“Yes Father,” said eleven-year-old Iolana Livonia Dechantagne Staff, pressing her face against the cool wood of the rifle stock.
“How many do you count, dear?”
“I see six, Father. How many should I shoot?”
“You’ll be lucky to hit even the one.” Radley Staff bent down and kissed the top of his daughter’s head. “Achillobators are very fast.”
“Yes, beautiful too.”
“It seems a shame to shoot them.”
“Well perhaps, but they are very dangerous. You wouldn’t want them coming around our house when your little cousins are outside, would you?”
“Alright, let’s see if you can shoot one. Squeeze the trigger. Don’t pull.”
“I know, Father.” The girl jerked as the high-powered rifle let out a deafening report. Then she quickly worked the action, bringing another round into the chamber. She fired again, and cocking the weapon, fired a third time. Then she stopped and looked up at her father, who was beside her, on his knees, peering through a pair of binoculars. “I’m sorry Father. The rest have fled.”
“No, no. You did very well.”
He stood up and then reached down to help her up. Once back on her feet, Iolana carefully smoothed out her dress. Though not burdened with the bustles and corsets of grown women, she was nevertheless covered from chin to ankle in the fashion appropriate to a girl of her age. Plenty of white lace and brocade accented the light gold poplin. One of the lizzies picked up the rifle, while another rolled up the mat upon which the girl had been lying.
“Can we go gather some feathers, Father? I would like some of them for a new hat.”
“Whatever you want.”
Staff waved his hands toward the lizzies, who quickly gathered up the rest of their gear. Staff, his daughter, and the six reptilians were soon stalking through the brown grass of the vast open meadow. He kept looking toward the girl to see if she needed any help, but the few times her dress became caught on a thorn, one of the lizzies jumped forward to unhook it before it tore the material. At last they reached their destination.
Achillobators were feathered dinosaurs about the same size as utahraptors. The latter, covered in bright blue and turquoise feathers and hunting in pairs, had been common along the coastline when humans had arrived. They were becoming increasingly scarce though as civilization spread into their habitat. On the other hand, achillobators were becoming more and more common. Covered in bright crimson with a black breast, they hunted in packs of eight or more.
The three dead creatures were grouped close together. One was as large a specimen as Staff had ever seen, more than twenty feet from nose to end of tail, over seven feet tall when it had stood. The other two were slightly smaller. All three were clean kills.
“Good hunt,” said Teska, the old lizzie hunter who usually accompanied Staff when he went out shooting. A couple of the others hissed in agreement.
“Keep an eye out,” Staff told Teska. “I don’t think the others will come back, but you never know.”
He wasn’t too worried. Even five achillobators would have hesitated to attack six lizzies, though they wouldn’t have thought twice about taking on a similar number of humans. The lizzies were powerful creatures in their own right, with thick powerful claws on their five-fingered hands and tough leathery hides. They were cold-blooded, and so slower than the dinosaurs, but they were highly intelligent, a fact that far too many humans forgot.
“Can we gather the feathers now, Father?”
“Show Esther which ones you want, and have her pluck them for you.”
Esther, a young female reptilian, jumped at hearing her name, but then hurried over to the human girl and followed her to the largest dead dinosaur. “Hsst ss, hsst stt,” said Iolana, pointing. The sounds she made were the lizzie language equivalents of “this one and that one.” She spoke their language better than any human that her father knew, with the sole exception of her younger cousin. She certainly spoke it better than any lizzie could speak Brech. In a few minutes, Iolana had all the feathers that she wanted.
“Should we harvest some of the meat?” she asked. “It seems such a waste not to.”
“Not today,” said her father. “But don’t worry. I doubt it will go to waste.”
He pointed to a spot a hundred yards away, where a large group of velociraptors was forming.
Taking his daughter’s hand, he led her across the open ground, following the game trails. The six lizzies fell in behind them. Two miles away, they found the small train waiting exactly where they had left it, steam still puffing from its funnel stack. The train was nothing but an engine with a single rail coach. It belonged to M&S Coal Co. and since Mr. Staff was the president of that firm, he had it at his disposal. A little more than an hour after killing the achillobators, all eight members of the party were seated in the coach. Iolana and her father sat in comfortable chairs near the center of the room. Esther sat on a chair immediately behind the human girl, sideways so that she could accommodate her tail. The other lizzies occupied a place on the floor near the back.
“I’m glad you came with me today, dear,” said Staff. “I know you don’t like to be away from your studies.”
“I’m always happy to go hunting with you, Father. I wonder that you asked me instead of Augie. Isn’t he your usual companion?”
“I wanted to spend some time with my daughter,” he said, slightly chastened. “You don’t mind that I take Augie hunting, do you? After all, he is a boy, and since he’s without a father, it naturally falls to me to step in.”
“Of course I don’t mind, Father. Perhaps next time we can all go together. We can take Terra too.”
“She’s just a little girl.”