To be, or not to be, that is the question—
Whether 'tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die, to sleep—
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
That Flesh is heir to? 'Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; Aye, there's the rub,
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There's the respect
That makes Calamity of so long life:
For who would bear the Whips and Scorns of time,
The Oppressor's wrong, the proud man's Contumely,
The pangs of despised Love, the Law’s delay,
The insolence of Office, and the Spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his Quietus make
With a bare Bodkin? Who would these Fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered Country, from whose bourn
No Traveler returns, Puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of.
Thus Conscience does make Cowards of us all...
“I still don't understand it,” Daniel said.
Amanda laughed, looking up from the work she was correcting. It had already been corrected, mind, but Amanda had been severely drunk when she was doing all the marking; and so was rectifying whatever incorrect (or inappropriate) notes she had made on her students' papers. They were sitting on the floor, the work spread out around them as Amanda sorted through the long essays.
Daniel took another swig of his brown bottle before he said, “You know, I see why that kid called you evil. An English-speaker can't understand it, let alone some who's trying to learn.”
Amanda put down her red pen and snacked on some potato chips, “Okay, firstly,” she said, with her mouth full, “English is one of the easiest languages to learn and kids like Bianca started learning it since kindergarten. And secondly, it's Shakespeare. One does not simply 'understand' him.”
Daniel held up the page and shook it before her, “You would dump me for this guy, wouldn't you?”
“Be glad he's been dead for about four centuries.”
Daniel scoffed, “Seriously, though, what does he mean?”
“Do you really want me to bore you with a lecture?”
“I know you would love to do exactly that.”
“Read it a few more times and tell me what you think it means. And I'll tell you if you're on the right track.”
He gestured to the essay papers, “How many more have you got to mark?”
Amanda skimmed through the scattered pile, “Maybe six or seven? I'll be done soon,” she picked up her pen and continued from where she left off, “And, in passing, Daniel, can I ask you something?”
Amanda hesitated for a moment before she asked, “Do you... spend time anywhere else?”
Daniel looked up, “What do you mean?”
“Like, when you come back from your work... You seem to spend so much time here, like you have nowhere else to go.”
Daniel paused, “Don't you want me here?”
Amanda smiled, “Don't ask stupid questions,” she said, “I like having you around. It's a huge step-up from just me and Jack or the occasional friend around. But... Don't you get, like... I don't know, bored of being here? All the other guys I've dated always had something else to do or somewhere else to go.”
“I told you. I'm not one of those guys.”
“No. You really aren't,” she crawled forward and pinched his cheeks, “You're so cute,” she said in a baby voice.
Daniel laughed and pulled away, “Stop that!” he struggled as Amanda tickled him, but he pulled away and held her hands back. He choked a few chuckles, “I... I don't get bored here, no. But I do go other places, like the bar or the compound. It's not the same though.”
Amanda rubbed her wrists when Daniel let go, she furrowed her brows, “The compound?”
“Yeah... I'm not supposed to tell you about it,” Daniel thought a while before he continued, “I don't know. It's... nice to have a routine, you know? To have exactly what you expect happen around you all the time. And then there's you. I like being around you. You make me want to be... good, nice. Everyone else just irritates me.”
Amanda smiled, “Aww, you're such a sweetheart.”
“Stop doing that,” Daniel muttered.
She laughed and kissed his nose lightly before going back to her work.
Daniel picked the extract back up and read it over again. The more he read it, the more he felt he could understand it. Or, so he thought, anyway. He still didn't know what a “ bare bodkin” or a “ fardel” was, but - given the context - he supposed he could make an educated guess.
“It's about suicide, right?” he asked, “The guy who's saying this... He wants to kill himself.”
Amanda paused in her marking, “Mm hmm...” she said, waiting for Daniel to continue, “Why would you say that?”
“Because he asks whoever he's talking to why we put up with all the shit that goes on in our lives. He asks which is better - to suffer through life or to end it quickly? Then he says that most people fear what's on the other side, what comes after dying, and that's why most people choose to live. Conscience makes cowards of us.”
“And... what are your thoughts on all that, Daniel?”
“I don't know... I guess... I don't know.”
“You've had a well-shitty life, right? What keeps you living?”
Daniel thought on it for a moment.
What had kept him alive all these agonising years?
“Purpose, I guess,” he said, “With my work. I take it seriously.”
“Is that all?”
“Did you want me to say I live and breath for you?” Daniel scoffed.
“I want you to be honest. That's all.”
“Then, yeah: that's it. I've pretty much lived for work. I... I don't remember much else.”
Amanda sat up and crossed her legs, “And suppose work were to end? You complete all your missions, capture or kill all your targets and you get an honourable discharge. Or you get fired. What then? Would you continue living?”
“I...” Daniel tipped his head to a side, Laetitia's taunts vaguely playing in his mind. With Agent Berg's promotion, could Abstergo possibly discharge Daniel? Or maybe they would kill him? “I haven't thought about it,” he said, “I don't know what I'd do, I guess... I guess I'd keep living, yeah, but I don't know what I'd be living for.”
Amanda paused, “Did I just scared you?”
“A bit,” Daniel admitted, with a light chuckle, “What about you? Life hasn't exactly been all ponies and rainbows for you - why do you keep living?”
“You already said it: Conscience makes us cowards. I am one.”
“That was a quick answer. You've thought about this before?”
Amanda nodded, “I've thought about killing myself a lot, but I've never gotten around to doing or even attempting it. I'm scared of what comes after, you know? I'm not ready to face God, or be reincarnated, or feel the worms and parasites eat away my flesh in a cold and lonely hole in the ground. I mean, yeah I've had it bad in life but... It's... something, you know? Life is something. Everything I know. And death is something else, everything I don't know. That scares me.”
“You think you'll feel 'em eating you?”
“Well, I don't think things will just stop. There has to be something that comes after, because I don't believe... 'nothing' exists. 'Nothing' is just a perception, a name for when something is lacking,” Amanda paused, “Are you afraid to die, Daniel?”
Daniel gazed at her. It hurt his head to think this way, things he'd never even considered in the past.
Oh, the irony: that the single truth of life would be so casually ignored. What greater reality is there, than that which has lived must die?
Ten years ago, maybe Daniel wouldn't have cared if he died. He was, by all means and purposes, an expert in causing the death of others anyway - and perhaps, as Laetitia had mentioned, it was for the fact that Daniel had had nothing to lose. But now, as he looked at Amanda, the sobering narcotic that he had become addicted to, and he looked around her home which he had found to be so unrealistically warm and welcoming - a sanctuary for a person of his mind and character: No sense of bravado and no grain of arrogance could make him deny the fact that death - the very idea of leaving behind what he had just fortuitously stumbled upon - absolutely terrified him.
He jerked his head away and blinked water, “It scares me,” he mumbled, his hand trembling as he wiped his eyes with forefinger and thumb.
“Sorry...” said Amanda, putting a hand on his arm.
Daniel sniffed and then scoffed sarcastically. He shook his head, “Don't, Amanda...”
She took his hand and kissed him. Amanda looked into his eyes, “I'm glad I met you, Daniel.”
Daniel felt an emotion lurk in his chest. Something warm that made him feel vaguely bashful. He felt as though he should have returned some sentiment, some strong professions of his feelings. But he couldn't shake that contemptuous emotion, the idea that the people who had raised and housed him for so long would replace him. How long left before they made a decision? Was he even willing to help them anymore? Hadn't he done enough?
But he forced a smile and said, “Me too.”