Killing is ugly. A living body is designed to survive; killing opposes its entire purpose. Nothing dies in an artful manner — a body is just damaged until it fails to sustain itself anymore. Put enough holes in something, and it will eventually stop moving, stop functioning. And often a living creature’s last moments are spent in a pointless struggle, twisting and writhing in a vain attempt to continue its existence. I’ve seen it many times. I’ve known it myself.
But that’s just an aesthetic quibble. The ugliness of death aside, I always enjoyed the challenge of being a hitman.
The receptionist was ignoring me. She (I wasn’t familiar with the species — purplish with tentacley things on her head — but she appeared to be the childbearing variety) was talking on the phone in a clearly non-work-related manner while I waited. We were in a spacious lobby with walls and floors of glass and ivory. Everything was curved, not many hard angles where surfaces met. Several bunches of flowers and other potted plants decorated the walls and otherwise empty floor space. I noted one exit to my right and a hallway leading further into the building to my left — so I only had two directions to be wary of.
I knocked on the hard white top of her desk. She finished her call and looked at me with gray eyes. “I’m sorry for the wait, but I don’t think this resort is able to accommodate your species.”
“That’s okay. I’m actually here on business. My name is Rico, and I am here to see Chal Naus.”
“He didn’t say he was expecting anyone, and he doesn’t see anyone without an appointment. And business hours ended half an hour ago.”
“No, he is not expecting me, but I do need to see him personally. And I specifically came after business hours because I wanted to be polite and not interrupt whatever it is he does here.”
Her face tensed. I had no idea what that meant — and didn’t care. “I can’t help you. I think you need to leave.” Her tenor had changed — I think she was threatening me. She wasn’t very good at it. Perhaps I could teach her something.
The job of a hitman is always changing, always invigorating, and it often requires that I perform at my best. Plus, it makes me get out and interact with people — which is good, since I’m basically anti-social. I have trouble seeing that as my fault, though; I rarely encounter an individual worth talking to. Everyone seems so pointless, coasting through drab, rote lives. They have nothing useful to say, nothing useful to do. They just are.
I partly blame civilization for that. It allows people to get through life with so little effort. Take this receptionist. Most animals exist in a daily life-and-death struggle, and if they don’t give it everything they’ve got, they end up with that messy death I just described. The receptionist, on other hand, just had to sit at a desk and smile… and she couldn’t even be bothered to put much effort into that. I can’t imagine why someone would waste her life going to a job she doesn’t care to do. I can’t imagine such a person would have anything to say that might be worth listening to. So I’m anti-social.
But I’m working on it.
Sure, I find pretty much all sentients boring in their normal lives, but that doesn’t mean they lack the potential to be interesting. It’s just a matter of focus. No matter how lazy or unmotivated a person is, if he feels his life is on the line, he will devote every available resource to not being killed. Civilization goes out the door, and pure survival kicks in. When people are that awake and that focused, they intrigue me. So you can say I have a job that brings out the best in people.
“Are you familiar with the Nystrom syndicate? I am here on their behalf, so one way or another I will speak to your boss. In person.”
Her eyes grew wider. I could have guessed at the meaning of that but, again, I didn’t care. “Is he aware you are coming?”
I thought I’d covered that. Sometimes — due to my lack of social skills — I’m not as clear as I think I am. So I tried again. “I’ll make this simple: You tell Chal Naus that I am going to speak to him personally and that I will kill anyone who stands in my way, starting with you.” I didn’t think she was actually going to get in my way, but as I said, people can be quite focused when they feel their lives are on the line. “I’m going to go sit down while I wait for a response.” I smiled politely, wondering what color her species bled; you can never tell by skin color.
I sat down in one of the odd circular chairs across from the desk. The purple, tentacle-headed receptionist was back on the phone, talking much more frantically than she had before. Soon six other creatures entered the lobby: larger tentacle-headed things I assumed were male. I think they were supposed to intimidate me, and the tense faces they wore were probably their angry expressions.
I remained seated and relaxed, arms folded. There is little in body language that is universal between species, but ignoring someone is a good way to assert dominance; it communicates that I do not find an individual or group to be threatening or even worth my time.
A screen appeared on one of the walls. On the screen was the image of another creature of the same species, and admittedly able to judge by only a small sample, he seemed obese. That wasn’t necessarily a weakness — it could be a cultural thing.
“That is Chal Naus,” Dip, my “partner,” chimed in my ear.
Join us again next week for another excerpt from SuperEgo and more provocative essays from Frank J. Fleming and the Liberty Island team.