I’ve watched enough people die to become numb to it. That’s the trick you just have to stay detached, stay distant. If it’s an enemy you pull the trigger, double tap to be sure, and move on, don’t give it a second thought and certainly don’t think of them as anything more than an enemy, they’re not a living breathing person with a family and ambition, they’re an obstacle. If it’s a friend, well spend long enough in this business and you know it’s not good to get attached. Our timers all hit zero eventually, and a merc’s on a much shorter countdown than a citizen. I suppose that was my biggest mistake.
My first kill was hard, guy was little more than a kid, but then so was I. It wasn’t planned, no-one was meant to get hurt, but you know how plans go, that old saying ‘the best laid schemes of mice and men’ or whatever, well it turns out it’s true. I knew that I couldn’t hesitate; I shot him in the neck, not my finest work, left quite a mess. The point is though that as I pulled the trigger time slowed almost to a stop, I became aware of my heartbeat, of this guys burning desire to live, and then he exploded like a celebration of gore. That doesn’t happen anymore, no slow down, barely even any conscious awareness, that’s the only way you can last this long.
With her though that slow down happened again, first time in eight years, then again I had let myself get attached. I still remember it like it just happened, thanks to this Oracle chip I always will, replaying it in my head over and over like a bad movie. Painful to watch but you just can’t pull yourself away. We were in Shanghai celebrating another successful job, I’d got us booked into a suite at the Warden and she was stood on the balcony looking out over the black neon city. And then she had a gun to her head. I froze, I tried to call out but looking back there wasn’t even time for the words to reach my lips. I saw her finger move on the trigger, heard the click of the canister engaging, knew at that point that she was about to die, and there was no time to stop her, to save her. A crimson spray splashed across the sun bleached tiles and she collapsed into it, her dress melding with the blood in a sea of red. Her engagement ring clinked against the hard floor in protest as her hand limply met ground.
I didn’t want to move, to leave her side, I wanted to stay there with her forever, but I knew the shot would have been heard, and that would bring corps and questions, so I kissed her still warm forehead, gently slid the ring off her finger and put it on my own, took a deep breath, grabbed my jacket and hardware and calmly made for the exit.
That was three months ago, I suppose I could delete it, but I don’t want to forget. Things haven’t gone great since then, but how could they. The memories haunt me, awake, asleep, it’s all I see. Some days I want to join her, but I settle for getting drunk and fucking the nearest whore. Can’t even afford high class anymore, haven’t taken a job since it happened, so I settle for street walkers and cheap spirits.
This one girl got surprisingly into it for how little I was paying, wanted to go on top. She was screaming and moaning but I barely heard her, couldn’t take my eyes off my reflection in the mirrored ceiling. This hourly rate dive couldn’t afford to even be plugged in but it had fucking mirrors on the ceiling. I traced the scar across my cheek, I was a good looking guy once, wouldn’t of got any modelling jobs but not bad by New London standards. That particular scar was from a laser burn, it was nothing on the ones on my back though. Alyx never minded, she said each one told a story, and she had her fair share of stories too. I came. The surge jerked me back into reality just in time to witness the hooker fake an orgasm admirably and dismount. She wiped herself off, threw what few clothes she had on and left without a word. People weren’t much for manners in the warren. I didn’t even bother getting up, just lit a smoke, lay back and drifted away into a haze.
Woke up from the only dream I ever have to the sound of someone laying in to the door, so I put them out of their misery and opened it. The old me would have been more careful than that, especially since I wasn’t expecting anyone, now though I struggled to care. The guy on the other side wore an immaculate suit laced with nano-weave, he had slicked back hair and looked every bit the corporate stooge. He also looked like he’d seen combat, tell tale signs like the surgeon steady hands of a sniper and the way he eyed me, evaluating me just like I was evaluating him, not to mention the military grade aug I caught a glimpse of under his sleeve, couldn’t tell exactly what it was but citizens don’t get hardware like that installed and he sure didn’t look like an exotic whore. Probably some high-ups personal assistant come bodyguard, a lot of ex military and merc’s took that path, good money in it and for the most part a lot less risk.
“You Rayse?” he asked, staring me down.
“You know I am, not sure why you’re here but I’d wager you’ve got my imprint and everything else about me burned into your skull.”
“Boss wants to talk to you, got a job offer.”
The guy grinned with malice, like he was looking for a fight. You can take the soldier out of the war and all that. “Wasn’t a request, you don’t got to take the job but you got to hear him out.”
I didn’t bait him, I was in no condition to fight, so instead I nodded and started down the corridor, while the suit stayed a couple of paces behind me, just in case I changed my mind.
“Shuttles out front” he barked as we reached the decrepit lobby. He needn’t have bothered, it was visible through the doors and was the only one on the whole street. Most people know that if you leave a vehicle around here it’s likely to get torched or taken, then again he didn’t look like the sort of guy who spent much time in this part of town, not these days anyway, looked like he’d be more at home in some high rise suite across the river. I grinned as I saw what had been seared into the side of the otherwise immaculate bodywork- ‘cancer tool’, crude, but could have been a lot worse.
“Shit” he snarled as I stepped aside so he could admire it for himself, “fucking plague rats.”
“You’re in the warren, no-one brings anything valuable here. “
He grinned again “Fuck it, I’m covered. Get in...you’d better be worth this shit.” He made a small gesture with his hand and the shuttles side panel slipped away, taking the street poetry with it. I climbed in and the panel slid back into place, “where are we going?” I asked.