The artist climbed the ‘hill’. She could see the spaceport from there. The wheel turned, slowly, as the ships aboard it prepared to launch.
She got to the top, and stopped. The metal was cold against her bare feet. She could feel the thrum of her home through it.
Arcring. The great disk to mine Saturn’s rings. This was her home.
And it was to be taken from her. She was to be forced to leave, to hunt the Arcernment’s enemies. This she would not do. This was her home, her art gallery.
She flexed the augmented muscles in her legs, and leapt to the ceiling. The circuits in her fingers whirred and dug in, easily catching hold. She climbed over to an air duct, ripped the cover off, and climbed into it.
The sniper climbed the stairs. He could see his future falling away from him with every step. The treadmill had finally outrun him on this ring.
He got to the top and stopped. The antiseptic in the air bit the back of his throat and made his eyes sting. He blinked them, and the genetic enhancers bleeding the toxins out of his syetm in a single tear from each eye.
The door stood before him. His fate. His future.
He pushed it open and walked in.
His boss stood at the far end, the man who decided his future, his fate.
“Take a seat Jor. I have something to tell you”
The sniper sat, ignoring the name that was no longer his. He had not thought of himself as ‘Jor’ in years now, but he still reacted to it.
“What is it sir?”
“Our newest recruit went rogue. Seems the butcher of Calton had muscle augments. Don’t know why we didn’t pick them up. You will bring her down”
The sniper nodded, almost relieved that he would not be executed today, almost saddened.
“What was her last known position sir?”
“You’ll be told that en route. Pick up your gear. You need to be in the air in ten minutes or else the trail will go cold”
The sniper nodded, and stood. His eyes picked the fine details from his boss’ life; the smudge on his wrist, the crumbs on his front, the bags under his eyes. His boss was a tired man. Maybe he should retire him when this mission was done.
The artist climbed through the ventilation. She had done this many times before. She knew these ducts well. They were her friends, the place from which she conducted her art.
She smiled in the darkness. Nobody could see her here, nobody could hurt her. Nobody could force her to leave her gallery. She was safe.
The sniper climbed into the aircar, his equipment slung over his shoulder.
The pilot slid a portscreen back to him.
“The requested information has been prepared”
The sniper took it, and began to flip through the files.
After incident reports, police reports, headlines, cadaver lab reports, PI reports, everything that you would expect from a serial killer’s files.
What he did not expect was the beauty in the crime scene images. The butcher was not a butcher, but an artist.
The bodies, the way they were laid out. The spread of the gore, the way it was splashed on the walls. Even in the cuts on the bodies, the ways that they were killed the sniper could see the art. He was impressed. He had thought not to see another artist so long after the first. It almost made him smile, except the sniper did not smile anymore.
He decided that he would kill her, if only so that she would not be corrupted by the world. So that she would not lose her beauty.
The artist climbed through the tunnels and dropped down into the outer ring.
She looked around at the vast empty space.
Emptiness. Vastness. Spaceness.
She would like the make art here some day. Maybe she could find a couple and add their love to her gallery, immortalized forever by a true artist.
Or maybe not. She had to keep moving or else the men would find her and make her leave her home.
She began to run.
The sniper leapt out of the aircar, and ran to the ‘hill’.
Looking around he quickly spotted the vent. He tensed his legs, and sprang with all his superhuman strength.
He landed half in the vent, and had to scrabble for purchase before getting in.
Then he began to run.
The artist looked all around her. Here she was safe. Here in her sanctum.
She smiled and looked at the journal clippings around her on the walls.
All of her art. Of course, none of these pictures could capture the true beauty of her art, but it was enough.
She sighed, and sat down. She was safe here. Totally safe.
The sniper came out at the outer ring.
“So this is where you are artist. I can see why. It appeals to me too”
He looked both ways, looking for clues, and sniffed, like a dog with a scent.
If anyone had seen him then they would have sworn that he would howl and give chase on all fours, but instead he straightened, and dashed off again along the walkway.
The artist sat, and smiled again. She was safe.
Safe enough to eat anyways. She opened a pre-made and began to eat, shoveling food into her mouth.
She was halfway through when there was a knock on her door.
“Hello?” a voice called out.
She sat up straight like a spooked cat, and almost hissed at the door.
She drew her knives, and crept to the shadows at the back of the room.
The sniper pushed the door open. He knew he was in the right place by the pictures on the walls. All pictures of her art.
“I just want to talk” he called out as he advanced. The rank smell of sweat and human filth that he expected did not come. The artist must live clean. But he was hardly surprised.
He saw the half eaten pre-made moments before he saw her. And, as he had thought, she was beautiful.
The artist saw the man who had come to kill her. He was tall and lithe. He moved with a grace, and there was art in his movements.
“I would like to make of you art little man” she said as she came from the shadows, her knives ready.
The man just smiled, and his eyes flashed blue beneath his mop of black hair.
The sniper could not help but smile.
The woman was almost feral, but she was still beautiful. Her eyes were wild, and they glinted in the half-light. Her face was framed by well-looked after hair that was so black as to be blue.
She circled him, her knives twirling.
“Do you mind if I eat?” he pulled out his own pre-made, at sat at her table “I’ve been enjoying looking at your art. Do you have a name?”
She looked at him, puzzled. Finally, she sheathed her knives, and sat at the table across from him.
“I am the artist. I have no other name”
“You do. They call you the Butcher of Calton. But I like the artist better”
“What about yo, little man? Do you have a name?”
He smiled “I am the sniper. I had a name once, but it lost meaning to me”
“So here we are sniper. Two nameless beings. And you an art lover”
“Yes. I do love you art because it reminds me of mine. You see, I was an artist too. Before they got to me”
The artist looked at the man again.
Yes. She could see the art in him.
“So you know how it feels”
“But they got you?”
“Yes. They made me give up my art, made me normal. Or as normal as I can be”
“And this pains you?”
“They made me give up my art. They made me leave my home. And now they make me help them do the same to others”
“I know how you feel sniper, but if you think that you can take me from my home and make me like you, then you are mistaken. You will die little man”
The sniper smiled at her of all things.
“No, my beautiful beautiful artist, I do not intend to take you from your home, from your gallery. I will give you a gift you beautiful creature”
“A gift?” the artist sounded confused. The sniper intended to enlighten her.
“Yes. I could have killed you when I first walked in. Your knives would not have stopped by rifle. But instead I give you a chance. Here”
He tossed his pistols onto the table.
“These are for you. I will leave now artist. When I see you again I will try to kill you, and say that you resisted arrest. You will try and kill me to make this accurate”
“Because. If I kill you, then you do not become what I am. You do not lose your beauty, ever. You will forever be who you are, a beautiful beautiful artist that answers to no one. And if you kill me then you will likely take my place as the sniper, but I will finally be freed from this”
The artist looked at the pistols for a moment, and then took them. She pointed them both at the sniper’s head.
The artist was happy. She had outwitted the sniper at his own game.
“You won’t kill me now artist”
This she did not understand. Why would she not kill the one who had told her that he would kill her?
He sensed her unasked question.
“Because there is no art in killing me here. But there will be much art in hunting me across the Arcring, hunting me while I hunt you. No matter which of us dies, it will be a work of art like nothing either of us has made before”
The artist looked at him, and nodded.
“You are right little man. I think that you were once beautiful too. It is a shame that I did not know you then. We could have made art together, maybe made art of each other”
She did feel sadness at that. An opportunity lost forever, an opportunity to create with someone who shared her passions. She was rarely lonely, but at this time she was, right now.
“I agree” the sniper said with a sad smile “I wish that I were not who I am now. But if wishes were squishes”
“Then we’d all be squashed” the artist finished the old saying with a nod “You had best be going now sniper. It was a pleasure meeting you”
“And I you” he said as he got up.
The sniper looked at the artist at rest for what would likely be the last time. He knew that this moment of peace would never come again.
“I am glad that we shared bread” he said, then on impulse leaned down and kissed her on the forehead “Stay beautiful artist”
“Find your beauty sniper” she called as he walked out the door.