“Okay, Agent One-Two-Three, everything seems in order for your return. You just have to answer these routine questions.”
“Alright.” I rubbed my hands excitedly, excited to go back to my planet after years of research on Monsarth, or as the Humans called it – Earth.
“Have you wiped the studied humans’ memories clear of you?”
“Of course, I even had them recreate the memories that were important for their development without me, they just called it deja-vu.”
“These are just yes-no questions.” The communicator told me. “Please refrain from sharing any research material here. The communication might be tapped into.”
“Have you redesigned your place of habitation to look uninhabited for the duration of your stay?”
“Have you revealed your identity to any of Monsarth’s native inhabitants?”
“Have you shared the conclusions of your research with anyone other than your superior?”
“Have you packed your belongings?”
“Have you made sure that you did not take anything from Monsarth that could be categorized as unethical stealing aside from the clothes you’re still using as disguise and the… uh… water bottle you’ve registered as souvenir?”
“Are you sure? The clothes can be discarded by the ship and the water bottle is still under review, but we can’t take any risks that might jeopardize the virtuousness of the experiment. Did you give the car back to the owner you compelled to give to you upon your arrival? Did you close your bank account? Did you return your library books?”
“Yes, yes, and I never took a book out of a library.”
“Yes, you did.” The communicator stated robotically. “On your very first visit when you saw a line of people and thought that it was obligatory.”
“Is there a problem Agent One-Two-Three?”
“No, no, of course not, it’s just that that was a very long time ago I’d forgotten about it.”
“So the library book was returned and you don’t currently have in your possession any Monsarthian objects?”
“Y-yes,” I stammered. “I’m all good to go.”
“The research ship is on its way. It shall arrive in two and a half Monsarthian hours.”
“Okay.” I quickly disconnected. “Human crap, human crap, human crap.” I jumped towards my packed boxes. I’d compelled some of my human friends to pack my things for me before I wiped myself out of their memories, so I didn’t even know where to look.
I emptied all of the boxes on the floor, effectively ruining the pattern of dust I’d organized there to make the apartment look like it had been abandoned for years, and there it was, a book that I’d taken out of the library too long ago before the humans taught me how to read everything online.
I activated my tracker and placed it over the book so it could retrack everywhere the book had been since I’d touched it. The tracker led me back to the box, then across the room, then to the back of the cupboard which I hadn’t known the usage for at the time, then in circles around the room and I remembered how captivated I’d been by the events of the book when I read it, thinking that I was catching up on human history and their amazing powers before I knew what fiction was. The tracker eventually led me through the door and down the stairs and across the street, I picked up my pace and ran the several blocks it guided me past, but my traces on the book completely faded when I reached absolute nothingness.
There wasn’t a building or any evidence of ruin, just an alley that I never remembered going through and the tracker denied any traces of myself in.
“Excuse me,” I stopped a human walking down the sidewalk, “was there a library here?”
“Not for a while,” he frowned back at me, “that place closed three years ago and was completely removed.”
“What…” I swallowed difficultly, “what happened to all the books?”
“I don’t know.” He shrugged. “Probably got sold or something.” He uninterestedly resumed walking ahead while I remained frozen in place.
“What am I supposed to do now?” I looked up at the sky and could feel my ship approaching. I had to give the book back, but there was nowhere to give it back to. I had to look for someone to give it back to.
“Good evening, what can I get you?” I cheerful barista smiled at me as I ran towards her.
“The library…” I struggled to get my words out in one of the human languages – it never made sense to me why the same species needed so many languages. I knew every word of that one, but it was still difficult to think in it when I was anxious. “There was a library next to your café.”
“Oh, yes, I loved that place.”
“Yeah, um, do you know the owner?”
“Not by name,” she continued to smile that sweet smile one of my human friends told me was fake but moved things along faster and I ended up doing a research on it for months. “I’ve spoken to him a few times. I haven’t seen him in a while, but he used to live just across the street.”
“Uh… is everything okay?” her smile began to waver.
“Yes, yes, I just need to give him a… gift. I need to give him a gift.” Most humans liked gifts and the idea of them even if they weren’t intended for them.
“Oh, that’s so sweet.” Her smile was genuine that time, I’d done an even longer research on genuine smiles and I tried to mimic it. “If I remember correctly, I used to see him go into the building with the red gate.”
“Do you know which floor?”
“I’m sorry.” She shook her head. “But you can ask the building’s superintendent.”
But the superintendent wasn’t there. So, I ran up the stairs, knocking on each door and asking if the owner of what used to be a library down the street was there or if anyone knew anything about him, but no one seemed to. I went up floor by floor, knocking on each one of the three apartments on each one and up twenty floors till I got to the last one, out of the oxygen that my human form needed but I never really liked because there never seemed to be enough of it when it was needed the most.
I knocked on the final door, my human body sweating the hydrating water it needed and panting out the air it kept demanding I gasped back in. The door opened, and I mumbled out my question about an old man who used to own a library.
“Yeah, I know him, who’s asking?” the man who opened the door folded his arms across his chest. Human curiosity about things that in no way benefitted them still baffled me and my research regarding it was still inconclusive.
“I’m an old friend.” Humans trusted friends. “I haven’t seen him in a while, so I just wanted to check on him.”
“Oh, buddy, I’m sorry, he passed away three years ago.”
“Passed away?” my human eyes nearly fell out of their holes.
“Yeah, was walking up the stairs and just dropped dead.” I could definitely sympathize with his final struggle.
“Well, do you know where he put his books last?”
“No,” he frowned at me, clearly finding my inquiry strange.
“Do you know who might know?” I was running out of time.
“Uh, I rented this place off his daughter, I can give you her number.”
“What am I to do with her number? Just tell me where she lives.”
“I’m not giving a woman’s address to a creepy man.” He made to close the door, but I got in his way and held my compelling stone in front of his face, forcing him to give me her address and then wiping the incident from his memory.
I hurried back to the apartment I’d been inhabiting and got on my invisible, flying scooter, typing in her address on the other side of the country.
“Agent One-Two-Three,” the communicator’s voice sounded through the speakers in my scooter as I took off. “The space ship is approaching, why are you changing your coordinates?”
“I… There’s just a pretty view that I would like to see one last time before going back home.”
“If you’ve seen it before, why can’t you just resee it from your memory appendage?”
“It’s not the same, it’s a human body experience, you can read about it my research.”
“You have to be back on time, the ship pilot has another planet to stop by before coming back home.”
I increased my speed and parked my scooter on the top of the librarian’s daughter’s building, becoming visible as I exited it and ran down the stairs, catching her just as she was leaving her apartment.
“Wait!” I screamed and she almost ran back inside. “No, no, I’m a friend of your father’s!”
“My father?” she asked, shielding half of her body behind her door.
“Yes, your father had a library, right?”
“Well, here!” I extended the book to her. “This belonged to his library, and now belongs to you.”
“My dad didn’t own the books,” she frowned, “he couldn’t afford them.” My fake human face fell off and she screamed as she saw my real one, so I quickly had to compel her to freeze while I pulled the human face back on and erased the last part out of her memory.
“Who owned the books?”
“A business man.” She shrugged and gave me his name as soon as I asked, wanting the conversation to be over and me to be gone.
She didn’t know where he lived, so I had to look him up in the human database whilst ignoring the communicator as she kept demanding why I was accessing the files an hour before I was meant to put the whole planet behind me.
I found his company and sped towards it, bursting through the window with my scooter and leaving the humans in panic. I only made myself visible before his office, surprising his secretary who thought I’d just run in.
“You can’t go in there.”
“I’ll just be a second.” I made to go past her.
“There’s no one in there.”
“What?” my human face almost fell again. “Where’s your boss?”
“He’s not around, would you like to leave him a message?”
“No, I need to see him, where can I find him?”
“I’m afraid he’s going to be out of office for a while.”
“Why?” I repeated with my compelling stone in her face.
“He’s in jail.” She confessed.
There was no way I was going to make it on time, so I had to communicate with the communicator and tell her the truth. The pilot was instructed to proceed to the other planet and come back for me afterwards, which he did not take well as it was a great inconvenience to leave the track to Monsarth once he was in it – which he was – and then make a turn back for it later, it was going to take days and my file got marked.
I tiredly made my way to the jail, wanting to get rid of that book once and forever. I used my compelling stone to be allowed in and to have the man brought to me, after which the compelling stone lost its glow, and only then I realized that I’d used all the times I could for the day.
My human heart started to beat faster with panic at how careful I had to be on my way out and my way back to the apartment that was supposed to be abandoned. It was such an inconvenient heart, sensing panic and adding to it by making me too aware of it.
I was sitting alone in a bright room waiting for the guards to bring the man to me when I heard the clicking of heels behind me.
“Agent One-Two-Three.” I turned around and saw the body of a beautiful human woman, but an antenna that only we could see on each other made me recognize her.
“Agent One-Two-Three.” I glared at her. We were from the same planet but different sections, countries - the human would call them, countries at intellectual war even. It coincided that our agency numbers were the same, but I doubted it was a coincidence that she always showed up at every planet I was. “What are you doing here?”
“I heard you canceled your departure tonight, so I figured I’ve taken it far enough, there’s no use for me to drag your torture any longer.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Your library is still where it’s always been, you can go return your overdue book there.”
“No, it’s not, I saw it with my own eyes.”
“Your human eyes.” The pretty face smirked in a way I still hadn’t managed to master. “You always do this, at every planet, you immerse yourself in your experiments that you forget others are also experimenting around you. I made it invisible for human eyes.”
“No, I talked to people-”
“All humans that I’d already compelled to answer you the way I wanted them to.”
“The random guy on the street? The café barista? All the neighbors in the building? The daughter?” I scoffed. “There’s no way you’ve compelled them all.”
“I have a bigger budget than yours, so I have more compelling stones.” She simply shrugged.
“Wh-why would you do that?”
“Because I need to get back home and publish my research on Monsarth before you do yours. In case we have similar results, I don’t want my work here over the past few years to be devalued or competed with so quickly.”
“But I’ve been here for years, too!” I yelled at her, my human body completely falling off leaving me naked before her but I was too angry to panic. Besides, she’d seen me naked before.
“Oh, well, you should’ve returned that book on time.” She smiled.
“Why can’t we just both publish our results simultaneously?” I pulled my human body back on. “We’re going to different planets and exploring different cultures, why can’t we do that together for better, more assured results? If we’re both working together at the same time on the same thing, we would save a lot of time and achieve better things.”
“We’ve been through fifteen inhabited planets and we’re yet to find a single unified one that works as a whole for the betterment of the whole, we’re not going to be the first, not until we see it somewhere else first and study it, maybe next planet?” she winked.
“We don’t know yet if there’s a next!” I objected but she kept smiling.
“Well, if there is, it’ll probably chance that we’ll be sent there together at the same time again, huh?” she began to take off her human clothes to leave them behind.
“Come on, don’t leave me here,” I pleaded, “just take me with you and we’ll publish together.”
“You’ve published first the past two planets.”
“The past two planets were empty.” I glared at her, glaring was something that I’d mastered.
“Oh, well, you did have the chance to publish with me once, but you stole my work and published it all in your name alone, so don’t play the victim. This is only fair.”
“I believe you.” She replied sarcastically. “I’d take you with me and try to defend you to others on the ship that you’re not an enemy, but you still haven’t returned that book.” She laughed as she stood naked and pressed her human forehead, instantly getting zapped out of the room and into her ship that was probably heading straight back to our planet.
I sat with the man who’d gotten himself imprisoned and who had no idea what I was talking about, not having been compelled by her and validating her honesty. I was asked about the female clothing on the floor, but I pretended to just notice it when they mentioned it. It was awkward and embarrassing and I couldn’t compel him to forget my existence, so I just walked away in shame.
I went back to the library and found it there, her departure having removed her trickery over everything, but it was dark by then and there was no one there. So, I stood alone in front of the library all night until the old, living man came to open it in the morning.
The old man had a good laugh when I told him that I’d forgotten that I’d borrowed that book for years and wanted to return it.
“You’ve had it for so long, you might as well keep it.” He laughed, finding the whole situation so silly, but I hated that book at that point.
“This is the book,” I stated, “back at the library.” I forced it into his hands. “It has been returned.”