“I... I don’t... AHHHHH!” Another 10,000 volts of electricity shot through his veins; it was useless to resist.
“Tell us where you’ve hidden the files.”
Spitting out a tooth, he wheezed but said nothing. This was getting tiresome. “Gambit,” I called, “ready the brain probe.”
“Look, I’m a patient man,” I gestured suavely, trying to squeeze some sympathy from the captive. “But if we don’t get those files soon, we’ll have to turn you over to Canadian authorities; I can guarantee
you you’ll never see sunlight again. Just tell us... and this can all be over.”
“All right!” He choked. “I... have... a flash drive hidden in... the meatloaf in my refrigerator.”
“Your cooperation has been noted,” I boisterously beamed, but beneath I was burying the brunt of my bile. Gambit buzzed for a guard to take the man back to his cell while I jotted down some more interrogation data into our official Celine Dion Fan Club logs.
Four hours into our servitude to Ms. Dion, and already three
“You should be proud of yourself,” Gambit prodded as the guards dragged off the semiconscious prisoner. “Ev’ry confession gets us closer to fixing AMOK- and winning de challenge.”
“True. But I can’t help feeling as though there’s some kind of pattern here.” Pulling down a retractable map of the city from the Shame Room’s
ceiling port, I drew a large circle so that the edges met with the home addresses of our first three detainees. “Hello, what’s this?”
live an equal distance from the same
Wal*Mart. This certainly entertains some strange... possibilities.”
“Jus‘ follow de interrogation schedule; think of AMOK, and that ‘fabulous prize.’”
“You know I can’t do that!” I snapped. “We took a vow to persecute anyone who downloaded Celine Dion’s music illegally, and by gum if there’s a Wal*Mart connection, we need to expose it.”
“You’re a madman! Even if dere is some conspiracy, you’ll never get past de greeters.” Sweat cascaded down Gambit’s sideburns, most likely due to gravity.
“We have a duty to try.
“Welcome to Wal- ack!
” The elderly greeter gasped, and slumped down in her folding chair. “’An agent’s best friend in a blow-dart gun,’” I recited from memory. How true that old axiom was proving.
“She wasn’t dat much of a threat...”
“Really? Take a gander at this!
” Holding a syringe up to the old lady’s neck, I injected her with a catalytic reversion potion; it took effect almost immediately.
Gambit could barely yelp as the kindly old greeter morphed into a reptile, shredding her human clothes as her alien physiology reasserted itself. Her cranial ridges became more pronounced, and her hair vanished entirely. Saints preserve us!
“Just as I initially suspected in my worst-case scenario.” I stepped on the creature’s neck to make sure it wasn’t still awake. Not the best way to find out, but I just didn’t feel like poking it with a stick. “Wal*Mart is run completely by the Abstractors.”
With a pneumatic whoosh,
the automatic doors opened; out of the shadows stepped a seven-foot tall reptilian, wearing a toilet seat ’round his neck and plastic gloves over his ears. Spoils of war.
It’s eyes refocused, and tiny horizontal pupils dilated at the sight of us.
“Why have... you come?” It groaned. Abstractors didn’t have vocal chords; the sounds were being formed directly in its stomach.
“We’re here under de authority of Her Majesty Celine Dion. You have committed an act of war against Sony Entertainment by assisting in de illegal download of music files.” So formal! Sigh. Gambit wouldn’t get anywhere in the universe if he went in headfirst, without understanding anything about the people he was dealing with.
“First Emir of Sector 8A3, I presume?” The Abstractor sniffed the air loudly. They say Abstractors have such highly developed olfactory nerves they can smell
deceit. “First Emir, may we, two humble pigmen of the Earth, ask why a mighty conquerer such as yourself would waste
his talents pirating music on a backwater
such as this one?”
“You use masculine pronoun... I am female...” Of course! I should have recognized it sooner; Abstractor females are all exactly 7 feet tall. Males are either 6 feet 11 inches, or 7 feet 1 inch. Never exactly
7 feet. “Enter.”
Cautiously, I shoved Gambit ahead of me. When he wasn’t immediately decapitated upon entrance, I moved in. What I saw in that Wal*Mart will haunt me for the rest of my unnatural life.
This isn’t a department store- it’s a chamber of horrors!”
From wall to wall, the interior was plastered with Abstractor data lines; three huge tanks by the clearance rack housed some sickly macronewts, large animals from the Abstractor homeworld that had a similar physiology to the Abstractors themselves, similar to the human/ape rivalry. Scientists ran back and forth between the aisles, turning knobs and putting CDs into disk trays. We’d found the focal point of the file sharing epidemic.
“Here... we cure our... worst diseases. We found years ago... Earth music resonates with... Abstractor genetic structures. Your music has already... led to cures for two... formerly fatal illnesses.”
“So,” I theorized, stroking my insta-beard for dramatic effect. “You’ve been using the guise of a department store to get music into the homes of musical degenerates... and then when they upload those files...”
“We siphon some of the packets... and transport them back to Abstrol in streams.”
Gambit reached for my shoulder. “We should leave dem. Dey’re not hurting anyone...”
“No can do,” I screeched righteously, a phaser sliding down from my sleeve, “they broke the law. And in the process they crossed the great Celine Dion.”
“You can’t shoot that... in here!” The First Emir grunted. “You’ll hit... the plasma hi-def!”
“We need to make an example
of them, lest any oth-”
My speech terminated as my watch began an annoying series of beeps.
“Okay... Gambit, let’s get back to the lobby.” I holstered my phaser and turned to the revolving doors. “Our five hours are up; AMOK should be fully operational.”
“Wait! What about de Abstractors?!”
“Eh. Let ’em download.”
“We... are grateful for your noninterference,” The First Emir gushed. “The people of Abstrol... are forever in your debt.”
“Meh. Come on, let’s go!
As the revolving door sealed shut and we walked slowly to Celine’s mansion, I couldn’t help thinking that... if I’d asked... I could’ve gotten a really
good deal on a new T.V.