Infamy

by

Nicholas Ivan Ladendorf

I think about when I was in the Counter Orbit Station, listening to the guys that had been there for twenty or more years, talking about old bastards that had retired and soon after died. It’s a pleasant thing to think about because these guys they talk about, these guys that they remember, still live on because they haven’t been forgotten.  Hell, they made up a lot of the slang and expressions that we used. Janitors and skilled workers, but they made a ripple in the lives of others. More than likely, they didn’t find much meaning in their lives themselves. I find it comforting that someone that seems so small can be, I don’t know, immortal. It means this ‘significant’ guy in my sights can be immortal too. It’s easier to pull the trigger when you think that people can live on in another way.

Under my breath I mumble ‘bang’. I think about when the days before the Guild. Using tools that made noises. In those days, however, you didn’t have a guaranteed kill. They could always pull the bullet out, stitch the wound, and replace the lost blood. These new tools are really nice, they cauterize all the way through a target. I must just be a nostalgic ass to want a tool that makes a hole that can be just sewed shut. I must be pretty sick, I mean at least with the new guns the nerves are severed and the mark doesn’t even feel a thing. No blood either, all neat and clean. A heart shot stops everything, and then the brain suffocates, and shuts down.

It’s more humane, and more effective. Still somewhere in me beats the heart of a savage that, perhaps -just once- wants to kill in the old way. Before the Guild was around or even necessary. When doctors still practiced medicine; not even on the verge of perfecting it. Some would argue that medicine is not perfected; but I say a complete recovery within two days from even the verge of death is close enough.

            I exhale in a post-orgasm fashion, which should concern me; they tell you in the Guild that it’s dangerous to enjoy your work. The Guild doesn’t exactly discourage it; they just say it’s dangerous. I know it can lead to creativity. Creativity is dangerous in this line of work. Stigmata is the example that will come to anyone’s mind first. The Guild looks down at signatures; we are to be discreet, nameless and faceless. There is no glory in this work, because the only way to gain status in the Guild to have none in the world what-so-ever.

Stigmata’s signature was especially gruesome. Wounding targets by shooting in biblical manors. Firing bullets through the wrist and through both ankles. Harpoon through the kidneys. I think there were a couple more; a bunch of the religious Guild members would remember.

             I collapse the telescoping body of the tool, and conceal it in it’s bag, where it will sleep until we’re hired again. I stand up looking around, though I know there is no casing. I don’t know why I torture myself like this. It’s good practice to check the scene before leaving, but I know the reason I do it. I wish there were a casing to leave something to keep a memoir of the job. My tool doesn’t leave behind a token that will help me remember. Maybe I’m not so sick after all, I just want to make sure they are remembered some how. I jump down to the fire escape as I try to accept the down side of the perfect crime.

I don’t bother running for the same reason the cops won’t bother looking, I could have taken that shot from anywhere. As it is I’m more than a kilometer away, but I could have just as easily used remote beam refractors, to take the shot from any angle. The cops will be more interested in ‘why’ than ‘who’. They will know that this was a pro hit, and they will want to know who paid for it and why. The only time they look into the triggerman is when it’s made to look like an accident; cops appreciate honesty. That and it’s rumored that the Guild ‘funded’ to have the procedure focus on ‘why’. Our clients would not be pleased if this rumor is proven true.

My pulse races for a as a police hovercraft flies by, which I resent since hovercrafts are only legal for police in this country. It doesn’t even slow down as it passes, which means the cop didn’t see me come down from the roof. I imagine pulling my tool out and targeting one of the vertical thrust stabilizers, just to watch it barrel roll out of control and crash into a pack of yuppies on the walkway.

Down in the subway, I swipe my ID scramblers not only get a free ride, but also to keep anyone from knowing I came through here. It’s important to make some attempt at covering my tracks, if for no other reason than to just keep me from becoming sloppy. I wasn’t here; no one will ever know I did the hit.

I walk down the edge of the subway platform, looking around, checking out people. The subway moves in a grid under the city, stations every four blocks in any given direction. North and south bound are on the upper decks of the platform, east and west bound running on the sub-platform. Not including the six minute wait for a train (and additional six if you change direction) one could go from one end of the city to the suburbs in ten minutes. It would cost the city a fortune if they didn’t outlaw motor vehicles in city limits. It’s a transportation monopoly.

My train arrives and I enter one of the crowded cars, grabbing a ceiling ring once inside. Even with the space saved by taking out all of the seats (which aren’t needed with the short travel time) we’re still packed. Times like this I’m proud of the work I’m in. We should all move into orbital stations and let Mother Nature reclaim what’s hers.

Getting off at my station, I smelling my jacket, sure the guy next to me rubbed his funk off on me. I would be more upset but it’s over and as he was pressed up on me, I was pressed up on a hot red head. I walk up the escalator back to the surface, into my neighborhood.

Fifty miles away from my hit, is my home. Environmentally friendly as a modern building can be, taking cues from the Aztecs (Mayans? Doesn’t matter) by having the outside broke up with patches of wildlife. I don’t live far enough out of the city to have any big animals around; a fox is about as dangerous as the animals get around here. One day I’ll move into a neighborhood that has habitats supporting bears or mountain lions. A gesture; too little too late.

 I go up to my penthouse suite. All I see is a landscape of clouds from my room; my building is so tall that it draws a portion of its power from the gravity-generated heat it creates. All that interrupts the vaporous rolling meadows are other buildings and the occasional commercial jet. It should be a quiet night, it’s too soon to do another job by Guild procedure, and I don’t have any friends or relatives that would call. My neighbors don’t know me at all; thanks to the new levels of apathy society has reached.

I walk back into my bedroom to check my accounts to see if the other half of my payment has been transferred. Entering, I tell the computer to bring up my bank records. I notice in my bed is a dagger. I forget about my money and the hit. I forget about the cops looking for my boss and the legacies. The dagger is the moment. I pick it up. It has a Norse rune on it that indicates a time and place to all that know. This is not just a dagger, it’s an invitation, and I can’t help but wonder if this is a personal invitation or if it’s a wide meeting. 

The Guild has avoids putting all their eggs in one basket. It’s the kind of thing dumb cops dream about finding; the smart ones know how stupid it would be to corner a convention of assassins. The Guild still worries about a bust, they can’t exactly put on an ad in a net classifieds site if they loose too many operatives.  But still I hope that it’s a Guild meeting, the alternative is much scarier than a shoot out with police.

The alternative means an eighty- percent chance at death. It may come in the form of an impossible job. A job is so secretive they don’t trust e-mail.  Surviving would make me unfathomably rich. This dagger is a bad omen; it might as well be made of mirror shards with a black cat skin sheath.

 I begin to consider body armor, anti-lock kit, anti-security system tools, and a variety of other versatile gadgets that I normally don’t bother with. I’m not one of those guys obsessed with novelty. Typically I stick with my tool, ID scrambler, Multi spectrum shades (mostly because they look cool), and a grav-slip harness. Okay I admit that the Grav-slip is novel, and expensive, but I can’t see why it isn’t industry standard like my other three items. I use it mostly for climbing and leaping off of tall places, though I have perfected some hand to hand moves with it.

I pull my ankle sheath out of my sock drawer, taking out my serrated blade, and replacing it with the invitation dagger. Under my bed is a ‘prism’ lens for my tool, which converts the concentrated beam into a blinding scattershot. The scattershot disorients and singes a group of people instead of killing one. Before I leave, I’ll have to remember to grab my hypodermic gattling tranquilizer gun out of my medicine cabinet, because I need some type of side arm. It’s eight chambers of fun, just like it says on the box.  

 After checking all my supplies, I decide to take a bottle super-oxygenized protein tablets from my medicine cabinet when I get the tranq gun.

Gears turn as slack from a thousand yards of cable tightens to pull the elevator up the shaft. Before the doors open I hear the safety pylons lock in place, ensuring that the elevator can fall no more than two stories. The door opens and it’s empty. It’s programmed to pick me up empty and once I’m inside it won’t stop at any other floor. This is how I remain a complete stranger to all my neighbors. I make sure whenever I come home not to let any one else get in at the same time.

I walk out a less practical doorway, and walk to a more distant subway station. I do this periodically to keep from being in any one station to frequently. Less patterns the better; it’s the path to keeping your face as insignificant as any other face in the crowd. Never look up; people remember eyes, especially women.

My mind goes off the meeting temporarily as I watch rabbits race people as they walk by the edge of the wildlife patch. Six blocks out of my way I arrive at the alternate subway. I stand in the crowded line to get in; the ID scrambler is made to look just like an ordinary ID card. I get down all the stairs; I hear a train pull off. This shouldn’t irk me since I do have time, but for some reason still does.

Waiting on the platform, I consider pushing a waste of DNA onto the track. Earn the death penalty; two wrongs make a right in justice today. My name wouldn’t even be in the news; there are too many people on the planet for murder to be worth reporting. My train arrives.

   I get off at the station closest to the directions on the dagger. Usually, for Guild meetings, most will go to all the stations around this one or maybe even further away. It’s one of those things that would be a clever precaution if only a few did it. Now it’s just a stupid practice.

I scope out the meeting place and notice that people are already going in. I know it’s the right place; the bouncer is patting people down, but not taking their weapons away. Everyone is armed to the teeth, the bouncers are just checking for badges. I wonder why so many are here so early. I decide just to enter.

Cautiously I cross the street and head into the alley I was just spying on. The gigantic bouncer is patting more people down. Garrote wire, collapsible saber, explosives, and high ordinance tools; “You’re clean go on in.”

Cybernetic and bio-chemical enhancements are what I figure the bouncer has working for him. He’s too big to be normal; hormone therapy stimulates skeletal growth so that there is room for machines to be inserted without losing muscle attachments. It’s safe to assume he could cause some major damage, but I can’t imagine him getting into an airport very easily.

The bouncer pats me down, slapping hard against my chest, not stopping until he gets down to my ankle with the sheath. The invitation is inside that sheath “You nervous about something?”

Cyborgs have an image to hold up, they are supposed to be the strong silent type, so I was too surprised to reply at first “No. You asking for a reason, or are you just making conversation?”

“Nah, you’re just early by your invite. Go on in, I can’t have you loitering about outside!” he replies practically throwing me inside.

My eyes dilate to adjust to the thousand candles that light the room. The facilities are pretty big; the Guild has been expanding. A population explosion means that there are more people to kill. Everyone here, and those coming in behind me, are taking their time at the altar. I wonder if the Guild is sanctioned by the Universal Truth.

The Universal Truth is the last financially secure organized religion in the world. For decades the pharmaceutical companies worked to drive the churches out of business. Drugs to cure depression, guilt, pain, loneliness; you name it. Prescriptions were slowly replacing religion. Need enlightenment? Take a pill. All your emotions come from chemical reactions in your brain. Everyone took different injections and ingestions to change the chemical reactions in order to feel more spiritually fulfilled.

The organized religions realized that all their bickering had been turning people off, but they never cared until people had an alternative to religion. Massive profit losses lead everyone to be more willing to capitalize on their common grounds. Most religions eventually fell in with the Universal Truth, and those that didn’t were taken care of. I couldn’t understand why they were doing it here, and I suddenly felt very empty. I look around and notice that two guys are sitting at the bar, one of them giggling. I investigate.

“What’s going on here? This shouldn’t start until at least an hour from now.” I ask as I approach.

The laughing man tips a drink back and answers “Piece of mind. The Guild is trying to humanize the assassin.” Slams his drink down for the bar tender to refill “Sorry, I probably shouldn’t say ‘assassin’: You probably prefer a more pleasant term.”

I’d always wondered why at the other two meetings I’d attended were always busy by the time that had I got to them. “I never realized so many of us were religious.”

Picking up his drink again “Yeah apparently this kind of work burrows guilt into the average man’s skull.”

The other guy remains quiet, so I feel obligated to reply as I sit down “You’re not average?”

Still laughing as he knocks back another drink “What’s to feel guilty about? I mean usually we’re hired to kill some corrupt corporate bastard. I know this because it’s usually some other corrupt bastard that hires us because he doesn’t like the other corrupt bastard in his pool. Because usually they admire the honest guy who can make it to the top. That’s why they keep an honest guy under them- they respect the insight.”

The quiet guy gulps his brew muttering “interesting theory…”

 

Swishing around the last drops of his drink in a circular motion “Oh it’s not a theory. This is how the honest guys usually get to the top.” Downing the drops “So usually we’re just replacing a dirt bag with a gem. Y’know, usually.”

Slamming his drink down again for a refill “Yeah so the Guild opens doors early for the religious, so they can get out their negative feelings. I always to laugh at the goofy bastards.”

The quiet guy is big, he may’ve had skeletal enhancement work done. He‘s pissed at the drunken hyena, and says “you’re a piece of work.”

The man between the quieter guy and myself looks to me and winks “I think I just offended the man, must’ve come to the bar between prayers, right?”

The other guy snorts after taking a swig of his beer “No, I’m only here early because I’m still used to being in another time zone.”

Taking a mouthful “So why don’t you keep your little theories to yourself.”

 

“Theory? No it’s a fact. I bet you got a little trick to relieve the pain of guilt, don’tcha princess?”

Smiling, the quiet guy puts down his drink. Glowing with pride, he steadies one hand on the bar. “You got me there.”

Rolling up his long sleeves, the quiet man reveals several scars. “I feel no guilt. Each bastard I kill causes me pain first.”

The masochist rolls his sleeve down with a boastful glow about him. The laughing between us opens his mouth again after almost spitting out his drink “You blame your marks for making you cut yourself? ‘It’s not just a river in Egypt ’ my gramps would say”

The masochist looks over his drink at the laughing man. “If you’re talking about denial, I got another cliché for you…”

Changing the subject the laughing man looks to me and asked “so what do you do?”

Both their jaws drop at my response “I remember them.”

“All of them? Wow, you’ve really got a pair on you…” one of them says but I’m oblivious to which of them it was.

Next thing I know, the laughing man is ordering a drink for me, the masochist, and a double for himself “So how did you guys get into this business? I myself was a runner for the mob. I delivered a package that had a bomb it, not even knowing what I had done.”

Stopping to take a breath, then a false start on his double. “The bomb killed a local don and I some how got the credit for the hit. Can you believe that? Next thing I know, I’m being recruited and trained by the Guild. What life can throw at you…”

Impressed the masochist says “You must have a pretty clean record then. I was a former military sniper, which puts an automatic red flag in my records.”

Laughing man, not to be out done in humbleness, clarifies “My records not all that clean. I got busted running a package when I was twelve, so I might have as red of a flag as you do after all.” Then adds with a gratifying snicker:  “Then again I may not.”

I got them both beat, though I don’t say anything. I have no records. When it exploded. Everyone on the Counter Orbit Station I worked on was declared dead. No one counted the bodies.  If someone could survive the explosion, exposure, extreme temperatures and the vacuum of space; you still have one hell of a fall in store for you.

I didn’t grow wings- I was dragged unconscious off the station by the saboteur. I know he was the one who planted the bombs for the same reason we got into that fight that changed my life; I saw him plant them.

I tried to run; I knew what he was, even though he was the first cyborg I've ever seen. I couldn’t believe how big he was or what he was attempting to do. I froze, deciding if I should get help or an escape pod.

He lunged at me, but I stopped him with a kick to the face. I had to kick because I was too fat to dodge: too out of shape not to fight dirty. I quickly delivered another kick to see if they removed his testicles for machine attachment. Luckily, he was still all man. I knee dropped him in the face. I wanted to break his nose. I wanted to make him blinded by his own tears. He threw a wild punch, which I blocked.

I turned to run towards the alarm in the room, cursing under my breath at the pain in my arms. He either shook off the pain or shut off his pain receptors; you never know how tricked out a cyborg is. I looked over my shoulder as I heard him running behind me. He was running for the alarm, not me. I stopped and ducked just before the alarm was in arms reach, letting the brute run past. I remember feeling so strong as I sprung up, grabbed his hair, and used my abundance of weight to bash his face into the alarm.

The feeling lasted only a second. He jerked his head back so wildly. He knocked me out cold, completely by accident. I was out of breath anyway, so he would have beaten me within moments. The Counter Orbit Station was gone twenty minutes later. I recall seeing the family members of the crew on news sites crying and telling anecdotes. No one missed me. I was on the list of the dead, just no one cared.

I lived because the Cyborg I fought, who’s name I later learned was Jared, lacked technique and skill. He said that even though I was physically pathetic and I never would have beaten him’ I was the greatest fighter he had seen in a while.

Even before his skeletal expansion he was a massive guy. No one ever fought back when he bullied them; they were always trembling too much. Jared has only made it in demolition because he could defeat most people that got in his way just by trading hits. When he was a bodyguard he lost one fight; that was enough to convince him he needed to be better. After that he had his doctor put in the sub-dermal impact absorber. Like tattooing, bionics is addicting. It’s the quick fix to self-improvement. He eventually even considered the personality modifier, but he couldn’t decide if he wanted to be more or less emotional. 

 I think back to how I trained Jared   I’m still sitting at the bar with a masochist and a compulsive giggler. More people are here now; it must be time for ‘general admittance’. I wonder how long I was thinking about the past. It looked like a packed meeting; every Guild’s-men in this time zone must be here. There had to be at least sixty of us here.

The altars from the Universal Truth have been put away, but the candles still burn. A podium has been put in place of the main altar, a murmur of prayers still continues from before. Some are farther from absolution than others. The main doors are sealed and every minute the room gets dimmer.

Lights in the floor make a path to the stage with the podium moments after. I can only see outlines of people moving as they try to keep from obstructing the path that is lined in lights. I hear a snickering beside me and then see the face of laughing man as he lights a cigarette “A little melodramatic, don’t you think?”

Another form can be seen on the path, but this one is walking with intent all the way down the length. The lights each shut off as the form passes them. When the form reaches the stage, the room is black. A voice marked in the darkness only by a glowing ember “I doubt this is impressive to the guys with night vision implants.”

Irritating my retinas as they are forced to readjust, a spotlight encompasses the podium and the man standing at it, the Guildmaster. Under his cloak, the Guildmaster peers out into the crowd as if he could see them shrouded in the darkness. Before the Guildmaster speaks the ember whispers. “You know, I don’t think the same guy is the Guildmaster at all these things. He seemed taller last time.”

The Guildmaster bows and makes the sign of the Universal Truth. Some clapping scatters through out the crowd in approval of this action. Again the ember speaks.  “I know I wouldn’t want to be under the only light source in a room full of assassins.”

The Guildmaster speaks in Latin the creed of the Guild, which is a code in it's self. When someone is recruited into the Guild, they are given one part of the creed to memorize; only the Guildmaster and a few of the high council know it entirely. If the Guildmaster incorrectly gives any section of the creed, he is considered an imposter, and all members that were given that passage are to instantly kill him. The ember grows brighter for a moment as the smoke is inhaled and then “you think we’ll ever have a Guild mistress? Assuming that’s a male.”

I didn’t find comments amusing or insightful. He had been getting on my nerves. I align the bones in my hand to make a strike more damaging. I wait for the voice behind the ember as the Guildmaster speaks “We gather today because tonight the cross hair is on our brows.”

It doesn’t matter that I can’t see more than the ember; it’s enough to give me an idea of where his face is.  I intend on knocking him out with one punch, but I’ll be ready with a second just in case. It’s bad to provoke a fight with a room this armed, others may assume to kill us both just to keep us quiet.  The Guildmaster takes a deep breath and then speaks “Brothers and sisters, I fear that the entire Guild is in danger.”

Dozens of weapons are cocked, energized, and unsheathed at this announcement. Red dots dance across the dark ceiling, searching for any target that may arise. The electronically altered voice of the Guildmaster sooths “We are not threatened directly. Ease on your weapons. The threat is to our business.”

The ember is now being moved so fast that it creates a red 8 in the middle of the darkness. The Guildmaster continues “The business of death is at risk.”

I see three red dots from targeting lasers search for the smoker; he offers the cigarette to the masochist. All I can see is that the ember is suddenly put out, but I hear the pain in the voice of the hyena as he begs for his hand back. The Guildmaster appears to be unaware of this all. “We are under the risk of immortality, it may be our extinction.”

Immediately following the sound of a hard punch, the chuckling stops. I try to concentrate entirely on the Guildmaster’s words, “Klaus O’Hara claims to have the data needed to perfect cloning.”

The room becomes very tense, or at least to me it seems to. The Guild has taken advantage medicine being a practice. Every time medicine got better, we would be that much more efficient, just enough to ensure are marks stay down. “Judging by the bidding war over the employment of the good doctor; we know that this isn’t just boasting.”

Cloning has been a minor threat in the respect that they can have an organ grown and kept in a tank until it’s needed. Perfect size and biochemical compatibility with the host. Only the rich can afford this kind of treatment, but the rich are usually the kind of mark we get. This hasn’t been a concern because cloning organs is useless if the target dies. Stop the heart to keep blood from circulating, without blood circulation the brain suffocates. The Guildmaster continues to inform us. “Dr. O’Hara has already produced artificial hormones that can excel cellular growth.”

Everyone in the room is anxious to hear what is next; nothing could stop us short of full resurrection. There are processes to bypass the heart if it has been transformed into a mass of scar tissue, anything to keep the brain alive. With immediate medical attention, and cloned organs in storage, a mark can be saved. They are never quite the same after, like surviving a stroke in the old days. We are growing with concern with every word. “The doctor has made many advances in synapses recording and replicating.”

Murmuring begins, people move closer to the door. Many of the Guilds like to make sure the brain can’t be saved by making a second shot in the head after initial one to the heart. There are stories that Stigmata used to wait and kill any medics that tried to undo his handy work. The monotone voice of the Guildmaster continues. “This will be accomplished with an implant that continually records all brain activity.”

  

Movement stops almost entirely in the room. No one can grasp the depth of situation. We know this is the worst case scenario, it’s all hypothetical, but in this day and age hypothetical is as good as fact. With just a hand gesture from the Guildmaster the room calms. “O’Hara has stated that after he perfects transferring thoughts into cloned bodies, he will work on mitogenic energy transfers.”

I begin to wonder how safe this meeting is, imagining this crowd rioting. Mitogenic energy may just be the energy of the soul, and learning to transfer it could be the difference between having a mark replaced with an exact duplicate and resurrection. Either way, think this will be bad for business. The Guildmaster continues “A man could die and then wake up with mind, body, and soul complete as if nothing happened at all.”

 I’ve missed my guess on the purpose of this meeting, as well as the other meetings that are no doubt going on across the planet. The Guild isn’t putting a bounty on O’Hara’s head- they are trying to stop the salting of the fields. The Guild does not condone total war, we work with subtly,   “Death will soon be just another inconvenience if we do not stop him.”

Ours is a precise, surgical trade that accomplishes what must be done in an optimally humane matter. As I shuffle around to think about this I think I step on the fingers of the unconscious guy that is on the floor next to me. I’m actually curious about what he will think about this when he wakes up. “We are going to assign three teams to this assignment, and only those assigned to the case are to go, “

The Guild is really taking this seriously, for more reason than the Guildmaster is letting on. Work in the Guild is solitary; it only takes one shot to take down a mark. If more than one Guild’s-men is assigned to a single job it’s because of the risk. Whatever corporation won the bidding war to control O’Hara has taken measures to protect their investment. I start to wonder what happened to the life on the Counter Orbit Station, and knowing people that knew my real name.

The spotlight on the Guildmaster shuts off, and he is gone when the room lights return. It may be a pointless trick, but at least it’s theatrical.  I look down and notice that I’m indeed stepping on the hand of the unconscious man that had such a sharp wit. The masochist smiles and kneels down to check his pulse. “Still breathing; I must have pulled the punch.”

The masochist stands back up, noticing a shot that the bartender refilled for the witty pain in the ass, and drinks it down so it doesn’t go to waste, and out of spite. Walking out with the rest of the Guild’s-men, the masochist says “And I was looking forward to getting a new scar, too!”

I sit at the bar, maybe to see the laughing man wake up. I even end up staying longer than the bartender; he was probably a Guild member too. Everyone has left to wait for an invitation, I don’t necessarily understand the melodrama; but it has kept the Guild around for hundreds of years. I don’t know if it’s tradition or really the best way. I don’t know if those selected will be random or by quality, but I have a bad feeling I will be involved.

 I regret never telling Jared my name. I question why I just thought that when a crossbow dart shot from the rafters strikes the bar. Attached to the dart is a microchip that confirms my presumption. I catch myself mumbling “These are my last hours on earth…”

I put the chip in the computer inside my tool’s case. It gives me an address, what direction to aim when I get there, a picture of the mark and images of the other Guild’s-men on the assignment. They don’t want us shooting each other, which says to me that we should be watching for police snipers. I half expect a smart-ass remark about my misfortune to comes, from the floor, but it doesn’t so I leave.

The skies are nothing but auspicious when I step outside, the clouds that pave my yard outside my apartment have turned dark and heavy. I feel that the sky is going to mourn me, because it looks like it will start weeping any minute. Are the clouds the only friends I have? I haven’t seen Jared in years. He may even be dead. He killed everyone else I knew when he detonated Counter Orbit Station. He killed all those people just to get his one mark. I start to feel upset until I remember seeing all the families crying on the news sites. They’re still immortal. Even if I die someone else will still remember them.

I should send a rocket into the building of my target; I would never be in any danger. I could program it from another city and have it fly here and through the complex ventilation system of the building. I want to feel the first tears of the storm before they come down. I have an hour to get into position, so I walk.

I stare down the entire time, wondering why I’m having this despair. I haven’t had this kind of reaction to an assignment since I broke a dozen. This is the kind of thing that most guys (that will talk about it) would say in a matter-of-fact kind of way, that how it was for them is the way it’s for everyone. I think everyone takes it differently. If it was the same for everyone, we wouldn’t have new Guild’s-men taking their own lives after the first handful of assignments.

            For me, the first time was the easiest. I stayed awake that night staring at the ceiling in awe of what I did. It was invigorating that no one could ever again have any power over me. I felt strong with the idea that. That was the first night in the apartment the Guild provides me as well.

            After the first time I must not have believed it was real, it was too easy. To hit a mark was just as difficult shooting tin cans with Jared when I was in training. The second time I stayed up all night staring at the ceiling again, but that’s when I imagined just how real it was.

            I get a sick feeling from all the nostalgia. They say that you’re whole life flashes before your life before you die, but I died along time ago. Erased, the moment no one remembered my name.

            The faces of the next three haunted my dreams; I couldn’t handle seeing their faces all night long. The sixth time was when I realized that if everyone was vulnerable to my skill, I’m just as vulnerable to others. I was scared, before the sixth assignment I would only stay up the night of an assignment. After that I stayed up every night, periodically scanning other buildings that pierced the clouds for snipers. I contacted Jared. I couldn’t sleep any more, and since he got me into this, he was going to fix it.

 I remember standing in front of the elevator doors when he arrived; taking in a breath to scream at him. Before the doors opened enough for me to even see him, he shot me with a hypodermic gattling tranquilizer.  I was too tired to dodge, not that those things are easy to dodge. Too tired to even register that he was shooting me.  The last thing I saw before I passed out was Jared pushing the button for the first floor.

 I woke up exactly where I fell. He never even entered my apartment. From that point on I kept a hypodermic gattling tranquilizer in my medicine cabinet, and a weapon in every other room. I sleep fine now.

            I see lights hitting the clouds and buildings; it looks like they’re coming from the place my mark will be at. The Guild is planning on making an example out of the doctor. There will be cops and bodyguards and who-knows what else to trying and stop who ever else is on this job.

The seventh mark had a beautiful wife; I stayed up the whole night watching her mourn her husband’s death. She was amazing, with grace that bordered supernatural. When others would come, like the children, she could hold perfect composition. I read the lips of the cops when they left the room, commenting on how she was icy and must have paid for the hit. I was the only one in the world that knew that when she thought she was alone, she would just melt that exterior and become overcome with grief.

 

When I snapped out of it, the sun was rising. That was when I realized that Jared was right in that the cops don’t look for Guild’s-men. So the night of the eighth I kept a forensic investigator in my sight when he examined the scene. I was ready to kill him, but lost my nerve when he pointed right to me as when estimating the trajectory. Through the scope I could see where his nail met his finger.

I could now see the building, I was right; the lights are coming from where the mark will be. He must be making an announcement or something. Has he already made a break through in his findings? I wonder if he has anything that is documented. When he’s hit, will anyone be able to continue his work? Is the Guild doomed to face extinction? I approach the building with an uncertain future.

The ninth mark’s wife really did order the assignment. I waited outside their apartment on a nearby building all night long. She wanted him taken out after he returned from a business trip. She must have known I was watching through the scope as she screwed her lover in the living room waiting for her husband to get home. She wanted to get caught before he died, let him go to the next life knowing what a fool he was. She was vile and twisted for doing so; I couldn’t let her get away with it.

 That’s why I disobeyed the instructions and shot him when he was in the hallway.  From my vantage-point I could see him heading towards the apartment, whistling with an arm full of roses. I will never forget him, or any of them. I waited until he had unlocked the door and opened it, but before he could see what was happening.  I still don’t know why the Guild didn’t kill me for shooting up her apartment afterwards.

Missiles were not totally frowned upon in the Guild, but you always take that chance of killing the guy that hired you. They sometimes like to be right there when it all goes down. Make sure their money is well spent. The Guild does frown on using long range bio-signature identifiers in conjunction with missiles. It’s a good thing they never found out I tried this trick- I thought I could sleep if I never saw what happened.

I looked at the eleventh in the crosshairs, and started to cry. I realized that the tenth was not going to be remembered the way the others are. No one was with him when he died, and nothing was left but ashes when it was done. I watched him for an hour and just walked away. I spent the rest of the night staring at my account monitor waiting to die. Next morning I received my payment. He died in an accident, but I still remembered him. I slept like a baby the night of number twelve and every one of them since.

I take the stairs up the building. Once, this could have been strenuous, but not after Jared showed me how to maintain a physical peak, not since my name was killed. I’m glad that the building is not piercing the clouds the way mine does, if it was over twelve stories I wouldn’t be able to make it in time. I’m already behind schedule, not late, but later than the other Guild’s-men.  

I dive down to the ground just before a spotlight floods the roof with light. I’ve never seen such an effort to keep a man alive. This is the kind of protection the president gets (Which is why the Guild doesn’t assign anyone to that job; they’ve lost too many Guild’s-men in the past). Spotlights imply that the police have snipers too. Fighting fire with fire, how unlike them.

 Crawling across the roof, I count to forty-five seconds when the spotlight reaches my roof again. In a mechanical age I can safely bet that time is going to be consistent. I open the casing to the tool, continuing to count. I could bet on the timing, but in this work you learn not to gamble.

The light passes over me for the third time as I try to relax. I get a smirk on my face and the sense of doom washes out. I’m feeling euphoric like I never have before, as if my subconscious is putting something together that I can not fathom yet.

I pop up, activating a long-range scan to find my target. The chip with the target information helps sort the crowd by picking out only people in the audience with similar bio-signatures. It isn’t accurate enough to instantly find the target, but it narrows it down to a handful. I zero in on the doctor at forty-four seconds so I duck.

I recover my position when I feel it’s safe, re-aiming on the target. The computer confirms it’s the doctor. I now adjust the focus on the scope and tend to all the steps in my ‘checklist’ before I take a shot. 44 duck! I check out the surrounding buildings, spotting nine police snipers and four Guild’s men, there could be more. 44 duck!

I glance behind me as I duck down, seeing a moving form on the other side of the roof. Unlike the classic films indicate, an energy discharge is not visible: all the light is hitting the target instead of an on looker’s cornea, and it’s already struck before the human brain can register it. No fear in being spotted by the police when I fire my weapon at my stalker, but I never get the chance to try.

A crack of a whip sends the tool flying out of my hands. My assailant is not wearing a shirt. His torso is covered in pre- Universal Truth religious tattoos; this must be Stigmata. I throw my invitation dagger at him as I roll to my feet; he catches it by the blade with his bare hands. I duck (almost forgetting this time) as the spotlight illuminates the twisted assassin with blood dripping down his hand. The spotlight stops for a moment then continues on its course. He’s working with the police.

I’m spooked badly as I dodge the whip with a back handspring. I’m low on options; I back up towards the ledge of the building. Stigmata cracks the whip to intimidate this time. Before he was kicked out of the Guild, Stigmata was one of the best, but he’s more of a serial killer these days. I can’t fight him straight on. I will cease to exist when I die; there is no one to remember me. At Forty-four seconds I step off the building.

Looking up as I plummet I see Stigmata look down at me just before he is blinded by the spotlight. Seeing him shield his eyes I activate the grav-slip harness. With a tuck and kick I fly up inverted, planting the heels of my boots into Stigmata’s jaw, with enough momentum left over to flip over his head and land on the other side of him.

Visibly pissed off, Stigmata cranks his whip around his head, lashing my cheek. He turns around ready to crack the whip directly, ready to exploit my seemingly helpless disposition. I pull the hypodermic gattling tranquilizer gun, placing four darts across his brow. The irony does not escape me as I use the grav-slip harness to jump kick, and send Stigmata over the ledge.

I lost count. I had already picked up my tool when I realize this. Luckily I dived down in time, seeing the damage that could have been done to me on the building. The spotlight stays with me this time. I wonder if the other Guild’s men had attackers on their vantage-points.

I cower for a moment knowing that if I take the shot now I will die. They have enough snipers to ensure that. I know that but I still rise to take the shot.  I still aim though I know I will die. I kill Doctor O’Hara. I die with a smile on my face and a feeling in my heart that I’ve never felt.

I realize as the energy burst pierces and cauterizes my body that this is a moment in history. Mankind will remember the day they lost immortality. The Guild will remember their greatest hero. The world will seek out and remember the name Ivan Merchants.

 

[Back to anthology]

[Main Page]

Stumble It!