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Over the Top Secret - Chapter 21
AKA Oh Rats!
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Start at the beginning (Prologue - AKA Mission Report)
Read the previous chapter (Chapter 20 - AKA Out Snooping, Call Back Later)
Read the next chapter (Chapter 22 - AKA Another Damn Experiment)
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Chantal leads me down the wet tunnel toward the flickering white light. Her grip is so firm I can feel my heartbeat in her hand. I decide, instead, to focus on the fact that my shoes are now soaked in sewage.
A shadow flickers across the wall, followed by a scream of pain that sends my stomach up to my throat. Chantal doesn’t slow down. She pushes and yanks me toward the end of the tunnel. As we approach the room at the end, the floor turns to a short stairwell into a much larger domed cutout.
The room is lit with construction lamps— the kind you’d use to light the street fillers at three in the morning. There are two on opposite sides of the room, each illuminating two different people being experimented on. One is a young, dark-skinned man struggling beneath leather restraints strapped to what looks like a torn-up dentist’s chair. The other is someone I was hoping I would never see again.
He lies motionless on a grimy hospital bed soiled in blood stains and other unknown greasy substances. Where he once sported a shiner, he’s now wearing a metallic eyepatch, twitching each time the unique accessory sparks from the wires precariously connected to it. Huh. There’s some sort of appendage fused to his eyepatch—what looks like the barrel of a gun, or perhaps a laser.
Here’s hoping I don’t have to find out.
The cheaply made bed groans under Greyson’s weight as his massive muscles give a whole-bodied shudder.
My gaze is averted by the other subject’s screams. The young man’s wails are tortured and pained. It’s so unnerving, I almost don’t notice the petite scientist scurrying around him, plugging things in and adjusting dials on the sparking electrical equipment surrounding the young man.
Piles and piles of books, along with scanned images and computer screens from every era litter the desks surrounding the subject. The tiny scientist is wearing a white lab coat, turned sepia from years of stains from liquids I don’t want to know about. He has patches of thin, wiry white hair (so white it’s almost translucent) that fall past his shoulders.
When he turns to adjust something on a computer screen that looks to be from the ’70s, I notice the same silhouetted mouse symbol sewn onto his breast pocket that I saw on Greyson. The same logo that was left on The Director’s computer screen after the T.O.P.S.E.C.R.E.T. McGuffin backup was hacked.
At that moment, it all makes sense. The symbol of a rat, the laboratory in the sewers, the horrible experiments, and the self-evident name… the small scientist man is Dr. Souris. And he’s an Evil Villain.
Another agonizing scream confirms my suspicions, and I’m jolted back into the present, entirely convinced that Dr. Souris is the one who stole The Backup, and my only chance at returning to my old life.
I don’t like him.
“Do not fail me now!” he yells, his voice surprisingly low for such a small fellow. He bangs the side of the computer and watches as the screen makes twitching movements.
“Agh!” The young man makes a pained gurgling sound. I want to reach out and help him somehow, but I can’t even pull my hands from Chantal’s grasp. I feel utterly useless as I stand here watching the suffering continue before me. I try to let the young man know he’s not alone, that I’m here with him and I know this is terrible, but I don’t think he can even see me for he’s in so much pain. Sadness tugs my heart into my stomach.
Dr. Souris whirls on his subject and watches intently, revealing oversized thick-rimmed glasses that magnify his eyes like an anime character.
Chantal doesn’t seem to be affected by the horror show in front of us. She continues to push me toward the stage of flickering lights. The poor man screams once more before his eyes melt, and his ears erupt with smoke.
The computer screen blinks with a red error code and a soft chiming that doesn’t match the situation at all.
“Merde!” Dr. Souris curses and throws his gloved hands in the air.
The man lies limp in his chair as his liquid eyeballs run down his face. What kind of world are we living in?!
I bend over and puke, right onto Chantal’s red heels.
“Uck!” She shakes me violently, almost snapping my neck. “Doctor, I discovered this one snooping in the tunnels,” she says, with an extra push to finish her sentence.
“Eh,” Dr. Souris waves her off and trudges over to the computer with the error. “Why did you bring her to me? There is no time for another. Get rid of her.”
He exits the program and pulls up a different screen. This one looks like a very long list of names and numbers, but the numbers are continually changing, like a password detection program.
Dr. Souris pulls out a small glass box covered in smudges and dirt and grime, and within the box sits a tiny black USB. The short thumb drive is plugged into a circular power source that’s connected to the ancient computer.
Though it isn’t surrounded in golden light and sitting on a pedestal like in my vision, I know this is precisely what I’m here for. Perhaps the golden light was The McGuffin’s way of telling me this is important, Julie. Either way, it’s here, and I must steal it back.
“I thought you would like the pleasure of dropping this one over the railing,” she says, attempting to make her raspy voice sound smooth like butter.
Dr. Souris stops his motions. His eyes flicker over his shoulder to Chantal, contemplating her offer.
“I know how you love to watch them scream,” she says. The thought of falling off that poop-covered bridge and into the pounding sewer brings a strangled whimper to my throat.
This time the doctor turns all the way around, sporting a grin that seems to stretch the entire width of his over-sized head. His body is totally disproportionate, which irks me to my core.
“I do love hearing them scream…” He looks at me for the first time, sizing me up with eager eyes, before his shoulders hunch forward, totally deflated. “But I cannot take any more time away from this work.” He shakes his head quickly as if trying to shoo the thought from his mind.
“You can throw her off yourself! The deadline is tomorrow, and we’ve lost all power except emergency remains!” He gestures toward the two lights, which flicker as if to prove his point. “And this idiot was utterly useless.” He kicks the dentist chair, and the young man’s body slouches forward, head drooping in an unnatural angle. Acid heaves up my throat. “Get back to work, and don’t disturb me again.” He returns to his computer screen.
“Doctor,” Chantal says, standing upright and stiffening her posture. Though her voice softens, her grip on me doesn’t. Dr. Souris whirls on her with an expression that would make anyone cower in fear, despite his small stature. But Chantal just speaks softly to him with the tender care of a loved one.
“You need to refill your inspiration tank,” she says with a knowing smirk. I wonder how many times they’ve had this discussion or how long she’s been in his “care.” It creeps me out to think she was just an old lady tourist before, and now she’s been brainwashed into being this creep’s assistant. I wonder if she used to have a husband or children. Do they wonder what happened to her? Will my parents wonder what happened to me?
Dr. Souris relaxes his shoulders. “You’re right,” he huffs.
A beeping noise echoes through the air. Dr. Souris raises his tiny wrist and checks a large touch-screen watch. (Does everyone have watch alarms nowadays?)
“Mon deur!” he exclaims, then whirls back around and claps his gloved hands together triumphantly. “It is done!”
He eyes the computer screen. “The T.O.P.S.E.C.R.E.T. files have finished their decryption!”
I stifle an excited scream—his mention of T.O.P.S.E.C.R.E.T. proves the little thumb drive is The Backup. Now all I need is to steal it back.
“This is fabulous!” Chantal barks. I have to agree with her. It’s just sitting right there on the counter. If I can find a way to snatch it…
“Prepare for last-minute funding!” Dr. Souris types furiously, and the computer screen changes from a list of passcodes and names with a white backdrop to a list of acronyms and titles with a black backdrop.
What does he mean “last-minute funding”?
Chantal shoves me forward so she can get a better look at the screen. The names of the columns on the digital sheet read, “Bidders,” “Winners,” “Assets,” “Passwords,”—Oh my god! He’s selling T.O.P.S.E.C.R.E.T. information on the black market!
This is so not good. Not only would it totally suck if the government’s secrets were out in the open (let alone in the hands of the world’s worst bad guys), but without that info, The Backup is useless. And with a useless Backup, I don’t have a bargaining chip to get T.O.P.S.E.C.R.E.T. to remove The McGuffin from my brain.
An anchor drops in my stomach.
“Should we celebrate, Doctor?” Chantal asks. She leans closer to Dr. Souris with me between them, and I get a whiff of their nasty breath. Have they never heard of Listerine?
“Cell number twelve is unoccupied,” Chantal continues. “We could go there for a few minutes…”
“Focus! I must tend to the bidding now.” He waves her off once again. “You get rid of the prisoner.”
Chantal cocks her bumpy hip to the side and gives me a glare. And that’s when I notice what’s wrapped around her waist. A shiny, reflective little bag.
My fanny pack.
I gasp, my eyes flick up to Chantal’s, and she purses her lips in an amused sort of grin. She knows very well that that’s my fanny pack. She probably enjoys holding my pockets hostage.
The thought makes me sick.
“Kids ruin everything,” she mutters, then drags me toward a hallway opposite where we entered.
I struggle extra hard against her grip now, wondering how the heck I’m going to escape from this place with The Backup and my fanny pack intact.
As we reach another gate, slightly ajar from the power surge, Dr. Souris calls out, “Wait!” We both turn to him, though, to be fair, I do it entirely involuntarily as Chantal is currently my puppet master. The small man squints and holds his hand out, pointing right at me.
“You.” He looks back at the computer screen as he continues, “Who are you?” Chantal is now squinting suspiciously, too.
I shrug my shoulders and say, in the most innocent tone I can muster, “Me? What do you mean?” Damn my shaky voice. “I’m just a tourist.”
“You are speaking French, idiot,” the small man says.
“Tourists can’t practice the language of the place they’re visiting?” I suggest.
“Why would a tourist be listed in the world’s most coveted ledger of secrets?” He points to a black and white picture of me on his old computer screen. When did T.O.P.S.E.C.R.E.T. get a picture of me? And why did it have to be that picture? I stare in disgust at my college yearbook photo, the one where I’m mid-sneeze and the cap is way too big for my small head.
They wouldn’t let me re-take it. Sigh.
“What are you hiding?” he continues, his voice rising in an accusatory manner. “Why are you here?”
“I’m not hiding anything! Your girlfriend kidnapped me and locked me in a cell!” I wriggle in her grasp, but Chantal yanks my arms back with her iron clasp. A loud POP sends a lightning bolt of pain down my arm— my shoulder! She must have popped it out of place, damn her!
I let out a gasp of pain. Holy snap that hurts. I glare up at the old lady (those platform heels really do add a considerable amount of height— mental note for future reference), and she shakes her head at me. She makes a dramatic frowny face like she’s disappointed in me.
Dr. Souris turns back to the computer and begins typing away, occasionally clicking, then typing some more. He leans closer to the screen, a somewhat comical sight when you consider his glasses are already two inches thick. “Mon deur,” he whispers.
“What is it, doctor?” Chantal asks.
He continues reading, then slowly turns to us, gears turning in his head. “Is this true?” he asks.
As if I know what he’s talking about!
“What?” I say through clenched teeth. My shoulder really frickin’ hurts, and the fact that my body is misaligned drives me mad.
“Do you hold the secrets of The Ledger in your mind!” he yells, his whiny voice echoing in the domed ceiling.
I consider my options. If I lie about who I am, Dr. Souris might torture me. Plus, he apparently has my file on his computer, so who knows what other stuff it might prompt him to search. But, if I tell him the truth, he might torture me. I sigh.
“Yes,” I say.
Chantal looks between us, her wrinkly brow furrowed. “What’s going on, doctor? Who is she?”
He scurries over to us much faster than I would have thought his tiny feet could take him. Then he stares up at me in awe.
“It has been done,” he snickers to himself. The sound reminds me of a rat nibbling on cheese. “This changes everything,” he says with eyes made even wider by his ridiculously magnified glasses. He takes a hand out of his glove and touches my face gingerly, his tiny fingers as soft as whiskers on my cheeks. It prompts another mental image of rats, and I’m officially creeped out. I jerk my head away.
“She is exactly what I’ve been looking for!” Dr. Souris claps his hands together once more in a triumphant manner. It’s eerily similar to what Simon does when he’s excited by a new way of “testing” me.
Chantal gives me a jealous glance, and I can feel her body go rigid as her grip on me tightens.
“What do you want with me?” I ask, but the tiny man ignores my question and continues to appraise me from top to bottom. His beady eyes twinkle, and his hopeful face turns into a terrifying look of determination. The kind of look that an Evil Villain might get when he has a terribly inspired idea.
Then he says something that makes me wish I was back in that cramped bathroom stall.
“Put her in the chair.”