“A Prayer for the Dying”
The stench of burning bodies filled the air and the thick black smoke from the pyres blanketed the city of Moth’mor. A plague ran rampant throughout the population, several million were already dead and there was no doubt that the death toll would climb higher. This once beautiful city of the arts, filled with culture and enlightenment was fast becoming a graveyard. How this disease came to the world of “Tal’eth” was still unknown; only that it first appeared several months ago, striking just the elderly to begin with. It quickly spread however throughout the population showing no discrimination against age, race, or gender. Before it was over the authorities were estimating that it could decimate half the planets inhabitants, three million to put a number on it. I am still amazed how the murder of one person can affect us, and yet the death of millions or billions doesn’t have the same impact. I guess our minds can’t cope with such a figure and so it just becomes a number. They say that if you kill a single person you are considered a murderer, but if you kill a thousand you are a hero...numbers sanctify I guess.
The planet had been quarantined, no one allowed in or out without permission from the GMA – “Galactic Medical Authority”, a policy that was being strictly enforced. I managed to slip onto the surface in the cargo bay of a medical supply frigate. I had been sent to this world to find and kill a Doctor Talix Toroy, from the GMA, who was on “Tal’eth” to help deal with the humanitarian crisis. The history of this world is a most fascinating one. The planet itself was uninhabited and the city of Moth’mor was founded by several races as a place to learn about each other’s culture, history and heritage. A grand notion which over time grew into an even grander city dedicated to the arts of the galaxy. Some of the greatest artists ever known sprung out of this ideal; Chunchor wrote his epic histories here; Jenarr, her plays: “Light and Death” and “The Galaxy Next Door”; and of course Barker who composed all his 159 symphonies; and the blind Mackertish who created his sculpture of the god Halo, a thirty foot statue of a deity of lost causes, a structure I now stood beneath, in one of the many famed plazas of the city.
I felt sick. I have never been able to get use to the smell of burning flesh. The sight of death and blood has never affected me, but this rancid smell always churned my stomach. I had been sneaking through the many deserted streets for several days trying to locate my target. A job made all the more difficult by the armed patrols that had orders to shoot to kill anyone found unlawfully on the streets. A curfew had been in place, the surviving populace were locked up in their homes praying for a miracle. I had no fear of catching the disease myself, after all Vaillians have one of the most robust immune systems of any species; it takes a mighty strong bug to put one of us down, although the human part of me might be susceptible. A notion I did not dwell upon, for what good would it do. If this was my time to die, then this was my time, every mission by an assassin was always considered to be a one way trip.
I finally located my mark in the old quarter of the city, along the famed Avenue of Composers. But by this time I had already lost a part of me to the dying. Two days previous I had to take refuge in a hospice. It was the only way to avoid one of the patrols but once in there it was not as easy to get out. The whole place was under lock down by the military arm of the GMA. With no other option I passed myself off as one of those attending the dying. The one thing certain about life is death and all we can hope for if we are lucky is to choose the time and place for ourselves. But in that charnel house death was calling all the shots.
How strange life is, for here I was, an assassin, a hired killer, offering solace to the dying. It was all I could do. There were at least twenty different species among the two hundred lives in that place. Death didn’t care about race, creed or religion and neither did the infirm, not during their last hours or minutes of life. Out of them all it was the human child that touched me the most. I never knew her name, only that she was seven, and her parents had just died. She would expire, due to the plague, in my arms crying for her mother. I comforted her, mopped her brow, and offered up a prayer. But not to the gods that “The Organisation” had taught me to revere, but rather to Kalis, the god of my people; a god that spoke of love and peace. I last prayed to Kalis when I was but a child, a practise I stopped after my father began to beat me. My words seemed to comfort her, for she grew quiet and before she offered up her final breath she smiled at me and appeared to be completely and utterly at peace.
It is an expression that I have never forgotten. I can still see every detail of her face clearly as if it were yesterday. Such innocence in that face and such unconditional love in those eyes, a life cut short for no reason. Out of all the people I have killed none of them have haunted me quiet as much as the face of that little girl. In fact she brought me to tears. I confess that I cried over her dead body, something that I hadn’t done for years, something I thought I was incapable of doing ever again. I finally left that place after everyone was dead. Two hundred in forty-eight hours...numbers sanctify.
In the end the killing of Doctor Talix Toroy was easy – he begged me take his life – to end his misery. When I finally came upon him, he had the plague. The white sores on his body marked him for a painful death. He had maybe a day or two left of excruciating agony. He didn’t know that I was there to kill him. He even gave me the instrument to do it with; a syringe full of adrenalin, that when injected would go straight to his twin hearts and kill him in seconds. I respected his wishes, and as I did the deed, he held a picture of his family in his hands, never taking his eyes once from them. In the end I closed his glazed over eyes, placed his arms on his chest and laid the photo of his family above his hearts. Then I offered up the prayer that must always be said after the taking of a life, but it was not Dargo’s that I uttered, instead it was Kalis’: “God of heaven, take this soul into your keeping as he returns home to the embrace of your everlasting love.”
As I left the dead world of “Tal’eth” behind, disquietude began to grow in the back of my mind, it was like an itch that I couldn’t scratch. For the first time I had real doubt about what I was doing... but still I obeyed orders. Two weeks later the GMA ordered atmospheric firebombing upon the cities of “Tal’eth” as the only means to ensure the eradication of the plague. As for the millions of inhabitants, they were all dead by that time...numbers sanctify.
Copyright © 2011 by Peter Jessop