booksandstories.com

April 2001 Review

Web Page Progress

It's a year now since I launched booksandstories.com (more or less), and this Review is my twelfth. At that time, Easter had also come and gone, marked by my attempts to organize all the technical bits of the website. Now that a year has past, I find that I am now getting about 5 visits a day. Sometimes it's more, sometimes it's less. I'm reasonably pleased with that, considering that I don't do any marketing or advertising. Those of you who may have read some of my earlier Reviews may recall my problems getting listed in various search engines. Well, for some strange reason, strange because I haven't bothered to try and get listed for about six months now, this site is now listed in Yahoo. If the listing is due to one of my submissions to them, then their waiting time is horrendous. So that now means that I'm listed in at least three search engines: AltaVista, Yahoo, and The Open Directory Project (DMOZ). Things must be looking up.

Looking back at when I started, it's interesting to note how so many websites have changed. Many sites started simply, but then added more and more technicalities. First it was JavaScript, then Flash, now I've no idea what they're all doing. With the arrival of affiliate programs and advertising, most sites are now so heavy, you can get married and have children while they're loading. I exaggerate, but you know what I mean. Webmasters seem to grab the latest gadgets and technology as fast as it becomes available, and I wonder if that's always a good idea. Looking at the statistics on the visits to my site, MSIE5 seems to be the browser used by the majority, but MSIE4 and Netscape4 are also well represented. I've even had MSIE3. It's important to remember as a webmaster that it's not your own technology that counts, but that of your audience. As it happens, I use Netscape4 at home to access the internet. My version may not be up to date, and it's surprising how many sites I have problems accessing. I think it's important that my site be accessable and visible to as many people as possible, whatever the browser they may be using. Some of the books are quite large, and it may take a little time loading them. Adding lots of animations and banners will only slow it down further.

I suppose I'm preaching moderation here. I have a single banner on most of my pages, simply to obtain the statistics on visits. On the List Page are two banners, mainly because I use TheCounter.com here to give me a visual counter. As for JavaScript and animation, that is reserved for the button links that run down the left of the screen. If you use JavaScript, the books open when you move the mouse over them, if you don't, they don't. And that's it. You can view this website with any browser that isn't older than about two years, and that's the way I intend it to stay. The object of booksandstories.com is to allow you to read my stories, not get advertising revenue. And I think it's much better that you be able to access my pages quickly and clearly rather than to change them merely because I can.

I hope you all had a Happy Easter. Enjoy your visit.

Writing Progress

With regards to my main writing, "The Return of the Sixpack", this is still not in the final state that I want it to be in. I seem to be spending more time than I had planned in going over it all. I have the most problems with the end, and with the demise of certain characters. Some of them I know have to go, some of them do not, and I am finding it difficult to get the best compromise for the integrity of the story without having too high, or too low, a body count. I think the main problem is that I have spent too long writing this story, and my perception of what I had originally intended has altered. It all means that I'm having to work harder to get it right. I shall keep at it, and I promise it won't be much longer!

I sometimes find that writing the Short Stories gets in the way of my main writing. It's funny, but normally I write my main stories using an old LetterPerfect word processor and then convert them into HTML later. But when I write my Short Stories I do so directly in HTML. Maybe it's because they're part of the monthly Reviews. Anyway, for some reason recently, I've found that a number of ideas have clogged my mind and that I have this urge to get more than one Short Story written. Usually I find it harder to break away from my main writing to write a Short Story, but maybe because I've been having so many problems with "The Return of the Sixpack" I suddenly find that I feel like writing about something else. Anyway, I'm restraining myself from adding more than one Short Story to this Review, but if I do write too many, I might include one in next month's Review as well. But for this month I'm basing my Short Story on characters from an old favourite British comic of mine from the 1960s. I wonder if any of you out there will recognise them?

April's Short Story

John Marshall mopped his brow as he surveyed his fields. It had been a long hard slog, but they had managed it at last.

The light from the twin suns faded as they slowly sank towards the horizon. John sat on his tractor as his men began clearing up for the night. It was a pleasent evening, and it would be a beautiful twin sunset. Not that he and any of his men would notice. They were all tired, and they would all enjoy their evening meal that night.

Being a farmer on Zildos was never easy. The ground was perfect for growing, the soil full of all the best nutrients a seed could ask for. And water was plentiful. In fact it was said that anything could be grown on Zildos, and John had found that to be perfectly true. There was only one downside, and it was very big.

Carl Porter, John's foreman, leaned on the big wheel of the old tractor.

"It's quiet tonight, isn't it, boss?" he said.

John looked around and nodded. "Yes, I had noticed, Carl."

"Do you think we might be in for a visit?"

"I hope not. But I have to admit, the thought has been uppermost in my mind for about the past hour. We better get the men inside the dome."

Carl nodded. Moving away from the tractor, he clapped his hands. "Alright guys! Lets move it! If it's time for dinner, let's us do the eating!"

Everyone laughed, but the tension and nervousness was begining to become more apparent now that work was no longer a distraction.

Clearing up took about half an hour. By then, the twin suns had both disappeared and the darkness had moved across the land. As John and Carl led their men back to the reinforced concrete dome there was absolute silence.

Usually, the onset of darkness heralded the choros of night predators that stalked the land, and on Zildos that was many. If the ground was rich and fruitful, then the animal life was varied and plentiful. The whole planet was bursting with life. Experts said that Zildos must be at the same point in it's life that Earth had been in the Jurassic period. Forrests grew everywhere, plants were as big as they could be, and the air fizzed with colourful insects. It was a marvelous place. Just to smell the air was intoxicating. And that was why the air and the silence were uncomfortable tonight.

No animals called, no insects buzzed or flew, and the air was strangely oppressive. There could only be one reason.

The dome was only a little more than a hundred yards away. The men trudged back wearily but anxiously, all of them walking a little faster than was necessary. The night was very dark now, there was no moon circling Zildos, and only the lights from the dome and from the posts scattered around the fields broke the hold of complete darkness. The greatest source of light came from the dome entrance, where the wives and family of the men had gathered to meet them.

John could make out his wife and young son easily, they were that close. Close, but still too far away. Some of the men waved, and those waiting for them waved back. It was unusual to see so many gathered at the entrance, but they, too, must have sensed what was in the air.

As the men drew nearer and nearer to the safety of the dome, their walking pace grew quicker. John and Carl were no different. Nobody said anything, but they all knew now. What had started as just an uncomfortable feeling had become a physical presence, a presence they all feared.

They walked faster. The sweat began to bead on their foreheads. One or two men broke into a run. Then it happened.

There was a loud crack, and one of the posts at the edge of the fields fell. Everyone stopped and stared. As the post fell and the flood light mounted on it sparked and went out, there was the merest hint of a dark shadow, of a large grey form.

Silence returned. And then something moaned. It was a deep, base sound. So powerful and deep that it caused a vibration in your very soul.

Everyone ran. There was no excuse now to hold back, no reason to pretend that everything was okay. For now the very horror of everyone's dreams was in pursuit of them. They couldn't see it, but they knew it came. It's presence in the dark was now revealed. It knew that. No more would it creep forward hoping that it's prey hadn't sensed it's coming. They ran, it ran. A race for the dome, a race for security and life.

John ran as fast as he could, not daring to look back. He knew he was being chased, he could feel the heavy foot-falls in the earth, he could hear it behind him getting closer and closer.

All the men ran in a frenzy of panic. Some of them screamed as they ran, such was the tension in them. They had all been here before. They had all ran this race far too often. They were all winners, because those who had lost had paid the ultimate price.

In the dome entrance, men and women jumped up and down shouting and screaming. There was nothing else they could do.

One by one, the men reached the dome. Ahead of him, John could see Carl fall into the arms of his wife. He wanted so much to swop places, to be there now, safe.

As each man won the race and greeted loved ones, they would quickly turn and shout encouragement to those who still ran. The shouts and screams grew tremendous. One by one gained safety, one by one won the race. They were almost all home.

The screams and shouts stopped, cut off by the most pitiful yell.

John fell almost at the entrance to the dome. His wife and Carl ran forward and grabbed him. His one thought as they pulled him to safety was for his men.

"Who's it got!" he gasped to Carl.

Carl winced as he stared passed John and his tearful but grateful wife. "It's Phil Edwards. The bastard's torn him in half!"

Phil's wife was screaming. Men and other women held on to her as she tried to run out. She fought with them, screaming all the time. John watched her in sadness and despair. Then he turned. He turned to look as all looked.

Disgusting noises were coming from the fields as something large and malevolent tore and ate it's victim. The darkness half hid the immense creature as it lingered at the edge of the circle of light thrown by one of the field light posts. But enough of it was visible to identify it even if they hadn't already known.

-o-

"A Stigorex-Algorther."

The Minister for Agricultural Affairs on Zildos made it sound like a case of the flu, but then William Tamner was always the one for understatement.

"It ate one of the farmers at Langfar valley last week and by the morning the wires were twitching all the way back to Earth."

Craig Gorton sat in the deep leather chair at William Tamner's club and waited for the punch line. Tamner was obviously waiting for him to comment, but he wasn't going to give him the pleasure.

Tamner went on. "Politically, this is getting out of hand. The attacks are causing a fall in confidence among the farming community. They want their democratically elected government to protect them, and they see our failure as a reason to rock the political boat."

Craig finally spoke. Brushing at the fabric of his expensive suit, he said, "Is this about the Stigorex or about the coming election?"

"Both."

"Then what have you done about it?"

Tamner sat back uncomfortably in his chair. "We set up patrols along the edge of the cultivated areas close to the locations of the attacks. They've been useless."

Craig smiled. "Stigorex's aren't daft. They're very big, so they only hunt at night. They like the dark. It's their friend. Patrols were never going to do you any good."

"If I had a free hand, I'd have the area seeded with nerve gas," Tamner said grimly. "But you know as well as I that the ecology lobby would have been down my throat in an instant. My hands are tied."

Craig understood. The colonisation of Zildos had only been sanctioned with strict laws governing the protection of the ecology. Everything was controlled, from what seeds the farmers planted, what fertilisers they used, and how they disposed of their trash. But while the utmost was being done to protect the ecological system of Zildos from damage by the colonists, that care and attention, unfortunately, wasn't being reciprocated by the local wildlife.

"How many attacks have their been?"

"Twenty-nine, with eleven fatalities and countless livestock."

Craig wasn't impressed. "Everyone who comes here knows that this place is no Garden of Eden. They also know that the animals come first. It's a risk they sign up for. The figures you quote aren't that much higher than the average for any year. So what's changed? Why call Catch or Kill?"

Tamner leaned forward. "Because it's the fifteenth attack on Langfar."

That caused Craig to raise his eyebrows. "Albert Gorther's namesake must have found a favorite watering hole. It's unusual for such a big animal to stay in one place long enough to tot up such a tally. How long between the first and last attack?"

"Three months."

"No wonder the farmers are pissed. They must feel like they broke a container-full of mirrors."

Tamner stared at him for a moment. "Why do I feel that you're not taking this at all seriously?"

Craig smiled. "When danger is your business, nothing else is serious."

-o-

John Marshall watched the transport land. He shielded his eyes from the dust the wind kicked up as the transport's jets did their best to melt the concrete of the landing pad. When the engines began to die down, he walked forward.

The hatch on the transport clanged open and the men rushed forward to unload. John stood and waited as two figures stepped from the transport wearing jungle camouflaged outfits. They didn't look very impressive.

Craig smiled as John reached out to shake his hand. "You must be John Marshall?"

John nodded and shook hands with Craig warmly and vigorously. "That's right, Head of Farming and Agriculture in Langfar Valley. I take it you're Craig Gorton?"

"Yes! And this is my assistant, Kipper." Craig indicated the man next to him. It was quite a contrast.

Where Craig was fair-haired and heavily built, Kipper was small and wiry. He had dark hair and oriental eyes that seemed to hide an inner knowledge.

John shook hands with Kipper. "Kipper?" he asked.

Kipper smiled. "I like herrings."

Craig laughed. "That's what he tells everybody! I still haven't got the truth out of him!"

John pried a little further. "Chinese?"

Kipper shook his head. "I was born in Rangoon. I met Crag when he was finishing his father's work. We've been together ever since."

Craig quickly added, "My father's work, as Kipper so euphemistically puts it, was a 100ft python that terrorised the Chin Hills. We had a devil of a time killing it!"

John got to the point. "Can you kill the Stigorex?"

Craig and Kipper exchanged obvious looks, and Craig said, "How about we get our stuff out of the transport and talk about it later?"

John nodded. "Of course." He turned and called out to another man supervising the unloading of the transport. "Carl! See that Mr Gorton's equipment is brought to the holding area in the dome!"

Carl waved in acknowledgement. John indicated the neatly laid out path to the dome and said to Craig and Kipper, "Would you like to follow me, gentlemen?"

As they walked back to the dome, John kept prying into both Craig and Kipper's background.

"Why is it that you call Mr Gorton Crag?" he asked Kipper.

Kipper shrugged. "He calls me Kipper, I call him Crag."

"So what makes two intelligent people want to spend their lives hunting and killing dangerous animals?"

Craig smiled. "It's a question we're asked often. But the answer's simple. It's the same one that brought you here to Zildos. Boredom."

John looked up at him. "Were you bored with life, Mr Gorton?"

"I didn't know it at the time, but yes, I was. I was rich, arrogant and a fool. I wasted my time playing at life. 'My father's work', as Kipper put it, opened my eyes. Now I'm much more fulfilled. I live a much more useful life, I enjoy it, and I've got more money than I started with."

The talk of money led to the obvious question. "I'm told that the government is paying you four million dollars to kill the Stigorex. What makes you worth that much?"

"Actually, that's not true," Craig replied.

"I thought that figure was too much."

Craig stopped walking. "You really don't know, do you?"

John stopped and stared at him. "Know what?"

Before John could ask anything more, Kipper added, "What Crag is trying to tell you is that we aren't here to kill the Stigorex. We're here to catch it."

-o-

John Marshall was furious. And when the news got out among the rest of the colonists there was almost a mutiny. Craig and Kipper were forced to hide behind locked doors while John argued for patience with his people when he really believed exactly as they did. It was half an hour before he came back. And he was still angry.

"How can they do this to us? What are they thinking? They send you here, expecting us to co-operate, and all the time they're planning to catch it! How do you think it makes us feel? How do you think my people feel? That Stigorex is killing us! Eight people in three months! And they want to catch it?"

Craig understood his anger, but he didn't have time for diplomacy. "Look, John. Kipper and I are only here to do a job. We don't decide that job. The client pays, he choses. Catch or Kill. Sometimes the price is different, sometimes it's easier to kill than to catch. This time there is no difference."

"No difference!" John almost shouted.

Kipper put his hand on John's shoulder. It had a surprisingly calming influence.

"What Crag means is that the Stigorex is just as hard to kill as it is to catch. It's skin is so thick it is almost armour-plated. Walking on it's two hind feet it is very adept at using it's clawed front feet to seize it's prey. It has also been observed using tree branches as simple tools, so it is far from simple minded. It is at the top of the food chain on Zildos, and it fears nothing. It can move fast, has very few weak spots in it's defenses, and it's intelligent. These all make it difficult to kill at the best of times. The fact that it is nocturnal makes it even harder."

John looked at Kipper in surprise. "You talk about it as if you admire it," he said a little more calmly. "But what makes this creature more special than any other?"

Craig answered that question. "He was here first. And it's not his fault that the Hulamex herds have moved further south."

John turned away in disgust. "Yes! Yes! I've heard it all before! The local wildlife is most important! Protect the environment! But who protects us? Hey? What about my people? What about the families they've left behind? How do you explain the sense behind the protection of an ecology that tears your husband apart and eats him before your eyes? Answer me that question, Mr Gorton!"

"I don't have to. And what's more, neither do you."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Go out there and lie to them. Tell them we're going to kill it and take it away with us. They won't know any different. All I need to do is call up a military transport when it's all over and they'll come and pick it up. It'll be the last you see of this particular Stigorex."

John now stared at Craig. "You sound very confident."

"This isn't the first Stigorex Kipper and I have dealt with. But not that we think it will be easy, either. Kipper's right, there aren't many weak spots that we can exploit. In fact, there are only two. And we'll be using both of them."

John didn't look impressed. "I've seen that Stigorex. It's big, and it's evil. It should have followed the Hulamex herd when it moved away, but it didn't. You're right, it is intelligent. It knows we're here and that we aren't going away. It's using that knowledge against us. Whenever it's hungry for a snack it comes visiting. It's like living in a takeaway, only we're the burgers. I want that Stigorex dead. We all want it dead. If you want me to lie, then you had better be sure that it doesn't come back."

-o-

Craig and Kipper took a small four-wheeled drive pick-up on a tour of the fields around Langfar. Carl drove them. It was a bright and hot day. Like always.

"Take us to the spot where you found it's tracks," Craig had asked.

Carl had nodded and drove them there.

While Craig and Kipper examined the deep tracks in the soft ground, Carl stared at them from the wheel of the pick-up.

"John says you're going to kill it now."

"That's right," Craig replied as he looked at the broken post that once held a flood-light.

"That's a lie, isn't it?"

Craig glanced at Carl. "I can't tell you what to believe."

Carl laughed without humour. "I thought so. What are they going to do with it? Stick it in some Zoo? Cart it to the other side of the planet?"

"Does it matter?" Craig replied.

Carl shook his head. "Not really."

He watched as they examined the ground. Craig stayed near the broken post while Kipper moved further away, looking intently at the tracks.

"I don't envy you," Carl remarked. "Yes, we'd all like to see it dead, but not one of us would go with you."

Craig looked back at him. "Has it been that bad?"

Carl nodded. "There isn't one of us here at Langfar that sleeps easy. We're scared, I admit it. And it's not just the attacks, which are bad enough. You don't know fear until you've ran for your life in the dark knowing that thing is chasing you. But even when we're inside we still can't feel safe. It comes by most nights, scratching at the dome. It knows we're inside. Sometimes I'm scared to go out in the morning in case it's out there, waiting for us. Maybe it is. There are always fresh tracks." He gestured to the post. "We've put that up three times this week and it's still down. Make sure it doesn't come back, Mr Gorton."

Craig moved back to the pick-up. "Call me Craig. And it won't be coming back. I promise you."

Craig glanced at Kipper, who nodded as if he had seen enough. Straight away, Craig grabbed at the hold-alls they had put in the back of the pick-up.

"Drive back to the dome, Carl. We won't be needing you any more."

"That's it?" Carl said in surprise.

"That's it. We'll take it from here."

Carl reached out his hand. "Good luck, Mr Gorton, Craig."

"Thanks!"

Kipper came to stand next to Craig and they both watched as Carl drove the pick-up speedily back to the dome.

"They are all scared," Kipper remarked.

Craig nodded. "Yeah. Three months is a long time to be under the scrutiny of a Stigorex. It's been watching them during the day, hasn't it?"

Kipper also nodded. "Some of the tracks are less than two hours old. That means it has been moving around in the day."

"I thought so. The post was a dead give away. They put it up, it knocks it down. It must pass here almost every day. No wonder the patrols were useless. Our Stigorex is much closer than the government or the colonists realise. Could you tell what was wrong with it?"

"Yes. The middle toe on the left foot is deformed and the claw is missing. It could have been caused by an infection or a wound."

"That explains why he's here. The Hulamex must be too fast for him now."

"Are we still going to catch it?"

Craig shouldered one of the hold-alls. "Of course! I'm not throwing two million dollars away just to get a little revenge on our dumb animal friend!"

Kipper picked up the other hold-all. "Catching him will not be easy, particularly if he is moving around in the daylight."

"I know, Kipper. But you wouldn't want this job to get any easier, would you?" They began to walk away from the fields, following the tracks of the Stigorex. "Anyway, I'm the one who's going to need to be dug out. I'm the one who's going to blow it's nose, all you have to do is shoot it up the arse when it lifts it's tail."

-o-

It took Craig and Kipper most of the rest of the day to find what they were looking for. They finally found it less than a mile from the dome. The Stigorex's burrow, and fortunately, the Stigorex was safely at home inside. The large entrance was cleverly covered by a woven mat of grass and tree branches. It made it almost impossible to find unless you knew what you were looking for.

Craig shook his head as he looked at the camouflaged entrance. "They're a marvel, aren't they?" he remarked in a whisper. "Such big and vicious brutes, and yet good at knitting. It's not surprising that they won't let us kill it."

"I think it is unnatural for such a large creature to be that intelligent without being benign," Kipper replied, also in a whisper.

"That's why elephants get such a good press. If they ate people like sharks or tigers, I don't think they would be regarded so kindly."

Kipper nodded thoughtfully.

They moved away. When they were at a safe distance, Craig began unpacking their equipment from the hold-alls. First came a grenade-launcher, then a number of padded cylinders that looked like large sausages, two night-sight goggles, a pair of two-way radios that could be worn as ear-pieces with a separate microphone, and finally, a cattle prod. They spent an hour checking things over and then another hour checking the lie of the land around the burrow, making notes of the landmarks and the route Craig would take. Only after that did they settle down to wait.

"It's a pity that we have to wait for it to come out," Kipper said as they ate from their rations. "It would be a lot safer to deal with it in the burrow."

"Stop worrying. You know that drugging it in the burrow is no good. He'll just sleep it off and wake up with a headache. This is the best way, the only way. Just keep out of sight when all the running around starts."

Kipper nodded. "Alright, Crag. But don't trip up."

Craig looked at him in exasperation. "Did you have to say that?"

-o-

It was dark when they split up. Even with their night vision goggles on, it was difficult to see much. With no moon in the sky, there wasn't much light to intensify. Craig sat in the open with the cattle prod. He was as nervous as Hell.

"Can you see anything?" he said into his radio.

"Not since it came out of the burrow," Kipper's voice replied.

Craig's hair stood on end as he looked wildly around. "It's out?"

"Yes. About five minutes ago. Didn't you know?"

Craig stood up, brandishing the cattle-prod before him. He kept looking around, but all he could see was a yellow grey world of grass and bushes that faded quickly and blurred. "I can't see it!"

"Maybe we are wrong about it's path."

"We can't be! You saw the tracks! It always comes this way!"

"Then you should see it."

"I can't, damn it!"

"Have you got the light-level turned up on your glasses?"

"Oh fuck!" Craig reached up and fiddled with the knob on the side of his glasses. Instantly the yellow grey world brightened, the grass stretched out further without blurring, bushes sprang into sharper outline, and-

"I see it."

Crouching down on the grass no more than twenty yards from him, caught in mid-stride, was the most fearsome form Craig Gorton had ever seen since his last encounter with a Stigorex. Twice as big as a Tyranosaurous Rex, the Stigorex had longer and more articulate front claws, it had a mouth with more teeth, and a set of horns that made it look like the very devil himself. It's eyes were set on the front of it's skull, and all of it's body was covered in thick scaly plates that could resist any bullet. Leaning on one of it's front claws as it kept it's mighty head well down, the Stigorex stared at Craig. Craig stared back. Both of them stood unmoving. Predator and prey, both suddenly aware of the other's presence, and both equally aware of the other's knowledge.

Craig suddenly jumped up and shouted, "I see you! I see you! You're on, dick-head!" then he turned and ran.

The Stigorex raised it's head and roared, and digging up the grass with it's huge and powerful hind legs, it sprang after him.

The chase was on. Craig ran for his life, while the Stigorex ran lazily. This was the part of the hunt it had come to enjoy. These new little creatures could never run fast enough, but they zigged and zagged until he finally pounced. It was fun chasing them, almost as good as eating them. Almost but not quite.

But unknown to the Stigorex, Craig had an advantage over the men of Langfar. With his night-goggles he could see in the dark, he could see the Stigorex. He knew where it was. For him it wasn't a hidden monster lurking in the dark, but a clearly visible animal. If it changed direction and tried to head him off, he changed direction. If it ran faster, he ran faster.

Craig ran. The Stigorex ran. Craig zigged. The Stigorex zagged.

Kipper's voice came anxiously from the headphones. "It's not in a hurry, but it's still gaining on you! Run faster!"

"I'm going as fast as I bloody can!" Craig gasped. He glanced behind him. The Stigorex was bearing down on him, it's mouth gaping wide. Craig ran faster.

With rising panic, and the sound of the pursuing Stigorex growing louder and louder in his ears, Craig ran in a long curve. He was following the route he had mapped out earlier with Kipper. There was method in his madness. Like the men of Langfar, he was running towards a safe haven, but unlike them, it wasn't the dome. Craig needed to reach the burrow. It was the only place where he would be safe. And if he didn't reach it, the Stigorex would have an early dinner.

With lungs bursting and muscles aching, Craig saw the gaping blackness of the burrow in front of him. He dived straight into it with the Stigorex snapping at his heels.

Kipper saw the Stigorex jam it's head into the burrow. He immediately sprang to his feet and ran forward with the grenade launcher and the two long cylinders.

Craig bounced and rolled down into the burrow. He ended up sitting on his bottom staring up at the entrance as the Stigorex clawed and wormed it's way towards him. All around him, bits of earth fell from the roof of the burrow. The place stank of something rotten, and the air was hot and oppressive. Craig didn't notice any of it. All he could see was the enormous head of the Stigorex as it came closer and closer. He held on tightly to the cattle-prod. The Stigorex came even closer, it opened it's mouth to take him, and he could feel it's hot breath.

With sudden, lightening speed, Craig lunged forward and jammed the cattle-prod up the Stigorex's nose. The high voltage charge went straight through the Stigorex's nasal membraine and it reacted instantly. It's head shot up and almost brought the roof of the burrow down, then it sneezed, blowing Craig even further down into the burrow.

Outside the burrow, Kipper waited at the back of the Stigorex's exposed hindquarters. He held the grenade launcher ready. When the Stigorex sneezed, it's tail shot up. Kipper fired.

-o-

The huge military transport flew low over the trees, the body of the Stigorex slung underneath it. It looked limp, dead. John Marshall watched it go.

"Tell me again," he said to Craig.

Craig rubbed his tired eyes. "It's simple," he said with a sigh. "The only weak spots on a Stigorex are the thin nasal membraine and the equally thin walls of it's rectum. Everything else is too thick to even think about. To kill it or drug it you have to go through the same route. Shooting it up the nose won't do you any good. You have to get it from the rear end. So unless you wait for it in it's favourite latrine, you have to do it the hard way. Like we did last night."

"You let it chase you into it's own burrow?"

"Best place. It can't move it's head about much, and it gives me the chance to move faster. I tickled it to get the right reaction and Kipper did the rest. If you want to kill it, you use an explosive charge. If not, you use a quick acting muscle relaxant followed by a tranquiliser. Both were packed into a suppository." Craig glanced up at the disappearing transport. "He'll be sleeping like a baby until he gets to his new home."

"I hope it's a long way off."

"Van Eyke Island."

John turned to look at Craig. "That is a long way off."

Craig nodded. "Especially when you realise that Stigorex's can't swim."

John reached out and shook Craig's hand. "Thank you, Mr Gorton. You can't imagine how grateful I am. Please pass on my thanks to your assistant."

"I will. Kipper is keeping an eye on the Stigorex. He'll make sure it gets to the island safely." He reached into his pocket and handed John a card. "If you ever have any more problems, give me a call."

"I will."

Craig picked up his hold-all and headed for the transport waiting on the pad. The men and women of Langfar Valley didn't notice him leave, they were too busy staring up at the tiny shape of the military transport as it disappeared in the distance.

John looked down at the card. It held a number and a simple message.

Catch or Kill. Anywhere.

Story Copyright © D. G. Richards 2001

Zildos, Catch or Kill and associated characters Copyright © City Magazines Ltd 1967

What do you think of it so far? Email me!

Click Here!