Friday, July 18, 2008

A Rose By Another Name

Lovac followed the trail with ease. Like most lionesses, this one did not give him much of a challenge. He sighed. Except for the entertainment of the audience Lovac didn’t see the need for the hunt at all. It would be easier on him and the lionesses if they just threw them in a room and recorded their sex act. A different type of entertainment, probably not one that the people would want to broadcast to an audience filled with children. Better to have the thrill of the hunt ended with copulation.
Still, he thought the way the lioness looked at him at the starting gate she would have given him a greater challenge. She was not hiding her tracks at all. He didn’t have to look for the bent blade of grass or search for the gentle press of a foot print. This lioness wanted him to follow her, wanted him to catch her, and wanted him to bed her.
Or so Lovac thought.
He pulled up short when the tracks took on a decidedly different feel. Instead of being hard footed and obvious, the lioness began to step softly. The tread became lighter and lighter until no one except a trained hunter like he was could have followed the trail. Lovac knelt beside a single bent sprig of grass, the only sign the lioness passed by.
“What are you up to, my pretty?” Lovac asked no one in particular and everyone on the broadcast feed. He followed the barely noticeable trail to the edge of forest next to a tunnel of some sort.
Lovac had never been in this part of the hunting field before. He saw delicate, soft tracks near the cave-like entrance. He also saw the deep claw marks on the tree limbs as though a large cat had scrabbled up the tree in a hurry.
“Exactly what you want me to think,” Lovac whispered. One of his requirements as a participant in the ‘Hunt’ was to make sure the audience was aware of his deductions. “Yet, these prints near this…this tunnel seem a bit too convenient as well. Where are you, my pretty?”

Zna rankled when he called her his ‘pretty’. She had a name. She was introduced to him, yet he continued to view her as a piece of property. From her hiding place above the Hole she watched the hunter stand and look around. He was better than she thought. Better than other hunters she encountered.
Better looking too. Zna let her eyes swing over the hunter below her. What is my attraction? Zna smiled to herself. Besides the broad chest, and narrow hips. He is muscular. I wonder what it would be like to have his arms wrapped around me? My legs wrapped around him. Zna caught herself. His pheromones must be extremely high. I want to crawl down from this tree and make him mine. From what I hear he is quite a stud.
Zna swallowed her feelings. Bescjen is my only concern. Besides, his is a hunter. I am a lioness. No matter what my body desires I have to stay focused.
She had to wait until he stepped into the entrance of the Hole following her fake foot steps. Then she could push him through its mouth. It would take him more than thirty ticks to get out of the Hole, even if he was only at the mouth. Doing it that way, she would be free of the Hole and would achieve her lead. The mouth of the Hole would not do Lovac a tremendous amount of harm, merely delay him. She did not want to push him deeper, nor did she want to follow him into the Hole. It would mean possible death for him and the end of her winning the hunt. It would take too long to get out of it. Bescjen would be in jeopardy.
Zna tensed, ready to pounce.

Lovac raised his head, sniffing the air. He was a skilled hunter. He followed tracks that no other hunter could. He shot truer and knew traps from superbly simple to agonizingly complex. He knew a trap when he saw one. He also knew scents.
He was looking at a trap. He smelled the scent of a lioness.
His pheromones were biologically enhanced. One of the reasons he was a preferred stud was that the lionesses were attracted to him by scent. For some reason, this lioness, this Zna, resisted him. She played the game of making him think she wanted him, leaving well defined tracks. Then, at the mouth of this…cave, her method changed.
Lovac backed away from the blackness facing him. He slung his rifle over his shoulder. The weapon was armed with two kinds of ammunition. The first was a marking pellet. It would mark Zna showing that he captured her. The second type of bullet was a tranquilizer. It wouldn’t put her to sleep. What amusement would that give? It would relax her and make her willing to accept his mating with her. Most of the lionesses he hunted never needed the second bullet. Lovac couldn’t remember when he fired a second bullet.
Looking around the trees that edged the clearing he stood in, Lovac wondered if he would need the second bullet this time. Would he need a real bullet, one that killed? Would she be one of the lionesses that attempted to kill her hunter? It happened rarely, but it happened. Most of the time, death during a hunt was of the lioness. Hunters, poor hunters, got carried away with adrenaline and the lionesses scent. The feline woman was beaten to death.
Lovac gave a bitter laugh. Another thing that was destroying the true beauty of the Hunt. The government gave hunters carte blanche. They could kill lionesses with immunity. Unconsciously he reached for the knife in the sheath at his belt.
Was she one of the ones that refused to give in to the government? According to her profile she has not been mated since she was inducted into the Hunt. Lovac racked his brain trying to remember if any of the hunters had been injured or killed. He had not read the file on Zna as he should have. He committed a cardinal sin of hunters. He did not know his enemy.
A bird flew out of a tree nearby jerking Lovac back to the Hole. He scanned the tree line and saw nothing that indicated a lioness. Either she was gone through the trees like her deep claw marks indicated, or she was hiding in the trees watching him. Lovac did not believe that she went into the cave in front of him.
Cave. Tunnel. Neither name seemed appropriate. He could admit he was whipped and communicate to the Handlers for information about this area of the hunt zone. He had not traveled to this location before. It was an unknown. And he was led here.
Lovac put his hand into the darkness of the cave mouth. In a normal cave, he would see his hand in the shadows. He would see the gradation from light to dark on his skin. He didn’t. His hand simply disappeared. Lovac pulled his hand back. It was his hand, unharmed. Yet when he put his hand into the darkness it was as if his arm ended at his wrist.
Backing from the cave Lovac searched around the ground for a long branch. He found one and moved to the darkness. He stuck the branch into the darkness about three feet into the darkness.
Nothing, just the illusion that the stick ended where the darkness began.
Suddenly something took hold of the stick and tugged. The branch was pulled out of Lovac’s hands. He jumped back, bringing his rifle forward in one fluid motion. Whatever was in the darkness would not be hurt with the bullets he carried, but maybe he could slow them down. If it was the lioness he would fire twice rapidly, subduing her. He was tired of this game she played. He wanted to get the mating done and get back to his quiet life.

Zna bit her lip to keep from growling in anger. The hunter was not supposed to test the Hole. He was supposed to walk in, following her steps. Her whiskers twitched as she tried to decide her next course to take.

“Lovac,” the Handler’s name spoke over the com-link the hunter wore at his ear.
“Here,” Lovac answered. It was voice activated. He did not move his hands from his rifle. It was useless against a real attack, but it made him feel better as he stared at the darkness that swallowed the branch.
“I took the com off line. The audience is getting restless. Do something.”
“Give me a reading on that,” Lovac nodded his head toward the darkness.
“Are you giving up?” the voice on the other end asked. “I don’t think I have ever heard you ask for a reading.”
“You said we were off line, right?” Lovac waited for the assent. “Give me a reading on that cave or you will be my next target. I won’t have these useless tranquilizer bullets either.”
Lovac smiled as the pause on the other end lengthened beyond the normal for checking equipment.
“Mister Lovac,” the voice of the Handler was respectful and wavering. Lovac heard the voice of the Handler’s supervisor in the background. Lovac was valuable. He was not to be mocked. “According to the readout, there is nothing there.”
“Can you see what I am looking at?”
“Yes, sir.”
“And you still tell me there is nothing there?”
“I can see the…the whatever it is, but according to the scanners nothing is there.”
“A hologram?”
“No,sir. Just nothing. It’s like there is a hole in the universe where nothing is. Not even anti-matter like a black hole. Just nothing.”
Lovac took in a deep breath. “Where is the lioness?”

Zna heard the hunter talking to the Handlers. They were off-line according to what she heard. No audio, no vid for the audience. Probably some kind of government announcement going on. And they were going to pinpoint her location in just a second. She had to act, now.
Screeching from her perch, Zna leapt for the hunter. She angled her leap and landed square on his back. She sank her claws into the heavy jacket Lovac wore. The hunter rolled as she knew he would. Instead of trying to gain purchase and get to her feet to fight, Zna used the momentum of the roll to continue forward. She pushed with her back legs and her tail and shoved. Zna and Lovac rolled into the Hole.

“Lovac? Lovac? Come in. Lovac? What in the name of the Spirits is going on?” the Handler’s voice shouted over the com-link that was knocked off Lovac’s ear as he and Zna fought. The handler looked at his supervisor. One moment he had readings on the hunter and the lioness. The next they were gone. Not moved. Simply gone. The scanner said there was no one there, only a space of nothing.

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