I know, you woke up hoping to be annoyed. You expected it, admit it.
In recounting my adventures I may have given the impression that I travelled anonymously; that the leader of the Humansphere military could waltz in unannounced. This was far from the case. Even the humblest planet in the nut-topping could rustle up a few spies to follow me and share the revelations I was finding. Not that there were any revelations to share. I didn’t mind, initially. Nothing I did was particularly private. The trouble was amongst the spies. My autosec estimated there were about 1,562 people following me. They were always tripping over each other, and outbidding each other on hotel rooms that adjoined mine and Vx’s. Vx had been approached by 400 different agencies trying to recruit her to spy on me.
Every time I caught a cab or a bus, there was an immediate traffic jam; platoons of spies from different planets getting in each others way, trying to follow me to what I guess they thought were secret meetings, but were usually trips to the local market. If planetary laws permitted, I would also be followed by air-cars as well, sometimes the sky was black with spies.
Word soon got around about the impact one of our visits had. I was offered anything for free in numerous markets on countless worlds. This was on account of the spies that would follow in my wake and try and look inconspicuous. They would start buying something at the market; a thousand spies making cover purchases can make quite an economic splash. There were small armies of them; my mere presence anywhere would make a big difference to the merchants. I guess I had it easy; the paparazzi of my youth were deliberately conspicuous, loutish and crude. My followers, as I came to think of them, were always trying to blend in with the scenery. Our presence anywhere would cause rooms to be booked solid for weeks.
Every interstellar or interplanetary trip we tried to arrange was sold out to enthusiastic spies weeks in advance. Sometimes I got bored, and decided a walk would give me some entertainment. I’d step out of the hotel, and a quiet street would suddenly be filled with a small crowd of people looking everywhere but at me (at least overtly). That was great fun. After I came back from one of these outings I’d have to clean off a few thousand micro-cams, quantum brain readers etc.; these guys were relentless. It became so intrusive that even researching a planet would cause a spike in the futures market for passenger travel to the planet we were looking at. Vx, for once basked in the attention. That’s one of the reasons we had to buy a new ship.
Vx would go outside; the Fashbitch! drones would holo her, report back, and serve up a critique of her clothing style in their netcasts. Vx avidly watched these casts. I could tell when the critique had been harsh, that’s when she discovered that most hotel crockery is very difficult to shatter, even if you do throw it repeatedly at the wall.
When the critiques were good, I could almost describe Vx as amorous. But I was tiring of being held hostage to Fash reporters and Vx’s narcissism. I had my own vanity to worry about. If I could have somehow edited the critiques Vx read… No there wouldn’t be any point. My misdeeds would catch up with me in the form of world’s best practice sullenness.
Sometimes when Vx’s company palled, I tried to engage one of the spies in a little harmless chatter about their home world, and how the espionage business was going. This was, to a spy, acutely embarrassing. They would mumble apologies, and return to invading my privacy from a distance.
Though the media was constrained by privacy laws from monitoring us too intrusively, they weren’t constrained from chasing the spooks and reporting on their bizarre trail of espionage related mayhem. Lots of planets in the nut-topping had become backwaters. They were uninterestingly stable, prosperous, and safe, like most of the Humansphere these days (those damn Bpeople!). This was exactly what the media wasn’t looking for. Imagine the breathless news reports…‘Police continue to report no crime as they have for the last hundred and fifty years. Small increments in planetary happiness have been measured over the last decade’. That would grip your attention n’est-ce pas? To liven their dull lives up they would invite Vx and I with all sorts of incentives hoping the spies and us would add a little colour to their safe and stable worlds.
I did eventually manage to entice an old spy, nearing retirement, to have a beer or two with me. After the seventh, he became a little more talkative.
“So, been spying on me for long?”
“Only a few months, like most of the others.”
“I don’t get it, what’s the point? I haven’t got anything to hide.”
“I know, that’s what the Spies Association says, we all agree, we’re on a fool’s errand.”
“Wait a minute, what’s the Spies Association?”
“We see each other every day, have the same job, and more or less the same interests, namely you. We decided to form a little club.”
“I’m deeply touched that there is an association of people whose only thing in common is spying on me. It gives me a warm feeling inside.”
“Um thanks, well we’re thinking of operating a pool system, you know, have one or two of us do the actual spying while the others get a good rest. You’re much too active for some of our lazier members; they’d prefer to stay in their hotel rooms watching the holos.”
“How about I spy on myself for you, it would take the strain off everyone? I’m sure you’d agree.”
His sipped his beer and opened his trench coat, and took out his ancient looking camera. It was large enough for me to see without visual aid, so I knew it was an antique.
“Jx, spying has been my family business for over a hundred and fifty years. My mother and father were both spies, I think of my children as spies-in-training. We all do what we can to pass the time and give a little meaning to our lives. What I choose to do is invade other people’s privacy and pry out details. This is the first spy camera I was ever given, my dad gave it to me when I was 11 years old.” He handed me what looked like a pen. I’m sure it was important to him, but it meant nothing to me.
I was in earnest expecting violins to begin to accompany his tale of down home, patriotic intrusiveness. He sensed my mood and changed tack.
“What I’m saying is that for me, unlike most of the other spies, espionage is a family tradition. I can’t sit back and wait for the information to roll in. It would be dishonourable.”
“Fine, I’d hate you to feel you’d dishonoured yourself, please by all means keep on spying. I’m sure you’d sense a lack of achievement if I didn’t try to elude you; I mean, where would be the challenge in that?”
As we were now seen as the enforcement arm of the Humansphere law, after our little triumph on Salmon, those on the edge of legality shunned us. It was exactly the opposite of what we wished. Desperado worlds were the best source of recruits we could find, as planets tended to drift back to sanity, no matter how crazy their founders. Only on Pious and Salmon had they crossed the line to maintain their culture. The results were entire planets of psychopaths as far as I was concerned. I didn’t think we could even trust them to fight the Cx. They couldn’t understand the rest of humanity who treated them like the enemy; from their point of view the rest of humanity was extremely strange.
“Jx couldn’t we go to one of these backwaters once. What harm could it do?”
Vx wasn’t much in the way of complainer, but I could tell having one death-defying and sometimes deadly experience after another was beginning to annoy her. Or perhaps turning up to my autopsy on several different planets was causing undue stress. Desperado worlds did have their price; usually paid by me. She almost sounded like she was pleading. I’d have edited the memory out if I found it disturbing, but Vx didn’t believe in editing.
When we decided we needed a little privacy we both got new bodies for a while. We inserted a little AI in our old ones. Then the spies and media would have someone to chase. We were free of their scrutiny for the first time in many months. Vx wasn’t happy at not being the centre of the Fash universe, but, after assuring her that we could release plenty of coverage after we exited a planet, she was somewhat mollified. Vx’s self-regard was beginning to make her less attractive, but I was still a captivated, lust-filled monster in her presence. It gave me the human touch, absolutely necessary when trying to lie convincingly to others.
The main problem with our ship was the crew; they were open to bribery about what we’d be doing next. Sorry as I felt for the small army of spies, they were becoming a nuisance. It was time to waste some money on getting the hell away from them.
We hadn’t considered having a ship only for ourselves before. As Lord Imperial Commander of the fleet, as I was sometimes introduced, (I wasn’t a Lord, and, as yet, had no fleet, nor Imperium to report to; but aside from that the title was accurate) it was time to revive my 21st Century shopping skills and commit some serious credit card abuse.