Author: David Barber

Hemmings made his living from hunting trips. It was his way to study clients as if they were big game themselves. Take this Fournier-Clément couple for instance.

Madame had glanced into her tent, found it spartan and clean, then busied herself with her gun.

Hubby had toured the camp complaining. There was no signal, no air-con and the toilet arrangements were primitive.

Hemmings confirmed there were rogue mechanoids in these wastelands, also artificial men, if you knew where to look.

“Have you hunted before?” he asked Madame, watching her in the driving mirror.

“Not for some years,” she said distantly. There was never any time now. She was poised and cool even in this heat.

“And you, Monsieur?”

“Just the target range.”

Rounding a bluff, they came across mechanicals and Hemmings singled out a yellow autonomic digger.

Hubby began booting up his weapon. It could hit targets a mile away without his help.

“We shoot on manual,” said Hemmings. This was also his way.

Madame rounded on her husband. “Perhaps you’d prefer an air strike.”

They approached on foot, with Hemmings to one side, allowing him a clear shot if needed. In a low voice, he listed vulnerable spots.

Instead, Hubby hit tyres, a headlamp and the bucket before the machine charged. It bounced towards them at surprising speed and the man dropped his gun and fled.

Hemmings fired the same instant as Madame, and both their AP rounds struck the mechanoid’s sensor cluster. Blinded, it slewed to a halt, engine revving like a panting beast.

“Good shooting,” he said to her, as he went to finish it off.

They ate dinner pretending nothing had happened, and Hubby began drinking. At first Hemmings felt sorry for him, then contempt. He still drank the man’s whiskey though.

The man appealed to him. “That business today—”

Madame interrupted. “Just stay in camp tomorrow.”

“It could happen to anyone on their first hunt,” shrugged Hemmings, though the woman had coolly taken her shot.

“Will we see one of those artificial fellows?”

“Fair chance.”

“Then I’ll show you,” said Hubby thickly.

Hemmings was bored with marital discord. The woman must have had her reasons for marrying him.

“Going for a smoke,” he said. Later she joined him, as he guessed she would.

She waved away a cigarette. “He wasn’t always like this,” she began, and Hemmings listened with half an ear. That night she came to his tent.

Next morning they set out after artificial men. Hemmings supposed the couple had some arrangement. Still, he should have shown her the door. Stupid of him.

“They’re smarter than mechanoids,” he explained. “They keep out of sight. But I know a place.”

It was not Hemmings’ way to talk so much, but a cuckolded husband sat behind him with a loaded gun.

Their prey seemed to know the rocky overhang shielded them from surveillance. An artificial man helped another to its feet. This one stumbled and swayed.

Hubby stepped forward and took aim.

The artificial man moved to shield its damaged fellow and raised a metal hand, making noises that might once have been speech.

Madame grew impatient. “What are you waiting for?”

Monsieur Fournier-Clément lowered his gun. “Let’s just go back.”

“You really are a useless man.”

She shoved him aside and raised her own weapon.

Hemmings recalled that he stood to the left, as was his way, and so witnessed everything: the husband pushed, his stumble and recovery, then the shot, inevitable as fate, blasting through his wife.

Definitely an accident, Hemmings confirmed later. A tragic accident.