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Literature / Agent of Vega

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The Zone Agents of Vega are a group of idiosyncratic secret agents who guard the worlds of the Vegan Confederacy under a variety of guises. One, for instance, appears to be travelling saleswoman, living out of a little caravan drawn by a funny-looking draught animal — but the caravan is also a fully-functional spacecraft, and the "draught animal" is one of her fellow Agents.

They appear in four stories by James H. Schmitz, which appeared in various magazines (Astounding Science Fiction and Galaxy Science Fiction) in the late 1940s and early 1950s before being collected in book form in 1960 under the title Agent of Vega.

The four stories, in original publication order, are:

  • "Agent of Vega"
  • "The Truth about Cushgar"
  • "The Second Night of Summer"
  • "The Illusionists"

This series contains examples of:

  • Adaptation Name Change: Between the magazine and book versions of "The Illusionists", Colonel Deibos becomes Colonel Dubois.
  • Ambiguously Brown: The inhabitants of Noorhut are described as mostly "brown-skinned and dark-eyed".
  • The Apprentice: Grandma Wannattel sees Grimp as a possible successor, and is gently guiding him in that direction — not that he realises this.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Bjanta ships self-destruct (and the crew blow themselves up) when defeated, rather than risk being captured.
  • Brats with Slingshots: Grimp, the Kid Hero of "The Second Night of Summer" is very good with a slingshot.
  • Broken Bird: Zamm combines this with Dark Action Girl for terrifying effect.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Death by space-fear psychosis - the victim's body is torn apart by its own muscle spasms, with sufficient force to break bones.
  • Cultural Posturing: System Chief Jasse semi-consciously engages in this as a result of her Traditionalist upbringing. A short sharp dose of reality (and a small amount of mind control) cures her of it.
  • The Eeyore: Agent-Trainee Hallerock always expects the worst.
  • Exact Words: When Agent Zamm attacks Cushgar, her robot is given orders to wake her the instant they make hostile contact. No orders cover the contingency that point her robot be cocooned in the middle of a friendly fleet...
  • False Flag Operation: The inhabitants of the Heebelant Systems are unaware that their tyrannical ruler is actually a Zone Agent whose plan is to have La RĂ©sistance overthrow his despotic government.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The relationship between Earth and the Confederacy is vaguely reminiscent of that between the UK and the USA.
  • Green-Skinned Space Babe: Subtly done with Pagadan, who while unmistakably not human, still resembles an attractive woman "in permanent fancy dress."
  • Healing Vat: In "Agent of Vega", Iliff delivers his final mission report from one, after his near-fatal confrontation with the Big Bad of his story.
  • Hyperspeed Escape: At one point Iliff eludes his opponents by switching on his space drive while his ship is still on the ground, rather than launching conventionally.
  • In Medias Res: "The Illusionists" opens with a space battle between a Vegan fleet and Bjanta raiders, then flashes back to Pagadan learning the truth about the situation on Ulphi and discussing it with headquarters.
  • I Will Find You: Agent Zamm in "The Truth about Cushgar" is searching for her kidnapped husband and son.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: The Lannai (and some other telepathic races) have a fugue-like phenomenon called "akaba" which is triggered by overwhelming psychic attack — their conscious mind shuts down, they make their escape, and (if they weren't caught) recover consciousness with no memory of anything since the attack.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Pagadan's ship is called the Viper, and lives up to its name.
  • Never Mess with Granny: Grandma Wannattel is a sweet old lady who sells medicines to the rural folk of her native world... and also a Zone Agent who successfully annihilates an invasion force of ruthless, vampiric aliens.
  • Orwellian Retcon: In the magazine version of "The Second Night of Summer", Grandma Wannattel deliberately lures Grimp to the site of the Halpa invasion, to use his sharper sense of time to pinpoint the perfect moment for her counterattack. In the book version this element is removed, and Grimp shows up on his own initiative.
  • Our Giants Are Bigger: Several Human Subspecies exist that grow about eight to nine feet tall.
  • Pretty Princess Powerhouse: Pagadan is royalty on her own world (describing herself in one story as "High Queen of Lar-Sancaya") and a ruthless, effective Zone Agent.
  • Proud Scholar Race: The Daya-Bals are a a human-descended race of metaphysicists and artists.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: Agent Pagadan is a female example. She is a humanoid (not human) alien from Lar-Sancaya, and she is, after Zamm, perhaps one of the best killers the Co-ordinator has.
  • Psychic Powers: Such powers, technologically (or otherwise) boosted, are almost universal, though degree of strength varies.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Agent Zamm is on a permanent one against most of the entire universe.
  • Sleep Deprivation: System Chief Jasse is a workaholic who can go without sleep for weeks (using drugs to stay awake) when starting a new case.
  • Space Madness: In "The Illusionists", Moyuscane's fear of space has permeated the entire world he controls to the point where hardly anyone can go into space... and is eventually turned against him.
  • Spikes of Villainy: The Cushgarians have spikes on their neck and back vertebrae.
  • Square Race, Round Class: Most people in the Vegan Confederacy wouldn't think one of the gentle, ethereal Daya-Bals could ever be a ruthless Zone Agent — unless they happen to meet Zamm.
  • Space Pirates: The setting has plenty: alien raiders like the Bjanta, human privateers like the Lartessians and Cushgarites, and independent groups.
  • The Spymaster: The Third Co-ordinator of the Vegan Confederacy.
  • Talking Animal: The "animal" that pulls Grandma Wannattel's caravan is her friend and an intelligent collaborator in her plans, a fact which they both take care to conceal from the locals.
  • Terror Hero: Agent Zamm to most of the people she comes in contact with...including the people she rescues.
  • Trojan Prisoner: In "The Truth about Cushgar", Pagadan allows her ship to be captured by the enemy's Mighty Glacier of a flagship, then once she's inside its shields opens fire at point-blank range.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: In "The Illusionists", the Co-ordinator asks the psych-tester (a computer that psychologically profiles the agents) what it thinks Pagadan is planning. The psych-tester replies that she has been able to block its probes, and so it can't give a meaningful answer. We therefore don't learn Pagadan's plan before she puts it into action.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: The Co-ordinator's plan in "The Truth about Cushgar" was for a simple diversionary attack by the Agency's ships to distract the enemy from the real mission of rescuing Zamm's family. But when Cushgar unexpectedly surrendered, he couldn't resist the opportunity to take advantage of it.