Tessa Schlesinger was born with ink in her genes. She is a teller of stories, an author, a poet, and a writer.
They tell me I have the oddest desires. Personally, I think it’s a spirit of adventure. When I told friends and family, I was going to go on safari to Red River Rock country on Tolibrerario, they told me I was nuts. Everybody’s entitled to their opinion, I suppose.
I’d heard from my friend, Potiphar Phillips - Poti to friends - a roving writer for The Cartographer’s Friend, that Jomo Jalonsky was taking up the challenge to hunt and kill a Riller Griller. That being said, it was a major competition, although Poti did mention that there were only three entrants – the three top hunters in the known universe. Dropping a Griller had never been done before, and some thought it quite impossible.
My boss tried to talk me out of it, but then he would, wouldn’t he? Good stenographers are hard to find. Of course, he didn’t get it. Good men are even harder to find. So I thumbed a ride on a luxury interstellar cruiser and disembarked about a week later on Toli. Tolibrerario is a short ride from Planet Central.
Upon my arrival, I hired the very best I could afford in scoot suits. If I wanted to succeed in the hunt, I needed to be well prepared. I knew that some of the suits came with zap guns that dropped an adult Behemoth at 100 paces. Whether they would drop a baby Riller Griller was another matter. Riller Grillers are not known for their gentle natures.
The only hotel on Tolibrerario was packed with journalists, weirdoes, hunters, and spectators. It was a big event and had galactic exposure. I hadn’t made a reservation beforehand, but then I didn’t know I was going to be on Toli, did I? I’d brought my own living quarters (an efficiency tent) in case the hotel was fully booked, but camping on a planet as untamed as Toli was never a good idea. Tolibrerario had never been settled. Come to think of it, perhaps the humongous purse that was being offered was nothing more than bait to find a way of encouraging some to tame the wild.
Jomo had always had a nose for the big one. I guess that’s what made me a fan of the man the first time I’d read about him. When I saw his picture, my knees had turned to gel, and I’d been plotting and planning ever since. The only question was whether I could finish my hunter training before he hot hitched to a hottie, and retired or something. I’d invested every penny of my not unsubstantial salary into that training, and I’d been training a good two years now. I reckoned I was ready to do the deed. Perhaps that’s why when Poti told me about the competition, and that the top three hunters had entered, I felt it time to test my newly acquired skills.
The smart ass at the front desk who checked me into the hotel eyed me up and down. “Journalist?” she asked.
“Hunter,” I replied.
I guess after all the work I’d put in, I still didn’t look the part. Being blonde and buxom didn’t always work as a girl’s best friend. Still, a girl must never give up.
“The sponsors of the hunt are giving guidelines for hunters tomorrow. Early start.”
“I’ll be there.” I replied as professionally as a first timer could, and hoped that all that lovely lolly I’d spent on my training paid off. It would be nice to take the ultimate trophy home.
My room was the size of a cube. The storage place for the hunting equipment took up by far the bigger portion. I didn’t want to chance waking up late or unrefreshed, so I hit the sack early. The following morning, I was up before the sun, had a small breakfast comprising mostly energy supplements and vitals. Then I made my way to the competitors’ room.
Naturally, there was a stunned silence upon my entrance. Women aren’t often big game hunters, and there aren’t any in the top galactic ten. Unsurprisingly, Jomo recovered first. He stepped back to allow me entrance to the group. It demonstrated the man’s flexibility in unexpected situations. Always a good trait for a hunter. He introduced me to the others and himself, “Jet Adams, Ant Ubrat, and I’m Jomo Jalonsky,” he pointed to each of them in turn.
In the way these things go, there were assistants buzzing about handing out freebies – mostly newly designed weapons meant to take down a Riller Griller. It was tempting to think about using one of them, especially when one heard the confidence in the voices of the promoters. However, there were no takers. We all knew that one didn’t work with a weapon one wasn’t familiar with. Still, there were other interesting freebies – highly compressed first aid kits, smart food, even more sophisticated communication devices, and whatever else a hunter could use in the field. Then the sponsor of the competition – the Better Business Bureau – flicked up a 3D globe of Toli and indicated where the nests of Riller Grillers were. The globe contained pretty comprehensive information, with the few foot paths on the planet clearly marked, as well as the places where the ‘copters could put us down. At the end of the presentation, we were each given a globe. The other hunters weren’t particularly impressed with the gift. I was over the moon. It was my first globe. Hell, the thing cost more than my two years training ten times over!
I felt a bit awkward about remaining there chatting with the other three, especially as they seemed to know each other well. They didn’t appear in the least phased that on the following morning they would be in a killer battle, not only with Riller Grillers unknown, but competing against each other for a major purse. So I made my way back to my room, played around with the globe, tried to recap as much as I could remember from my two year’s training, and made rough plans for the hunt.
The next day dawned dark – unexpectedly - because storms on Toli were rare. They were also deadly. It was decided by the sponsors that we would be required to partner, just in case the weather took a turn for the worse. There was a strong sense of disappointment, I think. After all, a purse and a prize of glory shared by two wasn’t quite the same thing as enjoying it all by oneself. Jet and Ant immediately gravitated towards each other which left Jomo with me. I don’t know whether he was pleased with that, but that was the way it was.
He ambled over, looked me in the eye and said, “Guess we better get moving.” So, I picked up my gear and followed the man. That’s what a good hunter did.
He was quiet. Didn’t say much, but then sometimes people with a lot inside them knew that one’s thoughts weren’t always appreciated by those who did not listen.
“Got any plans to take him down?” he asked once we were on board the ‘copter.
“I thought it best to use the terrain to trap the Griller, isolate it from the herd, and then work on taking it down from there. I also think that the south is full of canyons that we can use to our advantage.” I could see the approval on his face.
“I like it,” he said. Red, hot frissons of delight rushed through me. It certainly looked like all those hunting lessons were going to pay off.
As we settled into our four hour journey, Jomo took out his globe and began to study the geography of the planet and its inhabitants. I couldn’t think of a better example and followed suit.
The pilot dropped us a mile or so from a Riller Griller lair. There were twenty of them – not a large group as Riller Griller herds go, but large enough for our purpose. We tracked the pack through Red River Rock country for two days, constantly herding them towards the canyon I had selected. By then, we’d named our prey and were working on a way to separate this king of beasts from his entourage. Jomo had decided to take the leader of the pack. No easy deal that, but it didn’t surprise me. Jomo was known throughout the galaxy for taking on the big ones.
Rillers hunt in packs and stick closer to each other than a babe to the beckoning bosom of its mother. It took some maneuvering on our part, yet it turned out easier than we expected. There was a narrow gorge, and the leader - in the grand tradition that the king of the beast has a certain responsibility to handle any approaching danger - went first . The Riller was an enormous animal, a porcupine affair with enough quills on its back to write the history of Ajar and then some. Then Jomo and I shot down some rocks from the top of the canyon ledge. They toppled into the narrow path, separating the king from his followers. There wasn’t much the rest of the pack could do, except howl and honk. I tell you, the noise was equal to Anjangalangs scoring a foul.
Still, while the animals beneath us were occupied with trying to figure out their plight, Jomo and I decided to take advantage of the state of affairs and had something to eat, then caught a quick nap. We woke up when the noise subsided, both of us having developed the instinct of the hunt. Silence often meant danger.
The beasts on both sides of the rock pile had become quiet. The herd was grazing while the king just stood. For the first time in days I wondered how our competition was doing, so I called in. Turned out Jet and Ant had lucked out. They had chanced on a cub separated from its pack, then cornered it in a dead end alley, surrounded by rocks on three sides, and water on the forth. I didn’t ask for an explanation, but figured the cub must have swum across some water in order to evade its hunters. Jet and Ant had apparently spent some two days shooting it with their best – and strongest – armor shells, but nothing had penetrated its hide. It was still very much alive. So, they reckoned they would just wait for it to starve. That was not good news for either Jomo or myself. If the shell of a cub couldn’t be penetrated by heavy armor shells, then how were Jomo and I going to kill the immense killer we had below. I didn’t voice my thoughts, though. It wasn’t good hunting protocol to voice doubts.
Jomo jumped from the canyon edge onto the Griller. He landed on its back – a prickly affair. He must have been wearing one helluve scoot suit. Jomo rode him for the next five days while I herded the beast away from places where we did not think it safe to go.
On the seventh day of the hunt, we discovered that the he was a she. The Riller Griller went on heat. We could smell it, and so, no doubt, could Riller Grillers for miles. We did not expect that to be a good thing, and it wasn’t. A couple of hours later, we saw, in the distance, a pack of overgrown Rillers heading straight for us.
Jomo is a quiet man. I asked him what we were going to do. “Give the lady her way,” he replied, a smile in his voice.
“Are you going to get down?” I asked.
“Can’t do. If I do, I might never have a chance to mount him again.”
“You’ll be killed,” I said, suddenly quite despairing that this hunt was not going to go the way I wanted it to go.
“I’ve done this before.”
“Not on a Riller Griller.”
“There’s always a first time.”
I guess there is.
I called in to our sponsors, explaining our position. Then I went cold as they explained some facts about Griller sexuality to me. When I cut the communication, Jomo was waiting.
“It turns out that the pack heading towards us only has one male. The rest are females, and they will fight to the death to get rid of another female joining the pack.”
We both knew then that we had a scant fifteen minutes to kill that Griller. Once the pack arrived, there is nothing more deadly than Grillers trying to kill each other. It is one of the most deadly battles in the galaxy. Actually, it had only been witnessed twice, but those clips are known everywhere.
It was then that the battle of all battles began. Jomo shot the beast, tried to knife him, pummeled his quill shell in every way he could think, but nothing dented that shell of quills. More to the point, the Riller Griller stopped being so polite. That beast had tolerated Jomo on its back, but with the increased attacks and, no doubt, the increased hormones, the quills on its back became shooting weapons. It was everything that Jomo could do not to get hit by one of those pointed arrows.
“Jump!” I yelled, even as I loaded my weapon of choice. I took aim – careful aim – as I remembered what my hunter father had taught me on all those hunting trips. I aimed for the first heart. The impact of the knife, no doubt increased by the velocity of a rifle shot, hit dead center, and penetrated. It sliced through those quills and we heard an anguished scream from the animal. The beast reared on its two hind legs and Jomo came off. He rolled from under its feet, jumped up, and ran towards me.
“Down!” I yelled, and indicated the ravine on the right. We scrambled down as the maddened beast rushed towards us. Both of us had the same thought as we grabbed for our rope and attempted to shoot the hook attached to the rope onto the ravine on the opposite side. Worse, we both started hearing the hooves of the pack that was headed our way. For a moment I thought that it would deflect the attention of the huge beast Jomo had ridden for the past week, but not so. It was aiming the quills on its body towards us both.
There were still another two hearts to deaden before that beast would die. We had minutes. While Jet and Ant were sitting on the other side of Tolibrerario waiting for their cub to starve, we either killed that meat gunning for us, or we were meat for the herd. It wasn’t much of a choice.
In the manner of people who are accustomed to doing things fast and furious, both Jomo and I were able to hook our ropes onto the ravine cliff on the other side. Then we both swung, ape style, to the other wall, and there we breathed. The quills still kept coming, but they fell short.
The thought flashed through my mind that Jomo and I had lost this competition. That just couldn’t be allowed to happen, though. I had lain out too much money to learn to hunt. And I had an idea. “I have an idea,” I said, and started scrambling down the ravine so that I could do what I had to do.
Jomo scrambled after me. The guy had good instincts.
When I reached the bottom of the ravine, I could see the underbelly of the beast. That’s where one of the two remaining hearts was. I took out my weapon and aimed for that second heart. The dart hit it dead on. The poison took seconds to take effect. I could see terror on Jomo’s face, just for a moment, as he waited for that giant beast to topple on us, but my father had taught me my poisons well. JugGel only paralyses the left, so the beast would fall to the left, and it did.
Jomo and I were declared hunters of the year, winners of the Best Business Bureau Galaxy Challenge. Of course, that wasn’t the trophy I had come for. I got that trophy a week later when Jomo proposed. My manhunt training had finally paid off. I had my trophy man. Of course, I probably wouldn’t have been quite so lucky if my hunter father hadn’t taught me everything there was to know about hunting beasts of another type as I was growing up.
© 2019 Tessa Schlesinger