Black Petals Issue #92, Summer, 2020

Worlds to Conquer

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Gavin McGarvey-The Black Petals
Marc Dickerson-Theater is Dead
C. S. Harbold-The Whispering
Dean Patrick-Vincent's Warning
Doug Park-We Get Him Together
Joseph Hurtgen-Worlds to Conquer
Mickie Bolling-Burke-The Bringer of Darkness
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Cindy Rosmus-Out of Juice
Matthew Wilson-Endless Men's Hate
Michael Steven-Hell Rift
Sean Goulding-Hypnagogic
David C. Kopaska-Merkel-In the Land of Giants
Loris John Fazio-The Thing in the Woods
Loris John Fazio-The Beggar Knows
Richard Stevenson-Peg Leg
Richard Stevenson-The Alkali Lake Monster
Richard Stevenson-The Green Man

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Art by Hillary Lyon 2020

Worlds to Conquer

by Joseph Hurtgen

 

It was midnight in New York City when a gunshot rang out, echoing through the Celtic knot of underground passages. A dying yawp followed; the billionaire looked uneasy.

          “You have done this before?” he asked.

          “Losing your cool already?” I sneered, rebuffing Alastair McNamara, the tech mogul who had hired me. “We haven’t even seen anyone yet.”

          As if prompted, three figures turned a corner fifty yards ahead of us. I pushed McNamara against the wall. Maybe he wasn’t nervy, but they always get nervy, do something stupid. My prosthetic arm tells that story. My good arm doesn’t want any stories to tell. I subvocalized, “Wait for a clear shot.”

          He opened fire: one down, two pissed off dudes with guns. I dove to the ground.
          A return shot hit McNamara in the leg, only a sting through full body armor. I took a half second to steady myself with a deep breath and squeezed off two shots, both hits. I stood up and stared eye-to-eye with McNamara. “The next time you don’t listen to what I say, I walk. Got it?”

          McNamara took a second before nodding in the affirmative.

“Good. Let’s move.”

          McNamara glowed as we scanned the players’ barcode tattoos: two guides along with the money. “My god, it’s Hutchins!” he exclaimed.
          “Know him?”

          “Cerebral guy. Owns a major car company.”

          I glanced at the stiff. “Not anymore.”

          An alert blinkered on my HUD: police in route. “Authorities alerted. Game over.”

          “Police? We’re well armed. Can’t we take some of them out?”

          “Either you come with me or you need a new guide.”

          McNamara didn’t put up further resistance. He kept yapping though. “Why don’t we pay the police off? It wouldn’t even be that expensive.”

 We were a quarter mile from access to the Coffin Brothers Tower. We had to run.

#

          Nearly a hundred partygoers milled around a lavish lobby on the 170th floor of the tower. I knocked back a whisky shot and looked out the floor to ceiling windows. The city spread out below looked like an evil machine.

McNamara pawed a twenty-something model with one hand and fisted a cocktail with the other. An oil magnate and a television producer stood in circle with the billionaire. They bantered in a typical post-hunt conversation, all boasts and testosterone.

          “The look on his face! He never knew what hit him!” said McNamara.

          “Who’s gonna break the news to his missus?” said the producer.

          McNamara clutched the model to himself tighter. “I think I’ll put her on the payroll out of sympathy and have her when I want.”

          “You devil!” said the oil man. “I wouldn’t want to meet you in a dark alley!”

          The group roared with laughter. The model took a hit on an inhaler and her eyes took on a vacant, not-there look.

          Televisions around the room turned on, revealing the scores. McNamara was in third. The feed showed playback of the night’s highlights. The owner of a chemical conglomerate gunned down a young man with a trust fund left over from the steel empire. A hedge-fund manager knifed the owner of a multinational pharmaceutical company. The whole thing was distasteful, but ten grand for one night of work covered a multitude of sins. The seals ordered me to do a lot worse for a fraction of the pay.
One of the models walked by, her focus lasering in a pack of the superrich gathered at the bar. The mere fact that she wasn’t texting someone told me that she was getting paid on the same generous scale. 

          The spirit of the party was jovial. Men made bets about who would top the high score list next week. The air grew thick with cigar smoke and the fruity flavors mixed in with the psychotropic inhalants. Men showed each other their guns and compared investment portfolios. The men pawed the exotic women paid to party with them. More than a few mergers took place. Some of the mergers were between businesses.

#

          A week later, with the billionaire close behind, I stalked McNamara’s prey, the owner of an internet search engine that had peaked in the late ‘90s.

          “I never liked this asshole,” said McNamara. Everything about his business was always a dog-and-pony show: Superbowl commercials featuring dancing babies, a suited elephant as a mascot, and the search engine never returned X-rated material. No wonder his business failed.
          We snuck up on the search engine guy in time to see him executed by the owner of an international online bookstore.
          “Damn!” McNamara exclaimed, drawing the attention of the bookstore billionaire.
          The nouveau riche bookstore man fired three shots at McNamara, all direct hits.

McNamara felt his chest. “Thank god for armor.” He returned fire, but the bookstore man was also well shielded. These were titans impregnable against old-world attacks.
          “Stand down!” ordered the bookstore billionaire.
          We assented, backing away carefully.

#

          That night, over cocktails, the bookstore billionaire and McNamara formed a formal alliance. They drank to each other’s health and examined the list of players to see who they should target next.
          I drank too much whisky and vowed to never buy another book online.

#

For the next several weeks, the two billionaires executed several hunters, all of which had built their empires from industries in decline, including those with portfolios in natural gas, combine harvester manufacturing, and tobacco.

The billionaire alliance wasn’t all that sporting. It certainly wasn’t fair. Each week, the party at the top of Coffin Brothers Tower had fewer titans of industry and more disaffected models. McNamara took a hit off a model’s inhaler and laughed, clapping the bookstore billionaire on the back as they glowed in the light of the high scores, their names topping the list.

#

          Months into their alliance and midnight in the heart of the city, we ran up against a paramilitary team of a half-dozen fighters in red body armor. The two billionaires scoffed, until one of the red armored fighters launched a gas grenade. I grabbed McNamara and pulled him out. The bookstore man wasn’t so lucky. We watched him stagger out of the gas cloud, foam dripping from his mouth. He stumbled and didn’t get up.
          McNamara seethed. “Biological warfare! Who the hell do these people think they are?”
          I shrugged. “Isn’t beating the competition proof of concept?”
          “Like I need some half-wit to lecture me. We’ve got to crush them, knock them out before they get market share.”

          “Not sure we can fight gas attacks.”

          “We don’t have to!” McNamara pulled what looked like a film cannister out of a side pouch. “I’ve got a dozen mechanized mosquitoes in here. These guys are loaded with stingers tipped with a heavy concentration of nightshade and have a twin set of   cams on their heads, so we can monitor their flight and call in a mortal strike.”

          “This is less sportsmanlike than ever.”
          McNamara nodded. “I’d much rather shoot them, but the terms of combat choose themselves. He opened the cannister and the mosquitoes went to work. We directed the mosquitoes via McNamara’s phone and watched as they stung each of the fighters in red and they slumped to the ground, defeated. The last of them assassinated, McNamara pocketed his phone and we left the underground.

#

          McNamara skipped the post-game party. Neither did he return for the next week’s hunt. No one to guide, I headed home.

          A few weeks later I saw McNamara in front of Rockefeller Center.

“I’ve sold my business. There wasn’t anything left for me. No competition means no joy, you know?”

“Maybe you’ll start something new?” I asked.

“Something new?” he said. “There’s no more worlds to conquer.”

McNamara turned and walked away down 51st. Commercial buildings towering overhead, he cast no shadows on the darkened city street.

 

 

 

Joseph Hurtgen has a PhD in English Literature from Ball State University. He has written three books: The Archive Incarnate, Tower Defender, and Sherman. He lives in Campbellsville, Kentucky with his wife Rebecca and daughter Frances.

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