Several trends led to the success of the company, “Hunting Fulfillment.” Paint ball was an early somewhat crude combat game that pitted shooters against each other as was Airsoft. There were ever more realistic first person shooter games on first flat screens and then in the virtual reality format. And the growing scarcity of actual game animals made going on safari or even the local hunting of live animals something that only the very wealthiest could consider.
The real breakthrough came with advances in artificial intelligence and material fabrication. Now “game animals” could be made to order with all the characteristics of movement and response to their environment of the actual animal; to be hunted in “game preserves.” While still expensive, it was at a cost point that many more people could afford.
And for those for whom hunting “animals” was not challenging enough, and who had ample pocketbooks, a Combat Hunt for ‘humans’ was available. Of course the ‘humans’ were programmable androids without consciousness and not real persons, but realistic enough that when the first hunts were staged, police were called to investigate. It was billed as a Combat Hunt because the android was also armed, but with a short range hand gun loaded with three cartridges; the hunter used his own weapon, usually a semiautomatic high powered rifle or large caliber handgun. So there was an element of danger but the odds were heavily on the hunter’s side, although two hunters had been wounded by the androids and sued the company. The courts ruled that their own carelessness and lack of skill was the case of injury, and anyway the waiver that all hunters signed was ironclad.
The quiet, cool appointment room was furnished with several easy chairs facing a small sofa in the middle of the room, all upholstered in faux zebra and leopard skins indistinguishable from real hides even to the hint of odor. A low ebony surfaced coffee table was between the sofa and chairs. The walls were hung with pictures of smiling hunters posing with their ‘kill.’ Only ‘animals’ of course.
“Ah Mr. Clark, so good to see you again,” said Thomas, smiling broadly as he rose, hand extended to greet his client. “You are always so prompt for your appointments. What can “Hunting Fulfillment” do for you this time?”
“I’ll be honest,” said Clark after shaking hands and taking a seat on the sofa. “Your hunts have become too routine and there’s no challenge anymore. I may have to sample what the North Koreans advertise unless my next Hunt offers more.”
“Your opponent did get off a shot at you on your last hunt,” said Thomas, his smile replaced with a frown.
“I’d already tracked him down and cornered him. He took a wild shot born of ‘desperation.’ No real suspense or thrill.”
Thomas summoned up Clark’s record on his laptop, “You’ve had five Combat Hunts, in a variety of settings. Jungles, urban, deciduous forest, and urban ruins.”
“Yes, and at first I enjoyed the challenge. But the last couple of times my quarry was too predictable. I had no problem figuring out where his ambushes would be and what he would do to try to get away from me.”
“The programming for the Hunt can only be adjusted within established guidelines,” said Thomas. “The settings are already almost maxed out for you. You are far and away the most accomplished of our clients, said Thomas.”
“Yeah. Cut the BS, Thomas,” said Clark. After a pause he continued, “But I’ve heard a rumor that you have been working on an advanced model.”
“The rumor is correct, but at this time, we are still finding out what its capabilities are. Until we know, it will not be placed into service.”
“I’ve also heard that it will be able react to different circumstances by making autonomous decisions.”
“Your rumor source is fairly accurate,” said Thomas. “That feature is why it is still in test mode. We want to be sure it will offer a challenge to very skilled hunters like yourself, but not prove to be too—ah—accomplished. It will be given no program except to survive in its surroundings by any means, which will vary from situation to situation. We hope that this will make for a more interesting duel between hunter and android. It has not been field tested in all environments. And there is another feature that some may find appealing. Its appearance can also be customized to the client’s specifications.”
“What? You mean gender, size, and facial features?” asked Clarke.
“Yes,’ said Thomas, “From a photo or hologram.”
“Why don’t you offer that on your current models?”
“You understand that as our premium product, the company wanted to reserve special features that would distinguish it from our other products as well as from our competitors.”
“When will it become operational?”
“When the field testing is complete.”
“How much more testing needs to be done?” asked Clark.
“The jungle and forest parts are done. It needs to be tested in the urban setting.”
“I’d like to take part in that test,” said Clark.
“It’s not ready,” said Thomas.
“I’ll pay a premium on top the premium to do it, if I could have its appearance customized and I can actually kill it.”
“Your request is quite irregular. Still, you have been a regular with Hunting Fulfillment from our very beginning. I will see what I can do.”
“When will you know?”
“In due time, Mr. Clark.”
“Don’t forget there are still the North Koreans.”
“Now was that necessary, Mr. Clark? I will see what I can do for you.”
(to be concluded)