Poisons were marvelous things, though Vox Cul-Dar rarely felt that they were worth his time. Usually, in his line of work, targets wouldn’t be observable long enough for covert poisoning, and a direct confrontation with most enemies would end with them dead or incapacitated thanks to the fragility of standard humans or other martially untrained people. But Zack was different.
Vox scrolled through the list of poisons on his computer screen, and could understand why some assassins learned to love the stealthy approach. This one would kill in precisely a week (for a human male of exactly two-hundred pounds) with no other ill effects. That one could kill haukreen in a matter of seconds. Another would give a minor cough to the Lotus Brides of Cresh before making them burst into flames one day later, something that looked terrible but reportedly caused death instantly.
“The Rythnian Boutique’s catalog is a fascinating read, Rendelac,” he said. “The DMA discount almost makes access to it reasonable.”
Rendelac’s eye changed hue to indicate that it registered the comment, but the computer had nothing to add, instead busying itself with the tiny details of ensuring that Vox’s home was running optimally. It was also in the midst of synchronizing with the true Rendelac on Vox’s home world, channeling sage wisdom through the interplanetary communications grid, a process that always left it feeling contemplative. There was much it wished to discuss with Vox, but it was waiting for a more appropriate time as per its courtesy protocols.
“These fast acting ones may be more like what I need,” said Vox. “Instant feelings of vertigo, kills in half an hour. Powerful lethargy and euphoria, kills in one third of an hour. Disturbing visions of terror, kills in one fourth of an hour. I like the progression.”
Vox’s phrases had, at last, surpassed the procedurally generated decency threshold that Rendelac had established for this conversation.
“Heed well my words, Vox Cul-Dar,” said Rendelac. “I fear you are growing obsessed.”
“The price on Gamma’s head is a mighty one,” said Vox. “If I don’t claim it, someone else will. I know you don’t approve of this work, Rendelac, but it’s going to be done and someone will profit for it.”
“And if Gamma eludes you?”
“No one escapes the Desperate Measures Agency forever,” said Vox.
“No one has yet,” said Rendelac. “In fact, Zack Gamma has already survived longer than anyone else who has been declared dead by the DMA. Perhaps Zack Gamma will be the first.”
“Not likely,” said Vox.
“Neither is the scene before me,” said Rendelac. “You pursued great wisdom once. Now you invest resources into learning the finer points of murder.”
“Can you honestly tell me that this isn’t fascinating?” said Vox. “The one that causes sensations of vertigo actually changes the sense of scale by making the target psychically aware of the entirety of space in their immediate area. The disturbing visions of terror come by linking the mind to actual scenes of suffering happening within three light years, they claim. …though that doesn’t seem likely to me, I thought that psychic energy was still limited to light speed? Ooh, and the next poison in the list…”
“Do you truly wish to cause such extra suffering for your former fellow coworker?”
“Of course not,” said Vox. “I wanted him dead when I first tracked him down in Helix. Quickly. But Zack has… comrades.”
“This displeases you?”
“I’ve seen his life, and his profession,” said Vox. “People like him are doomed to die alone in a back alley, without the rest of the world noticing or caring. It’s a social contract for people who deal in secrets as he does. It’s the system we work with.”
“It seems foolish to support such a system instead of taking steps to end it,” said Rendelac.
“I don’t see you trying to help him,” said Vox.
“It is the role of Rendelac to advise,” said Rendelac. “I advise you, just as the true Rendelac advises your home world. I do not take steps to hinder you, but I will implore you to listen to reason.”
“I have listened to your reason,” said Vox. “And today, I find it lacking. I’m sorry.”
A tense silence filled the room. Vox came near to breaking it, but was beaten by the computer.
“And now we come to the second role of Rendelac,” it said.
“I am sorry,” said Vox. “I really am. Tell me, do I have any mail or notifications?”
“Yes,” said Rendelac. “A notification from the Helix police department, reminding you to report the return of stolen items, likely referring to Officer Tacara’s discovery that we still had our identification node.”
“I swear, if I ever find that crinlian again…”
“I urge you not to pursue him as you now pursue Zack Gamma,” said Rendelac. “Allow one of these fixations to die this night if you will not allow it for both.”
Vox glared at the eye on Rendelac’s frame before turning back to the catalog of poisons.