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  High Adventure Online Main | Just A Dozen More by J. Lissner | The Fiery Fate of the Phoenix by S. Patrick McCully | First Evaluation by R. Viergutz | Bloodbath in Purgatory by S.L. Shrewsbury | Coldcocked by E. Lynskey | Black Helicopter by S.L. Shrewsbury  


 



 

FIRST EVALUATION By Ryan J Viergutz

Scattered scientists covered the floor of the research center, their nervous systems shut
down by the black energy-matter bullets in their spines. Ricochet Breeze stood along
the doorframe in the wake of her carnage, observing the room and awaiting her
partner's arrival. While Ricochet's associates respected her professional calm, her
notorious impatience did not share the same esteem - and Thistle Flurry continually
strained the latter.

"We have to leave, Thistle."

"I'm coming," the girl called, her voice muffled through the large column in the laboratory.

"You should be. I don't want the Control's defenses after us."

A black streak appeared alongside the column, and a girl with cropped white hair leaned
on the doorframe mere seconds later. Thistle Flurry rested from her run, slowing her
rapid breathing. Her slinksuit crackled softly, needing the time to realign its internal
wiring.

"You have the tube?"

"I have it," Thistle said, lifting a clear test tube from her throat and depositing it in a
nearby pocket. "Give me a minute to catch my breath."

Ricochet looked toward the hallway and angled her head at an unusual angle. "You
shouldn't need more than a few seconds. You're a talented agent."

"You're not the one who - "

"Careful," Ricochet said softly.

 #

"Careful about what?"

Ricochet extended her arm and waved her pistol in a wide arc. At first glance nothing at
the other end of the corridor appeared to be different. As Thistle looked closer that
estimation changed: her eyes widened as she spotted a huge tidal wave rolling slowly
toward them. She retreated into the research center, and had closed the door halfway
when Ricochet shook her head.

"We need to hide!" the girl argued. "That's coming straight toward us!"

Ricochet winked. "You think they've trapped us?"

The elite agent held her pistols parallel over her head. A black-and-white disc swirled
above their barrels as she spoke. It drifted toward the ceiling, created a hole, and
vanished. Though the unique energy-matter combination assured that there would be
no debris, Ricochet stepped to the side as she motioned to her partner to leap onto the
floor above. "They haven't come close."
 
Thistle leapt up and climbed toward the second floor, feeling the hole's edge strain the
well-made fabric of her gloves. The oncoming water tickled her boots, and though its
startling arrival threatened to tug her with it she hoisted her body to the next floor. When
she steadied she retreated a few steps and looked down, refusing to believe that the
high waves had claimed Ricochet and expecting to see and hear her partner's
triumphant splash.

A lone energy-matter rope let her expectations down but raised her spirits up. The
shining rope snaked through the circle in the floor, its black tip extending into a four-
pronged claw and piercing the thick ceiling. Seconds later the tip recalled its energy
supply, carrying a dripping figure up as the ephemeral matter faded into ethereal
energy.

The black ball fell from the ceiling and into a gloved hand. Its captor teetered on the
edge before propelling forward with her other arm. "Useful every once in a while,"
Ricochet said, replacing the ball in a seamless pocket of her slinksuit. "This floor is safe,
Thistle?" The agent's steady gaze told Thistle that it was not a question.

Thistle peered at her partner. "I think so?" she said hesitantly.

Ricochet smiled. "Good. Then let's be on with it."

#

"I think I know where the wave was."

When Thistle and Ricochet arrived in the last section of the second-floor hallway, they
noticed that the wall had been removed. A square pool, empty except for a thin stream,
occupied the area instead, its only distinctive feature a ledge high above. An expanse
beyond the ledge appeared to lead further, but it was too distant to be certain.

"You want to go first?" Ricochet asked, tilting her head oddly again. "The wave'll be
coming back any minute."

"Not rea - " Thistle revised her answer, her partner's stare correcting her. "Sure."

"That's what I like to hear. An agent who knows what she's doing."

Thistle landed nimbly onto the pool's floor, her boots landing in the stream with a soft
but distinct splash. The distant wave rumbling quietly in the distance prompted her to
speed her steps, and she tripped and fell forward when she tried.

"You alright?" asked Ricochet, arriving alongside her.

"I'm fine," Thistle shrugged. "It happens."

"Glad you are, but it shouldn't."

"Lighten up, Ric - "

Ricochet already stood at the other side of the pool, tossing the energy-matter rope
toward the ledge. Thistle sighed and began to walk over, stopping a second later to flick
a concerned glance over her shoulder. The wave's blue fury rushed into her eyes, and
in a strange instant she spotted little creatures inside it.

"Do you - "

"I hear it, Thistle. You'd better hurry."

"I think it's a little la - "

The wave re-entered the pool as Thistle ran to her partner's rope. In a matter of
seconds the water level reached her ankles, and when she at last clutched the rope the
wave submerged her waist and tore her grip away. As the water loomed over her head
she flipped a breathing mask up onto her face; immediately, tiny claws tried to pierce it.
Thistle winced for an instant as she plucked two sharp silver hairs from her scalp. When
she deflected the claws in a swipe the pain had already settled.

During the parry Thistle observed what she would later know as a headclaw. All she
knew now was that she faced a dangerous creature in its element: two bright red claws
connecting to and shadowing an equally red shell. One of the hundred - there were still
more, in the distance - thrust its claws apart, revealing the outline of a beak. They
meant to poison, to stun - to drown.

Thistle decided to play along, and curled inside the claws' embrace. They dragged her
deeper in, toward the cruel fangs. In response she straighted her arms and held her
silver needles ahead. The headclaw split with a surprisingly soundless ease; when it
sunk to the floor, she grinned grimly at her arrival in murky, blood-drenched water.

In the seconds before the swarm arrived she reviewed her options. Going up the wall
hadn't worked earlier and wouldn't now; the hallway was too high; swimming in crowded
water would be impossible. She recalled that she'd tripped on the floor and dropped to
her knees. Though the headclaws soon blocked out all light they complied with the
same tactic as the first. Thistle tested the floor after each embrace, and clung to a
desperate hope.

#

Ricochet hissed through her teeth. She had reached the top of the rope and stepped
onto the cliff and chased an apparently false lead. From the pool there had been an
outcropping that appeared to lead on. It didn't, ending abruptly at a wall she hadn't
observed. She considered several choices, stalking the edge of the cliff and helplessly
watching her partner disappear below the unstoppable lake.

The water rose. When it reached halfway to the top a worried voice spoke inside the
wall. "There's someone out there!"

Ricochet smiled; she had an entry. "I have neutralised the saboteur," she announced,
pitching her voice to carry beyond the wall. "She destroyed the research center - I
dropped her in the water and ran over here."

"The water's almost to the sensors," the voice said. "I'll let you in."

The wall split through a crack in its center, groaning in the effort. Ricochet slid quickly
inside, avoiding the chance that the operator might close the door again. One wall held
her entrance, a dark hole breached the opposite wall, and blinking consoles encircled
the others. The control room was no wider overall than the ledge outside and only
double it in length. The man who had invited her sat alone and busily clicked buttons on
a console.

The spy thrust her hands behind her back, drawing her pistols and hiding them. "What
happens," she asked, "when the water reaches the sensors?"

"An electrical current courses through the water. The headclaws, of course, have been
altered to ignore it. I have a different question for you," the man said, spinning his chair
and crossing his arms. "The sensors tell me the wave was released. Why did it reverse
its direction so late?"

"You don't need to know."

"The security system must not be working. Excuse me. I should call - "

The man reached for a dangling phone, his call interrupted when he met the butt of
Ricochet's second pistol. She immediately leaned over the monitor and tried to stop the
rising water with a key she'd seen the man use. It didn't respond - she didn't know why
and didn't have the minutes to learn.

She scrolled wildly across the blood and water-hazed screen until she noticed Thistle.
The girl stood beyond a closed and elevated hatch; a key clicked its cover up.
Ricochet's finger hovered over the button, clicking it only after Thistle catapulted into the
hole. Seconds later the current darted toward the hatch and an alarm rang throughout
the control room. A secondary monitor showed that neither the water nor the current
had escaped.

Ricochet drew a deep breath; for her, the mission still ran. After confirming the hatch's
exit to be a large outdoor lake she considered her own choices. The computer
suggested a trapdoor and a rope; she didn't trust the trapdoor, and the rope didn't work.
She chose the last available route; she switched off the spikes at the entrance to the
dark hole and leapt into the tunnel.

#

Jason Israel, the Commander of the Lambda Garrison, appeared distracted by the
headset almost always strung along his face, and his straggly black hair resembled the
crazier researchers working for him. His imposing stance and attentive gaze contrasted
sharply with and outshone his other features, frightening many of his agents.

Thistle Flurry reached only to his shoulders, looking up to Israel both literally and
figuratively. She offered the tube to him. "The mission is a success," she said,
wondering where Ricochet went. "The Shifting Mist recovered the pheromones as
instructed."

Israel took the tube with a nod. "The Madagascar operation is advancing according to
schedule," he said softly, speaking both to his agent and his headset. Thistle turned to
leave for a transparent lift but Israel quickly stopped her with two words. "Wait, Flurry."

"Yes, Commander?" she asked, facing a fatherly smile.

"Your activity on the scene pleased me today, and I wish to see more of the same.
Thank you also, Breeze," he said over Thistle's shoulder, "for allowing and assisting in
Flurry's evaluation."

"I couldn't really argue," came the reply.

"Nevertheless."

"Proud to help, Commander."

Thistle's leather slinksuit creaked gently as she bent in a half-bow half-curtsey to her
leader and sprung toward the lift. She stood still until it shot away from Israel's view,
then whirled toward her partner. "You - the mission - evaluation?" she asked.

"Don't say more," Ricochet said quietly. "They hear us everywhere."

"I didn't even realise you were here!"

"You escaped quicker than me."

"I wonder why," the new spy murmured. "You took a huge risk, helping me - "

"Just be careful, Thistle."

Copyright 2004 Ryan J. Viergutz

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