The Last of Its Kind
By: James Rumpel

"Ah, you must be Mr. Killdare. It's a pleasure to meet you. I'm Rickard Honeywell." Honeywell rose from an overstuffed, leopard fur sofa to greet Jayson as he entered the room.

Honeywell looked nothing like Jayson expected. He was young, probably in his thirties. The diminutive man did not look like a trillionaire adventurer. In fact, with his baggy suit and thick glasses, Honeywell looked like a low-level accountant.

"I've heard much about you, Mr. Honeywell," replied Jayson. "I hope I can be of service to you."

The little man pointed toward an antique armchair. "Please, have a seat. I know all about you. I am certain you can help me."

"And what exactly do you need?" asked Jayson as he sat down, quickly realizing the chair, for all its value, was painfully uncomfortable.

"I need you to arrange and guide me on a non-sanctioned hunt. I have heard that you are very adept at organizing that kind of activity."

Jayson smiled. "I am good at my job. What exactly do you wish to hunt?"

It was Honeywell's turn to smile. "I want you to find me a qual."

Jayson started to rise. "Qual are very rare, nearly extinct. The laws protecting them are very strict."

Honeywell held up his hand. "Don't play games with me. I happen to know that you recently guided Morvan Ballard on a hunt. He told me so."

"That was different," replied Jayson as he settled back into the cramped chair. "Ballard didn't kill a qual. He took a holographic picture, nothing more."

"That may be true, but that was not his original intent. He hired you as a hunting guide. The plan was to shoot the beast."

Jayson looked his host in the eyes. The little man stared back. Jason knew Honeywell was used to getting what he wanted and willing to pay for it. "It wasn't until Ballard and I were on the planet, that we realized how few qual are left. Once Ballard was face to face with the beast, he was struck by its beauty, its majesty. He couldn't bring himself to make the kill. It's usually not a good thing when a species is down to the last of its kind."

"You don't have to tell me about the qual," snapped Honeywell. He pointed toward a wall filled with the exotic trophies from other hunting trips. "I am going to add one to my collection. Do you know their meat is exquisite? My father had qual meat once. He insisted it was the best thing he'd ever eaten. I'm going to find out for myself.

"You will be well compensated. If you don't do it, I will find someone else." The trillionaire gestured at the room filled with expensive antiques and rare collectibles. "Believe me, I have the resources."

Jayson sat silently, as if waiting for Honeywell to change his mind. Eventually, he shrugged. "Are you absolutely sure you want to do this?"

"Do I look like a man who doesn't know what he wants?" replied Honeywell.

"Okay, I'll need five million credits just to set things up. I'll have to buy an unregistered ship and there are bribes that need to be paid. The location of the qual home planet has been kept a secret for a long time. I can get you there, but it won't be easy to do without drawing unwanted attention."

"I can give you the credits right now," said Honeywell without blinking an eye. "And, what's your fee?"

"I get whatever's left after expenses."

"That seems fair, as long as I can keep an eye on you."

"No problem but I get paid whether you go through with the shooting or not. If you back out the way Ballard did, I still keep the credits."

Honeywell laughed, a smirk on his lips, "I'm not going to back out."

***

"Do you have to go on another of these hunting trips?" asked Rackelle. "You'll be gone for a month and end up with hardly anything to show for it. Last time you only brought back a few thousand credits."

"That's still a pretty good wage," insisted Jayson. He wanted to say more but knew there was nothing he could say that would satisfy her at the moment. Someday he would be able to explain.

"You should have never left the Justice Authority. The pay was better and …"

"Hey," he interrupted, "I had to quit. It was a matter of principal. I gave the Authority ten years of my life. I did everything they asked for, every dirty job or undercover assignment, and they didn't appreciate any of it."

"So, they passed you over for a promotion. . ."

"It wasn't just a promotion. You know my dream had always been to be part of the special forces. I deserved that position, and they didn't even give me a fair look." Jayson realized he had risen from his chair and that his fists were clenched. He sighed. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't get worked up like that. It's in the past, I should let it stay there."

"I'm sorry, too," said Rackelle, "I shouldn't keep bringing it up. I do understand how hard being passed over was for you; I really do."

"I promise this will be my last hunting excursion. It'll be worth it. Trust me." He grabbed her hand and held it in both of his. "I guarantee that after this trip everything will be back to normal. Now let's talk about something else. How was work today?"

***

"You know you don't need to come with me," insisted Jayson as he and a well-disguised Honeywell approached the Travel Authorization desk. "I can do this by myself. The guy is my usual contact."

"And it's my money," added the trillionaire as he flashed an untraceable credit transfer card. "I'm going to observe."

The justice officer at the desk was a blue-skinned Orinian. He greeted Jayson with a nod.

"Good morning, Widge," said Jayson.

"What can I do for you today, sir?" asked Widge, taking on a more formal attitude when another justice officer passed by his desk.

"Ah, I'd like to get authorization for a class 3 vessel to travel through sectors 81 and 82," replied Jayson. "We're in a bit of a rush. It's an important trip."

"I see," said Widge, rising to his feet. The Orinian was tall for his race. He was a full foot taller than Jayson. "Let's go to a private room and see what we can do for each other."

Once inside a nearby office and after a brief check for listening devices, Widge tilted his head toward Honeywell. "Who's he?"

"Nobody important," answered Jayson. "I might take him on as an apprentice. Now about those authorization papers."

"Are you going where I think you are going?"

"Yes, and I need enough documentation to get within range of a quick side trip."

"It'll cost you. Do you have the usual fee?"

"Right here." Jayson held out his hand toward Honeywell. Without a word, the trillionaire gave him the valuable card. Jayson handed it to Widge.

"Okay." The officer quickly slipped the card into his back pocket. "What's your ship registration?"

"You tell me," replied Jayson. "Find something that won't draw much attention."

The gangly alien examined the computer screen for a few seconds. "I see a Vorman trading vessel is docked for repairs on a planet in sector 17. It'll be down for at least a month. That identification should work. No one would question a trading ship passing through that area. I'll make the arrangements."

Honeywell grabbed Jayson's arm and whispered. "That seems pretty convenient. Are you sure this isn't some sort of set up?"

"I've worked with Widge for a long time," replied Jayson, not bothering to whisper. "He's good at what he does and has never let me down. If he says he can get us the authorization we need, he can do it."

After a brief pause, Honeywell nodded. "Okay."

"Your apprentice has quite the mouth on him," said Widge as he handed Jayson a disk containing the information and registrations.

"Yeah, good help is hard to find." Jayson smiled and gave Widge a knowing smile. "It's been a pleasure doing business with you, as always."

"Just don't get caught. It'll be my hide on the line if you do."

***

It wasn't long before Jayson and Honeywell were ion their way to the qual planet, taking a circuitous route.

The two companions did not get along very well. Most of their conversations were short and businesslike. Very rarely did their conversations evolve into anything more than one-word comments or instructions on how to operate some aspect of the ship, a decommissioned vessel that had been redesigned to simulate a Vorman trading vessel.

"How are we going to find the qual once we get to the planet?" asked Honeywell during one of their more extended conversations. "I don't want to spend weeks tracking the beasts."

"It won't be too difficult," answered Jayson. "The planet used to be almost exclusively plain and prairie. That's the qual's preferred habitat. Now though, with their population having dwindled down to almost none, vegetation has stepped in to take their place. In the last few centuries, heavy vegetation and different creatures have taken over most of the planet. The qual don't do well in jungles. They need open space. If there are any left, we will find the largest clear area."

"Sounds simple enough. How many qual do you think we will find?"

Jayson shook his head, dejectedly. "Not very many. It depends how many clearings still exist. The hope was that by banning everyone from the planet, they would begin to reproduce fast enough to reclaim the prairies. Unfortunately, that hasn't happened."

"Don't give me this ‘unfortunately' garbage. What happened to the qual is as much your fault as anyone's. I don't get you, Killdare. You talk big. You keep trying to talk me out of this hunt, yet you seem to be very happy to take my money. You are nothing but a hypocrite."

Jayson shrugged. "I have to make a living. I need the money, but I also need a steady income. If the qual are extinct, I'm out of a job."

"You know as well as I do that if the qual are gone, some other beast will take their place as the biggest prize out there," laughed Honeywell.

"Maybe. But the qual deserve better."

"They don't deserve anything. It's simply survival of the fittest. If they can't protect themselves, it's their own fault. I have the right to hunt them. My money gives me that right. I deserve to sit down to a nice qual steak and have one of their heads mounted above my fireplace."

"Ballard spoke the same way, but when he came face to face with a qual, he changed his mind. He realized how beautiful they were and what a loss it would be if they were gone."

Again, Honeywell laughed. Jason found his low rolling chuckle to be as annoying as the man's attitude. "I'm not Ballard. I won't settle for a picture."

***

The ship was making its third orbit of the planet when Jayson, finally, located a large enough opening in the jungle to suggest that qual could be found there.

"I can't believe how much the planet has grown over since I brought Ballard here," he said. "I think the clearing we are headed to might be the last one. That means we are about to see the last herd of qual in existence, if there are any."

"If you're expecting me to suddenly change my mind, you will be disappointed," said Honeywell while he finished making final adjustments to his laser rifle.

The ship had barely settled into the soft grass before Honeywell started to climb out of the vessel, gun in hand.

"There is no need to rush," advised Jayson. "The qual will be resting in the shade on the east side of the clearing."

"Oh, there's need to hurry," said Honeywell. "We are on a planet where our presence is forbidden. Let's get this done so I can have the robot butcher the remains and take its head. I don't want to waste any time."

"Okay, but at least walk slowly. We don't want to spook them. The noise of the ship landing most likely has them on edge."

The two men trudged through the waist-high, turquoise grass. A pale sun was climbing in the eastern sky, slowly rising above the mass of trees, shrubs, and vines that formed the planet's dense jungle.

Honeywell's head turned from side to side, searching for his prey. Jayson walked a short distance ahead of him, taking a direct route.

When they neared the end of the clearing, Jayson held up his hand, signalling Honeywell to stop.

"Over there," whispered Jayson. "To the right, just inside of the shade of that tall, orange-colored tree. You can see the head and antlers of a male qual. Next to it, on the left, is a female."

Honeywell started to raise his weapon.

Jayson shook his head. "You need to wait for them to stand. Don't spook them with a wild shot. Besides, I thought you wanted to mount the head."

Honeywell nodded.

"I don't see any other qual," continued Jayson. "If there were any, they would be gathered close to these. This is the last of their kind. Are you sure you want to go through with this? I brought a holographic camera. I'll even cut my fee in half if you settle for a picture."

"I am going to get my trophy," insisted Honeywell.

The sun continued to rise and as it did the shadows retreated. After about ten minutes, the qual were no longer in the shade. The male stood first, followed by the female.

Jason and Honeywell watched the massive six-legged creatures. The male stood over five meters in height, not including its massive horns. Muscular legs, the size of tree trunks, supported its broad body. Thick silver fur infused with large white spots covered the qual from head to hooved feet.

The male raised its head, sniffing the air. Its head was larger than the antique sofa in Honeywell's living room. The creature's eyes were dark, deep, and unblinking. Jet black antlers climbed from behind both of the creature's ears. The antlers were formed by dozens of intricate branches, intertwining with each other as they climbed skyward. Each branch ended in a pure white point. The female did not have the magnificent antler display, but stood nearly as tall as its mate.

"Aren't they gorgeous," proclaimed Jayson. "What a wonderful sight. It would be a shame . . ."

Without a word, Honeywell blasted a half-dozen bolts of energy at the pair. The male let out a loud bellow as it went down. The female fell silently.

"You shot both of them," screamed Jayson.

"Who cares. If they were the last two, the second one wasn't going to survive anyhow." Honeywell was already sprinting towards the fallen beasts. "You can use your camera now. Take a picture of me with my trophy."

Honeywell covered the forty-meter distance quickly, laughing with glee. Jayson raced behind.

Suddenly the hunter stopped, "What's this?" he shouted. "Where are they? I know I hit them. I saw them go down."

Jayson, a sly smile on his face, watched as Honeywell walked in circles, searching. He let Honeywell's anger and frustration grow.

"Those were holographic images," Jayson finally said. "The qual went extinct about a decade ago."

"What are you blabbering about?"

Before Honeywell could continue his rant, the sound of a ship interrupted him. A vessel dropped from the sky, slowing as it prepared to land a short distance away. The words "Justice Authority" were emblazoned on its side in bright red letters.

"What do you think you're doing?" shouted Honeywell as he aimed his rifle toward Jayson. "You set me up."

"You set yourself up. I tried to give you an out, many times."

"Well, now you're going to give me another out. Come here. I'm going to use you as a hostage."

"You'll never get off this planet," said Jayson as he took one slow step forward.

A golden blast of energy emerged from the jungle, striking Honeywell in the back. The little man dropped to the ground, unconscious.

"Took you long enough," called Jayson to the two justice officers emerging from the jungle.

"Sorry," replied Widge. "To be honest, we were shocked that he went through with it."

"I'm not," said Jayson. "He's the most heartless poacher I've encountered. He has a ton of money. It's a good thing these cases never make it to trial."

The other officer, a female human, laughed. "His kind doesn't deserve a trial. He'll be held with the others. We'll put out a report that he died in a ship explosion."

She moved forward to shake Jayson's hand. "Very nice work, as usual, Jayson."

"Thank you, Captain Meyer."

Meyer continued, "The Authority made good money off of his supposed bribes. Nice job upping the ante by the way. The credits will go a long way toward paying for cloning research. Maybe someday we'll be able to bring some of these extinct creatures back."

Jayson stared at the unconscious poacher. "Do you really think he was the last of them? Is he really the last being with that kind of disregard for life and nature? I'd love to be done with these special missions. I can't wait to tell Rackelle the truth and get back to a normal life."

The Captain smiled. "I honestly believe our operation is complete. We've been searching for others like him for a long time and we'll continue to try and uncover any others, but I honestly think he's the last of his kind."

The End

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