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.
done this before?” he asked.
cool already?” I sneered, rebuffing Alastair McNamara, the tech mogul who had
hired me. “We haven’t even seen anyone yet.”
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.”
fire: one down, two pissed off dudes with guns. I dove to the ground.
A return shot hit McNamara in
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?”
took a second before nodding in the affirmative.
“Good. Let’s move.”
glowed as we scanned the players’ barcode tattoos: two guides along with the money.
“My god, it’s Hutchins!” he exclaimed.
guy. Owns a major car company.”
I glanced at
the stiff. “Not anymore.”
blinkered on my HUD: police in route. “Authorities alerted. Game over.”
We’re well armed. Can’t we take some of them out?”
come with me or you need a new guide.”
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.”
were a quarter mile from access to the
Coffin Brothers Tower. We had to run.
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.
break the news to his missus?” said the producer.
clutched the model to himself tighter. “I think I’ll put her on the payroll out
of sympathy and have her when I want.”
said the oil man. “I wouldn’t want to meet you in a dark alley!”
roared with laughter. The model took a hit on an inhaler and her eyes took on a
vacant, not-there look.
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.
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
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.
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
drawing the attention of the bookstore billionaire.
The nouveau riche bookstore
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
We assented, backing away
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.
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
competition proof of concept?”
“Like I need some half-wit
lecture me. We’ve got to crush them, knock them out before they get market
“Not sure we
can fight gas attacks.”
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.”
less sportsmanlike than ever.”
McNamara nodded. “I’d
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.
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.