Lullaby for the assassin

This story was created after I read “A Day in the Mortuary” written by KSA.

Mercy – is one of the greatest forces, which cannot be dominated by evil. When there is no escape, no hope, when there is nothing decent left – there still a place for mercy. And that is why evil is not almighty.

The Mouse got old at his job slowly and did not accomplish his dream. Constant contact with protoblood and other bio-scholars’ manipulations’ waste enormously extended his life.

Now let’s get started… 

… It is quiet here. It is the quietest place on the whole Cluster maybe. They are sleeping. I am not afraid of them anymore. His Divine shadow comes to wake them up personally. Sometimes escorted by his officers, but most often only by himself. At that time I get in my closet, below the lowest level of cryochambers, and out of His sight. I am still called The Mouse. I think I have almost forgotten my real name. I have some credits on my account – enough to buy a small spacecraft with mid-level flight range. But it is unlikely that I will fly away one day. I think I already feel at home in this dusk and cold place with its constant chipping on the floor, which appears again and again, no matter how hard I sweep it.

I have to clean bio-tech zone as well. No janitors go there of their own will. But I got used to it. The most unpleasant work is to wipe puddles of protoblood, which are always left after the “work”. For this I have gloves made of thick rubber, but they are unhandy. That’s why I started to work with my hands naked. The protoblood is sticky and cloggy; it should not affect living tissue. However it makes my skin numb. But my fingers are still moving, so I don’t care. I pick up this slimy goo into the bucket and pour it off to the gutter. I have seen clots of human blood sometimes. Protein and protoblood do not mix even in my bucket, I tried.

I have seen when His Divine Shadow assigned tasks for his assassins – open the cell, activate the light key, and then saying something to who is laying there in front of him. Divine Assassins are the ones who have the privilege of receiving the Divine Shadow’s orders lying down. Then they stand up and leave to perform a task and return, after the job is done, to the bio-tech zone covered with blood and creepy scraps. Otherwise they do not return. Bio-technics dote on them like dung flies around offal… I still remember how that looked from my childhood on the peaceful planet in the Hoe system before it was ruled by the Divine Order. Now I worship His Shadow along with everybody else.

This guy, for whom His Divine Shadow has special plans and whose creation I had to witness, is woken more often than others. His indifferent voice always asking only one question: “Who do you want me to kill?” is still musical. Others sound like their mouths are filled with the soil.

Now he is brought again. Two service drones dragged him, he barely moved his legs. A fat untidy technic opened the cell; the assassin was thrown on the narrow ledge. A technic unclasped the guy’s jacket, connected tubes and negligently pushed the cell door closed. Sounds of drones’ steps died in the corridor. The technic rushed after them not looking back. He did not notice that the cell was not completely closed. White steam filaments were trickling from the gap which remained.

I emerged from my shelter. I was not afraid of being spotted. My ears have developed a high sensitivity to any sound in the silence which prevailed here, so I am able to hear steps distinctly long before someone come. I have no fear here. I carefully pulled the cell’s door. It hardly moved, but I was able to pull it half open.

He was lying still with his eyes closed. Normal sequence was not started because the cell was not properly locked. A few protoblood drops were left in one of the tubes. It was the first time I had looked at the Divine Assassin so close. I felt a chill creep from the cell; I started to chatter despite my warm overalls. I touched his forehead – cold as the surrounding stone. “For how long have I been alone?” – I thought, “I forget how it feels – to stroke someone’s head…” I gave his touched by frost hair a smooth and was going to close the cell, but suddenly his eyelashes winced. I winced too.

I nearly jumped out of my skin – I cannot wake the dead! Next moment he will see me, one fine movement – and my mortal remains will be sent to protein bunk… I was chilled with terror. He looked into nowhere with a thousand yard stare. Then his eyes stopped on me.

– Good… You’re a very good boy… I worship His Shadow, – I whispered at the same time trying to push the cell door. But it was stuck as ill luck would have it.

My feet slipped on the wet pavement. The assassin looked at me as if he did not understand what was going on. Exhausted, I sat on the floor next to his half-opened cell. Silence… and here I was with the most remorseless killer face to face. Even His Shadow has some residual feelings. Probably. At least hatred. This one does not. He can terminate my life without any thought, like I wipe my shoes after the work. But why is he so slow? And suddenly it just clicked in my mind – the light key! Without it the assassin is unable to wake up entirely to accept the order. Now I looked at him without awe.

– I have seen what they did to you, – I spoke gently, – and it was not fair… You… all of you – don’t deserve this. But I am not afraid of being next to you. It is much more terrible to be with the living… Do you feel something? Would you like me to stay with you for a while?

The assassin was silent, he looked at me steadily.

– I think you don’t mind, – I sat on the edge of his ledge carefully and started to tell about myself, my work, how I ended up at the Cluster and dreamed about escape from here. I can’t recall when somebody was so attentive to what I said. However, I don’t remember anyone listening to me at all.

Sometimes I quietened down and listened for approaching steps.  But who can come to the morgue in the middle of the night? Just I, the Mouse… So I continued telling the story of my insignificant life to the great assassin. After some time I noticed that his eyes had closed – obviously, the rest of his residual protoblood was used.

– Go to sleep, – I whispered, – I’ll try to come to you once more.

I pushed the cell door again, and this time it closed.

I started to collect protoblood. It was not easy, but I always have a small vial with me and squeeze out drops of clean viscous liquid from hanging tubes under the tables. I mix it with the artificial sweet syrup from our workers’ canteen. Of course, I was not able to wake up any one of them properly without the light key as His Divine Shadow does, but I can let them to have some more sweet dreams. And for what reason do I need to wake the dead?

I tried pilfered protoblood on other un-dead – I have enough time during the nights. Some of them just opened their eyes and glazed over. Their sights were as dull, as a cosmic vacuum, and it made me tremble. I even sent out a sigh of relief when the next un-dead body stayed lying with their eyes closed when the sticky drop of my mixture flowed down their pale cheek.

Several shifts later, His Divine Shadow woke up that one assassin again. He went to take someone’s life. Or lives. And I was left to wipe floors in bio-tech zone. There was lot of work that day. As usual, nobody payed attention when I slinked under the tables and behind the equipment. I succeeded in filling my vial almost half full. When I squeezed the last drops from the capillary, one of the bio-scholars kicked me:

– What are you doing here, waste of life?

I grabbed my bucket obediently and rushed away without a word.

– He is a dumbass, – I heard, when the door was closing behind my back.

They called me dumbass for so long that I got used to it. But at least I am still alive.

I heard when the assassin came back. It was late, but I peeped out from my hide.

This time he walked by himself, escorted by only one bio-technic. With a downcast look and an even stride he approached his cell and silently lay down. After performing the required procedure, the technic went away.

After the sound of his footsteps had died away, almost a dead silence encroached. But the dead don’t stay dead here for long. I tiptoed up hiding my precious vial deep in my pocket. My old heavy-worked hands were trembling. I wanted to fly away from here on my own ship… And I was able to do this.

I pressed the cell lock smoothly. There was click inside, and it opened. I bent over him, carrying the vial in my shivering fist. The cork was stuck, and when I managed to pull it out, a couple of heavy drops fell into his left eye. I carefully picked them up with my finger and put them to his cold motionless lips.

It was not long until the substance worked. Then, the assassin opened his filmy eyes and looked at me. But they were not empty beyond hope. His lips opened slightly, and I shed one more drop in his mouth.

– Do you like it? – I asked.

He was silent, but for a short moment I felt as if his gaze became a little warmer.

– I know, – I continued, – the dead do not smile. You don’t have to. Just lay down. I promised to come – so here I am. Lots of awful things were done to you – but believe me, they will also pass. One day you will wake up aboard a big ship which will carry you away from here. And there will only be stars around. Do you remember stars? There are so many of them, like bright nails on the black sky… You will fly among them for a very long time… There will be no orders for you, no kicking; nobody calling you bad names…

I tried to imagine a starry sky raising my eyes to the sombrous dome but unsuccessfully. I did not go out for such a long time that I have forgotten what it looks like. I straightened his jacket, negligently left undone by the technic.  The dead man apathetically looked at what I was doing.

– “You are not like the others. You understand everything, but do not talk. Show me what you can. Blink, for example,” – I asked.

Dead man’s eyelashes slightly moved and he closed his eyes for a while.

– Good… let’s do the following – one time will mean “yes” and two will be “No”. Agreed?

His eyes closed once more for a pretty long time. I even think that he fell asleep. But then he looked at me again.

– Do you know what happened to you?

One longer blink.

– Can you feel?

Two blinks.

I ran my fingers over his face, removing his long tangled forelock.

– Next time I’ll bring a comb. These technics do not look after you well.

A long blink again.

I fidgeted on his cold metal ledge:

– Are you really comfortable here?

He blinked once again.

– As you say… Would you like me to tell you about my planet of origin?

He blinked again, and his unemotional face boggled slightly like he wanted to add something. I pinned my finger to his lips, and he closed his eyes again for a short time.

– No-no-no, – I smiled back to him, – security or the taskmaster could be here at any moment. So let me tell you one more thing – and that will be all for today.

The dead man blinked again. I yawned and started my story about loamy fields on my motherland, where we grew vegetables. Real ones, we fried them in the fire, and embers flew into the night sky and faded among the stars…

I put his cold hand on my knee and covered it with my palm. I told him about my dream to get a spaceship and leave the Cluster forever. Many years ago I scrounged a space-navigational manual and read it during the nights. Then I nodded off once during my shift and the taskmaster called me idiot…

– Did you ever have friends? – I asked the dead man, but then noticed that his eyes are closed.

I shuffled off to have a nap before the work shift. Flashbacks woke up a long-forgotten sorrow, hidden deep in my soul for a long time.

I did not open his cell after this for a long time. But I was thinking about how he may feel. He should feel something, I have seen – he is not completely dead… Interesting – do divine assassins like him have names? How does His Shadow call them? I tried to hear distinctly, but without effect – He just gives orders, not saying even “you”. I was wondering, if he still remembers his name…

I rarely visit the upper level. I never was interested in public executions at the stadium Cobalt or parades in honour of glorious victories of the Divine Order. I have to go, of course, if the taskmaster requires me to take place in the procession. But I prefer myself to stay in my small hide and read the manual for space navigation. Even if I will never see stars with my own eyes – I can think about them. I am an old nearly blind mouse with exceptionally keen hearing…

One day he entered bio-tech zone when I had been picking up sticky greenish lumps of fixing mixture. This is a nasty chemical with a strong smell used before decarbonisation, giving the required durability to organic tissues and changes the protein structure. As you can see, I have unwittingly learned a lot listening to bio-scholars talk for a long time. Today one of “test subjects” managed to set loose his feet and break the huge bottle of fixing liquid, which now slowly coagulates on the floor.

The “test subject” who was the young prisoner, was secured. I heard him screaming – not for long. If I could say something to him, I’d say: “That’s useless… you had better surrender, and the pain will be over…”

And then I noticed the assassin – the one, with whom I was talking with once in the night. He was standing, wobbling like an extremely tired man, carrying his weapon in his fist. That’s strange – I know that it should be hidden somewhere on his wrist. What has happened to him – is he broken?

The technic examined him, and then called for a bio-scientist. He came, stepping over the green puddle with disgust: “Taking your time, brainless slug? Hurry up, worthless protein!” I cringed, bracing for the kick and started to throw scraps into my bucket faster. But he did not bother to hit me this time.

The assassin was laid on the stretcher and sent to the rear corner behind a translucent screen. I was not allowed to go there without an order. When I finished with the fixing goo and had wiped the floor, I was chased away. I snuck to my hide, took off my dirty work clothes and zoned out. Almost sleeping, I heard steps approaching. I ducked to my door, which was open a crack.

I was able to see a couple of high-class bio technics wearing black uniforms who escorted the sliding stretcher with my familiar dead assassin on it. His cell was opened, one of the technics told him to get on the ledge with a loud and rough voice. The assassin sat on the stretcher and then looked around.

– Get to you place right away! – shouted the other technic impatiently and clapped his hand against the metal couch.

– No, – answered the dead man unexpectedly and jumped off the stretcher, falling on his knee. This time he looked a little clumsy.

– Want did you say?! – exclaimed both technics at the same time, shocked.

The assassin recovered to his feet and went away from the cell.

– Go back immediately! – A technic ordered. His voice was trembling with terror.

– In the name of His Divine Shadow, I order you to obey!

But the dead man rushed down by the steps, blasted past my door and disappeared in one of the side corridors. I could hear the voices from above:

– Security to the mortuary! The Divine assassin has escaped control! A stamp of security drones approached from all sides. I carefully closed my door, locked it and squinted with fear, sitting on the floor and trying not even to breathe.

Very soon everything became quiet again. I went to my bed to have a nap, but I could not fall asleep. Somehow I felt responsible for what this dead guy just did. That was me who reminded him about the stars. Maybe he disobeyed and ran away because of this… But where could he escape to? For how long could he be up and moving? I recalled that he usually returned here very weak… How would he be punished when he is caught? Is there a more severe punishment beyond the death, that one he has already? – These questions filled my head, and I rolled over in my bed, willing to see him brought back to his cell. But everything was silent, so I fell asleep at last.

I was woken up by the alarm, repeating that I needed to be at work immediately. I shivered, looking at the glowing numbers in the dark clock: my shift was started and I was sleeping! I jumped into my overalls and grabbed my mop and bucket and rushed upstairs. I was not lucky enough to sneak by unnoticed – one of the bio-scholar’s assistant’s caught me by the collar:

– Here you are at last!!!

– I’m so sorry… Forgive me… – I mumbled, feeling the cold sweat on my back.

– His Divine Shadow will forgive you, Mouse, when you go to the Protein Bunk! Start scrubbing, idler!

Then a screen was removed from the corner, equipment was also moved and I was ordered to scrub a large expanse of floor covered with protoblood and something else. I prefer not to think about what it was. I took my scraper and started to clean.

There was not a word about the assassin run-away, surprisingly. And there was no more fear than usually in this terror filled room. I was scrubbing the floor to the point of exhaustion, until my relief worker came – gaunt and lanky janitor number 78652. He was recently employed here but has lost one of his kidneys already. He never says, why.

I lingered away, but on the way to my room recalled that I needed to see the taskmaster – pay day was coming. But it’s just a word – “day”. I have forgotten already if there is even a sun above the Cluster! I was tired and did not want to go back, so I decided to cut the corner and walk along the auxiliary pathway, rarely used.

Here were many pipes and cables on the wall, and a few lamps which shed a faint light. I walked, shuffled my clogs and was not looking around. Suddenly I heard a rattle from the side niche. I shuddered to a halt – there may be cluster lizards here! Although these murderous fiends are confined and guarded, there is no guarantee that no one can escape. And this is a far and quiet place, very suitable to hide… nobody will hear my scream. However, the copper hunter did not jump out from the niche and after some time I threw off enough reservation to move on and look into the tiny dark room.

There were no lizards, and at first I thought there was nothing at all but the switchboard. But after my eyes got used to the dark and I took a closer look, I noticed a man, hunkered down on the floor. Oh, that’s a familiar outfit… Is this a Divine Assassin? That one?! Of course, I was aware that he can dissect my heart with one fine movement of his hand – even now, when he has lost almost all of his strength. But I was not afraid for some reason.

I took a step, stretched my arm and touched his shoulder:

– Hey…

He moved slightly trying to raise his head crowned with a large hair bun. Through a thick woven material of his uniform I felt that he was shivering all over. After some long seconds he managed to turn and look at me. His lips were shivering too. He stretched his right hand to me.  The sleeve of the uniform was cut, and I was able to see the fine hawser stain after the crease of his elbow. Pale flesh around the hawser was also cut and oozed protoblood. He searched around the floor, took his brace and slowly proffered it to me. I cringed as if he had offered me a poisonous larva of the stone-eating spider. But the assassin watched me steadily and gave me his brace.

– What… what do you want? – I was barely able to speak.

– The blade… – whispered he, – I cannot… get rid of it… help me… – then his head drooped again.

– How can I help you? Spaceships can be towed by your hawser, – smiled I bitterly.

He did not answer, I saw his arm trembling carrying the brace. I approached and set down on the floor next to him. I doubt that the dead man could understand me, but did what I was never able to imagine before. I pulled him to me and carefully lay his head on my lap. I put his wounded arm on his chest – just like I would if he could feel some comfort. His lips moved, but I could not recognise a word. He attempt to say something, and it was –

– Kill me…

– You’re already dead, pal, – I answered.

How could I console him? He has an eternity, but I… I don’t know what. Just flashbacks of my long-forgotten motherland, a planet, where I was born. I was sitting on the cold floor, cuddling with the dead assassin, rocking from side to side. I don’t know for whom – for him or for myself – but I started to sing. Words came from the far past: about a peaceful night, the smell of fresh milk, small rodents behind the wall which even made the house cosy… About the loving hands, carrying a little boy… I was singing, and something hurt in my throat as if I inhaled an acid vapour. Sometimes I quickly looked at the dead man’s face: his eyes became hazy, little wrinkles unrumpled… I wish you could feel better, pal… Just for a while.

Soon he passed out completely closing his eyes and dropped his arm limply. The brace clanked on the floor. My legs almost became numb – he was so heavy… May be all decarbonized bodies are the same. I carefully put his head on the floor and stood up, groaning. I cannot do anything for him anymore. I pressed a button on my badge and called the security.

“I cannot stay here, not for a day” – I think, leaving the niche after the drones dragged the poor dead guy to the biotech zone. I was not able to imagine what would be done to him, and honestly – I did not want to think about this. I would ask for dismissal. I would buy the small spaceship from my dreams… even a rust bucket… I will fly away to the outskirts of this universe and never will see the Cluster again.

I was dismissed. Soon after this jam happened with heretics and escaped lizards. But the most horrible thing was that His Divine Shadow’s flagship, along with the results of secret research, was stolen with Divine Predecessors and one of the Assassins aboard. I think that I know which one. Good luck to you, pal. I have to go.

Mice and rats supposedly have that feeling which allows them to avoid catastrophes…

So, medium range spaceship “The Proud Blueberry” is waiting for me at dock 5823480. I have already taken aboard all my simple belongings. I am leaving tomorrow for that distant planet where I was born. And I hope to get there. But it is not so important. I will see stars at last!

Old Mouse cannot fall asleep in his burrow tonight…

RJess, October 2014

dead_boy_by_dariiyThe Dead Boy, 2013 by Darii

My enormous gratitude to Rae Linda, who did the beta-reading and editing. Now with your help this story can be shared with English-speaking auditory, I appreciate this so much. – RJess

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