Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Down Range: Pt 1

I decided to stretch the scope of this blog a bit and post  a little of my fiction. First up is a two part story that exposes the universe to Quint Grousch, Interstellar Hit-man
Down Range  Pt 1

I looked through the ‘scope of the sniper rifle and sighted in on the target. The wind hadn’t shifted any, which was important to me at the moment. From this distance, fifteen-hundred meters away from the target, even a kilometer shift in the wind-speed or a degree or two of direction could mean a difference of decimeters or even a full meter downrange. 
In my ear, I heard my assistant Aldo trying to tell me something. "Quint, Quint, Don’t take the shot. Warlord Knar’sh isn’t the man responsible for the attack on the refugee camps!" Knarsh stood at a podium on the steps of the Justice Building, several of his ministers standing behind him. It was kind of poetic, in a morbid sort of fashion, that he’d chosen the planet’s highest court building to hold his speech at. Someone else had already judged him as guilty, and paid me to be the executioner. I didn’t usually get philosophical while on the job, but sometimes karma was a bitch, you know?

"Quiet, Aldo. I’m working here."

"But Quint, it’s not the Warlord. He’s actually supplying the camps with medical supplies and foodstuffs. You can’t shoot him!"

Aldo really could be an annoying little prick when I let him get away with it. It almost pained me to keep him as an assistant. Almost. However, he was good at what he did for me, which was gather intelligence and provide logistical support when I was out in the field.

"Quint, Minister Mumbutu’ril’s the one behind the attacks. He wants to stage a coup d'état and overthrow the Warlord."

I ignored Aldo’s pleading and looked through the scope again, frowning. I didn’t like what I saw and I adjusted my aim. I let my finger find the trigger on its own accord.

"Quint what are you doing? Don’t shoot!" He practically screamed into my ear. I thought about shutting off the ear piece, but decided against it. I’d learned to work through worse distractions.

"Aldo, I’m doing my job. I was paid to assassinate the Butcher of Stromitz, that’s what I’m going to do. It’s called being a professional."

My finger caressed the trigger slowly and without hurry, like the two were new lovers discovering each other for the first time. The finger touched the trigger, touched it, and tightened smoothly…

I didn’t maintain a regular office or keep set business hours. My office tended to be wherever my communicator happened to lie at the moment it went off, whichever planet or station I happened to be on at the time. My line of work tended to keep me on the move anyway, so I never bothered to hang up a sign with my name and occupation on it: Quint Grousch – Interstellar Hit Man. Doing that would be a surefire way to ensure I had a short career that ended in a prison cell somewhere. Anonymity was a business policy of mine. My name- one of them anyway- was known in certain circles and I attracted a certain clientele with it. It wasn’t a name tied to any of my credit accounts or travel documents. It was easier and safer that way.

Business was brisk and I was having trouble staying on top of my work and keeping up with all the arrangements I needed to make. So I hired Aldo as an assistant.

When it came to Aldo arranging my travels and handling my credit accounts, it was a matter of trust- I trusted him not to screw up or screw me over, and in turn he trusted me not to kill him for any ‘mistake’ he might make. To that end, I’d had a device implanted into Aldo that would allow me to send a coded signal to the device and set it off should Aldo forget himself. As long as he didn’t push my wrong buttons, I wouldn’t push his. Aldo saw eye to eye with me right away. It may sound callous and cruel to you, but I looked at it as an insurance policy. In a perverse kind of way, I think Aldo saw it that way as well.

Aldo had actually heard of me, professionally, which helped the two of us understand each other. "Is it true you started the war between the Zouks and the Tressians? That the Zouks hired you to kill the Tressian Prime Minister?" He asked one day not long after starting to work for me.

"That’s right," I admitted nonchalantly. I didn’t ever brag about my work- mine was a field where your work spoke for you. I didn’t usually talk about my past jobs, but Aldo had caught me on a day when I was feeling relaxed and pleasantly pleased with the world around me. "I actually book-ended that war."

"What do you mean?" he asked me.

"The Zouks asked me to make it evident that they were behind the shooting, which I did. Near the end of the war, the Tressian High Council hired me to assassinate the Zouk dictator, which I also did. That brought the war to a rapid close." Yes, I’d worked for both sides. Wasn’t the first time it had happened either. Personal politics were a liability in this field. I left mine at home whenever I left for an assignment. It was baggage I didn’t need to cart around with me. And, try as you might, it never fit into the overhead bin on a passenger ship.

"Wow," he said, with a newly found measure of admiration in his eyes. "You’re a legend for that, you know?"

I usually ignored that kind of talk when it was associated with my name. Sure, I’d been in this business for close to three decades now, and I’d completed my share of fantastic jobs, but again, I didn’t brag about it. It went back to that business policy of mine: anonymity. The less attention I attracted to myself, the longer I expected to survive in this field, and hopefully retire.

"Not really," I told him, and I could see disappointment replacing the admiration in his eyes, like beach sand eroding one grain at a time into the ocean waves. "Aldo, I show up on time, do my work, and leave again. It’s like any regular job. I’m no different than Joe Shlub the factory worker, except I don’t punch in and out on a time clock."

"No, you punch other peoples’ clocks for them," he quipped. I couldn’t say I liked the style of gallows humor he obviously thought he imparted in such a statement, and told him so.

I tried to keep myself detached from my work, a sterile, clinical environment. I didn’t kill ‘people’, I completed assignments. The beings who came into the cross-hairs of my ‘scope weren’t people, but targets. Keeping things distant and detached from emotion or feeling kept me sane. If I allowed myself to think about what I really did, I’d go crazy.

I didn’t do it for the money; not anymore anyway. My fees were quite high and I’d banked so many credits now I could retire today and live out the rest of my natural life comfortably, even if I lived to be two hundred years old. I didn’t stop though, because I took pride in my work. I was good at it.

That’s not to say the odd job didn’t bother me in the quiet moments before I fell asleep at night, but I’d learned to deal with those moments; few and far between though they were.

Aldo came to understand a few things about me after having worked for me for a period of time. He called them the ‘bullet points’ of my personality. It was more of his gallows humor; and I could have done without it; but I did have to admit, it was kind of a catchy title.

Point number one: I wasn’t a good guy or a bad guy; I was just doing a job that needed to be done, and getting paid for it. Paid very well- after all, he knew my finances almost as well as I did. At the end of the day, I had bills to pay like any other sentient being in the universe.

Point number two: I believed in clean kills designed to dispatch the target and minimize the amount of collateral damage done to those around the assignment. I didn’t blow up buildings or take down space-planes full of innocent passengers to get the one paid-for target hiding among them. I was a paid assassin, not an in-discriminant terrorist.

I hated to admit it, but he’d correctly and astutely distilled my philosophy down to those two points. Those 
two lines of personal policy were how I had lived my life and got on with my job, no two ways about it. I gave him credit for that one. 

End Part 1. Part  2 is available here.

1 comment:

  1. Oh wow! This is gripping stuff! Your MC has a great voice, I loved the ingenuity around this sentence "I told him, and I could see disappointment replacing the admiration in his eyes, like beach sand eroding one grain at a time into the ocean waves."

    I'll try and catch the next installment but that'll prob be on Sunday! Keep up the good work. :)