The assassin leapt off the bottom platform of the fire escape and ran down the alley in the darkness. He felt good. The target was executed, his rifle was deposited in the barrel of acid placed unobtrusively in the boiler room of the building, and he had established an alibi by appearing at a wedding reception in the penthouse suite within minutes of the killing. The latter would have been deemed impossible by a detective, 65 flights of stairs or a 10-minute elevator ride away from the killing, but the assassin was enhanced with bio-serum, thanks to The Mogul and his diabolical chemist. People in the Syndicate simply referred to the chemist as Mole Man, because of his unusual whiskers and aversion to light. But it was affectionate. Everyone loved the bio-serum. The assassin was running down the alley for the sheer joy of feeling no resistance, no pain, no exhaustion. His muscles were like oil. He could run forever. He had no need to flee, but the bio-serum would only last another fifteen minutes, might as well enjoy it.
He stopped and suddenly reconsidered. Be smart, he thought. He’d heard the bio-serum can make you a little batty. Renfro said he took more than the usual amount for a particularly tricky job, and almost shot himself in the face in a giddy fit. Who would be running through an alley in formal wear? He needed new clothes. Something for jogging. Even though his every fiber was coursing to move as fast as possible – to leap, to punch, to scream – he forced himself to strip off the outerwear of his suit and bury it in a nearby dumpster. Underneath he wore boxers that looked tolerably like jogging shorts and a wife beater. A little bizarre for a nighttime run, but better. With a palpable relief, he thrust himself forward into the night once more, the bio-serum crescendoing to its notorious peak right before wearing off.
He turned a corner to a main thoroughfare, intending to dash another two blocks down to the river, where he could run off his powerful feelings on the dirt jogging path without raising eyebrows. The humid summer night had his legs in a lather. He was still suppressing a yowp. He wanted so badly to celebrate. Drink, fuck, swim, fly. All things seemed possible. And thanks to The Mogul’s $2 million commission for the job, most things were possible, now. Maybe he could buy some bio-serum for recreational use? What could be the cost of it, drop by drop? Probably pretty dear, but the assassin was rich now. The assassin was rich, and strong, and free.
He turned another corner to a jogging path entry and fled down the steep hill to the riverwalk. As he came around another corner to a part of the pathway shrouded in cypress trees, he saw a small, crooked figure. Some old woman out on a sloth’s walk in the dark. He felt like punching her. He knew better. He wouldn’t. But he felt like it.
As he passed her, he suddenly felt … it was like a compression that started in his nose and quickly spread to his entire face, followed by excruciatingly sharp pain, followed by an electric jolt of adrenaline through his suddenly useless and spasming limbs. He was on the ground, seeing, through the blur of sweat and pain, cypress limbs against a gloaming sky. Then the old woman’s silhouetted head. She had decked him? He felt decked. But that was impossible!
“I’m Karma,” she said, her voice like old paper. “Your killing days are over.” She leaned down, and he could barely make out the contours of her wrinkled face. “Every kill you made has purchased you a measure of my wrath,” she continued. He tried to move, but her orthopedic shoe was on his chest now – how quickly did that happen? – and his limbs were still spasming, a side effect of the bio-serum overreacting to an adrenaline jolt. “And the full measure of your justice,” she said in a quavering murmur barely louder than a whisper, “is oblivion.”
The spasms ceased. He felt a peace wash over him. Like a tingle, but cooler, as if he was covered in the fine mist of a cool mountain stream. His entire body relaxed. The pain subsided, then converted, like ice to water, into a pleasurable hum. “Wh-what’s happening to me?” he stammered.
“Oblivion,” the old woman repeated, removing her shoe from his chest. Her eyes were glowing in the night, a deep astral indigo that seemed to pull his consciousness closer to her face. Was she bending down further, or was he floating up to her? Into her? He couldn’t feel his body any longer. He was weightless, formless, unfeeling, unburdened, unreal. In his last moment of existence, he glimpsed the tranquility of nirvana. And then he was nothing.
Karma Goldstein stood upright, her back crackling at each vertebrae. She rested her cane against her hip and used her soft withered hands to rub her eyes, which always watered fiercely when she administered justice. Finally, her aching body at least somewhat mollified, she wearily grabbed her cane and resumed her plodding course toward the assisted living home one mile away. ‘Miles to go before I sleep,’ she thought, cursing again this old shell that stubbornly disintegrated in spite of her connection to the infinite. ‘Miles to go before I sleep.’ It became a mantra, and she used it to gather peace to herself, so she could survive this pauper’s long journey home. To bed. To wonder, once again, if that would be the last soul she ever saved. Wondered, once again, if it would be enough to secure her own freedom in the infinite, or if she would be forced to live this broken life another day in atonement for all her ancient transgressions.
“Karma, dearie, you had us worried sick,” said the receptionist as she shuffled into the lobby. “You know we prefer you take your exercise during the day.”
“Too hot,” Karma snapped, continuing her slow walk down the hall to her tiny, antiseptic room.
“Okay, well it’s peaches tomorrow! We know how much you love peaches!”
Karma grunted. It was true. She did love peaches. But what purpose was there in expressing delight anymore? Delight was a gift, and Karma was all out of things to give. ((You’re imbalanced, Karma)), exhaled a voice in her mind. She held back a desire to snap at the voice. She knew nobody else could hear the voice. She knew what terrible drugs they gave her if she spoke aloud to it. (Fuck off), she replied with her mindforce. (I’ve had a long day.)
((Your duties are only one part of your redemption, Karma. Remember the teachings. Live the seven factors.))
(I said fuck off), she thought as she opened her door and flipped on the sole light. (And for the last time, I’m Jewish.)
The being inside her sighed. It tickled her neurons. ((Good night, Karma.))
“Good night, tormenter,” she muttered, then fell on the bed and passed out in her clothes, praying for death.
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