On the Shakespeare, me and my friends and comrades in arms were hiding--in a courageous way--behind Quihiri's largest moon. That was the good news. Our new FTL-drive worked, transporting our ship across the galaxy from Earth to planet Quihiri. Yay! The Shakespeare was the Terran Cultural Committee's flagship, spreading Earth's wonderful culture around the galaxy. And, spying on other planetary cultures, of course.
The bad news was the Quihiri people were evil and had disabled all the other FTL drives in the galaxy. Hence, we were working against an entire planet by ourselves. And it was a planet of really mean sentients. In addition to the FTL-drive sabotage thing, they were stopping many of their own people from evolving into a more advanced species of energy-beings, the sldkfjfoisut. They'd also attacked the most awesome planet of them all, birthplace of The Bard and me (Jack Jones, magnificent lover-, singer- and spy-extraordinaire), Earth.
We were all peering at a giant image of the planet through the large viewscreen on the bridge of the Shakespeare. From space, it was a swirled blue-white marble--all oceans and clouds. "It looks like such a nice planet from up here," I said. "You'd never know they were the scourge of the galaxy."
"I'm open to suggestions, people," Gina, Captain Gomez, my wife (sort of), a voluptuous, curvilicious woman, said. She was an Amazon queen, able to melt hearts with her beautiful brown eyes or break you in half if you rubbed her the wrong way.
"A frontal assault would seem to be contraindicated," Commander Lu, the security chief, a tall, determined, crew-cutted by-the-book soldier, said.
"Agreed," Gina said. "We don't have the resources for it."
"Well, there's no way we can reverse the FTL-drive sabotage without getting access to their systems," Commander Bello, the chief engineer, also a recently-young-again hottie, said.
"I'll have grounds more relative than this--the play's the thing," I whispered, still staring out the viewscreen.
"I like to play," Slid, a baby sldkfjfoisut, an energy being, also sort of my son, said. His body, now resembling a cloud, floating next to us brightened with luminescent silver sparkles. "Can I play, too?"
"I think I understand what Jack's getting at," Addie, the sldkfjfoisut ambassador, Slid's mom, an awesome energy-being, and one of my lovers, said. "He wants to do a sneak attack." Her body, a multicolored cloud phased into blue-gray--which I thought meant thoughtful and worried.
I held up a forefinger. "Exactly!" It was awesome how Addie understood me; we had a real connection. Of course, she'd sought me out because of my intragalactic reputation as an excellent lover and singer, so it wasn't surprising we hit it off.
"Ooh, I can help with that," Quinta, a newly-evolved sldkfjfoisut, formerly the Quihiri leader's wife, and my special friend, said. "I know where everything is in the Quihiri embassy complex." Her multicolored cloud changed to the green-blue side of the spectrum--which I thought meant thoughtful and excited, or possibly, horny.
"I don't know, Jack." Gina exhaled loudly. "I suppose you want to go?"
I nodded enthusiastically. "Of course."
"You are unusually lucky, but it sounds too dangerous," she added. Aw. She cared. "They know what you look like, and if they spot you, we lose the element of surprise. Right now, that's our only advantage." Ah. She cared about the mission.
But the play talk had given me an idea. "What if I go in costume?"
Addie, Slid, Quinta and I had successfully landed one of the Shakespeare's cloaked shuttles a short distance from the large government complex without being spotted. The plan was to sneak in the back door and creep undetected to the Aerospace Engineering Department of the University. Quinta claimed we could access the FTL-drive control system there because that was where it had been developed and tested. And it wasn't guarded like the big official government control center was.
We all stood, or floated, inside the back hatch getting ready to deplane.
"I want to look like a Keplarrian," I said. "They're strong and intimidating, like me. They look like giant snakes." The sldkfjfoisut could look like almost anything since they were made of energy.
Addie bobbed in front of me. Somehow, she gave off a vibe of careful consideration. "No. Your legs would be a problem. Slid can't cover them and your head, and we have to cover your head." Since I couldn't be human, the plan was Slid would shape-shift to become a mask for me.
"A Tau-Ceto-an?" I asked. The turtle-like sentients seemed powerful, like me.
"No," Addie said. "Slid doesn't have enough volume to do the big back. I think it will have to be an Alpha-Catoblepan. Their volume and physiology are most similar to humans." The Alpha-Catoblepans looked like giant mice.
Ah, well, the Alpha-Catoblepans loved me. They had excellent taste, so I might as well impersonate them. "I think we might have one of their translators here in the shuttle somewhere." I opened one of the storage compartments and started rummaging around.
"I've met an Alpha-Catoblepan," Quinta said. "And your hands are wrong. And your outfit. You need a tunic. But your boots are okay."
"Tunic and gloves," I said and came across a tunic and gloves immediately. "Huh."
"The Shakespeare is a ship of spies," Addie said. "I'm sure you're not the first person who wanted to blend in."
"Wow. you know a lot." I paused. "How do you know that?" I wasn't a very experienced spy, but one thing I did know was: spies were supposed to be covert.
"I know things," she said. I got a distinct impression of a smile, which was a good trick since she didn't have a mouth right now.
I finished searching the storage compartments in the back of the shuttle and no A-C translator. But I thought I'd seen one somewhere around here. I glanced towards the front of the ship. Yes. It was in one of the front storage compartments. I quickly retrieved it.
A voice in my ear said, "What's taking so long?" It was Gina, over comms. On duty, we wore small earbuds for communication purposes.
"We're leaving now, beautiful," I said.
"That's Captain Beautiful to you, Ensign Jones," she said. I also heard a smile in her voice.
Someone else on comms sighed. I was guessing it was Commander Bello since he was the only other one on comms.
I put on the tunic, gloves, and placed the translator around my neck under the tunic.
Slid bobbed up to my head and sort of landed on my face. It felt ...different. It felt like I couldn't breathe. "Hey!" I tried to say.
"Honey," Addie said, "make sure not to cut off his air supply."
"Oops," my mask said.
Suddenly, it got easier to breathe. Yay. "What about you guys?" I asked.
They instantly transformed into two ordinary-looking Quihiri, big sentient gray octopus-looking creatures, namely, the bad guys. They were about the size of an average human, with three leg tentacles and three arm tentacles, each with a three-fingered hand. Their three-eyed, three-nostrilled, one-mouthed heads flowed into their torsos with no necks. Yeah, three was a real theme on Quihiri.
One thing our plan had in its favor was the Quihiri government suppressed all knowledge of shape-shifting energy beings. The average Quihiri didn't know that they themselves might evolve into one. So, any Quihiri we ran into should take our appearances at face value--no pun intended.
"Good job, guys!" I said.
Over comms, Command Bello said, "Can we get this thing started, already?"
"Jack?" Gina said.
"Yes, Captain Beautiful." I fumbled with the back hatch release in my gloves.
The hatch opened, and Quihiri air whooshed into the shuttle, bringing with it the faint smell of fish, seaweed, and ocean.
"Ah," Quinta said. "The smell of home." Her colors were swirling between black and the colors of the rainbow, indicating her roiling emotions. "I didn't realize how much I missed it until now." Until very recently, she'd been married to the Quihiri leader. Her transition to an energy being and her consequent rejection by her family had been tough on her.
"Don't worry, Quinta. This will all be worth it," I said. "But he'll remember with advantages what feats he did that day. Then shall our names, familiar in his mouth as household words...be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red."
We all exited the shuttle, stepping into the orange-ish sunlight, the setting sun on the horizon. We perambulated in the general direction of the embassy. We were on a rocky, sandy plain with large boulders scattered about. I could hear the crash of waves on a beach but could see neither waves nor beach.
"Addie," I asked, picking my way around smaller rocks, "why are the atmospheres on the planets we trade with basically breathable by humans? Do you know?" Sometimes we needed a rebreather, but none of the planets we visited were instantly deadly.
"Because you trade with them," my face, aka Slid, said.
"Slid's right," Addie said. "Humans trade with people that have similar physical and cultural environments. People living on worlds with sulfuric acid atmospheres or twenty-times Earth's gravity, for example, would not appreciate what you have to offer, your culture. More importantly, humans couldn't survive on such hostile planets."
"Thanks." That made sense. Maybe I should have known that. It was probably somewhere in the Terran Cultural Committee (TCC) planetary briefing documents.
But in my defense, as a clone, I was less than a year old. But in my offense, Slid was less than a month old. I could learn a thing or two from Slid.
I pulled my fon out of my pocket. "Note to self: read all the TCC planetary briefings."
"Is that a Terran fon?" Quinta asked. "You shouldn't have brought that."
I glanced at it. Yikes. She was right. "Can I leave it in my pocket? Or take it back to the shuttle? Or I guess I could leave it out here somewhere?" The giant embassy-slash-government complex towered over the next hill.
Over comms, Bello sighed.
Gina said, "Recall the mission plan. Stealth. Let's keep communication to a minimum. We don't want the Quihiri picking up our radio signals. And let's try to be as quick as possible. The longer you're there, the more likely you are to get caught."
"Yes, ma'am." I nodded. "I'll leave it here." I pointed at the ground. I knelt and put my fon on the ground and then covered it with a small flat stone and made a small tower of little rocks on top of it. I wanted to be able to find it after our successful mission. My life was on that fon, literally, if you counted my memory backups.
I stood. "Let's pick up the pace," I whispered.
In response, Quinta and Addie raced ahead of me.
I had to start jogging to keep up.
Me and my merry band stood outside the gargantuan Quihiri government complex at three exterior doors.
"Hopefully, these security codes still work," Quinta whispered.
Hopefully? But I didn't say anything. Yay, me. I was stealth-Jack.
Her tentacles flew over the security pad. Soon, the exterior doors opened with a deep whoosh.
As we entered, I quietly asked, "Your codes still work?"
She made a noise that sounded very much like a giggle. "No. They're my husband's codes. He didn't know I stole them." Since her husband was basically the leader of the whole planet, this code-stealing thing sounded pretty handy.
"Nice," I said.
"Shh," Addie said.
The three, well, technically, four, of us snuck along the dimly-orange-lit corridors. We didn't pass anyone. I didn't know what the local time was. Why was no one down here? Mealtime, maybe?
"What is this area? What's down here?" I asked Quinta.
"Shh!" Addie said.
"Shh!" my face said. It was a little disconcerting.
I didn't have to be told twice, er, four times. We tramped down the halls in silence.
Then, a security squad of four intercepted us. "Ambassador Quintavius, are you here? We detected your security code in use," the squad leader said. The translator on my chest was translating. Into English, not A-C! I quickly turned the volume down to whisper.
"What are you doing down here, sir?" the squad leader asked.
Yikes. So, to summarize: sneaking, not so much.
Addie and I quickly stepped in front of Quinta. Hopefully, she was enough on the ball to change her appearance to look like her husband. Ex-husband? After someone suppresses your evolution into a higher life form and tries to kill you, doesn't that pretty much negate marriage vows?
"Stand aside, minions," Quinta said loudly and glided in front of me and Addie. She did look exactly like the Quihiri leader now--at least as far as I could recall.
I didn't know if she meant me and Addie to stand aside or the security squad. In any case, we all moved out of the center of the hall towards the walls.
"What's wrong with your voice, sir?" the security officer said.
She made a sound like a throat clearing. "Er, um, I have a cold."
"I thought you were in your quarters, with your new triple, not to be disturbed," the officer said. "You said it was special, private, family time. No disturbances, no matter what."
I could swear a couple of the other officers snickered.
Clearly, Quintavius had a new wife. Jeez, he didn't waste any time.
Quinta's color started veering into gray-black (sad, upset), but she quickly veered back to green (horny). "What I'm doing is none of your concern."
"Yes, sir," the officer said.
The seven, eight counting my face, of us, stood there in silence for a moment.
"So, sir, if you're not busy, can we escort you to the war council?" the officer asked. "They've been waiting for you."
Wow. Even a relatively inexperienced spy such as myself could tell this was a huge opportunity to find out exactly what the enemy was up to. But, even a relatively inexperienced spy such as myself could tell this could end very, very badly for us. I didn't know what to do.
Since Quinta didn't immediately answer, I was guessing she didn't know what to do, either.
"We wouldn't want to keep you from your very important duties, sir," Addie said, somehow conveying obsequiousness. She knew what to do; take advantage of the huge opportunity.
"Very well," Quinta said. "To the war council! Lead the way, minions."
The security squad turned around and started marching-slash-gliding down the hall.
Addie, Quinta and I exchanged worried looks, but then, turned and followed them.
In flimsy disguises, we were walking into a war council in the very heart and soul of enemy territory.
What could possibly go wrong?