Static screams across the graveyard, a cascade of black and white snow that only a fool would consider beautiful. It is, even to my eyes, a television-screen blur, the feed coming through my optic-receiver lost for a moment in the wreckage of pops and bursts.
The image jumps – pauses: frac
top right moving forwards, sliding –
– bottom left remains still, frozen. Jumps again: all-goes-black: realigns. And we’ve once again got a clear image.
What I see they see, the viewing public. Every break in transmission draped in a curtain of raining fuzz, every second of live-feed lost to electrical haze is an excuse for them to turn to a competitor. I prepare myself to relegate to the back of my mind the inevitable chatter concerning the poor-quality of the footage I’m pumping. Let the techies earn their keep, I’m busy focusing on the hunt here. That’s how I earn my dollars.
There’s another crackle, a burst of sounds [*BUUU**Z*-*CHAK**CHAK*CHAK*] like metal scraping over bone and then the Editor speaks. Words projected directly into my inner-ear her voice is crisp and clear (somehow they never botch that like they do the visual feeds). She’s sheer ice after the preceding cascade. I imagine her, mechanical and cold, sitting in her pilot’s chair, with long legs crossed at the knee, surveying a bank of monitors, detached from everything she casts an eye over.
I feel an urge when I hear that voice in my ear, that uncaring purr, dripping sex. She never wastes a word, remains precise in her instructions. Functional. Desirable. Controlling.
“Give a full one-eighty. Left to right. Slow pan.”
Without replying I lift my weapon and click a round into the chamber. It’s all for effect. Figures & Ratings show audiences react like woodchips popping in a blaze for that. Every, single, time. And with audience figures comes advertising. And with that comes more big bucks for me.
I begin my rotation and take it all in. Gravestones, mausoleums, stone statues and metal structures. All markers, all signs pointing out the places where the bodies lie. I don’t say rest because I don’t believe they do. Churning and coiling and rolling in maggots and worms as they’re broken down and devoured. What rest can that bring?
Static erupts across my vision again, dragging me back to the task at hand, leaving existential thoughts for later. The cursed reception in this graveyard is terrible. Notoriously so. There are too many conflicting signals criss-crossing, not only overhead but below ground as well. The result: repeated drop-outs and black-spots.
That’s why they run here, the Marks. About 90% of them come to this place. They hope they’ll be the next one to hide out in the in-between, become an unseen among the grave-markers and the flurries of electronic snow, to jump around like ghosts in the blind-spots. But they rarely escape, less than one in twenty. And never any of mine.
This one though, she’s good. She almost gets away by sneaking behind a transmission break. Almost.
I only catch the briefest of movements to my right before static once more descends in a waterfall of grey-white-black, accompanied this time by an ear-shredding crackle.
A less experienced Hunter would have missed her, but I know this game too well. So much so that even as it’s happening I think about how great the pictures I’m getting will play on the Rewinds later as pundits ask the viewers: ‘Did You See The Mark?’
So I trace my line of sight back until… there she is. Her hair’s all tangled like weeds, caught on the edge of the stone angel she’s stood behind. The statue’s carved palms held out and open, as if begging for peace. No chance.
She moves but far too slowly, slower anyway than my augmented movements and I spray a quick burst of C.A. after her. The Cutter-Ammo shreds through stone, spitting splinters from the angel and sending slicing shards over and into the Mark’s fragile flesh.
For a beautiful second it looks like the angel itself is bleeding. There’s an explosion of red spots spattering against the dull, colour-leeched background. This is the moment that is going to be the Kill-Grab, the one that’ll be frozen and pulled. That shot of the bleeding angel will accompany every feed, I’ll bet my bonus on it.
She falls, the Mark, gasping for breath and I zoom-in, keeping her agonised face in focus. Not that it really matters. Now that I’ve already got my Kill-Grab, the actual moment of death itself is mostly redundant. Still, I’m not going to deprive anyone of their thrill. I’m a pro that way.
The Editor is silk in my ear again as, at my feet, the Mark stops moving. Sometimes you get lucky and in amongst all the static and the grave-markers you find a second of beauty.
Ken McGrath lives in Dublin, Ireland but you can find him online @fromthebigface. His fiction has been published in Daily Science Fiction, Speck Lit, Word Legs, Antipodean SF and 365 Tomorrows among others.