The song of the cat-birds rang out and the sunlight began to trickle between the trees in the swamps of Basilia. It was a very small planet. In fact, it was so small that one could walk an entire lap around it in less than a week. That is if they could survive a day in the Basilian wild.
Whap could hear a brief swish of the saw grass beneath the singing cat-birds as he rose from his slumber.
He stretched his tentacle arms, and squinted his only eye at the end of a single stalk atop his squishy, wet torso.
He couldn’t resist the force of his first morning yawn. “MmmyAAaaahh bubbub bub,” he exclaimed, and then he rocked himself side to side to gain some momentum to get his stubby body out of bed.
By the time he got to his feet, his eye felt dry, so he let his eyelid fall as he scratched himself and wobbled forward a few steps. Then he stood there with his eye closed and his arms hanging at his sides for a few more breaths before he realized where he was.
The realization gave him a subtle jolt of adrenaline, which was just what he needed to reach consciousness and begin stirring about in preparation for his day.
Once he had finished brewing a day’s worth of slugarp stew, he was ready to set out to catch some more of the slimy little buggers for Mr. Sglarpt.
Mr. Sglarpt was Whap’s personal savior. He might never have survived out in the swamp if Sglarpt’s Slugarps hadn’t bestowed upon him this magnificent setup. It was literally a slugarp farm, complete with radar, an incubation bed built into the bog, and an underground chute that would send the ripe adult slugarps past the forest, all the way to the manufacturing facility in Fasgatch, in a mere 15 seconds.
It practically ran itself. All Whap had to do was wake up every morning to turn the machine on. Maintenance guys would come check on it periodically, and if the machine stopped for any reason, all he needed to do was push the big red maintenance button, and they would come get it back in running order.
He stepped out of the door of his hut and paused for a moment to assess his surroundings. A gaggle of approximately 9 cat-birds were perched on various branches of a dead tree that leaned out over the bog. As they sang, the saw grass waved faintly, the bog water laid sterile, and a three-eyed forest hunter crouched motionless behind one of five abnats that called this particular bog home.
Abnats are large living rocks that survive by absorbing moisture from the ground and photons of light. For the most part, they just sit there motionless, but from time to time, they deem it necessary to roll over to find better sunlight or to find more moisture from the ground.
Wait, a three-eyed forest hunter? What would it be doing in the swamp? Aside from that, it’s likely to get rolled on by the abnat!
Whap could hardly contain himself with such excitement. “Hey!” he hollered. “Careful, there!”
The hunter turned and looked at him like a deer in headlights. “Sh… the cat-birds…” she whispered.
Whap sprinted toward her. “Careful, the abnat!”
She shook her head and waved her arms. “Quiet, the cat-birds…”
Whap leaped to push the hunter out of harm’s way. The hunter ducked with just centimeters to spare. He flew past her and directly into the slugarp chute with a loud crash.
The cat-birds scattered in horror, the hunter sighed, and the abnat rolled over on top of Whap.
The hunter shook her head and grabbed Whap’s hand. She gave a great effort to pull him out from under the abnat, but it was to no avail.
She started looking around for a large branch or something to pry it off of him.
Blorf had only drifted awake less than an hour ago, but he was already getting bored, and he made sure he expressed it audibly over breakfast.
The door burst open, and his father, Sglarpt, told him to prepare for a service call in the swamp.
“The swamp? Come on, Dad, can’t I sit this one out?”
“What are you going to do around here? I thought you said you were bored.”
“I mean… I find clean air a bit more entertaining than the stench of the swamp. Please, Dad, let me stay here this time.”
“The swamp is only the first of a 7-stop tour, now come on. You’re going with us, the decision is final, and please hurry. We don’t have time to waste.”
Sglarpt vanished from the doorway like a phantom of determination.
As the hunter returned with a large branch, she raised her voice to beckon her fallen champion.
“Can you hear me under there?”
“Underwear,” said the muffled voice, followed by a barely recognizable chuckle.
The hunter dropped the branch and said “I’m sorry, I had the understanding that this was an emergent situation. If you won’t be needing me, I’ll be on my way.”
“No, no, no! Please don’t go, uh… what was your name?!”
“That’s more like it,” she said. “My name has been Squeeb since my mother birthed me, and it will always be.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Squeeb. I’m Whap,” He replied as he offered his only free hand for a handshake.
She ignored the gesture, picked up the branch, and just started prying. Whap didn’t recognize her negligence right away, but he found it somewhat apparent by her 3rd pry at the abnat. His hand made a wet “smack” when it flopped back into the mud.
When Blorf had finished stuffing every leisure he could fit into a drag-satchel, he moped his way past the living area, through the front door, out to the walkway, and over to the manufacturing facility next-door.
As he dragged himself through the door to the facility, Sglarpt barked orders at his employees like they were an extension of his own brain, and bean-shaped utilitarian creatures with six legs scurried left and right.
“The rupture at the pond in the forest is minimal, we could probably make due with just a patch. Diagnostics for the swamp show that the junction to the control panel has been damaged, as well as several pieces of glass pipe. We’re going to need a straight and 2 elbows. Geep, I believe your expertise will be adequate for today’s ventures.”
“Yes, sir,” Geep replied. “Will we be returning to the shop afterwards?”
“It’s going to be a late night. I don’t believe your apartment will be too far off the return route. We could drop you off if you’d prefer.”
“I’ll get my belongings.”
“Blorf… where’d you go?” Sglarpt continued.
“I’m right here behind you, Dad,” Blorf exhaled, unamused.
Sglarpt, turned around in surprise. “Oh, there you are. I wasn’t sure if you were here yet.”
“Are we going to have a good signal, I’d like to get a few daily missions done in this video game that I’ve been playing.”
Sglarpt sighed. “Maybe on our way home from Validia, but probably not for most of the day. You’ve been out in the world before, you know how it is.”
“Yeah, I do. That’s why I asked. Why can’t I have any sort of enjoyment when I don’t even have a job? I can’t afford the gas that it would cost to go look for a job, but I have to live here and watch you and Mom with your big house and your high tech hover chairs and your barking orders… I’m about sick of this already. Can’t you & Mom set me up with a place to stay and an allowance or something?”
Sglarpt repositioned himself to look Blorf straight on. “Son,” he shook his eye stalks, “it’s just not that easy, you see. We need you to work for the money that we give you. You have a job here, but you’re not doing it. I think it’s time that you start shaping up, or we’re going to-“
“Aw, Dad!” Blorf blurted.
Sglarpt raised his voice, but continued on as if he didn’t need to be respected. “-need you to find a place of your own. This isn’t working out the way it’s been these past few years. Now go get your off-road buggy, and make sure it has fuel. You’re going to need it today.”
Blorf sighed as he turned around and moped harder than he had ever moped before.
Whap gasped for air as the abnat was finally removed from atop his very existence and let out a big, long yowl of relief.
“That’s the stuff… Thank you, Squeeb!” He picked himself up from the mud and turned to her. “Are you hungry? I just finished brewing a pot of slugarp stew. Well… before I left the house, anyway.”
Squeeb barely showed a hint of surprise and dissatisfaction. “You mean we’re not done here?” She conceded as she turned her head to stare into the forest for a brief second and lowered her eyelids. “I suppose I should have something to eat, I’ve been out trying to find a flock of cat-birds all night.” She looked back at Whap and snuffed.
Whap stopped wiping the mud off and shook his head as he rolled his eyes and walked past her. “Come on. The repair crew should be here shortly, and when they get here, I’ll need to look like I’m doing something more productive than mingling with randos.”
“Mingling with randos!?” She challenged the thought and continued in sarcasm. “Oh, I’m a rando?” She started following him.
“I believe this is pretty random, you showing up at my slugarp farm with a death wish.”
“A death wish!?” Now she was appalled enough to be fully engaged, and she expressed the feeling by scurrying just enough to catch up and walk side by side with Whap.
“Abnats are dangerous creatures to be around! You’re lucky I was here to save you.”
“I believe it was I who saved YOU, and I’m offended! I am a much more skilled hunter than you take me for. I’ll have you know that I took down a gnar-beast single handedly. Just me & my spear, hand-to-beast combat, no traps or anything!”
Whap side-stepped to get a better look at her. “Get outta here! Those things are massive and mean! YOU took one down all by yourself!?”
“I did,” She stopped walking to stand proudly. She was feeling a little more content now that credit was coming in.
They both continued walking in unison, and climbed the stairs to the front landing of Whap’s hut. Whap continued, “Wow, THAT is truly amazing. I can hardly believe it.”
As they entered the doorway, Squeeb paused for a moment to take in her new surroundings, while Whap grabbed a bowl and started stirring the pot of stew with the ladle.
She folded her arms and nodded as she continued looking around. “I guess this would be a pretty decent place to spend your time if you were a slugarp farmer.”
Whap stopped stirring to give her a glare. “Do you want some stew or not? …because I’m not afraid to remove you if I have to.”
She looked innocently surprised. “No, I mean it’s a nice place, just not the style that I’m used to. Besides, don’t get me wrong, I believe that everyone should have complete control in their home environment, but you couldn’t remove me. Not even if you tried.”
Whap squinted for a moment to size her up, but then felt a wave of realization. Maybe he was biting off more than he could chew. He looked back to the pot of stew, and gave the ladle a few more swirls before he started scooping it into the bowl.
They both chose a seat and Squeeb ate stew while Whap told her about various knick-knacks and keep-sakes around the inside of the hut. When she finished, he asked her if she was ready for another bowl, but she wanted to be able to make the journey home without getting cramps, so she politely declined.
Then she rose to her feet and said “Thank you dearly for the stew, and I’m truly sorry about the pipe thing.”
He sat there and stared up at her for a brief moment before I decided he should stand up as well.
As she began slowly moving toward the door, she continued, “I was unaware that rocks could move. Apparently, I’ve never been around them for long enough to witness such a thing.”
“Oh, don’t worry about it,” Whap replied. “It was more my fault than it was yours. I should’ve thought about the control panel before sprinting full-speed toward you.”
Squeeb walked through the door, and as Whap reached the door, he said hesitantly, “Uh… Squeeb…”
She turned around and said “Yes, Whap?”
Just then, the business convoy arrived. The growl of large diesel engines echoed through the trees, and the whines and whooshes of hover vehicles swarmed overhead.
He found it a bit hard to concentrate, but he continued, “You know, uh… I don’t get many visitors out here, and uh…”
“I’m sorry, what?” Squeeb could barely hear him over such chaos.
He raised his voice just loud enough for her to hear him, “I said I don’t get many visitors out here, so if you’d like to stop by again, you’re welcome to.”
“That’d be great!” she exclaimed almost as loud as she possibly could.
Whap could feel an unresistable smile overcome him as she turned around and walked down the patio stairs.
Just then, Sglarpt trudged past her, and knocked her off of her feet. He was on a mission for business, which rendered all obstacles obsolete. His mission was to get to Whap to find out what happened, but Whap was preoccupied with Squeeb’s loss of balance, and couldn’t find it in himself to pay attention.
Blorf wasn’t far behind his father, but he was on a mission of entertainment. Anything he could keep his mind on would suffice, and the balance-ridden hunter laying on the ground made a perfect subject.
“Are you alright?” he asked.
“Oh, I’ll be fine. I’m just bothered by your friend’s rudeness!” she exclaimed loud enough that Sglarpt had to put forth an effort to ignore her.
“He’s not my friend,” Blorf giggled. “He’s my father, and the owner of Sglarpt’s Slugarps. We’re here on a business call. Would you like me to help you up?”
“Sure, thanks,” she replied. “I thought you’d never ask.”
He looked at her like she had no idea who she was talking to, but offered his hand anyway.
This distracted Whap even more, to the point where Mr. Sglarpt was non-existent in his mind, and that infuriated him.
“See here, Whap!” Sglarpt insisted. “We have much to do today, and no time to waste. Now, start explaining!”
Whap couldn’t deny such persistence. “Ok, look. I came outside in the morning, and there was a hunter hiding behind an abnat, down by the control panel.”
“That’s not very safe,” Sglarpt interjected.
“My thoughts exactly!” said Whap. “I sprinted full-speed to save her from the abnat, but she ducked!”
“She didn’t even want to be saved!?”
“Apparently not, Mr. Sglarpt.”
“I thought he was going to attack me!” Squeeb exclaimed as she folded her arms and scowled.
“I’d do no such thing,” said Whap. “Anyhow, when she ducked, I had already gained too much momentum to stop myself before I ran into the control panel to the incubation unit.” He shook his head, “Then the abnat rolled over on ME!”
“I see,” said Sglarpt. “I believe I’ll let this slide, just this once. No pun intended, I assure you, but you need to be more careful, Whap! This is high-end equipment, and it’s very expensive. Do you have any idea how much it cost me to build this thing?”
“No, sir, Mr. Sglarpt.”
“More than you can bring in with a broken machine, that’s for sure.”
“I understand, Mr. Sglarpt,” Whap replied. “I’m sorry, it won’t happen again.”
“See to it that it doesn’t,” Sglarpt blurted as he turned around and yelled for his assigned serviceman. “Geep! How’s it coming?”
Geep had already gathered all of the broken pieces into a pile, and he had started attaching the new pieces.
“The procedure is going nicely, Mr. Sglarpt,” he replied. “It should only take about 5 more minutes.”
“That’s good to hear,” he said. “Blorf, don’t settle in just yet, we’ll be on our way shortly.”
Blorf looked at his dad and let out a sigh of discontentment. Then he turned around and moped back toward the ship.
Sglarpt turned back to Whap and said “I’ll return to my ship now. When Geep is finished, you are to return to your duties. I want to see at least 3,000 by the end of the day.”
Whap felt his face hang a bit in disbelief, but he collected himself and said “Yes, Mr. Sglarpt.”
Sglarpt marched promptly back toward his ship and stepped inside.
Squeeb watched him pass, and then turned to Whap. “Well,” she said, “it looks like you have some work to do.”
“Apparently so,” said Whap.
“Then I guess I should be on my way, huh?”
“I suppose,” he said as he looked downward in thought.
Squeeb hesitantly turned around and began to slowly walk toward the forest.
She turned around abruptly and said “Should I-. “
Whap was unaware that she had planned on turning around and speaking, but at the same time, he blurted “If you want to-. “
They both snickered in unison.
Whap continued, “If you want to stop by again sometime, eh…” He wasn’t sure how to finish his sentence.
Squeeb’s face filled with glee as she said “That would be great!”
Whap brightened up with a huge smile. “Ok. How about tomorrow?”
“I’d love to,” she replied.
“Awesome,” he said, almost in disbelief.
“I’ll see you then,” she said charmingly.
“Yes, you will.” Whap’s mind began to drift as he watched Squeeb continue walking into the forest.