The Emperor’s Assassin

“How’s Private Lazlo today, Miss Taylor?”

The Army psychiatrist stood in a long windowless hallway – punctuated periodically by offices – that ran between the wards at either end. Holding a patient chart close to his eyes, he struggled to read in the faded light.  The bilious green walls that dripped peels of paint near the high ceiling all but swallowed the white glow from the long row of florescent lights above them.

“No change, Sir.  He allows us to feed him, give him daily care, move him from bed to chair.  Other than that, there’s still no response.”

“Frustrating case.”

“It’s been six weeks.  Isn’t there anything more you can do?”

“Not really.”  He closed the chart.  “I can’t start counseling or treatment until he shows some kind of response to us, and I’m afraid to muck around with medication right now.”

“Do you ever wonder what’s going on in his mind?”  She stopped, her voice almost pleading as she went on.  “There is something going on in his mind, isn’t there?”

“Oh, sure.”  Leaning back against the wall, he continued.  “Every person is different, of course.  But each mind seems to find symbols to represent what they’re most afraid of until they can come to grips with reality again.”  His smile was sad.  “I suppose, if he were verbal right now, he’d sound quite delusional.”

He pulled himself away from the wall and gave her a quick pat on the shoulder.  “Well, keep trying to reach him.  And let me know right away if there are any changes.”

“Yes, Doctor.”

*****

My name is Lazarus 235.  My rank is assassin.  My serial number is 1036852.  I was created in the bowels of Arcauria Prime for the sole purpose of fighting the Emperor’s secret wars.

The Lazarus line is an ancient one.  Mine is the 235th generation of Euls, going back to the very foundation of the Empire by Arcaurus the Driven in the sun cycle 2747.

The first father was Lazarus the Bold, chatelain of Eulus, who led fifteen of his master’s warriors on a secret mission of assassination in the service of Arcaurus.

The battle for Maritai (renamed Arcauria Minor after that glorious battle) was failing.  It was First Father who devised the assassination plot that turned the tide and convinced the emperor of its worth.  How well he understood that, to truly conquer a people, you must first kill their collective soul.

*****

“Hey, Lazlo.  Wanna play a game of poker?  You’ve got the perfect face for it.”  Lieutenant Danny Jenkins rolled his wheelchair across the ward, laughing at his own joke, and stopped at the table where Private Lazlo sat.  A ragged copy of Robert Heinlein’s “Starship Earth” lay unopened on the table beside the staring young man, seeming to mock him.  Miss Taylor, hearing that he had enjoyed science fiction before he had arrived, had left it there, intending to read to him when she found time.

“Aw, leave the kid alone.  He ain’t botherin’ nobody.”

“Shut up, Beenie, he’s bothering me.”  Danny turned the wheelchair toward Private Ben “Beenie” Thompson, the other paraplegic, in bed seven.  “Creeps me out, the way he just sits there staring at nothing all day.  What the hell’s the matter with him anyway?”

“PTSD.”  Captain Davis laid aside the Braille book he was reading.

“What’s that?” Jenkins said.

“Post traumatic stress disorder.”

“Well, thank you, Captain Egghead.  Fancy name, same old crap.  Some guys just ain’t cut out to be soldiers.”

“And you were the model warrior, I suppose, Lieutenant?”  Disdain underscored the captain’s words.

“Listen Captain, there’s been a Jenkins in every war this country’s fought since the Revolutionary War.  That’s all I ever wanted to be – a soldier.”

*****

That is all I was meant to be – an assassin – cloned from the cells of that first Lazarus, as were all the Euls.  Corrected down the long centuries for genetic drift, mutations and useless emotions that cropped up now and then, we were the perfect fighting machines.  At least, I would have been, if I had not failed.

Our mission was to assassinate the political leaders, artists, and thinkers on Zema Minor.  Wipe them and their families off the planet – to the last man, woman, and child.  Fifty leading families, over two thousand people, but it was crucial that they die, to break the back of the resistance.

*****

“Why don’t you shut the hell up, Jenkins?  You and your I wanted to be a soldier crap.”  Beenie pounded his dead legs.  “This is what I got for bein’ a soldier.”

“Hey, man.  We all left parts behind in the war.  Shit happens.  At least he has his legs, his eyes.  What the hell did he lose?”

“He lost his fuckin’ mind, poor sap.  I was in his platoon.  He was a good kid, always reading science fiction – and his missal, for all the good it did him.  He told me, once, all he ever wanted was to be a priest.”  Beenie gave a bitter grunt.  “I used to kid him, told him he’d be the first priest on the Mars station, if it went up.  Now look at him.”

*****

We were the high priests of Arcaurus.  Everything the emperors had they owed to the Assassins.  Unapproachable, unassailable, we were worshipped by commoner and elite alike – until my generation was tested in the fires of Zema and I became the first, in all those generations, to fail my Emperor.

*****

“So, what happened?” Jenkins said.

Beenie turned his face away.

“What?”

“A small group from the platoon was sent to destroy a rebel stronghold at the edge of town.  They found the place and shelled it …”

“So?  We all did the same thing a hundred times.”

“The rebels were already gone.  The only ones there were women and children, old people.  The guys were so hopped up, they started firing on the ones that tried to escape – an old couple with their clothes on fire, women with babies in their arms.  It was a fuckin’ massacre …”  His voice trembled.  “When they found Lazlo, he was trying’ to give last rites to the body parts.”

“Holy crap!”

Captain Davis sighed and closed his book.  “I need some music.”  He felt for the white cane he was learning to use and tapped his way along the wall, past the large, split-leaf philodendron that smelled of dust and neglect, to a corner of the room.

*****

I was assigned the Dannaec, a family of artists and teachers — one was a painter, his wife, a singer — all leaders in the resistance.  One by one, I hunted them down until only the primaries and their children remained.

In the hills behind their house I waited, as cunning as a lion.  At last, he entered the house, taking care that he was not followed.  I smiled and licked my lips, tasting their deaths before hand.

*****

Captain Davis settled in the chair beside the stereo and rubbed his eyes.  He inserted the disc in the player and felt for the start button, leaning back as the introductory strains of Mozart’s Requiem filled the spaces in his mind.

“Requiem, requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine … Eternal rest grant them, O Lord* …  et lux perpetua, et lux perpetua …”  The sopranos soared over the lower voices, “… luceat eis … and let perpetual light shine upon them …”

*****

She was singing as her husband came in.  The clear, high notes shimmered in the afternoon air, cascading like a small waterfall.  The beauty impaled me.  I should have known, then, something was wrong.  I saw them reach out to embrace each other, their children playing around them, as I aimed the nuclear rifle.

A split second before their world became a holocaust, she turned toward the window, her lips parted slightly, her eyes wide.  Then they were gone in a ball of fire.  Had she known?

“Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison … Lord have mercy upon us, Christ have mercy upon us …”

I threw my weapon to the ground and fled, terrified, stumbling along the rocky ground until I fell bleeding, exhausted and confused.  I remember nothing more.

I am told that my comrades found me in the hot zone, groveling in the radioactive dust.

“Lacrimosa dies illa … Ah! that day of tears and mourning …”

Crying.  Weeping like a small child!  I had committed the ultimate treason; now I am locked in this hell until I can be destroyed, like a rabid dog that would spread the disease.

“Qua resurget ex favilla … From the dust of earth returning … Judicandus homo reus … man for judgment must prepare him …”

We were not supposed to feel …

*****

The choral voices softened and Captain Davis leaned into the music.  “Huic ergo parce, Deus … Spare, O God, in mercy spare him …”  The sound rose slightly, the voices accentuating each syllable in union.  “Pie Jesu Domine … Lord, all pitying, Jesu blest …”

“Oh, sweet Jesus …”

At the panic in Jenkins’ voice, Captain Davis turned off the music.  “What’s happening?”

“It’s Lazlo, sir.  He’s shakin’ all over.  I think he’s having a fit.”

“Get the nurse.”

A moaning wail crescendoed across the room.  The captain felt his way to the table.  Pulling up a chair beside the sobbing man, he gathered him in his arms.  “It’s all right son.  Let it out.”

Miss Taylor came running into the room, followed by Jenkins.

“I think he’s coming back to us.”  Relief played across the captain’s face.

Jenkins stared.  “Geeze, Captain.  What’s he doing?”

“He’s crying, Jenkins.  He’s crying.”

THE END

*From the translation by Stewart Spencer

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