The secret agent’s throat sealed off.
Her lungs immediately longed for release, waiting for the moment when sweet, refreshing oxygen would once again whoosh through their halls like an overly festive welcoming committee. Irides flicked down and focused on the target; her gaze locked firmly in place. All systems were online and holding. One second burned, then another. She focused all her hope and intentions, concentrated every drop of her technical abilities into her fingers and jabbed the button.
Nothing happened. The recessed key she pushed did not spring back to glory as its Maker intended. The gently-blinking cursor on the monitor in front of her failed to birth a new letter. Her plan had crashed.
“Ah non! Vous avez le cerveau d’un sandwich au fromage!”, Agent Marina-Noëlle Barreault seethed at the keyboard while maintaining impeccable eloquence. She shoved one hand into her all-terrain equipment pouch to retrieve her miniature poison-dart set. The other hand remained on alert, should she need to fend off any henchmen attacks from behind. “Your hubris will be your end, cyber-terrorists!”, she snapped, preparing the darts. “You did not even bother to secure this terminal properly. I will repair this broken key; your attempts to prevent me from entering the password and stopping your countdown shall fail!” With expert precision, she slid a dart in-between and underneath the letters T and Y, and dragged the tiny weapon harshly across the keys.
She glanced at her portable AI unit–less than five minutes remained on the clock.
“Plenty of time to save cette planète,” Agent Barreault growled.
Patrick Barre rearranged the pasta boxes for the fourth time: a horizontally-placed fusilli for the base, two inverted rigatonis, a horizontal ziti, and that smaller-than-average box of farmers-market penne to complete the arrangement. “I could’ve sworn we still had some of the sweet potato rice left,” he said, his voice lightly spiked with puzzlement.
“Pretty sure I used it a few days ago for lunch,” Abby called from the living room. “Or it might have fallen behind something while you were playing Pantry Jenga.”
“I know, I know. Pantry Tetris.” She stretched out on their couch, letting the tension in her body grow, then sighed with relief as her shoulder popped. “Hey, did you steal my Q-tips again? ‘Cause I distinctly remember telling you yesterday that I’m almost out, and when I was getting ready this morning, I noticed there’s only three left.”
“Damn.” Patrick emerged wearing the latest in sheepish looks. “Mary asked if she could tackle that stuck key, and to be honest, I was only half-listening, so I told her to go for it.”
“As long as her homework’s done. If that kid would apply herself to History even a quarter as much as she does to French…wait. What key?”
“On the den computer, remember?”, Patrick pointed to his feet, as if Abby had somehow forgotten the layout of their house. “The T’s been sticking. Probably a buildup of dust and hair and God knows what else. I said a good Q-tip swab should clear that out.”
“Mmmrph. So that explains why the rubbing alcohol’s missing too.” Abby reached behind her head to adjust the pillow. A sharp guffaw erupted.
“How many years have we owned that thing?”
“Oh God, who can remember? Eight? Nine?”
“Uh huh. And have you EVER cleaned under the keys?”
“Of course I have,” her husband retorted, a little too loudly. He resumed rummaging through the pantry. “I must have. I know I’ve definitely intended to do it. Several times.”
Another snicker. Patrick became infected before he cleared the spice basket.
It was unprofessional, the gloating. Here she was, one of the finest operatives on Earth, and she’d just happened to infiltrate their unguarded command center. They’d presented her with an obstacle she could easily obliterate. Yes, they’d stalled her, but only for a moment. They’d assumed she would quit. They’d underestimated her.
And Agent Marina-Noëlle Barreault refused to be underestimated.
The venom she’d slipped under the keys had done its job. A thin layer of gunk burbled up just above the surface. She activated her visor and pressed Magnify. A human hair. Some dust. Something that vaguely resembled a Dorito crumb.
“Les supervilliens sont dégueulasses,” she whispered. In three flaps of a moth’s wings, her hand was encased in a midnight-black glove. Designed especially for the most dangerous missions, its quintuple-polymer protective coating would ensure she remained completely unharmed. She gripped the miniature dust cloud between her index finger and thumb, and gently tugged it across the keyboard, as she’d done with the dart earlier . “I have you now,” she crowed.
Within seconds, the cloud had swollen exponentially. Hairy grey masses were pushing their way around numerous keys. A chill shuttered through her. “L’ennemi’s…treachery…runs deep!” She pulled. And pulled. And pulled.
And a monstrous blob–nine years of dust, dirt, grime, hair, and used skin oil–rushed to meet her.
Agent Barreault shrieked.
Though the sound was faint, she could hear the scoundrels laughing.