by Colin P. Davies
Table of Contents
appear in this issue.
Pest: generic term for any of two thousand plus life-constructs melded in the laboratories of Benoletti’s University of Plateau or the Smithsonian Extrasolar Institute of Life Sciences. In spite of the one hundred kilometre separation of the two educational centres, the rivalry that grew between them swelled beyond a healthy competitive drive to create new self-replicating life variants into a oneupmanship battle between the students in creating their own eponymous pests to compete in the annual contest. The greater the novelty, the greater the kudos. However, with the inevitability of a leak in a gene pool, the creatures escaped and reproduced and the Infestation had begun.
Parvo stood in the middle of the road and watched as headlamps emerged from the river mist at the bottom of the hill. The sun was down and stars punctured the sky. The huge dark hill of Plateau loomed to the north, apparent only by the absence of stars and the lone amber halfway beacon on the cable car run. He swayed slightly, though the chill damp air was already clearing his dreamtea fuzz. He pulled his trench coat closed and fastened the belt. Five more minutes passed before he could hear the roar of the engine.
Bounty hunters worked the wild lands and usually kept well clear of the towns. Why were they here in Pestmeister territory, except for the bounty on the benedict? Parvo knew he now had competition and trouble. The High Lords would pay the bounty to whoever produced the goods, and if that was not him he could kiss his job, and his ambition, goodbye. But he wanted to be Lord Pestmeister of Plateau — leader of all Pestmeisters — too much to let that happen.
The six-wheel-drive Landcarver grunted to a halt in front of Parvo. The engine whistled as it died. The driver’s door creaked open and a man jumped down.
Parvo shielded his eyes from the blinding glare of the headlamps.
“Sigmund Parvo!” The voice was familiar. Too familiar.
The bounty hunter moved into the illumination of the lamps. “Bet you thought you’d never see me again.”
“Not outside a hospital.”
This was Jay St.John, a co-student at the Academy, who had exhibited an unnatural fascination with voids. It had started with cave exploration and progressed to lifting the floorboards in the boy’s dormitory. It had ended with experimental self-surgery, a remote camera, and a contract with a documentary film company. Expulsion from the Academy had followed swiftly.
Had he discovered that Parvo was the one who had informed on him?
“You look well, Sigmund. Pestmeister living must suit you.”
“I’ve no complaints.”
“I was called back to the Academy last month,” said Jay. “I had thought they’d never want to see me again. But, when I met Dean Mary Halterneck, everything was forgiven. We talked about all sorts, from the latest pest extinctions to her own imminent retirement. We even talked about you.”
Parvo shifted his weight from foot to foot. The very mention of the Dean’s name brought bad memories resurfacing. He had started at the Academy as a resident orphan and had settled in comfortably long before Dean Halterneck took over as Head. At first they had been on good terms, but the incident with the laughing virus and the disruption to year ten studies had brought Parvo under her suspicious eye. Yet nothing had been proven and there was no follow up — apart from snide observations on Parvo’s fortuitous immunity and the mysterious loss of his invitation to the end of term ball.
Jay chuckled. “It seems you caused quite a stir after I... left.”
“There were no charges, and I graduated with honours.”
“Water under the bridge.” Jay slapped Parvo on the shoulder. “Did you know that Dean Mary and Lord Pestmeister Dimitri are pals? Or possibly more than that.”
Parvo chewed at his bottom lip.
“An unlikely coupling, but with one thing in common,” said Jay. “A fear of new blood.”
Parvo had a feeling this conversation was finally heading somewhere, but, as he was about to hurry Jay to the point, there was a movement from above as of the sky falling. Attracted by the voices, white bader blindhawks dropped and circled the men, fluttering about their heads like paper caught on the wind. Parvo ducked and protected his ears with his hands. Jay panicked and began to wave his arms about.
“Cover your ears, you fool!” Parvo yelled.
But Jay continued flailing. Perhaps he’d been thrown out of the Academy before they’d studied blindhawks. Parvo knew that, in only moments, the powerful and aggressive creatures would mistake the scent of ear wax for the aromatic bark of the candle tree and would rip off the bounty hunter’s ears to line their nests.
Parvo threw himself down and swung his legs around, catching Jay on the calves and taking his legs from under him. Jay fell heavily. Keeping his hands clamped to his ears, Parvo elbowed himself towards Jay. “It’s safer down low, but cover your ears.”
In the brilliant light of the headlamps, Jay’s face took on the lined red fury of a madman. He lunged across the dirt road on hands and knees and threw a fast punch at Parvo, who caught Jay’s wrist in his teeth. Jay screamed. Parvo threw himself forward, his teeth still clamped to the other’s wrist. Jay sprawled flat on the ground.
Two of Jay’s colleagues jumped down from the truck. One of them, a tall, bearded monster of a man, raised a fat rifle. Flame erupted over Parvo’s head. Heat slapped him in the face. Suddenly the night air was full of burning scraps, soaring high, tumbling wildly, spinning on the ground. The blindhawks shrieked terribly as they died. There was a smell of kerosene and overcooked game.
Parvo released Jay and sat up. Immediately Jay clasped his bleeding wrist with his other hand. Jay’s friends closed in around Parvo.
“What was that all about?” said Jay. “If you ever do that again...”
“Read the Bible... then you’ll thank me.”
Parvo was impressed with himself. His reaction to the punch had been instinctive, and so fast! He was only twenty-six years old, twenty-four in archaic E years, and it seemed his skills were still maturing.
Jay got to his feet. “It’s safer in the wild lands.” He held out his hand to help Parvo up. The Pestmeister ignored the offer and got up unaided.
The bearded bounty hunter stepped towards Parvo, whose head barely reached the Outland War campaign medal on the ex-soldier’s chest.
“So who sent you here?” Parvo addressed the question to Jay, but held up a clawed forefinger towards Beard’s eyes. “Pests are not the only danger...” he whispered. The tall man backed away.
Jay laughed. “You make my men uneasy. I’ve told them stories about you.”
“You haven’t said who sent you.”
Jay signalled his men back into the truck, then climbed up into the cab and slammed the door. After a moment the window dropped. “The money, of course.” Then the engine fired up.
Parvo watched the tail-lights weave downhill until they faded into the black river mist.
What had appeared to be a straightforward, if hazardous, commission, now promised intrigue and surprises. Dimitri was involved. That could only be bad news...
* * *
To be continued...
Copyright © 2007 by Colin P. Davies