Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"Hunting Lodge" by Jon Crusoe, art by Walter Simon

by Jon Crusoe

When two members of a predator species meet, they follow a specific pattern of behavior in dealing with each other. Animal behaviorists have recorded this for years.

When members of two different predator species meet, unless one backs away, there’s usually a fight. And if both are evenly matched, it can mean mutual death.

The question arises as to what would happen if the two species were both intelligent as well as evenly matched. Hopefully, they would both realize that a fight might just mean the end – the total end – of both species.

Given that understanding (and a willingness on both sides to coexist), they would most likely see the need to establish mutually beneficial methods for dealing with each other.

One of these might be the need for a safety valve that allowed them to limit aggression toward each other. As they are both predators, the aggression would definitely be present.

One way would be to allow the more aggressive members of each race to fight in a specific place, with given rules and handicaps to allow a level playing field. With each combatant having an equal chance to kill the other, there would be less chance of the two races going to war than if one was to be simply killed by the other.

Another point is that many combat situations have become sports over the years. Karate, wrestling, the javelin, and others became sports. The Olympic biathlon that combines skiing and marksmanship came from ski troop training.

It would be an easy step for the safety valve that the two races employed to turn into an organized sport. Hunters from both races would flock to a place where they could hunt the most dangerous game they had ever faced.

Of course once that happened, there would be some who would object to the hunts and vilify the hunters. Some would do it for political reasons, some for racial reasons, and some would commit immoral acts because of their belief in a cause that they consider moral. In all of the above cases, it is a very small step from simple belief in a cause to outright fanaticism.

And when that belief does turn fanatical, people tend to begin dying. It is too easy for the fanatic to decide that some deaths are justifiable when working for The Cause.

Would some humans act this way? Absolutely. Would members of another race? Very possibly. The point is that we would have no way of knowing until we met another intelligent predator species.

This is one of the reasons that humans are one of the races involved in the story. We ground-dwelling, hairless apes are the only intelligent predator that we know of.

Another reason that humans were chosen (and more important to a starving author) is that humans will be paying for this story.

As to the choice of bears as the other race, bears are like humans in that they are primarily solitary hunters. Other predators could have been chosen, but most species tend to hunt in pairs or in packs.

Another factor is the ferocity of bears. Forget the 1950’s touchy-feely “nature” films from a mouse-loving studio. Bears are not cuddly, loving, and playful in the wild. Anyone who has ever seen a half-ton bear attacking with teeth that can be inches in length and slashing with claws longer than an adult person’s fingers is not going to want to get closer than effective rifle range.

Now imagine that this bear is intelligent and stalking its human prey. The human with the rifle might not even know that the bear is anywhere near until it breaks from cover in full charge. Unless the person with the rifle is very fast and very accurate, the bear will be the one to take home the trophy that day.

So if we bald apes ever get off this rock we call Earth in earnest, and we do make it to the stars, we just might encounter another predatory species. They might even look like bears.

And if we survive the initial contact and manage to open up a dialogue, we might find that we have more in common with them than initially thought. If that happens, there might someday be members of two races drinking together in a hunting lodge on the night before they try to kill each other.

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"Hunting Lodge" by Jon Crusoe is available now in issue 14 of Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show

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