Smithsonian Death Museum sits a hundred feet below the National Mall.
It offers exhibits that cannot be found anywhere else. There are tumuli,
cairns, mausoleums, a history of headstones, IMAX sky burials,
reenacted hangings with costumed onlookers, a hallway of execution
devices, sections on Greek Tragedy with immersive blinding, a pit with a
convincing pool of blood that ghosts sip from, a rotating stage with a
thatch crucifixion scene on one side and Jesus exiting a plaster tomb on
the other, but most popular of all: the professional corpse.
in an open sarcophagus at the center of an otherwise bare room, the
professional corpse imitates the process of death. He can decompose,
exude a nauseating stench, become a skeleton, prevent his bones from
yellowing, restore himself like a saint, and remain absolutely still the
whole time. Thoughts do not pass through his mind and the visions that
appear behind his eyelids do not cling to him. No one knows how he does
it. They simply assume he is a skilled actor.
En route to the National Mall in an automated
hovercraft is Miyato Misato, the Xenotail Shikari Assassin, licking
their paws as they peer at the Baltimore skyline. Miyato Misato is a
world famous, genetically enhanced, genderless furry assassin. They are a
woke Thelemite, a respecter of women and a savior of the downtrodden.
Every elite cabal throughout the techno-globalist prison planet jockeys
for their work. They are a master of dissimulation, capable of switching
between countless finely honed fursonas complete with fashion quirks
and behavioral flaws ingrained from childhood. They can pick up any
language in a week with a realistic accent. Misato has many nicknames,
but oldest is “the Hirsute of Alamut”.
is Misato’s seven-hundred-and-seventy-seventh hit. After this, they go
into retirement with enough money to bring back the wooly mammoth. They
have no idea what they are going to do with their time. Birds roost in
their stomach. An emptiness yawns before them. They have been trying to
make vacation plans for months now.
farewell target is the conman Hark Whitfield, who not only cheated the
richest banking family in North America of last year’s profits but left
two of their sons dead and one paralyzed neck-down from a rare benthic
poison. A printout of his record competes with a phonebook for size. His
cons are complex, symbolic, each maneuver associated with a
numerological value or literary allusion only clear to the discerning
investigator. Hark Whitfield has done for confidence men what Joyce did
for the English novel. A fitting enemy for a killer as skilled as
brown, wrinkled mug and license info are stuck on the viewscreen.
Misato leans back, tilts their head, and ponders his features. He looks
primeval, like an anthropolith or something trapped in the Burgess
Shale. Misato’s anonymous employer has relayed that Whitfield is now
working as an actor at the Smithsonian Death Museum.
Misato enters the Museum elevator in a cardigan and
slacks, batting their tail. This is the only public entrance. The door
grinds shut, biting off the Washington Monument. Fluorescent bars of
light flicker. An employee drones on about the design of the Museum. Its
structure is impenetrable and all windows inside are made of
plexiglass. Its architect cites everything from Swiss vaults to the
Great Pyramid of Giza as inspiration. The building plan is composed of
concentric circular floors. The lowest ring is the smallest and most
frequented. It houses the professional corpse.
tour guide drives Misato and a family of fat Armenians through a
minefield. As explosives set off around them and actors fall to the
ground, the guide turns to the furry, wrapping his arm around the seat,
and asks him where he is from. Misato raises their hand in feigned
confusion, first uttering something in Japanese, then settling on Urdu
and nervous laughter. The guide shows his teeth and quickly looks away.
the rest areas between exhibits, television monitors hang from walls
overgrown with cords. They advertise sponsors and show previews of the
professional corpse. Slow and miraculous excarnation appears on four
different screens, closing up as invisible acid reaches the bone.
Whitfield’s face rips and pulls, rapidly changes color as if the skin
were playing damaged video. A pair of crater sockets float in this noise
like molds of molten light, and Misato cannot tear their gaze away,
feeling that any moment the eyes will open.
has brought a mini syringe containing a nerve toxin. They will tour the
exhibits until it is time for Whitfield to clock out. When the ambient
special effects and holograms playing around him shut off, Misato will
saunter up to the sarcophagus and inject the toxin into his neck. He
will be so absorbed in meditative stillness that he will fail to notice
Misato. This will be his last performance.
Xenotail Shikari Assassin is – unlike the average museum goer – not
naïve. They know that the professional corpse relies on technology and
illusion to achieve his feats. Beneath their cynical pelt a sympathy
resides, an identification with Whitfield. They are in the same
The lowest floor of the museum is freezing cold.
Stairwell entrances form a cross on four sides, ceiling floodlights cut
it diagonally, and the walls are clean, grey concrete. There is a full
crowd, Misato cannot see the sarcophagus. A man from Wisconsin corners
them and shows pictures of his family on a smartphone while they wait
for the crowd to disperse. All seven of his children are sick with a
congenital disease that he does not want to elaborate upon. He is taking
pictures of exhibits at multiple museums for their group project.
“I upload ‘em to the cloud.”
“Is that so.”
play Minecraft when the symptoms are too bad for them to go to school.
All of ‘em have a server. They built a replica of a Vimana in survival
mode – all on their own! Can you imagine that? They all wear diamond
armor and whatnot. They love the Rig Veda. All their online names,
they’re Hindu day-tees.”
“They say he really dies, this guy, dontcha know. They say it’s real.”
“They do say that.” Misato’s voice modulates unexpectedly.
“Hey are you okay, bud?”
“Must be…coming down with something,” Misato hackles raise, “maybe it’s the air in here.”
The man tells Misato to take care of themself and waddles off.
pass and the last tourists trickle out of the room. It is silent apart
from the gentle whirring of ventilation. Misato closes in and comes face
to face with Whitfield. His jowls are deep and dark, his expression one
of peaceful exhaustion. For a moment, Misato pities him. Their life
arcs have both been jagged, random walks of fortune. These players have
danced through Brownian twists of fate time and time again, and the
price for their freedom of motion is anti-climax.
Xenotail Shikari Assassin inserts the syringe and watches as
Whitfield’s face convulses, a black bruise spreading from his neck
outward. He shivers and gasps. Misato turns away, discarding the syringe
beside the body. No one will trace them, they have no fingerprints,
they have no signature.
walk out of the Smithsonian Death Museum seems longer than it should
be. Memories weigh Misato down. They feel ill and their clothes are
stained with sweat. Mental clips play of combat on blimps over Shanghai,
in the ultraviolet jungles of arcologies, and in the bedrooms of
bordellos invaded by Israeli ninjas with David’s Star shurikens. Women,
men, and miscellaneous beings loved and lost. Nights of passion held
under other names in the favelas of terraformed, dry oceans. These are
all stepping stones of fever dreams on the path to the morning’s shore.
Nothing here now but the recordings.
a vacant rest area, the monitors jump to life, scaring Misato out of
their inner archive. Whitfield’s hideous white irises fill the mosaic, a
medusa freezing Misato to the spot. An orchestra of slotted faces race
through transformations, profiles of prisoners in hell conducted by a
nameless force, compressed banshees wailing in an electric night of
arcing sparks. A pseudopod of light and sound pierces Misato’s forehead.
Blood runs from their cat ears and they scream.
professional corpse bobs in a whirlpool of trash and sewage at the
bottom of the National Mall. Everything is magnetized, the whole country
is in undertow. It is as subtle as the movement of shadow across a
sundial. The museum offers exhibits that cannot be found anywhere else. A
letter removed but always implied, a hole in the alphabet through which
a draft blows.
reenters Whitfield’s tomb. They remove the syringe from their pocket
and approach the sarcophagus, but there are only bones there this time,
brittle and thousands of years old. The scene replays with rupturing
framerate, each excavation deeper until the exhibit is a shaft burrowing
miles into the crust. The defiled grave widens like a Venus fly trap or
the mouth of some worm, swallowing Misato whole. They are incorporated
into Whitfield’s piece, trapped in a broken loop of introductions, a
threshold opened but never crossed. When the alarm rings and it is time
to go home, neither of them can hear it.
The Xenotail Shikari Assassin stares out a tinted
window at the city. A hummingbird droid tries to guide a spoon of
applesauce into their mouth. Doctors watch them on surveillance. They
jot down notes on tablets, confer with one another, debate, make light
of the situation, have a hearty laugh, and decide on the time of
tomorrow’s meeting. As the day goes on, bustle in the ward dies down.
Misato is wheeled to their room. Their fur is matted and greasy. They do
not sleep. The case is terminal.