Posted by: lordkyler | April 11, 2016

Pox – Short Story Week 2016

Ventilation shafts, thought Agent Skylar Shaw as he unscrewed the access cover with his toolkit watch. What would we ever do without them?

As an operative of the I.S.D, Agent Shaw had spent his fair share of time crawling along the aluminum corridors. Super villains had a penchant for building their bases in jungles or caves or the bottom of the ocean, and as a result, heavy-duty air ducts were a priority in most lairs. It was getting to the point where HR was considering making it mandatory for all agents to wear dust masks while traversing them.

Not that Agent Shaw would ever be caught dead wearing a dust mask with his signature tux. He was a loose cannon that refused to play by the rules. Or so his HR file indicated. Repeatedly.

Slipping inside the dark, shiny spaces of the ducts, he crawled quickly toward his destination. His former secondary arch-nemesis, Doctor Sinestre, was back at it again, and he needed to be stopped. Agent Shaw moved carefully and quietly, using his scanner watch to make sure there were no electronic traps ahead.

His knees complained as he worked through the endless maze of vents. He was getting older. Back in the day, he could have sniped a man at a thousand yards while hanging by his fingernails from a helicopter. These days, he’d have to use the scope. It had been a tough twenty years. 

Soon, his GPS watch beeped that he was approaching the Doctor’s secret laboratory at the heart of the undersea complex. Only a few yards further…

Without warning, the panel beneath him collapsed, spinning into empty space. With cat-like reflexes, Agent Shaw used his watch – the one that contained a magnetic grapple – to latch on to the ducts. A carbon-fiber nanothread snapped taut, catching him only feet before he fell into a giant tank filled with dark water. Vague shapes were swimming within. A triangle of cybernetic fin sliced through the water, circling the panel that had fallen.

Agent Shaw frowned. Thinking quickly, he began to rock back and forth on the line, building momentum. If he could just get going high enough, he’d be able to swing out and escape. One swing. Two. Three…

A gleaming red eye broke the surface of the water, scanning him with a laser sweep, and Agent Shaw could have sworn the giant fish gave a titanium-enhanced smile. He threw himself into the swinging, getting closer with each pump. Seven. Eight. Nearly there.

A laser flashed through the darkness, cutting the cable as easily as scissors snipping string. Agent Shaw crashed into the cold water, surrounded by thrashing fiberglas tails and glowing artificial eyes. Metallic teeth clamped down on his arms and legs, but were unable to pierce the Kevlar lining. It still hurt.

Alarm led Agent Shaw to activate a feature on his suit that he had sworn he would never use. A twitch of his toes activated micro-canisters of hyper-compressed air inside his suit, filling specially made sacs in his shirt and pants. He puffed up in a heartbeat, exploding like a human airbag.

As stupid as it looked – and it did look stupid – the trick worked. The sudden expansion hit the sharks like a punch in the mouth, and they backed off, gnashing their titanium teeth. Agent Shaw shot to the surface, bobbing there like an apple. But the teeth were returning for him, and he was too puffed and pudgy to flee.

The sharks bit down again, puncturing the air sacs, but were still unable to pierce his suit’s protective layers. Agent Shaw struggled to activate his stun watch, or his laser watch, or his EMP watch – heck, even his auto-strangling shoelaces – but the sharks held him fast, tearing at him like dogs fighting over a toy.

There was only one option: the stun grenade disguised as one of his molars. Agent Shaw began to work it loose with his tongue, but at that same moment, the sharks grew tired of trying to tear him apart. Instead, they activated the flamethrowers mounted on their heads, intending to roast him instead.

Agent Shaw worked his tongue frantically, finally managing to pop the tooth just as the pilot lights flicked on the flamethrowers. Just as he was about to bite down on the tooth to start the countdown, the lights came on.

A voice with a heavy German accent called out. “Facekiller! Murdertooth! Deathtaxes! Let go! Back! Back, I say!”

The sharks pulled away reluctantly, still circling. Skylar kept the tooth-greande ready, for the man that had called off the sharks was none other than Doctor Sinestre himself. The Doctor made a curious expression and adjusted his goggles. “Agent Shaw? Vhat are you doing here? I didn’t expect to see you until Operation Olympus next month.”

Agent Shaw discreetly filed away this tidbit on his watch that was also a recording device. “I’m here to stop you from releasing the Hydravirus, you crackpot! You’ll never get away with this!”

“You vant to stop…” Suddenly recognition dawned on the Doctor’s face. “Oh! You do not know! I suppose it is my fault for not alerting you, yes? Here, come, I vill explain.”

Skylar squinted suspiciously, still treading water. “How do I know this isn’t a trap?”

“Don’t be a fool, Shaw,” the Doctor said patiently. “If I vanted you dead you would be dead already.”

Hesitantly, Shaw began to dog paddle toward the edge of the pool, though he prepared his shield watch just in case. You couldn’t trust someone like Sinestre. The Doctor handed him a towel as he climbed the ladder onto dry land.

“This vay,” he said briskly. “I vill show you.”

“Why should I go anywhere with you?” Skylar challenged, slicking a comb through his hair.

The Doctor sighed. “Please, Agent, I mean you no harm. Honestly.”

“You trained a pack of wolves to hunt me down in Romania! And I still have scars from that laser cage in Beirut!”

“So vhy didn’t I just shoot you? Vhy do I keep putting you in these traps? Vhy do any of us? And how do you keep escaping?”

“Because… you’re all evil sadists and I’m resourceful.”

The Doctor laughed, striding toward a set of security doors. “Both true, but not enough to explain why ve haven’t killed you after all the schemes you’ve ruined.”

Skylar followed cautiously, one hand on his silenced pistol, the other ready with his derringer watch. “So why don’t you?” he asked.

The doors opened after a handscan and a security code. “Call it a running bet, or a gentleman’s agreement,” said the Doctor, shoving a respirator into Agent Shaw’s hands. “Eventually, you’ll fail, and then one of us vill triumph. I was quite close with that laser cage, but you just wait and see what Baron Crusher has in store for you, ah ha!”

The Doctor put on his own respirator and winked at the confused agent through the clear visor. “If we are honest, though, I have bet that you will die from an STD before any of us manage to kill you.” Chuckling, the Doctor led the way into his lab. Agent Shaw scratched idly at a rash before continuing.

“Anyhow, you have nothing to worry about today. I am doing you a favor, yes?”

“By releasing the world’s most infectious disease?”

“Vell… if you put it like that.” The Doctor wandered through the lab, adjusting dials and switches on some of the machines.

“You’re a psychopath.”

“No, Agent Shaw, I am ambitious. Professor Mardun is the psychopath. Hence the Hydravirus.”

On the far wall, massive cylindrical tanks were being loaded onto six missiles. The Hydravirus was being readied for mass aerial dispersal, one for each major continent. Agent Shaw itched to activate one of his numerous watch- or non-watch related gadgets and put a stop to the whole operation, but the Doctor could be expecting him to do just that. He needed to make sure of the situation before he attacked.

“Have you ever heard of the cowpox?” asked Doctor Sinestre.

Agent Shaw raised an eyebrow. “Is it that mobile game everyone’s playing?”

The Doctor tutted. sounding more like a teacher in a classroom than a city-conquering megalomaniac. “The cowpox was a disease back in olden days, yes? You could catch it from milking cows. Nasty stuff, but not deadly.”

Agent Shaw was studying the corners of the room, searching for guards or killer robots, anything that could be set to kill him if he caused trouble. “So what? This virus isn’t deadly? I should let you infect billions of people just because it won’t kill them?”

“Yes, actually.” The words were said so matter-of-factly that Agent Shaw almost didn’t realized what he’d said at first.

“Excuse me?”

“Listen, silly man-child. Cowpox was unpleasant, certainly. However! It prevented the far deadlier smallpox, like a primitive sort of vaccination. Those who caught the lesser disease were inoculated against the vorse plague.”

Agent Shaw’s head snapped toward the Doctor. “Wait. So you’re saying the Hydravirus is a…”

“A vaccination, yes!”

Silence stretched on for a moment as this sank in.

“So help me,” the Doctor warned, “if you say any nonsense about vaccines causing autism, I’ll shoot you right now and let Agent Logan foil my schemes from now on.”

Agent Shaw would let a thousand villainous plots unfold before he let that upstart take all the good assignments. “A vaccination against what?” he asked.

“Vhy, Professor Mardun’s super-plague, of course. You see, I vant to rule the world, not destroy it. So vhen I discovered his plans, I concocted this little viral antidote to counter his creation.” Doctor Sinestre held out a control box with a single large red button on it. “You may launch the missiles if you wish. You are more accustomed to this ‘saving the vorld’ business anyhow, I think.”

Agent Shaw took the box, then hesitated and pushed back his sleeves, revealing all of his various watches lining his arms. In his hands, he held the power to launch the missiles. On his arms, he had the power to stop them.

“I keep meaning to ask, vhy the vatches?” the Doctor said. “It is a bit silly, yes? Vhy not a multitool or something.”

“I like watches,” Agent Shaw said distractedly, still weighing his options. “All the best gadgets are on watches. And I’ve got each one set to a different time zone.” He made his decision. “I have to check this first.”

“Please, be my guest.”

Agent Shaw reached into his pocket for his latest gadget, a tiny bioscanner and molecular analyzer. It was disguised as a pocketwatch. The Doctor rolled his eyes as he put a few drops of his viral solution on the watch’s face. Agent Shaw closed it, and green lights flashed at the seam. Within seconds, the chemical makeup of the substance was decoded and sent to headquarters for processing.

Agent Shaw waited for the verdict and realized he needed to turn his headset back on. The nannies back at headquarters were too irritating to keep on unless he needed something.

“–I swear, Shaw, HR is throwing fits over this. I know you can’t hear me, but if you just keep the channel open, I promise–

“Hanson. I need the breakdown on my last transmission.”

“Oh. Oh! Yes! Right away, sir! Let’s see… viral compound…unpleasant but nonlethal to humans. Some strange protein markers that seem designed to interact with some other substance. Now, I swear I’ll stay totally quiet if you just promise to–”

Shaw shut off the headset again. “Okay, it’s legit. But that doesn’t mean I’m about to let this stuff loose on the world. I’ll just go stop Professor Whateverthehell before he can launch his own bioweapon.”

Doctor Sinestre drew a doubtful breath through his teeth. “Not much time for that, Shaw. Only 48 hours, yes?”

“I’ve done more with less.”

“The Professor is not one of us. He vill shoot to kill.”

That brought a moment’s pause. Skylar Shaw was the best agent in the business, no doubt about it, but when going up against a maniac with a gun…

The Doctor leaned in close. “The rockets, they make a tremendous noise. Lots of fire and smoke and such. It is better than a firework, hmm? I know you like the explosions.”

He did like the explosions. “…All right. I’ll do it.” He hovered his finger over the launch button, but the look in the Doctor’s eyes halted his finger. “Doctor?”

The Doctor looked up to meet his eyes. “Yes?”

“Clean it up first.”

“Excuse me?”

Agent Shaw just stared. The Doctor sighed.

Fine. They weren’t even proper mind control nanobots in the first place. Just made people suggestible.” He continued to grumble as he fiddled with a self-destruct circuit, but he activated it without hesitation. “There, happy now?”

Agent Shaw nodded, waited, and then pushed the button. Seven missiles launched into the air, carrying their payload of infectious inoculations. The world was saved for a little longer yet.

When the last of the rumbles had faded away and the rockets passed out of sight, the two men pulled off their face masks, awkwardly unsure of how to continue from here. Agent Shaw was the first to break the silence.

“So, uh, would you like to take on that Professor? It would give you a chance to put your murderbots and killer sharks to good use, and you wouldn’t have to hold back or anything. You know, if you wanna.”

The Doctor gave his trademark evil grin, but it was less evil than usual. “I’ll go start up the Doom-mobile.”

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