Part 2 of the 8 part A Man Called Mister Brown serial by A.R. Yngve introduces the Director of the Agency For Terran Affairs, Ms. Mendez, and her field operative, Ms. Hitt. — ed, N.E. Lilly

Ms. Hitt?”

The pale, ash-blond woman in the gray suit took off her shades, and hesitated before the wrinkled, short woman who met her in the office.

“Mrs. Mendez?” Then: “I didn’t recognize you.”

The Director of the Agency For Terran Affairs shook Hitt’s hand, smiling modestly. She was a short, compactly built Terran with intense dark eyes and a page haircut. “You’ve been away for two years. It’s ‘Ms.’ Mendez again. New face, new hair, new style. I’ll get another husband soon, looking hard for a proposal, a good man is hard to find these days. But look at you! Not a day older since I last saw you. Did you have a pleasant journey back from the Outer Planets?”

Hitt released the Director’s small hand, and walked over to the panoramic window that overlooked the capital of the American Federation. The carpet of short live grass muffled her forceful steps. Heavy rainfall cast a mist over the landscape. Hitt adjusted the albedo of her eyes, and they shifted from silvery to black. Now she could see in the distance how Brasilia’s skyhook reached up above the towers, into the thick clouds. Rainforest grew on the ground between shining towers of glass and steel, and on the rooftops. Now and then a garishly colored bird flew past the window.

Watching Brasilia’s cityscape, Hitt said: “Do you know I was conscious during the entire journey back and forth? The sleeping pods don’t work so well on a plastinated brain. I had a lot of time to read up. To think.”

“Thinking about your next assignment for the Agency?”

“I came to a decision. I want to go solo. The Agency can still buy my services in the future… on a work-for-hire basis. Contracts will go to the highest bidder.”

Ms. Mendez’ smile vanished; she gave the taller woman a concerned look. “May I remind you, girl, that we paid to make you a Cybe. You still haven’t worked off all our expenses.”

“I’ll pay for every last part. I read in the Agency’s restricted files about the greatest unsolved theft in its history — the Lost Plutonium. One ton of it, intended for a starship project, the whole shipment vanished forty years ago without a trace.”

Mendez let out a chortle. “Others have searched for it and failed. It was probably dumped in the Sun long ago. Forget it.”

“If I locate and claim the lost shipment, I can buy myself out of the Agency. Maybe I can even buy the Agency. I’ve got a lead.”

The Director showed a degree of surprise and put a hand on Hitt’s arm. “Why haven’t I heard about this ‘lead’?”

Hitt smiled with silver-gray lips. “Because I haven’t told you about it.”

“May the Constant save us,” Ms. Mendez said jokingly and removed her hand. “But while you’re looking for that treasure, I need you to track down and bring back this man.” She pushed her interface-finger against the receiver on the back of Hitt’s hand, and transferred the information directly into the Cybe’s memory.

Ms. Hitt turned toward the Director and raised her white eyebrows. “I thought he worked for you?”

Mendez shrugged. “As a freelancer. But he double-crossed us. He brought in a wanted NeoMartian female, got paid, and left. After the female had told us what we needed to know, she escaped. We identified the tool she used. A nanofiber blade with Brown’s DNA all over it, the same blade he carried when he delivered her.”

The short woman’s eyes hardened. “Bring me Mr. Brown, dead or alive… but if he’s alive we’ll pay you double the bounty. He must have a few secrets we could pry out of him. Since he talked to that girl, he must have found out something about her accomplices. Brown is probably going after them, even though he wouldn’t tell me so. Oh, and this assignment doesn’t officially exist. We don’t need the bad publicity. Given his wily nature, your best bet would be to kill him on sight.”

“Pity… I’ll never know how he was in bed.”

“You’ve met?” The Director’s cheeks flushed briefly.

“Only in this building. We said hello.”

Mendez went to her desk and sat down. “Good luck, Hitt, and I hope you find what you’re looking for.”

“I always do. Where is he now?”

“Our analysts think he’s headed for either Mars or Venus. Wherever he might find bounty.”

Hitt headed for the exit. Turning her head, she said: “I know where to look.”

When Ms. Hitt had left the building, the Director pointed her interface-finger at the panoramic window and said: “Screen.”

The window turned into a single interactive menu. Mendez made a call to Brown’s secret mailbox. He would not reply, but she knew he would read it.

“My dear Mr. Brown,” she dictated. “Your little prank with the wanted NeoMartian woman made me very disappointed. But I’ll give you one last chance to redeem your standing with the Agency. It has come to my knowledge that Ms. Hitt is chasing the infamous Lost Plutonium, and has gotten it into her head to claim it for herself.

“It is not in the Agency’s interest that she succeeds. Do what you can to stop her. And if she gets a lead on the case, improbable as that may be… use that lead to bring the shipment to us. In return, I shall forget to put out the highest public bounty in history on your capture, dead or alive. May the Constant guide you. Sincerely et cetera, Katrina Mendez. Send message.”

A.R. Yngve started out as a cartoonist, but soon turned to writing. Published works include the Swedish TERRA HEXA book trilogy and short stories in Swedish, British and Chinese magazines. He has recently written a script for Scandinavian radio. Dislikes: Cats, fan fiction. Likes: Philip K. Dick, MST3K.

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