B1. SPORTS : MUHUNTING


1

INTRODUCTION

Tony told me,  “If you’re going to report about the Federation, you should include muhunting.”

“Muhunting?”  I said.  “What’s muhunting?”

“It’s short for mutual hunting.  People hunt each other in places like forests, using stun-guns.  I’m going to Atanode 4 with Kikibi on a junior team muhunt.  You ought to try it.  If you don’t want to do a solo hunt, Hais might make a team with you.”

“Tony, if you think I’m going to let anybody chase me through a forest with a stun-gun, you are very much mistaken.  If you’re going on that muhunt, maybe you could do the report.”

He said,  “You said you would do the Federation reports.”  But I saw a gleam in his eyes.  So this report, on muhunting, is given by Tony.  I’ve done my part.  I asked Victor for the rules of muhunting, and I’ve added them at the end, as a PS.

Tony’s report follows.

2

MEETING

The big waiting room on Atanode 4 was empty except for two little girls, sitting near the entrance to the planet’s town.  They might’ve been white European, about ten years old.  When Kikibi and I sat near them, they gave us doubtful smiles.

Kikibi said,  “I thought there would be a lot of teams on this hunt.  Are you sure this is the right place?”

I checked my wrist unit.  “Yeah, but we’re early.  The others’ll be along soon.”

One of the little girls asked,  “Are you here for the hunt too?”  She spoke into a wrist unit, and the translation came through ours.

“You!”  said Kikibi.  “Are you two going on this hunt?”

“It’s a junior hunt.  No one older than six thousand days.”

“But… it’s a proper hunt.  We’ll be running around in a forest, hunting each other with stun-guns.  Not playing hide and seek in a nursery.”

She didn’t look pleased.  “We know that.”

“But… you’re little girls!”

She looked even less pleased.  “Does that stop us from hunting?”

“No, but I hoped we’d get some decent competition.”

I said to the girls,  “I’m sorry.  On Kikibi’s planet, girls stay quietly at home.”

“On our planet, they have more sense.”  With that, they turned their backs on us.

Kikibi and I grinned to each other.  Then he said,  “These will be tougher opponents.”

Two boys were heading towards us.  They looked older – about fifteen, but they were about half my height, with green skin.

I said,  “I think they’re from Glinki 5.  Glinkians are the only green-skinned race as small as that.”

“We’ll have to watch for them.  They can creep through small gaps, and they’re the same colour as the leaves.  Will you look at these two!  They can’t be planning to hunt like that!”

Kikibi had spotted two girls with coffee-coloured skin that had a dark green tinge.  They seemed about our age.  We were wearing expedition suits which would change colour to match our surroundings, but these two had long-sleeved dresses with wide skirts that reached to their ankles – in a swirling pattern of red and yellow.

I said,  “Maybe they think we’re going to a fairground, not a hunting ground.”

“What’s a fairground?”  asked Kikibi.  He hadn’t seen many planets.

“I’ll tell you some other time,”  I said.  “Here’s another two.  I wouldn’t like to fight them.”  They were human-like – with no head.  Their eyes and mouth (but no nose) were near the tops of their bodies, which were much broader than ours, with rough, dark brown skin.  Their arms and legs looked thick and powerful.

“They’re big.  They’ll be easy to track,”  said Kikibi.  “I reckon our biggest danger is those small green ones.”

“The Glinkians,”  I said.  “Here’s another two.  Yeah.  They’re coming here.  I think they’re Twiglons.”  I’d met natives of Twiglo 5 before, and remembered the name because they reminded me of twigs, with long, skinny bodies, arms and legs, and skin the colour of a tree trunk.  These two looked older than the rest of us.  They must be nudging the six thousand days. They sat together, and looked around.

An old guy, who might’ve been a black African, in a fluorescent orange tracksuit, came out of the base.   He spoke into a wrist unit.  “Greetings. Are you the teams for the morning’s muhunt?  I’m your controller, Greyquill.” He pointed to the name, in black, on the chest of his uniform.

He frowned.  “Only six teams?  Eight are booked.  Ah!  Here’s another.”

Two people hurried from the transporter corridor.  Their bodies, arms, and legs were short and fat, and white – really white, like milk.  They were wearing green tunics.

Kikibi nudged me.  “They’ll be easy.  With skin that colour, we’ll see them from the other side of the forest.  And that’s their idea of running.”  They waddled up, gasping apologies.

Greyquill welcomed them, and asked everybody to give their names and native planets.  I was right: the small ones were Glinkians, and the lanky ones were Twiglons.  The little girls came from Querdon 3.  Maybe their parents were Earth people, working there.

Greyquill didn’t say much as we introduced ourselves, but he praised the Twiglons because they were a mixed-sex team (which I wouldn’t’ve known), and Kikibi and me, because we were a mixed-race team.

He glanced at his wrist unit.  “It seems that the other team is not coming. We’ll have to go without them.  The tractor is outside, to take you to the hunting ground.”

3

APE-BUM AND FISH-BELLY

The Galactic Federation calls these things tractors, but I don’t know what they’d be called on Earth.  Minibuses?  This one was typical.  It was about as wide as an Earth bus, but half as long, and the whole body was clear plastic, with a door about the middle of each side.  The wheels were big – as high as my waist – but not as big as wheels I’ve seen on other tractors.

Somebody hauled the door open, and we flooded up the steps, into the tractor.  It had a passage down the middle, with six double seats on each side.  In the middle at the front was the single seat facing the driver’s control stick.  This tractor must’ve taken a lot of people on a lot of hunts: the plastic body was scratched, and the floor and seats were worn.

I would’ve gone to the back, but Kikibi said,  “Let’s sit at the front.  I’d like to see the planet.”  We took the front seat at the left, where we could look out through the front.

Greyquill came in after us, and stood with his back to the driver’s seat, looking us over.  He spoke to Kikibi and me.  “When we reach the hunting ground, I shall be speaking to you all.  Two teams are too small to see over the seats.  Would you give them those front seats so that they can see me?”

Kikibi said,  “They came in before us.  They could have taken these seats.” I sensed his annoyance.  His dad’s a leader on Etke 12, so he can be a bit proud and selfish.

I said,  “They didn’t know, Kikibi.  Come up to the back.  You can sit at the window.”

He wasn’t happy, but he trusts me to guide him.  He followed me to the back seat at the left.  Greyquill called the Glinkians and the two little girls to the front seats.  The girls gave us smug smiles as they went to our seat.

As Greyquill took his place in the driver’s seat, somebody banged on the door.  It opened, and the eighth team arrived.  They were big, and human-like, with shiny black skin, and no hair.  Their tunics and trousers looked like black leather.

Everybody watched as they marched to the front of the tractor, where one ordered the two little girls,  “Move!”  The girls stood, looking up at him. He repeated,  “Move!  We’re taking that seat.”

Greyquill asked,  “Are you the team from Naxi 17?”

One of them sneered down at him.  “Yeah,”  then turned back to the girls. “I told you – move!”

Greyquill said,  “Boys, would you mind going farther back?  These teams are in the front seats so that they can see me when I give the instructions.”

The Naxians stared at him for a moment, then, without a word, walked down the passage to the seat opposite us.

As we moved off, I set my wrist unit range to half a metre so that only Kikibi could hear me, and said,  “I thought these two were from Naxi 17. What do you think of them?”

“They’re ugly brutes, but their size and colour will make them easy to track.  How old do you think they are?”

“I don’t know.  Younger than us.  Maybe 12.”

“12!  They’re taller and broader than us.”

“Yeah.  Naxians are big.  We….”

“Ape-bum and fish-belly.”  That came through our wrist units.  The two Naxians were leering across the passage at us.  They must’ve boosted the range of their wrist units so that we would hear.  The white people in the seat in front turned to stare.  They’d heard too.

Kikibi asked me,  “Are they talking to us?”

“Probably,”  I said.  “Ignore them.  They’re being stupid.”  I tried to keep calm.  I didn’t want a fuss.

“Ape-bum and fish-belly.”  The Naxians jeered again.

Kikibi asked me,  “Tony, what are they talking about?”

I thought I’d better explain, in case he asked them.  “They think they’re being smart.  On Naxi 17, they must have a fish with a white belly. They’re making fun of me, because my skin is white.”

I sensed Kikibi’s anger growing, as he asked,  “Ape-bum?”

“On Naxi 17, they must have an ape with a blue bum.”  Kikibi’s skin is blue.  When I first saw him, I thought he looked like a gorilla, because he has short legs and long arms, and walks with a stoop.  I know him well now, so I don’t think of it.

Kikibi exclaimed,  “They are insulting me!”  He stood up, glaring across the tractor at the Naxians.

I tried to pull him down.  “They’re just being stupid.  Forget them.”  He was desperate to do something, so I held his arm.

“Ape-bum and fish-belly.”  The Naxians only had one insult, but they used it often enough.

I boosted the range of my wrist unit, so that they would hear.  “Ignore them, Kikibi.  They look like beetles, and they obviously have brains to match.”

They stood up, and sneered down at me.  The nearest one asked,  “Are you talking about us?  We don’t take that kind of talk from ape-bums and fish-bellies.”

The other said,  “No, we do not.”  They were typical bullies.  They were thinking of hitting us, because we were smaller than them.

I stood to face the nearest one.  Face?  I was facing the guy’s chin, but my anger was stronger than my common sense.  “Why don’t you shut up?”

I don’t know what would’ve happened, if Greyquill hadn’t called,  “What are you doing at the back?  Sit down!”

We sat.  The Naxians leant forward, below the back of the seat in front, to call, with glittering eyes,  “Ape-bum and fish-belly, you are dead meat!”

“We’re terrified,”  I said.  “Beetle-brains!”  I turned to Kikibi.  “Let’s watch the scenery.  It’s more interesting than those two slimeballs.”

I sensed Kikibi’s anger, but he turned to look out the side of the tractor. The road might’ve been on Earth, although the cars looked lower, and most of them were a golden colour.  Horse-like animals were grazing in grassy fields.  Greyquill stopped at a gate into a wood.  “This is the entrance to our hunting ground.  Tony, would you open the gate?”

As I stood, one of the Naxians stuck out a foot to trip me up, but I accidentally-on-purpose kicked his ankle in passing.  “Sorry!”

I got out, and opened the gate, which had a big notice in the local language, probably saying,  “Keep Out!  Hunting Grounds!”

4

WRIST UNITS AND POWER PACKS

The tractor drove through.  I shut the gate, and climbed in again.  Greyquill gave orders to the control unit of the tractor, which drove off automatically. As I went to my place, he stood with his back to his seat, watching, so the Naxians couldn’t do anything to me, although they glowered.

Greyquill said,  “On this planet, no automatic vehicles are allowed on the public roads, but the tractor will take us through the woods to the place where you’ll start the hunt.  How many have hunted before?”

Three pairs of hands went up – the Glinkians, the ones with no heads, and the girls with the coloured dresses.

“I am going to give you a special wrist unit for the hunt.”  Greyquill came up the passage, giving them out, explaining,  “These wrist units have bigger screens than usual, so that you can see the pictures more easily.   They also have other features, but they work like ordinary wrist units for translation. Would you put them on, and set them for your own language?”

We soon did that – except the girls in the fancy dresses.  They giggled, and called Greyquill to set their wrist units.

He went to the front, and spoke into his wrist unit.  “Do you all hear and understand me?”

We called,  “Yes.”

“You must wear those wrist units at all times, because they contain beacons which tell me where you are.  You will find a locker under your seat.  Put your own wrist unit in that, along with everything else you won’t need on the hunt.  That will include spare power packs for your stun-guns. You may use only one power pack.  Check that the one in your gun is well charged.”

When we’d done that, he said,  “If you have never used a stun-gun, be warned – the power pack doesn’t last forever.  If you use it too much, it will run out, and you will be defenceless.”

One of the Naxians said,  “You could take a power pack from a stunned fish-belly.”

Greyquill walked up the tractor to frown down at him.  “You may take the power pack from a stunned opponent.  But, if you do, you must leave your own power pack in its place.  You may have only one power pack at a time.”

He went on,  “These wrist units can display an aerial photograph of the hunting ground.  A photograph, not a live picture.”  He walked forward, looking at everybody, and telling the Glinkians in passing,  “Not yet.  Turn it off.”

5

STARTING PLACES

Greyquill leaned on his seat.  “When you display the aerial photograph, you’ll see it has a large number of numbered yellow spots.  These are places where your team may start the hunt.  When I tell you to turn on the display, you should survey the hunting ground, and decide where you want to start. You can adjust the picture by the usual commands.  To choose a position, call its number into your wrist unit.”

One of the headless guys said,  “On our other hunt, the controller told us where to start.”

“Then it was a poor hunt.  Part of the skill of muhunting is in deciding where to start.”

One of the white people asked,  “What happens if two teams want to start at the same place?”

“That is not allowed,”  said Greyquill.  “When one team chooses a place, its spot will vanish from the screens, along with other places near it.  So, if you see a place you like, choose it quickly, before someone else does. But don’t choose too hastily.  When you have made your choice, you can’t change it.”

The white one asked,  “How long do we have to make our choice?”

“1%,”  answered Greyquill.  (That’s about fifteen minutes.)

“Do we need as long as that?”

“Probably not.  But, if any team has not made a choice by then, they will be given a starting place chosen at random.  Now, if you all understand….” When nobody spoke, he went on,  “Give the order, ‘Display view,’  and your time begins now.”

We brought up our picture – green, with lots of yellow numbers.  I took the range of my wrist unit down to half a metre to ask Kikibi,  “Do you understand this?”

“Yes.  It’s easy.”

“Then would you choose the place?  You’ll do it better than me, and you’ll do it faster if you don’t have to explain to me.”  Kikibi’s hobby is tracking wild animals.

He was pleased I trusted him.  “Thanks, Tony.”  He ordered his wrist unit, “In.  Up.  Up.  In.”

Somebody in front of us called,  “47.”  One of the headless ones.

I zoomed in on my picture, to see what the hunting ground looked like.  It had a lot of trees and bushes, with gaps between.  The yellow numbers started at the top with 1, and went clockwise to 100, but some were near the tractor, and some were farther away.

One of the little girls said,  “79.”  The Glinkians cursed quietly.

Between the bushes, the ground looked grassy, but some of the gaps had hazy dark lines down the middle.  They would be paths.  If lots of people hunted there, the main routes would get worn.

I zoomed out, and saw two dark patches, where the yellow numbers had vanished from the picture.  These must be the spaces round the places already chosen.

Kikibi said,  “7.”  Another dark patch appeared.

I whispered,  “Kikibi, let’s see our place.”  He pointed to his screen.  We’d be starting at what looked like a T-junction of paths.

“65.”  That came from the Twiglons.

I asked,  “Kikibi, can’t we be attacked from three directions?”

“Yes, but we can also move in three directions, so that’ll keep them guessing.”

One of the Naxians bawled,  “18.”  A patch went dark near ours.  Was that a coincidence?  I glanced across at the Naxians.  They were grinning triumphantly at us.  No; it wasn’t a coincidence.

“53,”  came from the white team.

The Glinkians said,  “38.”

One of the red and yellow girls called,  “Hey!  Controller!”  When Greyquill went to her, she said,  “9’s my lucky number.  I can’t find it. I’ve been all over that picture, looking for it.”

Greyquill said,  “Someone must have taken a place near it.  Why don’t you try 99?  That would be twice as lucky.”

“Good idea!  Thanks!  99.”  All the yellow spots vanished from our screens.

6

EMERGENCY PROCEDURES

Greyquill went back, to lean on his seat. “We should soon arrive at your hunting ground.  May I remind you of the emergency procedures?  If you are badly hurt, or you find someone else badly hurt, what should you do?”

Seeing movement in the seat across from us, I glanced across.  The Naxians were signalling,  “Badly hurt.   That’s you!”  I stuck my tongue out at them.

One of the Glinkians answered Greyquill’s question.  “I would use my wrist unit to call you, and wait for your instructions.  You might order us to stop hunting until you attend to the injured hunter, or you might cancel the hunt, if the injury was so serious that the hunter had to be removed.”

“Thank you,”  said Greyquill.  “This hunting ground has no major hazards like rivers or cliffs, but take care.  If you climb a tree, remember that someone may stun you there.  I don’t expect….”

The tractor slowed and stopped.  Greyquill said,  “The hunt will be based here.  I’ll wait in the tractor while you’re out.”  Everybody craned to look out, but there wasn’t anything special to see.  We were in a clearing in the forest, among the usual trees and bushes.

7

POINTS

One of the red and yellow girls stood up, but Greyquill said,  “Not yet.  I have more to say before you can go out.”

She frowned at him.  “I want to hunt.”  But she sat down again.

Greyquill said,  “I have some important rules to explain to you.  Do you see the three numbers across the bottom of your screen?  ‘Points,’ ‘Distance,’  and,  ‘Time.’  Would you look at the points first?”

“Mine says 10,”  said one of the red and yellow girls.

“That’s right,”  said Greyquill.  “At the start of the hunt, everyone has 10 points.  The aim of the hunt is to collect points.  The winning team will be the one whose points total is highest.”

Somebody near the front asked,  “How do we collect points?”

“You have two ways of collecting points.  You should obtain most of your points by stunning your opponents, and collecting points from them.  Do you see the black disc on the underside of the strap of your wrist unit?”

Everybody said,  “Yes.”  The disc was about the size of a £2 coin. Ordinary wrist units don’t have them so I’d wondered what it was for.

Greyquill ordered,  “Touch that disc to the screen of your partner’s wrist unit.”

Kikibi and I both held our wrist units up, to touch the other’s screen.  We grinned, and I held mine down.

Exclamations of surprise came from around us, and we saw the reason when Kikibi put his disc on my screen.  My points went down to 0, and his went up to 20.

I sensed the little burst of surprise and delight in Kikibi’s mind, before I lifted my hand, to put my disc over his screen.  His points went down to 0, and mine went up to 20.  That caused another burst of surprise, but less delight.

Greyquill said,  “Now move them to the other wrist unit.”  I let Kikibi take the points back again.

Greyquill explained,  “That’s how you collect the points from stunned opponents.  Touch the disc of your wrist unit to their screens.  The second way of collecting points is from checkpoints.  These are scattered all over the hunting ground.  Look at your screens.”  He gave an order at the front of the tractor, and loads of green spots appeared on our screens.

“Zoom in, until you see one or two of these more clearly.”  When I did that, I saw the green spots were numbers – a 1, a 4 and a 5 on the bit I had.

Greyquill said,  “These are checkpoints.  They are black boxes, with a screen on the top.  When one is first found, it will have its points displayed on its screen.  They may range from 1 to 5.  You collect them in the same way – by putting your disc to its screen.  Its display will go to 0, and its points will be added to your wrist unit.”

From the seat in front of us, one of the white people asked,  “Can anyone else collect points from that checkpoint?”

“No.  Its score will go down to 0 on its screen, and on all your screens.”

Kikibi said,  “Then everyone else will know when someone is at a checkpoint.”

“That’s an excellent comment,”  said Greyquill.  “It’s something you should remember.  Can you suggest the purpose of these checkpoints?”

One of the little girls said,  “They’re to make you move around.”

“To encourage you to move around,”  Greyquill corrected, with a smile. “Muhunting is supposed to be an active sport.  There is no rule to stop you lying in wait in a bush for the whole time, hoping opponents will pass.  But that would be dull, and it wouldn’t get you many points.  If you want to win, you should move around, collecting from the checkpoints, and outwitting your opponents.”

I sensed Kikibi’s delight.  He loved the idea.

Greyquill asked,  “Is everyone clear about the points?”

One of the Glinkians asked,  “How many points would we need to win?”

Greyquill smiled.  “I can’t tell you that.  There are sixteen hunters here, each starting with 10 points. That’s 160 points.  In addition, there are the same number of points, 160, available from the checkpoints, although some of them won’t be collected.”

The Glinkian said,  “So, if we collect 161 points, we’re sure to win.”

Greyquill smiled again.  “That’s true, but I don’t expect anyone to collect 161 points.  If members from four or five teams survive, then 80 or 90 points could be a winning score.”

The excitement increased, as everybody imagined collecting a winning score.

8

DISTANCE AND TIME

Greyquill said,  “I have more rules to tell you.  Would you look at your screen again – at ‘distance’ now?”

One of the white people said,  “It’s a 0.”

“That’s right.  That number shows how far you are from this tractor.  You mustn’t let it go above 100.  If you go to 95 or higher, that number will go red, to warn you.”

One of the Naxians asked,  “What happens if it goes over 100?”

“If it goes above 100, you are out of the hunting ground.  You are out of the hunt.  Your wrist unit will bleep, and I shall call you in.  Is that clear?”

Everybody muttered,  “Yes.”

Greyquill said,  “Finally – time.  At present, it’s 0 too.  When I announce, ‘Let the hunt begin,’  it will start to count up.  When it reaches 100, I shall announce the end of the hunt.”

I asked,  “How long will that actually be?”

“This hunt will take 10%.”  (That’s nearly 2½ hours.)

Greyquill looked around the tractor.  “I think I can let you go now.  Has anyone any final questions?”

One of the Glinkians asked,  “Must the team stick together for the hunt? Can we go separately?”  He went on quickly,  “I’m just asking.  We’re not thinking of doing it.”

Greyquill answered,  “You may hunt separately if you wish, but I’ll leave you to decide if that’s a good idea.  Of course, if your partner is stunned, you may continue alone.”

One of the Twiglons said,  “My points are still 0.”

“Yes,”  said Greyquill.  “I’ll reset them, and the checkpoints, by remote control, just before you start the hunt.”

9

TO THE START

Greyquill looked around but, getting no more questions, he said what we were all waiting for.  “You may go to your places for the start of the hunt. From now on, the position of the tractor will be shown as a red spot on your screens, and your own position as a white one.  Your starting place will be marked by a yellow spot while you’re looking for it.  Both team members should go to the place where one of their white spots covers the yellow one, and wait there until I tell you.”

The others charged out of the tractor, leaving the Naxians and us, standing in our places.

Greyquill frowned and said,  “Naxians, come here.”

One said,  “Fish-belly will kick us as we pass.”

“Don’t talk nonsense,”  said Greyquill.  “Come here.”

Glowering at us, they went forward.  Greyquill told them,  “Take your place for the start of the hunt.”

As the Naxians jumped down from the tractor, a loud buzz came from its control panel.  Greyquill called from the doorway,  “Naxians, come back here.”

When they hesitated, he said,  “If you can’t do what I tell you, I shall expel you from the hunt.”

The Naxians came back to the tractor, and glared up at him.  He said,  “Did you not hear me say that each person may take only one power pack?”

They glared up at him for a moment, before one said,  “I forgot.”  He took a power pack from his pocket, and threw it on the ground.

As they were leaving, Greyquill called,  “Stop!”

When they turned, he asked the other one.  “Yours?”

Without a word, the second one took a power pack from his pocket, and threw it down.  Then they stamped away.

When they’d disappeared among the trees, Greyquill called us.  “I’m sorry, boys.  If I’d known that these two would waste time, I would have sent you off first.”

Kikibi was annoyed, but, as I passed Greyquill, I said,  “No problem.”

As soon as we were out of the tractor, Kikibi brightened.  “This way.”  He jogged off.  I followed him, and we found our starting place.

The forest looked good for hunting.  Quite a few trees were dotted around, but they were tall.  Their bare trunks wouldn’t give much cover, but between them were patches of bushes, mostly taller than me.  We passed two checkpoints, fixed to trees about our waist height.

As we’d seen on the picture, our starting place was a T-junction of gaps. A faint path ran along the top of the T, but the upright was green – grass and low weeds.  Our distance was 64.

Kikibi commented,  “64.  It’s only taken us six minutes to get here, and we went round all those bushes.  The hunting ground can’t be big.”

I said,  “I suppose it has to be small enough to let the hunters meet each other.  The Naxians have taken a place near us.  What do you think we should do about it?”

Kikibi hesitated, and said,  “I suggest that we get away from here as soon as the hunt starts, and we don’t go looking for them.”

“Yeah,”  I said.  “That’s a good idea.”  I was pleased to hear him say it.

He explained,  “If we start a war with them, we’re more likely to be caught by someone else.  We’ll probably meet those Naxians some time.  Then we’ll show them who can hunt.”

10

PLANNING

Greyquill’s voice came through our wrist units.  “All teams are in their places.  You will remain there for 1%, so that you can make your plans. During that time, the positions of all the starting places will be shown by yellow spots on your screens.”  The other seven yellow spots appeared, dotted round the red one.  Greyquill finished,  “The 1% starts now.”

I said to Kikibi,  “Maybe I have a nasty suspicious mind, but I suggest we hide in one of those bushes to make our plans.”

Kikibi began,  “Do you really think…?”  Then he went on,  “Good idea, Tony.  We needn’t risk it.”  He looked around.  “There’s a friendly bush.”

It was a good choice.  The bush was thick, so we could watch the place without being seen.

As we stood, side by side in the bush, I said,  “Kikibi, I assume we’re going to hunt as a team.”

“Yes,”  he said.  “That’s the best way.  One in front, and the other a bit behind, covering him.”

“Who’s going to lead?”

He hesitated.  I sensed his doubt.

I grinned, and said,  “I think you should lead.”

“Would you let me, Tony?  That’s what I thought we should do, but I thought you might want to lead.”

“I would like to lead, Kikibi, but you’re the one who’s had practice, hunting wild animals.  I’ve watched you tracking.  I could never do that.  If we want to win, you’re the one who should lead.”

He beamed in delight.  “Thank you, Tony!”

I began,  “How far…?”  but stopped as a stealthy black figure crept along the gap in front of us.  One of the Naxians – with a stun-gun but no wrist unit.  He was looking all around, but we were in a good place; we could see him through gaps in the leaves, but he couldn’t see us.

Kikibi went for his gun, but I held his arm, and put on a booming voice. “I’m watching you.  You have ten seconds to get out of sight before I use my stun-gun.”

Without a wrist unit, he wouldn’t understand what I said, but he got the general idea.  He jerked upright, looking around in alarm, then he ran away, out of our sight.

We fell about, laughing.  Kikibi gasped,  “Did you see his face?”

Remembering it, we could hardly stop giggling as we went on with our planning.  Kikibi said,  “You follow me, about twenty steps behind.  Out of stun-gun range, but near enough to back me up if I hit trouble.”

I suggested,  “We can set the range of our wrist units to twenty metres.”

“Do you think that’s wise?  Others might hear.”

“It’s not a big risk.  We have to keep in touch.  We’ll talk as little as possible.”

11

THE HUNT BEGINS

After the 1%, the yellow spots vanished from our screens, and Greyquill’s voice came through our wrist units.  “Although the wrist units will buzz for the start and finish of the hunt, I shall make the traditional muhunting announcements.”

Our wrist units buzzed, and he called,  “Let the muhunt begin!”

Kikibi and I nodded to each other.  He ran along the top of the T, and through a gap that took him in the opposite direction from the upright.  I let him get twenty steps ahead, then jogged after him.

At that speed, following was a tough job.  I could usually see Kikibi, but sometimes he would go round a bush, and, when I reached it, he was gone. Once, he dodged through a narrow gap between two bushes, and I nearly ran past.

I risked calling,  “Watch it, Kikibi.  If you’re out of my sight, make sure I know where you go.  If we get separated, we’ve got problems.”

“Sorry, Tony.  If you lose me, stop.  I’ll find you.  I wanted to make fast time here.”  He ran on again, making sure I saw where he went.  He stopped once, at a checkpoint.

After we’d run for two or three minutes, I asked,  “Isn’t this the way to the tractor?”

He didn’t slow.  “Yes.  The idea came to me when we were discussing what we might do.  Did you notice – the two teams at the other side of the tractor are far away from it?  They’ll probably go for each other, and they won’t expect anyone else to be around.”

“Sky-high planning, Kikibi,”  I said.

When the distance to the tractor was down to 20, Kikibi went more slowly, looking round each clump of bushes before he went on.  At one place, he ducked back, and stood for a while.  I waited nervously, wondering what he’d seen.

Before he moved off, he explained,  “The Glinkians.  Crossing the clearing at the tractor.  Out of stun-gun range.  I don’t fancy tackling them yet. They’ve gone now.”

We jogged across the clearing where the tractor was parked.  Greyquill was sitting on the front seat at the left, watching a wrist unit screen.  He looked up as we passed.  Kikibi ignored him, but I gave him a wave.   He smiled, but didn’t wave back.

At the other side of the clearing, Kikibi stopped at another checkpoint. Then he ran into a gap, but, when we were 30 into the forest, he went more cautiously, dodging from bush to bush, and watching his wrist unit.  I tagged along, twenty steps behind.  I thought he was going too fast, but he seemed confident, and I had to trust him.

12

WHITE HUNTER

We were running along the left of a wide gap between two rows of bushes when one of the white hunters pushed out of a bush between us, aiming a stun-gun at Kikibi’s back.  He must’ve been hiding in that bush, and seen Kikibi running past.  He never saw me.  I had an easy shot.  He fell.  I called,  “Kikibi!”

Kikibi turned, and saw what I’d done.  He waved – and disappeared into the bushes farther along the gap.

What was he doing?  Weren’t we supposed to collect this guy’s points?  I took one step forward before I realised – and dived in the nearest bush. The white team were probably hunting as a pair.  That guy’s mate wasn’t far away.

I stood in that bush for a while – long enough to start worrying about Kikibi. Had the other white hunter got him?

“Tony.”  Kikibi’s voice, in my wrist unit.  “I got his mate.  Check the bushes opposite you.  Go round them, and meet me at the body.”

Looking anxiously around, I pushed out of my bush.  Nobody was in sight except the stunned hunter.  I ran to a gap in the bushes opposite, and went carefully round them, seeing nobody.

13

TWIGLON

When I got back to the stunned guy, Kikibi was waiting for me.  He said, “You take all our points.  You’re more likely to survive.”

I put my disc to his screen.  My points jumped to 49.

I said,  “Hey!  That’s a good start.”

“Yes.  Let’s go.  I don’t like being so close together.”  He sprinted off at top speed beside a row of bushes.

I followed, as fast as I could.  All his tracking has made Kikibi fit.  I pounded on, dropping farther and farther behind him, until I went round a bush, and he wasn’t there.

I couldn’t see him, lying stunned, so I went on a little farther, cautiously. Where had he gone?  I’d warned him about getting separated.  I was wondering if I should risk a call through the wrist unit when he spoke. “Would you keep watch here?  I’ll look for his mate.”  He appeared out of the bush beside me, and ran farther along the gap.

I pushed into the bush where he’d been hiding – and found it was a narrow one, with the lanky figure of a stunned Twiglon lying at the other side of it.

I stood there, in that bush, in the silent forest, as the time ticked up to 35.  I had enough time to worry about Kikibi again, before he came out of a bush at the other side of the unconscious Twiglon.  He called,  “Collect his points. I think it’s safe.”

I ran out, and put my disc to the unconscious Twiglon’s wrist unit, taking our points to 61.

I said,  “Done, Kikibi.  How did you do it?”

He was jogging away as he answered.  “I spotted that guy, in the gap parallel to ours.  I speeded up, to get ahead of him, and wait for him.  His mate’s lying behind there.  Somebody else got him.  Let’s go.  I don’t feel safe here.”

14

HEADLESS

Kikibi jogged away, and I followed, wishing I was fitter.  He waved at a checkpoint as he passed it, and I stopped for long enough to collect the points, taking me up to 63.

Kikibi ran confidently, watching his wrist unit, but I could only guess where we were.  I thought we were heading to the tractor, so I checked the distance.  Yes.  It went down.  30.  20.  10.  We ran between two bushes, and I saw the tractor.

This time, Kikibi swung right, into a narrow gap.  He went more cautiously, dodging from bush to bush.  He stopped at the side of a long narrow clearing, and I found a place about the right distance behind him.

He held his hand up, a signal to wait, then slid among the bushes at the side of the clearing.  I lurked for about five minutes, before he reappeared at the same place, and waved me on.

I asked,  “What happened?”

“Someone had gone among these bushes.”

“How did you know?”

He grinned.  “I saw the traces.”  He waved at the place, but I couldn’t see anything.  “Go through there, and watch him.”

As he ran along the clearing, I crept into the bushes.  I soon found the body, one of the headless ones, partly hidden in the weeds at the edge of a small clearing.

I had another wait, while the time moved on to 50.  Was I enjoying this hunt?  Kikibi had become team leader.  He was telling me what to do, and I was doing it.  That was right for the team.  He knew what to do – much more than I did.  But I was a bit miffed.  I like being the leader – the one who makes the decisions.

I tried to tell myself that this was good training.  I ought to learn to take orders, and I was lucky to watch Kikibi in action.  If we won, it would be because he was a good leader.  But – this was a team competition.  He couldn’t win alone.  He needed a number 2 he could trust.  That was my job. I had to do the best I could.  But….

“Tony, check him for power packs.  I think it’s safe.”  Kikibi’s voice interrupted my thoughts.  I looked around, but I couldn’t see him.

I crept out, for long enough to touch my disc to the stunned guy’s wrist unit, pushing our score up to 75.

Kikibi said,  “Come here.  I have something to show you.”

I looked around, more carefully.  I still couldn’t see him.  “Where are you?”

“Here.”  A green arm waved from a bush.

15

SLY

Kikibi said,  “Take this.  I passed another two checkpoints while I was running about.”  He held out his wrist unit, letting me collect another 6 points.

“Now, come and see this.”  He set off, dodging round clumps of bushes, waiting at places where I might lose him.  He crossed a small clearing, and waved me to come up beside him.  “Look through there.  Carefully. Someone is being sly.”

I peeped through, into a long straight gap in the forest – probably an old road, although it was overgrown.  For a while, I didn’t see what Kikibi meant, until I spotted the red and yellow of a girl’s dress in the distance, hiding in a bush at the other side of the road.

Kikibi grinned.  “It would be a good challenge to catch her.  Come on.” We backed out of our bush, and did some more running – in a wide circle which crossed the old road, and crept through the bushes at the other side.

As we went nearer, Kikibi edged forward, through the bushes at the side of the old road.  He stopped, and told me,  “Go about eight metres farther on, and find a good place to hide.  Wait there.  Watch very carefully.  They’re tricky opponents.”  He vanished.

I crept forward, and found a thick bush to lurk.  What did Kikibi mean? Tricky opponents?  He couldn’t mean those girls.  Anybody who was glutinous enough to hunt in a dress like that….  At last, I realised. Nobody was glutinous enough to hunt in a dress like that.  Why didn’t I think of it? I knew why Kikibi had warned me to watch carefully.

Even with his warning, I nearly blew it.  In front of me, a branch waved.  I frowned at it.  Why would that branch move?  There was no wind in these bushes.  I realised, just in time.  When a face poked through the leaves, my gun was ready.  I used it, and she collapsed, falling in the bush with a rustling that sounded horribly loud.

What should I do now?  I wanted to collect her points and run, but I couldn’t go, because Kikibi wouldn’t know where to find me.

I crept forward.  It was one of the girls.  As Kikibi had guessed, under her dress she’d been wearing a close-fitting suit made of the same stuff as our expedition suits.  A tight-fitting hood covered her head, except her face.

I crouched for long enough to collect the points from her wrist unit.  27, taking us up to 108.  Then I crept through the bushes to where Kikibi had left me.

As I waited, I counted.  108 points.  Maybe we could win!  How many more did we need?  Nobody was going to reach 161.  Probably not 150, or even 140.  130 would probably do it.  We only needed 22 to get that.  If we could catch just two more….

The time went up to 65, then 70.  I was starting to worry that somebody had knocked Kikibi out when his voice came from my wrist unit.  “Any luck?”

“Yeah.  I got one of those girls – in an expedition suit, not a dress.”

He appeared from a bush.  “When I saw those dresses, I was suspicious. No one could be as stupid as these two pretended.  Even girls.  Her friend’s slippery too.  I couldn’t track her.  Let’s get away from here.”  He started along the road at a fast jog.

My legs were complaining, but I tried to keep up with him.  We passed two checkpoints, but both showed 0.

Kikibi swung left, off the old road, and went more cautiously, dodging from bush to bush.  I didn’t complain, because my legs liked the slower speed. The time hit 80.

16

NAXIANS

Kikibi exclaimed,  “A Naxian!”  He sprinted away, while I toiled to keep up with him.  If we could catch the Naxians, that would take us close to 130. I’d love to get the winning points from those Naxians.

As we ran on, I began to worry.  Kikibi didn’t like the Naxians.  He must be desperately keen to catch them.  Was he going too fast, forgetting to take care?  I put my wrist unit to my mouth, to warn him, but put it down again. If the Naxians were around, they might hear.  I had no choice.  I had to trust Kikibi.

He ran on, farther ahead of me.  Then he stumbled and fell, just as I glimpsed a black figure in a bush at my left.  My stun-gun was in my hand, but I hadn’t a chance of swinging it round in time.  I fell, pretending I was hit.  It wasn’t all pretend.  I must’ve gone through the edge of his beam, because I felt dizzy for a few seconds.  When my mind cleared, I had the sense (or instinct) to lie without moving.

I opened my eyes, just wide enough to see.  Both Naxians were heading for Kikibi’s body.  They were looking at him, not at me, but my right hand, with my stun-gun, was at my side.  They would see me if I tried to move it – and they weren’t in range.

Watching them through almost-closed eyes, I brought my right arm round, trying to point it towards them, but it took ages, because I had to stop when either of them might be looking towards me.

One knelt beside Kikibi’s body, to put his wrist unit to Kikibi’s.  An angry exclamation showed he hadn’t collected much.

They said a few words, waving towards me.  They were coming to me now – and my gun was still pointing at the trees.

One of them laughed, and lifted a foot, to kick Kikibi.

I yelled,  “No!”  and jumped to my feet.  I can still remember their startled faces as they turned to gape at me, but their surprise gave me time to run forward, to get them in range.  They fell beside Kikibi.

I looked down at him.  Poor Kikibi!  He’d been too keen to get revenge. But he’d won the hunt for us.  I collected 17 points from one Naxian, and 12 from the other.  That took me up to 137.  137!  That must be enough to win!

I checked my wrist unit.  Time 95.  All I had to do was survive for 5%, and we’d won.  I would hide for that time, and come out when Greyquill announced the hunt was over.  That might not be very sporting, but….

Where could I hide?  I spotted a lovely thick bush about twenty metres along the gap.  I headed towards it, thinking,  “Yes!  Yes!  Yes!”

17

THE END

Yes!  Yes!  No!

“Going somewhere?”  One of the little girls stepped out of a bush at my left, stun-gun in her hand.  That was the end of my hunt.

It was one of the little girls who wakened me, with a reanimator to my forehead.  I sat up.  “Was that you?”

“Yes,”  she said cheerfully.  “Thanks for the points.  Greyquill says to go back to the tractor, so that he can tell us the results.”

“I don’t need him to tell me.”

“Well, go back to the tractor anyway.  I’ve another two to revive.”  She ran away.

I called after her,  “Well done.”  I had to admit it.

She called,  “Thanks!”  over her shoulder as she ran on.

As I trudged miserably back to the tractor, I had time to think.  I’d enjoyed the muhunt, but I’d messed it up.  Kikibi’s skill had given us a winning position.  I’d taken two minutes to lose it.  If Kikibi had had a decent partner, he would’ve won.

Back in the tractor, Kikibi was in our seat.  I slumped beside him.  “I’m sorry, Kikibi.  After all your work, we had a win, but I blew it.”

“What do you mean?”  He was disappointed, but not annoyed.

“I had 137 points.  I reckoned that was a winning score.  I was going to hide until the time was up.  But… I ran straight past one of the little girls. I never saw her.”

“Did you dodge the Naxians?”

“Yeah.  Sorry.  I forgot you didn’t know.  I tricked them.  Got them both. But….”

“Both of them!  Well done, Tony!  I’m ashamed of myself.  I saw a Naxian, running through a gap.  I thought he hadn’t seen me.  I should have taken more care.  But….”  He grinned.  “I thought they were as stupid as they look.”  His face became serious.  “I’m sorry, Tony.  I was careless.  I’ll know the next time.”

Maybe he read something in my face too, because he said,  “Don’t you want to hunt again?”

“I’m not sure, Kikibi.  I let you down.  We had a win.  Thanks to you, we had 137 points.  All I had to do was survive for 5%.  But I’m so pathetic that I didn’t even survive for 1%.  If you want to hunt again, get yourself a decent partner.”

He was upset.  “Didn’t you enjoy the hunt, Tony?”

“Yeah.  Maybe I’ll try solo ones, against other people as rotten as me.  I’m not a good enough partner for you.  I only spoil your chances.”

“No, Tony.  If I was good, those Naxians wouldn’t have caught me by a simple trick.”

“That was only because you didn’t like them.  You won’t make that mistake again.  I’m sorry, Kikibi.  I really enjoyed hunting with you, but I would spoil your chances.  Get yourself a good partner.”  I sensed his disappointment, but, during that walk back to the tractor, I’d made up my mind.

18

PRIZEGIVING

The Naxians arrived, not in a sunny mood.  Seeing their glowering faces, I felt happier.

They sat opposite us, and one called across,  “Cheat!  Cheating fish-belly!”

“I didn’t cheat,”  I said.  “I took advantage of your stupidity.”

“Cheating fish-belly!”

“Talking of cheating, who tried to take extra power packs?  Who left his wrist unit during the planning time?  And who was going to kick a stunned opponent?”

“Are you accusing us?”

“Yeah, I am.”

“Prove it!”

“I saw you.  If you don’t think Greyquill will believe me, we can ask him.” In the seat in front, the white people had turned to watch and listen.

“We’ll deny it.”

“Fine.  Then let’s go, and see who he believes.”  I stood up.

“No!  There’s no need to bother him with little problems.”

I looked down at them.  They were worried enough for me to sense it.  I said,  “That suits me.  If you promise not to do it again.”

“We didn’t do anything!”

“OK.”  I pretended I was going forward.

“No!  It’s a waste of time anyway.  We’re not doing any more hunts.  Hunts stink.”

I said,  “And you have to quit hassling us.  Shut up, and leave us in peace.”

“We were only having a bit of fun.  Can’t you take a joke?”  Seeing the anger in my face, he quickly went on,  “If you don’t like it, we’ll stop.”

“We don’t like it.”  I sat down, getting pleased smiles from Kikibi and the white people.

By that time, all the hunters were in their seats.  Greyquill stood, leaning on the back of his seat, and said,   “I must congratulate you all on a well-fought and sporting hunt.”  I glanced at the Naxians, but they were looking at Greyquill.

He went on,  “You all hunted with such skill and enthusiasm that only three survived when I called time.  One was from these young ladies.”  He smiled to the girls, back in their dazzling dresses.  “Their team score was 65.  Girls, perhaps you would come forward to collect your trophy.”  It was a metal disc, engraved with a picture and writing.

I was ready to clap, but nobody did.  Some of the others raised their hands in a salute as the girls went back to their places.

Greyquill said,  “The wining team had an outstanding result, especially since they had such excellent opposition  Both members returned, and they had a total of 185 points.”

“33 from us,”  said one of the Glinkians.  I kept quiet.

In the first row, the two little girls stood, and Greyquill gave them their trophy – a bigger metal disc, also with a picture and writing.  The girls smiled smugly, and sat.

19

RETURN

Greyquill said,  “I do hope you have all enjoyed today’s muhunt, and you will want to hunt again.”  Ignoring the Naxians’ snorts, he went on,  “My company offers hunts at all levels, from beginner to expert, in many different places, from simple forests to ruined cities.  If you’re interested, see me before you leave.  Now we shall head back to the waiting room.”

As we drove back through the forest, everybody started to talk.  By being opponents for the hunt, we’d become friends.  Everybody was telling everybody else what they’d done, or, more often, what they wished they’d done.  The only silent ones were the Naxians, glowering in their seats.

When the tractor stopped, the Naxians stormed off, while the rest of us spilled out, still chatting, leaving Greyquill inside, tidying his wrist units.

As we chatted, the others drifted off, leaving only the Glinkians, the two little girls, Kikibi and me.  One of the Glinkians said to the girls,  “We thought we knew how to hunt, but you caught us neatly.  Do you fancy another turn?  Give us a chance of revenge.”

One of the little girls smiled.  “We were lucky.  You thought we’d be useless because we’re girls.”  She glanced at Kikibi, smiling.

He grinned.  “All right.  I was wrong.  But you won’t catch us again.”

The girl asked,  “Do you want to try?”

“Yes!”  said Kikibi enthusiastically.  “We had a great hunt.  Let’s book another one, in a different place.  Then we’ll show you who are the best hunters.”

The girls said,  “You’re on.”

Kikibi said,  “We’ll ask Greyquill now.”  He turned to the tractor, then stopped, suddenly worried.  Slowly, he turned to me.  “Tony, will you be my partner again?  Please!  I haven’t a chance of beating these two unless you’re with me.”

I remembered our hunt – the buzz as we chose our place, planning in the bush, guarding the white guy while Kikibi stalked his mate, stunning the girl in the expedition suit, the friendly chatting on the way back.  It had been sky-high, and Kikibi wanted me with him.  I said,  “All right, Kikibi. You’re on.”

20

MUHUNTING RULES

In muhunting (short for mutual hunting), the players, called hunters, hunt each other, using stun-guns, in an area called a hunting ground.

1 : AIM : The aim of the hunt is to collect points.  The winner is the hunter with the most points at the end of the hunt.
Hunters may collect points in two ways:
(1) from other hunters, whom they stun.
(2) from checkpoints, which they visit.
In most hunts, each hunter starts with 10 points, and the checkpoints are worth from 1 to 5 points.

2 : CONTROLLER : Muhunts are run by a controller, whose instructions must be followed at all times.

3 : TERRAIN : The hunting ground may have any terrain.  It may contain natural hazards – steep slopes, bogs, swift-flowing rivers – but it will not contain unexpected hazards or dangerous wildlife.
Muhunts may also be held in an arena – outdoors or indoors.  There, the controller will provide suitable cover for the hunters.

4 : TIME : The controller will announce the duration of the muhunt.  It will depend on the size of the hunting ground, the nature of the terrain, and the number of hunters.

5 : WEAPON : Each hunter must bring one stun-gun, with a single power pack, and no other weapons.

6 : WRIST UNIT : The controller will give each hunter a wrist unit, which must be worn at all times during the hunt.  An aerial view of the hunting ground will be transmitted to each wrist unit.  The picture may be adjusted by the commands, ‘in,’ ‘out,’ ‘up,’ ‘down,’ ‘right,’ and ‘left.’

7 : CLOTHING : Hunters may wear clothing of their choice, but are urged to use clothing suitable for the terrain and conditions.

8 : HUNTING GROUND : Before the hunt, the controller will announce the boundaries of the hunting ground.  Any hunter who goes beyond them will be disqualified from the hunt.

9 : POSITION : Each hunter’s position on the hunting ground will be shown on the aerial view by a white spot on his own wrist unit only.

10 : STARTING PLACES : Before the hunt, the controller will give each hunter his starting place.  These places will be marked on the aerial views by yellow spots.  Each hunter must go to the place where his white spot covers the yellow spot that marks his own starting place.

11 : START : The yellow spots will be removed from the display.  The controller will then announce through the wrist units,  “The hunt will begin.”

12 : BLIND SHOOTING : This is permitted.  You may poke a stun-gun over or round an obstruction, and pull the trigger.

13 : USE OF FORCE : Hunters must not use force.  Anyone who threatens or uses force will be banned from hunting for life.  A hunter may touch only the gun, power pack, and wrist unit of any stunned hunter.

14 : DANGEROUS POSITIONS : When putting themselves in a position that may be dangerous, eg by climbing trees, standing in water, hunters should remember that others may stun them there.

15 : REVIVING : If a stunned hunter revives before the end of the hunt, he may wait where he fell, or walk to the base, holding his wrist unit high above his head.

16 : EMERGENCY : If a hunter judges that an emergency has arisen, most commonly through serious injury to himself or another hunter, he should use his wrist unit to call the controller.  The controller may:
(a)  suspend the hunt – by telling the hunters to stop hunting, and remain where they are until told to resume hunting.
(b)  cancel the hunt – by telling the hunters to return to the base.

17 : END : At the end of the given time, the controller announces through the wrist units,  “The hunt is ended.”  Hunters must stop hunting immediately, and return directly to the controller at the base.

18 : CONCLUSION : Survivors will be expected to go out, and use reanimators on stunned hunters.

VARIATIONS

19 : CHOOSING STARTING PLACES : Instead of the controller telling hunters their starting places, they may choose their own.  Possible starting places are shown on the aerial view as numbered yellow spots.  Each hunter chooses a starting place by calling its number into his wrist unit. After a hunter has chosen a place, no other hunter may choose it, or any other place within sight of it.  If any hunter has not chosen a starting place after a given time, he will be given a random choice.

20 : PLANNING : After hunters know their starting places, but before they start hunting, the controller may allow them time to study the aerial view (which includes the yellow spots that mark the starting places), and make their plans.  This is always done in serious hunts.

21 : TEAMS : Muhunting can be done in teams, usually of two, four or eight.  The general rules are the same as for the single hunt.  Every member of a team must start at the same place.  Thereafter, they may hunt together, in groups, or separately.  The winning team is the one that scores the greatest total number of points.