As part of the 12 short stories in a year challenge, I’ve also been forcing myself to write in different genres. Last month, I worked on a bit of fantasy/magic realism in The Story and Its Teller. This month I tried to incorporate a little bit of sci-fi, which is new for me. I hope you enjoy it!
“As long as you show up on time, everything will be fine.” I put down the receiver. He always did feel the need to tell me what to do.
Walking into the freezer, I yanked four pounds of ground beef off the shelf and returned to the front counter. Grumbling, I dropped the plastic wrapped beef into water to start the thawing process. I could have used my own finger tips to do the job, but the luncheonette was too busy for me to cut corners.
A elderly woman shuffled to the cash register to place her order even though the line of customers weaving through the restaurant began at the opposite end of the counter. Before I could tell her where to go, a towering man in a corduroy jacket called out to me, “Miss, please I’m in a hurry.” Caught between a respect for elders and impatience for gruff males, I stood in between the two deciding where to place my next step.
If this weren’t downtown Denver, if this weren’t Earth, I could split myself in two and help them both. I had to blend in, which meant untangling the social web of polite society.
If karma is a bitch, I don’t want to cross her, so I stepped toward the woman. “Excuse me, ma’am?” She looked at me with emerald green eyes, the eyes of my species.
Respect and karma flew out the window, “What do you want?” I hissed.
“What?” she yelled.
In a low growl, I said, “I know you’re not deaf lady. What do you want?”
She slid an envelope across the counter, then shuffled away.
“I don’t have time!” I called to her.
“Make time!” she called back, her singsong voice was unmistakeable. Sharone. She knew how to pick a costume that always caught me by surprise. After years of doing missions supplied by her envelopes, one would think I could anticipate her presence. But, when she can shape shift from a green-eyed elderly woman into a jump roping little boy, how was I to know when she’d show her stupid face?
She might have been my handler, but I didn’t have to like her.
I swiped the envelope off of the counter, slid it into my back pocket and walked toward a hungry line of customers.
After an hour of polite smiles, running to bus tables, running to the order counter, the barrage of customers subsided. I sat down with a sandwich in hand, then remembered the envelope. I reached a hand back in search of it.
It wasn’t there. I put my sandwich down and used both hands to search all of my pockets. My evaporator gun was still tucked into the waist of my pants.
I scanned every inch of the floor. It wasn’t behind the counter or under any table.
You would think after millennia of evolution, my species would devise a better system than envelopes to deliver missions and messages. I didn’t know if it was a summon to council or a summon to battle.
Larson’s words echoed in my mind, “As long as you’re on time…”
My brother had no concept of the importance of things or the fact that I was 700 years older than him. But, in just 20 years of assimilating to Earth-life, I’d succumbed to the craving human need for Elder Brother’s Approval. People are illogical.
I’ve come to believe it’s their little brains that do it to them. Thankfully, my more complex brain came with me when I tucked myself into an empty crib at the orphanage. I’d identified his family right away and even as an infant, I was able to telepathically convinced them to take me home. Ever since then, it’d been bandaids, parties, curfews, and chores. Accomplishing my missions had been tricky, but not impossible. Running into battle as a 10-year-old human had been a handicap, but also gave me the element of surprise over the Corum who’d been trying to overtake Earth for centuries.
I checked my watch, 4:45. Larson had demanded my presence at 6:00pm sharp. We were having a family meeting and according to him, “Ever since you got your new job and moved out, you’ve acted too cool for the rest of us.” I never considered myself “cool”, and didn’t understand why he accused me of it. I’d been too busy pretending to be an American kid while simultaneously plotting the death of three-headed Corum aliens.
I had to find the message, run whatever errand the Bureau asked of me, then be home by 6:00.
I heard rumors of a Bureau agent who’d lost an envelope once. When I was stationed on X-T393, my friend Mala told me the agent missed the his meet time and a Corum fighter killed 73 X-T393 residents.
“What happened to him?” I’d asked.
“You’ve heard of the Jojo Rule haven’t you?” she said.
I nodded, “Of course. Arrive at the meet time or be tried for treason. Then, mostly likely evaporated as punishment.”
“Well, the agent’s name was Jojo.” She’d said, raising her scaly brow in a suggestive manner.
I shuddered. As much as I valued being a Bureau agent and being an interplanetary defender, little things like stupid envelopes were inefficient and dangerous.
I walked into the freezer searching every shelf. My heartbeat quickened, maybe I’d be called to the front lines. It had been ages since I’d fought on the front. I continued my training on Earth, but so far the missions had been one on one. Exciting, and yet there were times I missed running into battle, shoulder to shoulder, screeching the our battle cry.
One time, on Ark Terra, I charged in on an Aerorhonorpike. The closest thing I can say is it resembles a flying rhinoceros, with porcupine spines. What a thrill. We fought the Grosshens that day. Slimy creatures, hellbent on colonizing Ark Terra. I never understood a thirst for power so great, one would be willing to kill entire races.
Standing in front of the ice cream tubs, I realized the irony. My own species had been willing to wipe out the Grosshens. But, didn’t their genocidal warfare start the whole mess? We never attacked first, we only defended.
I shrugged, continuing my search around the stove.
“Looking for this?” a voice heavy with gravel murmured from behind me.
I turned to see the corduroy clad man hovering in the doorway. He held a manila envelope in his right hand.
My breath caught. What was he doing with it? I played dumb buying time to scan him for both skills and weapons, “What’s that sir?”
“This?” He held it higher, “This is an important looking envelope.” His eyes flashed toxic orange.
“You’d think,” he continued, “the Bureau would have implemented stronger, more secure methods of reaching their agents than paper.”
“I’m 19, I’m not in the FBI.” I said, intentionally confusing the two Bureau’s.
His laugh rumbled the ground, I grabbed the nearby counter for balance. “I’ve been tracking you since X-T393. I know you’re the Bureau’s starlet. Wouldn’t it be a shame if you missed your meet point?”
I sucked in a breath, calculating the perfect moment to initiate attack. He was Corum – well trained and prepared to assassinate Bureau agents on Earth. He raised the envelope and ripped open the top flap.
“Gah!” he yelped. He shook his burnt hand, dropping the envelope. I took advantage of the distraction to split in two and ignite all twenty of my fingers tips to steel-boiling heat. My iteration appeared behind him. Even though he blocked my initial heat thrust to his chest he couldn’t protect his back.
While he writhed in pain, I saw his injury self-heal with alacrity. I had enough milliseconds to grab the envelope and wave it in his face, “This is my name. Only I can open it you dolt. You’d know that if you’d really been tracking me since X-T393.”
His skin healed over in seconds and he raised his hands to prepare for another fight, but I’d already raised my evaporator gun toward his chest.
“Your lightning bolts are no match for an evaporator.” His hands moved from attack to surrender.
“Let’s try something easier. Why corduroy? I thought you were trying to blend in.”
He spit at my feet.
I cocked the evaporator, which caught his attention. “Okay,” he said, “Let’s come to an agreement here.”
I raised an eyebrow, “How could you believe I’d compromise with Corum? It goes against every fiber of my being. You are genocidal.”
His thunderous laughter rippled through the luncheonette again. He should’ve used it as a weapon, they way it forced me off balance.
“You think I’m Corum?”
“I’ve seen those orange eyes before, always in battle against the Corum when they’re rampaging onto a planet for their own gain. Tell me I’m wrong,” I challenged.
His laughter continued, “No, little girl. I’m under cover with the Bureau.”
“Then why are you tracking me? I have a stellar record.”
“Ah, but does the Bureau ever permit their superstars to ascend to celestial heights? No. Every agent has an expiration date and yours has come. Unless,” he paused for a breath, “You help me.”
Curiosity got the better of me, “Help you how?”
“You don’t evaporate me and I won’t kill you. Ever. I’ll pretend I’ve killed you and you’ll go into hiding. Just for a little bit. Not long.”
I chewed my lip. I supposed I’d never met an agent older than 1,000 years, but that should leave me 300 more years. I’d also never heard of the Bureau expiring their best agents. Weren’t we here to defend planetary residents from interspecies warfare? We were the good guys.
“No.” I pulled the trigger and his human body morphed into the burnt orange scales I knew so well. Corum.
I ripped open the envelope to finally discover my mission.
It was a card that read:
“Damnit Sharone,” I muttered.
It wasn’t a mission, it wasn’t a meeting. It was a little birthday card, a joke.
Someone from the bureau wrote, “700 is the big one. Here’s to 700 more.”
I rolled my eyes and tossed the card. Checking my watch I realized I only had 15 minutes to get to the family meeting.
7 texts messages later from a worried Larson, I opened the door to my parents’ house.
6:05, so why was he-
Balloons and decor all around reminded me my human body turned 20 today.
I screamed a little and felt my hands flash. In the hubbub of the party, I hoped no one noticed.
Larson came to hug me, “Happy birthday, Sis. Glad you made it on time.”
I smiled, this is why Earth would always be my favorite planet to protect.