It was Friday night on Herrje, the most cosmopolitan planet in the galaxy. I should have been out partying with strange beings and their even stranger drinks. Instead I was stuck at work, along with all the rest of the British Embassy staff. Because with sensitive documents stolen and the reputation of our nation at stake, nobody was getting a night off.
I sat outside Ambassador Canning’s office, holding the press release I’d been preparing in case the blackmailers released the documents. It was vague, mostly because no-one had told me what was in the documents. Apparently that wasn’t something a public relations officer needed to know. After all, it was only vital to my job.
The door opened and Warren, the security chief, stormed out. He looked wretched. I could live with that, given that his balls-up had cost me my holiday and now my Friday night.
The ambassador followed him.
“Not now, Julian,” she said as I held out the draft press release. “I need to go meet with the police chief.”
“Security footage from the spaceport has arrived on our servers,” Warren said, glancing at his tablet.
“That’s the top priority,” Canning said. “Find out if that jouran met with anyone before stealing your bag.”
In all the rushing around, I’d forgotten how much might have been caught on camera. Possibly including someone who looked suspiciously like a clone of me. A clone who, as far as anyone here knew, shouldn’t exist.
“I can review the footage,” I said a little too eagerly. “Leave Warren to do the real detective work.”
Canning rolled her eyes. “You don’t need to grovel to get your holiday days back.”
“I want to help,” I protested.
“Fine,” she said, giving me a suspicious look. “But stay sober.”
I went through the security footage on a computer in my office, tagging parts that seemed important and ditching the rest in a big folder labelled “Irrelevant”.
An hour in, I found what I was afraid of. A human face in the crowds, looking almost exactly like me. He’d clearly known where the cameras were and tried to avoid them, so there wasn’t much footage. But it was enough to raise serious questions.
I pulled it all together into a single folder on my screen and sat staring at it. This was relevant material. It showed the man who had helped steal vital documents. It could lead Warren to him.
I had to hide it. Clones weren’t allowed to hold sensitive jobs, due to the risk that someone might have put controls into their coding. In the thirty years since the process was banned, there had never been a problem, but that wouldn’t allay anyone’s fears. And it wouldn’t change the fact that I’d been lying all my life.
The door burst open and Warren strode in.
“Don’t you know how to knock?” I snapped in panic.
“Sod you, Atticus,” he said. “What have you found?”
He stood behind me, peering over my shoulder at the three folders – “Important”, “Irrelevant”, and “Him”.
“I’ve sifted through it all,” I said, trying to draw his attention to “Important”. “This has all the footage of the jouran.”
“That’s it?” he asked.
“Also all the footage of you stumbling around losing your bag.” I opened my desk drawer and pulled out a bottle, looking for any way to distract him.
“What’s that?” he asked, pointing at the third folder.
I felt as though dread had grabbed me by the nuts and given a hard squeeze.
“It’s…” I was normally good at excuses. They were my job. But there and then, with my own arse on the line, I froze.
There was a beep. Warren pulled a small tablet from his pocket. He grinned and stepped away from the computer. While he was distracted, I dumped the third folder into “Irrelevant”.
“Someone saw a human meet the jouran outside,” he said. “Six feet tall, brown hair, fairly slim, casual shirt…”
His voice trailed off as he looked over at me.
“You’d never met that jouran before, had you?” he asked.
“No!” I exclaimed. “Never.”
But with a growing sense of dread, I realised who had.
The bloody clone.
“I should go.” Warren gave me a suspicious look as he headed for the door. “Send me that footage, yes?”
“Will do,” I replied, trying to sound relaxed. Instead my voice turned into a tense squeak.
As the door closed behind Warren, I poured myself a drink. No point worrying about Canning’s order to stay sober. Whatever part of the truth came out during Warren’s investigation, I was bound to get fired now.
It was Friday night on Herrje, the most cosmopolitan planet in the galaxy. I should have been out partying with strange beings and their even stranger drinks. Instead I sat in my office, having a really good mope.
* * *
And so continue the misadventures of Julian Atticus. You can read what led up to this here:
- What Lies Behind Us – There’s a story to be covered up, and Julian Atticus is the man to do it.
- The Best Laid Plans – A diplomatic incident intrudes on Atticus’s holiday plans.
Next week, as things go from bad to worse, Atticus decides to try to dig himself out of trouble. I’m sure it can only go well.