You probably know me from the ad campaigns. I've been the face of the Chancellorate's Security Forces for two or three years, now. "The Model Agent," they call me, when they use me as an example in their training modules. "See how Agent Connolly did it?" they say. "Do it like that. Do it her way." Really they mean their way, and they twist their stories about me accordingly, but that's fine, and mostly harmless. In the end, agents learn by experience, not in the classroom, just like anyone else.
The one thing I don't like about being the smiling model on the front of their textbooks is that I tend to get painted as some kind of hero. I was a good agent, but I'm not a hero. Not that kind of hero, anyways. Not their kind of hero. My career wasn't nearly as glamorous as they like to paint it.
That's why I've decided to share a few of the stories that haven't been told about me before. I'm not calling anyone a liar; I'm not here to "set the records straight." I just want to be represented on my own terms. I want to balance the scales a little, so you can see the bad with the good.
Why don't I start near the beginning?
Chapter 1: How I Rescued Mr. Dimbles
It's a tough job being an agent of the Chancellorate's Security Forces. Aside from the numerous international threats that the CSF has to deal with, there's plenty of domestic discontent, as well. The chancellors' political decisions are rarely popular. We agents used to joke that the chancellors need protection from themselves as much as they do from anyone else. And beyond placing themselves in the line of fire, agents also experience the stress and aggravation of dealing with the whims, quirks, and fancies of the various chancellors, each of whom, it seems, can be uniquely exasperating.
I have my fair share of scars, both physical and psychiatric. My right leg is marked with a long burn I received blocking laser fire directed at the Northern Sub-Chancellor. My lungs are lined with scar tissue from the time I inhaled poison gas while checking the Secondary Executive Pre-Chancellor's hotel room for traps. I have nightmares every Wednesday about the night I accidentally saw the Regal Lieutenant Chancellor in the shower. But all these wounds and difficulties have been worth it, because for all their imperfections I know that the chancellors' regime has been far preferable to the chaos and darkness that came before.
Still, there were plenty of times where I wondered if the people I was protecting were really worth the sacrifices I made for them. In the early days I thought frequently about taking my mother's advice to quit my job as an agent and go back to selling grapes and melons at our family's roadside fruit stand. It took me a long time to work my way up the ladder to become the head of the Over-Chancellor's personal bodyguards, which was where I first began to feel like I was actually making a direct difference to the security of our planet. Perseverance usually pays off.
The closest I ever came to quitting was one day back when I was a member of the entourage for the Junior Deputy Vice-Chancellor. He and his wife were nice enough people, as chancellors go. The two of them exuded a down-to-earth, homey kind of vibe that reminded me of being back on the farm. They had a little girl, a rascally two-year-old tyrant with fat cheeks and green eyes. We always referred to them as Baby, Mommy, and Daddy. To tell the truth, I've actually forgotten what their real names were.
Mommy and Daddy fawned over that child as if she represented every good thing that had ever taken place in the world. She had multiple closets full of toys, but there was one stuffed animal that she loved more than all the rest, a googly-eyed white bear called Mr. Dimbles. (Don't ask me why I remember the toy's name and not the people's. Memories work in funny ways sometimes.)
We were out on a walk one morning, doing the rounds through downtown so Daddy and Mommy could show off Baby and get some good press release photos with John Smith and Jane Doe. There were six of us on duty, a small-sized retinue, by most chancellors' standards. Baby was playing with Mr. Dimbles and soaking up all the cooing and "Aren't you preciouses" that any toddler out in public is bound to attract.
It was all going pretty routinely, until a glassy-eyed man with a neck beard smiled at Baby kind of funny, leaned in close, snatched Mr. Dimbles away, and took off down the sidewalk. Baby started to wail like a police siren, and our well-oiled reflexes kicked in. I and two others, the pre-designated "Away Team," whipped our blasters out of their holsters and tore off in pursuit, while the "Home Team" bustled Daddy, Mommy, and Baby towards the nearest shop to take cover in case of a secondary attack.
"Get Mr. Dimbles back!" screamed Mommy. "Don't let him get away!"
The thief had Mr. Dimbles tucked under his arm like an old-fashioned football and was shoving his way through the crowd, hollering at everyone to get out of his way. I thought one of the more reckless bystanders might trip him up or tackle him as he went by, but then he pulled a blaster out from under his coat, turned it over his shoulder, and started firing at us. The agent beside me took a laser to the knee and went down.
The other two of us were just about to return the favour when Mommy's voice pierced the air behind us. "Wait! Don't shoot!" she shrieked. "You'll hit Mr. Dimbles!"
That made us hesitate just long enough for the guy to duck around a corner into an alleyway. We rumbled after him. When we hit the corner we were met by a hail of lasers and had to scramble back for cover. A flurry of hand signals and eye motions passed between us. We waited for a pause in the barrage and then I played the decoy, rolling across the mouth of the alley to the other side to draw the guy's attention while my partner leaned out and returned fire, being careful not to hit the toy.
A laser grazed the thief's shoulder. He howled and dropped his blaster, but held on to Mr. Dimbles. Then he set off running again. He had a bigger head start now, and seemed to know the maze of alleyways pretty well, but we managed to keep him in sight. He led us downhill until we broke out of the cover of the buildings and found ourselves standing at the top of the sea wall, with a 50-foot drop to the raging ocean below.
The thief was standing at the edge, huffing and puffing, holding Mr. Dimbles out through the fence, over the water, with his unwounded arm. "Stay back!" he warned us. "Any closer and the toy gets it!"
My partner whispered to me, "It's just a toy..."
At a later point in my career, I probably would have shrugged it off, taken the shot, and let the toy fall where it may, but I was young and idealistic and, perhaps most importantly, proud. Not wanting to look foolish for having chased the guy halfway across the city already, I replied, "Baby absolutely adores that thing, and Daddy and Mommy think Baby is the centre of the universe. If we save that toy, I guarantee you it'll be worth our while."
My partner shrugged and allowed me to take the lead.
To the thief, I said, "Okay, you've got us. What happens next?"
"I have demands," said the thief.
"What kind of demands?"
"My cousin is a political prisoner of the Chancellorate. I want his immediate release!"
"That's very ambitious of you," I said, "but my boss is only the Junior Deputy Vice-Chancellor, you know. He doesn't really have that kind of authority. Maybe you should have kidnapped the Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor's child's favourite toy."
"Oh," he said. "But I've already gone to the trouble of kidnapping this one. It would be a waste if I didn't try to get something out of it, don't you think?"
"I suppose so," I said.
"Can you give me a minute to come up with something else?"
He still had Mr. Dimbles dangling over the edge, so I decided to play along. "Sure. Take all the thinking time you need."
A minute or so passed, during which he wrinkled his forehead and scratched his chin but appeared to be making little progress.
"Any new ideas?" I prompted him.
"Not yet," he said. "The original plan took a lot of thinking, you know, and now I'm under all this pressure, and my shoulder really hurts... It would be easier if I had some ice cream. I always think better when I have ice cream."
At this point, things were going bizarrely enough that I hardly even missed a beat. "We can get you some of that," I said.
"Absolutely. Just sit tight." I used my comm. unit to relay the request, and surreptitiously added a few details of my own to the order. About five minutes later a member of the Home Team showed up with a heaping bowl of vanilla ice cream covered in chocolate syrup. I'm still not sure how they got everything together so fast. Maybe they should be writing this book.
The thief's eyes lit up. "Chocolate syrup?" he said. "My favourite!"
I took the bowl of ice cream and offered it to him. "Eat up," I said. "Get those brain juices flowing. I'm sure you'll come up with some new demands to give us in no time."
"Thank you," he said. Then he hesitated. "Hey, wait a second. I can't hold the toy and eat ice cream at the same time. You're trying to trick me! It won't work; I'm not going to put the toy down. You're going to have to feed me the ice cream yourself."
It didn't really make much of a difference, but I sighed as if he'd seen through my plan, picked up the spoon, and scooped a mouthful of ice cream for him. He opened his mouth, I stuck the spoon in, and slurped it up greedily.
Within a couple of seconds his eyes started to roll back a little. I quickly stepped forward, reached through the fence, and plucked the toy out of his hand before the sedative could take full effect. He moaned and I guided him to the ground as he crumpled into unconsciousness.
While the other agents stayed to watch the thief until a squad car could arrive to haul him off, I brought Mr. Dimbles back to the scene of the crime. I found the third Away Team member sitting on the sidewalk with a bandage around his wounded knee. Daddy was standing at the door, waiting for me. I handed Mr. Dimbles to him.
"Thank you so much for excellent work, agent," he said. "I'll see that it does not go unrewarded." He took the toy and stuffed it into his briefcase.
"Sir," I said, "don't you think Baby will want that back?"
"Oh, no, it's fine," he assured me. "We've got about a dozen of them. My wife always keeps an extra one on hand."
I leaned around the corner and saw Mommy watching proudly as Baby sat in her stroller, playing happily with an exact copy of the toy that I had just risked my life to rescue. "But," I sputtered, "we just..."
"Yes, well, we couldn't have our child think we didn't even care about her favourite companion being kidnapped, could we?" he explained. "As soon as you were out of sight we snuck another one to Agent Gudbranson and had him bring it in from the street, pretending he'd rescued it. Our darling welcomed it home like it was a wounded soldier returning from war. Isn't she a glowing little marvel?"
I smiled woodenly and immediately began a mental draft of the wording I would use in my letter requesting a transfer to the protective detail for the Third Assistant Under-Chancellor-in-Waiting. At that point I was more than willing to take the pay cut.