Thanks! Heres chapter 2!
Holding hands, the three children walked down the slope in the general direction of the
huge, entirely flat aquamarine lake that ate the horizon. They were wearing flimsy foil
jackets and burning with the brightness of tiny sparks from the cruel star above.
The one in the middle was bigger, fifty centimeters that therefore gave him or her all the
burden of guiding the other two to their death, which was probably located about halfway
to the lake. Unless they hit a security sweep earlier than that and missed out on their
chance to dehydrate to death [dehydration comes with hallucinations, you see, which is
Xolo watched the children toddle off, away from life. This toddle, so innocent, touched
something in his heart. Something that felt foreign to him, but was real nonetheless. He
couldn’t let the children die.
He whistled, hoping that they wouldn’t turn around and reveal the faces of hairy trained
midget guards. He should have thought of that before the whistle. What was happening to
his edge, the keen seventh sense that had kept him alive when there was really no way his
body parts should still all be connected and functioning if you took a cold hard look at the
risks he had been taking these past nine years?
The children turned and indeed they were children. A girl in the middle leading twin
boys. She looked to be about nine or ten standard years and the boys maybe four. They
had typically brown skin, thin noses, freckles. The girl had green eyes that looked at Xolo
with absolute calm and even a touch of authority. Not the kind of authority you saw in the
eyes of maniacs like Gukkool, which was really an attempt to use anger to remind you of
his tangible, heavily armed power. This was a rarer kind of authority, which Xolo had not
seen for a long time. This was the kind of authority that said, 'follow me and win, cross
me and lose,' the authority that suggested following this person would lead to glory.
Xolo shook his head to ground himself. All it would take is one SingRay to flap by and
scan them and those green eyes would soon be slowly sinking into a pile of warm red
jelly with bones in it. He summoned the girl over with a hand gesture. The three kids ran
across the sand, and Xolo was impressed by the decisiveness. As they ran their survival
capes flapped and he saw that underneath they were wearing tattered dark emerald robes
and boots that looked stolen from soldiers and modified with knife and tape.
The girl pointed the boys behind the rock. They complied, she followed, and soon they
sheltered like any family from any time in human history hoping that war would pass
"What are you doing here, young woman?" Xolo asked in a very flat voice.
She paused long seconds before replying. Xolo’s instincts struggled in vain to extract
clues and meaning from the silence but it was a very pure and well done silence."We survived a crash. Everyone else is dead. Our ship is a few hours back in the desert."
Xolo instinctually looked back. There were no traces of smoke, but the wind was very
intense and low back there so smoke couldn't rise far even if it existed. The girl had told
him something immune to proof or disproof.
"Where were you going?"
"They don't tell us things like that."
"Where do you come from?"
"We don't tell people things like that."
"Are you intentionally going to get me killed?"
And she answered with no pause, no deception and in her regal little voice.
"I have no choice but to believe you, princess. So I am going to get you to safety as best
as I can. I am going down to the lake. I'll set you and your brothers up with a hiding
place. Then I have to kill the owner of this planet and escape the planet. Unless I mess up
- you know...die - I’ll have plenty of time to come and get you, assuming you stay where
I put you and I'll get you off-planet and then we'll figure out where you belong."
They shook on it.
The kids didn't make his life much more difficult because they followed instructions well
and were patient even in sandstorms which is a rare trait. The way he worked was to
make a hundred meter move, do a sweep with his gadgets and his senses then plan the
next hundred meters. So he just basically had to add on some time for the kids to move to
the next save point.
The long evening began: several peach hours were ahead of them. Gukkool loved to
enjoy cocktails on the deck of his supercarrier, so he had specified to his engineers a
planet that liked long evenings too and they had called in the Titans from their distant
cages to tilt the axis of the planet just so.
That liking of twilight would help Xolo to kill Gukkool. Twilight sneaking was his
specialty. He understood soft fields of light like a painter and could cross great distances
in them even without the aid of clumsy camouflage capes. It was quiet, as deserts
patrolled by ninjas almost invariably are.
The ninjas were too good, actually. How could that be? Well, just that there is something
about a clone that is obvious when one thinks about it but which seems to pass by most
security planners and which Xolo knew and kept well to himself. Namely, clones are
rather samey. Especially when they have just arrived from the factory. They move in a
very similar way, and assess threats in predictable manners. They prioritize their weapons
and their attacks using rules that have never had time to mutate in the sticky heat of realcombat. All this means that if you manage to kill one of a batch of untested
NinjasAutenticos, you can knock the others off rather easily.
Xolo felt himself garroting a human being and it sent him on a trip back through time, the
garrote linking twenty-six necks and nine hours and fifteen kilometers. The Ninja stabbed
back with the knife and Xolo’s block was already ready to intercept it and then the knife
swooped back and burst into the ninja’s chest in a saddeningly familiar way and then he
dropped dead with the usual sound. Probably even the kids were getting bored of this
now. For Xolo there was at least the quest to slightly improve his high score each time
but it didn’t pay to experiment too much. If he tried too hard to kill them faster or quieter
it increased the randomness and risk and could get him killed.
Behind a boulder, the kids stripped the gear from the ninja and split his drink. Xolo
zoomed on the shore. He could not make out where in the water the sharkmen were
lurking. There had to be at least thirty of them between Xolo and the ship, probably in an
inverted pyramid with denser coverage at the surface and lighter in the depths.
But all he needed was one.
As he set the kids up in their little shelter, now armed to their teeth with enough looted
swag for several nursery schools to playfully obliterate each other with, he told the girl to
make sure the boys didn’t do anything stupid, but after saying it he knew it was he who
had done something stupid by condescending to her.
“Hey what’s your name, princess?” he asked.
She bit her lip. She was probably considering his chances of being churned into bloody
shark chum within minutes, and finding them convincingly high decided to release this
“Sunny,” she replied.
“Sunny, you’ll know if I made it if there are big explosions. Little explosions will mean I
didn’t make it, because I am relatively small and easy to explode. So if you hear big
explosions then gather the boys up and get ready to jump into whatever vehicle I end up
hijacking, probably an orbital paracopter. Then we’ll get you off into space, where all
directions are available.”
She bowed a thank you to him for his work so far. Then Xolo turned and strolled down to
the edge of the lake. Off on the horizon he could see Gukkool’s cruiser sitting like a
streamlined, arrogant whale with a swarm of choppers around it, ten smaller cruisers, a
hundred yachts, a thousand junks and hovering overhead the spherical form of a
skydefense system to prevent this whole impressive scene from being vaporized by some
unlikely throwback to the days of war.
The sultans and other potentates didn’t vaporize each other anymore. No one wanted to
go back to the old days when the gap between ruler and vapor was a small one. potentatesplayed by sporting rules now. Which was why someone like Xolo who frequently killed
sultans, dukes, shoguns and the like - and did it thoroughly to make sure it couldn’t be
undone - was so dangerous.
Now to capture a sharkman and ride him over to the cruiser. The problem with doing this
- in addition to all of the things that were obvious to anybody who knew what words
meant - was that unlike the ninjas, who were in deep stealth mode, the sharkmen were
headnet connected. They were low enough down the food chain that their movements
were logged and their optical inputs were crowdmapped. So if you got sighted by a
sharkman, you were ##. Even if it didn’t manage to rip all your limbs off. Which it
Sniper flat, Xolo watched for the first shark leap. After about ten minutes it came: the
magnificent sight of the blue-grey form ripping itself free of the liquid in a great splash.
At the apex of the leap, it fanned out its arms and legs to snag another half second of air
and scan its surroundings. Then back in the water where its ampullae of Lorenzini kicked
in and it soaked in the electromagnetic presences and pressures of deep down.
Before it had landed, Xolo was in the water, entering like an eel with almost no ripples.
He coasted on momentum, breathing gear allowing him to stay mouth-down in the water
as he log-floated in.
A few minutes later, another beast hauled itself out of the water and Xolo was able to
swim hard and fast for almost thirty seconds as the lake was full of distracting
information about the size and speed of unruly and unrestrainable shark/human hybrids at
play. Then he did the eel float again.
If one day Xolo got to be old and to bounce kids on his knee - and if those kids were
allowed to discuss murder and carnage - he would let them know that (to his mind) the
characteristic that made the best killer was patience. Not so patient that you waited for the
target to just drop dead - since that was against the spirit of the job - but theoretically you
had to have that level of limitless patience, a devoted belief that whatever it was you were
doing now was the perfect thing to be doing. You had to be able to forget not just about
watching television or eating halva or having ## but also about maybe just standing on
the beach and throwing grenades in the shark pool and swimming in through the blood
storm, because you had already considered and eliminated that possibility and the eel
thing was what you were going to do even though time seemed to drag and the time spent
near the eye of the enemy always feels long and heavy.
Eventually (since although Xolo has limitless patience, we are dependent on words such
as ‘eventually’,) Xolo found himself very close to a sharkman. And then the sharkman
eventually dove down and Xolo swam into his wake and followed him down. It was dark
down there and signal was poor so Xolo was able to quickly stab the shark man in the
back of the head and carve out the parts of his brain that were not to Xolo’s liking. His
eyes were turned on, and his limbs still worked but his skin was numb. He didn’t feel
Xolo on his back.
Xolo clung tight with static pads on his hands and using a very subtle pheromone lure hesteered the sharkman past junks, and through warships. When need be, he rolled his halftamed sharkman over to show its smooth belly and grotesque genitalia to watchmen and
cameras and almost comically soon, he was boarding the cruiser and setting the beast
Xolo infiltrated the cruiser. The cruiser was just too big. Everyone knew it. The designers
knew it as they drafted them in floating blue ink. The salesmen knew it as they practiced
their pitches in the dark where you can’t see yourself sweat. The sultans knew it as they
leafed through the catalogs.
They were too big. They were indefensible. Even with sensors everywhere and
considerable outsourced human brains processing the security signals, theoretically a
small and determined force could figure out a way to get around the cruiser. Because you
had to be able to have fun on these things. You had to have women and men in rubber
things crawling around. You had to have a river of kiwi juice and one of kiwi blood. You
had to have all these things otherwise why were you a sultan? Why didn’t you just build
yourself a thick black cube of lead, bury it in the middle of the planet, masturbate for a
while and then kill yourself?
Xolo was coming. All of the sultans sort of knew it. They didn’t know who Xolo was, or
if he even existed as an individual, but they knew that once or twice a year one of them
was assassinated. No one knew who was behind it and that was what bothered them most.
After all, even a sultan must die one day and this assassin was no sadist. He killed you
quick with a clinical shot to the head, like they used to kill cows during the days when
everyone ate meat, back on the old world. What bothered them most was the sense that
someone else was winning. That there was a game going on, with surely the most
massive stakes imaginable, and as they were being picked off one by one someone else
was moving forward an agenda that would, presumably, one day topple the galactic order
and end the days when you could have a planet and a cruiser on it and have thousands of
brains doing all of the tedious parts of living for you. The magnificent days.
The days were five or six percent less magnificent just because of this assassin.
Today was the turn of Sultan Gukkool. Xolo made his way through the defenses like you
make your bed. There were moments when it seemed difficult and frustrating, but you
knew that it had to be done, would eventually be done and that eventually you would
luxuriate in the quality of your work, smooth and relaxed.
Now Xolo was standing on the main deck of the yacht, behind an enormous palm tree,
stripped down to his pale grey survival suit, his pistol, his grenades, his scimitar. His face
was covered by a pale mask with light green goggles. He had the pale, slick looking
aspect of a maggot. A green-eyed maggot.
Xolo rolled out from behind the palm tree. His pistol was pre-targeted on eight guards
and he let off a killer combo that took them all down in a couple of seconds. At the first
shot, Gukkool’s force bubble had surrounded him, anticipating a sniper round. Xolo
never made the rookie mistake of trying to take out the main target with a sneak shot. No
projectile was fast enough, no energy beam reliable enough to get through modern shell-tech.
But once his eight guards were down, his hookers were running, his counselors paralyzed
with fear, and you had a good scimitar at had, the force bubble was just a place where the
assassin kept his prey while he executed his moves.
The sultan wished that he were not about to be split in two. He wished that he had built a
roof on his Planet.
In a bloody whirlpool, Xolo jumped onto the dais where the sultan traditionally surveyed
his revels. With just one slash and a flash of meaningful sparks on its surface, Xolo's
scimitar disrupted the force shield, defying all of its recent firmware updates. Firmware
updates meant exactly jack ## to Xolo.
The sultan dropped down into silk pillows, like in the old days. The blood of a sultan
belongs on silk.
Xolo had a split second to act before backup systems kicked in. Once the sultan was
dead, his funds would be escrowed and then only the most basic security systems would
be left active and he could easily get away.
But in that split second, the plan crumbled and the nine-year reign of terror of the
assassin came to an end.
Fifteen dead sultans, plus collateral damage and huge impacts to the galactic political and
economic system. It was an impressive total and would probably never be equaled, but
now it was over. Those who admired audacity, verve, determination and were not so rich
as to fear him and not so poor as to be too busy in ceaseless mental and physical labor
and not give a ## about him, would raise a glass to his long unbeaten run. If they ever
found out, which they probably wouldn’t. It didn’t pay to share information like this.
But tributes have outraced narrative! What happened that Xolo would fail? Fail to put
holes in a fat thing on a pillow? That doesn’t sound like the shark-surfing Xolo we have
come to know.
But as the Sultan landed on his pillows, Xolo saw something shiny buried down there
waiting for him. It was the three kids in their capes, sitting with little handcuffs and gags.
Xolo knew that he could take out the sultan, but that would be death for the kids. No way
he could get them out of here in the bloodbath that would follow.
Xolo was not a cold man. He liked the kids. But there was more than that behind his
decision to not pop the sultan open and complete his assignment. He knew - in those fine
tuned instincts of his - that the kids were linked to something big. He knew that they
offered him the chance to take his campaign of violence into a new direction. And he felt
like it was time. His reflexes were slowly degrading. And the last time he had been
kicked in the balls, it had hurt. He needed to find a way to assassinate which was not
dependent on reflexes or balls.
Or one day - in maybe two years time - he would get his brains blown out. And as theparts that remained in his skull leaked out all his meaning, he would remember the little
dead silver kids. And one thing he wanted more than almost anything else was a perfect
He dropped his gun and got on his knees with his hands on the top of his head. He looked
to Sunny and said, “I’ll get you out of this.”
She admired him enough to stay quiet, but not enough to show any kind of confidence on
“I will,” he said.
No movement on the sandy little face.
Ninja knees breaking all limbs.
The High counselors starting with high-pitched shrieks of orders.
And by the time Xolo blacked out these fancy counselors sounded like working men,
watching chicken-lizards kick each other dead, momentarily just a few inches above the
absolute bottom of the ladder of exploitation.
The usual unconsciousness.
The thing that was absolute nothingness but which somehow managed to end.
A little universe.