By Ray Tabler
You would think that after all the years I’ve spent schlepping cargoes around the galaxy I’d have learned not to get involved with the locals, especially when they’re not humans. You would think.
A Yanuleen sat down across the table from me in a bar at the edge of the landing field outside of Yanult’s largest city. Yanuleen are furry little folk, bipedal and about a meter tall with six multi-jointed arms poking out at odd intervals around their middles. This one blinked beady, black eyes at me, “Greetings Sentient Being.”
“Isn’t it a glorious piece?” My new buddy pointed an arm at the artwork on display in the middle of the bar.
Yanuleen are a bit nuts for that type of thing. They have artwork, mainly sculpture, everywhere, even in a bar. To me it just looked like a three-meter tall bundle of twigs with pieces of broken pottery tossed in at random.
“Very nice.” Being in a foul mood, I took a drink and stared at the Yanuleen.
“Here is being Klonoon.” He pointed all six arms at himself, in the manner of his kind. “Might here also being Captain Anne Katya Shim, who is having a cargo of entertainment modules impounded by the Port Authority?”
“Yeah, that’s me. What’s it to ya, shorty?” This twerp was starting to get on my nerves.
“Great amounts of good fortune we are both having. Klonoon is searching many establishments near the spaceport for Captain Anne Katya Shim.”
“Well, you found me. What next?”
“Next is being Klonoon and Captain Anne Katya Shim discussing matters of mutual benefit.”
“And just what matters might those be?”
Klonoon is having much influence with the official in charge of impounding cargoes.”
Suddenly, my old buddy Klonoon wasn’t near as annoying as a few minutes ago.
Captain Anne Katya Shim is helping Klonoon and Klonoon is helping Captain Anne–”
“Just call me Anne, okay? And get to the point.”
Klonoon’s whole body wriggled, which I think meant he was laughing, or maybe getting ready to vomit. I hadn’t planned on being on that damned planet for more than a day or two, so I hadn’t studied the culture much.
“Klonoon is getting assets unfrozen so Anne is getting paid for delivery of cargo.”
“And what is Anne doing– I mean, what is it you want me to do in return?”
“Anne is killing Klonoon’s cousin Jerbot.”
It was my turn to blink. “Anne is what?”
“Klonoon’s cousin Jerbot is needing to be killed. It is being a matter of honor.”
“I don’t care if it is a matter of honor. Murder’s illegal and I don’t want to end up in prison.”
“No. No. Yes. Yes. Murder is being illegal. Honor killings are being different.”
Now, right here is when I should have stood up and stormed out.
“If that’s the case, why don’t you just kill Jerbot yourself?”
Klonoon pulled all three arms in on one side and stuck the others straight out. “Klonoon is not doing that! The one who is killing Jerbot is taking Jerbot’s dishonor on himself.”
“Oh well, that’s logical.”
“Yes, very. Off-worlders are having no honor. And, Humans are being particularly violent. Anne is probably killing sixes of sentient beings, perhaps sixes of sixes.”
“What do you mean we’re violent?”
“Humans are having many wars. You are having your War of First Contact, your Altair War, your War of the Outer Rift, your–”
“All right, all right, we’ve had a lot of wars. At least we’re not as bad as the Hestolians.”
“If any Hestolians are being on Yanult with impounded cargoes Klonoon is talking to them. Here is only being Anne on Yanult with an impounded cargo.”
Klonoon stood up and slid a data cube across the table top. “Time is being not much left. Here is where Jerbot is being. Anne is killing Jerbot. Klonoon is solving Anne’s problem.”
Before I knew it, Klonoon was across the room and out the door, which left me with a sticky problem.
I really was in a fix. I needed to get paid for that load of entertainment modules. The company that hired me to bring them to Yanult from Deneb had “forgotten” to pay some taxes, like all of them. The authorities had frozen their assets and seized my cargo for good measure.
What I should have done was written it off and lifted for Hofsteder’s World, where there’s always a cargo to be had. Instead, I sat there for most of a week, piling up dock fees and trying real hard, but in vain, to get the money owed me. And there was a payment coming due on my ship. It was enough to make a gal scream.
Not really taking Klonoon’s offer seriously, I called up the relevant sections of the local laws on murder and honor killings. My pocket comp chewed over the text for a minute or so. It’s programmed to interpret shipping contracts, but has enough flexibility to figure out most any legal matter, or at least give an opinion.
It appeared that Klonoon was slinging the straight scoop. Dishonored Yanuleen have to die to expunge the stain, but suicide is not allowed. It’s open season on the dishonored, but if you kill one the dishonor transfers to you. This all sounded pretty wacky, but there are wacky bits in all legal systems. Just ask any tax lawyer.
I stared at that twisty sculpture across the room and pondered the paths open before me. I could just sit tight and hope to get paid before the next
payment on my ship comes due. Or, I could leave for Hofsteder’s world and hope to pick up a really lucrative contract before the next payment comes due. Neither of those seemed like a good idea.
Klonoon’s data cube glinted on the table.
I downed the last of my drink and muttered a few choice words about Klonoon, his cousin and the entire planet of Yanult. Even though it almost drained my cash, I paid off my dock fees and ordered my ship refueled. However this played out, I had a feeling I would want to be able to leave in a hurry.
Yanuleen are an arboreal race. They live in trees, big trees. The trees on Yanult range from sequoia size all the way up to monsters that are cities in
their own right. The landing field occupies a patch of rocky badlands where those trees don’t like to grow. A high speed maglev shuttle whisked me
across the badlands and into town.
The natives I shared the shuttle with crowed at the other end of the cabin from me, pretending not to watch me. One, a smaller one, a child I guess, stared at me openly. They all exited the shuttle at the first stop, I suspect whether they needed to or not.
Jerbot’s residence turned out to be half way up an enormous tree that held an entire neighborhood in its silvery gray branches. The foliage consisted of hand-sized leaves, light green on one side and beige on the other. At least there was an elevator of sorts to carry me up the fifty-meter diameter
Yanuleen scattered before me. I could see them peeking around corners and out of windows as I walked along the flat top of the branch my comp told me
Jerbot’s address was on. The dwellings were in the shapes of large exotic fruits or nuts, hanging from upper branches and spaced a few meters apart.
Whether they were actual out-sized produce or just constructed to look that way was something I never did find out.
Jerbot’s house looked like a five-meter wide walnut, with windows and a door at the point where it almost touched the branch I was on. There was
something on the door, a yellow square. It looked to be a crude spray paint job. I could make out over-spray from the edge of the stencil used to
outline the square.
A standard touch pad glowed dully to the right of the door. I reached out to activate the call signal . . . and froze.
Up to this point, I’d been operating mainly on automatic, not thinking about what would happen next. Then it hit me that the second I pressed the touch plate, I’d have crossed a line. Suddenly, heading back down the trunk, hurrying back to the port, and lifting for Hofsteder’s World sounded like a much better idea than it had earlier in the day. I pulled back my hand and was halfway turned around when the door opened.
“Oh! Oh! Here is being the violent Human!”
I muttered a curse and faced the door again. A Yanuleen waddled out onto the branch, all six arms waving in excitement. A yellow square was spray painted on his middle, right where one of his arms joined the body.
“Here is being Jerbot, the dishonored.” Jerbot called into the house. “Here is being the Human that Klonoon is sending.”
A cheer went up from the house. Through the open door I could see more than a dozen Yanuleen, sitting around some kind of parlor and eating snacks. Jaunty music played on the entertainment module in the corner. They all waved greetings. Several Yanuleen kids had followed Jerbot out onto the branch.
“Listen, do I have the wrong house?”
“No, no. Here is being Jerbot, and you are being the Human Klonoon is sending.”
“Did Klonoon talk to you about what I’m here for?”
“Of course Klonoon is telling me. Oh, I am being rude. Will you be having some refreshments before you are killing me? We are having herfin rolls and ladny dip. My cousin Dampin’s ladny dip is being famous for trees and trees in all directions.” One of the Yanuleen scurried forward and eagerly held up a bowl full of purple goo.
I glanced into the bowl and then back at Jerbot. “Uh, no thank you. I’m not really hungry at the moment.”
“Straight to business you are wanting to get, very commendable.”
“Well . . .”
“You are bringing a weapon.” Jerbot pointed several arms at the blaster on my hip. “Are you using this, or something else? I am having some knives in the kitchen, very sharp.”
“Knives? Good gravy no!”
“Okay, you are using your blaster on me then. May I be asking you to shoot me away from the house? It is being painted only last year. Scorch marks are being bad for property value.”
Jerbot headed for the middle of the branch. “Here is being good.” He spread his arms and closed his eyes. “I am waiting.”
Not really knowing what else to do, I followed Jerbot and stood a meter or two from him. The relatives crowded in the door way. Yanuleen kids hung out of the upper windows to watch the show. In fact, the whole neighborhood was gawking.
“Do they really have to watch?”
Jerbot opened his eyes. “It is being a joyful occasion when a dishonor is being removed from a family.”
“Just what is this dishonor all about, anyway? Klonoon didn’t say.”
“Such an injustice it is being!” Jerbot wrung his three pairs of hands. “I am having no idea how those glestistles are being in my vehicle.”
“I am thinking that Envloos is planting them there. He is being insanely jealous of me ever sense I am being promoted Third Assistant Undersecretary to the Director instead of him.”
It took me a second or two puzzling through that. “Wait a minute. Are you saying this is all about some bureaucratic politics?”
“The cause is not being important now. I am being dishonored. My family is being dishonored. You are needing to kill me now.” Jerbot pounded three fists in three palms.
I rubbed my eyes, wishing I’d never come to this crazy planet. “Look Jerbot, you have to understand. This is hard for me. I don’t go around killing sentient beings all the time.”
“You are not killing often? I am always hearing that Humans are being very violent.”
“Yeah, so everybody keeps telling me.”
“Oh! I know. You should be pretending I am a Rigelian, even though there are being no Rigelians left.”
“Jeez Louise! Your species wipes out just one sentient race, just one, and nobody ever lets you forget it. Those Rigelians bloody well had it coming. I had family on New Houston!”
“Good. Good. Anger. Anger is being conducive to violence. Anne is shooting me right here.” Jerbot used all six hands to point at a spot right above the painted yellow square.
Right at that point I found out something about myself.
I couldn’t do it. It wasn’t the kids watching. It wasn’t the fear that this all might be illegal, regardless of Klonoon’s assurances and my pocket comp’s opinion. It wasn’t even the fact that this was all the result of some work-place feud. I just didn’t have it in me. I wasn’t a cold-blooded killer after all.
Suddenly, a huge weight rolled off of my shoulders. It felt so good I actually laughed out loud.
“Jerbot, old buddy,” I sighed and lowered my weapon. “It’s not going to happen.”
“No. No.” Jerbot grasped my hand and re-aimed my gun at his middle. “You are shooting me. You are restoring my family honor.”
“Look pal, I want to help you and out kill you. I’m probably going to loose my ship if I don’t. But, the plain fact is I just can’t do it.”
“I am being a Rigelian. Grrr. Grrr!” He bared his flat, herbivore’s teeth and growled menacingly.
I giggled in spite of myself.
The foliage to Jerbot’s left burst into flame. Jerbot stared at it, surprised and puzzled.
“You are being a very poor shot. How could you be missing at this close range?”
More foliage above our heads ignited as well.
I dropped to the deck. “Jerbot you idiot get down! Somebody’s shooting at us.”
From the meager cover at hand, I peered out at a Yanuleen on another branch of that big tree. He was maybe a hundred meters away, and firing a hand blaster at us.
“There is being Envloos!” Jerbot hopped up and down.
“You mean the guy that framed you? Why’s he shooting at us?”
“He is shooting at you. He is trying to keep you from killing me, the shizzbopper.”
“Won’t he get into trouble for that?”
“No, killing an alien is not being illegal, but it is very rude.”
Just then, Envloos found the range and set the foliage I was hiding behind on fire. It was too hot to stay where I was, so I made a dash for Jerbot’s front door. Two steps out into the open I realized I wasn’t going to make it. Envloos drew a bead on me and pressed the firing stud. I was a gonner. I could already smell the sizzling flesh.
Only it wasn’t my flesh that sizzled. Quick as a flash Jerbot leaped in between us, knocking me down and catching the blaster bolt intended for my back.
I got to my hands and knees and scrambled over to the little guy. “Jerbot, are you okay?”
He sure didn’t look okay. The bolt had taken one of his arms clean off, and scorched an area of fur about as big as a dinner plate. Jerbot shook spasmodically all over, shock maybe.
“Okay? Okay? I am being better than okay. I am being very much better than just okay! Envloos is shooting my arm off!” Jerbot jumped to his feet and shook his remaining five fists at his enemy. “Are you hearing that Envloos? You are shooting my arm off!”
Damn, the little fellow was tougher than he looked.
At the sight of Jerbot’s charred stump of an arm, Envloos dropped his blaster, screamed and fell on the tree branch writhing and kicking. He actually was having a fit; the way I had thought Jerbot was a few seconds before.
“Jerbot, what the hell is going on?”
“Envloos is trying to keep me dishonored by shooting you, my strangely non-violent Human friend. Instead he is shooting me. If he is killing me, he is taking my dishonor onto himself. Since he is only wounding me, he is being doubly dishonored.” Jerbot grinned. “And, my honor is being restored.”
Somebody must have called 911, because it wasn’t long before an ambulance showed up and the paramedics administered first aid to Jerbot’s stump. They wanted to take him to the hospital, but the tough little guy wasn’t about to leave the festivities at that point. About six dozen more relatives showed up, and the whole damned tree joined in a sort of vertical block party.
The police showed up too. They hog tied Envloos, and proceeded to paint two yellow squares on his hide. Apparently justice is swift on Yanult. Before the cops left, they came over and spray painted a circle with a diagonal line through it over Jerbot’s yellow square. _That_ little ceremony kicked the party into high gear. You wouldn’t believe how rowdy those Yanuleen can get once they’ve had a snoot full.
It turns out that cousin Dampin’s ladny dip is quite tasty, although a bit heavy on the garlic. I was halfway through my third helping when Klonoon plowed his way to me through the crowd. Assets had been mysteriously unfrozen. The cargo was miraculously un-impounded. My pocket comp chirped merrily when the payment transferred to my account.
Konloon thanked me for a job well done. I thanked Jerbot yet again for saving my life, when I had come to take his. Then I got the hell out of there before anybody had a chance to sober up. And I never ever got involved with the locals again . . . until that time on Glaubner’s World.
Honor Killing by Ray Tabler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at escapepod.org.
About the Author
Ray Tabler is a chemical engineer who was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky. He moved to the frozen wilds of Michigan due to a tragic addiction to a steady paycheck, married a Yankee girl, is now stuck there and happy.
About the Narrator
Mur Lafferty is the co-editor and sometime-host of Escape Pod.
She is an American podcaster and writer based in Durham, North Carolina. She is the host and creator of the podcasts I Should Be Writing and Ditch Diggers. Her books have been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, Philip K. Dick, and Scribe Awards. In the past decade she has been: co-founder/co-editor of Pseudopod, founder of Mothership Zeta, editor or co-editor of Escape Pod (where she is currently).
She is fond of Escape Artists, in other words.
Mur is the 2013 winner of the Astounding Award for Best New Writer (formerly the John W. Campbell Award).