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the eylau sequence.war

Kaife Walker is a lucky man. Relatively wealthy, he has the luxury of pursuing his many interests with lavish attention. Several of his hobbies are old things, antiques as they are called. He collects antique aircraft, antique statues and antique firearms. The weapons are not his favorite, but they do get him outdoors which sparks the adventurer in him. Of course trophy hunting went out of style long ago – and for a couple of hundred years the only hunting that happened on Earth was for survival. But during the last century or two, the increasingly wealthy people of the planet went looking for more space in their lives. Some of them took up the mantle of the big game hunters of old. Kaife Walker is one of those.

This particular week he was in the far North, roaming the moraines pushed up at the feet of California’s Sierra Nevada glaciers. To his left stretched the vast wasteland of the central valley of California. Even with the help of his display it was barely visible from within the blizzard they were struggling through. Modern gear or not, only strong people with stronger constitutions purposefully ventured out on foot in raging blizzards – Nature is unforgiving.

Far to Kaife’s right towered the western edge of the Sierra ice cap, which he caught sight of occasionally through the flurries. It was the hilly zone below it that attracted his attention; high enough to get some precipitation and yet low enough not to be frozen all year round. This strip of land still hosted quite a lot of wildlife and the plants they needed; what few plants there were that could survive the freezing winters, erratically torrid summers and titanic storms. The top of the food chain in this region was the grizzly bear, which had survived other large species due to its leaner diet, smaller size and sturdy constitution. In Kaife’s opinion it was also the grizzly’s generally nasty disposition that helped. Whatever the reason, the grizzly was now king of the hill in the post-glacial wilds of North America.

Walking along behind the hunter were his expedition leader, tracker and several helpers. Flanking the leader stalked a pair of gun bearers – modern guns that is, not antiques like Kaife had. His gun dated back several hundred years and fired rounds with no guidance. Such weapons usually hit their mark, but only usually. This compared poorly to modern hunting weapons which always hit their mark and guaranteed a kill. Only the relatively low popularity of hunting and the now sparse surviving human population kept grizzlies from being run into extinction. Kaife wondered if that had been a problem before, when there were more people on the planet. He thought idly to himself ‘That’s probably something they taught me in school.’

So far the day held promise. The weather was going to improve and when the blizzard lifted, animals would leave their cover in search of food. Kaife would be waiting for them.

The team paused to eat, and even as the leader checked his reports the wind began to die down, gusts became easier and less likely to knock everyone off their feet. They spent the next hour resting; after that, the march north would resume until late afternoon. Kaife lay on his back on the soft ground and absentmindedly scraped his heels in the snow as he watched shredded clouds flying overhead – it was still high winds up there; occasionally some fleeting patches of vivid blue showed through the overcast. Down on the ground it remained wickedly cold.

After a while he got up and returned to the expedition leader, who sat munching quietly on a bit of food as he continued to skim over his reports. Everyone was slightly listless and tired from the long exertion. Suddenly one of the gun bearers held up a hand; all of their internal networks came alive with a warning: "Alert! Bearing 52 degrees." followed immediately by a tactical map of movement to the northeast.

The entire party froze. At some distance, the sound of a large animal thumping and thundering along could be heard. Four weapons came silently up as the party waited. But the sound passed and the bearer spared a few seconds to look back and motion to a nearby cut. All four men stalked slowly and quietly up the bank and peered over the edge. They were greeted by an astonishing sight.

About 200 meters away was a large male grizzly bear, standing off against its wild opponent. The grizzly stood on its haunches for some seconds and roared, dropping back onto all fours and putting its head down as if to receive a charge.

This was all fine and normal. What was not fine or normal was the grizzly’s opponent. Standing up on the rocks was an animal nobody in the hunting party had ever seen. It stood about the same height as the grizzly, but looked for all the world like some strange cross between a cape buffalo and… maybe a leopard or lion. Its sides heaved in and out, revealing heavy overlapping ribs. The color of its hide was difficult to distinguish; it had dark cream colored flanks which gave way through a line of jagged stripes to a deep blue-black down the length of its spine. Baring its teeth, it gave a roaring, screeching hiss at the bear. It ‘displayed’ by raking its stout claws on the rock, drawing small sparks. Kaife and the leader looked at each other in disbelief. As if a statue from the ancient world had been brought to life and dropped into the rock and snow, the animal lowered itself and stalked heavily but steadily closer to the bear. Looking at each other and back at the expedition leader, nobody knew what to do. One thing was certain, the slightest noise was totally out of the question, and Kaife looked back at the rest of the team with his finger to his lips.

Back on the flats, the grizzly’s opponent stepped slowly off the rock outcrop. As it slunk onto the hard ground, its foot sank deeply. Whatever this thing was, it was heavy. Making an odd grupping noise at the bear, the giant predator lowered its head and conducted a short mock charge. The bear – unwilling to give ground and too mean to do nothing – countercharged and headed straight at its bristling enemy. With a quick jump revealing agility one would not expect from something so large and heavy, the creature kicked forward and rushed the bear, head down with all of those lethal claws plowing gaps through the hard ground.

The bear slowed, maybe expecting to swat its opponent aside before breaking its neck. Instead, the creature gave a quick thrust of a claw-armed paw and flayed the bear’s front leg wide open. The grizzly roared in pain and lashed out with the other claw, but its attacker jerked upward and with lightning speed gored the bear right through the throat with its horns. Using the impetus it had built up in the charge, it rammed the bear and smashed it onto its side. The grizzly collapsed as the other animal twisted its head and literally tore the bear’s throat out in one unstoppable movement. The creature pulled loose from the bear’s convulsions and stood, sniffing into the wind.

‘Unbelievable.’ Walker thought. ‘This thing is a real animal.’ Now he was afraid. If it had been some kind of stupid robotic project that would be one thing, but this creature looked and acted… well, terrifyingly natural. He didn’t care who designed it or whether they had done it without the proper licenses. The problem now was it being only two hundred short meters away.

Next to Walker, the right gun bearer quietly waved forward one of the helpers who gave him a spare weapon. He gladly abandoned his replica antique in the snow and accepted the new gun along with military ammunition that the expedition leader was handing out.

The left gun bearer hissed something inaudible at the others, who looked out to see the giant animal standing motionless, looking directly toward them. It was no longer sniffing at the wind. “Damn.” the hunter muttered.

Next: 12. Punishment

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