Won’t Hurt a Bit

Colin grabbed the kid. Kid—that’s how Colin thought of him, but of course he was a grown man. A grown man was any man old enough to bear the full weight of the consequences of his actions, even if that weight crushed him. And a kid, well, a kid was anyone who chose the wrong actions, the ones that would get them crushed. So yeah, he was a grown man. But he was just a dumb kid, too. And in Colin’s mind, a dumb kid first and foremost.

Sorry ’bout ya.

Colin grabbed the kid by his jacket, up by the back of his neck. Threw him out of the shuttle and into the hot gray mud. It stank like eggs and burnt plastic. It was overcast, as it always was here, but it was the middle of the day so it was one of those bright kinds of overcast. Didn’t matter a bit; wasn’t another soul within a hundred miles to see what was about to happen here.

Hell, maybe there weren’t any souls here, either.

“Where are we?” asked the kid. He’d pulled the black hood off of his face. That was fine.

“That’s a stupid question,” said Colin.

“What?” The kid wiped sweat from his brow, and then tried uselessly to wipe away the streak of gray mud he’d replaced the sweat with.

“I said it’s a stupid question. Irrelevant. We’re alone. I’m gonna do what I do and that’ll be the end of it.”

Zurk—Nicoli Zurk was the kid’s name, if it mattered—had the bewildered expression of a child whose friend just explained that Spot didn’t go to some farm upstate with lots of room to run around. Your parents are liars, the friend says. Spot’s worm food. Maybe a bad analogy; Colin wasn’t the kid’s friend.

“We’re at Mortem Agris,” Colin finally explained, annoyed and ready to move on. “The Death Fields on Ensis Alpha. Magma flows repave the whole g’dam continent every 962 hours; you can set your watch by it. Work brings me out here a few times a year.” He drew a long breath. The stench made his eyes water and he blinked it away. “I guess it’s kind of beautiful, in a bleak and chaotic sort of way. If that’s the sort of thing you’re into. Anyway…”

He produced a coilgun from his jacket. It was small—and light; no ammunition. Pulled the oxygen from the air and the electrons from the oxygen. Supercooled the nuclei into dense pellets that didn’t leave an entry mark but blew an exit wound the size of a cantaloupe. All it took was a twitch of his forefinger. He loved that gun. Or he thought he did. What was love—?

“Hey man! Wait! I don’t know anything!”

Oh yeah. The kid.

“Yeah,” said Colin, “that’s sort of the impression I got.”

For a moment the dumb kid looked insulted, but the mask of fear was back again on his long face in short order. “I’ve got money. I’ll pay you whatever you want,” he tried.

Colin shook his head, his attention on wiping a smudge off his coilgun. Damn mud gets on everything. “Nah, it would be bad business. Short term payoff, but a bad investment. Gotta take the long view.”

“I’ll do anything, please; don’t hurt me.”

Colin paused, looking up from his gun. “Well, that’s an interesting proposition. You’re telling me you’ll do anything so long as I don’t hurt you.”

The kid nodded his head rapidly like it was bouncing on a spring.

Colin looked back to his gun with a little sadness. “I’m really supposed to hurt you though. Sort of the whole point…”

“Please!”

Colin waved him off. “Alright, alright, don’t piss your britches. There is something you can do for me.” Now he looked the kid dead in the eyes. “You can tell the devil I’m coming.”

“Wha—”

Colin shushed him. “Don’t worry; this won’t hurt a bit,” he said, and pointed the coilgun with practiced precision and pulled the trigger. The gray mud mixed with reds and browns and yellows. The kid made a hell of a mess, but the magma flows would take care of the cleanup. They always did.

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