NEIGHBORS TOTALLY SUCKED, was the Raven’s only opinion on the matter of the whole ordeal. Then again, the living ordinance wasn’t any fonder of him than he was it. It wasn’t any fun either, having clients that really had no business commenting on how “shady” or “niggardly” his place of work was when they were hiring him in the first place—that was also including how dirt-poor his fees had become as of late to accommodate the poor belly-draggers around the city. They needed to consider easier methods like bleach in a drink or something, since Hell’s Hotline was far from cheap and easy.
His phone rang just as he began considering a haircut. His bangs were almost becoming a detriment after all, and he didn’t need long hair anyway. He tapped his earpiece and droned, “Hell’s Hotline. Fast, certain, and now cheaper.”
“Is this the Raven?”
“Who’s caring?” replied the alien on the other end. No matter, he was used to the treatment. Useful scum was still scum, after all.
“Ha-ha, you’re pretty damn funny. Now, who do I need to end?”
“A slave escaped my grasp for the third time this month. I’d think it cheaper to have it silently disposed of than waste more resources trying to get it back.”
“Yeah, yeah, where?” he drawled, already losing interest in such a worthless chase. Maybe it was just conditioning, but he was really starting to miss the early days of turning the tables on bounty hunters and intergalactic renegades.
“Somewhere between Basilisk and Neptune.”
“So that’s between 22.83 square miles and seventy-one square miles. Add them together, and—plus the fee of making me search, I’ll say twenty-two percent, so multiplied by 20.64—then there’s the base fee of a kill, but I’ll be generous to a first-time customer and spare you the chase fee—”
“It will be in your box!” he growled, frustrated. A smile tugged at Raven’s lips.
“Are you giving me attitude?” he mused, taking his gun from under his desk. “I suggest you cease and desist forthwith. I am the one with the gun and skills, remember?” The alien fell silent, but Raven could practically feel him grinding his teeth.
“Is this an agreement?”
“As long as you’re paying.” He hung up and disassembled his old plasma pistol, waxing the slightly-rusted frame and slowly swabbing the ejection port clear of dried plasma. He polished the hammer, the slide catch, the decocking lever, and the slide three times, then once more when anxiety caught the better of him. Then he slid in a new plasma filling, appreciating the magenta glow of it against the steel of the gun before putting it together. He snapped the slide and aimed at the target board across the room. The bullet shot past the burned-through bull’s-eye and into the wall, and he instantly got an outcry from his neighbors. Sorry, not sorry.
He grabbed his trench coat from its hook and drew it on, burying himself in his iconic black fabric, and holstered the gun in his boot before jumping from the window.
He may or may not have mentioned that he had no flight capabilities whatsoever. Regardless, he jumped.
“Time for the high point of my day,” he said into the wind, righting himself and letting the air catch beneath his coat. The tough fibers cut the sheer in half, allowing him to hit the concrete of the alley and roll to his feet immediately. Peeking past the corner, he beheld the grand technological spectacle that was the largest city in Tekmitt, all silver buildings and big land vehicles and sleek UFOs and crowded streets: Basilisk. And then came the low point of his day: hailing a cab to the city of Neptune.
Raven’s first warning sign was when, as he returned to his apartment in a bloody mess, the door was ajar. He never, ever
left his door ajar. Immediately, his gun was within his grasp, fingers curled into the worn leather grip, and he slammed the door open with his boot.
“Stop,” the man inside said apathetically. “I’m friendly. Well, to put it mildly.” Wasting no time debating the matter, Raven squeezed off his last shot. The bullet whizzed between them, and before his eyes the pink light veered sharply to the right and into the wall, right next to the hole he made earlier that day. It was also worth mentioning that a second before that concentrated phenomenon, his intruder’s slate-grey eyes glowed like a thunderstorm waiting to happen.
Alien. Lucky freaking me.
He ducked and rolled right after, heading towards the kitchen and his spare store of plasma. “I’ve retrieved your fillings, by the way,” he continued, lifting his arm. The boxes were neatly stack in his palm. Never mind the fact that he broke past the cheap locks; the Raven kept those fillings under lock and key, and nothing short of a genius could fool handprint recognition tech.
“Good job, but I do more than shoot, pal.” Raven dropped the gun and snatched his switchblade from his pocket, lunging forward. The man jumped from the couch and against the ceiling, causing him to crash in a heap, then the man landed atop his back, pinning him.
“Now that that’s over, can I speak?” he asked.
“You can speak through a mouthful of blood.” Raven bucked, throwing him forward, and swung his foot. The man caught the kick with his elbow and threw a punch, stunning him more than anything. Raven retaliated with a slash of the blade, which cut a decent score into his forehead, bringing up a stream of dark red blood. He appeared more startled than pained from the deep wound, and within a second he was back in action, pulling Raven into a headlock. Raven noticed that he favored his left hand and so turned his head to the right, slipping free and stabbing blindly above him. He felt the blade connect with something before it was deflected, but when he looked up, the man had no other injuries.
“I’m a client!” he said before the Raven could fight again. Raven wiped his mouth clean of the thin streak of blood running from his gums.
“Good to know,” he said dryly. “How did you get in?”
“Trade secret.” He sat back and crossed his legs and arms. He looked to be Raven’s age physically, albeit taller by a head, with pale skin and uniformly trimmed black hair. Raven couldn’t glean his figure past his baggy clothes, but he could see the Keeper’s patch on his brown leather jacket all too well.
“Let me guess…royal guard?” He didn’t have any particular problem with the guard—or at least, not as much of a problem with them that the humans had—but they were much more likely to go back on their payments or run him in circles, and if there were two things he hated to waste in the world, they were time and money.
“Something of the sort,” he muttered. “I am Jaeger.”
“And I am bored with this entire affair, but since you got my blood rushing unlike that cheap bullet fodder earlier, I’ll stomach your presence in my dwelling.” He stood, stripping his coat and tossing it across the couch, and went to the kitchenette. “Coffee? I know I need some.”
“No, thanks,” Jaeger said, wrinkling his nose in disgust. Raven shrugged as he rapped the coffeemaker a few times, jiggling the cord until it started up. “Nice dwelling you have here.”
“Ha-ha. I know it sucks—you don’t need to be a dick about it.”
“I apologize, however, I’m being serious,” he corrected. “At least, here is better than where I’ve lived.” He raised an eyebrow at that.
“I thought all royal guard had five-star rooms with everything down to private strippers and toilets that wipe for you?”
“I told you, I’m not quite a royal guard.” He had to grind the word out, curiously enough, like a forbidden title. Raven smirked a little as he dumped some sugar in his mug and set it under the faucet.
“So you’re a client. What’s the job? Someone played you? Trying to escape your master? On the run and you don’t want any witnesses?”
“None of the above.”
“Ooh, now I’m curious.” He managed a cracked mug full and took a sip, rolling his battle-stiffened shoulders. Blood still stained his t-shirt and jeans—he needed to change those, but in a minute. It was more work than it arguably should have been to find clean clothes around.
“I’m the client and the victim,” Jaeger said, standing. He pressed his hand to his chest and stared with imploring eyes. “I want you to kill me.”
It was never a pleasant thing to choke on hot coffee, not even the third time in a week.
“Odd,” he admitted, swabbing his mouth. “Although not the first time I’ve heard it. Just…I wouldn’t expect it from a guy like you.”
“Like me what?”
“You know what I’m talking about.” He gestured to the silver shock collar around Jaeger’s neck, which he thumbed self-consciously. He rolled his eyes a little and looked away.
“I suppose I do.”
“Well, my motto is never refuse a job as long as it pays. You do have gannoes, don’t you?” Jaeger nodded slowly, reaching into the inside pocket of his worn black coat. Raven flinched, expecting a gun, but he instead produced a thick pale wad bound by a rubber band.
“Will eighty thousand be enough?” he asked, breaking the band and counting the bills in front of him. Meanwhile, Raven could barely feel the coffee missing his mouth and hitting his shirt as he focused on the currency. “My mistake… Will eighty-five thousand be enough?” It’s enough to buy a mansion in the hills and pay someone to be my footrest. Raven dropped the cup in a hurry.
“Would you prefer death by firing, or death by strangulation?”