Dark and Stormy was the type of bar where people went to forget or be forgotten. Lucien Benoit was trying to do both. The empty glass clinked against the bar and the bartender hurried over to refill it. Benoit dropped a couple coins on the hammered metal and mumbled a thank you. He paused to contemplate his warped reflection, but instead of the tired expression of a killer, Benoit could see nothing but the fearful countenance of The Old Man.
Thirty years of murder for hire. Thirty years that began and ended with The Old Man. Benoit slid his thumb into the pocket of his waistcoat, feeling the credit chip inside. The chip held enough money to start a new life. Perhaps he would become a fisherman on Europa. Maybe he would return to the bayous of Earth, the home of his ancestors. Anywhere but here. Anywhere but Mars. Benoit chuckled silently to himself. He was supposed to be celebrating his potential freedom rather than reflecting on the bloody past. He was so enthralled with his navel-gazing that he hardly registered the newcomer that slid up to the bar behind him.
“You have to be pretty confident to wear a rig like that.” the stranger said, their voice a hoarse whisper.
“I’m sorry.” Benoit raised an eyebrow.
The stranger motioned toward the holster on Benoit’s leg with an old-fashioned derby clutched in a cybernetic hand. “That six-shooter is a classic.”
“Thanks.” Benoit went to finish his whisky, but realizing that the glass was empty, scratched at an itch on the back of his neck.
The stranger ordered a whisky for himself and one for Benoit. “Did you hear the news?”
“Someone ghosted The Old Man.” Everyone in the bar fell silent at the pronouncement. “Yep. It was only a matter of time. Real pro did it too. Nice and clean.”
There was something about the stranger’s tone that struck Benoit. A Muckraker would have been trying to sell that story to all the local media outlets, not telling people at a hole-in-the-wall bar. Benoit looked the stranger over. He was dressed head to toe in a black synthwool suit. The stranger looked like something out of an old movie, except for the flash hardware. Right arm. Both eyes. Probably wired for combat. He was a gunman. With that level of gear, a good one.
“They know who did it?” The bartender asked while drying glasses.
“Old timer like myself,” The stranger smiled. “Bit of a legend in the arcologies. Lucien Benoit. Getting careless in his old age, though. A microdrone tagged him as he made his escape.” The stranger reached into his pocket and placed a small plastic box on the bar. Tiny red lights flashed rapidly on the top. He looked over to Benoit, a shark-like grin curling under expressionless lenses. “Pleasure to finally meet you. I’m Victor Symes.”
Benoit had heard of Symes. A ruthless, expensive hired killer, Symes had been in the game almost as long as he had. Benoit thought it odd that they had never met before. “You could have killed me as soon as you came inside.”
Symes laughed, an unnerving rasp. “What would be the fun of that? I wasn’t lying when I said you were a legend. I had to see for myself. To be honest, I didn’t believe that you were all meat, but here you are.” He motioned for another pair of drinks.
Benoit downed his. “So, you want to talk about the old days or something?”
The rasp that passed for Symes’ laugh came again. “Oh the stories we could both tell. But, honestly, no. I’m here to kill you. Call me a bit anachronistic, but I want to know if you are as fast as they say.”
“Like those old Earth movies.”
“Like those old Earth movies. I have a car outside and a spot picked out. It’s quiet and far away from prying eyes and the long arm of the arcology gendarmes. Just you, me, and our skills.”
“Fine.” Benoit rose and started for the door. Symes followed, grinning ear to ear.
Symes was a far more cautious driver than Benoit had expected. He steered the car through the narrow streets of the Opportunity Arcology at a leisurely pace. He even used turn signals. Neither of them had spoken since they left Dark and Stormy.
The lights became dimmer and the hanging gardens gave way to skeletons of steel and collapsed warehouses. The old spaceport, Benoit surmised. Symes had a bit of the poet in him choosing this place. Benoit almost smiled. Almost.
“Why did you take the job?” Symes broke the silence as he stopped the car near the abandoned landing zone.
Benoit checked his watch. “In about fifteen minutes all the resources of Xenodyne will be distributed to the people of Opportunity. The last vestiges of corporate feudalism will be gone. Including people like us.”
“From each according to their ability to each according to their need.” Symes’ laughter came out as a growl.
“Something like that.”
“Exactly like that. Someone needed killing to make this happen. And you, my friend, are a virtuoso of violence. There will always be a need for people like us.”
“I hope not.” Benoit grimaced.
“Ah, yes. Your retirement. It is a pity that we meet at the end of your career. You must have been something else in your prime.”
“Don’t believe every story.”
“That is why we are here. Well, that and money. Or maybe it was revenge. Hard to tell the difference these days. Shall we?”
Benoit and Symes walked toward a ring of lights near the center of the landing zone. A faint breeze blew, carrying the smell of old scorched dirt. The thrum of the oxygen generators drowned out all sound. The pair would have to yell to be heard over the din, a fact that Benoit understood to mean that the time for talking was over. The sound would also likely drown the gunshots. Symes was clever and Benoit found himself respecting the assassin’s preparations. In such a large open area there would be no spot for an ambush even if stealth suits were used. Symes was a man of his word.
Once they reached the center, Symes motioned for Benoit to take a place across from him. When he reached the appointed position, Benoit pulled back his coat to reveal the holster strapped to his leg. Both the heavy revolver and the coat were family heirlooms. Both had been repaired and modified so many times, Benoit wondered if the original owners would recognize them as their own.
Symes removed his frock coat and casually tossed it on the ground. Benoit imagined the look on the tailor’s face to see the expensive fabric dragged across carbon scoring and Martian dust. The assassin had a blocky semi-auto in a cross-draw holster on his left hip. A second gun hung from a holster under his left arm. Symes’ turned so that his cybernetic right arm was forward. Though his arm was covered by a shirt, Benoit knew that the shoulder joint would be armored. It might also expand to cover Symes’ face the moment his cyber-eyes detected a hint of movement.
Benoit planted his left leg forward seeming to rest his left hand on his belt. In reality, he had used the motion to quickly thumb the switch that charged the pulse derringer secreted up his right sleeve. Symes had reflexes wired for combat, but he would not be fast enough to dodge a laser. He rested his right arm in the small of his back, carefully angling his stance so the emitter was in line with Symes. He shook the stiffness of nerves from his left hand. “Whenever you are ready.”
Symes smiled. “On three.”
One last obstacle and he could leave all this behind. A fresh start. Benoit tapped his fingers on the holster. He could feel the adrenaline begin to course through his body.
Symes smiled. The expression made terrifying since it was not possible for it to reach the cylinders of titanium and glass that regarded him. Cold blue-white light from the LED lamps that ringed the two of them reflected from the lenses. Benoit stopped breathing.
Benoit discharged the pulse derringer. The invisible beam lacked the energy to slice through but it had disabled the elbow joint, leaving Symes unable to draw with that hand.
Symes left arm swung out with an alarming speed, a chrome compact pistol gleaming in the lights. Benoit felt the muscles in his left arm twitch followed by the thunderous rapport of his revolver. A searing pain lanced through Benoit’s left ear. Symes spun and fell.
Lucien Benoit touched his ear. While the wound was superficial, Symes’ bullet had carved out a noticeable chunk of the top of his earlobe. He walked over to Symes’ prone form and rolled him over, a stream of blood tricking from a large smile. Symes coughed, but never lost the grin. This time it somehow even seemed to reach the lifeless mechanical eyes. “You were right.” He groaned.
Benoit looked at him quizzically. “I should have ghosted you when I had the chance.” Victor Symes died laughing.
Lucien Benoit drove Symes’ car back to Dark and Stormy. He wanted to welcome the new era.