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art by Seth Alan Bareiss

The Exterminator

Erik B. Scott is a graduate of Cornell University. He currently resides in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with his fiancé. He is pursuing a dual degree MD/PhD program, and conducts full-time research in colon cancer prevention. To preserve his own sanity, he still finds time for prose in those precious few moments when he is free to invoke his muse. This has allowed him to turn a lifelong love of speculative fiction into a burgeoning second career as an author.

***Editor's Note: Adult, violent story***
After the third knock, the door finally opened a crack. Jaren saw a scaled hand wrap around the door and a pair of narrow yellow eyes peek out suspiciously. "I've been waiting," his serpentine voice beckoned. He opened the door and led Jaren inside.
Jaren sighed, "We are sorry for the delay, sir. There are hundreds of construction projects going on around the city right now and most are in need of our services."
The Morgat scoffed, "I don't doubt that--my people actually take some pride in their progress, unlike you humans."
His voice betrayed condescending pride as he spoke, and although he had intended to offend Jaren's humanity, in reality his barbs had missed the mark. "I've always admired your people's commitment to progress, from the time I was just a young boy in one of your government's civil service camps."
"You were in a camp?" Inquired the Morgat.
Jaren nodded. "I expressed an interest in serving with the occupation forces, so I was displaced from my parents and put in one of the camps. My test scores weren't high enough though...."
"And so they placed you in the exterminators," interrupted the Morgat, seemingly unaware of Jaren's admiration. "Now let's get to this job you're going to be doing for me. I have a huge pest problem in the basement. They've taken over. I need you to get rid of them."
As he spoke, Jaren looked around the interior of the building. The Morgat must have caught him looking; he nodded in approval. "I see you've taken notice of my restoration. You should recognize it: a fully restored 20th-century human hotel, complete in all its decadence." He pointed with delight to a crystal chandelier hanging above them.
"I don't understand," said Jaren, "Why would you rebuild a human structure?"
"I'll admit that it isn't to my tastes," he replied, "but some among my race find your culture fascinating. I am going to run an authentically human boutique hotel."
"I can't understand why they would prefer this," said Jaren, "I'm a human myself and I have always felt more at home in your species' sterile metallic environments than my race's... opulence."
"That's quite rich, coming from a human," said the Morgat. "Do you fancy yourself one of us?"
Jaren could feel the blood rush to his face. "I would never presume--"
The Morgat laughed again, "Enough," he said. "You have a job to do. I'll leave you to your work. The basement stairs are over there." The Morgat pointed to a doorway in the back corner of the room, before himself retreating up the master stairwell and into the office.
As he reached the bottom of the basement stairs, Jaren reached into his backpack and removed his rifle. In centuries past exterminators killed mice and insects; they would have found such a large weapon unnecessary. Modern-day exterminators had it worse. His vermin were bigger, smarter, more dangerous. Many of his colleagues went out on jobs never to return.
Jaren began stalking from room to room in the darkness. Suddenly his ears perked up, having heard a whimper coming from a large storage closet in the back of the basement. His prey. He crept over and threw the door open, and a loud scream came from inside.
And there before him sat the vermin, huddled together in a clump in the middle of the room. They were not insects, not rodents--they were primates. Humans.
Jaren raised his rifle. He heard the sound of his own voice, speaking coldly. "You shouldn't be hiding here, squatting on Morgat property. You should be registered and living in the ghettos, like the rest."
The humans gave no response, and for a minute there was an agonizing silence. Suddenly a man he had not seen in the corner lunged out from the shadows. Without thinking, Jaren discharged three rounds into the man's chest, dropping him where he stood.
"Daddy!" the cry came loud and abrupt, and a little girl broke free of her mother's embrace and rushed over to the corpse, in tears.
"Look in the mirror," said the girl's mother, her eyes widened by terror, revulsion, and pity, "You're not one of them. You're one of us. Stop this."
Her words evoked a familiar feeling. Images of his mother's tearful face the morning that he chose to join the civil service flooded him. She had tried to fight it--to say that he was just a confused boy, that he really belonged here with his people. He remembered feeling profound loss as he was escorted away.
Jaren blinked. In a moment the internal conflict had passed. These were not his people, not now, not ever.
"No, I'm not one of you," Jaren said to the woman, choking back on his bile. He pulled the trigger--first the mother, then the little girl, then the others. He left none alive.
When the job was done, he once again climbed the basement stairs, his face covered in blood. He was anxious to report back to the Morgat; to tell him what a good job he had done. He knew that he could never be one of them, but maybe, just maybe, the Morgat would hire him to work in the hotel, or be his assistant. Who knows, in time maybe he could--
"That was fast," the Morgat said, "Well done."
"Thank you sir," Jaren replied. "I was wondering...."
"Yes, yes of course, your payment," said the Morgat, misunderstanding his intent. He handed him a slip of credits. Jaren was about to speak up again, when the Morgat dropped a hammer. "Now get out of my sight," he said. "Just because I employ vermin to kill vermin doesn't mean I want to keep them around afterwards."
Jaren's heart sank in his stomach at the words. He took his leave of the Morgat. He would never be one of them. He would never be human. He was an exterminator, and that would have to suffice.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, January 17th, 2013

Author Comments

The impression that I get as I reread "The Exterminator" is a sense that the story exists as part of a world that extends beyond the boundaries of the narrative itself. Moreover this world seems to leave the reader with a lot of questions. The good news is that I share the same questions as the reader. This is because I began writing the story with almost no preconceived notion of what the world should be like. This allowed the world to evolve rather naturally around the narrative, and leaves certain gaps for the reader’s own imagination to fill in. As for the narrative itself, I tried to make the piece go beyond a simple “day in the life” tale about our protagonist. To this end, the hardest question that I faced when writing this piece was, “How does Jaren feel about his job and how can I make that come through to the reader?” I think we are witnessing what I would call an “anti-epiphany” on the part of our protagonist. He experiences an event which, for a moment, seems to affect him and call to mind the pain in his past. However he does not ultimately have the reaction to it that the reader may want or expect. His affirmation of his place in the world in the final line appears to close the book on any lasting change. Thus, I come out of this story pitying Jaren almost as much as his victims.

- Erik B. Scott
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