Overseer Tritonius rotated all six of his bulbous eyes to focus his full attention on me. The crimson cilia on his forelegs undulated violently in a display of arrogant irritation. The piercing shaft of his whip-tail hardened in preparation. I watched thick drops of neural poison form at the tip; a sticky, deadly glitter that shimmered in the harsh red light of the Overseer's chamber.
I felt a chilling tremor in the deepest part of my soul. The previous two agents had not lived long after admitting their failures.
Tritonius's vocal aperture vibrated. "Please continue your report, Agent Skartus." His words were soft, lacking any hint of passion, but the menace underneath was palpable.
"I have successfully infiltrated the planet's inhabitants, Overseer," I said, trying to emphasize the positive. "Our successful conquest is only a matter of time."
"Yes, yes. You have already expressed this opinion. But what facts do you present to corroborate it?" The Overseer's whip-tail began to sway. "Your predecessors also displayed this groundless optimism. But I need more than empty words. What proof do you have that you will not fail also?"
I struggled to remain calm. Tritonius's cilia waved quicker, and the air of the chamber filled with the sharp, vile odor of his anger.
"I will not fail, Overseer. Success is assured, although it will take time. It is a challenge. Our pre-landing information was...lacking."
"In what way? Is the form you inhabit inaccurate? Does it prevent you from walking among the inhabitants without notice?"
"No, Overseer. Our design is flawless, and our technology is working well. I am projected into the bio-shell with no loss of control, and I easily pass for one of the inhabitants. They do not see through our shield."
"Do they detect you leaving the shell? Is the form in danger while it is empty?"
"No, Overseer. The inactivity of the bio-shell is taken for normal sleep by the inhabitants. There is no risk there."
The whip-tail swayed wider. The poison began to drip off onto the twisted coral of the Overseer's resting bed.
"Then I hear no reason for failure, and so there shall be none. You will succeed or you will suffer the consequences."
I fought the panic growing in me. "Yes, Overseer. But, you see, the form we use--"
Tritonius finally raised his voice to interrupt me, his vocal aperture vibrating rapidly in a deep pulse of sound. "The form is sufficient to accomplish our goal, Agent Skartus. If there is failure, it is because you are to blame."
The whip-tail swung past me, much too closely. I immediately turned and fled, pushing my way out through the thin membrane that surrounded the overseer's chamber. My instincts screamed at me to keep fleeing, to leave this ship immediately, but I knew that would lead to sudden death in this alien world's harsh atmosphere. I had no choice but to return to the projection chamber. Once there, I tried to calm myself but I was still trembling with fear as I strapped myself in.
When I was fully in position, my fear had abated and I'd developed a grim determination. I would do everything in my power to achieve success. I must. I pressed my gripping digits to the pad and it glowed in response.
The machinery whirred to life and I felt the disorienting tug as the projection began. I was swallowed in a blinding light and then I was suddenly again in the bio-shell, lying prone on a smooth surface and feeling the coolness against my cheek. As I worked to gain control of the remote body, I heard the familiar female voice from far above. It was shouting, and the words echoed all around me.
"John! Come look at this stupid cat, passed out right in the middle of the hallway and dead to the world. I think it got into the absinthe again."
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(c) Copyright 2011, Christopher J. Fries.