Location: Windsor City, Windsor, Star Kingdom of Windsor
He didn’t have a name, he just had a number. NI1 liked it that way.
The less of an electronic trail an agent had the less chance they’d get caught. For this mission, to this civilization at the ass end of nowhere, he’d had to undergo a full scrub. All evidence of him down to his GIC had been expunged. The tattoo on his wrist had been printed over by flesh-covered nanites. To anyone looking or scanning him on this world he’d look like any other respectable Englishman.
<This is just too weird.> Despite being on assignment, the sight of looking down at his pale tattoo-less wrist still felt wrong.
The abnormality from galactic standard had been one of his first missions on Windsor. Without a GIC how did the Star Kingdom identify their citizens and prevent identity fraud. The concept of identity fraud had been dead since the invention of the GIC, which measured everything unique about a person down to their brainwave pattern.
The Star Kingdom’s answer was less elegant but just as effective. Cybernetic implants behind the ear and fused directly into the brain gave the Kingdom a firm grasp on their citizenry. Passive scans of a random group of people showed the NI1 agent that signals were constantly being transmitted and gathered by the authorities. The extent of what the Crown discerned from that data was still unknown to the agent, but at a minimum they knew exactly where all of their citizens were at all times.
<It’s just wrong. I don’t think the Blockies even go that far.> He was beginning to wish he hadn’t volunteered for this assignment.
He didn’t normally volunteer, because an agent was just as likely to be voluntold what they were going to do; but his handler had given him a heads up about this op.
<It’s going to be a big new AO and if you can get in on the ground floor they might make you an assistant chief or the chief of that desk once it gets big enough.>
Getting out of the field was eventually what every sane field agent wanted to do. If someone wanted to stay in the field, then you kept them in the field because they likely had a screw loose and would go on a killing spree if they had to sit behind a desk.
He wanted to get behind a desk one day. Preferably as a chief that made the decisions. So here he was in Windsor City trying to get as much information on this Star Kingdom as possible.
Rain was starting to drizzle on his uncovered head as he headed to a nearby pub. The rain had no acid content, and the air was free of most pollutants. The settlers of this planet had taken care of it during the minor terraforming, and had strict environmental standards. From what the NI1 agent had gathered most of the Kingdom’s industrial infrastructure was space-based or took place on Hilsborough.
The agent would have loved to get a look at the small, hot planet farther in-system, but he hadn’t been able to get clearance. His cover story had him as an industrial machine salesman, which theoretically would allow him to get into production plants and sell specific equipment. His “company” specialized in military equipment in the hopes he’d be able to get a look at their defense apparatus, but so far nothing. His request was still pending.
The street was moderately busy. It was just outside of the downtown area, about three kilometers from the palace, and a hot spot for the sales community. He blended in well here, and had made dozens of contacts. The NI1 agent had his fingers on the economic pulse of several industries just by making the rounds at a half dozen pubs each night and engaging in a slightly competitive “how much did you sell today” discussion with the locals.
He still didn’t think himself as a local, even though he had been here for six months and didn’t see an end in sight. It was dangerous to put down anything resembling roots in his line of work. Connections that weren’t cultivated assets were nothing more than liabilities.
“Hello, Robert.” A woman stepped out of the dark shadows of an alley and slapped him hard across the face.
No connections meant no relationships, but the agent was still a man, and having a little female strife in his life made him seem like a local in the eyes of his business connections.
“Bloody hell, Elena.” He’d turned enough to not take the brunt of the hit, but enough to leave enough of a handprint so it looked like it hurt.
“You’re a lousy git, you know that Robert.” With her piece said, Elena turned away and stomped off.
The agent massaged his jaw for a second in case anyone was watching and then headed into the first pub. The second he pushed through the door everyone started laughing and half a dozen pints were bought in his name. Apparently, Elena was quite the catch, and quite the bitch. Many men had tried and failed to do what he’d done, and that earned him a lot of respect and free booze.
Of course the agent knew all of this, and made sure to get just buzzed enough to make sure he didn’t come off as a bad sport. There were few higher insults than passing on a free pint.
He spent an hour at the pub, got all the information he needed, and then headed on to the next one. The nightly pub crawl was ruining his liver, but there were pills to fix that.
He finished his round of clandestine activity at a bar just beside his flat. Or at least that was the plan. He rounded the corner and found the street blocked off and a dozen Bobbies milling around the pub and the building his flat was located in.
“Oy, what’s going’ on here?” He asked. It wasn’t too hard to act like a drunken passerby.
The Bobbies, who retained their nickname from the original London police force, all wore light armored chest plates. An anti-personnel weapon was secured in a hip holster on their right side and a long black baton on their left. The agent knew those batons were electrified and could kill a man if energized enough.
“Move along.” The Bobbie didn’t even spare him a second glance, which was what the agent wanted.
<I’ve been compromised.> It was any agent’s worst nightmare, especially when they were so far from friendly space.
He kept walking past his flat and didn’t look back.
Not until he heard a set of footsteps behind him.
He didn’t look back. Instead he looked down at his wrist like he was checking the time. A subdermal PAD had been built into his flesh for the mission, and he used that to check the microscopic nanites that were all over his clothes. He used them in the pub to gather information from everyone around him. You could always tell something important from someone’s facial expression when they thought you weren’t listening.
Using those he could clearly see the two plainclothes Bobbies following him about ten meters back.
<And I’m made.>
His cover was burned. Procedure dictated he go to ground and look for the next available exit from the system. That was easy. He had a safe house ready not too far away, but first he needed to get rid of his tail.
Over the next half block he gradually worked some stumbling into his walk. Doing it all of a sudden would have tipped of an observant cop to his ploy. So, he spaced it out and then slowly angled sideways until he ended up propping himself up on the side of a building.
“Ahhhh, that’s the stuff.” He planted his feet like he was going to take a piss on the old brick wall.
That finally got the Bobbies involved.
“Stop right there!” They shined bright lights in his eyes.
“Oy, what the fuck?” The agent slurred as one of the Bobbies rushed forward to restrain him.
“You’re under…” The Bobbie didn’t get to finish.
The NI1 agent moved fast, faster than humanly possible for an average person. He grabbed the arm trying to restrain him and twisted. It snapped easily. The Bobbie cried out in pain and tried to pull back, but the agent kept him close. The other Bobbie was going for his gun, and the agent made sure to use the cop’s partner as a human shield.
“Shut it.” He hissed in frustration as the cop with the broken arm resisted. The agent bobbed back and forth to stay behind him and not give the other Bobbie a good target.
“Freeze! You fucking wanker.” The other Bobbie tried to get a shot, but the agent stayed out of sight, while skillfully sliding the entrapped officer’s own gun from its holster.
The Bobbies’ mouth snapped shut when the agent shot him in the head.
The agent didn’t give the other officer a chance to comment. He torqued the man’s broken arm in the opposite direction then punched him in the temple. The Bobbie tumbled to the ground, unconscious and maybe dead. The agent didn’t care. He was already sprinting the other way.
His feet pounded against the cobblestone streets. It wasn’t real cobblestone, but it looked like it, and the rain was starting to pool on it. The agent had noted in his report that the people of the Star Kingdom seemed to have a particular fascination with gothic revivalist architecture. Anyone with money or in the nobility had their brownstones, manors, or even small castles done in the style.
At the moment, the buildings’ style made everything feel more foreboding, and that was something no one liked to feel when they were running for their lives. The agent was already dialed into the Bobbies frequencies and they’d already discovered their agents. Both were confirmed dead at the scene.
<Shit!> Killing locals wasn’t part of his mission, but he had to do what he had to do.
He darted through some alleyways and emerged on a deserted street a few blocks from the scene of the crime. It was pouring out now, so it would be suspicious being outside.
<I need to get out of the open.> He quickly crossed the street and headed for another alleyway.
An air-car whipped around the corner just as he entered the alley. It would be scanning multiple aspects of the visible spectrum for him, so he activated the nanites in his coat and stepped further into the shadows. The special little robots broadcasted to any sensors the scene of a bunch of rats eating out of a garbage can. The Bobbies would have to physically enter the alley to see that wasn’t the case.
The car zipped by, not even stopping, and continued on its wild goose chase.
The agent let out a sigh of relief, waited a minute, and then stepped out of the shadow.
A massive arm shot out of the darkness behind him and grabbed him around the neck.
Instinctually, the agent tried to drive his elbow into his assailant’s ribs. His elbow struck and then shattered as he hit solid combat armor.
“Motherfucker!” The agent cried as combat stimulants and medical nanites flooded his system.
He barely skipped a beat, but that was enough for a second massive arm to grab his injured arms and twist it behind him.
Whoever it was who had snuck up on him had completely immobilized him.
<Fuck…fuck…fuck!> The agent’s mind scrambled for a plan.
Training took over and his mentally accessed his PAD. He shot off his final report via tight-beam transmission to an FTL equipped drone he had sitting in deep space. The message would take a day to reach the drone, then the drone a week to reach the FTL limits before jumping back to New Lancashire. It was Plan Z as far as good plans went, but it was all he could do at the moment.
If the Star Kingdom saw this as a declaration of war their fleet would get to New Lancashire before his report did.
<I tried.> The agent resigned himself to his certainly gruesome fate.
The agent tried to get a good look at his captor, but all he saw was big, black armor, which only meant one thing. The one thing was that he was totally screwed.
The light from an air-limo’s headlight illuminated the alley and confirmed the agent’s suspicions. The man holding him was close to three meters tall and was thicker than a skyscraper’s main duro-steel support beam. That, and the night-black combat armor, confirmed he was a member of the Queen’s Own Obsidian Guard.
The Obsidian Guard was the royal family’s personal bodyguards. They were ten thousand strong and bred from birth to be warriors. Rigorous epigenetics programs and embryotic procedures made them perfect soldiers and completely loyal to the Crown. If an Obsidian was skulking in an alley waiting for him then his mission to this Star Kingdom was being watched by eyes way above his pay grade. Unfortunately, those eyes were from the wrong team.
A chauffeur exited the limo with an umbrella and went to the open the rear door. He stood ramrod straight as his passenger exited, and then followed her as she approached. He made sure not a drop of rain touches her exquisitely done hair.
“Don’t strangle the little spy, Sergeant. I need to speak with him.” The tone carried the authority only someone born to the aristocracy could possibly have.
The Obsidian loosened his grip on the agent’s throat, but not enough so the man could squirm out and run.
“Robert.” The woman’s face finally came into focus, and the agent nearly crapped himself. “Or at least that is your NI1 cover identity.”
There was no use in playing dumb, so he put all his cards on the table. “Good evening, Duchess Rose Bay.”
The woman interrogating him was just over two meters tall and breathtakingly beautiful. Her hair was blacker than the Obsidian’s midnight-black armor, and it fell in styled ringlets to her shoulders. It contrasted sharply but exquisitely with her pale white skin. A tight red gown clung to her lithe, athletic figure in all the right places, and a slight slit in the thigh and chest showed a sexy amount of skin. She moved with an easy grace, the type of grace the agent had learned to fear. Lastly, her vibrant rose-colored eyes, complete with blue specks, were appropriately inviting. The type of inviting you’d see on the hangman as he strung up his victims at the gallows.
Nothing but cold, calculated cruelness ever reached the eyes of the Star Kingdom’s Chief of Intelligence.
“Good.” She smiled.
Her canines were a tad longer than normal and the rumor was that she’d specifically altered them so she could rip out the throats of people who displeased her. The NI1 agent had chalked that one up to someone’s wild imagination, but now that he saw her smiling he wasn’t so sure.
“Let us dispense with the pleasantries.” She pulled a golden dagger from the small clutch. “You are an agent of the Commonwealth’s NI1 intelligence section. You have been looking into our Kingdom for the past six months as your Commonwealth continues to expand into neighboring space. You fear us because we are strong, and you want to know our capabilities before you start to dictate your demands.” Her eyes hardened. “Even after hundreds of years you are still land stealers. You usurp the natural order for your own reasons. You spread your false democracy, and squabble with a starfaring nation that is hardly different from your own.” She placed the tip of the blade to his throat and he felt the nanites crawling along its edge.
She put her face close to his, so close he could smell her sweet perfume. Her eyes bored into his, piercing through his mind and looking for more information in his soul.
“I want to kill you,” she shoved those teeth again. “But…” she sighed dramatically, “Others believe it is best to have neutrality between our nations.” She pulled her blade away from his throat, but he felt a trickle of blood run down his neck from the nick she’d given him.
The agent hadn’t realized he’d been holding his breath until now, and he felt himself deflate as she took a step back.
“Still…” She stopped and twirled the blade between her fingers. “You did kill two of Her Majesty’s officers in cold blood.”
Her blade slashed out so quickly he couldn’t follow it. He’d moved his hand instinctually to protect himself. And she’d casually lopped off his hand.
The Obsidian released him as he fell to the ground. Shock was starting to set in, but more drugs pumping into his system stopped him from losing consciousness. He saw the Obsidian pull a kit from his side and start to treat his wound.
“Thieves lose their hands in the Kingdom of Windsor, Mr. Secret Agent Man. Be thankful it wasn’t your head.” She turned around and the soft clicking of her heals echoed throughout the alley as she walked away and got back into the air-limo.
The Obsidian finished treating the agent’s wound and then handed him a polyplast slip. It was a ticket for the next flight out of the Star Kingdom leaving in an hour.
“Be on it. Your life depends on it.” The voice was electronically filtered so it sounded a lot like an iconic science fiction villain from the 1970s.
The Obsidian left him in the blood-stained alley and effortlessly jogged alongside the slow-moving air-limo as it pulled away and disappeared down the street.
<Fuck this.> The agent knew he was lucky to be alive. <I think it’s about time for that desk job.>
Duchess Josephina Barrow
Location: Windsor City, Windsor, Star Kingdom of Windsor
Josephina Barrow, the Duchess of Rose Bay, didn’t hide her disgust at letting the small, weak man live. She took a modicum of pleasure from taking his hand, but regenerative technology made the small gratification fleeting.
<We should attack, expel them from the sector, and turn their worlds into molten ash.> Many on Her Royal Highness’ Council agreed with her, but the Queen had made her decision.
The Duchess couldn’t blame the Queen. The United Commonwealth of Colonies was huge. Their fleets were numerous, and a single star system, even one as magnificent as Windsor, was nothing compared to the vast might of the Commonwealth.
The Star Kingdom needed to play nice for the time being. They needed both the Blockies and the Collies to fight among themselves. The Star Kingdom would play both sides and wait for its moment. Then they would strike and repel the invaders. This sector of space belonged to Windsor, and the Duchess would see that her Queen’s wishes were obeyed.
<I had to let him live, but that doesn’t mean I can’t gather a little intelligence in the process.> She activated the nanites she’d pressed into his bloodstream when she cut his neck.
The NI1 agent was headed to the nearest spaceport. He obviously wasn’t as stupid as he looked. She’d have to detail a cargo vessel to follow him back to the ridiculously named New Lancashire system. Hopefully, she’d be able to glean a little more detail into the Collies’ operations once he was back on the inside.
Satisfied that she had everything she needed, the Duchess put the nanites in sleep mode. The microscopic organisms attached themselves to tissue and camouflaged themselves within the agent’s body, making them virtually undetectable until activated.