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Over the Top Secret - Chapter 26
AKA Look Before You Fall
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Start at the beginning (Prologue - AKA Mission Report)
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To be honest, I don’t even hear what Dr. Souris is saying.
It’s not that I’m not entirely intrigued by the twisted backstory fueling his evil ways— by all means, that’s not what I’m saying. It’s just that as soon as Dr. Souris starts talking, there’s an explosion below us at the edge of the Seine, and I can’t help but wonder if Eric is still alive down there.
My eyes dart to the left, where the open side door grants me a clear view of the events two hundred feet below. A silver deck boat surges through the flames, making a sharp turn into the Seine as it follows our general direction. If I squint my left eye and twitch my right eye slightly, I can just make out a black-haired man at the wheel.
Just then, a second boat flies through the wall of fire, completely engulfed in flames. At first, it looks like no one is driving that second boat, but then the small vessel makes the same sharp turn and high speeds it after the first boat.
I can just make out the silhouette of a ridiculously large torso behind the wheel, standing tall in the flames.
A red laser beam erupts from the flaming boat and hits Eric’s steering wheel, sending his boat swerving.
Yup. Definitely Greyson.
Dr. Souris shakes his pistol at me.
“Look at me when I’m monologuing!” he spits. I revert my eyes to him, trying hard to use my peripherals at the same time. The boats are following us.
Dr. Souris clears his throat. “As I was saying, by the time I turned fifteen, it was clear I would never grow a full head of hair.” The static in my earpiece steals my attention.
“CCCCRRKKK!” I pretend to itch my ear and turn up the volume.
“Julie! God damn it, answer me, woman!” Eric’s voice pierces my eardrum.
I bite my tongue, not too eager to be shot in the face today. Dr. Souris looks out the side of the helicopter as he continues his backstory. He has a particularly forlorn expression, and I think it’s safe to say he’s deep in his own self-pity. I whisper back at Eric.
“Can’t talk— monologue time,” I say. Dr. Souris throws me a warning look, but I play it off like a cough.
“Jesus, I’ve been calling for you ever since—”
A grunt cuts him off. I sneak a glance below in time to see Greyson’s hulking body lunge for Eric’s boat, just as his own water vehicle explodes behind them.
“And that was when I failed my first N.E.S.T. competition,” Dr. Souris sniffs.
“What is The N.E.S.T.?” I ask, more to buy more monologue time than anything else.
Dr. Souris’ nostrils flare, but not at me. He recalls something I can’t see. I try to focus on his explanations and not on Eric’s continuous, intense grunting in the background.
“The N.E.S.T. stands for The Nefarious Enterprise of Seasoned Transgressors.” He huffs at my bewildered expression and adds, “It’s an organization for the best Villains in the world.” He says it like they’re an all-knowing source of power, but I’ve never heard of them. Then again, I never heard of T.O.P.S.E.C.R.E.T., and they’re anything but.
“They’re always running low on henchmen,” he continues, “but sometimes they require upper-level baddies, and that’s where I come in.” He smiles proudly, but it turns into a sour expression within seconds. “At least, that’s always been my dream.”
“So, wait a minute,” I shake my head, trying to stay focused amidst a sudden plethora of questions about bad guy organizations. “What is the competition? How did you even find out about The N.E.S.T. in the first place?”
“Let me speak!” He slams his gun-toting fist on the chair next to him. The movement causes his small body to shake. While he recomposes himself, I sneak another peek down at Eric and Greyson.
They’re still duking it out, but I don’t see any more laser beams. It looks like one of them is performing karate moves on the other, but it’s hard to tell who’s winning. Judging by the continued grunting noises in my earpiece, Eric is still alive. Should I be helping him somehow? Maybe there’s a turret or some sort of firing power in this helicopter. I turn back to Dr. Souris, secretly planning to take control of this vehicle once I somehow overpower him.
“The competition is the application,” he continues.
“What do you have to do?” I ask, surprisingly intrigued by the whole logic behind this mysterious villain competition.
“Each year, the competition changes. However, the concept is always the same—pit all entrants against each other in a deathmatch.”
“So, like The Hunger Games?”
“Some years’ competitions were themed around the power of starvation, yes,” he says, my pop culture reference passing right over his head, “but that’s only half of it.”
“That sounds horrible.”
“Oh, but it’s my dream! The N.E.S.T. is a place for the brightest and most evil Evil Villains in the world. The N.E.S.T. has access to the most advanced technology— it’s a playground for villains. And to be the best version of my villain self, I need to gain access to their plethora of information and knowledge. Working alongside the best will only train you to be the best.”
I can’t believe this actually makes sense. Maybe I was right earlier. Maybe I would make a good Evil Villain. I mean, the logic’s there. Another grunt from Eric. No, focus, Julie. Not the time.
“But they still haven’t accepted me into their ranks. Not even as a S.N.A.K.E. It’s like they want me to have experience, but I can’t get experience unless I already have experience.”
“A catch 22.” I nod.
“You still haven’t explained why you’ve been kidnapping and experimenting on tourists.” I secretly hope he hasn’t already gotten to that part, because I totally wasn’t paying attention.
“Without knowing the details of the terrain or the competition requirements beforehand, even an Evil Villain like myself would have a hard time adapting to the stressful environment of gladiator-style bloodshed. Plus, I’m physically weak. That’s why I began experimenting with methods for enhancing my mind and body, to prepare me for whatever fight I might find on the battlefield.”
I furrow my brow. Dr. Souris rolls his beady black eyes at me.
“I use the tourists as test subjects, so I won’t have to test myself.”
“But then how could you know if the experiments would work on you?”
He stops to ponder this. “I suppose I wouldn’t unless I tried.” He shrugs. “But I wouldn’t consider it unless my experiment worked successfully on someone else first.”
“You mean this whole time you’ve been torturing and killing innocent people because you’re too much of a wimp to test yourself?”
He glares at me.
“They should be proud to be part of such historical experiments!” he practically shouts.
“Give me a break,” I say. “Your ‘evil lair’ is a sewer.”
“Unfortunately, I had to perform under the streets of Paris to keep costs down. My attempts to avoid—” he shoots me a nervous glance, “I mean, my experiments were so elaborate that I simply had to stay hidden. Should anyone try to, uh, steal my work.” He nods, pleased with his excuse.
“You ran out of money because you don’t know what you’re doing,” I clarify.
“The McGuffin was about to provide me the last-minute boost I needed!”
“Because you were selling it on the black market,” I add, putting the pieces together.
“Ha!” He cackles. “It’s not worth pennies,” he says, trying to catch his breath.
“What are you talking about? T.O.P.S.E.C.R.E.T. information must be worth a fortune.”
He hisses through a fit of giggles. “Information that anyone can steal at any time they want isn’t worth a dime!”
Note to self— tell Penelope to change the passcodes, or whatever it is she uses to keep the U.S. secrets secret.
“Then why did you steal it?”
“To see if anyone working for the United States government had successfully implemented something remotely related to what I’m trying to accomplish.”
“Which is what, exactly?”
“To upgrade my physical abilities without the use of such—” his gaze flickers to the syringe— “primitive inventions.”
I shiver along with him at the sight of the pointy needle glinting in the sunlight. “And what if your plan didn’t work?”
He gives me a blank stare.
“You didn’t have a backup plan?”
“I believe everything worked out tenfold better than I could have anticipated.” He gives me an evil smirk. “I have the T.O.P.S.E.C.R.E.T. research files and a living subject to prove that they work.”
Damn, he’s right.
But not if I can steal the information back from him.
“What’s your plan now?” I ask.
A red dot appears on his forehead, shaking slightly from left to right.
“Now I fly us to N.E.S.T. headquarters,” he continues, unaware of the dot, “where I will no doubt be welcomed with open arms due to my discovery, and finish removing your brain in time to prepare myself for The N.E.S.T. competition.”
The red dot finds its way onto Dr. Souris’ eye. He blinks and swats it away. For the brief moment he’s distracted, I kick the gun out of his hand. The tiny man gasps and lunges over the seat divider right at me, like a feral cat (or, I guess, a rat in this case).
I grab the syringe from its mesh cutout in the briefcase and let the metal encasing fall into the Seine below us. I’ve got the bright blue liquid held securely in my hand, far away from Dr. Souris’s limited reach. The tiny man smacks and scratches at my arm.
“Give it back, girl!”
“Julie!” Eric’s voice pierces my ear. I almost enter another fit of convulsions from the shocking volume ringing through my head.
“What?” I spit back.
“Give me the syringe, you idiot!” Dr. Souris replies. I’m not talking to you, I say in my head.
“Did you get The Backup yet?” Eric asks.
“Working on it!”
“Hurry up! Just grab it and jump before the missile hits you!” Eric’s panting tells me he’s still mid-fight with Greyson. I wonder who’s winning. Then I realize he said missile.
“Missile? What missile? And stop yelling!” (The tables have turned, I see.)
“The one I just targeted to the helicopter with my pen!” He ignores my last comment.
Dr. Souris starts to climb on top of me. I hold the syringe as far above my head as possible and try to kick him away, but my long legs hit the yoke, and now we’re spinning through the sky. Loud beeps fill the air once more. Damn it, does everything have to beep?
Dr. Souris gets his rubber gloved hands on my neck and squeezes with all his might. I can tell because the veins in his mostly bald head are popping out now, and it’s causing my muscles to go weak.
What do I have as a weapon? Nothing! I assess my options— helicopter falling to the Seine, gun kicked out the side door, no knowledge of flying a helicopter. The only thing I have is the syringe in my hand.
So, I use it.
Going against every vasovagal fiber in my body, I grab Dr. Souris’ wrist to keep his arm in place, rearing back the syringe like a spear. His eyes widen with realization.
“Nooooo!” he shrieks.
I stab the pointy silver needle into his fleshy inner elbow. Somehow, I don’t stop there. I press down on the edge of the syringe, forcing the blue liquid into his wriggling vein. Except I missed the mark by a good inch. The blue liquid spurts out all over the place, mixing with the spurting blood from Dr. Souris’s new puncture wound.
Turns out, I don’t think I’d make a good nurse.
I continue forcing the liquid out and onto Dr. Souris’s arm until my muscles give out, and the familiar black stars of vasovagal syncope blur my vision. My grip loosens, and the syringe falls from my hand. It slides across the slippery metal floor and over the edge of the helicopter.
Dr. Souris and I look at each other for a moment, both covered in a mixture of blood and blue goo. Then we each simultaneously double over and retch.
At least I’m not the only one.
Ashamedly, I wipe my mouth on my shoulder sleeve.
Dr. Souris looks up at me like he wants to say something. His face is now even paler than it was before, almost translucent. He angrily stammers the start of a word, then loses consciousness and passes out. Right into his own puddle of vomit.
I’m tempted to follow his lead. My head grows heavier with the promise of sweet unconsciousness by the second, but unfortunately for me, I have Eric’s loud voice in my inner ear to keep me conscious.
“What the hell is taking you so long?” Eric yells.
“I was a little busy!” I shove Dr. Souris’s limp legs off mine and reach into his chest pocket. Though covered in slimy vomit (eew), The Backup otherwise appears to be intact.
“Got it!” I say. Relief floods every square inch of my body. I tuck The Backup into the back pocket of my jeans and grab hold of the handle at the edge of the open side door, trying to get my bearings as the helicopter continues to swerve midair. Wind whips through the cabin, blinding me in a dark brown tornado of hair.
“Do I just… jump?” I shout into the wind.
“Yes!” Eric yells.
“But what if I land on the water incorrectly?” I calculate all the possible different landing positions and their reciprocal levels of damage to my bone structure.
“I’ll catch you in the boat— hurry!”
The entire sky sounds like it’s being torn in half. I peer through my thick hair to see a shiny silver object flying straight toward me!
“JUMP!” Eric yells.
My stomach seizes tight, and I stop breathing momentarily. It all happens so fast that it feels like slow motion.
The missile approaches, glinting in the Parisian sunlight. I let go of the railing and take a deep breath. The beating of my heart is the only thing I can hear as I take a step forward, slip on Dr. Souris’s vomit, and fall over the edge of the helicopter.