The List – Episode 2: Big Game

“You are here to kill my daddy, aren’t you?” the girl at the door said.  I was expecting a butler, robot or otherwise, but was caught off guard by a girl who couldn’t be more than ten years of age.  Her large green eyes stared at me without quivering, awaiting my answer.

“Yes.”

“Follow me,” she said, and walked into the mansion, unfazed by my reply.  I slipped in through the closing door, and followed her as she stepped onto a moving path.

“I saw you on the news, you know,” the girl said, without looking back at me.  “You had a different face, but it was you.”

“Then you should know that I’m a very bad man,” I growled, trying to get the brat to pipe down.

“I bet that attitude works with most people,” she said as she stood her ground.  “But you are forgetting who my father is.”

Before I could retort, she jumped off the path in front of two creatures twice my height.  They looked like a mix between a crocodile and a bear, with a little bit of hell spliced in.

“Don’t worry, mister.  It’s just daddy’s trophies,” she said as she petted the stuffed beasts.

The double doors that towered behind the two creatures swung open to reveal a grand dining hall with a table that seemed the length of two city blocks.  At the threshold of the door, puffing on a cigar, stood my host.  Big Game.

“Daddy!” the girl screamed as she ran to give the man a hug around his leg.  Touching.

“How about you go fetch us some refreshments?” Big Game said to the girl, and she turned and skipped along the path and out of sight.  Big Game turned back to me.  “I see you’ve met Ruby.  I’m sure she’s not been a pest?”

“Just pleasant,” I said, keeping Big Game in my sight as he walked into the dining hall fit for a village.  I kept my distance and strolled in behind him in.

“I honestly didn’t think you would accept my invitation,” Big Game said, and pointed at a chair that sat at the end of the table.  I had considered declining.  The whole thing reeked of a set up, but curiosity got the best of me, and my weapons were always close at hand.

I slouched down into the seat.  Just then did I notice the heads of the creatures covering every square inch of the walls of the room.  Big creatures.  Creatures that should not exist.

“Some collection you’ve got here,” I said as I admired the trophies:  wolves with dozens of horns pointing in every direction, tiger heads the size of a small car and teeth the size of a small child, along with several hundred other transgenic monsters that would keep normal people up at night.

“Thank you for noticing.  It’s quite an expensive hobby of mine, but there is nothing more I enjoy than the thrill of the hunt.  This mansion is over two hundred acres in size, and houses several different habitats that I use as my hunting grounds.”

“It’s a little demented, don’t you think?”

Big Game let out a laugh.  “You and me, I don’t think we are so different.”

I hardly noticed when Ruby appeared beside me.  She placed a steak dinner and glass of chardonnay in front of me.  I didn’t touch it.  She did the same for her father, and left the room as silently as she had entered.

I tapped the table.  My patience was running thin.  “Big Game, member number six of the Superior Six, the group at the top of my list.  What’s this about?”

“I suppose we should get down to business,” Big Game said as he chomped a bite of the meat off his fork.

“No, I’d prefer to wait longer, if you don’t mind.”

“Quite the joker, aren’t you Levi?”  Big Game set his fork down and leaned over the table.  “I want you to combat me to the death.  And I want you to win.”

I sat straight up.  “I’ve never heard that one before.  What’s the catch?”

“No catch.  I won’t go easy on you, or let you win.  You’ll have to earn it.”

“Right.  Your reason is?”

“I want out, Levi.  And this is the only way.”

“You could just leave the country then.”

“You and I both know that I can’t just quit.  They’ll hunt me down and kill me, and I don’t want to think about what they would do to Ruby.  I’ve thought this through, and this is the decision I came up with.  If I were to die while facing you in combat, Ruby would be free from all this, and have a chance to live a normal life.”

Something about this didn’t sit right with me.  Big Game was twisted when it came to his pets, but other than that he was clean.  None of the drug dealing, bribing, or extortion that his type was usually associated with.  He was still a member of the Superior Six, which should have been enough for me to put a bullet in his brain without hesitation.  But there was something else gnawing at me, some resemblance of a conscience.  I thought I had shed that thing years ago.

“I won’t do it.” My own answer surprised me.

“Think of my daughter.  Have you ever had a family, Levi?”

Flashes of a distant past played across my mind.  A girl, about the same age as Ruby, and a woman who’s smile brightened my day.  All of these memories, fake.

“I don’t remember.  But find another way.”  I pushed the chair back and turned to leave.  My legs buckled and I caught myself on the table before I smashed my face on the floor.

“What did you do to me?” I yelled, the words coming out in a jumbled mess.

“Since you entered this room we’ve been exposed to an almost untraceable anesthetic, one that I have built up a resistance to.  You, on the other hand, have not.”

I yanked out my Seiver, and waved it in his direction, but I was seeing multiples of him.  I shot randomly, blowing holes into dead animal skulls, until I had no more strength left in my finger to pull the trigger.

“I told you, this is the only way.”

✓✓✓✓✓✓✓✓

                I awoke to the sight of a beast above me.  I caught the details in a quick glance – from the horns protruding out the snout of a panther like body, to the grey armor skin taken from a rhino – before I started writhing my body in an attempt to get out of its sight.  I couldn’t move.  My ankles burned from where rope was tied too tight. I looked back to the beast, who sat there patiently as saliva dripped down its fangs and pooled at its enormous paws.  My face was heavy from what I thought was a side effect of the anesthetic, until I realized I was upside down, hanging from a tree.  The beast either wasn’t able to attack me from where I was, or was waiting until I woke up so it could play.  I didn’t want to stick around to find out.

I reached for my gun, but realized that was gone along with all my other supplies, light armor, and jacket.  Where my beam blade should have been holstered to my arm there was instead a hunting knife that I assumed was left generously by Big Game.  I quickly changed my mind about refusing Big Game’s offer.  If it was death he wanted, it was death he was going to receive.

As I dangled, I took in as much of the upside down world as I could.  I was hanging in a clearing that was surrounded by tropical trees that kept me seeing much farther than a few hundred feet.  Light came from a rendering of a cloudless sky on the above ceiling screen.  I wiped the sweat from my eyes, but it did no good since my entire body was drenched.  It looked and felt like a real jungle, but I knew I was still on Big Game’s estate.  I was just glad there weren’t any bugs.

In the short time it took me to size up my situation, two more horned panthers strolled up and sat beside the first.  The first decided it had waited long enough, and it lunged, easily clearing the twenty feet between him and me.  Its jaw clamped down where my head had been half a second ago.  I was already rocking my body back and forth, swinging by my feet with my knife in hand.  At the height of my swing, I bent up and sliced through the rope that bound my feet.  As I tumbled in the air, I caught sight of one of the beasts running to meet me at my landing.  I twisted around so that when it jumped for me my entire body slammed into its side.  I bounced off the beast and onto the ground, but it hurt a lot less than it would have if the beast hadn’t broken the fall.  The beast staggered, and then snapped its head towards me as it regained its footing.  It was then that I noticed that the creature had no eyes, just sandy gray skin where the sockets should be.

I brought my knife up, ready for the attack.  Blood dripped off the knife and ran down my arm.  I ran my other hand up and down my body, but there were no wounds.  The blood wasn’t mine.  I slung it off the knife so I could get a clean cut.  The beast in front of me whimpered and turned, and now I could see the deep gash that spurted a steady stream of blood out of its side.  Before I could go in for the kill, the two other beasts burst through the bushes.  Their rows of razor teeth glistened as they dived in.  I snarled and raised my blade, prepared to fight them to the death.

They dove in with exposed fangs and clamped their bone crunching jaws.  Their claws extended and ripped off shreds of flesh.  But it not been me they had targeted – their prey was the injured beast.  I took the opportunity presented to me and rushed into the jungle as the dying beast let a final howl that was cut short by the sound of gurgling blood.

I put as much distance as I could between the beasts and myself, and then ducked into some bushes.  I held my breath and lowered my heart rate, scanned the area, listened for the rustle of leaves.  The beasts must have been too preoccupied with their fresh kill to worry about me.  Before I had time to breathe a sigh of relief, the tree directly to my right exploded.  Wood splintered in every direction, and the top half of the tree snapped over, the shadow of it growing over me as it fell my direction.

I bolted out of the course of the tree, and for a split second saw the path of carnage that caused the tree to explode.  For over a mile there was now a straight clearing where trees and shrubs had just been.  I knew what was at the other end of that path.

Big Game’s augments were subtle – minor increases in muscle density, and a heightened sense of smell, hearing, and balance.  But the one thing he was known for was his forever seeing eyes and the countless snipping records he broke with them.  I’d heard stories that he could hit a target from a distance of ten miles.  And I wasn’t lucky enough to have more than a couple miles between us.

I crouched back down and out of sight.  He must have seen me hide before, and was just trying to draw me out.  Now he would wait until I made my move.  So I decided to make him wait.

I laid as flat as I could against the base of the destroyed tree, pressing my body down so that the dirt and splinters crept over me.  From my position, I could see the sky screen clearly.  It was high quality, and would fool untrained eyes into thinking it was real.  If it was mimicking a real sky, there was a good chance that it would follow the normal pattern of night and day.  I wagered that was the case, and stayed absolutely still, not blinking my eyes, keeping my senses on full alert for the beasts.

My patience paid off as the sky started to darken and dusk set in.  It probably wouldn’t affect a professional like Big Game’s ability to shoot, but I needed every advantage I could get.  My plan was set, and now it was time to put it into motion.

I rolled from my hiding spot and lunged a few yards, then turned and sprinted in the other direction as a line of trees split into a million pieces behind me.  I kept low, but just in sight to tempt Big Game to fire again.  He did, and this one breezed by over my head, close enough that it felt like someone had taken a hammer to my temple.  But now I had a good idea of his location.  I held my head up for another second before diving to the ground as another bullet blew by overhead.  It was a risky move, but now I knew there was a short lag between each of Big Game’s shots, a side effect of using a high powered rail rifle.  I continued to move, half on my knees and elbows, until I was back in the clearing I had started in.  My guess was also right that Big Game didn’t have a clear shot to the position I’d started in.

In the middle of the clearing laid the carcass of the first beast.  Its flesh was almost completely gone, and now it was a pile of blood and bones.  Somewhere nearby the other two beasts were lurking.  Now it was time for the next phase of my plan.  I pulled my knife out and took a deep breath.

✓✓✓✓✓✓✓✓

Branches and limbs whipped across my arms and face, cutting in tiny lacerations, and my chest and legs burned as I pushed them to their limits.  The two beasts were trailing behind me, close enough that I could feel the pressure from their jaws snapping shut as they bit at my heels.  From the front came bullet after bullet, splitting the world in half and creating easy trails for me to follow.  Big Game was less than a hundred yards away, in standing position with his six foot long rifle held up to his shoulder, and with each of my fiery strides that gap was quickly closing.  I could see down the barrel of the gun now.

I flipped my knife in the air and caught it by the tip.  I flung it towards Big Game and threw myself to the ground as the next bullet ripped through the air just above my head.  The knife stuck into the ground at Big Game’s feet, and I saw a hint of surprise on his face as he glanced down at it.  The two beasts went soaring over me, and one exploded in midair, showering me with bits of bone and tissue.  The other one lunged for Big Game, its talons just inches away from his face before its head disintegrated into a red powdery mist.

I had one second between shots, and I used it to close the distance on Big Game.  The barrel of his rifle was now safely behind me, along with its range of fire.  I rolled and grabbed the knife by the handle, and popped out of the roll with the tip aiming for Big Game’s neck.  Big Game caught the blade between the index and middle finger of his free hand, and the tip stopped just short of his carotid artery.  I put all my force into shoving it deep into those veins, but the knife didn’t budge.  This was the power of a Superior Six member?  He wasn’t even breaking a sweat.

I slid a sharpened ulna out from the back of my belt, courtesy of the dead beast back in the clearing.  I kept it hidden behind my wrist as I let go of the knife and thrusted forward.  In that instant Big Game had the knife flipped around in his hand, and he was swinging down, aiming for my neck.  The edge of the blade filleted the skin down the back of my shoulder as I continued to put all my weight into Big Game.  As we fell back, I felt the skin and bone give way under the pressure of my make shift weapon.  I rolled off of Big Game as we landed, leaving the shiv lodged deep into his chest.  I was ready to bring my boot down onto it to drive it further in when Big Game let out a laugh that stopped me with my foot frozen in the air.

“You were able to do it after all,” Big Game sputtered as a trail of blood ran down his cheek.  I stepped back from his barely breathing body.  “You are a tricky one.  You missed with your knife on purpose, didn’t you?”  He glanced at the blood stained rag tied tight around my arm to staunch a freshly made wound, and then to the blood covered knife that he still held in his hand.  Covered in my blood.  It was another gamble, but it was easy to deduce that the beasts relied on their sense of smell, particularly the scent of blood, much like a shark does.

“I see.  The beasts weren’t going for me.  They were going for the knife.”

“You still let me have it, you piece of crap,” I said through gritted teeth.  There was no way I should have won, and I knew it.

“I know what this means to your pride, but swallow it.  Otherwise you’ll never beat the Superior Six.”

“Treat your wound and fight them yourself if you’re so against them.”

Big Game let out another wet cough.  “I’m afraid I can’t do that.  I’ve already made arrangements for Ruby; she’ll be safe this way.  Behind me you will find a door recessed into the wall.  All your gear is there, take it and get out. Your hunt isn’t over yet.  But this is the end for me.”  He gripped the bone sticking out of his chest with both hands, and with bulging eyes he plunged it deeper, until his body went completely limp.

I stared at his body, my fists clenched tight to the point that blood was trickling off my palms.  I released the tension in my hands as I turned and headed for the exit.  Of course Big Game was right.  The hunt was long from over.