His name was Detective Kent. And Detective Kent was a hero.
In the distant future, there were many different planets to explore, and the humans did so; starting with their own planet of Humania, they branched out, and the primary planets were known as “The Hub”. In The Hub, crime was low, however once you escaped these core planets, all kinds of bandits could be found, from the dreaded Space Pirates, right through to the regular old petty thieves.
Detective Kent’s aim in life was to wipe out these bandits. With his jet-powered boots, his long, flowing, cape-like trench coat, and his dark glasses, Detective Kent was a force to be reckoned with. He had already vanquished his evil twin brother Krent, his semi-evil older brother Brent, and his ill-natured younger brother Trevor. Right now, he was between cases, having only recently destroyed Little Wytch, leader of the midget magic-users terrorising the galaxy.
Detective Kent sat back, relaxed, behind the desk of his spaceship. With one hand, almost without thinking, he steered, while the other hand tapped impatiently on his desk.
Detective Kent was bored.
This was unusual for him; as a man who normally was out fighting aliens of every shape and size, tracking footprints across space asteroids, and trying to prevent the Vadey Space Pirate Empire from rising up and destroying all known life in the universe, sitting behind a desk with nothing to do was rather unusual, and Detective Kent's mind required regular stimulus.
He was tired of drifting – with no case, and no particular trouble looming up in the universe, he’d had nowhere to steer. His fuel-tank was sitting at full, his food supply was at maximum load, and his feet were dying to get on solid ground again, but without any particular destination in mind, he had trouble justifying the docking fees, or even the fuel involved. So instead, he was just drifting through space, waiting for a phone call with an interesting job on the other end, or for someone to attack his ship and become his new nemesis, or for a cute dame with a heart of gold and a troubled past to walk through the door, and throw a smouldering glance his way.
Judging by the state of things, however, it appeared that the only thing that would be walking through his door would be the service bot with the dinner that he’d cooked for himself earlier.
He remembered his training; he had graduated from the Vincent Academy, where men were taught to be heroes, and women were also taught to be heroes. His personal mentor had been Mistress Shen, and it was her words that came back to him now:
“If trouble’s not looking for you, it’s time to go out and start looking for trouble.”
Detective Kent savoured his mentor’s words. He could hear them now. (he had asked her to record them for him, and every time he needed to be inspired, he would play them back. This was the first time he’d ever had to use Shen’s, but there were a variety of other inspirational words that he used from time to time.)
He decided that it was time for him to stop drifting, time for him to stop being bored, and time for him to stop waiting for the troubles of the universe to come to him. It was time for him to seek out the troubles of the universe!
Little did he know how close they were…
Detective Kent’s regular service bot did its job well. Not with pride, however. Robots, of course, were incapable of emotion or independent thinking, so if Detective Kent had been closer to where his service bot appeared to be serving his dinner and whistling with pride, he most likely would have detected something slightly amiss.
For of course, it was not Detective Kent’s service bot at all that was preparing his dinner, no it was not! It was Beard Man, an evil assassin famous galaxy-wide for his ability to blend in with any crowd, his ability to disguise himself at will, and (using a trick taught to him by the finest Yemen Kooper actor in the galaxy) the ability to grow a genuine, thick beard at will. Beard Man had, while Detective Kent was otherwise occupied, ripped out the innards of Kent’s old service bot, and squeezed himself into the incredibly tight space remaining. Using nothing but a small blowtorch and a piece of wire, he had managed to take full control of the robot’s remaining circuitry, and was now controlling the arms with the ease that he controlled his owns.
Every disguise Beard Man ever donned had one feature in common; a beard. It was such a testament to his disguise and acting skills that no one ever noticed the beard, and assumed it had been there all along.
Truly, he was a fiendishly devilish assassin.
Beard Man (still cleverly disguised as a service bot) was now adding an ingredient to Detective Kent’s dinner that hadn’t been there originally…an ingredient known as poison.
Still sitting in his chair, not suspecting a thing, Detective Kent pondered where he could look for trouble. With the click of a button, his computer whirred to life, but it appeared to be working fine. No trouble in there.
He turned, and looked out of his window, into the vast recesses of space, the eternal bed of stars that lay before him, going on as far as humans had explored, and probably further still. Nope, no trouble as far as he could see.
Detective Kent was still looking for trouble (none on top of the book-case, and none below the rug in the center of the room.) when his service bot shuffled its way into the room, deposited his dinner on his desk, and shuffled back in again. Detective Kent sighed – looking for trouble was much harder than he’d ever imagined it could be. He was so accustomed to trouble seeking him out that he had neglected his trouble finding abilities, and now they were practically non-existent. Perhaps he would have to enrol in some trouble finding courses at the nearest Detective School, or borrow some books that detailed how to find trouble.
Around this time, he reflected, someone would generally be trying to assassinate him. It had been 4 days since his last case had ended, and he had never gone more than 3 days without an assassination attempt. Perhaps the criminals of the galaxy no longer considered him a threat, perhaps he had lost his touch. He wasn’t sure why they thought this; he had, after all, just neutralised the biggest midget threat in the galaxy, but of course Detective Kent didn’t understand the criminal mind at all; it was probably his biggest flaw as a detective, other than his inability to effectively seek trouble when he needed to.
Walking over to his desk, he wondered what some of his old foes were up to. He had had them put in jail, of course, but what is jail to the greatest criminal masterminds in the galaxy? He wished that he was just allowed to kill them, but then he would technically fall under the tax category of “vigilante” or “bounty hunter”, and they were much more heavily taxed than simple detectives. Of course, having seen the tax cut that “criminal mastermind” got, he had been tempted more than once to cross over to the side of evil, but when it came down to it, he wasn’t able to justify taking an innocent life. He was lawful good, and lawful good he would have to stay, no matter how good the tax benefits.
He was just glad he wasn’t a monarch. They paid a preposterous amount of tax. The amount of tax they paid could buy a small country… of course, if it did, the tax office would then technically classify as monarch, and have to tax itself accordingly.
Sitting down at his desk, Detective Kent’s razor sharp mind noticed something was amiss. Though his rambling thoughts and lack of trouble-seeking skills may have suggested otherwise, when it came to his detective work, Detective Kent’s mind was as sharp as the sword he wished he could use to dispense justice. (because of the irritating tax laws, he had to use it purely for intimidation purposes, and occasionally in ways it wasn’t supposed to be used to get out of tricky situations; one time, he had used it to check the oil of his ship, for instance, the reading of which had become a vital clue in solving the Case of the Mysterious Oil Snatcher) Detective Kent’s deductive skills weren’t the greatest in the business, but when combined with his ability to fight, pursue and interrogate the bad guys, he was a force to be reckoned with.
The plate which his service bot had left wasn’t in the location that he had specifically programmed it to be placed. It was, instead, exactly one hundredth of a measurement to the left. Detective Kent cautiously put on his black leather gloves. He wasn’t going to touch this dinner with his bare hands, even if it killed him. Probably because… well, probably because it would kill him. Which was what he was trying to avoid. Of course, if given the choice between death and touching this dinner without the protection that his gloves offered him, he wasn’t sure which he would choose.
On one hand, certain death was something he wished to avoid, and though he wasn’t sure why his dinner was misplaced, it could be due to something other than an attempt on his life. He certainly wanted to avoid touching the dinner, but why would he choose certain death over touching it? Unless, of course, touching the dinner caused some kind of horrible torture, making him die slowly. Though, he reasoned, he wasn’t sure what kind of death the alternative offered. Perhaps it too was a horrible torturey death as well. He’d have to learn the details before he committed to a final decision.
Detective Kent was about to reach forward and touch the dinner with his gloved hand, when another thought struck him. Perhaps in this hypothetical which was currently running through his head, the touching of the food with bare hands would cause some kind of chain death reaction, killing not only him, but also a large number of innocent people. His struggle to protect innocent life was his primary motivation, and the very reason he had become a detective. But was he the type to sacrifice himself to save them?
As the Detective thought about the moral quandary with which he could potentially be faced with some day, Beard Man was impatiently watching from the doorway. He had shunned the service bot disguise, and was now cleverly disguised as half of the opening doors which had let him in. It had been a tricky operation, removing one half of the opening doors and taking its place without Detective Kent suspecting a thing, but tricky operations were what Beard Man specialised in.
“Why isn’t he eating it?” Beard Man wondered silently. Fortunately, the only one who could hear silent wonderings in this particular spaceship was the service bot, and Beard Man had already taken care of him. Even if the service bot had heard him, it probably wouldn’t have done much about it; it was programmed to serve dinner, and very little else. Occasionally running a bath, but ever since Detective Kent had saved the Soap People of Garanthia from the impending Dirt Warriors of Blovon and been rewarded with eternal cleanliness, the service bot’s bath running had fallen out of use. The only reason it was even programmed with silent wonderings was so that it could prepare food (and baths) before its master even vocalised the thought, so had it still been functioning, it wouldn’t have even been activated with the question “Why isn’t he eating it?”, despite the presence of one of the keywords, “eat” (or if misheard, “heat”.)
Of course, being destroyed beyond repair, there was no chance of the service bot hearing any silent wonderings again anyway.
Beard Man wished he’d had time to review the security tapes; he should have learnt Detective Kent’s eating habits. Was looking suspiciously at the plate of food, putting on a black glove and then proceeding to look into space as if resolving moral quandries for a lengthy period of time part of his usual dining routine, or was he suspicious?
If faced between touching the plate bare handed and certain death, Detective Kent finally concluded, his decision would be based on several factors: Who was offering the certain death, how many people were in the proximity, how he had been placed in the situation, and the likelihood that immediately after touching the food with his bare hand he could then hurl it into the face of his captor, hopefully managing to escape. Content with his choice, Detective Kent finally prodded the food with his gloved hand.
Pulling out a magnifying glass, Detective Kent truly felt like he was doing something again. This, the examination of food and the magnifying glass: this was detective work. And detective work was his life.
Carefully, Detective Kent inspected the food. He couldn’t see any alterations to the scrattle meat, or to the… ah ha! He noticed that on top of the minced appel there was a fine powder, invisible to the naked eye and completely undetectable unless you were a damned fine detective.
And Kent was a damned fine detective.
Detective Kent briefly pondered what this could be. His first conclusion was some form of poison, but he didn’t recognise it, and didn’t want to be one of those people who always assume that everyone is always out to get them (even though they were, in fact, always out to get him). Perhaps there was something strange with the machine used to heat his food, causing it to produce a very fine powder. Or perhaps his service bot was rusting. Now that he thought about it, he had noticed a very slight discrepancy in its walk pattern, but his mind had been otherwise occupied at the time, and had dismissed the observation.
Detective Kent vowed to never again dismiss an observation.
The most logical solution was still that someone was trying to assassinate him, but he knew he should wait until he had eliminated all other options before finding (and idally dispensing justice to) the assassin. With this thought in mind, Detective Kent set off towards the kitchen of his one man spaceship.
As he approached the door, they opened, making the “bing bong” noise that all spaceship doors made.
Detective Kent passed through the door, then abruptly turned around, and with all his might, punched the left-hand side of the opening doors. As he had hoped, instead of causing some minor damage to the door and some major damage to his hand, the half door instead went flying backwards, crashing against his desk, and revealed itself to not being a door constructed primarily of various types of metal, but instead a man cleverly disguised as a door.
“Beard Man”, Detective Kent said, trying not to let too much pride creep into his voice.
Beard Man spat some blood onto Detective Kent’s lovely blue rug, and looked him in the eye.
“Kent. How did you know?”
“Simple,” Detective Kent replied, with slightly more pride than he intended. “Two reasons: firstly, my doors are programmed to bong in the note C sharp. You were C flat.”
“There is no C flat,” Beard Man replied.
“That’s what gave you away.”
“Well, secondly, the left-hand side of my doors doesn’t normally have a beard.”
“You noticed the beard?” Beard Man asked in shock. “No one ever notices the beard!”
“No,” Detective Kent replied, “and I wouldn’t have, had you not gotten the note wrong. But since the last time we met, I’ve taken extensive courses in beard-spotting.”
“So, what do we do now?” Beard Man asked. “Fight?”
Detective Kent scoffed.
“We’ve exchanged fisticuffs before. You’re no match for me, remember?”
“Ah,” replied Beard Man, “But last time we were in the desert.”
“So?” Detective Kent asked, puzzled. “This time we’re in my office. It’s home territory; logically, I should have even more of an advantage.”
“No,” Beard Man explained, unable to resist a grin, “but this time, there’s objects around, instead of nothing but blowing sand.”
“What’s your point?” Detective Kent asked, however instead of talking to the man lying wounded on the carpet, he found himself talking to thin air.
Detective Kent looked around carefully. He would have to play this one carefully. Using every part of his impressive intellect, he searched the room for an item with a beard where there wasn’t one before.
“Ah ha!” he exclaimed, and in one swift movement, he drew his sword, crossed the room, and stabbed the portrait on the wall. “Take that!”
After a few seconds, he realised that the portrait of his grandfather had, in fact, always had a beard. “Sorry gramps,” he murmured, and resumed his search for beards. That was the problem with Beard Man… he made objects that didn’t normally have beards look as if they would look strange without them. That model of Humania, for instance… he was fairly sure that the planet of Humania didn’t have a beard, but how could he know?
Continuing to search the room, one of the questions from his final exams came back to him.
Multiple choice: Does the planet of Humania have a beard?
He had scored 100% on that test. And he had chosen… B!!!
Turning around, he lunged at the globe, but before he had reached it, it had dodged to the left, and was scampering to the door.
Wondering if this battle was in any way symbolic, Detective Kent chased after his home world, wielding a sword.
“Have at thee!”
By the time he reached the kitchen, however, the globe was nowhere to be found. He did notice the shattered remains of his service bot (it really did look strange without a beard now) but there would be time for mourning later. Well, not really mourning. It was just a robot.
Instantly regretting the fact that he’d spent a split second thinking about whether or not it was suitable to mourn a robot, even a decent one which had served him well for over ten years, Detective Kent felt the punch before he saw where it had come from. It knocked him to the floor. He had just enough time to roll over and avoid the bearded toaster leaping towards him (great, now he’d have to make a little beard and put it on the toaster, else he’d be weirded out every time he saw it henceforth.)
He stood up, and with one mighty kick, his foot connected with the toaster’s most sensitive area. Using the flat of his sword, the toaster was soon unconscious, and relaxed to show Beard Man in his undisguised, human form.
A few minutes later, Beard Man was returned to consciousness, to find himself tied up, bright spotlights shone on him, and his disguise kit removed. He still had his three emergency spare disguise kits, which were carefully hidden and disguised around his body (no one ever asked exactly why he had three arms, one of which never did anything…and had its own beard) but while he was tied up, he had no way of getting to them.
Looking around for Detective Kent, he found him holding Beard Man’s own beard, and carefully attaching it to the toaster. Beard Man rolled his eyes, and with a quick grunt, grew a new beard.
“Ah,” said Detective Kent, turning at the sound of the grunt. “I see you’ve awoken.”
Tempted to spit, Beard Man realised that he should reserve his fluids if he was going to get out of this one safely.
“I ain’t tellin’ you nothing.”
Detective Kent laughed.
“Oh, come now Beard Man, I think we both know you will.”
“Oh? And why’s that?”
“Well,” Detective Kent thought, smiling slightly, “Because I’ve got something you want.”
“An’ what’s that?”
Detective Kent held up his trump card. He had received it in reward for saving the King of the Space Vikings from the infestation of beard-worms he had been suffering from. These had been no ordinary beard-worms, these had been super-intelligent beard-worms. Detective Kent had had to be shrunk down, injected into the King’s beard, and fought his way through to the leader, who (after heavy negotiation) had agreed to move out of the King’s beard in exchange for permanent, rent-free residence in the beard of Detective Kent’s old spaceship.
Detective Kent’s old spaceship was, of course, bearded itself as the result of his previous altercation with Beard Man.
“How did you get that!?” Beard Man enquired, unwillingly impressed. “You can’t buy that for blood nor money!” (he knew – he had tried both)
“Feel like negotiating yet?” Detective Kent asked, wiping his sword clean. It was already clean, but Detective Kent hated passing up the chance for a dramatic gesture.
One quick negotiation later, both parties were in possession of what they wanted: Beard Man the ultra-rare, near impossible to find, certainly impossible to buy, extra-strength, multi-coloured Beard Dye that Detective Kent had been given as a gift from the Viking King, and Detective Kent a name. One name, but one that ran shivers through his spine.
The Galactic Ninja.
To Beard Man’s surprise, he was cut loose. He knew that it wouldn’t be to his benefit to finish the kill; the Galactic Ninja was probably already aware that he had been betrayed, and that would be enough for him to eternally swear revenge. Besides, Detective Kent would probably drop him off at the nearest planet anyway.
Beard Man gulped. He just realised that in all the negotiation, he had forgotten to add that as a condition. He turned around to bring up the point, but Detective Kent was already pressing the button that would eject him into open space.
Detective Kent was about to set off for the nearest Detective School, to get as much information as he could about the Galactic Ninja, when he made the mistake of turning around.
Several hours later, as Detective Kent was finally leaving the hospital he'd just dropped his mother off to, he realised the answer to the question that had been bugging him - why his mother had been in the vacuum of space, just outside his ship, where he'd just left Beard Man a few seconds earlier.
Detective Kent cursed as he realised how easily he’d been fooled. What’s more, he would now have to persuade his mother to grow a beard; he’d be unable to look at her the same way without it.
Fantasy city by David Revoy, licensed under the
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.