Author: Palmer Caine

Every hair on Dexter’s body stood erect, his pupils dilated and his ears began to twitch. Xians’ caused this reaction in humans when on the hunt, it was defensive. In memory time would slow, every sense overloaded.

He’d been working the Plaza all morning without incident. No matter the time of year pockets are easy to pick in the Plaza. He was up sixty Earth reputes by lunch and treated himself to a gourmet sandwich and Belgium bun at Prestige Pastries. As he munched at a window table, Dexter watched crowds of shoppers, so many marks. If he picked enough this season he planned to visit his sister on Behemoth. He’d only been into orbit twice, once as a child and once when mother died.

The Xian took its time. It knew the thief was close. It learned from Uuman acquaintances that fear and suspense cause havoc to the nervous systems. As a hunter, it knew any creature that chose to hide was full of fear.

Dexter had thought it was human, an affluent human. The problem with a Xian is it reflects the things you want to see – sometimes good, sometimes bad, but always confusing. It’s what makes them great hunters. The only thing a human can trust is the fight, flight or freeze response. Dexter had a sudden urge to flee.

The huge extractor fans at the back of the Coliseum kicked in, venting directly into the park. The stench of fried food, corn, chicken and vaporised brine from jelly-like sausages filled the air, Dexter watched it condense in the trees – he could taste it on his lips. It confused the Xian’s senses, clinging to olfactory filaments. Xians’ like to smell their prey.

Dexter searched his pockets and pulled out the Xian’s pilfered belongings. A trinket – he thought it had a stone in it, something alien worth a mint. He studied it – a scaly rabbit’s paw. What he thought a stone was a luminescent disc of bone.

The Xian sensed the Uuman’s turmoil, confusion, fear and something else. It searched for stability, an image, memory – the process innate. It had been a long time since the Xian had hunted and it had never hunted Uuman. They were supposed to be adaptable, intelligent and aggressive like all mammalian casts. This one was a disappointment. The Xian’s toughened exoskeleton shone like living armour, appearance intensified by a layer of thickening sausage brine.

Dexter knew little about Xians’ – he’d heard of their hunting prowess but never thought he’d play prey. Just another galactic cast going about their business, he thought. His breathing increased.

The noise of the giant extractor’s ceased, both creatures listened intently. Now the Xian could taste it’s prey, sweet meat. Dexter stalled his urge to run momentarily, then, before he could move, the Xian was upon him. He saw a great insect looming in for the kill, his projection. The Xian grabbed for him and Dexter dodged its arms. He made a break for it but tripped over a hidden tree root. The Xian moved in staking him to the ground through his jacket, not his flesh. It stood over him.

As the projection fluctuated it gave a glimpse of the creature beneath. Dexter’s breaths were fast and shallow. The Xian bent forward, took the trinket from Dexter’s white hand and paused, staring deep into the Uuman’s eyes – fear, confusion and something else, something better than everything else.

The following morning Dexter was working the Plaza. No matter the time of year pockets are always easy to pick in the Plaza.