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Black Hound
by Darrell Whitney


He dreams.

A glitch perhaps, in his emotional program. A result of devoting so much of his neural net's capacity to fighting skills. He is a variation on an experimental military model, after all, his programming based upon stolen plans of a prototype with enhanced combat capability. There is no reason to assume that the design was free of flaws.

Perhaps it is the result of the weapon he carries, the scythe Soul Eater. It is unique, a weapon that relies not upon Photon energy but the keenness of its laconian blade and the magic imbued within it to reave the bodies of its victims.

He cannot touch upon this power, "magic." As an android, the realms of techniques and higher arts are forever beyond his grasp. Perhaps this is why he bears the Soul Eater, so that its full abilities will not shift the balance of power. Yet, is it not possible that there could be influences from the macabre blade capable of affecting even inert metal?

Or perhaps it is his work, the effects of violence. Android neural nets mimic human minds, and violence can have great effects on the human psyche. Could the programmers who created his emotions have unintentionally replicated a human sensitivity?

For whatever reason, the dreams have become worse since he set foot on Ragol. They come when he enters sleep mode. They even possess him during the day, impressions that cannot truly exist. He finds this...disquieting. He is a machine.

He has tasks to fulfill.

*     *     *     *     *

"I have another job for you, Kireek."

The man's name is Zidd. He is a man of influence, one of the Council that governs the refugee mission Pioneer 2, albeit one of its lesser members.

"Do you recall the Hunter I had you work with before?"

Kireek does. He is registered with the Hunter's Guild; it is as good a way as any to conceal the true purpose of his skills at violence, and it offers him access to the planet Ragol. In this guise, Zidd requested that he work with another Hunter to retrieve certain data. Zidd had first given this task to a young cousin, Ash.

Kireek considers Zidd a fool for doing this. Ash is an innocent boy, unaware of Zidd's activities in the criminal syndicate Black Paper. Due to familial concern, Zidd had to hire a second Hunter to accompany Kireek and secure the data disk. Kireek could have easily accomplished the task alone, but Zidd had insisted that the android's sole priority was to find, protect, and retrieve Ash. Thus potentially incriminating data was placed, however temporarily, in the hands of an outsider.

This is what love for another person produces.

"I am aware of this Hunter. A promising fighter, although not in the same class as me."

Zidd frowned.

"It so happens," he said, "that though an unfortunate chance, this Hunter had happened across certain information which could draw the attention of the authorities to our plans."

"What does this concern?" Kireek asked, though it was not his place to do so.

"Dr. Osto's research into sample Beta 772, believed to be responsible for mutating the creatures in the caves beneath Ragol. Sue reports that the Hunter has interfered, on behalf of certain clients, with our work in this area, and further notes that the Hunter has been...uncooperative."

"I see."

Zidd's face grew serious.

"The Hunter was warned not to interfere with these matters, but persisted in doing so. We now understand, furthermore, that this Hunter has accepted a commission to find the girl Anna. This interference must be stopped now."

Kireek nodded.

"I understand."

"Will your past association with this Hunter cause you any trouble?"

He did not dignify that absurdity with a response.

*     *     *     *     *

He dreams.

He dreams of bones snapping under his crushing grip. He dreams of the cries of the dying. He dreams of the taste of blood in a mouth he does not possess. These things do not disturb him. In his visions, he is pleased, savoring each sensation as a human would savor a fine wine, a sumptuous banquet, or an exquisite work of art. He yearns to feel these things for himself, in reality.

He is the Black Hound.

The executioner.

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