by John Dodd

My name is Nathaniel Kasimirov, son of Alexandr.

I am a Sociopath.

I have been an operative within SLA for over twenty years.

They do not know about me yet.

When I complete an assignment for my masters, I am required to make a report for them to read, for them to pass judgement upon, and decide whether or not my actions were correct or not.

My latest report read as follows:

Routine Sweep and Clear, four suspects apprehended, three terminations made, termination recommended for apprehended suspects. Report ends.

But I sense that you will not be satisfied with that somewhat spartan description, and so I will begin at the beginning.

A long time ago, at Meny. The operative training was boring, mind numbingly boring, routine and easy by anyones standards, how anyone could fail at any of this I do not know, but none the less, many of the people I have found here have left, citing pressures of living for their reasons of leaving. I cannot pretend to understand why, all I see is weakness where there should be strength. It may be a short sighted view taken by myself, but I am certain in the knowledge that those of us who survive the courses will prove to be the best of the best.

But I digress once again, forgive me, it is a habit of mine.

The point of this trip down memory lane is a simple one, a young woman by the name of Sophia formed an attraction to me, and made this evident in less than a subtle manner. I say this because returning to my room to find a naked woman in my bed waiting for me is not what I consider to be subtle. Although I had no feelings for her, she need not know that, and the release was something that I could use on occasion.

This continued for several months until the days of the graduation from Meny. All of those remaining at this time, and I might add that it was less than I had expected, all gathered in the bar for a final drink. I have often tried to get drunk to see if it would make any difference to my mental state, it didn't, and so I stopped. While I have never seen the point of doing something that would only cause a dent in my finances without any appreciable effect, my erstwhile compatriots did not share my lack of enthusiasm for being drunk, and all of them without exception were so far out that the coastline was no longer even in sight.

Sophia was one of these, in between slurring several endearments and promises that we'd always be together, she mentioned something about planning for the future, that we should be thinking about what we're going to do twenty years, thirty years from now. I recall telling her that what happens years from now is of no consequence, as we could all be dead the next day. What point is there in planning for something you have no control over.

She broke down into tears and fled the club. I recall thinking at the time that I should have felt guilty about it, I even tried to summon up the emotion, but, as with all the others, it was not there. My fellow graduates passed me glances that were half contempt, half alcohol, if you asked them today what they were thinking, I doubt they could have told you.

Twenty years passed, I was true to my calling, and became the best of the best. I still see some of my old comrades, most of them retired from the calling when they found themselves getting too old, too slow, or not getting enough money to pay for the lifestyle they thought they deserved. It matters not to me, once more I have been proved right, the strong have prevailed, the weak hide behind their excuses to mask their own incompetance.

I was given an assignment by head office to track and "render harmless" (Read: kill) a DownTown gang, taking prisoner it's leaders and making any terminations as I see fit.

The Gang in question had taken the name of Retribution, and roamed the lower west side of DownTown after dark, generally righting wrongs and taking back the streets for decent people. My employers did not agree with this spirit of welldoing, in truth, I would have expected nothing less, indeed, my only curiosity was why they had not sanctioned the gang earlier.

I began my search at what DownTowners laughingly call the black market. Slayer knows, if they ever came across a real black market, they'd be dead in minutes. There are several different stalls that know something of what goes on within the lower levels, the best of these is Anastasia, an ebon who is so close to the white, she put out her own eyes to try and stop the visions. She and I talk rarely, but Honour demands that I see her right for all the things that she has done for me in the past. I still have my contacts in Orienta, and they secure for me every month a small dose of something that helps with her nightmares. I've never tried it myself, it has a name in the ebon tongue that I cannot even begin to pronounce, but I presume that for the price I pay, I get the genuine goods.

She looks up as I enter, her eyelids closed. The room is dimly lit by several pure white candles, and the walls are covered in glyphs. She tells me that they keep the demons away, and in that I must believe her, for she would never joke about such things. From the lack of lines on her face, she could easily pass for someone one half her age, I remember her eyes before, and find myself wondering what could be so bad that you would voluntarily take your own eyes to try and stop yourself from seeing it. Regardless of the fact that she has no eyes, you cannot help but know that she can see you

"Nathaniel." she smiles.
"I am a stranger in your home." I reply, following the ritual of the wanderer.
"Never to me." she replies, the smile widens into a grin, perfect white teeth gleam in the plain light of the room.

She speaks the truth again, she knows that I am an abomination, she knows what I am capable of, and what I am not capable of. She is also not afraid, a quality that I have come to value most highly. In another lifetime, we could have been lovers, but the world is not a kind one, and we all have our parts to play.

I pass over the small bag in my hand as she gestures for me to sit. She reaches out and takes the bag, what I can only think is a sad smile crosses her face momentarily.

"You don't have to do this." she murmurs.
"If you sleep easy even one night, then it is worth any price to me." I reply, the answer not a lie, my father always taught me that if a man can count upon the fingers of one hand his true friends, then he is blessed beyond belief. Anna would happily die for me, I have known this for years, and even though I have never had to call upon that, the fact that she would deserves recognition.
"Then I must find a way to make your nights easier then." It's not a question, she knows why I am there before I even begin to think of telling her.
"I have an…….assignment that I have to complete, the gang known as Retribution, my lords demand their deaths."

Anastasia paused, a thing I have never known her to do. She takes out her cards and lays them before her in the traditional five card line.

"Do you wish to alter any of them?" She knows that I will not, even if I wanted to, I trust on her being right every time, a man should not try and alter his destiny too often, push too hard and destiny occasionally pushes back.

She pauses a moment then reveals the first card, the card signifying who the reading is for. I know in advance what this card is, it never changes. True to form, as she turns the card, the skull in the stars stares back at me, the card is Apocalypse, it signifies not the end of all things, but a force of destruction unstoppable by mortals.

For a second, Anna smiles, she knows that she does not need to explain this one, but the smile is gone as quickly as it came. She reaches for the second card, those who will be ranged against me. The card turns, a fragment of a clock, the card is called Tempus.

She sees the confusion in my face. "It signifies that a part of the time you have lived will come back to you, something that was not resolved will come against you, it has planned this for a long time."

Still confused by this, I motion for her to go on.

The third card, Those allied with me, the card turns, The vastness of deep space, the card is called Void.

Anastasia nods slowly, as if this was expected "This card signifies the absolute lack of anything, there will be no one to help you here, not your lords, not me, not anyone you know. You are on your own in a way that I cannot make more clear."

I nod, this is nothing new to me.

The fourth card, Complications that will arise. The card turns, an angel and a demon passionately entwined, the card is called Forbidden.

Anastasia seems confused herself by this.
"This card means that love will complicate the matter, something that should not have been, but was, and the whole thing is because of this. I do not understand this, no one could ever misunderstand what you are, and I know that you have never been anything but truthful about yourself, so I cannot comment truly on what this means"

The Fifth card, what is the outcome of the quest. The card turns, The scales of law and order. I am familiar with the card, but not the implication.

Again, Anna senses the confusion.
"It's a sign that the just will prevail, those who are doing the right thing will be the ones to survive."

I shrug non comittally, the statement has me a little puzzled.

Anna senses this again, she reaches out and holds my hand, there's electricity in the touch, she knows this, and only reaches for me when she feels I need it.
"Nate, it may be a strange thing for you to understand, but you always do the right thing, that code of yours, remember?"
I smile, it's a fake smile and she knows it, but she matches it. I squeeze her hand on impulse and stand to leave.

Anastasia tilts her head upwards to "look" at me.
"You can't kill all the dragons all the time Nathaniel, I'm always here when you need me."

There are times when I truly would like a chance to feel something, because this woman truly deserves more than what I can give to her. I would say that it's frustrating, but it's not for me, so I find myself armed with phrases out of books that might do some good.

"I know." It's a lame comment and I know it, but I can think of nothing better on the spur of the moment.

She nods and releases my hand, gathering her cards back up. "What you're looking for has a base on the corner of the southside abandoned terminus." she sounds sad as she says this, A thing I have never known Anna to be. I could not help but think that she had seen more than she mentioned.

I travelled to the southside terminus, once the shining example of Progress. In this world, like all the others that have fallen to the ground. Derelict and unused, the terminus' sixty levels now hold all manner of scum. The entrance is unguarded, I pause for a moment to check my weapons and equipment, then flip on the stealth suit and go in.

At the thirtieth floor, I come across one guard in the colours of the gang. All he sees is a dead eyed swirling mass coaslesce out of the darkness. In less than a second he's disarmed and up against the wall with a long blade to his throat.

"Your leaders, Where?" The noise that comes out of the throat mike could never be traced back to me.
"Not……here!" he gasped
I know he's lying, one thing about being a sociopath is that you learn all emotions and how to fake them, you also learn how people are when they are not telling the truth, and you can spot any of the tell tale signs in an instant.
"Lie to me again, you die instantly, now again, where?"
"Fortieth floor, secondary office hall."
"How many?"
"Not su…." The last sound cuts off along with most of his throat.

I lower the body to the floor and proceed to the fortieth. The level is badly guarded at best, downright sloppy at worst, the gang patrols in single person units, no backup, and no preset patrols or call ins. In the most part they are armed with caf weapons, sixty years out of date and most of them rusty, none of them are using armour, and all of them look out of their heads on drugs.

I shrug, SEP, Someone Elses Problem, in this case, theirs. Within an hour, all those on patrol are stacked unconscious against the furthest wall, bound and gagged. I ready my lethal weapons and move to take down the leaders. I enter the main room with my right hand gun raised and my sword in my left. The five individuals around the table jump up and look towards me. The years race back as the person at the head of the table stands up and looks at me.


The years had not been kind, there were lines deeply ingrained in her face, and she wore a look of defeat upon her face that must have been etched in there over many years of suffering. For a brief second, I found myself wondering what had happened to bring her to this. For a brief second only, a faint click twenty feet behind me interrupts it. Without looking, I pop the single round cannon on my left arm and place the round squarely in between the targets eyes. I don't have to look to know that I hit the target, the look of shock on four of the fives eyes tells me all I need to know.

Sophia of course knows what I am capable of, although it has been a few years. Judging by the look in her eyes, I still have some effect on her, maybe it's just shock. Another footstep behind me, not creeping, a sure and steady pacing, confident in what it's doing.

Sophia smiles "remember when I told you about planning for the future?"
I nod almost imperceptibly.
"Well, Nathaniel, here's what I meant."

"Nathaniel?" The voice is almost a copy of mine.
I leave the gun trained on the front group and turn. The young man standing behind me could almost be a carbon copy of me, he is dressed as I used to, and carries the same weapons that I always have.
"Father?" His eyes are not like mine, confusion and something else is in there.

"Father?" I repeat the question behind me.
"Yes, father, I've told him all about you, for as long as he's been aware, and now you will know what it is to abandon your family".
"You cannot abandon something you know nothing about." I know that the words will only anger her at this point, no matter how well chosen or sensible, the old phrase about a woman scorned is never more true than here. The boy drew his sword and faced off against me. I shook my head, looking deep into his eyes "You don't have to do this boy, you know you can't win against me."
"I have right on my side father, you cannot win." He attacks, it's a good strike, fast and committed, I parry it without conscious thought, sending a riposte back at him with no real intention. He barely parrys it, stepping back awkwardly.
"I don't know what your mother has told you boy, but I did not know of you, and I never have, if I had, I would have come to you and been father to you." I hold him off disinterestedly, curious to find out what happened
"You lie!" he screams, his face contorted by rage "She's told me how she came to you and you beat her and told her to get rid of me, and that in every instance when she needed your help, you told her to go to hell!" I have to give her credit for inventiveness, but even in this plan, she has not forgotten what she always knew about me, my code of honour.

Blood is blood, no matter how tainted, and that bond is sacred, you must never raise a hand against your own blood.

I find myself warring with that as I spar with this angry young man who does not know anything about me or what I am. In truth, he cannot win against me, he has neither the training nor the experience, and I can hold him off far longer than he can possibly continue. And so I find myself in two minds, one debating the code problem, the other half heartedly blocking his ever more frenetic attacks.

"Sophia, is this what you would have for our son? Would you have him throw his life away to satisfy a wrong that was never done?" I look backwards as I speak, deflecting his blade by noise and sense alone.
"He will not die, I know what you can and cannot do, you cannot kill him, and when he kills you, he will replace you in your position and together we will bring down SLA!" Her tone has risen to a screech at this point.
Suddenly it all falls into place, she cares nothing for this poor confused child, it's all part of her plan, and if they should kill me, then the suffering for him will go on. I remember once, when I was fifteen, my father took me for my first beer, and spoke to me as an adult for the first time in my life.
"Nathaniel, If something ever causes you pain, then you must come to me, and I'll take care of it, that is the responsibility of a father, as you will learn should you ever have children."

Back to the present as I stopped another blow from his blade, I looked deep into his eyes, saw the pain and frustration there, saw him glancing behind me for support from his mother, saw him not getting any. He had done this several times so far in the fight, and with each look, I saw the pain increase, this was the moment he was to have putting all the wrong things right, this was his moment in the sun, and at the point when his life should have been brightest, there was only darkness.

My father's words came back to me over the years as I riposted again and thrust the sword through his heart. I saw the shock on his face as the blade struck, then he looked at me, the hate and pain cleared from his eyes for a second and in that second, understanding flowed through him.
"Forgive me, my son" I whispered to him "If I had known…"
He looks at me with clear blue eyes and smiles faintly, gripping my hand "I know now father, forgi…."

And without another word, he sags into my arms.

I pull the blade from him and lower him to the floor, there has been no sound from behind me throughout all of this. I turn to find all five of them still standing there, no emotion showing from any of them. If they had all been like me, I would have understood this, but from normal people, and especially Sophia, I had expected something.

"It means nothing!" she spits at me "We will win in the end, you'll be destroyed."

"Did you not think to protect him?" I know the question is pointless, I just find myself hoping that there is a reason why I have had to do what I have done.
"He was your get, and meant nothing to me, I rejoice that he is dead."
"So all his life he had no one?"
"He never needed anyone, he knew what his task was, since his birth he's known what his task was."
"And you feel nothing for this?"
"You're a fine one to talk, If you'd loved me…."
"If life was not the way it was……" I fired one round into her head, the shot smashing her off her feet
"but it is…."

I tied up the others and filed my report, assignment over.

Ah, you say, but you left four bodies there, your report says three. Well my friends, the body of my son was never found, he found his way to the tomb of my ancestors, where my family will look after him. It is right that he should not be as alone in death as he was in life.