07 December 2012

"Introducing Kangaroo"

By Curtis C. Chen

"Come on, DAD would be a great code name for you."

He gave me the look that said he wasn't in the mood for jokes. Actually, he was almost never in the mood for jokes—unless he was making them—but this was the look that really meant business. This was the look that threatened physical harm if I continued down this path.

So, of course, I kept pushing.

"You know," I said, "because you're such a father figure to me. Right? Except nobody else would know that. So it's super easy for us to remember, but completely opaque to anybody else."

He stared at me for another long moment, then said, "Are you planning to be this idiotic during the meeting?"

"That is my plan, yes."

"You do understand what's at stake here."

I could hear his voice switching into lecture mode. "Yeah, I do, but why don't you remind me again, in excruciating detail."

He touched the controls on the back of the driver's seat, and the clear partition between us and the vehicle's front compartment darkened. At the same time, the outside road noise became muffled as the active suppression systems engaged. Even in a secure agency vehicle, one could never be too careful about eavesdroppers.

"This meeting is going to decide the disposition of your entire future," he said. "After today, you're either going to be a lab rat or a field agent. And only one of those occupations offers a halfway normal life."

"I have no chance at a normal life," I said. "I have a superpower, remember?"

"I said halfway normal," he said. "Science Division will not blink at locking you away for weeks of testing at a time. They won't even think of you as a human being. All they want is to figure out how to replicate your ability, either technologically or biologically. And if they have to trade your life for that knowledge, they will feel absolutely no remorse about it."

"Okay, yeah, I get it," I said. "But how does doing field missions at your beck and call improve my life expectancy?"

"I'm not saying you'll live any longer. It's quite possible you'll make a rookie mistake your first time out and get killed within minutes of infiltration."

I studied his face to see if he was attempting to make a joke. He wasn't.

"Thanks for the vote of confidence," I said.

"Even the best agents can be brought down by stupid mistakes or plain old bad luck. It's nothing personal, KANGAROO," he said.

"And another thing," I said. "Can we talk about changing my stupid code name?"

"What's wrong with KANGAROO?"

I squinted at him. "You do realize that only female kangaroos have pouches, right?"

He stared back at me. "What's your point?"

I was certain he was joking now, but his face betrayed nothing.


Image: Rude kangaroo! by Tambako The Jaguar, July, 2010