For the Honor of the Hunt
Rain pounded the bike's cab as I arrived at the edge of the wildwood refuge. I'd been wise to pull the top over before I left town and forgo the joy of the wind in my hair and bugs in my face. The intensity of the deluge took me by surprise, though, and I almost swept straight past the black and gold Andradora Police Force vehicle sitting at the side of the road. I abruptly braked, cursing when my bike slipped on the wet pavement. Careful, sister, I told myself. Careful. Not even this bounty is worth getting killed over.
But my headlong race from the city seemed to have paid off. I couldn't see another transport in sight, which meant I had arrived ahead of the pack. I would be the first bounty hunter in and I'd only have one competitor, somewhere behind me. Time to move quickly.
I found Milisin leaning against a stout, old bara tree. Her black Force uniform made her nearly invisible until she took one last drag off her cig. She ground the remains into the dirt, and stalked over to my bike, a formidable and unhappy woman.
I pushed open the cab and climbed out. Rain hit my neck with cold icy spikes and I grimaced at the bitter scent of wet bara leaves and dank, rotting vegetation.
"Hey, sister," Milisin said with a slap on my shoulder. I'd expected the blow and had already braced my legs. "Bad night for the bastard to show, eh?"
"Bad night and bad place," I said, tossing my waterproof pack over my left shoulder. I unlocked the rifle case and pulled my weapon out. An older model, but we'd had a long, good relationship together. "I hope he didn't think a little rain would keep him safe."
Milisin grunted agreement as she dug a comp out of her own pack and keyed the screen on, obviously in a hurry to get out of the weather. She leaned forward, shielding the screen as best she could from the falling rain. "Britta NiGwen, do you swear by the Laws of Andradora that you are a licensed Hunter in good standing, and you are fully cognizant of the danger and responsibility with which you now accept this Hunt?"
"I, Milisin NiJulia, do entrust you with the hunt for one Pal Delphison, wanted on seventeen counts of murder. A bounty of forty thousand credits shall be paid for the delivery of the quarry, alive, to any Andradora Police Force station or patrol. A consideration of fifteen thousand credits will be paid if the quarry is delivered dead. Do you understand and agree to these terms?"
"Then I do grant you leave, and luck, on the Hunt. Please place your palm on the scan for confirmation."
I shook water from my fingers and put my hand over the computer screen, watching the bar shift from red to green as the officials drew the thousand credit fee from my business account for the hunt registration.
"You want the bad news now?" Milisin asked as she snapped the comp closed.
I grimaced. "Let me guess. I'm not the first one in."
"Right," she said. She waved her hand toward the huge, black and gold vehicle. I could see a smaller, battered bike sitting in the mud to the right. Someone had hit hard times. "A loner went in ahead of you. Para's kid."
"Para's kid?" I echoed. She'd been a damn good hunter, before she went crazy and killed herself. "I didn't know she had a daughter."
I had pulled the rifle to my shoulder and turned to Milisin with shock and disgust. "You've got to be joking. She had a son? And the government licensed him to hunt?"
"All perfectly legal," Milisin said, and then shook her head, scattering more water than a dog in a puddle. "We're part of the Inner Worlds now, you know. Can't discriminate against the males. His name is Teon Parason. He went in about fifteen minutes ago. You're number two -- and at least I can close the site before we get any others applying to go in there."
"How the hell did he get here so fast?"
Milisin shrugged. "Said he'd tracked Delphison to this area, but didn't know where he disappeared until we put the call out."
"Well, damn. I don't need some lunatic male with a gun in there."
"Two of them. Don't forget your quarry."
"Damn crazy men," I said. I double-checked my rifle to make sure I had registered tracer bullets in place. I didn't want any question on who bagged this one. "You have a picture of Para's boy? I don't want to confuse him with the other male."
"You don't? Could save us all kinds of problems in the future," Milisin said. Then she shrugged and pulled the comp up again. "About your height, thin, and long hair. No facial hair, and real pretty, if you know what I mean. Sure didn't get his looks from old Para."
She held the screen out and I glanced at the picture of Teon. No, he didn't take after his gruff, craggy-faced mother. I nodded and Milisin closed the comp yet again.
Pal Delphison, my quarry, stood a head shorter than me with a squat, muscled body, and had a full beard. A shame they weren't more alike. I might reasonably mistake them -- but I wouldn't do so on purpose. I had a reputation to protect, even with a bastard male Hunter in there trying to get my bounty.
"I don't get it," Milisin said. "Men could hold any job except those handling weapons. Do you know there are almost as many males in politics now as women? Hell, my next-door neighbor's husband is an exec, and he makes more than she and I put together. They can have any other job -- we don't need to give them guns besides! Why the hell did the IWC have to come in and screw things up for us?"
"Because we asked them to," I said.
(Coming soon to Smashwords, two story set)