“all or.” That was all that was still visible of the sign painted on the wall, below the broken and jagged window. The paint was ancient, faded where it hadn’t flaked off, and a thick tangle of vines grew over most of what was once the right edge. Not that it mattered, there was no one to read the sign even if it was whole. Dew, the only one once around to read it, had long ago left the area, tending his gardens as they spread out from the impact site until eventually the climate got to him and he died, alone and unnoticed, some miles from the sign. Even his body was no longer visible, buried under the plants he had spent so long tending. The Garden reclaiming it’s own.
The Hunter knew nothing of Dew. The Hunter was young, as her kind measure things, and that ancient caretaker had waddled off long before the Hunter’s mother’s mother’s mother had been born.
The Hunter knew of the sign, of course. Anyone who hunted in the jungle knew about it as an oddly-colored patch it was best to avoid being silhouetted against, and nothing more. But the Hunter possessed something the others did not. She had no word for it, for in the harsh survival-of-the-fittest, kill-or-be-killed world of the jungle, there was no word for ‘curiosity.’ And indeed, even with the Hunter it was not a strong emotion. Rather, it was a thing to muse upon now and again, particularly after a good kill, such as the one she had just completed.
She perched on a ledge high above the jungle floor and licked her knives clean. They still tasted of the sweet blood of the Fatman she had caught unawares. She glanced at the sign and wondered what it meant. “all or.” She wondered who had created the sign, and what message it was meant to convey. It seemed too deliberate, too specific to have been random.
She mused on the size of the creators. The letters were larger by several times than even the largest of the Longmen. Some day, she thought, I will climb up and touch them. Such a feat would prove her might. But the letters were a good day or so climb up the vines, far above her normal hunting grounds. I will have to prepare. I will bring food with me, in case I can find nothing to Hunt up there.
No other Hunter that she had ever heard of had been so high. The flying machines that came out of Bentman houses went up that high, she knew, but she was unsure why. Perhaps they had a deal with the City People, who also ventured up the vines in search of only they knew what. The Hunter gave her knives one last lick and settled back on her haunches. There was a thought. The City People. While normally she left them alone as they left her alone, if she got hungry enough on her trip, she could kill one of them. The only problem was that they always traveled in numbers and while individually she was more than a match for any of them, sufficient numbers of their heavily armored warriors could bring her down if she were unwary.
Such thoughts were entertaining, but her rest time was over. It was time to push idle thoughts to the back of her mind, and to once again resume the business of the day. She readied her knives and began to Hunt.
With respects to Douglas Trumbull and Alan Dean Foster.