A Story of the City
by Alexander Veligor
The cross-hairs of his night scope aligned perfectly on the man's head. Visily didn't exhale as much as stop moving his lungs completely. In response, the cross-hairs remained stable and as always, the thwack of the gunshot and its recoil came as a surprise. Only the best were surprised by their own shots. Amateurs jerked the trigger and lost their aim. Visily folded the stock of the weapon then unclipped the barrel; both were placed in the black nylon zip-bag with economical speed.
Walk Visily. Beginners run. Someone who is running has something to hide; someone walking's just hailing a cab for a ride. Visily smiled inside his head at the thoughts his old teacher had placed there. Visily had never been very good at hiding his nervousness during and after missions until his mentor had forced that little rhyme into his brain.
It's accurate enough, and has just the right amount of silliness to make you relax. Memorize it, Mortis had said it over and over again while Visily trained with him.
The city street was dark and bustling with late night revelers all at once. Against all ingrained sense when it came to the art of disguise, Visily had dressed as a hit man to blend in with the rest of the costumed crowd. It was so glaringly obvious that he was a hit man that the mass of dark-suited men boiling out of the doorway across from him completely ignored him. Visily hailed and then stepped into a cab, smiling slightly as it pulled away in the slow moving traffic of Halloween in the city.
"I assume you met with success?"
Why does he ask? Is it politeness? There isn't exactly anything polite about the business that we do and I spotted at least two of his watchers when I took up position. I bet there where about three more I didn't see.
"Yes sir. After breaking in and recovering the formula and notes on the virus, I waited for the bio-engineer to return and served him." Visily placed the plain manila folder on the Elect's desk. Visily had tried reading it but the chemical combinations went way beyond his old high school biology class. The Elect's spidery hands twisted the folder across the desk and into his possession. To Visily's surprise, the Elect pulled out a lighter and cigar. He lit the cigar, picked up the folder and proceeded to burn it in his hand. The flames crackled against the Elect's bare fingers.
"Doesn't that hurt... sir?"
"Pain is something that everyone can control with the right amount of concentration, Visily. Here is your next assignment. I apologize, but you must move fast because there are only three hours until the target will be leaving the city for good. Hopefully this is the last servicing that will have to occur because of this retrovirus. The good news is that the job does not have to be performed quietly."
Visily had listened. But he had only listened in the way that someone in the middle of a fire-fight listens. The important information was collected and stored in the brain for later use while the body, eyes and ears keep a stern focus on the action in front of them. Visily was sure that this was a skill that all married men developed in one form or another.
That has to hurt. He's not superman and there's no such thing as a macho man that can take an indefinite amount of pain. I mean... I do things like that at the bar sometimes to impress a girl but even then I can only hold the match for ten seconds or so. The folder was burning its last ashes and the Elect hand didn't even flinch with the occasional crackle of skin.
"Umm... sir. Have you ever thought of just buying a shredder?"
"I don't use them Visily. There are people out there that are very good at puzzles and a shredded folder is just one more challenge." The Elects face showed nothing, as did his plain brown clothes. He never showed anything. "Now, you understand the importance of this mission? Here is the dossier of the client. Photos, name, specialty, and location. You had best hurry if you want to catch him."
"Yes sir." Visily turned and left. Upon reaching the plain grey hallway he started to jog.
Three hours, and the man knows how bad the traffic becomes on Halloween. Damn rooftop jobs. Visily released his left foot from the hamstring stretch he was performing and shouldered his backpack.
He looked out over the rooftops. The city was glowing with orange festooned energy. Lights twinkled and the occasional fireworks would rocket into the sky. The skyline was a mixture of old steepled slate roofs and flat gravel topped office buildings. City ordinances had kept them all at relatively the same height except for the occasional tower built by someone who could afford to pay extra against the height ordinances.
The city selectmen thought they had been building a beautiful, uniform city. Visily thought that their skulls had not fully fused from infancy. Flat roofs were a cat burglar's godsend. Fortunately, when you worked for the Elect, he considerately cleared the roofs for you ahead of time. Witnesses, even when they worked for you, were still witnesses -- and that got messy.
Well, whatever makes my job easier. Visily stopped jogging in place and reached down to his belt. His fingers found a button on the silvered disk that looked like his buckle and pressed it. A low pitch whine seemed to encase Visily's hearing as he sprinted towards the ledge.
The rock gravel roof crunched under his feet. The small stones bit into his silk padded shoes as he counted steps until the edge.
C'mon! C'mon! Just DO IT! Visily sprang into the air. The street below his kicking feet was packed with people but thankfully none of them were looking up. If they had been, they would have seen a very disturbing image. A man dressed in dark gray sailing through the air and for some reason not falling to his death the way he should be.
Visily hit the slate of the next building, skidding and hopping to regain control of his weight. He didn't stop running but charged on even faster and leapt again off of a cornice that had a surprised looking pigeon on it. Festival lights twinkled all around him. As Visily's body flowed into the rhythm of roof running his mind started to plan. Shapes of a strategy started to form but his never resting mind started asking questions as well.
I love this once I get going. It's the end of the run that sucks. A church roof leap followed by a red brick wall bounce.
How does the friggin belt work? I know the guy said that it raises your inertia at critical moments but does that... An open parking lot leap... mean I weigh more too? A hissing black cat on the edge of a fire escape followed buy a clothesline draped between two buildings that provided a perfect bounce.
And how does it know when not to weigh too much? A tractor trailer was sitting in traffic and provided a boost to Visily's feet as he leapt up and over a small grocery store. His toes scrabbled against the slippery roof tiles before thrusting upward once again.
The city looked beautiful, and it had started looking more beautiful every time Visily went roof running. Older dilapidated slums were slowly being replaced with newer renovated apartments. Swaths of empty factory blocks were coming alive again with triple shift machine shops and commercial stores. Billboards advertising everything from gardening appliances to sex enhancing drugs were popping up all over, Visily ricocheted off of one like some sort of drunk pinball.
Things have been getting better. Not that I really noticed when things were worse. How does he do it? I mean, he runs a criminal syndicate! How does that translate into a city that gains economic prosperity? Usually crime lowers the tone -- it does not raise it.
It had happened ever since the Elect took over. Technically the city council ran things and technically they were elected by the citizens. The reality was that the city council ran what the Elect told them too. There had been a lot of chaos after the Change wars and the country had fragmented. States were left to fend for themselves if they had the resources and soldiers to do it, otherwise they were swallowed up by neighbor states that did. Surprisingly, Louisiana had both. New Orleans had recovered better than most and its ports had been paramount to the rebuilding efforts up and down the Mississippi. The city itself had boomed from the influx of currency. Crime took over for awhile and almost drove it to the brink of destruction again but then the Elect turned up.
It's almost as if this is becoming a place I would be proud to call my home. Funny I never thought of myself as patriotic. That must be it, what he does to you. We may kill our way to a better world but it's still a better world that he's been building for us. Do I really want to help him build it forever though? I'm good at this, but not great. I could easily wind up in some snipers crosshairs before long. What would I do if I didn't do this? Hell, I'm only twenty three and I'm already having a mid-life crisis.
Visily skidded to a halt on a rooftop that looked much like the rest. Gravel roofing sprayed everywhere like a water skier that has just wiped out and the tic, tic, tic of pebbles bouncing off of pavement far below was so clearly audible even from his current altitude that Visily cursed himself for the lapse that his thoughts had brought on. Then he sighed, taking a deep breath, and touched the not-belt buckle. The low buzz ceased and Visily vomited all over his own shoes for five straight minutes.
The building itself was rather nondescript. Three stories tall and box shaped to the point of boredom; it provided perfect ledges for Visily to wait for the target. He absentmindedly twirled the small belt of shiny spheres around behind his back as he sat waiting. He did not have to wait long.
It was one of the newer model cars. It pulled up slow and sank to the ground once the driver turned the engine off. The driver stepped out and looked around furtively.
Visily had been waiting long enough to riffle through the dossier that the Elect had given him on his target and others who might be present for the hit. Igo Dat, bodyguard for two years. Enhanced cybernetics and combat reflexes purchased on the black market. You're a holdover from the change war. You definitely die.
Visily mentally catalogued his thought with a grin. It wasn't that Dat was a bad man, but Visily knew what it took to get top-notch enhancements. It took quite a few healthy organs from unwilling donors, and the best came from the young since the organs were more resilient. Visily knew because he had slaughtered enough chop-shop doctors in his time. Nobody else but hack-a-bones would perform such operations now, not with the war so close in peoples minds.
Apparently satisfied, the guard opened the car door for his boss.
Typor Van Gurden. Six years in the American confederations bio-weopons division. Funded the creation of the virus. You didn't make it but you helped the man that did. Given enough time you might be able to replicate it yourself. You're not going to have that time. Visily stood as if he were about to make some sort of insane leap from the rooftop but quickly ducked as another set of headlights rounded the corner and pulled up to the building.
This car was one of the older models with rubber tires and a bad paint job. Two men jumped out and ripped the rear doors open. They both held struggling and kicking masses as they headed for the door. The door opened and then slammed.
Visily counted too one hundred before peering over the ledge.
The non-descript man who had been in the passenger seat of the second car was leaning against the wall smoking a cigarette and idly swinging an Uzi from its shoulder strap.
Visily rolled his eyes in exasperation. Why is it guards never guard? Why do they always stand in the light and occupy themselves with some form of entertainment that always gets them noticed even if it were pitch black outside. Smoking will definitely kill you.
Visily idly pulled a blade from his belt, took aim and dropped it point down from his perch. He almost reached the ground before the blade, rappelling off of the wall with the rope he had tied earlier.
The guard started to fall, cigarette still between his lips, as Visily caught him in a hug that broke the sound of his collapse. The dagger was sticking out from the top of the guard's head like an ugly little metal Christmas decoration.
Visily yanked the dagger free and dragged the body into the dark before scampering back to crouch under the window and listen. The lights were on and there was apparently an argument in progress.
"I don't care what you said, I'm not paying more than five for each. What did you do, steal them from the dockside? They look like their parents do worse to them than what I plan."
"Look... You called me with the short notice and this is the best I could do with only thirty minutes. It takes time to get quality product and I don't have it in stock all the time. Eleven for both and no less, someone might miss these ones and I need to cover my losses." At that moment a high pitch feminine shriek curled over Visily's ears and a quick glance over the windowsill confirmed his worst fears. The product was two girls no more than thirteen years old, tied up and crying on the floor.
Dammit! His file said he liked the kiddies. I can't just blow the whole building up now. Can I take them out before that enhanced freak can react? I friggin doubt it. The two men bickered for minutes more while Visily thought, planned and counter-planned. There was nothing he could think of in the scenarios that Mortis had given him that involved hostage rescue. Hit men weren't really known for it.
"Aahhh Hell... best methods are the oldest ones," he muttered. Visily drew his auto-pistol, stood and kicked the door in.
Typor and the man he was arguing with were far too slow to do anything other blink before bullets passed through both of their chests. Igo was much faster however. By the time Visily's third bullet was through Typor, the well muscled bodyguard had swept one of the children up in front of him and pressed a knife to her throat. She made a slight whimpering sound that faded across the cavernous warhouse.
"You're the Elects' stalker," Igo said. "Huh. I heard you were good, but with maybe too much flare for the dramatic. A little unprofessional in my eyes." Igo's eyes glittered without emotion as Visily followed every small movement with the muzzle of his gun.
"I knew hostage would work for me as soon as door was broken... you would have blown up building otherwise."
Damn it! Visily thought. He has some brains to go with the enhancements. This just keeps getting better all the time.
"You kill my master, I know I am not... important enough to warrant a contract. So how about you let me go, hey? Professionals no work for free, right?"
Visily glanced down at the dead men at his feet. The second girl had managed to roll herself towards the wall and was sitting up while sobbing quietly.
"You won't take vengeance for your dead master?"
Igo spat on the corpse in response. "What good vengeance? We are not samurai, to fall on blades when master dies. A failed contract is a failed contract, not end of world."
"It was for him..." Visily said nodding at the corpse, "...but it doesn't really matter. As much as I would like to blow your skull out I can't. I know what you did to get those enhancements but I would rather have that girl alive than seek vengeance for already slaughtered children. Go towards the door and release her once you're out, I won't follow."
Igo nodded and moved.
It was a complex and tension filled dance that happened next. Visily slowly moved away from the door, all the while keeping his gun trained on the bodyguard who was slowly inching towards it with a hostage in front of him. At the halfway point they both spun slowly then began stepping backwards; one into the building and one towards the portal.
"I hope we meet again on better terms, stalker. Maybe compare notes?"
Visily scowled at the words and Igo flashed into the darknes so fast that he blurred. The Girl fell to her knees from the lack of support.
"What a crappy night," Visily said. He holstered his pistol and drew another knife, then stooped down and started cutting the ropes that bound the two girls.
"I assume that once again you have met with success, despite the lack of your beloved explosions, Visily." The Elect looked calm and controlled as ever.
Visily was swaying on his feet in front of his bosses' desk. "Yes sir."
I've been running around all night trying to find their families and it turns out their parents were killed. Then I had to find a decent place to leave them without too many questions and the abbey was the only place open at four in the morning. I haven't slept yet and I KNOW you haven't so why the hell do you look so fresh?
"I assume that Margarite and Jenny are hale and healthy?"
"What?" Vislily was non-plussed. How did the Elect know? There had been no spotters this time; he had been sure of it. Then the gears ground into place and things clicked in his mind.
"The kids were your watchers?!"
"My nieces actually," the Elect said with a smile. "I have great hopes for them. They volunteered for the job since they have heard so much about you from me. They hope to rise high in the city and this seemed as good a place as any to start them off."
"Was this some kind of twisted test?" Visily was horrified at the thought of what could have gone wrong in the warehouse.
"Always Visily, always. Although testing your skills has become a moot point, I find testing your conscience and morals still a valid and somewhat entertaining practice. I am glad that you decided to not use explosives. I would have been forced to kill you if you had."
"But your nieces would have died."
"Visily, you would not have even touched the trigger on the button."
"But the friggin risk you put them in was unbelievable. They still could have died if I screwed up."
"As I said Visily, I have great faith in your abilities. As far as my nieces are concerned, the line of work they wish to enter is not a safe one. Oh, do not worry, there were several fail safes, but still the fact remains that risk must be taken at all ages otherwise fear and inaction are the only likely result later on. Human nature is sadly predictable in that manner. Besides, the job did need to be done. My nieces came up with the idea of delaying Mr. Gurden long enough for you to get into position actually, otherwise he might have escaped."
Visily's head was hammering with a headache. All he wanted to do was sleep, but one thing was bothering him.
"I can't believe you have a family sir."
The Elect smiled thinly. "Of course I do Visily. Nothing else serves to drive a man like protecting his family. Why do you think I do all the things I do to make sure my city is safe?"
© 2008 Alexander Veligor
Bio: Alexander Veligor went directly from high school into the Army, in the hopes that it would give him experiences to write about. Two combat tours later, with more experience than he will ever need, he has been working at a series of boring jobs to support his writing habit.
E-mail: Alexander Velikov
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