Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer
Jardine dragged himself over the log, gasping in agony as the belt that formed the tourniquet on his leg caught. His jodhpurs were stained and the lower sections were covered in bloody handprints where he’d had to kick Harvey loose.
It had been the first Pembrokeshire hunt in over a century, set in the recently restored forests and part of the carefully designed fauna management plan. After all, if one were going to restore a nineteenth century estate, why not have authentic methods of vermin control?
Those last two words came back to haunt them. They had all laughed at the antics of the anti-hunting lobbies of the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries, but really, in the hierarchically-enlightened twenty-third century, what could the great unwashed do?
It turned out that some of the ‘unwashed’ had kin who had fought in the Tarantilla and Shoren Gar campaigns. Descendents who excelled in the comparatively new discipline of cyborg handling.
The Pembroke Hunt had used genegineered hawks for spotting and all the hounds were networked – it made it easier for the packmaster. Things had been going swimmingly until the fox turned at bay, and the hawks had all gone dark in rapid succession. The packmaster had shouted something unintelligible before going into a Grand-Mal seizure and thrashing himself to death. Far away, they heard the baying of hounds in full rout. It became a fascination, listening to the number of crying animals drop off one by one. By the time the last hound limped into view, those remaining realised they had left it far too late to run. To reinforce that, the one flying thing that remained unloaded an unholy number of dart-missile things into their horses. Some horses blew up while the others keeled over, either shutdown or dead. Riders were crushed, limbs were broken.
Into this scene of chaos came the Fox.
A red-eyed hunting cyborg – the Rorschach stain of white question marks visible on its head identifying it as one of the deadly Critsune marque – set itself to slaughtering the downed huntsmen.
This encouraged the ambulatory survivors to flee, and the macabrely reversed hunt began in earnest. All afternoon they fled, manners and artifice banished by terror and desperation. Naked brutality surfaced, where people crippled former friends to give themselves more time.
As evening drew in, Jardine had kicked Harvey until his nose broke and he fell backwards into the cutting. Jardine knew that cutting, it was the one that ran across the foot of the wooded backdrop to the formal lawns. Lawns that replaced the lakes about Pembroke Castle. He was nearing safety!
He curled himself with his back to the log while the pain in his leg eased. When his vision was no longer grey at the edges, he gathered himself for the last stretch.
Red eyes opened in the shadows between him and the castle towers.
There was a crackle. A voice came from the Fox: “The birthplace of Henry Tudor silhouetted against the last light in a way that he himself could have admired on his way to Bosworth. Fitting, don’t you think? A nod to heritage as we have this out.”
Jardine choked, his throat dry: “What do you want? Money? Fame? Have you recorded this?”
There was a chuckle: “I want you to die, Foxhunter. I want the abhorrent practice to remain a thing of the past. Thus you will be a statistic of a massacre unclaimed. Fear is better for keeping this sort of thing under control.”
The Critsune leapt for the kill.