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Out of the deadly waters of the Samanon river thrust a massive fish, jaws snapping as though piston-driven, twisting in mid-air, its muscles engaging pockets of gas along its tail that propelled it toward the hunters’ riverboat. It ricocheted off the engine block, back into the water, and swept around for a second leaping blow.
Gartruck Killshuck cartwheeled aside the fish’s scythe-like tail, the razor-sharp blades grazing a fold of wrinkled skin along his jaw. Undershooting the side-rails, the fish found itself grounded, flopping menacingly on the floor of the river-boat. With a great bellow, Gartruck withdrew his peppermace and began clubbing at the flopping, fiendish creature with the weapon’s burning, crystallized capsaicin head. In a killing frenzy the fish blew its gas jets and whipped its tail, man and beast suddenly caught in a furious exchange; but each slicing sweep delivered by the fish merely ripped into Gatruck’s flak jacket, while his blows pounded the beast, taking its tail, disfiguring its gills, and finally smashing the pulp out from its chainsaw-like rows of teeth. It twitched in its death throes, issuing acid and noxious bile, before coming to rest upon the deck.
“Lancing Shotfish. One hundred pounds,” said Surly, the digital hunting organizer. “Encounter recorded into memory. KillSlate uploading to Hunt-Tube now.”
“That was a big’un!” Gartruck exclaimed, pumping his meaty fists. “Jeff, you need to get in the game, son! Team human is still down at the half-time, I can’t carry this whole expedition myself! I’m sixty-five years old for chrissakes! If you really want my money so bad, you better start pulling your weight on the boat!”
Jeff Wallbloom could hardly reply, fixated on the hundred pounds of weaponized man-eating beast stomped dead in the center of the boat. Its eyes, even in death, met his own and foretold a savage end. He suppressed a shriek, and tried to get his own KillSlate 6G-KOS to do normal things like post about his cats to Chirper, or check on his stocks, or anything unrelated to the slaying of brutal, hyper-evolved jungle demons. But a KillSlate offered no respite from the subculture that created it. The best Jeff could do to take his mind off the hunt was pray and hold back tears.
“Oh hey, you’re checking the Hunt-Pedia?” Gartruck asked, sizing up his kill, “Smart, good initiative. Look up for me the uh, the Shrieking Spinetiger. That’ll be our prize for this trip. I’ll crack its spine wide open and drink the fluids. Oh those delicious monster fluids.” Gartruck’s barrel-like body seemed to palpitate with ecstasy.
“Right.” Jeff said. He pressed his finger against the Hunt-Pedia icon on the touchscreen, taking some effort, as the screens were always calibrated for ridiculously strong hands. He scrolled past the Lovecraftian horrors section, through the Cryptids, and into the section on jungle demons, represented on the very first page by the black and purple knot of quills and muscle that was the Shrieking Spinetiger. The Hunt-Pedia had quick access to amateur videos, documented encounters, informative episodes from Kill Channel, as well as historical asides, such as Maggie Woodslayer having been the first person alive to kill a Shrieking Spinetiger with her bare hands.
“Could you play that there sound file of its roar? I want to be ready for it.” Gartruck said. “When I was a child, Jeff, I dreamed of killing a Shrieking Spinetiger, just like my dad had back in the Beast Wars of ‘52, right here in the Samanon rainforest. I worked hard all my life Jeff, I worked hard to own all the necessary equipment, to get my college edumacation, and become rugged enough for this very moment.”
Jeff smiled nervously, tying around his fingers a long lock of hair loose from his ponytail and trying not to cry. Back in Newfork, Jeff sometimes dealt with roaches in his high-rise apartment, mostly by shrieking and chasing after them ineffectually with a shoe. That was the height of his conquest of mother nature. He gave a forlorn look at the sound clip of the Shrieking Spinetiger. Bracing himself, he pressed his finger hard on the PLAY button. For a few seconds there was a whistling noise.
Then the Kill-Slate blasted the surroundings with the Dispersion Roar of the Shrieking Spinetiger. The noise worked its way through every tissue of the body, agitating the flesh on a sub-atomic level. Jeff twisted around the edge of the boat and vomited copiously into the jungle waters, his stomach sub-atomically upset.
“Yup. Just like Papa said it would be.” Gartruck said. He wept a single tear. “May you rest in peace at the bottom of the pacific abyss, old man.” Ambling to the side of the boat, he saluted, cleared his throat, and then joined Jeff’s copious vomiting.
Further downriver, the hunters left their boat anchored to a sleeping Samanon Cannon-Turtle, a massive, docile, human-friendly beast with an exploding head, which it launched at its enemies, regrew, and then launched several more times. They loaded their titanium rifles with armor-piercing ammunition, donned new flak jackets and camouflaged helmets, and stalked into the thick jungles of the Samanon. Gartruck raised his vibro-machete and chopped the vicious overgrowth out of their way as they walked, swinging with such force that they kept quite a speedy pace.
“So Jeff, given that every jungle creature in the Samanon has some kind of echosense, or x-ray vision, or psychic powers, we might as well just talk openly. What’s this startup of yours you want me to fund, and what’s your deal?”
Jeff beamed, and would’ve jumped had he not been weighed down by his equipment. “I thought you’d forgotten all about it, sir, due to the excitement of the hunt.”
“What? Of course not! I planned this whole trip just to listen to your idea. I’d be willing to put up some huge cash if you wow me with this.”
In that instant, Jeff felt himself drift, far from the Samanon rainforest, miles removed from the jungle demons, all the way to a hundred-story industrial office building on Gilded Street, where he and fellow CEOs would routinely partake in daredevil skyscraper diving with golden parachutes. This was his future. He was nearing it, he could already feel the air go by, feel the luxuriant silk of the golden parachute and its associated severance package. Wallbloom Incorporated. He liked the sound of it. He put a brief pause to his daydreams and began to explain his idea.
“This is a million dollar internet idea sir. Imagine this sir – millions of teenagers out there are looking to put together and share their own memetic videos, but they lack the tools to truly craft them. This is where Marygold comes in. A web site where you can upload videos, remix existing videos, edit your videos, and add all kinds of basic effects, right on the cloud, sir. Then you can share your videos in all the major forms of social media, without anything more than your camera, and a browser. Marygold can become the memetic video factory of the world.”
“Memetic videos? You mean like all those kooky cats doing crazy things? Wow! So I could just upload my cat video right there, add cat sparkles and text highlights and other doohickeys and send it right to Chirper?”
“That’s right sir. Not only that but you could remix the cat videos other people have made, to make fun of their cats, or add your own cat with them! Any cat meme that you see, you can remix, upload and share with minimal hassle.”
“My god. That is amazing. Technology has come so far– WATCH OUT.”
Gartruck hooked Jeff around his arm and leaped sideways into a shallow pond, as a massive hook-footed, quill-backed bird soared overhead and broke the speed of sound, slicing through trees, causing giant insects to burst into flame. He smothered Jeff with his own body as hundreds of beetles and mosquitoes exploded in a dazzling fireworks display. The rainforest was thankfully too humid to catch flames.
“God damn. Woodraking Drill-bills. Silent and deadly.” Gartruck said.
Jeff struggled to time his swallowing of mud so as to not choke on it.
They waited several minutes for the Drill-bill to perhaps break light-speed and go back through time, if that was its intention. Gartruck then gave the all-clear and they advanced. The thick jungle soon gave way to a broad clearing of gray, jagged, perpetually bloodied glass-weed over rolling hills that in the distant past might have been the giant nests of killer ants. The hunters wove carefully around the grassland.
“So Jeff, what do you do? What’s your deal?” Gartruck asked.
“Umm, I’m an ideas-man, I guess. I just need some money and a team, and I’m sure I can pull off some incredibly profitable web products.”
“I don’t mean that. I mean what’s your deal as a person? Even on the phone you just talked about your profitable web doohickeys. I want to know you as a fellow ravager of nature’s champions. I don’t know – what was your dad like?”
Jeff felt a phantasmal bowl of uneaten food strike his face. “He was not very nice.”
Gartruck nodded sagely. “What was your mother like?”
“She really liked money. And people with money. A lot of it.”
“Where did you go to school?”
“I went to private school, at Saint Mayberry. It was a boarding school.”
“Ah!” Gartruck said, raising his fist to shade his eyes as he stalked forward, “I went to boarding school too. Ironhold Boarding School for boys! What kind of shenanigans did you get up to with your lads at umm, Mayberry?”
Jeff seemed suddenly alert. “No shenanigans whatsoever! Just you know, guy stuff.”
“Ah, that’s boring. I had two big firsts at Ironhold Boarding School. Killed my first man, and loved my first man. I think those are two big firsts every well-rounded man should experience in boarding school.”
Jeff blinked and looked at the ground. “I learned to ride a horse.”
“Did you kill when it inevitably failed you?” Gartruck said. “Nature always fails mankind. And I believe when it does, you really oughta kill it.”
“I’m suddenly, no offense, really uncomfortable about this conversation.”
Gartruck suddenly stopped. He held up his fist. “Spinetiger. 20 meters out.”
Leftover sub-atomic tingling wracked Jeff’s body.
“On my signal, we move out of the grass, and quadruple-tap that monster.”
Jeff’s teeth started to gnash, mostly sub-atomically. “Okay.” He squealed.
“Okay. Signal.” Gartruck said. Jeff was stunned. Was that the signal?
Gartruck burst from out of the grass, raising his gun and locking the iron sight unto the Spinetiger, a sleek beast, little more than muscles and bristling natural weaponry, with diamond-like fangs that could crack steel. Jeff heard a multitude of shots, and in a panic, leaped out himself. He rammed his finger against the rifle trigger, aiming at nothing particular, and felt feedback but no shots – the safety was on. The Spinetiger suddenly found itself flanked with Jeff’s appearance, while round after armor-piercing round from Gartruck’s rifle cracked hopelessly against hard quills and thick flesh.
The red gas pockets on its back suddenly inflated, and it raised its rear into the air like an alley cat. It turned its eyes and fangs on Jeff, and from ten meters away it released its Dispersion Roar. All Glass-weed out to thirty meters shattered in its wake. The Spinetiger blew Jeff off his armored feet and face-first into a now barren hillside, all manner of sub-atomic horrors being waged against the particles of his flesh.
“Gotcha now you little bastard!” Gartruck shouted, as he squeezed the trigger and unleashed the remainder of his magazine on the inflated back of the Spinetiger. Multiple rounds drilled into this softer flesh, causing various pressure leaks. The bags of gas with which the Spinetiger maintained its Dispersion Roar became its undoing.
The beast found its back suddenly erupting into shockwaves of gore. Its body lurched and twisted, each bursting pocket jerking the unwilling beast in a random direction. Its knee shattered as it blew right, its leg bent as it was forced seated, its claws twisted double when it blew forward, its face was driven into a nearby mound. Blood oozed from its exposed spine, the flesh peeled completely off by the violent convulsions.
“Is it dead?” Jeff immediately cried, extricating himself from a fossil killer ant mound, still full of fossil killer ants. He had vomited again, mostly in mid-air.
“Yup! You did it boy, you got it to expose its weakness! Tactical genius, I say. A little bit too tricky for my taste, but you know, I can’t fault the method.”
Gartruck laid down his weapon and advanced greedily on the body, pulling back flaps of skin and tearing out thick fibrous muscles from the spine.
Jeff felt he would vomit again at the sight. He averted his eyes, and focused on becoming sub-atomically correct again. “Sir, have you given any thought to my proposal? I’d really like to know before I commit to any more hunting.”
“Sorry Jeff,” Gartruck replied, pausing once as he snapped open the vertebrae of the spinetiger, and took a long, heavy slurp of the creature’s toxic spinal fluids. “I’m gonna pass out in a few minutes from all the deadly poison I’ve just ingested. I want you to know: I love your startup, and I think you’re a shrewd kid. But I make all of my business decisions based on whether or not the guy I’m investing in, is a guy I’d go killing acid-spitting flail-slugs with. And you just ain’t that guy. You’re just not hands-on enough, I feel. You’re a bit distant. Some people might say this is bad business on my part–” Gartruck stopped talking then. He seemed like he had something more to say, mostly because his muscles had tightened, paralyzing him in a statue-like position, arms raised, eyes crossed, mouth open, drooling.
Jeff kept waiting for at least a moment of pity, but eventually just sat down atop the fossil mound, watching the sky go dark. He opened the chamber of his hunting rifle and withdrew a round, running his fingers along the smooth exterior. He could see his distorted reflection weeping openly, his face shaken. The dream world of the social networking CEOs, in their dot-com pools, seemed to be fading in the wild, monster-filled horizon behind him. Perhaps he would return to college and teach macro-economics. Nobody appreciated the ideas-man anymore.