Arthur Corvus slipped his keycard into the
lock of his hotel room. It hadnt been too bad a night at all. He'd had a few
drinks, had some fun with a girl he'd picked up and was looking forward to the
weekend. He'd been dreading the layover on the colony, but the branch office
had gone out of their way to make him feel welcome. Things were good.
He hit the lights again, puzzled. The keycard
was supposed to activate the lights in the sitting room upon entry, but nothing
happened. He was about to step out when someone grabbed him, slapping his hands
over Corvus' nose and mouth. He swallowed, trying to gasp for air. Finally, the
hand let go of his nose and a voice--calm but cold like steel in winter
whispered into his ear.
"Don't fight me," the voice
whispered. "I promise you--you won't win." It was a man's, and did he
seem . . .amused? Corvus felt something not unlike someone thumping his ear,
then felt it become warm. Suddenly the lights flickered on he saw what had
Corvus touched his ear, knowing what he'd
find before he stared at his hand again. Blood, he thought, reaching up
to his ear. He touched it again with a mounting sense of horror. My blood .
. . he cut my ear, and I barely felt it.
Before the shock could set in, he felt his
knees give out underneath him. Cartilage painfully slipped out of its proper
place and his legs went out from under him. Before he could fall, whoever had
broke in grabbed him by his hair and dragged him to the couch, tossing him onto
it like a sack of potatoes. Corvus winced as his legs protested the way they
were being folded. He looked up at the man who had done this to him.
He was younger, almost his age and solidly
built. His skin was a golden brown and his hair was long and chestnut, tied in
a long braid that swished behind him like a devil's tail. In his hands he held
the nastiest knife Corvus had ever seen and was wiping Corvus' blood off it
with the same nonchalance Corvus might have wiped a stain off his tie. He took
a seat opposite Corvus in a chair and stared at him, half-smiling.
What the hell does this guy want?
Corvus wondered. I havent done anything. Not to
him anyway, and someone like this I'd remember.
"Corvus," he said. "I've
looked forward to meeting you."
"Who the hell are you?" Corvus
asked, holding the side of his head, the blood becoming sticky under his palm.
"You've had a rough day," Kienan
said. He gestured to the tumbler of amber liquid on the table between them.
"Let's have a drink."
"It's poisoned, isn't?" Corvus
"Maybe," Kienan said. "But
youre a businessman. Isnt risk supposed to offer reward? Are you afraid to
take one now?"
Corvus leaned over, reached for the drink and
stopped, leaning back on the couch. "Who are you?" Corvus asked
again. "Who do you work for? What do you want?"
Kienan smiled, putting his knife away, and
relaxing. "I dont have a boss," he said. "As for who I work for
and what I want? Well, that's a bit more . . . metaphysical an answer. You
really do look like you need that drink, you know."
"You're crazy," Corvus said.
"Look, if it's money youre after, I'm a rich man. I can--"
Kienan waved him off. "I dont need your
money," Kienan said. "And it's not going to do you any good, either.
It's already paid your way to hell."
"I knew it, Corvus said.You're here to
"Is that what you think?" Kienan
said, staring into his eyes.
"I . . ."
"If I were here to kill you, I could
have cut your throat when you came in," Kienan said. "I could have
sprayed your jugular vein all over these nice white walls. I could have snapped
your neck while I was behind you, or ground my heel into your spine. Even now I
could shoot you, before you could do anything. You wont get the drop on me
with a crushed knee."
"You dont dare kill me, I've
"Bodyguards? Friends?" Kienan
finished. "Yes, well, you had them. They had a few accidents
tonight. Korbusek got his head blown off in a dressing room in the mall. Mackie
was found gutted in the street. The two you had guarding the elevator as you
came down the hall tripped and fell down the service stairs and mysterious
managed to shoot themselves in the chest with their own guns. Clumsy. Simons
wandered through the streets doused in lit napalm. I'm told he died more from
screaming all the air from his lungs than the fire. They only identified him
because that expensive watch you bought him was melted into the flesh of his
"Jesus Christ," Corvus said.
"Why did you kill them?"
"Because they were your friends,"
Kienan said. "Oh, by the way--this?" Kienan said, tossing a small
pistol to the far side of the room and the clip in the other direction.
"And this?" he said, tossing a small knife in the opposite direction.
"You were fooling yourself if either of those were going to stop me from
getting what I wanted. You're too old to play with toys."
Kienan smiled. "You sure you don't want
"I'm not gonna die like a punk, because
you poisoned me," Corvus said defiantly.
"I'm not here to poison you,"
Kienan said. "I'm going to watch you die. Then I'm going to tell you why
while you lie on the floor and beg for your life."
Corvus sneered, trying to mask his terror.
"How are you gonna do that?" He asked, waving his blood-covered palm
in Kienan's direction. "This is bad . . . but not fatal."
Corvus suddenly began to feel very sick and
"When I smothered you when you came in .
. . I did it to make you swallow. You swallowed a small pill, about the size of
one of your company's more popular pharmaceuticals. You know it's only one
ketone away from a very nasty poison? I'm no chemist, but imagine my surprise.
I think it's kind of poetic really."
"What--" Corvus said, trying to
swallow. His throat felt way too tight and there was a rushing noise in his
head. He suddenly was having trouble breathing or seeing. His lungs and his
stomach felt like they wanted to swell and burst from his ribcage.
Kienan scooped up the tumbler on the table.
"You see, the cops are going to find you very soon and very dead. Because
once I've watched you die, I'm going to throw your body out of the window and
it'll look to everyone that you overdosed and tried to fly. Just another
statistic. Just another nobody."
Corvus fell forward, shattering the table
underneath him. "Why . . ." He begged.
"Because tonight you paid for the
company of a certain woman," Kienan said. "And once youd had her,
you beat her a few times, with your belt. Then you slapped her face and poured
a whole bottle of champagne all over her while you stuffed the money you owed
her in her mouth. You like that sort of thing. It makes you feel a big man,
doesnt it? She's going to live. You wont."
"Buh," Corvus said, trying to
speak. He vomited up red foam instead, crawling along the floor after Kienan.
The red mucous oozed from his mouth and his nose, his labored breathing causing
it to bubble at the end of his nostril.
Kienan squatted down next to him, drink still
in hand. "I know, I know. She was offering whatever you wanted to do to
her for money, why should it matter?" he taunted. "But it does. That
woman is under my protection, and whatever you paid her, whatever you think you
could pay me to save your life, isnt enough."
Corvus tried to reach for Kienan's shoes, but
Kienan stood up and took a step back. He put his foot over Corvus' hand and
knelt down on it, grinding his hand into the carpet. Corvus whined, tears and
sweat mingling. His eyes felt hot and if he could have clawed out his own eyes
to stop the pain, he would have.
"Youre going die, Corvus. You're going
to suffer the most humiliating death I can dream up for you. Just like you
humiliated her. And even after it's over for you, it won't be. No, I've already
sent evidence of what you've been doing out here back home. Assuming I leave
anything of you to bury, there wont be anyone who would care enough to pull
the dirt over your body. No one to give a damn."
Corvus threw up more red foam. His skin was
going from red to purple to near-black. Kienan looked at him and smiled.
Corvus, his eyes sunken and looking weaker than ever. Kienan smiled at him. He
raised the tumbler in a toast and smiled.
"By the way, Corvus," he said.
"This drink had the counter-agent to the poison all along. I gave you
enough chances to save yourself, but you know what? I was kind of hoping youd
Kienan, still smiling, poured the drink onto
the floor in between Corvus' grasping hands. Corvus lurched forward trying to
lick the antidote off the floor, but it was too late. Corvus let out an almost
piglike squeal before his voice broke, then flopped face down into his own
blood-red vomit, dead.
Kienan smiled and grabbed Corvus' body by the
scruff of the neck. He dragged the dead weight to the window. He lifted Corvus
and slammed him against the window.
It didnt break. Corvus bounced against it,
his bloody mucous leaving a strange stamp against the glass.
"Silly me," Kienan said, drawing
his gun and putting it against the glass of the window. "Forgot
to open it." He pulled the trigger and the smooth window split in a
cruel spider web.
"I hope I see you on the other side,
Corvus," Kienan said, hefting the corpse. "I'd really enjoy killing
you all over again in hell."
Kienan slung Corvus through his window with
as much case as someone might heft a bag of garbage. The window shattered, raining
small shards of glass over Corvus as he sailed through the window and to the
street below. Kienan watched coldly as his body fell. People screamed and ran
out of the way as Corvus hit the street below.