We must think not as individuals but as a species.
His heavy breathing was understandable, but not tolerable. Not for his line of work.
Both of them are lying face down on top of marble ruins. They are hidden under their ghillies. The younger one holds his rifle steadily as he aims towards a camp of traveling merchants. These merchants are passing through the dying grassland to return to the capital. They are stopping one of them from returning to anywhere.
Remind me, sir, why am I shooting him?
Because he’s the target.
Why not all of them?
Repeat rule number one, Owlet.
The guild points, we shoot. No words. No buts.
Good. Now control your breathing and take the shot.
The Owl and the Owlet ride their buggy back to the guild’s headquarter, just outside the capital. Another job well done. They ride through the dying grassland. The scene is quite grim, as the grassland is yet another failed fertilization attempt of Terrakia. Due to a series of failures, after almost 250 years of colonization, only less than a quarter of Terrakia is habitable. But humans are resilient. Most corners of Terrakia is already explored.
The Owl is the deadliest of those explorers.
What do you think about Earth, sir?
Earth? It’s far and filled with garbage.
It’s also filled with humans.
That’s what I was saying.
But don’t you want to go there?
Why would anyone want to go to earth, with all the pollution, viruses, there’s so little land too.
The meltdown did drown most of the lands.
Now we’re talking about ancient history?
History… That’s why I want to go there! Our ancestors were born there.
And now we are here. We are Owls. No place for an Owl on earth.
Nobody wants anyone killed there?
Everybody wants everyone killed there. There are thousands like us. In here, there is one guild. One job. One Owl.
I guess it is better here.
Yes. Now stop daydreaming, your first assignment reward is up.
They arrive at the guild’s headquarter. They don’t need to meet the guild, they are just here for their payment. The Owlet jumps down from the Buggy, opens his owlet mask, and scan his face to a little screen on top of a rusted column. The screen projects a green checkmark and a drawer opens up with an empty pouch in it. Then shards of crystal are sprayed into the pouch, and the owlet takes that pouch.
What do you want to buy with that?
Obviously, better scope.
Attaboy, you’ll make an awesome owl.
Three years passed since that day. The Owlet is now almost as tall as the Owl. But they are still doing exactly what they did. He stands in front of the screen, scans his face, and receives payment. He then jumps back to the buggy and the Owl drive to their next assignment.
What’s on today’s menu, sir?
An old, retired farmer, living by the outskirts of the grassland.
There’s only one house there, this will be easy.
Rule number four?
Never underestimate the target. The Owlet turned his face away and rolled his eyes.
I told them you still have much to learn!
I do! That’s why you’re here.
You can’t always rely on me. Eventually, you will be your own Owl.
Until that day come, you will be driving, and I will forget the rules.
The two of them drive across the grassland. The second fertilization was a success. Beside plants, some simple organisms started to grow. And if they are lucky, they can find some complex organisms as well — Complex enough to be their dinner.
As the night falls, the two of them stops the buggy, made a fire, and starting to roast something that looks like a rabbit.
The Owlet took the first bite and clearly enjoy the chump.
Our target, this old man… He is living outside grassland, so far from the capital. Think about all the costs he must pay, water transport, electricity, the further away the more expensive! He must be rich! Said the owlet.
An Owl is the richest person in Terrakia.
Then how come we don’t have a place to live?
You don’t. I do.
But we always sleep on the buggy!
We are always on the job.
Sir… for four years we are on the road, you never even mentioned you have a home!
Eventually, we’ll visit… once all the jobs are done.
Will it ever be done?
No… but we’ll make the time.
That’s a promise, right?
Yes, kid, it’s a promise.
The two of them wakes up early the next morning, riding their buggy before the first moonrise hits the grassland. Terrakia is a gigantic planet, but it does not have its own star. The two moons reflecting some neighboring stars are the main light source for the planet. The reason why many fertilization attempts fail is also due to the unstable flow of light for the soil.
When they finally reach the house, the Owl is not scanning the perimeter, take distance measurement, or find a suitable nest; which is what they usually do in every job. Instead, The Owl approaches the house and enters.
Sir… are you sure? What if the target is home?
He is not.
The Owl opens the door with Lax, as the Owlet behind him cocks the rifle just in case the target is ready for them.
Nobody is ready for them.
Sir… there’s no one here.
Sir, I understand that recon is vital, but rule number five said we never approach the target. This is more than approaching.
For the first and the last time kid, you are allowed to break the rule.
The Owl gave his rifle to him. The Owlet stared at him with confusion.
Sir, rule number two, give up your weapon only if you are about to give up your life.
Now that rule, is what I am abiding. The Owl forces his rifle to the Owlet’s hand.
The two of them moved further into the house. The place is dark but highly organized. There’s a table for two, a few chests, and a cupboard with books — all covered in dark green color. The main room is well-lit but not too bright, and the whole place is built using rain-scented woods. The Owl moves into one of the smaller rooms, then comes out dragging a lazy chair and a cup of coffee. He takes his sip and reclines while staring at the cup.
I prepared this coffee for this day. How long has it been? 5 years?... Funny, they say earth coffee will get bad only a few days after brewing. While all we Trakian knows, coffee is the only drink that will stay good long after you died.
Now I am seeing the target, sir.
Yes, you are.
I don’t understand.
I’m retiring kid, you’re my replacement.
It doesn’t mean you have to die.
One guild. One job. One Owl.
There’s not enough job?
There’s not enough guild.
I am not going to kill you.
Then the guild will kill both of us.
Is this… tradition?
It’s security. How long do you think before the guild gets greedy and start to kill one another? With only one Owl allowed, they must focus on one target at a time. No competition, no “contract to kill the contractor”, it’s all clean.
Then why do I have to kill you?
Now that’s tradition. A symbol of cutting all ties.
The Owlet took a deep breath and sighed. He put down the Owl’s rifle, and he is about to walk away.
You don’t have to die kid. Come on, put up your rifle, and give this old man the bullet he deserves.
The Owlet takes a step towards the exit and he can hear the faint sound of cocking rifle. The guild’s executor is already here. There’s no escaping. His only way out is to shoot. So he turned back and aimed towards the head.
Goodbye kid, you will make a fine Owl. He takes his final sip.
Three blasts of beam bullet echo in the outskirt of Terrakian grassland. The Owlet who is no longer an Owl made his choice.
Three bodies behind the Owl fell. A needlepoint hole in their foreheads. The guild executors are dead.
What are you doing?
Finishing my assignment.
The Owlet walk passed the Owl, moving towards the dead executioners.
The Owl stood and shout to his protege, We will be killed because of this! Worse, we’ll be tortured, mutilated, then forced to leave Terrakia without limbs!
The Owlet squat and cuts off the guild executioner’s head one by one. He pulled out some capsules which makes the heads shrink and sucked into them.
I know their drill, but that won’t happen to us. The earth is coming sir.
So it’s true… Who's coming?
The Darney corps.
What? They make children movies.
And the guild is in the way, they won’t give Darney corps the show rights.
This is mad.
It’s progress, sir.
So what happens?
Wow. This never happened before. You don’t know what’s going to happen, and I do.
Just tell me.
Well, I guess the guild won’t have a choice but to rehire you now that they got a competition.
You are the competition.
Yes and No. I told Darney corps I will not kill you under any circumstances. They agreed.
But I am going to have to kill Darney men.
And they will have security measures. I won’t be one of them. I am the blade, not the shield.
The two of them stand face to face now. He is no longer a student, and he is no longer an instructor; they are equal. For the first time in history, Terakkia has two Owls.
So we part ways now.
You don’t get to call me sir now.
Sorry… Owl. The young Owl nods, and the old Owl smile. Then they walked out of the house towards the grassland.
So you knew about this house?
Yes, actually that coffee is new. I made it last week.
That’s why it tastes like shit.
Rule number 45, Owls make great coffee The young Owl mocked the old.
There is no rule 45.
There is now, I am an Owl so I can make my own rules.
That’s not what being an Owl means.
I guess after all this time, I still need much to learn.
The old Owl threw the buggy key to the young Owl, and he caught it. He gave the old man a glance of disbelief, but then jumped to the buggy. Deep down he knew this day will come. They didn’t say a word after that. The old Owl gave his former student a pat on the back and he started the engine.
As the young Owl rode the buggy out of the grassland, he muttered to himself:
Two clients. Two jobs. Two Owls. Let’s keep it that way.
No matter how far we are from home, some things still remain.
We are still a species that kills its own kind.