"Yeah, I've got questions," said Guyton. "This—" he checked himself before saying maggot— "this simulation, how is he gonna get anyone to follow him back to Hell? To be honest, he doesn't look like much."
Birch turned to the perp. "Show him."
Guyton gaped as the perp... shifted. The orange jumpsuit turned into a designer outfit, casual but obviously expensive. His wrist grew a Rolex. The stringy hair became a perfect coif, no strand out of place. In two seconds flat, he was a beautiful specimen of the one-percent, radiating wealth and confidence.
"That's some trick," Guyton managed to say.
"They can change their appearance whenever they like," said Birch. "Of course, to you DSP types, appearance is nothing. The soulburn is how you ID 'em."
"Damned Soul Patrol."
Guyton grimaced. "I had to ask."
"Yup. Any more questions?"
"Yeah. We can sniff these guys out in a crowd. Can they make us that easy?"
"You have an advantage, but it only goes so far," Birch replied. "They can't detect you, but they can detect your weapon if you're holding it. So if you lie in wait, weapon in hand, they'll bolt. Lazy tactics aren't rewarded in your new line of work."
"Do they have anything they can shoot back with?"
"Only conventional weapons. It'll hurt like hell, but you heal quickly. Oh, by the way. Some of the soulburned have bodyguards. It's always better to catch them alone, but sometimes you don't have a choice. Take a few for the good guys. You'll get over it. So let's start your training for real."
Birch led Guyton through another door, one he had not seen before, down more hallways and into another room. "Weapons," said Birch. "One advantage, your weapon won't harm anyone but those you're assigned to remove."
"Remove?" Guyton repeated. "So I'm some kind of assassin?"
"If you want to think of your position like that, fine." Birch picked up a standard-issue sidearm and tossed it to Guyton. "Here's your weapon. Shoot me."
"You heard me, Guyton. Shoot me. If you got the balls."
"As if." Guyton lifted the pistol and pulled the trigger. It bucked with the report, but Birch stood there unharmed. "What the hell?"
"Felt it, huh? Yeah. When you're on-duty, and you're always on-duty as long as you're diverted, you'll feel the recoil. People will hear the report. The only exception is when you're aiming at the targets you're supposed to hit."
"So what happens if I shoot at the wrong guy?"
Birch gave him the look Astin had worn. "Nothing. There's a flash, a bang, and that's it. Oh, and you get yanked back here for disciplinary measures. Internal Affairs has teeth here, Guyton. Don't screw up."
"Good. It sounds like we're getting through to you. Let me see if I'm right. Tell me what you know."
Guyton thought a moment. "Uh..." he said, "I can't hurt anyone besides people with that soulburn smell?"
"You got it." Birch gave hm an approving smile. "C'mon. Let me show you one of the typical scenes where you'll be working."
More hallways, more doors, more twists and turns. This office is going to drive me nuts, Guyton thought. Birch nudged him through a door, and into a dimly-lit singles bar. "Okay," he said. "Now what?"
"Follow your nose," Birch said, then slipped out and shut the door behind him.
Guyton sniffed—and there was that rotten eggs and ashes smell again. Soulburn. He tested that guy at the bar... nope. His scent was sort of... rubbery. What it meant was unimportant for now.
After several attempts, Guyton realized that each soul had its own scent. It meant little to him; he was looking for the burned soul... there. The woman in the corner table, chatting happily with some dude. He stepped forward—
Wait it out. He heard Birch's voice, loud and clear inside his head, as if he had a wire. They have Earthly bodies, and those bodies need to be maintained. Besides, if you eliminate her on a bathroom break, her quarry will think she just ditched him.
"Okay," Guyton whispered. "Are there any more besides her?"
Do you smell any more?
"No, just the one."
That's all there is. Trust your nose. It knows the deal.
Guyton made his way to the bar, finding a stool where he could watch his quarry. She was full of promise, attractive in her own right, but even more so by her bright eyes and smile. Her mark didn't stand a chance, Guyton could tell all the way from here. He wore a wedding ring, but figured she was tempting him to cheat. He obviously could not smell her soulburn.
At last, she said something, kissed her fingertip and rubbed it around the top of his glass, then made her way toward the bathrooms. Guyton turned away, counted to three, then got moving himself.
Perfect, he thought. He was ten steps ahead of her, enough to make sure there were no witnesses. The smell of her soulburn preceded her, giving Guyton all the confirmation he needed. As she entered the little hallway, he turned, drew, and fired. The gun only twitched in his hand, though, and made a little ssst sound. But the woman disappeared.
Not bad, Birch said in his head. Of course, we make the first simulation pretty easy. The walls dissolved, leaving Guyton and Birch standing together in an empty room.
"What happened with the gun? I guess it worked, but it sure acted weird."
"It functioned as intended," Birch assured him. "There is almost no sound when it's used on the soulburned. Still, you should pick a place where you're alone with the quarry when you can. People forget them quickly enough, but seeing someone disappear is something they might remember."
"Yeah." Again, something nagged at him, something he thought he should know, but he dismissed it. "I guess there's a few more of these before you turn me loose in the real world."
"Yeah. Let's start the next simulation."
YOU ARE READING
There's a special place in Hell for those who abuse their authority, and Ronald Guyton abused his with gusto. But on his way to his final reward, he finds himself diverted. Damned souls return to the world of the living, looking to pull a few more o...