“It’s, er, rather dark in here, isn’t it?”
Not exactly the most suave way to introduce myself, but in my defense, it was rather dark in there. You’d think the inventor of our laser watches and shoe phones could tinker up a damn incandescent. My query was met with a loud sigh from somewhere in the remarkably poorly lit room. “Agent PERSEUS, I presume?” said a female voice, who I presumed to be the owner of the sigh. The room was too dark to make out what she looked like, but if her face was half as stern as her voice, then, well, it would still be a rather stern face. “Oh, uh, yeah,” I said, still not getting the whole “suave secret agent” thing down at all. “Blink twice to activate your contacts,” she said. “Huh?” was apparently the best response I could come up with. I heard an echo of the sigh from before. “Are you truly so careless as to not examine that suit you were given for secret pockets?” she asked in a condescending tone. “That’s a negative, ma’am,” I said, apparently mistaking “suave” for talking like a damn G.I. Joe. Anyway, I may have been a rookie, but I wasn’t an idiot. “I’m guessing those clear, curved discs I found were contact lenses?” I said, guessing correctly. “Yes. Put them in, and blink twice in rapid succession,” she said. “Why?” I asked, probably sounding like a contrarian man-baby. “You’ll see,” she said. “Why can’t you just tell me?” I asked, definitely sounding like a contrarian man-baby. I heard that same sigh from before. “I just did,” she said.
At the time, I didn’t understand what she was getting at, but I just now realized that she was saying “you’ll see” as in “You will be able to see once you blink twice.” Which is like, wordplay, I guess? Anyway, I decided there was no sense in arguing, so I said, “If you say so, boss,” as I was apparently determined to speak in every tone other than “suave.” So I put the contacts in, using all of my secret agent dexterity and finesse to ensure that I didn’t drop them in the darkness and live out one of those scenes in Scooby-Doo where Velma can’t find her glasses. Then, using my finely honed secret agent agility, I blinked twice with lightning speed, causing the room around me to burst to life in shades of green.
First, I was surprised that I could see, then I was surprised by what I could see. A woman greeted me with all the classic hallmarks of a fine dame: a fine figure, a fine suit, fine glasses, and a fine drink. Apparently, this surprise showed. “Surprised to see night-vision technology implemented on such a small scale?” she asked. “It’s definitely impressive. But not as impressive as…” I said, hoping that trailing off would somehow prevent me from sounding like a giant dumbass. It did not. “But not as impressive as what, Agent PERSEUS?” she asked, “I consider my strixoscope quite impressive, so whatever you’re referring to must be quite impressive.” She did that “pushing her glasses up on the bridge of her nose” thing people do when they’re annoyed. I found myself making a conscious effort to not think “She’s even hotter when she’s mad,” in case she had a gadget that read my mind. Wait! This was my chance to say something suave! “Well, it’s just that I can think of something that’s even more impressive about you,” I said, moving my eyebrows in a way that I hoped indicated that I was hitting on her. She played that same sigh on repeat, but with the volume turned up this time. “I appreciate your crude attempt at flattery, Agent PERSEUS, but I’m afraid I don’t swing that way.” “Oh,” I said, warming up my mouth to say something else stupid and embarrassing, “so you’re a…” I remembered that trailing off wouldn’t work, so I decided to commit to my awful sentence. “lesbian?”
She didn’t even sigh this time. She just wore a scowl that aroused and terrified me in equal measure. Well, maybe not quite equal. “Perhaps it is more accurate to say that I do not swing any way,” she said, “And so long as you, or anyone else for that matter, is within the confines of this room, they will not swing any way, and will have no thoughts of doing so. Am I understood, Agent PERSEUS?” “Crystal, ma’am,” I said, even though that only would have made sense if she asked if she was clear, which she didn’t. “Please, have a seat, Agent PERSEUS,” she said, motioning to a chair opposite her desk. I was worried that it’d have some kind of hidden trap that would lock my arms in place or shoot a spike up my butt, but I was even more worried about what she’d do if I didn’t sit. So I did.
“I’m afraid I haven’t properly introduced myself,” the woman said, “My codename is ATHENA. I am the quartermaster, responsible for distribution, design, and production of equipment used by our agents. My mission, regardless of whether I chose to accept it, is to give you the equipment you will be using on your next mission, and instruct you on its use. Do you have any questions?” “Yeah, actually. I do,” I said, “Earlier you chastised me for being reckless enough to wear a suit without checking its pockets first, but then you expected me to put some mysterious glass circles onto my eyeballs like that isn’t even dumber? What’s up with that?” She smiled, for the first time since I could see her. The scales were definitely tipping more towards aroused. “Forgive me for misjudging you, Agent PERSEUS,” ATHENA said, “It seems you’re not as incompetent I thought.” “Oh, uh, thanks,” I said, totally blowing it. She knocked back the remainder of her drink, and gestured the empty glass towards me. “Martini?” she offered. A Martini! Of course that’s what a classy woman like her would be drinking. On one hand, I was already making enough regrettable decisions without the assistance of my old friend alcohol. But, on the other hand, this was a prime opportunity to say a classic suave line. “Shaken, not stirred,” I said, in a tone that could easily be mistaken for suave. “Sure thing,” she said, producing a large glass from beneath her desk. She then produced a bottle of… gin? I think it was gin. She poured some of it into the glass without even measuring it first. She then added some other liquor, then what looked like some kind of juice. “I hope you like your martinis dirty,” she said. I’d never drunk a martini before – at least, nothing a woman of this caliber was likely to consider a martini – so I had no idea what that meant. But I could certainly think of something else I liked dirty. She then took out an elegant looking spoon, and began stirring the drink. She didn’t move her arm; the spoon just spun around in her fingers, like her hand was a ballerina. Or something. The point is, I could tell she’d done this a lot. She then poured her drink into a cocktail glass she had produced from beneath her desk. After garnishing with what seemed like more than a regular amount of olives, she took a long sip, and made a refreshed “aahhhh” sound, and I swear, my heart melted. It was like listening to her sigh in reverse. She poured the same ingredients in the same measure into the mixing glass, but when she put the spoon in the glass to stir it, she stopped. “Ah, that’s right,” she said, “You said shaken, not stirred.” I’m not gonna lie, I was starting to kind of regret that choice. I wanted to see her hands move like that again. “I’ve got just the thing, then,” she said, as she reached under her desk to produce
And that gun produced a bullet!
And that bullet produced a lot of pain in my chest, as it hit me there. This produced a lot of panic in my brain, as my contacts suddenly deactivated, leaving me totally blind. I clutched at my chest to staunch the bleeding, but… there wasn’t any. My suit was as dry as the martini ATHENA had just made. Assuming that dirty martinis are also dry, I guess? Two blinks revealed for sure that I wasn’t bleeding; “What the Hell was that for?” I asked, plus or minus a few words I’d rather not repeat. “Martinis are stirred, Agent PERSEUS,” she said, “They are not shaken. I will not have you debasing my personal drink.” I was starting to really regret that choice. “So you shot me just because my taste in drinks is different than yours?” “Your taste in drinks is wrong,“ she said, “Ordering a drink incorrectly doesn’t make you suave, Agent PERSEUS. This isn’t the movies.” “Says the woman who just shot me over a drink,” I countered. “Touché,” she said, with a smile that gave me half a mind to forgive her then and there. “But I didn’t shoot you over the drink. I was demonstrating the effectiveness of the Aegis: the bulletproof suit you’re wearing. Punishing you for your sacrilege was just killing two birds with one stone.” “Well, if getting shot while wearing this suit is like what I just went through, I’ll stick to not getting shot, thanks,” I said, apparently confusing “suave” for talking like a damn sit-com character. “Hold still and try not to panic this time,” she said. She gave me enough time to brace myself, but not enough to object.
BANG! Liver. BANG! Stomach BANG! Right lung. BANG! Left lung. BANG! Heart. As I was getting shot, I couldn’t help but notice how not “getting shot” I felt. Getting shot hurts like hell. Getting shot while wearing a bulletproof vest hurts like heck. This just hurt. I blinked twice to reactivate my contacts again. “The contacts automatically deactivate if they detect enough light,” she explained, before I could ask, “The muzzle flash on this gun sets them off. I’m working on fixing it.” If muzzle flash was enough to set it off, then either these contacts were very sensitive, or I’d just been shot with a very big gun. An examination of one of the bullets crumpled on the ground told me which it was. “.50 caliber? Weeoooh,” I said, trying to do that whistling thing people do when they’re impressed, but I can’t whistle so I just sounded like a mouth breather. To stop 6 .50 cal bullets with minimal pain, while also being comfortable enough that I couldn’t even tell it was bulletproof? That’s something else. Like, she was a fine dame and all, but in this case, I had to admit the suit was more impressive. “Of course it’s impressive,” she said, “I wove it myself.” “Seriously?” I asked, incredulously. She answered my question with a gesture of her martini glass that could have meant literally anything. After downing the rest of it, she started making her third martini. At least, the third that I’d seen.
“These are Krotala sound grenades,” ATHENA said, still stirring her drink as she handed me what looked like a flashbang grenade. “What, you’re not gonna embarrass me with a demonstration of these?” I asked, embarrassing myself plenty enough. “Trust me, I would if I could, Agent HERAC-” she cleared her throat. “Excuse me. Agent PERSEUS. But these emit a burst of sound at a frequency inaudible to the human ear. However, it overloads any Stymphalos drones in a 60 meter radius, rendering them useless. I trust you know what a Stymphalos drone is?” Before giving me a chance to reply, she continued. “They’re tiny microphone-equipped aircraft, about the size of a housefly. Unmanned, obviously. Nearly silent, so they’re hard to detect. They’re really good at finding secrets and blowing covers, so I’d recommend deploying a Krotala any time you’re discussing something you’d rather remain unheard.” She emptied her cocktail glass in a single gulp. I was starting to think maybe she was less “classy lady” and more “functioning alcoholic.”
“I just remembered something!” she said, in the voice of a woman who had just remembered something, “I actually do have something else to show you that isn’t boring. But you can’t tell anyone I showed you.” “Sure,” I said. “That’s not good enough,” she said, removing her glasses, “I need you to look into my eyes and promise me.” She didn’t have to tell me twice to look into her eyes. Her beauty was stunning. I mean, I was literally stunned; My brain was ordering my lips to move, but my lips were AWOL. “Whhhha?” I grunted, doing my best to say “What?” “By the way,” ATHENA said, “The Strixoscope has a new feature I forgot to mention. The Medusa Ray. Or something like that. It’s a working title. The point is that if you open your eyes as wide as you can, it emits an electromagnetic ray which isn’t visible, per se, but it temporarily disrupts motor functions when processed by the optic nerve.” I made a groaning sound that I won’t even try to transliterate, which was supposed to be “How long does it last?” “It lasts about 30 seconds, give or take. Long enough to kill or tie someone up. But you have to be looking right into someone’s pupils for it to work, and its range isn’t very long. Also, it only stores enough charge for one use, so don’t fire it willy-nilly. Sunlight recharges it, but it’s obviously still not a good idea to go staring at the Sun so it’ll charge faster.” She ate all the leftover olives in her otherwise empty cocktail glasses, then she started making another martini.
After being immobile for about two minutes, I started to panic. Somehow, she noticed this. “I suppose now’s as good a time as any to mention that you’re the Medusa Ray’s first human test subject. The effective time of 30 seconds was an estimate based on calculations I was quite confident in.” She downed her latest martini, olive and all. “Was,” she reiterated, emphasizing that she was no longer confident in these calculations.
I can’t tell you how many hours ago all that was, because I still can’t check my watch. I also can’t tell you how many martinis ago that was, because it was quite a few, and I lost track. I think I might be able to move my left pinky around a bit, but that may just be the feeling of necrosis setting in. And I just realized that if anyone reads all this, I’ll be breaking the promise I made to ATHENA. So, uh, please forget all that stuff I just said.
This story was originally published as flavor text for the seventh Twitter Battle Royale, “A Traitor’s Profession.” The Twitter Battle Royale is a recurring Twitter contest organized by @aka_fatman, @SirEviscerate, @dongfuture, and guest judges, which has inspired a lot of my favorite creations, including this, this, and even the School of Havoc itself. @aka_fatman deserves a special shout-out for the basic topic of this piece (Greek Mythology secret agents), some editing, and for generally reading and giving feedback about things that I’ve written.