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Mundementia One: The Book of Complication
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Command Line Interpreter:
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It would be inaccurate to call Hoderund a city that did not sleep. Truth to tell, Hoderund did sleep, and it slept quite a lot, but mostly because it had a very bad hangover from the night previous and couldn't be bothered to get up. If ever a city made liberal use of its metropolitan snooze button, that city was Hoderund. At the moment, a perfect and violet-hued Octobery dusk was falling over the great and bright collegiate metropolis of Hoderund, but did Hoderund care? No! It did not! It was too busy hanging out with its friends in some sleaze-pit of a bar to pay even a whit of attention to the subtle and purple-themed masterwork Nature was whipping up above its light-polluted skies. Hoderund was, in Nature's opinion, a real Philistine booger of a city. On the rare occasions Nature could get Hoderund to respond to her at all, Hoderund was always very rude to her, calling her names and making obscene gestures at her. Nature didn't know why she bothered, really.
Well, except tonight, there _were_ a handful of people watching the sunset, or at least, what little of it you could see amidst the messy puddles of light spilled out by a typical evening's worth of activities at LUD3A, the University Of Which All Other Universities Are But Pale Shadows. The first was a distinguished, silver-haired woman of sober mien, who looked out at the evening from a well-appointed board room somewhere in the upper stories of the Jefferson Hotel, sipping coffee and waiting on the arrival of a man in a chicken suit.
Nature didn't care much about her, frankly, because Nature thought she was kind of a bitch. More on her later.
The second observer, poised patiently in the alley-shadows of the Jefferson many stories below, was a little more unusual. Nature found him dark, mysterious, and a little bit sexy, and she felt her sunset go all rosy and flushed at his quiet, calm attention. Nature fussed with her hair self-consciously for a bit before sending her roommate, the wind, to go lurk around in the hedgerows and keep an eye on him while she went to go change.
He was not a particularly nice observer. Nature didn't get hung up about that sort of thing. Had Nature understood the horrible secrets of the Eight Deadly Disciplines of Woo, and had Nature known that the Observer was fully board-certified in all eight of them, a feat no other mortal creature had ever accomplished, Nature wouldn't have cared one whit.
The observer shifted slightly, foot to foot, observing. He was an ominous, dark fellow, his compact form clad entirely from head to toe in loose and billowing black, and when he moved, the wind grew sullen with envy.
His name, in fact, was Ominous Darkfellow, First Utensil of the Grand Order of the Fire Spork. It had not always been his name but it was a name that suited him now. He made his living killing other people.
Ominous was not the kind of man to hedge about and circumlocute this topic. Euphemism was for clients and amateurs. All this business about "termination" and "erasure" and arranging "a little surprise" for Target X. It was all rubbish. The poetry was in the act, not the words you used to describe it.
Check that. The poetry was normally in the act. The poetry wasn't _currently_ in the act. Currently, there was no act at all, and this fact alone cheesed Ominous Darkfellow off to no end.
His target today had been a Mister Charles Madison Glass, English Major and one-time angel in the School of Divinity. The hit had been bankrolled by the generous coffers of WayHigh Technologies, Incorporated and personally ordered by the CEO himself, William "Way-High Willie" Stein. Ominous knew why Glass had to perish; it had been part of his homework. And he knew why he had been chosen for it; to wit, Stein was the kind of man who cared enough to send the very best. Ominous knew everything there was to know about this job except one niggly little detail: where the hell his mark was. This was troubling, because the Fire Sporks were not keen on failure. Even an experienced and high-ranking member of the Brotherhood could lose his job over just such an incident, and Ominous Darkfellow was apprehensive at the prospect of losing his job because the Fire Sporks had a very generous severance package indeed: there was no limit to the things that they would sever.
Ergo, he had searched, running each lead until it could run no more. He had negotiated extensively for an audience with the Dean of the College of Thaumaturgy, wining and dining and hinting all the while at the potential for future "favors" before learning that Dr. Benjamin Harte, the man who had spirited his mark out from under his nose, had been acting as a rogue agent and was under no official orders from the College whatsoever. A two-hour infiltration of the headquarters of Campus Security, sparked by public mention of a Security call made to Glass's dormitory room, had yielded nothing; no official record existed of that call. At this, Ominous had suspected Conspiracy activity, but as there were three hundred and eighty-six entries in the Hoderund (and Surrounding Communities) Yellow Pages under "Conspiracies", Ominous knew he couldn't possibly look into all of them in time. Judicious research as to each conspiracy's major projects, however, had revealed which of them were most interested in Charles Madison Glass, and public hotel booking records had revealed that his most promising lead was, in fact, holding a major planning meeting this very evening. It wasn't hard data, and Ominous wasn't happy at it, but it was all he had to go on.
So. The shadows beneath the Hotel Jefferson.
He had skirted the fifteen-foot fences of electrified razor wire with casual grace. Plasma bombs placed around the Hotel's perimeter had been carefully disabled and re-armed after he had passed. He had even, and this had taken a great deal of skill, managed to avoid being put on any mailing lists by the people holding petitions that the Conspiracy had undoubtedly deployed outside to deter casual snoops.
And no one had gotten killed yet, which was a good thing. Ominous didn't mind killing, of course, but he hated to do it for hobby purposes, in much the same way that a world-class cellist would scoff at the idea of setting his case open on the sidewalk and entertaining the passing crowds with bad folk music in the hopes that they'd toss some coins in.
He was in the process of securing his grapnel to a quantity of silk line when the egg shattered at his feet.
A lesser being might have said that it came out of nowhere. Ominous knew that this was not true, because he had spotted the junior brother a full forty minutes ago, doing a commendable impersonation of one of the northeast corner gargoyles on story ten. He had suspected at the time that the Brotherhood was keeping an eye on him, after his rather humiliating failure earlier that day. He had not ruled out the possibility, either, that the junior brother might be here to participate in one of the Brotherhood's swift and particularly unpleasant exit interviews, although to do so before even the close of the first day would have been premature and reactionary, even by Fire Spork standards. But the young brother -- Hughes, Ominous thought his name was -- had taken no action, so Ominous had concealed his knowledge of the brother's emplacement and continued with his original plan.
It was true that the hollowed egg could have been filled with poison, or knockout gas, or flash powder, or miniature flesh-devouring weevils, but Ominous knew the flight of each of these sorts of egg, had analyzed the ovoid's fall from the moment it was loosed by the junior brother, and had quickly discerned that it was not a truculent egg what was chucked at him. He knew it, in fact, to be a Message Egg. And so he simply let it fall, just as if he had not noticed a thing in the first place, and in doing so gave young Hughes above a moment of proud, misguided satisfaction.
The egg shattered at his feet, and when it did so, the tiny, single-use polarized hologram receiver/emitter flicked into life, the few minutes of life it would ever know.
"Good evening, Ominous Darkfellow," said the image of Master Cheops.
Cheops was an old man, impossibly old for an assassin; in a few years, Ominous reckoned, Cheops would succeed at the almost-unheard of goal of dying quietly in his bed _and not by someone else's hand_. (The mere act of dying quietly in bed was nothing special in and of itself; assassins were all about people dying quietly in bed.) He was pale and gaunt and his skin looked to be the thickness of fine drafting paper. You could actually see traces of the hard, empty black of his irises through his whisper-thin eyelids, which gave you the unsettling impression that there was never a moment that he could not see you.
Cheops fixed Ominous with his vacuum gaze. For the briefest of moments, Ominous was certain a reprimand was forthcoming for the debacle earlier that day on the Quadrangle, but there was something in the elder assassin's eyes that gave Ominous pause, a thin sliver of craft or cunning that made him rein in his presuppositions and watch.
The hologram spoke.
"This message will serve to formally notice you that the assassination order on your current target has expired as of this moment," said the image of Master Cheops. "Our client, the illustrious Mr. Stein--" (he pronounced the name as though he were balancing an anchovy on his tongue) "--has erred in some of his financial accounting, it seems. A rather large sum of collateral monies has apparently vanished without trace, accounts have gone into arrears, and we, well, we are left without our just compensation. Naturally, we are most displeased at this turn of events, and Brotherhood agents have been dispatched to Stein's last known location in an attempt to 'collect' for services rendered thus far, but in this, your services will not be required. You will cease and desist any and all Brotherhood-sanctioned activities regarding the Glass affair immediately and embark forthwith on your newest assignment."
Very good, thought Ominous. All well and proper. And the catch was...
Cheops clicked the switch of a hand-held corded remote and another image replaced his. A lemur. Rather, a Deltalemur. Pale grey, almost white. The suggestion of a black-ringed tail. Stunning blue eyes. She was beautiful and, by virtue of her species alone, unquestionably deadly. Ominous knew her at once, and knew of her power.
And that had been the look in Cheops's terrible eyes. This was to be a test. Cheops was specifically evaluating him.
Another flicker of the hologram, and Cheops reappeared. "Her name is Nicey Biscuit," he said. "Rogue Princess of Lost Lemuria. Our client in this matter is... a bit unusual, but it is not ours to question when the money is good, eh, Ominous?" His brief attempt at congeniality seemed to Ominous as out-of-place as a pinata at an abattoir. "I trust you will have no... difficulties with this? She is... quite deadly. Heavily-armed, to be certain. She has personally slain many lesser men."
Ominous shook his head. The brief, tiny shred of himself which quailed at the prospect of facing her was battered with a shovel and buried in the garden way out in the backyard of his mind. If this was a test, and it was, he was determined not to fail.
"I would not send you," said Cheops, showing keen apprehension of his thoughts, "if I did not believe your skills to be 'up to the task'."
"You will find her at the Sycamore Mall Shopping Center in southeastern Hoderund. More details I cannot give you; the facility has been closed to us, and we believe some terrible ill has befallen the place. But I am confident that your target still lives."
Ominous nodded once more.
"The task is given," said Cheops, reciting the ancient blessing of the Fire Sporks. "Sharp itsy-bitsy little tines, Ominous Darkfellow."
Ominous bowed his head, his gloved hands making the one-fist three-fingered Brotherhood symbol as the projector and its encasing egg crumbled into soft, grey dust which was rapidly dispersed by the wind, who still lurked about on Nature's say-so.
Ominous's gloved hands returned to the pockets of his cloak, his fingers worrying the small, white token spork he always kept there in case of circumstances much like this one. Very well, then, he thought. Off to a stricken shopping mall on the troubled Southeast Side. Deliver the spork, before midnight -- it was tradition, after all -- then, at noon the next day, he would strike. And shortly thereafter, he was certain, either he or his intended target would be no more. Only time could tell which.
Ominous checked his watch. Despite his new schedule there was still time, he reckoned, to finish watching the sunset. Ominous Darkfellow detested leaving anything incomplete.
And so he watched as the sky faded from blue to red to purple to black. And in the face of Nature's splendor, he dreamed sweet thoughts of bruises and clotting blood until there was nothing left to see but the light of the city that surrounded him.
When it was dark at last, Ominous moved.
The wind stared after him as he left.
If only _I_ could do that, thought the wind. If only.
* * * * * * *
Mundementia One, Book Three: The Book of Complication
a study in soldiering on in the face of adversity
apologies to James Cameron, Doug Church and, heck, everyone else too
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