IronFires t1_itj642o wrote

"How do you do it, Eldirn?" Sommelson set a frosty mug of beer before me. "Just whisper it to me. I swear I won't tell any of this lot!" he gestured to the others around the table. Laughter and smiles, and a few shaking heads. It was a friendly group, for the most part, and the mood was light. I hadn't planned to spend the night among friends, but I'd unexpectedly closed my 500th contract earlier in the day, and tradition demanded the occasion be marked by copious drinking.

They were an eclectic bunch, a nearly random cross section of the Fed. In the old days, most of these folks wouldn't have been caught breathing in a room with one another. But since the formation of the Federated Guilds of Assassins and Hit Persons (aka the Fed), all sorts of Life Termination Workers were protected by the rules of mutual non-engagement. Now we were free to gather safely, taking turns buying rounds and sharing those bizarre on-the-job stories that only other contract killers could appreciate.

"Come on Eldirn, you're going to have to give it up at some point." Jones was always quick to join in on the nagging. He was a longstanding proponent of the old "Method Guilds", in which assassins formed associations based on their professional modus operandi. Most of the Method Guilds had died out after the formation of the Fed. People still had their preferred methods (Jones was a devout garrotist), but most preferred having a diverse set of tools at their disposal. "It's just so... unnatural" Jones went on. "I don't think it's right to close a contract when your target isn't even on the same continent as you. It's all so... So spooky. Every time you put your name on a contract, it's the same story. You hang around the pub, chit chatting for a few days and suddenly the bloke drops dead from a heart attack, or dies in a train wreck or chokes to death on his lunch. The least you can do is tell us how you make it happen. We're all professionals here - we'll understand."

I smiled at Jones. "Maybe you would, Jonesy. Maybe you would. Or maybe you'd brand me a witch and burn me at the stake." Sommelson nodded in agreement. "No, I think I'm going to keep this to myself for now. Maybe... Maybe when I hit one thousand I'll retire and let you all in on my secret." No one had ever hit a thousand.

"I'm just saying..." Jones went on "If I didn't know you so well I'd say it smacks of subcontracting." An imperceptible hush fell over the table.

Slowly, I set down my beer. "Jonesy, you know I have nothing but the highest respect for your work. Truly. There is no purer way to take a life than with your own two hands. But that's not how I work. I know my contract closures are... unconventional. But you must admit, even subcontracting couldn't explain it. My closure rate is 100%. Even you don't have a closure rate that high, and there is no way I could maintain a perfect closure rate if I were working with subs."

Jones breathed in deeply, held it for a moment, and blew out an exasperated sigh. He smiled. "You're right. I can't argue with that. But I still want to know."

"Tell you what Jonesy, I'll make you a promise. One day I'll tell you. When I'm on my deathbed. Or when you're on yours, whichever comes first - I'll be there and I'll tell you the truth."

"Sure, Eldirn. When we're old and gray." Jones drained his beer, pushed back his chair and stood up. "Alright, next round's on me. Who's empty?"

I chuckled to myself as I walked back to my flat. It had been a good night, and they were good friends. Even Jones. After all, he was right to be suspicious. My methods really weren't what Jones would call "natural."

I arrived home shortly before dawn. In the corner, beside my desk hung a long black cloak. A soft glow emanated from beneath the it. I picked up the cloak and slung it over the back of my chair, as my scythe bathed the room in a pulsing blue light. The week's reaping assignments had dropped. Time to get to work.

As the sun rose outside, I pored through the open contract catalog, meticulously cross referencing the list of reaping assignments. Jonesy might prefer working with his hands, and that was something I could respect. But I was a man, if you can consider me a man, of data and probability. Sure enough, the odds were on my side. An open contract for one Roger Stentov, age 46, called for termination within five business days. Unfortunately for Mr. Stentov, and fortunately for me, he was scheduled for reaping in just two days time. An unfortunate consequence of shoddy wiring and too many grow lamps. Who says you can't kill two birds with one stone. Give me the right data sets and I'll get the whole flock with one rock.