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the shady file I

the HITMAN and the REAPER


The fog was thicker on the new trail they had taken. The hitman followed his old friend’s lead and kept a close eye on the ground they tread. The last thing he wanted was to lead his mount off the edge of the trail.

“The second tale that was promised. Let’s have it,” the reaper said.

“The second tale… that would be my most disappointing kill. Coincidentally, it was around then that I first began to be visited by you,” the hitman said.

“Of course… My ravens,” the reaper said.

“Yes. They began showing up some time after this particular kill. There would always be one of them there, looking at me, observing me. I guess that’s when you noticed me?” the hitman asked.

“That is correct, child,” the reaper replied.

“I thought so. Well, the target was someone important. I don’t remember why exactly. He must have been a politician or something similar. My clients wanted him dead. And they wanted it done in the form of a public spectacle. They were rather unhappy with his behavior. He was blocking some permits of theirs I think. I’m not sure. It was something to that tune. But whatever he was doing was costing them a lot of money. And they hired me to solve this particular problem of theirs.”

“You had gained quite a reputation by then, had you not?” the reaper asked.

“I had. I had made significant progress since that first kill all those years ago. The clients who hired me were richer, and the targets they wanted dead were those who laid their claim to much larger pieces of the planet. This particular target laid claim to a large city full of skyscrapers. He was supposed to be a very brave man, the kind who valued justice and truth over their own life. They said that he had no fear. That much I remember clearly. He had been threatened, multiple times, by some of the most dangerous criminal organizations that operated in the city, but he hadn’t so much as flinched at the prospect of all the nasty things they wanted to do to him. He had persisted, and he had prevailed. He had put quite a few of them behind bars I think.”

“This target had also been through a few assassination attempts before I was hired. None had succeeded. The target’s security team was simply too competent. They were well trained, and they were a force to be reckoned with. The target also traveled in impenetrable hovercrafts, and the skyscraper he mostly worked out of was shielded as well. The target seldom took meetings anywhere else, and when he did, he traveled with a full security team, one that had everything on hand. Security drones. Robotic guard dogs. Top of the line android bodyguards. You name it. They had it. However, they too had a weakness.”

“The security team that was hired for the target belonged to a company that specialized in protection services. They were the best around. There was no doubt about it. However, a massive part of their budget was spent on the mercenaries they hired, along with the weapons and other toys they gave them; thereby leaving a lesser sum available for the security of their own internal electronic systems and networks. All I had to do to get into their systems was find the right group of hackers. It took them a few weeks, but in the end, they had infiltrated the company’s network and gained complete control of its communications and files. They put me on the list for one of the shifts that protected the target. And just like that, I was in.”

The hitman was about to continue when he noticed how much denser the fog ahead was. He cautiously followed the reaper into it. He could see nothing. The fog was too thick. He could hear the reaper’s panther walking next to his horse but his eyes couldn’t really find either of them. The only thing that they could make out from within the fog was the faint pink that emanated from the lights on the panther’s armor. Every now and then the hitman noticed a blue glow which he assumed came from the reaper’s scythe.

“Continue, dear assassin. And keep doing what you’re doing. Keep guiding your mount by listening to my creature’s footsteps,” the reaper said, from within the fog.

“Very well,” the hitman said. “Getting in was one part of the equation. Taking down an entire security unit was another. I took my time once the shift started. The hackers had put me in the communications room, and from there I had the opportunity to monitor everything. I made a note of the patrol sizes and patterns, and mapped the closest drone or guard dog to each of them. When the time was right, and various teams had relaxed enough because they’d started to think that they were going to make it through the night, I signaled my hackers. Thus began the first phase of our attack. The hackers shut off all communications and took over the drones and the dogs. Once that was done, they got each drone and each dog to attack the patrols nearest to them. Chaos ensued. And within that chaos began the second phase of our attack.”

“I took out everybody in the security room first. It wasn’t a fair fight. They were all too busy trying to fix what the hackers had broken. They didn’t even notice that I had pulled out my guns. All four of them hit the ground before they could even register the first shot I fired. I worked through each floor of the building after that. Most of the patrols were busy trying to take down a drone or a guard dog. All I had to do was sneak up on them and kill them. The android bodyguards were the real challenge. I found them right outside the room the target was in. I threw every drone and dog I had left at them but it still ended up being one hell of a firefight. There were five androids in all. The drones and dogs managed to take down two of them on their own. I managed to headshot two more while their fight ensued, which left one android standing.”

“It stayed behind cover initially, taking shots at me whenever possible. I did the same. But we began trying to flank each other after a while. And I must admit that it was better at it. It was much more agile than me. And it moved with a speed that I could not match. It was also able to calculate each and every possibility that resulted from every move it made, and much faster than me no less. I was no match for it. The android, however, did not have the instinct I did. I stopped trying to outdo it. I stopped trying to think of the flanking game we were playing as if it were a chess match. I simply reacted instead. I began taking potshots at it whenever I could, as unpredictably as possible, thereby throwing it off its game for a few seconds. And I suddenly turned around and ran at it with my plasma knife when it least expected me to. It shot at me, just as I expected, but my shield absorbed the blows. I lunged at it when I was close enough, and used the knife to sever its main shooting hand. It immediately tried to compensate and use its other hand, but I was back in cover by then. I went back to taking potshots at it, but this time, I did so with complete predictability. And then, once it had learnt my patterns, I continued shooting at it until my guns were exhausted, after which I dumped them and ran at it again, all of a sudden, just after it had flanked me and ducked into cover. And I did so because it expected me to shoot at it instead. The android was no slouch. It got up almost instantly and shot at me, but I was close enough for another lunge by then. I used my knife again, and took off its other hand. This time, however, I didn’t run back into cover. I began circling it instead.”

“Even without hands, the android was a fearsome foe. It attacked me with its legs, in rapid strikes which were rather hard to dodge. A few of them grazed me. One, however, connected with my left shoulder. I still remember the pain I felt, and the loud, crunchy sound my bones made as they broke. I did everything I could to remain standing. I continued circling the android, staying as far away from it as was possible, until it began its second assault on me. This time around I didn’t give it an opportunity to hurt me. I dodged the first few blows, and ducked into the first dark spot I found. I moved through the shadows until I found a pillar I could climb onto. The android found a spot where it could not be easily lunged at from the darkness and began scanning the room. It was only a matter of time before it would look up. I stuck a remotely operated flashbang grenade on the pillar and then climbed the ledge right above it… which was really hard to do with just one functional arm by the way. I began to move, ensuring that I stayed ahead of the android’s scan. I got close enough to take one final lunge at the android, just as its scan was about to reach the area I was hiding in. I didn’t think. I didn’t hesitate. I simply took a deep breath, triggered the grenade and jumped towards the android with my knife. The grenade went off, and the android was distracted for long enough to not notice me descending on it. My knife tore the android into two – from head to foot – as I landed. And with that, the target was all mine.”

The fog began to thin and the lights on the panther’s armor got brighter with each passing second. Eventually, the hitman was once again able to see the reaper riding next to him. The hitman watched the reaper’s wings for a few seconds, marveling at the manner in which their gentle flapping parted the fog. The hitman suddenly realized that the brief blue flashes he had seen in the fog earlier were the reaper’s wing tips, and not his scythe.

“Let’s turn here, child,” the reaper said, snapping the hitman out of his thoughts, as he led them higher into the mountain.

“So… one door was all that separated me and the target,” the hitman began, once they had ventured into the new trail the reaper had picked. “I was expecting resistance. I knew that the target had a gun. And so, I entered the room cautiously. But no shots were fired at me. There was no sudden attack. The target simply stood there instead, behind his desk, gun in hand, crying and shivering. He dropped the gun as soon as I left my cover and began to close in on him. He was on his knees by the time I was close enough, begging me to spare his life, promising to do anything I asked of him.”

“And is that what made it your most disappointing mission?” the reaper asked.

“Yes! I thought I was hunting a lion, but it turned out to be a scared little kitten instead. The target was only pretending to be brave because of the impenetrable protection he thought he had. He was nothing without them. Just another cog in the wheel, another quivering bag of meat and bones that had no defining characteristics that made it stand out from the rest. My act of tearing through his security detail broke him. He knew that there was no way out. He couldn’t contact anybody. My hackers had killed all communications. And so he showed me his true colors. I thought it was an act at first. But his eyes made it clear that it wasn’t. I saw fear in them. I saw cowardice. I saw his truth. And it disappointed me. I don’t know why it did, but it did. I suspect it was because it made him feel unworthy of all the effort I had put in to get to him. I felt like I had shattered my shoulder for nothing. Mowing down the security team had made me feel like I had accomplished something great. But the target’s behavior had spoilt the taste of that hard earned victory.”

“And what did you do with the unworthy human?” the reaper asked, after the hitman remained silent for a few seconds.

“The target owned a few of the top floors of the skyscraper we were in. And they all had sonic shielding. So nobody had heard our firefight. The drones outside the building had shattered some of its exterior. However, the skyscraper was built with such precautions in mind, and thus, every falling glass shard had been caught by the vacuum tubes on the lower floors. The outside world was, therefore, none the wiser to the target’s current predicament. And that meant that I had some time with him.”

“I dragged him to the roof of the building after torturing him for a while. He was still alive but there wasn’t much left of him by the time we were out in the open. His nails and teeth had been broken and pulled, and both his eyes had knives in them – not far enough in to kill him, but just enough to hurt like hell. Most of his bones had been broken, and the ones that remained were, at the very least, sprained, and in as much pain as the rest of his body. I tied a neon rope to one of the railings on the roof. The noose on its other end went around the target’s neck. He continued to beg for his life, despite the pain he was in. Come to think of it, I don’t think he had stopped his begging at any point that entire night... Pitiful...”

“Anyway, the rope was long enough to send the target more than halfway down the building, just far enough for everybody on the street to be able to notice the fate he’d been served. I tightened the noose, and then threw the target over the roof. He hung there for the rest of the night. A hovercraft came by to pick me up. By then, the hackers had deleted whatever records they had inserted of me from the company’s files. They had also deleted every trace of me from the skyscraper’s cameras. And so, all I left behind in that skyscraper were multiple piles of dead bodies.”

The reaper remained silent. The hitman wondered if his old friend was mulling over everything he’d told him.

“What’s this? Did we take a wrong turn?” the hitman asked, as the trail ended, and a vertical wall of trees and stone faced them.

“No child. We did not. Surely your mount has climbing hooks somewhere in that armor?” the reaper said.

“It does.”

“Well then, dear assassin. What are we waiting for? Up we go.”

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