One way or another, the blood of the metropolis was pumping. Downtown Ultima was busier during the day, with the skies crowded with hover cars and transport ships along the skyways. While at night, the streets were teeming with people and vendors. There weren't many street lamps, but most roads and walkways were lit by giant neon signs and hologram advertisements. So at certain moments, one could be fooled it was daytime, even at midnight. New York's Times Square no longer felt special anymore.
I pushed through the river of people along the sidewalks, making my way to the large alley ahead. Between the people shouting and motors running, I would hear an audio ad played by a nearby drone or from screens projecting their latest brand. More often than not, you'd hear or see Japanese among other languages across these ads. Their market had the strongest influence in the States, along with Switzerland.
At the moment, a tall holographic woman was beautifully dancing in the air between the city's towers above me. She'd finish her routine, and finally, her body shimmered away, leaving nothing but a line of text floating: ALZFUN. There were also trucks with big screens driving slowly on the street. One of them was announcing a political campaign ad: "Vote for Tomorrow! Vote for Dygen!"
Every commute is a commercial now.
I left my helmet with my motorbike and most of my gear. Of course, I wasn't wholly unarmed, but I never casually wore my armor or helmet in public. Someone could identify my outfit with a related incident, so I had to blend in with the crowd in the most straightforward fashion: as a simple nobody with no discernable characteristics, hiding in plain sight. How often do you really pay attention to the nobodies around you?
I walked between the two bars near the edge of the upcoming intersection. Lines were formed in front of them with obnoxiously loud base music booming from within. The main alley between these bars had low light and all kinds of interesting characters hanging around in groups.
At the end of the alley, to the left, was a crude downward staircase descending to a door with a single dim light over it. A bouncer with a robotic yellow eye stood guard blocking my path. With arms crossed, eyeing me up and down, his robotic eye flickered briefly. As soon as he recognized me, he moved to the side, allowing me to enter through the door. I found my way into the domeshaped bar hidden inside: Buzzkill.
It's an exclusive watering hole associated with the Assassins Guild. A circular bar top was at the center with people huddled around, and a huge 360 multiscreen television hung above playing news coverage and sports. A few cold metal tables and lounging chairs filled the space from bar to wall, with booths against the far edge of the dome. The place was well-lit with a thematic orange hue and had classic electric music playing in the background.
This was the best of all the Assassins Guild bases I've been to; and, conveniently, the quietest. The atmosphere would only get lively a few moments of the week, but most of the time, people kept to themselves here. The little the trouble and interaction, the better it was for me.
I sat in a highchair, waiting for the barkeep, Lovo, to come my way. He waved at me and gestured a finger to standby. As he was mixing some drinks, I glanced at the job postings in front of me to pass the time. Below the main television was a smaller black circular LED screen displaying moving red numbers and dates like a stock exchange screen. The Circuit Board.
In most places, there are two ways an assassin can make a living: through private contracts and jobs offered by paying individuals personally. Or through the Circuit Board, aka the Circuit.
The system is simple. Want someone dead? Submit a kill request through a dark web forum linked with the Circuit or in person if you can. Pay an entry fee to make your request and list your price, provided it reaches the minimum amount. Submit the fee and target price using any acceptable ID, which will be encrypted, so it isn't traced; but verifiable by the Guild. The target's name is only disclosed if an assassin takes the request. But the assassin can feel free to cancel the job if needed.
If you'd like to put a date of when you'd like the job done, there's an extra fee. Same goes if you don't have a picture or identification for the target. However, that time fee is returned if the due date passes without any takers. This excludes the entry fee and any others. Those are kept by the Guild for operational funding.
Your payment is only charged once the job is done, but it better go through, or it'll be you listed on the Board. Also, no requests for body retrieval or targets to be taken alive. Leave that for the bounty hunters. Finally, cancelations are prohibited once picked up. So you better think it through.
"Hey Star, what's new?" Lovo asked.
"Sup. I have a Key," I handed the Confirm Key over to him.
"Still hard at work, huh? I'll be right back," he walked away towards a console on his side of the bar, tapping in information. Just then, I focused on the news broadcasting from one of the screens above me.
"- just hours ago," the anchorman was saying. "I have just spoken to chief Morgan, who's leading the investigation. What we have here is a possible turf war between crime syndicates. This opera house, the Wolfspear, had several attendees linked to many big and small crime organizations. They are being detained at this moment. Still, there are suspects that passerby witnesses claimed to have seen running from the vicinity. We ask the public to contact the local authorities if you have any information regarding the event.
Amidst the firefight that took place at the opera house, four police officers tragically lost their lives in the line of duty. Their families…"
"Damn," spoke a drunk at the bar.
"Crazy, right? Seems like the crime of the year," another stranger watched in amazement.
"Bwanna hear something crazier?" the drunk whispered not so quietly, "I hear the Skulls are dead. Word on the street they were gunned down in a garbage dump- hic."
"Nope. I bet you a thousand credits they'll be on that news there tomorrow," the drunk wagered.
"You're on. No one can take on the Skulls, let alone kill them all at once like that. Those guys are practically legends."
"Master thieves and killers, sure. But there are plenty of those already. Only difference with them was their reputation- hic- and their bounty. The next bunch will come around."
The drunk took a big swig from his beer and wiped his lips with his messy sleeve. Then, he leaned to his 'friend' as if the next piece of information was secret. Although his volume did not match the severity of the topic. "If you ask me, the Shinigami of Ultima has struck again."
"The urban legend? He's not real," the stranger passively replied.
"Think about it; he kills only those whose sins are too great to forgive. Silco, the Kin, Aberdeen, Chris Ryker, Madam Delena, and now… the Skulls. All great and powerful in their own right, yet none could escape their fate with the death god. All within four years- too frequent to be random."
"I don't buy it. One guy playing vigilante, taking down the big heads of the underworld? It's all coincidence- every major crime lord meets their end someday."
"He ain't no vigilante. Not the way he kills. He's cold, precise, he's-"
"Darkstar. You're all set. Port Five," Lovo returned, handing me a slip and my key back.
The newfound drinking partners continued to argue as I headed towards the back door against the wall. Making my way through some tables, a large man stood from his seat, having me run into the chair lightly.
"Excuse me," I muttered politely.
"Watch it, kid," the large man called.
Trying to pass it off, I kept walking, hoping my nonresponsiveness would be enough. I was wrong.
"HEY," the bar now hushed in response to the abrupt disruption. "I don't think you heard me. Mind where you're going, little shit."
"Sorry, didn't expect you to stand up so quick."
"What, are you blind and stupid? You ran into me."
"And I apologized. We good?"
"No, we're not," he stomped towards me with hostility. As he forcefully grabbed my shoulder, another man walked over. This one wore a red suit with complimenting black tones and an Augment Lens on his face. He was the definition of high class and elegance, but his attire didn't match the image of the bar one bit. Saying he was overdressed would be an understatement.
"Pardon me, sir. I'll have to ask you to keep your hands to yourself."
"What's it to you, moneybags?" the brute snapped.
"I take it that you're new here. We have a rule here at Buzzkill: No brawling within the building. And a word of advice, don't threaten our regulars."
"What are you gonna do about it? Doesn't look like you can fight."
"Oh, I wouldn't have to," the gentleman said with total confidence.
To this, the brute glanced around the room; he was outnumbered. Almost all the patrons were glaring at him with deathly stares. Some had their weapons drawn to my defense, while the rest stared in annoyance at the big bully for causing a scene. He then took his hand off my shoulder, displeasingly so.
"Manners, sir, be sure to learn them. Another disturbance, and you'll be excommunicated from this establishment," the fine gentleman said coldly. His warning held more than face value, for this was a bar for assassins, after all.
Defeated, the brute walked over to his seat like a wounded puppy and slumped down in embarrassment. The fine gentleman brushed the dust off my shoulders, causing the room to return to their business.
"Are you all right, Sir Darkstar?"
"Just Darkstar. And yes, thanks, Borden. Sorry for the trouble."
"Don't be. I can't have ruffians harming my loyal customers. Just happy I came in time. Not as if you needed the help. I take it you were holding back after all," he smiled.
"Well, you know. I didn't want to disturb anybody. 'Manners maketh the man.'"
"That indeed. Good seeing you. Have a wonderful night, dear boy," Borden walked off to the bar with great stride. Being close to the bar's owner sure had its perks.
Returning to my own business, I entered the bar's back door, which led me into a dark hallway with multiple Key Port rooms. The quietness was disturbing. Even though the floors and walls were concrete, no noise other than my footsteps echoed. Taking a right, I walked past the closed-off rooms until I arrived at mine. I walked inside and the door automatically locked behind me.
"Insert key," a monotonous voice spoke from all directions.
I did as instructed, inserting the drive into the only thing on the sleek black wall in front of me: a Key Port.
"Voice activation required. Account name and code."
"Account name: Darkstar. Code is 'Katsuo,'" I replied.
The wall flashed green, running a sequence of random letters and numbers, then displayed my name. The entire wall was a screen that loaded the key's information.
USER ACCESS: DARKSTAR
ACCOUNT NAME: EIJI
A neat thing about Keys and the Circuit. It's also a protected, easy-to-use money service for anyone in the underworld. You don't want to pay through Wrist Chips or credit cards for this kind of business. The Circuit handles funneling the money in and out discreetly to appear clean to the network. In my case for this recent job, Marshall hadn't put in a Kill Request through the Circut, but he did use their system to pay me.
"Welcome back, Eiji. Would you like to access your payment?" the room spoke.
"Yes. Make a full deposit into my standard account."
"One moment… Five million credits have been transferred to your account. Discarding key. Have a nice day."
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