An excerpt from the journals of former Intergalactic Police (IGP) Agent Irene Magnus, as provided by Sam Crane
Art by Luke Spooner
I clinked my round tumbler against the whiskey bottle with a little plink! and knocked back a third of what was in my glass. “Leave the bottle” had been the smartest thing I’d said all day–much better than all the pointless speeches and the hollow “thank you, it’s been an honor” or “yes, I’m looking forward to some peace and quiet.”
Today was the worst day of my life.
Give me something to fight, give me a case to solve. Even if I lost, at least I would’ve fought. And maybe–just maybe–I could have even fought the medical reports. Even the bad injuries sometimes improved with rest and physical therapy, and Lord knows I would’ve tried. But I would’ve needed time for that, and the Intergalactic Police wasn’t giving me any.
I had barely been out of the medical center’s ICU for a day when one of my handlers had come to have a “discussion.” The IGP’s oversight committee had deemed me unfit for further active duty. Of course, I appealed immediately, anything to buy some time. Instead the committee promptly came back with “no,” told me my last day was in an Earth month, and that was that. Almost forty years of service, and I didn’t even get to leave on my own terms.
I flopped boneless against the backrest of the chair, my eyes wandering up and up. The bar, Prisms, billed itself as a “traditional human old English tavern,” clearly trying to target homesick humans or possibly other species seeking a little taste of Earth. However, it looked less like a tavern and more like the bastard child of Westminster Abbey and some East End dive bar.
The walls were stone and the ceiling was a huge vaulted Gothic mess. Everything was in black and shades of grey except for strands upon strands of colored glass, like pieces of shattered stained-glass windows, that had been hung in crisscrossing lines all throughout the wide room. The colors danced and swam in the dim recessed lighting, and I couldn’t stop myself from wincing as the brighter shards caught the light and glared down at me.
Dizzy from looking at them too intently, I let my head thunk against the tabletop, which was nice and cool. Its smooth top was smartly polished and shone like mahogany, but it was probably just Cattameeran eeli wood instead. Cheaper and local. The planet of Cattameer was the center of government for the Milky Way Galaxy, and here in Capitol City, there was virtually anything you could ask for–including knock-off human bars with crap whiskey and washed up Intergalactic Police agents to drink it.
Distractedly, I trailed a gloved finger along the table’s surface, the fine protective mesh of my synthetic-steel gloves tracing the wood’s grain. The gloves weren’t IGP standard issue. I’d bought them with my own money, so they were mine, and I got to keep them. Unlike my blaster and my badge.
No. No more bad thoughts. Good thoughts only now. I was blowing a lot of money on this middling whiskey, so at the very least, I was going to be happy about drinking it. A lot of the non-human races loved human alcohol. Champagnes and ciders were particularly lucrative exports for Earth and Mars both; anything fizzy and carbonated was generally a hit. Human hard liquors never really caught on though. You could find the basics sometimes, especially if you went to a bar that catered to a more human clientele, but no one exported the top shelf stuff–it just wasn’t worth it. God, I would kill for good bourbon.
Ugh, it was too hot in here, and I still had my grey dress suit on from the retirement party. The tabletop was cool but not enough. Fumbling awkwardly, I loosened my tie and popped a few buttons. Better. Time for more whiskey though.
I tugged myself back upright by sheer force of will, and it took me an embarrassingly long second to realize that the chair opposite me was no longer empty. Instead, a small alien sat there, looking like an eerie cross between a human and a crow. The bar’s lighting was very flattering to her though–glossy black feathers almost seemed to glow, while streaks of iridescent feathers shimmered in a myriad of colors. Like an oil slick but prettier. She wore a brown utility belt with a number of pouches on it and a nasty looking ray gun holstered at each hip.
“Who–?” I started to say before I caught myself. I already knew her. It was Ambassador Scholar Trishell, a scientist and diplomat from Pluto. Belatedly, I realized I should probably be concerned about her abrupt, well-armed appearance. She was surprisingly dangerous for being a three-foot-tall bird creature.
Plutonians were partial to their high-tech weapons or hired grunts, but they could be pretty nasty themselves if necessary. I’d seen Trishell latch onto the head of a two-timing mafia boss, her tiny claws goring his eye sockets while her sharp teeth shredded his face. Poor idiot hadn’t even known what hit him–I’d had a lot of paperwork after that mission.
I couldn’t imagine what Trishell was doing here though. Some kind of assignment, I guessed, although this hardly seemed the sort of locale she’d frequent. Trishell blinked owlishly at me, large red eyes slowly opening and closing, and I squinted back at her. Yeah, she looked pretty real.
“Agent Magnus,” she finally said in a voice that rustled like autumn leaves. She sounded friendly–at least as friendly as her people ever did. Plutonians weren’t exactly known for being warm and affable, to put it nicely. Regardless, there were no lasers pointed at my face, so I tentatively took that as a good sign.
“Heyyy, Trish!” I slurred in greeting. “How’s it going?” The last time we had crossed paths, I had sort of wrecked an admittedly shady uranium deal she’d been trying to cut with the aforementioned mafia. I figured I should probably keep an eye on her, so I attempted to pour whiskey while also watching her. This was an unanticipatedly difficult task, and my tumbler regrettably remained empty.
She followed the clumsy motions of my hands with her piercing red eyes. “Am I too late?”
I tilted my head quizzically at her. Did she mean the party? Wait, had she wanted to come? That was … kind of sweet, actually. I hadn’t realized she still liked me anymore after the uranium fiasco. Or maybe it was just academic curiosity, a chance to observe a cultural festivity or some junk.
“If you mean my retirement party, then yeah, that ended hours ago. But hey! This is the after party!” I spread my arms wide, my empty glass glittering a rainbow of colors from the refracted light. “It’s kind of a private party, but I’ll make an exception, since you came all this way. Hey, you can study the human custom of getting shitfaced!”
If Trishell had had much of any nose, I’m sure she would have wrinkled it at me. “No, I mean I want to hire you.” She peered curiously at me. “Are you unattached?”
“Oh Trish, for real?” I laughed; I couldn’t help myself. “What would you want with me anyway?” I sloshed more whiskey into my glass, finally. “Unless you want to toss me on some lab table. Hands on demonstration of human anatomy?”
She frowned–pouted–at me, and that just made me laugh harder. She was almost cute, in an antique horror movie sort of way.
“Alright, Agent, you’re not sober enough for us to continue this conversation. I will have to ask that you sober up, please.”
“Nah, Trish, no can do. I left the boosters and … stuff, whatever, other stuff up in my hotel. Tonight’s mission is just to get cratered! Oh hey, what do Plutonians drink? I’ll buy you a round.”
Trishell didn’t look like she wanted a drink. Did she even drink? I tried to remember if I’d ever seen her with anything, but I couldn’t recall. It didn’t matter though. Everything was soft and floaty and fun. The whiskey wasn’t so bad after all; maybe retirement wouldn’t be so bad either.
Trishell made an angry grinding sound in her chest, almost like a pissed off cat, and then she was clambering on the table and grabbing at my wrist. She pushed back the sleeve of my suit and undid my cufflinks, but my synth-steel gloves were magnetized to the protective gauntlets I wore on my forearms. Gotta guard those delicate human veins.
“Sorry, Trish, musta left my armor on.”
She made that grumbly trash compactor noise again. “As very entertaining as it is to watch you make a fool of yourself, Agent, I must insist on your cooperation. I went a little over my allotted travel budget to get here this quickly, so will you just–oh nevermind.”
Losing her patience at last, she slipped off the table and stood on my lap, her tiny talons digging uncomfortably into my thighs. She was trying to get my head up, feeling the side of my neck like she was looking for my pulse or something. It was like having a very aggressive toddler pawing at me, and I laughed again. Right up until she jabbed something directly into my neck. Ouch.
“Ouch.” I reached for what was presumably a booster, and she slapped my hand away.
“Please let that do its job,” she said snippily.
For those who’ve never used a booster, let me tell you: it is an experience. They’re great at what they do–they’ll sober you up from any of the more common intoxicants in about a minute. But it is exceedingly unpleasant, as if my hangover was compressed into that approximate minute. I broke out in dizzy chills, shuddering violently, my skin crawling, and my stomach cramping. It was like having a bucket of ice cold water dumped over my head, but more effective and less wet.
The shifting wash of colors suddenly blinded and nauseated me, and I almost vomited, undignified dry heaves half-stifled by a gloved hand. But in very short order, my head was clearer than it’d been for hours. One hand was pressed tight to my mouth, and the other was clutching the arms of my chair in a death grip, my dark skin broken out in a cold sweat beneath my suit, but I could think again. Everything was so much clearer now.
Especially the irate Plutonian still standing in my lap.
Oh. Oh crap.
Engagement strategies and tactics flew through my mind in the blink of an eye. Close quarters combat, knock her away, get some distance, shoot to stun–
My left hand made an abortive grab for my blaster, which I didn’t have anymore because it was standard issue for the IGP, and I was not an agent anymore. My new cane had a knife in the handle, but it was just out of immediate reach.
Plutonians were fierce but small. I could take Trishell down barehanded, pin her, and call for help, but not faster than she could pounce at this range. If she got past my guard, I would definitely be losing an eye.
I’d made a lot of enemies during my service with the IGP, but of all the people I thought might show up to take a shot at me, I hadn’t expected Trishell. Before the uranium incident, I might have even said we were friendly. She was primarily a cultural scientist, an anthropologist, and we’d even worked together a couple times on legal trade arrangements. But maybe last year’s incident had left a deeper mark than I’d thought. She’d probably caught a lot of flak for it on Pluto.
“Well?” I asked her, when several seconds ticked by and neither one of us had made a move. “Are we gonna throw down or not?” Plutonians were known for being petty little gremlins when they were riled up enough, but they’re normally subtle about it, and in the midst of a fashionable mid level bar was not subtle. Already I could see some other patrons–mostly human–giving our corner table the side-eye.
But Trishell held her small hands up, bony black fingers spread in a placating gesture. “Surely you must realize I’m not here to fight, Agent Magnus. Especially considering your current situation.”
“Sure,” I retorted, not bothering to hide my sarcasm. “And it’s not ‘Agent’ anymore, as you apparently well know.”
Annoyingly–bafflingly–she digressed on the trivialities of names. “What should I call you then? ‘Irene’?”
“What? Of course not.”
“Well, what title–”
“What is your problem? Just ‘Magnus.’ Also, if we’re not fighting, then get off.”
“But–” She cut herself off, sighing exasperatedly. She did get off though, scooting across the table and back into her own chair. “You know, I think I prefer you friendly and sober. Could you please be both?”
“Yeah, well, we don’t always get what we want. Do recall that last time we saw each other, you tried to shoot me with your heat ray.” She mumbled something that sounded suspiciously like “But you dodged it,” and I fixed her with my iciest glare, daring her to say it louder.
Now that I felt a little safer from immediate attacks, I reached up and plucked the spent booster free. It looked normal, but who knew what kind of tampering a savvy Plutonian could’ve managed. I slipped it into my jacket pocket for analysis later. “I’m keeping this, by the way.”
Trishell sighed. “It’s standard for Category 3 sentients. I didn’t do anything to it.”
“I’ll let a med lab tell me that, but thanks. Now what do you want?”
“I already told you: I’m here to hire you. What other offers have you had? How many?” Not waiting for my confused input, she railroaded over her own questions, saying, “No, that doesn’t matter. Whatever anyone else has offered, I’ll pay double.”
I still wasn’t following. “Double?”
“Triple!” she hastily amended, misunderstanding me. “Whatever anyone else is offering, I can top it. I have a grant. The Academic Board said I could do it.”
It was my turn to be exasperated. “Do what?”
Trishell blinked, cockeyed. “Hire you, of course. You retired,” she practically purred. “Surely you’re going to be a freelancer now? Most of the other former agents do freelance work for a bit.”
“That doesn’t make any sense though,” she protested. “Everyone wants to hire IGPAs when they step down, and humans are especially popular. Your species is so versatile. And you’re still young for a human! Only 59 of your years–why, you have at least half your life ahead of you.”
Way to rub salt in the wounds. I almost wished I was plastered again. “Trishell, no one’s trying to hire me. I’m just retiring–I’m going back home to Mars.”
She looked almost as much aghast at that as if I’d said people were clamoring for me. “No! Then–then I’ll match your old salary! With better benefits!”
Huh? It felt like the butterflies that had taken up residence in my stomach for the last two months were simultaneously trying to relax and riot. “Are you … serious? You actually want me as a freelancer?”
“Yes!” she shoved a datapad at me. “I’m willing to negotiate, but I think my initial offer is most reasonable.”
I turned the pad on and gave it a look. Pretty typical for an ex-IGPA: a three year contract primarily as a bodyguard, but also some notes about general assisting and negotiating. There was even a clause under the medical benefits talking about physical therapy and cybernetic enhancements if possible. She really had already known about the leg then.
“Why me though? Er, especially after the uranium debacle.”
Her left eye twitched a little. “We’re not talking about that. It’s in the past.”
“Still,” I pressed, “I thought the Academy preferred cheap brawn. You Plutonians usually have the brain part covered yourselves. I’m surprised you got approval–and so fast.”
Trishell crossed her feathered arms haughtily. “My request was expedited. I do have some influence with the more important Professors, I’ll have you know. They helped me make a case to the Board that someone with your experience and wide range of skill sets would be infinitely more valuable–and cost effective–than several common thugs. Think of your contract as a budgetary experiment.
“As for your injury, it doesn’t matter. If there was some sort of conflict, you would be staying at my side anyway, not running off. And we can get you a new weapon that you could fire one-handed. I’m already working on something in fact. That is, it’s still a prototype–mostly schematics, actually–but it’ll be more than sufficient in a fight. We can give you a subcompact blaster in the meantime.”
“Wow. This is a lot to take in.”
Trishell fluffed her feathers in a self-satisfied gesture, and honestly, I was quite ready to pat her on the back too.
I meant it, I was wowed. Even if I didn’t have this disability and was just a typical IGPA looking for a second career, this would have still been a lucrative offer. “There’s just one thing we need to address, though.”
She stood on the chair seat on the tips of her little chicken feet, elbows locked and arms braced against the tabletop as she leaned earnestly towards me. “Yes?”
I picked the datapad up and pointed a corner of it at her, my expression hardening. “Nothing illegal.”
She sighed and rolled her eyes. “As an Ambassador Scholar of the University of Pluto, I can personally assure you that the University is compliant with all galactic environmental standards and civil rights regulations,” she recited in the bland tone of a diplomat who has made this speech many times before. “While the University may sometimes engage in experiments on the fringe of science, it is all in the name of innovation and–”
“I mean it,” I interrupted her coolly. “Everything has to be above board and in line with the Cattameeran Accords and the Sentient Beings Protection Statute. Put it in the contract, or leave.”
She hissed like an angry, deflating balloon, but she did take the datapad back and switched it to edit mode. “Fine. Anything else, Magnus?”
“Only that. All the other terms are very generous,” I added, trying to mollify her somewhat. I picked up my whiskey, comfortable enough to sip at the last finger of it now that I was probably safe from getting my face melted.
This wouldn’t be so bad. I’d worked for and with a number of difficult people in my career–Trishell would be fine. She seemed to like me well enough at least. Which was still surprising, to be honest.
The whiskey tasted bad again, but I didn’t mind this time. No good whiskey for me any time soon at this rate. Fuck retirement and my handlers too. I wondered what they’d say when they realized I’d signed on to be a Plutonian Scholar’s bodyguard. I didn’t care though. As of this afternoon, I wasn’t their problem anymore, and I finally felt happy for the first time in two months, for the first time since I woke up in the hospital and the doctors told me my prognosis. It felt like the beautiful kaleidoscope lights overhead were illuminating a myriad of possibilities before me.
Trishell’s thin, clawed fingers tapped nimbly on the pad as she updated the contract, and after a few minutes, she spun it back around to face me. A new section titled “Ethical Obligations” had been added to the end. “Is this sufficient?”
I read it over a couple times before I nodded, satisfied. “Yes, this’ll work.” I popped the stylus free and signed it, my signature neat and precise. “Now we shake on it.”
Trishell looked confused for a moment, but then her eyes brightened. “Ah, yes, the ‘handshake.’ I have seen this human custom performed, but I thought it was a greeting.”
“Yes, but we also use it to seal a deal. So what do you say–do we have ourselves a deal?”
She quickly signed the contract too, smiling wide and showing all her teeth. Good Lord. “Yes, we have a deal.”
She thrust out her right hand enthusiastically, and I took her spindly little hand and gave it a firm but careful shake. “I look forward to working with you, Scholar Trishell.”
Irene Magnus served as an IGP agent for almost four decades, earning a Silver Comet of Bravery and several merit awards for crucial intelligence gathering. She is also an exemplary blaster shot and has won numerous shooting competitions. When her promising IGP career appeared to be cut short, Irene unexpectedly went on to become the first former-IGP agent to be hired by the University of Pluto. Her contract with Ambassador Scholar Trishell is currently in its fourth renewal.
Sam Crane enjoys writing science fiction and dark fantasy stories. A History major and an IT professional, she draws considerable influence from both history and technology, as well as from New England, where she lives with two very mischievous black cats. You can find her online at sam-crane-writes.blogspot.com
Luke Spooner, a.k.a. ‘Carrion House,’ currently lives and works in the South of England. Having recently graduated from the University of Portsmouth with a first class degree, he is now a full time illustrator for just about any project that piques his interest. Despite regular forays into children’s books and fairy tales, his true love lies in anything macabre, melancholy, or dark in nature and essence. He believes that the job of putting someone else’s words into a visual form, to accompany and support their text, is a massive responsibility, as well as being something he truly treasures. You can visit his web site at www.carrionhouse.com.
“Retirement Options” is © 2019 Sam Crane
Art accompanying story is © 2019 Luke Spooner