I’m not really proud of this story, but I suppose you needed to know eventually.
Damn, now that was a hot day.
I’m not a fan of heat and I’m not a fan of shooting critters, but I needed the cash, and I really needed some time away from the wife- she’s was picking a few more fights than the usual; I think she just doesn’t like my line of work. I remember our second date; she wasn’t happy. “Animal control” I said was my profession, but she guessed by my scars that I wasn’t just throwing pets in cages.
Anyway, it was hot as the sun that day, and the story really just started out with me meeting up with the O.E.L. boys by Katerne’s space gate. These O.E.L. guys are a weird bunch; they never show their face, and apparently their tech’s good enough to make artificial humans that know pretty much anything. So I stepped up to these two guys, one about my size, and the other one was really tall.
“Hey; you the O.E.L. expedition?” I asked. The two of them turned to me, and the shorter one spoke up.
“Yeah, that’s us,” the shorter one said with a nod, “it’s a pleasure to meetyou, I’m Metland six two one five nine. I’m the leader of the expedition. I hope we can get along,” he said.
Thing about the O.E.L. is all of them are only given a few names to be called- this boy is the sixty two thousand one hundred and fifty ninth person named Metland. Apparently they only have nine approved names for their kids. I don’t know why, but there you have it.
“Yeah, nice to meet ya’. My name’s Varv,” I said. Then the taller one spoke to me.
“It is a pleasure, Varv. I am the Omniverse Expeditionary Librarium’s automated combatant emulator recon type, of the four thousand eight hundred and eighty second number. I hope we get along well,” the taller one said. This one was one of their robots; they’re a smart bunch. I heard one beat the inter-dimensional chess champion in less than twenty moves; ten times in a row until he gave up.
“Great, so are we going or what?” I asked.
“As soon as the other mercenary comes; a subspacer, actually,” Metland said. I laughed and shook my head. People from subspace, that area between actual dimensions, are a crazy-ass bunch; I could only imagine the person’s name.
“Yeah? What’s his name?”
“Her name is Keteva Inilen, but her mercenary title is Ultra-shooter Magnum Invincible,” Metland said. I laughed again. It’s such a stupid name, but I guess it’s their style; they’re pretty big on sounding tough.
“Cool, alright,” I said back, then we waited awhile.
After maybe twenty minutes the space gate flashed up and out she came. She was even spookier than the O.E.L. boy and his neato action figure. She was head to toe in armor, and even then she was cloaked up like a criminal. I’ve heard all sorts of stories of insane subspacer barbarians killing ten, twenty people at a time in their rampages; I just hoped I’d be back to tell the tale. She stepped on down from the gate; it was pretty obvious by the large bow around her back that she was an archer.
“Ey, you boys the expedition for the Valekrog?” she said. Her voice was pretty, but I was too spooked to notice at the time.
“That’s us,” I said.
“That is correct. I presume you are Ketev--” Metland was saying before he was cut off by the girl.
“Ultra-shooter Magnum Invincible? Yeah, thanks,” she said. I had to admit, I hadn’t met many subspacers, but they’re a ballsy bunch- especially if they’d pick fights with the O.E.L. over names.
“Oh, yeah. Whatever you’d like,” Metland said before he got to the brief. “The four of us will be hunting down an as-of-now uncaptured target on behalf of the O.E.L.’s science committee: the Valekrog. We will head east; one of our scanners picked up a heat signature that would match it. We’re going to bring it back alive if we can but, as the creature is highly dangerous, we may have no choice but to kill it. Shall we begin the description?” Metlend asked. I nodded, and the girl said “yeah.”
“Very good,” the tall robot started, “The Valekrog appears to have a magical capacity that the O.E.L. has not yet encountered in its traversal of the dimensions. The Valekrog can copy and emulate the abilities and talents of those it encounters, evolving with every opponent it defeats. This one we’ve found seems to already know how to use weapons of our grade, along with stealth-techniques, both gained from singular operatives that we had sent in advance. Its skeletal structure is very flexible, and can fit through most crevices to hide or wait. Furthermore, it seems to know the common language. We underestimated the beast, and as a result the O.E.L. has called upon one of its finest operatives, this Metland here to my left, its latest of A.C.E. models, myself, and two of the best-qualified mercenaries for hire, which would be the two of you, to tackle the operation. The four of us will have to be vigilant. Be advised to be aware of the indigenous wildlife of the area, not just the Valekrog. The O.E.L. has not completed the study of the flora and fauna of this dimension, but from the footage we recovered from the failed operative’s laydecks, it appears there are threats both animal and vegetable, both on-ground and aquatic, aside from our target. As my partner Metland had mentioned, we will be heading East, in which I will track the beast’s heat-signature, leaving Metland to fire a tracking round into it; from there we will tire it out from barrages, and then weaken it enough to administer the tranquilizer. Its body is covered with a shell of thick armored plates, so we will have to administer the tranquilizer orally,” the robot said.
And so then I was all like “wait, so you want us to shove a bunch of juice in some giant bastard’s mouth, while it’s still alive?” I sure as hell didn’t like the thought of it, but then the robot confirmed it, and so then we were off.
Looking back on it, I should have known I was walking into what would have been my death; as I said, I like having money to eat, and I love buying gifts for Yane.
So our space gate was on this barren plateau, see, but all around us was this dense-ass jungle; like the thickest forest you could hardly even imagine. Up at the outpost it was all windy, but the only thing I could hear when we went down the ladder was just bugs and birds and all sorts of wild stuff; you know, lots of sounds you’d only dream about.
I’d have to admit, these O.E.L. guys have a pretty shitty job running around all the places no one wants to be, but they’re pretty cool about it all things considered; I bet that Metland guy did this sort of thing every day.
Right, so we finally got to the bottom of the ladder, and I kid you not, I was knee deep in this weird jungle water. I almost thought it was trying pull me deeper down in the first few seconds. Metland explained it was “an algae that encroaches across heat sources,” so I guess it wasn’t really dangerous, just annoying. But it only got worse after that. Everyone was whisper quiet as we went through the jungle, we even spotted a few of those aquatic predators the robot mentioned. We didn’t even shoot them, we just passed by because they were far away enough.
Okay, so now here’s where it gets real; thanks for letting me build it up a bit; sort of necessary for the story to be good and all.
Alright, so we kept wading through this water and playing it safe, but then we got to this other plateau; it was much shorter though, we could see the top of it. What looked like a person was standing up at the top. I didn’t see it for long- it just spotted us and ran off opposite us. Metland jumped up right then and pointed.
“That’s it! Go!” he said.
So we chased the beast for about two-so minutes, we had to shoot through a few groups of animals, because they were giving us trouble, and then we stopped and Metland gave the order to split up. I thought the order was stupid, and the subspacer seemed to feel the same, but we were the ones getting paid by them; we had to do what they said. Metland figured since he and his robot had all that tracking gadgetry with them, they might as well each go with one of us mercs. So the machine went with me, and Metland went with the subspacer.
I don’t know how the sun worked in that dimension, but it went from high noon to sunset mighty fast. The robot and I trailed the beast the best we could with its tech; I couldn’t even see any tracks considering the trail was in the water. We got up out of the swamp and to another plateau, and then the robot saw the beast and pointed it out. It looked to me like it was trying to sneak up on the other two, so I pulled up my trusty rifle with the robot, who had its own, and we took aim.
The monster was really a scary guy, I tell you. It was standing erect, though it looked like it’d just be a stupid-ass beast. It was colored like rocks, and had what looked like a bunch of tooth-necklaces. I guessed they’d be from all the people its killed. It was looking downrange really carefully, and started to aim a gun it had on it; turns out it was just looking through its scope to watch the other two, but I didn’t know it then.
Just before I was going to tell the robot to shoot, it did, set the tracking device into its back, and then I took my shot. Now, my gun wasn’t as great as the O.E.L. folks, but it certainly wasn’t anything to sniff at; my Ywnron rifle is the same model that the O.E.L. uses, just an earlier version, and I knew enough about their guns to add a few personal adjustments of my own.
My shot hit right on, but the creature’s plates absorbed the shock; I cracked him up a bit, but no blood. By this point the creature knew where we were, and then disappeared from sight, like turning invisible . . . no, really, it happened! So then it tore right out of there while we were reloading, but even though I couldn’t see it, the robot could.
“Your rifle,” it said. I handed it over, and it reloaded that thing faster than I could blink. So then the robot shot down again, and I heard it hit something; nasty-good shot, those A.C.E. model robots. It reloaded and fired again a few times, stood still a bit, and then handed me its own rifle from the ground. I followed the robot along the barren highland, and I spotted Metland and the subspacer down still in the swamp; it looked to me like the two O.E.L. guys could see the same thing. I wouldn’t really be surprised if they could, they almost look identical with all that high-tech armor, after all.
We ran along and Metland pulled out his rifle down below- started shooting. I figured he was a pretty good shot too, because I was hearing some racket from the beast; the scream hurt just hearing it. After a few hit shots from the two of them, the creature reappeared right before he turned into a canyon. Metland and the subspacer ran right in, me and the machine were still like, two minutes away from their spot. We caught up the best we could, and then things started getting really dark.
It was explained to me at the work office, after this little story, that Ketairne is a planet that has a one hour day, and a six-hour night. I didn’t understand then why the O.E.L. had made it illegal to live there, I did then.
The robot and I ran down back into the swamp and into the ravine; I took a wild guess that we were faster than the other two, so I figured it wouldn’t take long to catch up with them. We went through the canyon just just a minute, chose the right fork in the ravine, and then something swiped at us from a cave.
I didn’t see much but it was bigger than a ballenrue and angrier than that one time on vacation with Yane, you know the one? Yeah, I thought I told you that one.
Right, so I didn’t have a real gun, the robot had the one with bullets that actually hurt things in it, piece of shit. I thought I was dead, but that machine turned right around and shot that bastard’s head clean off with three shots; hell, I couldn’t have gotten one of by the time it had fired those three.
After that it was pretty obvious to the robot that it’s the best with the gun that has actual ammo, and so it turns to me and said “sorry for not being quicker with that, Varv, perhaps you have brought more than one weapon” like I was hurt or something. This got me thinking about all the stuff I have in my sack, and I realized I probably brought a few things along I could have used.
“Yeah- thanks,” I said, then we just moved on. The robots aren’t perfectly intelligent. Sometimes they do things that don’t really make sense to me.
Anyway, somehow I knew the beast wasn’t watching us right now, maybe it’s a hunters sense I’ve developed over the years; I dunno. So, we kept going down, the robot mentioned that we were coming up on “the decommissioned forward post.” We came up to a clearing, and standing out of the water is this awesome metal structure, you should have seen it; with radars and monitors and shit all sticking out- it was really cool. Then we heard a racket of gunshots and what sounded like explosions.
So we ran out into the clearing, right under the post, and then the subspacer came up while firing some arrows into the canyon; I thought when I first saw her that she had no idea what she was doing; who brings a bow to a gunfight? But turns out it was a magic bow, and shot magic arrows. I’ve never really gotten wizards, I mean, why would you spend all this time learning spells that guns can do faster and better? But that aside, the girl rushes up to us and she’s like “inside, it’s behind me!” So we rush in the two of us, but the robot just stays out. It just stood there, and then it raised up its gun. I was watching from up in the outpost, by the way, it had some pretty big windows. It got really quiet then; the only thing I could hear was the girl’s breathing, which wasn’t heavy at all even though she was running a ton just then; I guessed she was used to this sort of thing.
“So where’s the other guy?” I asked.
“He’s dead. It ambushed us,” she said.
“No way,” I thought, but it does makes sense; considering he’s not there anymore. I realized that if the creature can use a gun, it’d have Metland’s now, ammo and all. But yeah, this wasn’t the first time a partner died on a hunt, but I was really shocked with this one; you can usually tell if someone doesn’t have their head screwed on right, but the O.E.L. guy didn’t seem like the type.
I yelled “Get the hell up here!” to the robot. And then it said something like “the target is approaching,” technical-sounding, you know.
Carrying on, the robot was just standing outside, and then it started shooting into the canyon. It was toodark for me to see, so I flicked on my light, something I should have done earlier I’d say, and I could just barely see in the distance, it was Metland!
“What the eff?” she said. Now kid, you know that’s not what she said, but it’s not something that should be said, so I won’t.
Anyway neither of us could believe our eyes, the robot was shooting at the wrong guy, and it was obvious that Metland wouldn’t take that. So he pulled out his own gun and shot back. It was around this time that a funny idea got in my head: what if this here creature, being so flexible, could fit into one of the O.E.L.’s armored suits?
It was too late, anyway, because by the time it came to mind, the robot was a pile of gears and oil and shit. So Metland came up and called us to come out; said something about the creature affixing the tracking bolt to him, so that the robot would mistake him or something. Next to me the subspacer was just staring, and I asked her if we should go out. She was like “eff no” and honestly I agreed with her. That definitely wasn’t the real Metland, I thought; why else would the robot shoot at him?
So I responded to the not-Metland and was all like “Take off your mask so we’ll know it’s you!” And he was all like “no! the beast is right out here! It’ll take a shot!”
“Don’t trust it,” the subspacer said. We both knew for sure now that it was the creature; wouldn’t even take off its helmet to show us its face. The rifle with tracking ammo that the machine gave me wouldn’t help much, so instead I reached into my sack and pulled out my launcher.
. . . Yeah, kid, I know, I don’t always remember the shit I have on me; relax . . . Don’t give me that shit! . . . I didn’t use it against the furry beast because it would have blown me up too! . . . Yes! . . . Okay, now shut up and listen.
So usually I’m okay with getting my beasts, but sometimes you just gotta’ blow ‘em up. Remember that when some bright-eyed dumbass asks you to go hunting “sand worms” for ‘em; if you do your job right it’ll be more hole than worm by the time you finish.
Anyway, she shot her bow and I shot my launcher and Metland went up like a light; practically into bits. I cheered, called it a few names I shouldn’t have, and then the two of us went down; if we couldn’t bring it back alive, at least we could get some DNA; the O.E.L. usually lets it slide then. So just in case I searched the robot and got the little syringe thing; I didn’t know for sure if the bastard was still alive or not, but he sure as hell was the brightest thing in the clearing . . . yeah, just like a flood light, I swear! So me and the girl went up really carefully, but whatever was in that armored suit sure as hell wasn’t anymore; everything was on fire. So I got my clasps, took some DNA, and stowed it in one of my sample jars. Then the two of us congratulated each other on the successful hunt, and went back into the ex-outpost to rest a bit.
You been listening, kid? . . . No, I’m not done . . . So you like it so far? . . . Good, it only gets better.
Okay, it was me and the subspace lady and it was raining really hard. It was pretty comfy in the outpost though; it was still totally operational, I’d guess all of the crew was killed by the beasts and stuff. So yeah, it was quiet, except for the rain outside. The subspacer took a seat at one of the tables and took a load off, and I looked around; something in me just told me to be searching. And so I looked around a bit and passed all these high-tech devices, but then I find one I really recognize: a DNA analyzer, just like the one in the bounty office. I had my sample, and I was sure it was the beast, but I thought I’d give it a shot. So I made sure the instruments were clean, connected the analyzer to the Omni-net, put in the sample, and it started going through the motions.
Around this time the subspacer called over to me, saying that we might as well be on way back to the space gate; I didn’t see why, but I guessed she was desperate to turn in the bounty.
Then, there was a long, annoying beep. I looked over to the analyzer, and it connected the DNA signature to Metland; it wasn’t the beast- it was still out there.
Right then, another funny idea came into my head: what stopped the beast from killing the subspacer back in that ravine? Put the tracker on Metland, killed the subspacer instead, hopped right into her suit, and played the part? I poked my head out around the corner, and there she was, still just sitting; I could blow out that entire room with my launcher . . . but what if it was really her?
I was ghost-quiet, but I was freaking out inside; I searched the place a little more and found an armory.
I got a new gun, the most recent O.E.L. military model, along with a couple other things that I thought might help, and then I walked up to the girl and took a seat opposite. By this time she was probably really confused why I didn’t respond the first time.
“Hey,” I said.
“Yeah, are you ready to go, then?” she said.
“Actually, it’s still raining and all, I thought we could just relax here a bit; maybe wait for it to get light.”
“Oh? Why’s that?”
“Because I’m tired, and I know you are too. Go on, remove your helmet,” I said. She paused a moment.
“Is something the matter?”
“No,” I said, “just curious what you look like.” So I was keeping a close aim on her under the table this whole time, and just now she picks up on it.
“Why are you pointing that at me? We killed--” she stopped. I’m guessing she took me for one of those scumbags that go on hunts with people and use opportunity to take advantage of his mates. My mind was racing for a way to prove it without a doubt . . . it had to be the helmet.
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to hurt you, I just want you to remove the helmet,” I said. Subspacers aren’t big fans of being told what to do, I tell ya’. Her breathing picked up real sharp, because she realized that I had a complete advantage. It didn’t matter if it was the beast or the girl, there was no way they could arm themselves quickly enough, or move quickly enough to outrun my shots. I couldn’t go near, either, because I couldn’t risk the beast swiping the rifle.
So we just sat there for a moment, and then, the girl gripped the table real tight, like she was about to shove it right into me.
“Why don’t you just take off the helmet?” I said one more time, though I knew she probably wouldn’t. You see, kid, disarmoring oneself when threatened is considered a huge insult in subspace; it’s something only cowards and children would do. Of course, the beast wouldn’t do it either. So then she took a deep breath.
“Why don’t you go fu--” she was cut off by the robot’s voice outside; it was torn up but something was still working.
“Varv, take the shot!” it yelled.
Right here the girl flew back and pushed the table into me. She was quick as hell, way quicker than I had seen her before. I followed the robot’s advice, and shot. The rifle was an auto, so even though I missed the first few times it tore the subspacer right up, no time to even talk. Blood was everywhere, and I gave a sigh of relief.
“Good job,” I said to myself. So then I took the beast’s DNA out from the subspacer’s suit, and went back to my seat. I guess the robot was okay somehow, and guessed it just in time.
. . . It was then that a funny idea popped into my head. I started sweating, and got really scared: what if this wasn’t the beast? I looked at the subspacer, took off her helmet, but whatever was in her armor was a total wreck; couldn’t make anything out, not even skin. That’s the thing about O.E.L. anti-personnel rounds, if they shoot those things at you you’re going to be a pile of mush the second the first one hits- something about “kinetic dispersal” I heard.
So then I called out to the robot.
“Ey, you there?” I yelled.
It was quiet.
“Hey! Are you there! Robot!” I yelled again. Nothing. I slowly brought myself to the window and looked outside. The robot was still there. Metland’s corpse was still there. I broke into a cold sweat right there- I just had to know.
I double checked to make sure I was the only thing alive inside of the outpost, and then I went up to the DNA analyzer. I put in the sample I got from the subspacer, and after a few seconds, it beeped. It said the sample was a human being.
Just then, I heard what sounded like the robot laugh, and then Metland, laugh, and then the subspacer laugh; all of them outside. I vomited all over the place, I was horrified and had no idea what the hell was going on. But then I heard a voice speak from just over head, thing was that the voice was mine . . . my own voice was speaking to me.
“I’ll let you go. I need someone to tell a story and make sure no one else comes here. You listen here, sir: I don’t enjoy the company, I don’t enjoy it when you bastards come here to shoot at me and my friends, I really don’t enjoy it that you think you can own something just because you walk on it, or that the earth doesn’t rise right up and strike you. Go back to your space gate, leave me alone,” my voice said. Then I heard a heavy, strong creature leap off the outpost’s roof, and just like that it was gone. I waited until it was light, and then I went back to the gate.
Well kid, that’s my story. I just wanted to tell you this to maybe help you realize, now that you’re going on your first mission tomorrow, there are hunters, there are the hunted, and there are those that hunt the hunters. No matter how big a gun you have, there will be other things smarter than you; so smart, and so skilled, that they can just decide to have you and your hunting buddies kill each other. That said, kid, the mind is the best weapon, because it’s the one that decides who’s the target, and who isn’t.
Anyway, don’t get cocky, think often, and have fun; next time dinner’s going to be on you . . . don’t give me that look . . . yes you’ll have the money . . . okay, good, deal. Now let’s get back home, your mother’s going to be pissed if we don’t head back pretty soon.