This is Drezian Date, or D.D. as we refer to it here at the embassy, F’lin 8.912/4. I think that corresponds to December 13th, 2871. It’s been precisely two of our human weeks since I was asked to do something I never thought I would have to do. I feel guilty even typing this up. I promised some very powerful individuals that I would make no record of what has transpired. No matter. I need to clear my head. If for no other reason, I actually need some record of all that I did so that I can perform my current duties at least somewhat properly.
My new position isn’t nearly as interesting as my old one. After all, I impersonated Ambassador Hunley for almost two weeks. Confused? Anyone would be, myself included. I think the worst part has been keeping all of the lies straight, hence my need for a comprehensive record. Well, “lies” might not be the fair term. Really, they’re what Section Chief Belgrano calls “necessary divergences from commonly accepted reality.”
Before I go any further, I should probably clarify some things. Let’s start with D.D. F’lin 8.911/3, which was November 30th in our time. That’s when this whole mess began.
I had recently been transferred from the Quarmarq Trade Nexus Office where I’d been a Nexus Liaison Class 5B. I never did get the chance to make 5A. At age 29, I didn’t meet the sufficient seniority threshold in the Diplomatic Corps. Then a position opened in the Jin’Drezia Embassy that I knew I could qualify for: Interplanetary Liaison 4th Class. Essentially, I would handle requests to the embassy pertaining to regulations on passport renewal and revocation in Jin’Drezia, or so the position description read. Various and sundry other duties could be attached to it at the Ambassador’s discretion. This was a competitive position since everyone I knew from the diplomatic academy wanted to work with the legendary Ambassador Veronica Hunley and, of course, be stationed in the most exciting new alien embassy operated by the Diplomatic Corps.
Luckily, father is wealthy and he applied “leverage” that gave me a preferential review for the position. A few choice donations and some arm-twisting and the position was mine.
My first day was D.D. F’lin 8.911/3. I remember landing on Jin’Drezia in one of those cramped Kloomer Class Freighters where all of the walls are made of corrugated titanium. We never even got a good look at the planet from space. Since we were landing outside the embassy and not directly in its docking bay, we had to put on the infamous encounter suits. Because the air in Jin’Drezia is so acidic, the suits are clunky, unwieldy, black and green metal armor, kind of like an old set of plate mail. They’re even complete with a visor that obscures our faces, the reason being that the planet’s ambient radiation can permeate any viewable surface. Instead, the suits had cameras and a viewscreen that we relied on to see around. I found it a little hard to concentrate initially because the suits have this sharp stench from their cleaning solution.
When I stepped off onto the platform, I tried to take in the supposed beauty of Jin’Drezia that I’d heard so much about. It wasn’t what I had been told, at least not the part I saw at first. What I saw was a red storm of caustic mist obscuring everything else. I guess it was beautiful in its own way. I certainly saw better parts of the planet later and found out that we actually landed in the midst of one of their acid storms. Disgustingly, these storms largely consist of the gasses expelled by Drezians on a regular basis. They were harmless to Drezians, but lethal to us.
We weren’t out there for long, though. We quickly entered the embassy. That, however, was everything I thought it would be. Earth Unified Government had spared no expense in building an imposing building on Drezian soil, or rather on compacted swamp matter as the case was. Made of the highest alloys and tempered glasses, it was sleek, spacious, and, above all, breathable.
“You can take the suit off now,” one of the guards told me as she removed her helmet.
I was more than happy to. I fumbled in flipping all of the various latches and locks because my hands shook in excitement. I was, after all, on the brink of meeting Ambassador Hunley. The guard, noticing that I was failing in this simple task, assisted me by helping to flip the remaining latches. She was a stern older woman and she judged me harshly for making a fool of myself.
We stepped into the central atrium, which was covered in flashing screens with various news from Earth and its allied planets. The dozens of busy embassy staff all glanced up to catch up on the news as they whipped through, some going to other rooms on the main floor and others taking the hover platforms to the second level.
“Ms. Reinhardt!” an effeminate male voice called out. I had a hard time figuring out where it came from before it called out again. “Ms. Reinhardt!”
At last, I saw a thin man wearing a grey and red uniform stepping toward me. He was balding, but was the sort of man who tried to hide it by slicking his hair back right against his scalp. Completing his austere aesthetic, his lips were turned inward as though he was always sucking a lemon.
“I’m Joaoquim Belgrano,” he announced himself. His high voice still surprised me even though I’d already heard it. He also had an astonishingly thick Brazilian accent. “I’m the Section Chief here at the embassy and the Deputy to Ambassador Hunley. As is customary, you will have a brief audience with the Ambassador since you’re a new staff member. This way please.”
Belgrano pointed toward a long hall at the atrium’s far end. We rode on a slow platform that crawled forward up the hall toward its far end. Belgrano stood at the front, his hands folded behind him and never turning to speak to me.
“It’s a great honor to be here,” I said at last. “I’ve always…”
“I assume you wanted to come here, Ms. Reinhardt,” he interrupted and coughed. “You applied for this post, after all.”
His curt dismissal deflated me. I decided to try again.
“What will I be doing here? I read my job description, but…”
“Please don’t waste your breath with perfunctory pleasantries, Ms. Reinhardt. You know exactly what you’ll be doing and probably better than I do. You wouldn’t have been hired if you hadn’t proven yourself to be satisfactory. You know what you’re doing,” Belgrano scoffed. “Again, don’t take defense.”
“You mean ‘offense,’ Mr. Belgrano,” I nervously corrected him.
“Very good, Ms. Reinhardt. That was my first test for you,” he chuckled without turning his head around. “You need to correct superiors when they err, but do so politely. Very politely. I expect it of you and so does the Ambassador. This is an exacting post. Remember that.”
At least he had some sense of humor. That’s more than I could say about half of the section chiefs I’d encountered up to that point. If you corrected them, they’d simply insist that you misheard them and warn that, if you did it again, you’d be sent back to some shitty little post somewhere. So, I suppose this was progress.
We eventually arrived at Ambassador Hunley’s office. It was a small room, but a fun little place. She had it covered in holographic portraits of her battles with the Drezians against the Glyrgat Dominion. That was, after all, how she had endeared herself to those belching frog beasts.
Her video portraits revealed them to be affectionate toward her, even nuzzling up against her after another victorious defense of their nesting grounds. The funny thing is that they didn’t need us. They beat back the Glyrgati easily. The one battle she helped with on their planet was lopsided, but the Drezians are a loyal race. Anyone who helps them is beloved. Hunley was the only one of her platoon who survived and she helped save Prince Grez’a, who became emperor just a year ago. Grez’a, rumored to be a total buffoon, had managed to somehow become one of the few Drezians whose life was even at risk in that battle.
Anyway, she was sitting at her desk speaking over one of the Drezian communicators when I stepped in. She was a surprisingly old-looking 60-year-old, but that wasn’t surprising. Word was that she loved Drezian Kargrez, a drink that we consider to be the equivalent of 270 proof. It’s the result of a literally alien fermentation process and the product is far stronger than anything we consider to be alcohol. As she drank a glass of the Kargrez, she rolled her eyes and she guffawed over the communicator.
“Yes, yes, Minister Anu’ra. My government’s already made that clear that duty-free exports of To’addrum will certainly be part of the treaty,” she giggled. “To’addril, excuse me. You’re right. I know I’ve been here 12 years, but I still mess that up. Please remind me before I talk to the Emperor. Ha! Yes, of course. I’ll tell Belgrano. Oh, no, he won’t like it one bit.”
Belgrano sighed and tapped his foot.
“Alright, Minister,” she shook her head. “I’ll speak with you in… whenever I get there. Alright. V’gula, as always.”
Ambassador Hunley turned off her communicator and jumped to her feet. She was almost exactly my height and we looked each other in the eyes. She had warm brown eyes, nestled in wrinkly eye sockets. She sort of reminded me of my grandmother when I was a child.
“Ah, right! This is the new staffer! Isn’t that right, Belgrano?” she asked.
“Yes, Ambassador,” Belgrano pompously replied. “Fiona Reinhardt, transferred from the Quarmarq facility. She comes well-qualified and…”
“Of course she does! Ha!” Ambassador Hunley chuckled. “Well, you’re starting here at a good time!”
“I certainly hope so, Ambassador,” I barely mumbled. I was so nervous I could barely feel my face. Finally meeting a longtime hero of mine was simply too much for me.
“You need to explain these treaty terms to each and every senator’s staff. You better be good at it,” Hunley dropped to a serious tone. My heart skipped. I didn’t believe that would be my role based on the job description, but ambassadors could redefine duties at a whim. “Do you think you can do that by yourself? I want to repeat that point. It would be all. By. Yourself.”
I paused for only a few seconds, but Belgrano glared at me for any delay.
“Of course, Ambassador,” I said.
“Good Splorxx! Did you really think I’d do that to you?” she screamed. “No, you’re going to be with… what is it, Belgrano? We’ve got six on that section?”
“Seven,” Belgrano grumbled.
“Well, yes,” Hunley sighed and gave Belgrano a mocking eyeroll. “Anyway, it’s going to be a fun job. The hours aren’t bad and it’s more interesting than anything else in the Diplomatic Corps. Trust me.”
Hunley grabbed a glass of a putrid purple liquid and slammed it down in a single swig. I was impressed, just because she could endure the smell if for no other reason.
“You’ll have to drink this if you’re going to fit in here,” she said, pouring another drink. She shoved it in my face, some of the liquid sloughing over and splattering on the floor. It hissed a little as it reacted with the composite tile.
I had to breathe deeply and remind myself how much I’d desired this position. I reminded myself it wouldn’t kill me, at least I thought so. Staring into the dark purple abyss, with sickly malformed bubbles coming to the top, I braced myself and closed my eyes. With a single swig, I let the concoction slap against the back of my throat.
It was… delightful. A rush a fuzzy warmth came over me.
“This is excellent, Ambassador!”
“Ah ha! There, you see? You’ll fit right in here,” she guffawed and slapped my back. “Enjoy. This is the best posting in the entire galaxy just for this! Isn’t that right, Belgrano?”
“Yes, of course,” he sighed.
“Belgrano doesn’t drink. Isn’t that right?” she continued to prod him, even jabbing her finger into his abdomen.
“Never,” he proudly declared.
“His loss and your gain,” Hunley said. “Well, off to your quarters and meet back here in two hours. I want to brief you on the important points about the treaty. We’ll have a few more glasses then, too. Sound good?”
“Yes, of course! Thank you, Ambassador!”
I left to set up my quarters, which were much more spacious than I’d imagined and they had a window out into Lake Ugn’ia. I also had them entirely to myself. This was a far better situation than I’d had on Quarmarq. There I bunked with three others, including two morbidly obese older men. They were polite enough, but the less said about their cleaning habits the better.
In any case, once I’d unpacked the few belongings I brought along, I explored all of the room’s features. It had a commlink back to Earth, which I used to leave my parents a short message that I was safe on Jin’Drezia and met the ambassador. Both of my parents had insisted that I join the diplomatic service and I knew they’d be proud of me. “It’s honorable work,” father said. “The only honorable work these days.” Of course, he’s an attorney representing human corpse reprocessing companies against insensitivity suits.
Anyway, to kill time until I was to meet with Ambassador Hunley again, I studied my various manuals about how to properly care for my encounter suit. Apparently even the slightest damage to the suit in the Drezian atmosphere would lead to a near immediate death as the acidic moisture would enter your lungs and make you spasm violently until death. At least the air would quickly dissolve your body, it’s all very neat and tidy. No putrefaction or anything like that. Drezians themselves avoid this by having a thick mucus layer that keeps it all at bay.
After about three hours, I noticed that I had not been summoned even though it was supposed to be two hours. I didn’t mind that much. I’d been in diplomatic service long enough to know punctuality wasn’t observed, or even valued for that matter. Besides, I had more time to familiarize myself with the encounter suit. It had a number of clever features to it that I hadn’t noticed before, including a sophisticated voice synthesizer, room for food packs as well as nutrient supplements that could be absorbed through our skin, and a neural communicator that allows you to receive communications straight into your brain to avoid listening devices. However, the best approach was always the HUD. It was clunky, but it worked.
I got so lost in it all that I was shocked when I got a call from Belgrano.
“Ms. Reinhardt, come to the Ambassador’s quarters immediately,” he said through my wrist communicator.
“I was in the middle of…” I began to say.
“Immediately, Ms. Reinhardt.”
When I got there, I saw that she was laid down on a couch with her hands folded over her chest. Her skin was somewhat pale, but nothing that immediately drew my attention. Belgrano was standing off to the right, his hands folded behind him. He nodded to recognize that I was there and motioned me forward.
“Is the Ambassador sleeping?” I asked.
Belgrano sighed and I looked at Ambassador Hunley again. She wasn’t breathing at all, as far as I could tell.
“She looks like she’s dead,” I said, letting out a nervous laugh.
“Indeed,” Belgrano muttered mournfully.
I tried to deceive myself about the situation, but it was there staring me in the face. My mind raced and I felt faint. I had a hard time even forming a coherent thought.
“B… She…. I… Is…” I stammered.
“Ambassador Hunley is dead, Ms. Reinhardt,” Belgrano cut me off. “You need to take her place.”