hmm, anoobas?” he then asked Brant with a grin.

“Let’s see them first,” said Brant.

Still whistling — Brant wondered how he maintained a tune through his gapped teeth — the barker strolled down the row of cages, banging at a few of them to wake up the beast inside, but most of the creatures were too exhausted to do much more than glare. Even the Force felt full of their misery, and Brant snarled, drawing it into him in case he had to use more forceful “persuasion” on the slimy man.

“Well, ya see,” said the man, coming to stop by a rather large cage backed into a poorly lit corner, so it was difficult to see inside of it. “I’ve just had a bunch of your kind come collecting on these, and my stock is not what it was. Just these two, actually. Oi! Stand up, you vicious curs!”

He kicked the cage, and Brant was unsurprised as one tawny-coated canid form came rocketing out at him, only to slam up against the bars. Its beak-like lower jaw worked its way up and down through the gaps in the cage, and Brant reckoned that if the animal had been anymore starved, it would have slipped right through to lay several gashes into the barker.

“That’s one. You said there were two,” said Brant.

“Yeah, yeah, hold on a minute.” The barker took down a long stick with a wire snaking down it. Clicking on a control panel on the wall, the whole stick started to vibrate, with sparks running up the wire. The anooba wrenched itself out of the bars and scuttled to the back with a yowl, where Brant could only see its eyes, hateful and glaring yellow from the light of the sparks.

The barker jabbed the stick through the bars, not caring as the exposed wire hit the metal cage. There was a yelp and a howl, and the anooba sprang into the middle of the cage, tucking its long tail up around its paws and yammering angrily. A darker form shifted near the back, but in the bad light, Brant could make out nothing more than that.

“Eh, you don’t want that one anyway,” said the barker after a minute’s banging, and he switched off the shockstick. “It’s mangier than a womp rat from the south side of Hutta, pfah!”

Nevertheless, Brant let himself fall sideways into the Force, letting it creep along his senses as he felt out the back of the cage. There was indeed another anooba back there, even skinnier than the first one. It trembled as the barker started winding up the shockstick coil and reattaching it to the wall. Both animals were sorry, useless creatures in the state they were in, barely fit for a Sith acolyte, let alone the lord Brant was hoping soon to become.

And yet…

“What are they? Female and a male?”

“Both females,” said the barker, relaxing back and pulling a death stick from a pouch at his belt. He didn’t light it, only chewed on it.

“I’ll give you thirty cred for them,” said Brant.

The barker spat the death stick out. “You kidding me? You know how much trouble those things are to catch??”

“Then make it twenty.”

“Kriff! I ought to call security on you!”

Brant abruptly stuck his hand on the wall. The shockstick coil sprang into life with more sparks than it had ever managed in its brutal lifespan, glowing as white a glowlamp. The barker leapt back with a howl, and the animals all up and down the line returned it. The tired anooba in the back even stumbled onto her feet, pressing up against her companion, and both nibbled at each other and stared at the humans in fear.

“I may be generous,” growled Brant, “enough to make it a twenty-five.”

“Fine! Fine! Damn Sith!” the barker snapped. “Put it out already! Before I get another noise complaint! Damn animals…” he kept on muttering as Brant took his hand from the wall, and the shockstick’s sparking abruptly died away.

“I knew you were a reasonable man,” said Brant coolly, “though in all honesty, I doubt anyone could hear this place over the arena.” So as not to let the offer slip through his fingers, he then walked over to the cashier box and laid down the promised amount. Still cussing, the barker went to the front to bully a pair of assistants into collaring the anoobas and leading them out for their new owner.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *