Authors: Art Gulley Jr.
The Road to Redemption
Art Gulley Jr.
Copyright 2013 by Art Gulley Jr.
All rights reserved.
All characters in this story are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, dead or alive, is purely coincidental or a necessitated glitch implemented by the United Systems Defense Corp.
Have you ever had one of those days where nothing goes right; when all of your careful planning goes right out the proverbial window? If you haven't, congratulations on being a favorite of some divine deity. If you have then you can totally relate to my current state of frustration!
I mean one minute I'm carrying out what should have been a relatively easy Sanction, and the next thing you know I'm caught up in a deadly game of Inter-galactic espionage
followed by a momentous life-changing event!
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start this tale from the beginning shall we?
My name is Artemis Slade; Art for short. For the last several years I've been a top operative in the United Systems Defense Corp's Sanction Group, which is just a fancy way of saying I'm a government assassin.
Now I now what some of you morally self-righteous types are thinking right about now, but you're wrong: I'm not some heartless monster running around killing helpless beings just to get a rush
; although I have to admit some of my colleagues have gone that route. The life of a Sanctioner can be pretty brutal on the psyche if you're not properly grounded, and there are some experts who argue that a fraternity as dark and gritty as Sanction Group has no place in today's civilized society.
The truth of the matter is that there's a war going on in the universe between the forces of good and evil. We Sanctioners do what we can to keep the majority of it from spilling over into your orderly, law-abiding-citizen living rooms; at least that's the rationale they drilled into us during Basic Training. I personally enjoy my job because it lets me eradicate a bunch a sadistic bastards, and the pay is good
; real good! Hey, a boy's gotta eat, right?
But getting back to the story: As I mentioned before, the majority of my targets are criminal or political miscreants who do nothing but stir up constant trouble throughout the Systems, but occasionally Command sends me after an ordinary citizen who's either crossed somebody's sacred line or stepped on someone's fragile toes. I rarely trouble myself with the details of such cases. I simply turn
‘em cold then hit the road; a habit that's allowed me to keep my sanity and, more importantly, my skin intact.
All of that changed when I received the order to Sanctio
n Veronika Kyle; founder and CEO of Redemption Software.
Apparently this little corporate doll had incurred the disfavor of Josef Adams, the Pem System's Senior Councilor and one of two people in the universe I considered a true friend.
The fact that Josef's signature was on the order came as an extreme shock to me. The Councilor was a devout pacifist who strongly opposed the lethal aspects of my profession. Many were the lectures he'd given me on the subject, and many were the naps I'd taken during those treasured moments of male bonding. This sudden reversal on his part left me curious.
I entered the proper code on my secure terminal, pulled up Kyle's file, and whistled in appreciation as her image came into view. Unlike the normal misshapen cretins that normally graced my screen this woman was a looker; a bit mature for my taste but attractive none the less.
A cursory scan through the data revealed no aberrant deeds or tendencies, nor was there any corporate anti-matter attributed to Redemption. What could Kyle have possibly done to incur the Councilor's wrath? Needless to say, my curiosity was peaked even further.
Ignoring my own rule of non-involvement, I activated the holo-phone and put in a call to Josef.
"Councilor Adams's office," droned the bland voice of Josef's aide Calli; a smile replacing the look of bored indifference on his digitally projected image when he recognized me. "Art! What's going on, bud?"
I returned his smile. "Nothing much, Calli." Calli, short for Callisonder, was the second name on my 'friend' short-list; his practical and humorous take on this convoluted situation we call life often providing me a much needed respite from the mental malaise brought on by th
e darker aspects of my profession. "How're Mari and my god-son?"
Calli laughed. "Those two! Little Cal is determined to turn me into his personal punching bag to practice those fancy moves you've been teaching him, and Mari's got the whole house cluttered with Galax Beauty products for their upcoming 'Spring Fling' promotion. It's enough to drive a saint to evil!"
"And you're loving every minute of it!"
"You know it," Calli said with a chuckle. "Which reminds me; Mari's got a bunch of new skin creams for you to try."
My eyebrows arched with question. "Skin creams?"
Calli gave me a conspiratorial wink. "Yeah, they're to help filter out UV rays. You asteroid miners have to protect yourselves while you're out there floating about the cosmos."
I rolled my eyes in exasperation. "One of these days you're going to have to tell her the truth about what I do for a living, Cal."
"No can do, Art. Marie's got this hang-up about me associating with hardcore assassin types. She's afraid I might get some ideas and put them to use against my irritating in-laws."
I cocked a suspicious eyebrow. "And would you?"
"Oh hell yeah," he cried, and I burst out laughing.
"You, my friend are a lunatic!"
Calli shrugged. "So I've been told. Now what can this lunatic do for you today?"
"Is the old man available?"
"Nah, he's in Session. I doubt if he'll be back in the office before three. Is there something I can help you with?"
"Probably," I said. Calli had been Josef's aide for the past seventeen years, and often knew more about the Councilor's business than Adams did himself. "I was looking for a little background data on the Kyle assignment."
Calli's eyes widened with surprise. "Are you now? And what, may I ask, prompted this sudden break from your normal, no-questions-asked policy."
"The fact that Josef's seal is on the order."
Calli's lips twisted into a sardonic grin. "Yeah, that one threw me for a loop, too."
"Any ideas on what's behind it?"
Calli sighed. "Nope; I questioned the old man about it when he pushed the order through but he was very vague on the details."
"Really," I muttered, thoughtfully stroking my chin as I refocused my attention on Kyle's image.
"I will tell you this, though," Calli said, a frown creasing his brow. "Whatever this cutie did must've upset the old man pretty much. He had me get a hold of Sanction Group's Commander Gristal and specifically request you for this one."
I blinked in surprise. "Why me?"
"In his own words," Calli's voice dropped into a fair imitation of the Councilor's. "I want the Corp's most capable Sanctioner to dispose of this quarrelsome indigent."
Calli's disclosure caused a tendril of foreboding to worm its way into my mind. "Well that's a first. I don't know if I should be flattered or worried."
Calli released a snort. "Probably both." His eyes shifted to his left as a light on the com-board started flashing. "Oops. Gotta go, Art; priority call coming in from Councilor Maliff's office and you know how impatient Chavians can be. Talk to you later!"
Calli's image faded, and I sat in front of the blank screen for a moment pondering the data, or lack of, I'd just received: Josef doing a complete 180 on his Sanction views then specifically requesting me to be the lethal instrument of his new-found perspective?
None of it made any sense; including the fact that I'd allowed my self to travel this far down inquisition road. Mystery not withstanding, Veronika Kyle was scheduled to be Sanctioned. My opinions on the validity of the order didn't matter.
Having sternly reprimanded myself, I returned my attention to the data on my screen to begin planning for this assignment.
Preliminary research suggested sanctioning Kyle at her home, a secluded bungalow in the city of Restan on the planet Mylan.
"And they actually pay these idiots," I said releasing a snort of derision for the terminal jockeys who had authored this report.
In the Sanction business, house-calls were generally not a good idea. You had to factor in to many variables. Unexpected visitors, high-tech security systems, neighborhood watch groups, and don't even get me started on those annoying family pets!
That's just too much stress for a body to handle!
In my opinion, the target's place of employment is the prime choice for a termination. In Kyle's case that would be Redemption's development offices in the Geraint Tower, a three hundred story mega-plaza located in the heart of Kestan's corporate sector.
Giving Kyle's holo a final glance, I got on the com and began making my travel preparations, after which I gathered my gear and headed for the spaceport.
The shuttle flight to Mylan was pretty dull, with the exception of the cozy quickie I enjoyed with one of the flight attendants in the aft pantry.
It's a universal truth that one of the best ways for a young, hot-blooded male to pass the time is in the company of a good-looking, sexually inclined woman. Needless to say by the time the shuttle landed I was chilled, thrilled, and ready to kill, which I nearly had to do soon after we disembarked.
Apparently one of the pilots had a bit of a crush on my freaky flight attendant and had taken umbrage to our moment of interstellar camaraderie. The poor sop even had the nerve to follow me off the shuttle, through the terminal, and into the bathroom where he promptly attacked me; if that's what you want to call his pathetic display of pugilistic ineptness.
Normally such an affront to my personage would've resulted in one of my blades across his carotid artery, but seeing as how his actions were fueled by love I decided to give him a break. Actually I gave him two before leaving him crumpled on the tile floor, writhing in pain. I experienced a brief stab of pity for the lovelorn fool but it quickly passed. After all he had attacked me.
Besides I was sure that with plenty of rest, and several months of intensive physical therapy, he would regain full use of his right arm; at least I hoped he would. Shuttle Piloting was an exacting profession requiring good, manual dexterity. I'd feel pretty bad if I had just ended the poor sod's career.
Then again, being a pilot also required a high degree of self-control in order to deal with the countless perils of space travel. Perhaps removing this impulsive romantic from such a critical position would be doing the universe a favor. I guess only time would tell.
Giving his whimpering form a final glance, I quickly grabbed my bags and exited the men's room. Since I wasn't on a tight schedule I decided to check out the terminal's elaborately stocked gift shop. There were actually several items of interest I considered purchasing but a sudden rush of yellow-suited security guards thundering through the corridors prompted me to make a hasty retreat.
I was pretty sure they were looking for the individual who'd left that mess in the restroom, and I was in no mood for any authoritative buffoonery. My Corp credentials would have easily silenced any official rhetoric but why go through the hassle?
I kept my back turned as they sped by then casually strolled up the corridor and through the terminal's main entrance where I quickly hailed an auto-cab. The garish green vehicle glided up to my position seconds before the red-light-flashing, siren-wailing, med-drones, and I quickly hopped in.
I punched my hotel's address on the auto-cab's nav-board then relaxed into my seat as we drifted away from the terminal's main concourse and merged smoothly with the skyway's oncoming traffic.
As planets go, Mylan was a fairly nice one. Yearly temps in the mid seventies, good food, and a ridiculously ample supply of beautiful women; all the things that made a body feel good!
If time permitted, I'd hang around for a few days and treat myself to an impromptu holiday on the Corp's expense
, but first things first.
A good Sanctioner always adheres to the five P's of success: Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance, so my first task after checking into my hotel was paying a visit to the Architectural Commissions Building where I obtained a detailed schematic of Geraint's superstructure from the ditzy red-skinned Kalian female who ran the records department. It's amazing what a warm smile and subtle massaging of a few protruding spine ridges will get you.
According to the schem, Kyle's office was on the plaza's two hundred, sixty-fourth floor which pretty much nixed my idea of a simple fly-by-frying. The winds at that altitude would rip a jet-suited body to shreds.
A skimmer would've worked but local zoning laws forbade unauthorized crafts within a quarter mile of the plaza's airspace, and there was NO getting around that one.
A bomb in her hover car would've also done the trick, but Adams wanted physical proof of Kyle's demise; namely a body so disintegrations were out. That left me just one option: The face-to-face approach.
I checked my wrist-chrono which I had set to Mylanian time while on the shuttle. It was a little after four p.m. which meant that Geraint's normal business day would soon be ending. I decided to relax for the evening. I'd take in some of the sights then turn in early so I'd be primed and ready for Miss Kyle in the morning.
After enjoying the local fair around Restan's ritzy corporate sector, I began making my way back to my hotel which was located in a suburb on the outskirts of the city proper.
It was interesting to watch the cityscape
gradual change from manicured parkways and pristine super-structures into the drab array of mix-matched buildings and crowded streets that were a recurring urban theme on every planet throughout the Districts.
While on assignment a Sanctioner's budget is virtually limitless and most of my colleagues take advantage of the situation by seeking out the most luxurious accommodations of wherever they happened to be. To me, languishing in such trappings was a mistake. A constant sense of paranoia keeps you on your toes, and living it up at the local six-star hotels just doesn't fit the bill. Besides, it's good to acclimate yourself into the common population centers that you may be forced to disappear into should your assignment go astray.
I arrived back at my hotel shortly before sundown and rode the lift up to my ninth floor room. After grabbing a quick shower, I changed out of the utilitarian jumpsuit I'd worn on the shuttle and donned the colorful tunic and loose fitted shorts I'd purchased that afternoon in the hotel's well stocked boutique.
A couple of minutes with a comb and a tube of styling gel did wonders for my hair, and a few pieces of garish jewelry added the final touch. I slipped the soft tan leather loafers over the flesh tone socks also purchased that afternoon, belted on my waist pouch and made my way to the elevator.
When I emerged in the hotel lobby a few minutes later I was no longer Artemis Slade, Sanctioner Extraordinaire. I was John Average, wide-eyed tourist on the prowl.
The handful of brochures I grabbed from the concierge station completed my camouflage as I made my way through the lobby's main entrance onto
the teeming streets.
Having visited numerous worlds and partaken of various cultural activities I've become accustomed to the wide variety of galactic nightlife, and the area I was in totally lived up to the US norm. There were carnivals, street vendors, live and holographic theaters, robot acrobats, and a seemingly endless number of restaurants, café's, and eateries.
Being the culinary adventurer that I am, I sampled a healthy smattering of different dishes. Most were pretty good, particularly the barbecued milakovin sandwich I secured from a quaint little grill. I never did fully understand what part of the milakovin, which was Mylan's version of an Old-Earth cow, the fillets I was eating were carved from but I have to admit they were quite tender and tasty.
As I stood at the counter greedily stuffing my face, I took notice of the five young toughs making their way up the Food Court's causeway. The matching array of patterns and symbols that adorned their jackets marked them as one of the local gangs out for an evening stroll. The varying degrees of deference they were paid by every merchant they encountered, coupled with the hasty retreat of any pedestrians in their way, seemed to indicate that they were of some importance.
Personally I've never saw the attraction to such juvenile associations, the likes of which populate most planets throughout the US. Fighting over stretches of territory, killing someone because they're clothes or shoes were not congruent with the local standard; complete and utter nonsense!
Some of the more noble minded beings, like Josef, might argue the point that my position as a Sanctioner puts me in the same nihilistic, uber-tetosteroned category. Though how the purists could come to that decision is beyond me. There's a big difference between killing a Sarbian slaver who's made a fortune selling kidnapped children to the highest bidder, and cracking a man's skull because he wore his hat cocked to the left instead of the right.
As luck would have it, the group decided to grab a bite to eat at the stand I was at. I could tell by the frown on the shop owner's pock-marked face that their patronage was not a favored event.
"Hey Skeezly," the leader of the group spoke to the owner as he sidled up to the counter. "What you got on the menu today?"
"The same as always, Jax," the stand owner, whose name really was Skeezly, replied. "You want me to fix you a sandwich to go?"
"Yeah give me one of them triple-deckers." Jax indicated a massive, three tiered sandwich pictured on the stand's display board. "In fact why don't you make it five; the boys are hungry too," he added with a nod toward his crew who were now gathered in a loose semi-circle around their leader; all of them eyeing me with contempt.
At that point I probably should've taken the less than subtle hint, wrapped up what was left of my sandwich, and left. Unfortunately the decision to shuffle on was abruptly taken from me when Skeezly handed Jax his order and the bill.
"Just put it on his tab," Jax tossed his head in my direction. "I'm sure a friendly rube like him doesn't mind treating me and the lads to a bit of lunch; do you, buddy?" His comments drew a spattering of chuckles from his mates while I quickly assessed my options.
Under normal circumstances, I try not to draw attention to myself. However in this case I decided to make an exception. Old Jax here was begging for a lesson in manners, and I was more than happy to be his instructor.
I casually wiped my mouth and hands with a napkin then leveled cool eyes on my soon-to-be-etiquette pupil. "As a matter of fact I do. And since you and your boy-band are interrupting my meal why don't you lot pick up my tab."
The sneer on Jax's face disappeared and a snap of his fingers brought his cronies in closer. "It's obvious you ain't from around these parts," he growled after taking a menacing step toward me. "Me and my boys run this quad and since you're here that means we run you. So unless you want to wake up in the Hereafter you'd better…"
My stiffened fingers jabbing into his larynx cut
off the rest of what was sure to be a memorable threat, and a quick back fist to his right temple sent him falling into the waiting arms of his stunned fellows for a well deserved nap.
Now if this were one of those action holos this would be the scene where, after offing one of their numbers, the Good Guy gives the remaining Bad Guys a chance to rethink their tenuous position and so forth, but we Sanctioners rarely consider ourselves 'Good Guys'. 'Bad-ass Deliverers of Justice', perhaps, but that's about as altruistic as we tend to get. That being the case I set about systematically giving Jax's boys the wh
ipping they so desperately deserved.
Based on the sudden applause I received as I dispatched the motley crew with a variety of hand and foot combinations, I got the feeling that the minor distinction made little difference to these folks.
For me, the sudden notoriety was a bit unnerving. The majority of a Sanctioner's work goes unacknowledged by the general populace so the unexpected adulation was completely foreign to me. As I looked upon the faces of my newfound adoring public, I had to admit that it was a condition that I could easily get used to.
Suddenly I felt a strange tingling at the base of my skull; the type of feeling you get when you're being watched. A quick scan of the crowd produced no obvious answers though I did pay closer attention to the young female who had managed to push her way through the crowd and was now standing beside me.