Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

My dad was a spy. A really good one, according to mum. I couldn’t get her to understand. How could he have been any good if he got caught? It meant there was a better spy, or spycatcher, out there. That was who I wanted to be.

Twelve years later, I’m sitting in a featureless meeting room with eight other people I don’t know. Footsteps echo down the corridor outside. Their cause stops short of the door. His words make my breath catch.
“If you’re going to kill a family, do make sure you get them all. No leftover grudgebearers, please.”
I sense, rather than see, nervous glances being exchanged. My eyes remain fixed on the doorway. He strides in: hands behind his back, black suit, no tie, magenta hair, slight stubble, eyes like pools of night. A Mandlerian halfbreed!
“If what I just said causes you discomfort, leave now.”
Three people go.
He looks us over: “Those with the courage of their convictions have just left. So what are you?”
Someone on my left replies: “Dangerous.”
Someone on my right chuckles.
I don’t see the halfbreed’s hands move. Something fast goes past my ear, the whine of gravtac making me wince. I whip my head about: the comedian and his audience are dead, the stubby tails of Zein darts projecting from their foreheads.
A tall man to my left blanches and throws up.
Halfbreed gestures to the door. Whey-face departs.
“And then there were three.”
Death and lesser decisions do not faze him. There is a practiced ease to his movements. Which makes this a test, not a meeting.
Mandlerians had been our first intergalactic enemy and are now our only ally. The rest of the humanoid strains are primitives, and the favoured cheap labour source of every other race. And there you have it. ‘Dumb apes’ are everywhere. So ‘smart apes’ can go anywhere we want to be, ensuring our survival by having the secrets everyone else needs. It’s a special kind of smart, coupled with the capacity to endure abuse, and the ability to go from ‘apparently stupid’ to ‘merciless’ without warning.
The sort of smart that makes me rotate my hands so I can touch my third fingers to the base of my thumbs unobserved. I know what I’d do next, in his position. The Mandlerian smiles. I suspect my moves weren’t entirely unseen.
He whispers: “Last hominid standing.”
As he says “last”, I tuck my legs into my chest and roll forward, pivot over a shoulder, land on my knees and stay low, flicking my arms toward the last two. The Zein darts, released from their sheaths by my moves, cross the short distances before their targets can respond. Two bodies fall.
“You will surpass your father.”
I look up at the halfbreed.
He smiles: “In this career, a problem with killing will eventually get you killed.”
Coming to my feet, I smile back: “Did you kill him?”
“No. I killed what killed him.”
I raise an eyebrow in surprise.
He laughs: “It was in my way. Vengeance and similar romanticism will also get you killed.”

I’m a spy. But not like my dad.