The first thing that came into Aldous' mind when he woke up was, strangely enough, also the last thing that he had thought about when he had fallen asleep- been put to sleep. That his father was dead, and his mission in life was accomplished.
The next thought that came to mind was different, however. This time, he noticed the spotless white ceiling tiles and the incessant humming of a nearby strip light. A hospital? Hmm, that would explain why the pain in his shoulder, both shoulders, had disappeared. Hum, that was nice.
"And how are we feeling today, Rip Van Aldous?" the professorial voice of Rathbone intoned from just out of his range of vision. Aldous turned his head. Yes, there, in his old tweed jacket, the quack stood. Aldous tried to move some more but for some reason, he had been tied down to his bed. Unusual practice for a hospital but he was an unusual patient.
"How long have I been asleep?" Aldous asked curiously, mentally rubbing his forehead. He didn't feel groggy, per se, but things began to get a little blurry if he thought too fast. "Hello, by the way,"
"Oh, not that long although you've been drifting in and out of consciousness for a few days now. I'm quite glad you're awake," Rathbone explained, patting himself gingerly in the search of something. He removed a notepad from the inside of his jacket and a pen from his trouser pocket. "I was hoping we could have another one of our little chats."
"Sure, why not?" Aldous replied cheerily, doing his best to shrug his shoulders in his present state. Now, with his father dead, he had all the time in the world. What was one little talk? "I'm not doing anything at the moment anyway,"
"Brilliant!" Rathbone clapped gleefully. The cat had got the cream. He disappeared momentarily and returned with a cheap plastic chair. He sat down at once and folded one leg over the other. He flipped his notepad open and rested it on his top leg. "Firstly, what is your name and what year is it?"
"My name is Aldous Jonathon Asquith and the year is 2006, common era." the assassin answered.
"Good, good." Rathbone scribbled something down on his knee. "Do you hear voices?"
"Yes," Aldous declared unilaterally and unashamedly. Rathbone looked up before writing again. "But only when I listen to the radio."
"Ah." Rathbone sighed, though not exactly from relief. He paused, glancing at the sparse notes he had already written and scratching his growing forehead with the end of his pen. "Now Aldous. We've had chats like this before and I've asked you a few questions but you never really gave me answers to them. Perhaps you could do that for me now. First of all, why should people care for you?"
"Aha, now I have an answer to this one, ducky," Aldous laughed softly. Rathbone was nothing to fear now. He could take it all in his stride, and he would, when he could stand up. "To be fair, I have Verity-" He paused, but only for a fraction of a second. "-To thank for it. On the day that I was shot she came to me with love in her eyes. I didn't understand then, and honestly, I still don't understand why she felt those feelings for me. Hah, you think I'm crazy- just try that little thing! Although, I did learn one thing from our brief encounter, enough to answer you're question. My reply is; I don't know!" Rathbone started; Aldous just laughed. "I mean, it's a silly question to start with. You asked me why other people do things for me. Is it a trick question? How can I possibly know that? All I know is that they must have their reasons and that I need only worry about reaping the benefits. It's simple really; nothing to worry about at all."
"Yes…uh, quite…very good." Rathbone answered, his usual boyish confidence slipping. This man, who was this man? After wiping his brow with his handkerchief, he proceeded to write continuously for several minutes. Next question; he had to move onto the next question. "Um, also Aldous, do you realise what the value of life is…ha…have you found out what it is yet?"
"I'm going two for two; I have the answer for this one too, and I owe it to both Verity and my late father." Aldous responded in the same flippant tone he had used since he had woken up. "You asked me about value and yes, you may be right. There may be something to life after all…but I still don't know what it is. I mean, thousands, even millions of people die every day; a myriad of lives extinguished. If everyone has this value attached to their lives, then that seems like a terrible waste of value…unless it's not that important. So, I guess, value isn't what matters but purpose. I mean, why even get up in the morning, doctor? For value, no, but for purpose, for a purpose, for your purpose in life, yes!"
"On the same day that I was shot, and Verity taught me about other people, she also taught me about this purpose. As she lay dying, I couldn't tear my eyes off of her. At the time I couldn't understand it. She was just another life, so why did I care so much about her? You said value was intrinsic to all life but I wouldn't have stayed for anyone else so it couldn't have been that. But purpose, yes. Something with purpose is important, it curves influence around it. And that was what it was. At the time, Verity held purpose with me and that was what made her so special to me. Of course, I am not the same man as I was then so I figure that, unlike this value you speak of, that purpose can come and go in life, depending on the situation."
"But why exactly should we be so concerned about purpose, Doctor?" Rathbone, paler than usual, couldn't answer. Aldous carried on, "That was what my father taught me. His purpose in life was to be killed by me, which he fulfilled quite nicely. And right until the point when he died, his life had purpose, it was important, at least in my eyes. So, even if only for a short while, purpose, if it's strong enough, can give us a reason to live; to live for the purpose. This is as close to value as you'll ever get, Rathbone. And even if this purpose is only important to one person, it still gives us a reason to live. So, although I may not be able to tell, all the people I see in the street may have a purpose to their lives which means that they should continue to live until their purpose expires. Of course, it follows that those without such a purpose are expendable. So you see, Doctor, our lives are not important because of the value they hold but for the purpose."
"That…is quite an impressive answer, Aldous." Rathbone had uncrossed his legs and had put his head between them in the hope of getting oxygen to his brain. He had already filled several pages in his notebook and his pen was beginning to run out. "Would you mind if I asked you one more question?"
"Be my guest. I'm not doing anything," Aldous sighed, closing his eyes and relaxing into his pillow.
"Very well." Rathbone nodded. He flipped through the notes he had already written, and the ones from previous sessions. He didn't really need to ask this question but for the sake of completeness. "When you first became an assassin, did you like killing people?"
"Oh, that was such a long time ago," Aldous chuckled. He frowned as he dredged his memory from the depths of his mind. The screams, the crying, the sleepless nights; yes, he remembered them all too well now. "Yes, at the time, it was my very own personal hell, that I, myself, created."
"Ah, thank goodness," Rathbone sighed with relief, slouching back into his chair.
"What? That doesn't sound like a very clinical attitude," Aldous remarked haughtily. Surely there were nurses to protect him against this sort of abuse. Speaking of which, it was a little unusual for a psychiatrist to conduct his experiments in a physical hospital.
"My apologies. It's just…you fit the perfect general adaptation syndrome. Allow me to explain," Rathbone took a deep breath, the colour returning to him. It was his turn. The ball was in his court now, and it would be a slam dunk. "In 1936, Doctor Hans Selye performed numerous experiments on lab rats. He subjected them to various forms of torture but they all exhibited a similar set of symptoms. This became known as the General Adaptation Syndrome. He also outlined a rough timescale for this syndrome. In the beginning, the rats displayed the symptoms in response to their torture. However, when this was prolonged, the symptoms would vanish and the rats would apparently cope. For a time. But, inevitably, the rats would give up after a time, the symptoms would reappear and their health would collapse. You, Aldous, are such a rat."
"I'm sorry," Aldous blinked in confusion. He was no rat. He was a human being. One of the best. He was the assassin. "I don't follow,"
"Really? It's quite simple." Rathbone smiled coyly. Aldous had dealt him some rough blows but the checkmate, the final victory would be his. "You said yourself that you hated your work when you first started. That was stage one. That was followed by a period, your golden age, if you will, where you completed job after job with no disdain or revulsion. You were the greatest assassin on the planet, or at least in your own mind. Stage two. And finally, after so long, your body has given up and you are in pain similar to your younger days. Enter stage three."
"You've got it wrong, Rathbone, so very wrong." Aldous tutted in his place. His fidgeted for a moment. Hmm, the binds were a little loose there. "My body hasn't given up; I'm still in my glorious prime. The only reason I'm in this hospital is because I injured my shoulders during my last mission."
"Oh, you still think you're in a normal hospital? To be honest, Aldous, I'm surprised at you. You're usually so quick." Rathbone chided in amusement. Aldous frowned; he didn't like where this "chat" was heading. "You are right; this is a hospital. A mental hospital. An insane asylum. A Sanitarium. And you're the newest inmate,"
"That can't be!" Aldous protested, straining in his bed, trying to sit up. The bonds kept him but he felt slack by that little bit. "I mean, we both know I have a few problems but I'm not…"
"Let me see," Rathbone consulted his notes, humouring the young assassin. "Multiple superiority complexes, possibly to messianic levels and severe psychopathy. Yes, you seem crazy to me, Aldous."
"What about my missions?" Aldous asked, the panic rising in his voice, along with the bile. This couldn't be the end of him. It wouldn't be the end of him! "Dominus, I want to speak to Dominus!"
"Oh, that won't do you any good." Rathbone chuckled. Even the secret services were powerless to stop him now. He had his pet; that was all that mattered. "After the Statue of Liberty incident, she retired from active service to her family home in the country. Apparently, she wants to grow grapes."
"Then Peel. He wouldn't let me go down unless it was by his hand," Aldous grasped at every straw that he could think of. Even the thought that Peel could save him. "Yes, get Peel for me!"
"Well, I could try but I don't see what good it'll do." Rathbone shrugged. He was willing to entertain these wild requests, seeing it was all academic anyway. "But I don't know if he'll be interested. The sexual harassment charges were dropped against him and he was reinstated as his station's Detective Superintendent. I don't think he'll want to talk to you at all. I even gave him some pills to control that unfortunate habit of his left arm."
"Verity." Aldous asked, turning his head to stare directly at the psychiatrist. It wasn't a lover's heartfelt plea but it wasn't empty of emotion either. "What about Verity?"
"She is still very ill. Getting riddled with bullets isn't something that happens to you everyday…not even you Aldous." Rathbone conducted sombrely. He had rarely conversed with the young Hargreaves but if she was anything like her mother, he was glad of that. "However, when she is fit and able again, she has decided to enrol in Oxford University, to study Law and Politics."
"I'm on my own then," Aldous finished glumly. Suddenly, he realised the importance of what Rathbone had been trying to say all along- too late. He strained his muscles against the binds again, feeling the subtle breaks and twists. There, that gave him some room to breathe.
"Yes, it's happy ending for everyone. Dominus gets a break. Peel gets to work. Verity gets the chance to actually make something out of herself. And us," Rathbone counted off with glee. It was all so perfect. And the fact that the assassin had been tied down meant he didn't even need his taser. "Our chats are interesting but now I have a whole lifetime to probe to the very root of your psyche. And you, Aldous. You never need to fear prison again. After all, you wanted this amnesty, didn't you?"
"This…this can't be the end. Not for me," Aldous furrowed his brow, trying to work it out, trying to think of anything to get him out of this situation. There was no one else now; he was on his own. "There must be something; there must be a way."
"I'm sorry, Aldous, but this is where you belong. You're a nut." Rathbone pocketed his notes and rose from his chair. He leaned over Aldous' bed and admired his prize. Almost fatherly so, he brushed an errant lock of brown hair from his forehead. "A tough nut, yes, but I am the nutcracker."
"That's very nice, Rathbone, and good luck with walnuts," Aldous stretched his expression into a smile, over gritted teeth. He wouldn't be cracked. Not by Rathbone, not by anyone. "But I don't like hospitals,"
With that, he strained against the straps on his body one last time, harder than any of the times before. Now in institutes such as Rathbone's, the restraints are designed to cope with the feeble struggles of the mentally unsound, individuals who have worn their body down with their mind. They are not designed to cope with the violent thrashings of a seventeen year old psychopath and assassin. Already weakened by his previous attempts, the cords snapped and Aldous bolted upright.
Surprised at such sudden resistance, Rathbone made to step back but his hesitation slowed him down. With his first act of freedom, Aldous lashed out and caught the doctor with a hard blow on the cheek. The physical strength of the hit knocked him from his feet, through his chair and onto the floor.
Now that he was free, Aldous calmed down and relaxed. Passionate outbursts did have their uses but wore him out too easily. No, he could take his time now. He needed to stretch his legs anyway.
Rathbone was by the door, frantically jabbing and gabbling at the intercom. Some of his words were hard to make out as his mouth was full of blood, though, not of teeth. However, the spirit of his message was clear. That Aldous was being a little lively and that observation from further away was in order.
"Please! Security, I need help now! The subject is unrestrained! Now, hurry! For the love of god, hurry up!" he squawked into the small grey box. How interesting, Aldous thought; he was usually such a mellow fellow.
Aldous slid himself off the table and strolled casually across the room. Ah, the joys of having nothing to do for the rest of one's life. Bliss. Rathbone didn't notice him, he was still occupied with calling for help. For a curious reason, he had asked not under any circumstances should he be disturbed. Aldous was not sure, but he thought Rathbone would be regretting that, if not now then certainly in the next few moments.
"Security! Security! Secur-" was all Rathbone could say before Aldous cut him off. Literally. Aldous grabbed him by the back of his jacket and yanked him away from the whitewashed wall, spinning him to face him. Rathbone swallowed his last cries as Aldous punched him again, loosening more teeth.
Unused to physical violence, Rathbone fell limp in Aldous' hand. The assassin tossed him through the room. Free of his grip, Rathbone stumbled on his feet before Aldous kicked out at the back of his knees. With a feeble yelp, the doctor fell onto his hands and knees. But Aldous didn't waste a second. He crouched down next to him and caught his neck with his arm, pulling it into a tight lock with his free arm. Rathbone gasped, scratching at Aldous' arm, desperate to be free.
"Now if I squeeze any tighter, you'll die of asphyxiation, my dear Doctor Rathbone." Aldous explained in an effortlessly calm tone. If he could have, Rathbone would have gulped. He had broken out in a sweat of fear but perspiration was the least of his worries right now. He couldn't die- he was a psychiatrist. "But I won't. Do you know why?"
"…" Aldous released his grip a little so that he could get a response. Rathbone gratefully took every breath that he could- they could still be his last. Finally, before the nut tried to squeeze him dry again, Rathbone ventured a hopeful reply. "Because you realise that my life has purpose and therefore, you won't take it from me until I have fulfilled that purpose?"
"Nah!" Aldous rubbished lightly, "I could still kill you, although I don't like getting my hands dirty." Rathbone felt light-headed. He wasn't accustomed to such rude situations. Frankly, even if he had experience, he wouldn't be confident on living through the next five minutes. "I just thought that this way might be more…"
He released the doctor from his grip. Surprised, Rathbone hurriedly drew breath, his eyes wide with exhilaration and shock. It didn't last long. Aldous dropped his elbow down on the back of his neck. Blinding white pain exploded in Rathbone's vision. Then darkness as he passed into unconsciousness, sinking to the floor. "Interesting,"
Standing up, pleased with his work, Aldous dusted his hands down. Yes, that was a pleasure. But if he was truly going to enjoy his life, he would have to find somewhere to live. Somewhere that preferably wasn't an insane asylum. That would mean finding away out of this room.
Suddenly the opportunity presented itself as the door opened with the security that Rathbone had demanded minutes before, in the form of a lonely albeit portly night guard whose chins overflowed the clip-on tie he was wearing. He examined the scene curiously, absently chewing on his bottom lip. He stared at Aldous and the prone form of Doctor Rathbone. Aldous stared back at him. Finally to break the silence, Aldous smiled, "Hello there!"
The guard began to wave back before Aldous suddenly sprang forward, diving like a cannonball into the ageing man's noticeable stomach. The poor man fell backwards seriously winded as Aldous slipped into the corridor.
It was still quiet. Strange. Well, with the hospital holding the kind of people that it held, they probably didn't want to excite anyone. Yes, that was probably best. From the looks of the corridor, and the lack of bars on the other doors, he was likely to be in an administrative or low risk part of the facility. Silly Rathbone. Surely he had killed enough people to earn high risk security?
Dressed in nothing but a flimsy hospital smock, Aldous tiptoed down the corridor. He couldn't hear any screaming. For a moment, this upset Aldous. It wasn't the fact that the patients must be drugged to keep them silent but Aldous liked to hear a little deranged screaming every once in a while. It was soothing.
Aldous opened the door at the end of the corridor silently and stepped into what appeared to be a reception. Soothing colours on the walls, a fern in the corner; a reception. And to top it all off, in the centre of the room, facing away from him, an insomniac clerk working away at the reception desk. Perfect.
"Excuse me?" Aldous enquired, tapping the receptionist, a rather bored-looking man, on the shoulder. They spun around in their executive swivel chair. He struck them so fast that they didn't even have time to look surprised. They fell back into the padding of the chair so serenely that if it wasn't for the line of blood trickling from their nose, they could have been asleep. "Thanks for your help,"
Once he was sure that they were out cold, Aldous surveyed the control console in front of him. It was different from anything that he had seen before but once you had seen enough, in hotels, lobbies, now asylums, you knew what to look for. Nothing was flashing or glowing red in an alarming fashion. Yes, everything looked rather good, all things considered.
Returning to the receptionist, he quickly emptied his pockets. Discarding the car keys, the cough drops and the half-used tissues, he pocketed the wallet and the set of finely cut keys that all receptionists carry.
Leaving the desk behind him, Aldous made straight for the front doors now. They were locked. As he expected. Jangling the clerk's keys, it didn't take long to find a key that opened the doors. Obviously the receptionist wasn't to be trusted with opening a lot of doors. Bad receptionist, bad.
And then he was into the night. The still air was fresh against his near-bare skin. Aldous contemplated returning to the hospital to steal the clerk's, or maybe Rathbone's clothes, but dismissed it. Returning to an insane asylum, hah! Only a sane person would do that. Instead, Aldous ran across the tarmac driveway, heading for the shadow that looked like a chain-link fence. Yes, the exercise would do him good.
He reached the perimeter without incident. It was almost insulting in a way. There were no vicious to the point of rabid dogs, no lobotomised gorillas with sub-machine guns serving as guards, no probing searchlights. Perhaps he was too good. Perhaps Rathbone was expecting him to escape later and only then would the interesting security come into play.
Unfortunately, he didn't have the time to waste waiting around for the firework. He reached the fence and quickly scaled it. That was one advantage of walking around in the dark with no shoes on. His toes had better grip on the fence than any other sole. In truth, his whole being was better than any other soul.
Aldous dropped to the ground silently on the other side. Ah, the grass; it was wet with the midnight dew. Perhaps, when he had the time, he would write a poem about it. And indeed there will be time. After all, people wrote poems about daffodils; why not grass? Leaving the poetic wax and the mental hospital behind him, Aldous headed into the nearby woods. Even through the foliage he could see the light pollution of a nearby city. If it wasn't London, he would find a hat and eat it. The sirens started behind him. At last. Aldous began to run.
He had been running for some time and still no pursuers had appeared behind him. Aldous sighed. At times like this, he almost wished he had imaginary friends so he wouldn't be so lonely. Slowing to a stop, Aldous stepped off the track to catch his breath. He looked around. It was darker but he could still make out the basic outlines of things. Among others, there was an amiable looking tree next to him.
"Hello there," Aldous struck up the conversation, extending a hand in greeting. The tree didn't reply. Aldous shrugged; it would be cruel to accuse it of being wooden. "My name is Aldous Asquith; I'm sure you've heard of me. I'm assassin, well, was an assassin. I'm not so sure anymore. It tends to bore me a bit now. But I'm incredibly talented, in case you didn't know. I'm sure I can find something new to interest me. I wonder, did you know that the world is an incredibly boring place? Hah, don't feel too bad, I only learned it a short time ago, from a very interesting man, actually. But trust me, the only way to live, mister tree, is to strive for novelty. There are very wise words indeed; words you can take to the bank which is where I intend to go shortly. To make a few hefty withdrawals. Hmm, how much do you think it costs to start a new life? Ah, no matter, I've put by enough. I'll be fine, my dear fellow- no, don't you worry about me, sir. With my mind and my money and my message, why, I'll do just fine. And so, I must leave. I won't say goodbye but until we meet again, maybe?"
Patting his new friend affectionately on the shoulder, Aldous turned and found his tracks. Yes, this was where they had come from. My, I have come a long way, he thought. And that was where they were going. He smiled before picking up in the middle of a light-hearted and fancy-free whistle. He broke into a run. He still had so much ahead of him.
As he ran on, the sky began to turn lighter. The sun was rising into the sky, its first rays breaking through the forest and splashing upon his smock. It was a new day. A new beginning. A chance to start a new life. Aldous ran on.
He was the assassin.
He is Aldous Asquith.