Friday, July 31, 2015

A Very Pure Form Of Hunting

‘I’m not a hunter,’ Summer said, ‘but isn’t a crossbow an unusual choice of weapon?’
‘It’s a very pure form of hunting – you only get the chance of one shot, so you must make absolutely sure that it is the kill-shot. You say you are not a hunter, but isn’t that why you are here?’

Dirk Merrit was amused, and seemed to believe that he was in complete control.

Summer said, ‘Maybe you could show me the crossbow. The one you used to kill the cougar.’

Both Denise and Dirk Merrit looked at her. Then the man turned and walked around the central fireplace to a set of tall glass-fronted cabinets. He opened a door, lifted out a crossbow, and carried it back to where Summer and Denise stood. It was bigger than Summer had expected, modern and very definitely lethal, with a pistol grip and a skeletal stock. Dirk Merrit rested it on his forearm, explained that the bow part was called the prod and the prod was attached to the table or deck, that both the prod and the deck were made out of carbon-fibre composite, the weapon had a draw weight of one hundred fifty pounds and loosed a twenty-inch arrow at a velocity of two hundred feet per second.

‘You can attach a telescopic sight, but I never use one. The lethal range is less than a hundred yards, and I prefer to get as close as possible. I admit to being something of a purist. For instance, I use a goatsfoot lever rather than a powered winder to draw the string.’

Dirk Merrit explained that the arrow generally killed someone not by shock but by massive haemorrhage, so it was necessary for the marksman to have a good working knowledge of the anatomy of his prey, and to be able to think in three dimensions when placing his shot.

‘You might say that it is not so much a shot as a lethal incision.’

Summer said, ‘Someone?’

Dirk Merrit stared at her and she stared right back. The air between them seemed to hum. On the TV behind him, the Mad Max warrior was hacking his way through tangles of creepers that were more or less the same colour as Dirk Merit’s blood-capped eyes.

Summer said, ‘You said “someone”, not “something”.’

‘Mmmm. Did you know that it’s forbidden by Papal edict to use the crossbow against Christians?’

‘Are you saying that you only shoot Muslims, Mr Merrit?’

‘If I did, I’d hardly be likely to tell you, would I? Even in the current political climate.’

His smile was back in place, but he seemed wary now, no longer the master of his domain.

From Players

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Farewell, Fantastic Pluto

I am older than the space age, although not by much. I was only a toddler when Sputnik 1 was launched in 1957, was too young to take any notice of the news about Yuri Gagarin's path-breaking orbital flight four years later. But I have a very clear memory of seeing, on the black-and-white television set the teacher brought into the classroom of Selsley Primary School for the occasion, images of the Moon's surface transmitted by the robot craft Surveyor 1 after its soft landing on the Ocean of Storms. That was on June 2, 1966. A little over three years later I was woken by my mother in the middle of a summer night to see Neil Armstrong make his historic first step. I remember the images captured by Pioneer 10 as it sped through Jupiter's system, Viking 1's first glimpse of Mars's rock-strewn surface, the softly tinted picture of a frozen beach sent from Titan by the little Huygens lander. And a few days ago I watched on the same screen that I'm now typing this, via NASA TV's internet channel, the presentation of the first high resolution images of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, captured by the New Horizons spacecraft. Less than sixty years after Sputnik the first era of solar system exploration is over . . .
More over at Strange Horizons.
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