Iwanted to run an animal I had designed myself, at home on the old Mac, using my dog-eared copy of the S.E.P. Manual (Standard Evolutionary Principles). So I built a giant raptor, a bipedal carnivore based on the big one they found in Utah, which was not at all like the ones in that old movie. I added a horn about four feet in length, which made the animal look like a two-legged unicorn. And I designed the horn to fracture cleanly at the base so the Raptor could clear a falling animal and continue the fray with its claws and teeth.

Ifigured I had made the coolest of monsters, so I drove down to the Mall to try it out at Dinosaur World .

I paid at the door and made my way to the booth I'd reserved, closing and locking the metal curtain behind me. I slipped my disk into the computer, and as it was being scanned for infections I sat down and lowered the V.R. helmet over my head. I listened to the sound of my program loading in the darkness of the helmet.

Suddenly a glowing white "10" appeared at the center of my visual field. A moment later, a "9" replaced it. When the counter hit "4" I felt the kick of adrenalin . Then I heard a shrill whining like a phaser set on overload and though I could see nothing it felt like the chair and I were accelerating forward. When the counter hit "0" a world of light exploded into being around me.

And I stepped out into the Mall again. I saw a pair of young nubiles hanging around down by the food-court, and some kids playing by a water fountain. But I chose a Yuppy Suit-Man coming out of Birk's Jewellers, and the fifteen-inch sickle-claw on my right foot cut him in two like it was going through butter. Surprised at the lack of resistance I came unbalanced and did a couple of forward tumbles across the smooth marble floor.

I spent the next fifteen minutes clawing up the walls and shredding store windows, attempting nothing more energetic then that. I had embarrassed myself. This was the Dinosaur World warm-up scenario, where you tested the specs of the animal you had become by running down soft, innocent Mall People. And I had screwed it up. I hoped noone was watching.

When I tired of the Mall I began a slow trot towards the Dinosaur World Main-Stage. I stood in the entrance awhile, looking out over a narrow crescent of beach. To my left and centre was a shallow lagoon and a beach, and to my right a forest of magnolias. Directly before me, about fifty metres distant, a herd of Duckbillls fed on weeds growing in the shallow water near shore. They were Corythosaurs, their crests' like a soldier's helmet crushed in at the sides. This herd lived at the mouth of the Main-Stage. They were the first thing you saw coming in, and they were easy kills. So I went after one.


******


Cathy knocks but receives no reply. She stands there, puzzled. Joey had begged her to come over, because his folks were gone all day, so she figures he wouldn't just abandon her. Then she sees a envelope taped to the foot of the door. Stooping over, Cathy retrieves the tiny parcel, opens it, and sees:

Come on in, Cath. It isn't locked. I'm gonna bite yr ass, bitch!

Cathy squeals, takes a moment to steady herself, opens the door, and steps inside.

"Joey?" she calls, "I'm here. Give me a minute to change, okay? I'm inside now and I'm going to use your bathroom." There is no answer. Nevertheless Cathy removes her shoes and tiptoes down the hall. The upstairs is dark but for the kitchen, where two skylights cast arms of dull, grey sunshine through the upper floor. As Cathy walks her hand brushes a stair-rail which leads down into the basement. As her long, enamelled nails slide along the metal rail, they make a light ringing noise. In response there comes a tumbling sound from below, like a dog climbing stairs. Cathy screams. She drops her purse and it bursts against the hard-wood floor. She breaks towards the bathroom, her arms out-stretched. As she runs she sees a pair of slug-white hands emerge from the darkness of the stair-well. They are reaching towards her ankles....

And then she is in the bathroom. She slams the door shut behind her and twists the knob so it locks. She leans against it, and lets herself slide down its surface until her bum hits the floor. Now she is safe. Outside, Cathy hears the sound of a heavy object slithering down the stairs into the basement. She giggles with pleasure and panic. Joey is crazy today!

The girl stands up. She shreds her boyfriend's note and flushes it down the toilet, because it shouldn't be left out where his parents might find it. Then she strips, peeling away her shirt and jeans, bra and panties, with swift, purposeful movements.

When she is nude Cathy stands before the mirror for a few minutes, examining her body. She scratches at a small pimple on her right shoulder. Otherwise, she is perfect. There is a bottle of perfume belonging to Joey's Mom on the counter. Joey says he hates the smell, so she leaves it. But she searches through the bathroom cupboards to find Mom's big pink hairbrush, with its sharp black bristles protruding from a cylindrical head.

Finally, shivering all over from the cold and her own mounting excitement, Cathy steps back into the house. She holds the big brush in front of her like a club.


******


The Duckbill, a Juvenile, hesitated for one fatal second, then waddled right towards the magnolia forest. My legs kicked up gray sand like dirt from the wheels of a dirt-bike as I curved after him. I felt great, like I was riding my Yamaha. I felt like a 20 ft buzz-bomb made from muscle, claw, and tooth.

I jumped the Duckbill about 30 feet from the sheltering forest, pulling myself onto its back with my fore-claws, which I'd clasped around its neck. Once aboard I kicked down with the big hind-legs, driving the claws right in. Together we fell to the sand and I rolled away from the Duckbill tail-over-head.

I was up in an instant. The Duckbill lay upon its side, bleating pathetically. It's back was broken where my claws had severed the spine. I climbed atop it and kicked down with the Sickles. The belly of the animal came open completely, and its guts spilled out onto the earth in a bloody mess. When the thing was finally dead and I was moving again, I realized I that had not used my specially designed horn. I had forgotten it completely.

The kill got my adrenalin going a little , but otherwise did nothing for me. A Corythosuar was like one of the Mall People, a computer-controlled drone meant to add atmosphere and provide the paying customers with something soft to sharpen their claws on. But I had visited Dinosaur World many times and I needed something beyond the Toddler Level. My ambition and my pride demanded more lethal animals, controlled by skilled human minds.


******


"Joey? Hey Joey? Where are you?" Cathy goes first to her purse and crouches down to pick her things up. She crouches facing the railing of the stair-well, her bum pressed against the cold wall. In her right hand she holds the pink hairbrush like the spiked head of a mace, and she scoops the coins and her female paraphernalia into the dark pouch with her left hand. When she is finished Cathy stows her purse in the bathroom and proceeds to wander through the whole upper floor, hunting in closets and under beds as though she thinks Joey might actually be up here. She knows the waiting will drive him wild down in the basement.


 

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