The man in black barely made a sound as he crept between the shadows of the alleyways in Bereznik’s Old Quarter.
Agent Nine was one of the most special agents in the World Intelligence Network and the mission on which he was engaged was one of supreme importance. Not for the first time that night, he reminded himself that the fate of the world could well depend on the success of his rendezvous with The Falcon. Anything could happen in the next half hour.
It was almost midnight when he reached the Scarlet Lounge, a low-key bar that looked as if it might collapse if someone so much as sneezed near it.
Agent Nine unzipped his stealth jumpsuit to reveal an immaculate dinner jacket underneath. With a last cautious look around, he made his way into the bar.
The lights were low, though not quite low enough to hide how dilapidated the establishment had become. The air was full of cigarette smoke and the bar was populated by a few regulars that were clearly worse for wear.
A surly bartender eyed the newcomer’s formal wear suspiciously and gruffly asked, “Yeah?”
Nine stepped up to the bar, leaned over it a fraction and discreetly muttered, “I’ll have a Famous Hawk.”
The barman’s eyes widened a fraction. He looked over Nine’s shoulder at the entrance and then met the agent’s eyes, “We’re all out. But you might have better luck in the back.”
He gestured to a doorway in the shadows at the side of the bar.
Nine placed a crisp note on the counter and replied, “Thanks. Keep the change.”
He strolled to the door, knocked once, and entered.
It wasn’t a large room, and the lone occupant was sitting behind a makeshift table – a flat wooden board on top of a beer barrel, with a game of solitaire resting on top.
She looked up at the new arrival and her long blonde hair fell away from her face as she spoke, “Good evening, Agent Nine. I’ve been expecting you.” She gestured to a folding chair opposite, “Sit down.”
Nine did so.
“You’re a hard woman to track down, Falcon,” he said nonchalantly, “but I had a theory I’d find you here.”
“Let’s not get sentimental, there’s too much at stake,” Falcon replied reproachfully.
“Fine,” Nine shot back, “Do you have the information?”
“Yes, it’s here,” Falcon replied, drawing a manila folder out from a briefcase beside her. “We believe that Professor Guk has finally perfected a working android. It is programmed to be unstoppable and an army of them could threaten the security of the whole world. He calls it a Zenith Energy Laser Destructive Automaton – ZELDA for short.”
Nine flipped through the pages of the report, “ZELDA, huh? Well I was expecting the unexpected and this certainly qualifies. If I can get these plans back to W.I.N. we might just be able to find a weakness in the design, something that might provide the key to stopping this thing.”
Falcon looked at him seriously, “That’s only part one of your mission.”
“What do you mean?”
“Your Chief didn’t tell you about part two in advance – you’ll be taking me back to London with you…”
Nine’s eyes had become like two glinting pieces of flint, “Am I supposed to take your word for that?”
Falcon produced a miniature tape recorder and pressed the play button, “No, but you might take the word of your own Chief.”
Nine listened intently as he heard the familiar sound of his superior confirming that he was to escort Falcon back to London in the shortest possible time.
The message ended and there was a click as Falcon pressed the stop button. A brief silence followed.
“All right,” Nine said carefully, “But I don’t like this at all. You weren’t part of my exit strategy.”
The crash of the explosion shook the room, knocking them both to the floor.
Falcon recovered her wits first, struggling to her feet and holding out her hand to Nine, “Looks like I’m part of it now!”
They raced to the door and threw it open.
Where the entrance to the bar area had been a few minutes earlier, there was nothing but a gaping jagged hole in the wall. Just beyond the hole stood a lone figure.
Nine and Falcon peered through the haze of dust and debris at the strange, almost alien sight beyond.
It was difficult to tell exactly what they were looking at. The crazy hair stuck out at all angles as if the figure had been given a tremendous electric shock. The stance was motionless, and yet somehow mechanical. But most horrific of all was the face. The awful, terrible face.
“Who are you?” Nine demanded, reaching for his pistol.
The figure responded in an odd robotic voice that was simultaneously emotionless and menacing, “I. Am. ZELDA.”
Before the pair could begin to take this in, the android stepped forward, raised a strange looking gun and fired. A crimson ray of light flashed out, narrowly missing both of them.
Falcon threw herself over the bar, while Nine dived behind a table. He peered over the edge and fired a few rounds at the android.
They bounced off harmlessly, as did Falcon’s when she opened fire with her weapon.
ZELDA advanced on Nine, paying no attention to Falcon, “I. Have. A. Message. For. You.”
“What’s that?” Nine asked, reloading his gun and preparing to fire again.
The android raised its gun again and intoned, “Have. A. Nice. Death.”
Falcon was suddenly beside him, holding out the manila folder. As she spoke, her voice sounded different than it had before, “Here’s the report, Tiger!”
“Report?” Tiger Ninestein asked, confused.
“Oh for heaven’s sake, Tiger!” Mary Falconer said with a grin and an exaggerated gesture of frustration, “Haven’t you been listening to a word I’ve said? The report on the repairs to Battlehawk – it’s ready for you to read.”
“Oh!” Tiger cleared his throat and hurriedly sat upright in his office chair, “Er…thanks, Mary. I’ll look over it right now.”
“What’s that?” Mary replied, seeing Tiger’s attempt to conceal his book.
“Uh, just a little light reading.”
Mary picked it up and inspected the dust jacket, “Agent Nine and the Androids of Chaos… Why Tiger, I didn’t know you enjoyed this sort of thing.”
“Well, Hawkeye gave me it for my birthday and I didn’t want to appear ungrateful. It’s not bad.”
Mary smiled, “Well, I’m delighted to hear you’re enjoying it. I’ll leave you to catch up with that report.”
As Mary left, Tiger picked up the book and looked at the exciting artwork on the cover. He had let his imagination run away with him.
Daydreaming of battling dastardly androids as the suave Agent Nine was one thing, but he knew that the reality he faced as Tiger Ninestein was altogether less glamorous and that a cliched happy ending where good thwarted evil was far from certain…