by Michael Dupler

I just stand there in the middle of the street as the thick Seattle acid rain stains my very expensive lined coat. The empty clip from my Guardian lies in the path of brown liquid that washes down into the sewer grate as the moon breaks through the clouds. Did you know that? Blood appears brown in the moonlight. The Joys of my profession, knowing what blood looks like in any set of weather conditions at any given time.

I reach a hand up to the sky, trying to catch the moon in the palm of my hand. The rain strikes my armored sunglasses, exploding. The sonic sight and laser range finder goes offline. Doesn't matter, neither one was going to help me because no matter how hard I try, I can't lose myself in the grander scale of things in the universe. All my thoughts come back to how I ended up here tonight.

I guess I really have no real right at this moment to complain. After all, I'm a shadowrunner. A criminal, mercenary for hire, professional killer, a noble fighter of the common people against the corps and a dozen other names you could use. It's all jetwash, meaning that people pay me money to do things that they lack the courage to do themselves.

At that moment, my glasses seem to weight a ton and I pull them from my face and drop them to the ground. The raindrops are now hitting my like magnum slugs and I fall to my knees. All my "Shadowrunner" instincts tell me to get moving. The text in my display link is showing how, where and when to met the Johnson for payment but my body refuses to respond. Kneeling there in the rain, blood running past my hands and into the sewer, all I can think about is the time I got my first set of spurs.

I can remember how excited I was. The spurs were brand new, payment for sawing the legs off a couple of gangers that owed a street Doc some money. He installed them for half price and all I could think of was how the blood would spray when I gutted someone with my new titanium claws. For weeks, I would flex them in and out in front of the mirror. I was always looking for a fight, dying to put the spurs to the test. I was 15 and I had still not killed someone.

I never really understood why everyone makes such a big fraggin deal about it. You know, about killing someone. At first your all worried what its going to be like, will you panic, will you freeze, will you be able to do the deed. I punched the crooked Lone Star cop in the throat and flexed my spurs for 250 nuyen. Nuff said. After the second time I spent a lot of time trying to remember why the first one was so hard. The third and fourth seemed a little harder than the first but by the six one, an orc racist that killed raped and killed elven females, things had changed. I remember watching his expression change while I wondered if 2k was really all the money I could get from a grieving father.

My head gets to heavy for my bioware enhanced muscles to hold up and it almost hits the asphalt. My horns stop my face from smacking the ground but not from smelling the fresh blood. What does blood, fresh hot blood leaking out of a body taking with it life smell like? Lick a piece of copper and iron and then stick your tongue on the backside of a pocket sec battery. That's what it smells like. The Guardian in my hand is a cold heavy thing now, sort of like the paperweight I have in my apartment downtown. Another perk from my lifestyle, illegal means money. Lots of money and as the numbers of the people I killed increased so did my fee. I actually started to consider myself a professional, like a doctor or a lawyer. The very best of my field.

I crawl over to the body and stare at the two large holes in the chest. Both in the heart, only two centimeters apart. Not a bad shot considering it was a small moving target in the rain. "Done by a real pro I wager," the Star cops will say when they get here. "Must have been a hired assassin." Note the word Assassin. Not killer, thug, joy slasher or a random act of violence, the true work of a professional.

I numbly watch as my right hand reaches into my pockets. Its looking for a medkit or a trauma patch but I know better. Those are for the living and no one lives after I shoot them. I almost laugh when the hand comes out with the two credsticks. The nickel-plated pistol bounces without a sound in the pouring rain as both of my hands take the credsticks and shove them into the wounds. Like corks in a bathtub. I can feel the heat of the blood as it oozes out of the wound and all over my hands. Not surprising considering that blood is almost 100 degrees at any one time in your body. Only this time, it feels like the heat of a person, the warm touch of a loved one or the passionate kiss of your very best girl.

I remember this one mark that was on his knees begging for his life. His family had been awoken by the sounds and had rushed to his side. They thought that their bodies and cry's could protect him. He offered me money, gold, a position at the Corp he worked for and then he tried to reason with me as one troll to another.

I plastered his brains all over his wife and two children and took a picture with my eyecam as proof for payment.

Jarring myself from the memory, I try to focus on the body to take the picture but the rain keeps getting in the eye. I clumsily wipe it clean but the water wells up into the eye again. No matter how I hold my head, I can seem to get the water out so I can focus. Is that salt I taste? Got to get the picture or I might not get paid. After all that's what's really important, isn't it? Getting paid, make the cred so I can spend it on more mods so I can do better and bigger kills, I mean that's what its all about, right?

I mean really, does it matter what you do for money? At least in my line of work? A bullet in the head from a mile or a foot a way, what's the difference? Suppose a J wants you to make it public so you blow up the house and everyone in it at the time to get the mark. Should I care about the other lives involved? If nothing else, I should get paid extra. Maybe something like a bonus or something like that.

The eyes rolled back down into the normal position of shock and look at me. They are the eyes of question, asking why me? What did I ever do to you? A look I have seen a hundred times before. In the end, it doesn't matter, cred is cred and I'm paid to do a job, not answer questions.

There was this one time when by pure luck, the mark bend over to tie his shoelaces just after I had squeezed the trigger. I had to chase him through several stores and apartment complexes before I finally cornered him. The only two shots he had left he wasted by shooting my in the chest. Everyone knows they call it Manning second chance body-armor because 8 out of 10 times the pro takes the head shot. It was like all the others, first the questions, than the promises and then finally the crying and begging. Why is it that everyone you have to kill now days always has a wife or husband and 4 kids? In all the people I have had to kill, no one ever seemed to be single. Except me.

I remember this one time when a Johnson wanted to met me in the restaurant in the top of the space needle. That was when I knew I had finally made it into the big leagues. I had reached that level that everyone in the shadows talks about where Johnsons ask you to do jobs instead of waiting for you to ask for it. I slid into the reinforced chair and adjusted my armored tux. The thin white elf in the 10k suit didn't even raise an eyebrow, either he was a pro like myself or all the plastic work I had done on my face and horns had paid off. Unlike every other Johnson I had ever met, he got right down to business with one simple question to start the conversation, "What do you do, Mr. Steel, for a living?"

I reached into the box of cigars and leaned back in the chair with one of the Cubans and lit it. I inhaled deeply and pondered on this question. Then, summoning all the metaphysical thinking I could muster from my college courses in psychology, philology and ethics I responded with this.

"The maker of widows and the creator of orphans, the crusher of dreams and slayer of hope, I am the slayer of my kin."

He had seemed impressed with my answer. He reached into his jacket and withdrew an envelope. He got up and placed it in front of me. "Within 48 hours, this person must die. I will need a picture of course." With that he left. I just sat there looking at the paper as the waiter brought me 3 large steaks. Not soy-steaks or filler but real honest to god real meat steaks. I ignored them and reach into the envelope and pull out a piece of paper and two cred sticks. Each stick had 100k each on it and the paper had a name and an address.

I changed clothes in the back of the Brumby and drove straight there. I screwed the silencer into the Savalette and stepped out into the rainy night. Despite what people think, I think rainy nights are the best nights to work. Helps wash away the blood, keeps thermals down and the moon never comes out then.

I probably didn't need to kill the doorman or the old ork sitting behind the desk who was the security guard. Lot of mess that could have been avoided but I was riding the high of the money. Then there was the two on the way up and the one in the hall when I got there. Can't let anyone see my face and live while on the job. The rating eight maglock pass key made short work of the keylock but the place was empty.

The mark's hands reach up and pull my bottom lip down, looking for the tusks I had removed a long time ago. The eyes look sad as the hand falls away. Once again, my limbs move on there own as they trigger my Super-Platinum service with the armed QRT option. I already know its too late and can't help but wonder why the mark is still breathing.

The mark's labored breathing, the rain and the little red light on my bracelet all move in sync together in a strange surreal moment. A bolt of lightning streaks across the sky, turning night into day. The following peel of thunder sets off several alarms up and down the street. People coming out to check on their most valuable of possessions are now starting to take notice of me. How little do they realize what is the most valuable of things.

So I find the place empty of people and could kill myself for being so unprofessional. I charged in here like some stupid cowboy amateur Mafia killer from Chicago. I ran back down the stairs and into the lobby. My palms were sweating and my armored vest felt like it weighs a million pounds. Lacking any better options and common sense, I charged out into the street heading for my truck.

Maybe it was luck, some people might call it karma but I think it was fate. Someone across the street yelled out my mark's name and tells her to get down. I pop that one in the head and the heart. The mark screams and starts running for a car.

For that one I knew I needed it so I triggered the new and improved smartlink and my vision shifted to the barrel. I squeezed off my last two rounds and started jogging over to the place where the body fell.

The body coughs up blood in fountain like spray that splashes over me. The eyes look at me and this is the final look they all give me. They are very cold because they have bled out and now they don't want to die alone. My body reaches out and pulls the mark close to my chest, covering it with the 2k Lined coat, trying to keep the rain out. My Zeiss cyber implanted hearing can hear the sounds of a large rotorcraft coming and the screams of Lone Star patrol vehicles drawing closer. I force my head downward and try to focus but at this point I think the eyecam is offline. Too much damn water and where the frag is this salt coming from?

Sometimes, like now, I wished I had never gotten the augmented hearing. At this range, I can hear each heartbeat. Each one as they grow weaker and weaker until finally, the very last thing that we all do before we check out of this life. The death rattle, the last breath of air.

Aim, pull the trigger and then collect the money. It's as simple as that. Free and clear without complications. Someone dies and I earn 400k. Enough money to upgrade my wires to the next level or that new brain booster biotech I keep hearing about. All that matters is the money . . .right?

Here real name was Samantha Ann Dean. She was pregnant and she was my sister.



>>>(Maybe I killed someone's sister and now it was my turn to know his or her pain. Karma is earned and spent and the wheel of fate keeps turning with or without me.)

-----Steel, troll assassin. The maker of widows and the creator of orphans, the crusher of dreams and slayer of hope, I am the slayer of my kin. (22:39:27/12-25-59)

©1998, Michael Dupler - used with permission