“Rule 88” by Andrew Kaye

“Rule 88” by Andrew Kaye

The Rogmars had 144 Rules at their preserve on Rogmautha. Every hunting barge posted them in the eight-foot length of blank wall behind the marksman decks. They were written in the 28 accepted languages of the Frontier Colonies, even Teppedrek, which used pictograms instead of words. It was enough to make anyone dizzy. Aaron, Gordon, and I didn’t bother looking at the Rules. We knew them by heart.

Rule 3, for example, required visitors from off-planet to be accompanied by a certified gamekeeper. Ours clumsily smoked a cigar as he leaned against the Rules. He was doughy and greenish, with two pairs of glistening black eyes the size of golf balls. It was hard to read a face like that, but I got the impression he didn’t like humans.

We called him Larry because we couldn’t pronounce his real name. He spoke through a translator installed in what was probably his neck. It popped and rasped whenever he talked. “Mind the guardrail,” he said, tapping Rule 15 with a black talon.

It had been a long day. We were getting tired. Gordon was the only one who had actually shot anything. A good kill, too, a speckled rogbeest. Two hours later, Gordon was still wearing a smug smile.

Aaron and I shared a jealous glance between us. Rogbeests were supposedly the tastiest animals in the Colonies. Gordon would be eating well for several weeks — months if he stretched the meat responsibly. I wanted to punch him, but Rule 48 wouldn’t let me until after we had disembarked.

The scenery was changing again. Rule 97 ensured the hunting barge changed location every hour. We had started above the delta, then hovered silently to the riverbank, then to multiple stops along the stretch of sparse woodlands that dominated the preserve for miles and miles. We were maneuvering toward the heath at the southernmost boundary. All rocks and tall grasses and dwarfish old trees. “Good hunting grounds,” Larry explained, emitting a throaty burble we had come to recognize as laughter.

I watched as Aaron finished his last beer, a sullen look on his face. Rule 29 didn’t let us have more than three alcoholic beverages from the barge mess hall. Rule 30 didn’t let us bring drinks from home. Aaron sighed, shook the last drops into his mouth. He threw the can down the specially marked chute, because Rule 36 made recycling mandatory. (“Let’s Keep Rogmautha Clean!”)

Aaron glared at Gordon as if he had come to a decision. “Fuck you, man. You got lucky.”

Gordon grinned.

“I’ll be damned if I go home empty handed,” Aaron said, bringing his Rule 13 regulated firearm to his shoulder. “The next kill is mine.”

“Now’s your chance,” said Larry. He pointed to the tree line. A family of rogboars had wandered into the heath. We readied our guns, viewed the world through crosshairs.

The largest of the rogboars was grazing on a low shrub out ahead of the others. I had a clear shot; I knew the others had clear shots, too. I put pressure to the trigger. Didn’t fire.

A figure dashed past, one I hadn’t been expecting. Two arms and two legs, ten fingers, ten toes. A person, a human person, out in the preserve. I wanted to scream at him, wanted to call him an idiot, and tell him to get out of the way, and did he know how many Rules he was breaking? But I didn’t get a chance.

I heard a gunshot. Saw the man drop.

Aaron was wide-eyed, shaking. “He came out of nowhere,” he said. “He just… I was shooting at the boar, and then he… oh God…”

The hunting barge shuddered as the collection platform was lowered from the hull. A pair of gamekeepers got off, waddled toward the body. They gave the signal mandated by Rule 79: confirmed kill. The body was picked up and brought back to the barge.

Aaron was fighting back tears. “I didn’t mean to,” he whispered. I could barely hear him over the sound of the platform retracting. “I was shooting at the boar,” he kept saying, over and over. “I was only shooting at the boar…”

I felt bad for him. Gordon looked worried. Larry shuffled up behind Aaron and clapped a clawed hand on his shoulder. His translator wheezed. “You know the Rules,” he said.

He did. We all did. Poor Aaron nearly broke down at that point. Rule 88 was very clear: Always eat what you kill.

Andrew Kaye is a writer and cartoonist from the suburban wilderness of Northern Virginia. His work has recently appeared in Daily Science Fiction and Electric Velocipede. Feel free to bother him on Twitter @andrewkaye.