|The Transformation Story Archive||The Circe Treatment|
Harold's First Hunt
Harold checked his rifle one last time, and then doublechecked it again. He readily admitted his nervousness to himself, yet also realized that he was as close to living his boyhood dreams as he'd likely ever come.
He had always loved the old tales of the great white hunters, on safari in Africa or India back in the colonial days. To hunt something that could hunt him back, cut off from civilization and in completely unknown territory, was the greatest thrill he could imagine at that young age.
The dream had stayed with him and he had grown up to become a hunter, of sorts, but the modern world was a pale imitation of that lost era. The unknown territories were cultivated now, the remaining jungles riddled with resorts and tourists. The great animals were all extinct, save for those in the carefully-managed Reserves, and he could hardly hunt them. Even if he were immoral enough to kill former humans, and skilful enough to avoid being caught and reassigned himself, it would not the same as hunting one of those wild beasts in the vast wilderness of antiquity.
In his work with the wildlife management agency, he had even come across reassigned tigers and such that refused to eat raw meat. Pathetic.
So he had been reduced to a simple game warden, counting himself lucky if he was forced to tranq a recalcitrant or runaway reassignment. It was as close as he could come to the dream, he had realized, and his years of practice to become the best would be useless except as a hobby. But he kept at it, honing his skills anyways.
And now, unexpectedly, his time had come.
Harold's car pulled to a stop in front of the gate in the fence that surrounded the area of the old reassignment center. He could hear the hum of the fence even inside, and the occasional sharp snap of arcing electricity when something brushed it. He smiled and got out of the car; his inhuman foe was waiting somewhere inside, lurking amongst the trees and ruins.
Several other wildlife management agency vehicles had arrived with him, a medical van and several transport trucks. They disgorged doctors and animal handlers, who joined him and the gate's guards for a final briefing.
"Okay," Mr. Benson said. "We've just got the latest satellite photos, and one of your targets was spotted in the east clearing. If pattern holds, the other should be nearby. Mr. Johnson," he addressed the head technician, "is Harold's suit working?"
Mr. Johnson had already started checking as Mr. Benson had been speaking, hooking his computer into the bulky backpack unit Harold wore. "Looks fine," he reported. "Turn him on." Mr. Johnson disconnected the computer and opened a small access panel, flipped a switch, then closed and latched it shut. Harold punched a short code into the keypad on his arm, and his hair stood on end as current flowed through the mesh embedded in his full-body suit. "Looks good," he reported.
"Okay. Well, Harold; I guess this is it. Good luck, and don't take chances in there." Harold nodded, picked up his rifle, and walked through the gate into the wilderness within. The gate was closed solidly behind him.
Harold was hunting unicorns.
About a year ago, a clay jug had been unearthed by archaeologists in Greece. It had contained horse hair of an unknown type, and when it had been used in a reassignment it turned out to have been from a unicorn. The unicorn had promptly gone mad, and with its magical abilities had laid waste to the reassignment center and the people inside. Only a few had recovered their minds, something that even Circe treatments had a hard time repairing. The unicorn's magic was completely unknown to human science.
Fortunately, human science could learn. It had very quickly been established that magic had its limits; for some reason, the buildings around power transformers and distribution boxes hadn't been destroyed. In fact, the area's electrical systems remained relatively intact until someone switched off the power from the outside. Then they had been broken down. Obviously magic was jammed by powerful electromagnetic fields, and fortunately the unicorn hadn't seemed eager to travel beyond the forest it had created. So and the army corps of engineers was able to erect an electrified fence around the entire area, trapping it inside. It had since tried to get out, but the fence held.
On the other hand, within that fence the unicorn was very powerful. A squad of marines had been sent in, but all had come back twisted into fantasy shapes and most of them out of their minds. The problem had been more carefully studied after that, and finally Harold's suit had been constructed. If the theories were correct, it would shield him from magic and detection until he could get his shots in.
As he quietly stalked through the woods, following the crumbled ridge of a foundation for cover, Harold really hoped that the theories were correct. Shortly after entering he had encountered a deer; after he had confirmed that it wasn't a unicorn and his heartrate had come back down, he realized that the only place a deer could have come from in here was from a former victim of the unicorn. It was obviously pretty far gone, mentally, or it would have gone to the gate for help already.
Harold hunted on, approaching the clearing that one of the unicorns had been seen in an hour before. He checked his heads-up display, and noted that there had't been an update since then; he didn't know if it was still there. He smiled. The great hunters of old hadn't had satellite guidance, either.
There it was, grazing on the edge of the clearing, apparently unaware of his presence. Harold crouched behind the heavily overgrown hulk of a car and lined up his shot, waiting for the scope to lock onto the target. But where was the other one? Somehow, the first unicorn had managed to make another unicorn shortly after it had been 'born'; they usually stayed together, but he could only see one. He had to get them both, or the remainder might be able to remake the other.
The scope locked, and Harold put the question out of his mind. He examined the unicorn closely; it was female, probably not the original. Whatever. Harold lightly squeezed the trigger, and with a faint "phut-hissss" the Viper gyroc round was away. It took only a few seconds to cover the distance, and the unicorn jumped from its impact in her side. She looked around nervously. Harold waited.
After a few seconds, she staggered. Harold finally allowed himself a moment of exultation; the tranquillizer was working, even on unicorns! With a plaintive vocalization, the unicorn lay down and her eyelids drooped. She should be out for hours, certainly long enough to find the other one. Harold checked his display for an update.
Suddenly, before he could react, there was movement in the corner of his vision. He tried to turn, but he wasn't quick enough; the unicorn slammed into him, delicate spiral horn piercing him just beside his backpack and tossing him aside like a rag doll. Harold screamed in pain, but so did the unicorn; the current in the suit's mesh arced and burned. The unicorn staggered, and Harold struggled to breathe. It took both several moments to recover.
One hand pressed over his wound, Harold pulled himself to his knees and crawled towards where his rifle lay. The unicorn saw what he was doing and whinnied; his scorched horn sparkled briefly and the rifle crumbled with decay before Harold could pick it up again. Harold was fighting for his life now; he drew his sidearm. No tranquillizer load in this one; its explosive rounds were designed for maximum stopping power. Just what one needs when faced with an enraged unicorn.
Unfortunately, the unicorn was fast too; his forehoof slammed into Harold's hand as he brought up the gun, breaking bones and sending it flying into the underbrush. It went off as it did so, however, and the unmuffled explosion startled the unicorn. He reared back, and Harold scrambled away from him until he backed painfully into a tree.
The two froze, each watching the other for his first move. After a moment, Harold spoke. "Mr. Stein, I presume," he wheezed. The unicorn cocked his head, but continued to stare at Harold with anger in his eyes and stance. "I can tell you're upset," Harold continued, trying to keep the situation calm until he could figure out what to do next, "but I can explain. I, uh, yeouch!" One of the severed wires over his wound sparked painfully. Harold gritted his teeth and went on. "Mr. Stein, I'm from the Wildlife Management Agency, and we're here to relocate OW!" The sparking continued, and Harold tugged at the rip in the suit to pull the wires away from his flesh.
...asshole, shot my mate... the words came faintly into Harold's mind, and with sudden fear stopped pulling on his suit. The hole must be enough to let the unicorn's telepathy leak in, and he didn't want to make it any worse. "She's all right," Harold tried to assure him, "just tranquillized. I wasn't going to kill anyone."
...don't want you interfering... the unicorn's thoughts weren't really words, or at least not very sophisticated words; they were more like insight into what he was thinking. "You should have thought of that before you did all this," Harold retorted with a cough. "You didn't think we'd just give you a mucking great hole in the city, did you? And you can't just screw with anyone's mind and body that you feel like."
...that's what you people do...
"We have the right to!" Harold was angry now as well, and a little giddy. "We are the government, we represent society! Just 'cause you reject society, doesn't mean you can AAH!" Harold doubled over coughing and clutching his wound. The unicorn had punctured his lung, he realized.
The unicorn walked closer, and Harold feebly tried to wave him away. "No, keep away..." But he was too weak from blood loss, and the unicorn firmly rolled him face down with a forehoof. ...let me help,... the unicorn thought at him, and delicately widened the rip with the tip of its horn. Harold and the unicorn both screamed, Harold from fear of losing more of his protection and the unicorn from the electricity that scorched it; but he held firm and Harold couldn't break free.
Abruptly, the pain in his back and wrist went numb and Harold relaxed with a sigh. The unicorn was healing him through the rip, he realized, and he let the warmth wash through him. It felt very good, calming...
Sudden realization burst through the haze descending on Harold's mind. "No!" he screamed through clumsy lips, and with a burst of all his remaining strength and will he grabbed a Viper round from his bandolier and jammed it into the unicorn's leg. The unicorn reared and whinnied, his spellcasting broken; Harold scrambled out from under him as he quickly collapsed from the effects of the tranquillizer.
Harold stared dully at the sleeping unicorn for several minutes. Had he got it in time? He shook his head clear and turned on his communicator, until now shut down for stealth. His fingers felt clumsy but he managed it. "I got em," he rasped in a low voice. "Send in the pickup crews." Then he turned the communicator back off and closed his eyes with a heavy sigh.
Harold held up his hand and reluctantly pulled off his ill- fitting glove. As he had suspected, he hadn't quite stopped Stein in time. Black claws curved from his fingertips as he flexed his thick fingers, and the fur that covered everything except the pads on his palms had a distinctive orange-and-black striped pattern. Harold turned off the mesh suit and pulled off his helmet, freeing his catlike ears. His senses felt incredible, sharp... predatory. He smiled with irony, exposing his fangs. He really was a hunter at heart.
Harold's First Hunt copyright 1996 by Bryan Derksen.
|<< Restoration||Escape Claws >>|