“Nice shot,” LaChoy said. “May I?” He held the rifle the way a man raised with guns holds one. “Nice,” he said again. “We don’t get many primitive-weapons hunters here. I like this: a hunk of metal and wood with the old equals-and-opposites still in it. This is Terran walnut isn’t it?” He snapped the gun to his shoulder. “It’s all right to carry a two-pound elephant slayer if you want, with enough counter-coil built in to brake a spaceship, but this is a fine sporting arm.”

“You’re just accustomed to those big Pacifier beam guns,” I said. “You associate weight with stopping power.”

“Have to use ‘em,” he said a trifle defensively. “Goes with the license. My own sporter is a custom two-barrel in a 300-year-old smokeless powder number, 9x57. Got it off a robot ‘smith in the port city for the price of a safari or two.”

“This is a seven-millimeter, just as old as yours. Not the 57-mil case, though — one of the stretched cases with enough powder to drive these special enjeckosplode pills. The basic round is almost as ancient as muzzleloaders, as you ought to know with that 9x57. But the combinations I can load for this give me everything from a supervelocity armor-piercing pencil bomb to a superslow solid that’ll dump things the size of a pachyderm in short order. The bomb is illegal, and useless except against hostile robots. The solid is useless against softskinned critters. I’m using target spitzers here.”

“Have you got any of the stuff you plan to use on greer?”


“Let’s try some of it. Nail has got to get a reading on stopping index. Hunting regs, you know. Let alone insurance premiums.”

I loaded some medium heavy expansion points.

“The next set of popups are greer replicants; they’re three dimensional and density matched. We know your gun shoots on, and you can hit with it; now we need to know if your hunting rounds can stop a greer.”

“They’ll stop a leopard. They’ll stop an Old Earth kodiak.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because one of the first things I bought with my royalties was a traditional Old Earth safari. I killed an elephant and a kodiak and a leopard, and some of the plains game.”

“I’ve always wondered about those hunts,” LaChoy said, somewhat wistfully. “Know it’s foolish, but I just can’t believe there’s decent hunting that deep in the civilized sector. How was it?”

“It started okay, but ended badly. I went through the motions out of some stupid idea about getting my money’s worth, but I wish I hadn’t. You stayed in a hotel in Rome and flew out every morning to hunt. The game was all picked out for culling, and located, and all you did was make the shoot.”

“Did you have to shoot from the air?” he asked with some distaste. “I heard the insurance companies require it.”

“I might as well have. They turn you loose within a quarter-mile, and if the game starts moving, they reposition you. It’s a ranching operation, not hunting.”


“I got the elephant early, before the novelty wore off, and so maybe I got a taste of what it must have been like all those centuries ago. I got the leopard clean, but it was small and came to the bait too easily. Then I went on to Alaska. The kodiak was worst. I slipped one in low, and it turned and came for me. The damned safety robot threw a hyposliver into it to slow it down. The drug knocked it completely out.”

“What did you do then? Hit it in the head with a bloody rock?”

“No, I slipped one of those PBs I wasn’t supposed to have into my gun and blew that robot all to hell. Then I finished the bear and made the camp robots bury it decently. I didn’t take the hide, and I left Earth that night.”

“Must have caught hell about using illegal ammo on that robot, though.”

“Not really. The threat of adverse publicity is more fearsome than a sunbomb to most organizations, including Old Earth’s tourist bureau. My book wasn’t all that long off the lists, and the Zion dispatches were fresh then, so I was a pretty hot property. An expose would have cost them plenty, so they just let me go.

“Might of the bloody media, hey? And now you’re after greer?”

“Now I’m after greer.”

“Sometimes,” he said, looking off at the horizon, “I think it’s the other way round.”

“Meaning what?”

“I mean sometimes these beasts can be so cagey — and yet so stubborn. We hunt them hard and see them every day, one glimpse, seldom enough for a shot, and then usually a miss. They should break their pattern, move out of the hunt area. But they stay right in and keep coming around, until it’s almost like the beggars are hunting you.” He looked back at me. “There are no air platforms here, and no safety robots. There’s me, and I hate to let a client get completely killed, even when they specify that in the contract. Don’t look so amazed; there’s lots worse ways to die.”

“Lose many clients that way?”

“Enough to consider that remark tasteless. I generally try to bang them off you after they’ve ripped off an arm or a leg or torn out your jugular. We’ve got Battlefreeze on the fliers, the Medfac of course, and the Central Receiving here is quite efficient, of course. I’m told interns opposed philosophically to combat prefer it for emergency room experience like no other in this end of the cosmos. They can get you back even when you’re pretty far gone. I’ve yet to have a client complain, come to think of it, even the ones who planned to die here. Those who thought they wanted to die seem to end up resenting the greer’s single-minded attempt to accommodate them so much they decide to go on living just to spite their trophy. A couple of them knew they were going home to death sentences, medical or political. It didn’t matter anymore, once they bested a greer.”

“When you get ready to write your memoirs, let me know,” I said.

He smiled in his mustache. “Client confidentiality, I’m afraid. But an amusing thought nonetheless. I do get the odd types through here, no question. Sector administrators, Commonwealth politicians, movers and shakers, that lot. They come here as one kind of person and they leave…different. I don’t just mean in body tubes or urns. They leave as different people. Sometimes better, sometimes with their pride completely broken. But enough yarning for today; on to the only thing that matters: the chase! I will now instruct you in the killing of the greer.”

“Instruct away.”

“All right. With a rifle such as yours, if you blow his brains out, he dies. If you shoot for the head of charging greer, you die, because you miss. If you bust his right foreshoulder, he pulps you with his left paw. And vice versa. If you are quick enough to bust both front shoulders good, you may slow him enough for a head shot. There’s nothing too fancy about his plumbing. He’s got what serves for a brain, heart, stomach and so forth, about where you’d expect them to be, and he runs on hydraulic blood, even as you and I. He’s got nothing particularly spectacular in the way of a nervous system, except that it appears immune to pain. A lung-shot greer will kill you and lope away to heal somewhere. Their recuperative powers are enormous. Whether he’s whole or hurt, he comes at you dead silent, and until he’s stone dead he doesn’t even notice. Don’t try to turn him; he won’t turn. The spine shot is best, or the head if you must.”

“That all sounds pretty basic,” I said. “I don’t have a prayer.”

“Bloody right. Any man who hunts a greer is a fool. Or a hunter.”

“There’s a difference?”

“Not so’s you’d — GREER!”

A trampling rush of underbrush, a hurtling shadow out of the corner of my eye — the seven gun slugged my shoulder with unnoticed recoil.

The apparition appeared to flinch, and my gun jumped again, all in eerie silence. I worked the bolt with speed I couldn’t remember since my teenyears. My balls, belly and heart seemed squeezed into a pea-sized lump somewhere behind my breastbone.

The second shot rolled the thing over, but it rolled right back with a horrid, liquid vitality, and was coiling for the spring when I let drive into the bunching, rippling knot of shoulder muscles behind the nightmare eyes.

The muscles uncoiled, but in a spasm, not a lunge. The thing dropped like all the strings had been cut at once. Its massive skull flailed around loosely, jaws wide, and my fourth shot centered the brain pain.

I remembered to breathe.

My hands shook in reaction, before I remembered to look for LaChoy. He was unmoving, hands resting on his big Pacifier, grinning from ear to ear. I let my gun sag. There was a nervous tic in my cheek. I tried to control it and couldn’t.

“What are you so goddamned happy about?” My voice sounded fluttery as my pulse.

“That’s pretty good gun-handling for the first day,” the hunter said. “Damn-near tops for close-in work. Also, you’ve got a sound killer’s instinct: uncluttered by secondary worries about tearing up your trophy. First you get it dead, and let the stuffers worry about the cosmetics. On Pondoro, that makes you a hunter.” He wasn’t even looking at the mangled beast.

“I mount my trophies in my head, remember?”

My voice steadied down. I could feel the exultation of having shot well before a critical audience. The best shooter there is can blow the shot when somebody’s around to observe. I hadn’t had time to think about that. There had just been the greer and me, and nothing else in the universe until that final shot.

Already I was beginning to regret the premature victory — another emotion every hunter learns, the other side of repeated failures — when suddenly I understood.

I looked back at my trophy. The seven gun had busted him up good. Smashed some ribwork, ripped large exit wounds, busted his spine and rent his skull. But there was no blood. A silvered edge of some gear wheel dangled drunkenly from one of its chest wounds. My trophy was part of LaChoy’s shooting gallery.

“You son-of-a-bitch,” I said.

“Don’t feel so put-upon,” he said happily. “He would have been just as finished if he was the real thing. Nail’s got positive readings on your loads; plenty of stoppo.”

“I told you that!”

“So do most people. People who simply won’t take the local expert’s advice. Old Waldo saves all amount of bickering. Only thing he won’t do for you is claw you, being a tame robot. Pretty fair imitation, though, otherwise. Lose some clients right here, I must say. Trouble with their nerves, sphincter, it takes different turns. I have to tell you that some of them like the game so well they head back to port and sign up at a fancy shooting gallery they have there, rack up a couple dozen of these and go home happy with a synthetic pelt. I’d be unhappier if I didn’t own stock in the place.”

My overriding reaction was one of intense relief that it wasn’t over yet, and the storied greer was still to come. “You mean they quit here?”

He nodded. “Better than losing them in the field. Better on the reputation of the company, too, if not the bank balance. Good deal better than letting someone start something I might have to finish. Tends to weed out the ones who don’t deserve a greer. Got to see if they’ll take the steel, so to speak, to get at the horse, if you follow the bullfights.”

Something in his phrase roused old reportorial instinct, never too far away despite the action. “Bullfights? Python used a bullfight term last night.”

He rubbed his chin. “Think maybe he introduced the concept during one of his yarnspinnings, now I recollect. I like it. A weeding process, so only the bravest of the bulls go out to face the sword.”

I was coming down from my emotional orbit. I was glad it hadn’t been a greer, glad I had measured up to LaChoy’s oblique standard, particularly glad I had smashed his toy so badly and had not fouled my pants. And angry he had taken it upon himself, unasked, to test my mettle.

“There’s something wrong with that image,” I said. “We’re not bred on farms to come and die to prove the courage of the greer.”

LaChoy shrugged. “Whatever. I still like the idea, and it sells big with the paying customers.” He peered at me closely. “Pissed off at me, aren’t you?”

“Last trick like that?” I said, not wanting to admit it.

“Last trick like that. From here on in, it’s as real as it gets.”

I let it all out in one long exhalation. “All right.”

“Good man.” He pounded me on the back, and I knew the casual drubbing admitted me as an Pondoro initiate. Corny as it was, I felt fine.

Nail showed up from the flier where he had recorded the action. “Good bison herd about twenty clicks south,” he said. “Some other grazing herds, too. A few Pondoro mammoths.”

“Mammoths, for God’s sake?”

“Big, dumb brutes, hairy as hell,” LaChoy said. “No big teeth, like the original, and no fire like old Tembo, though they have a trunk very like both of them. They chew the tops out of trees and usually stay in the forest. Sometimes a greer pack will push them out on the plains, but not for long. Not worth hunting, really. Shall we go get some fresh bison chops, and a bait or two for the greer? We’ll hunt tomorrow.”

“Real life this time?”

“I said: as real as it gets.”



Professional writer, Pacific Northwest. 20 Books: “Sleeping Planet” 1964 to “Venus Mons Iliad” 2018–19. Most on Amazon for sale. Il faut d’abord durer.

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Bill Burkett

Professional writer, Pacific Northwest. 20 Books: “Sleeping Planet” 1964 to “Venus Mons Iliad” 2018–19. Most on Amazon for sale. Il faut d’abord durer.