“Thanks for taking the time to have lunch with me, Agent Three… I mean, Suzanne… I mean, Rocky.”
“Suzanne is fine, if that’s easier for you, Gigi—even though most people at the bureau call me ‘Rocky.’”
“Sorry. It’s just that I’m so nervous…”
“About your father, the general? I heard he’d been riding you pretty hard.”
“Yeah. He doesn’t want me becoming an agent. Says I’m ‘too young.’ Though I think he really just doesn’t want me to do it because I’m a girl. He’d flip his lid if he knew I was talking to you during my lunch break. Doesn’t want me ‘fraternizing’ with the agents—or anybody, really.”
“Dads can be like that. So, what did you want to talk about, Gigi?”
“Well… My dad banned me from listening to the case files, and I wanted to find out what happened after the killer wasps chased you and Agent One down to the lakeshore. I mean, I know you weren’t killed but…”
“That was a pretty tight spot, that’s for sure. So, here’s what happened…”
“Ray, duck!” I shouted as a wasp the size of a dinner platter came barreling toward the back of Agent One’s head.
He turned, but not in time, and I couldn’t shoot the giant insect without hitting Ray.
My partner grunted as the bug hit him, and he went down, his body splashing into the soggy ground of the cattail marsh.
I couldn’t tell if he’d been stung, but the wasp that nailed him quickly turned to finish the job.
I had a bead on the thing now, though, and a single shot of my automatic turned the yellow and black monster into a pile of foul-smelling greenish goo, which quickly disintegrated.
There was no time to admire my marksmanship or collect samples for the Teragons, though.
“Ray!” I cried, kneeling next to Agent One’s prone form. The escalating droning thrum in the air told me I didn’t have much time to check his wounds before the bugs would be on us again.
A big red scrape covered the left side of Agent One’s neck, and his shoulder looked swollen—stung, probably. I tore away his sleeve, but didn’t see a stinger in the wound. Remembering a lecture Doc gave us, I didn’t cut or tourniquet it. Ray would have to fight off the effects on his own until I could retrieve the anti-venom kit from the agency Studebaker. I didn’t think his neck injury would require stitches, assuming my co-agent lived.
Right then, I had more pressing things to worry about, as another wave of wasps swarmed in on us. I blasted as many as I could with my automatic, and then snatched up Ray’s gun and extra clip after my own ammo ran out—which was all too soon.
Agent One moaned softly while I fought for our lives.
As I fired my last few rounds, I wondered how long it would take Agent Five—or somebody—to find our bodies.
We had more ammo in the car, of course, but a cloud of yellow-and-black S.O.B.s seethed between our cattail blind and that little piece of salvation.
I drew the combat knife from my boot and skewered a bug I hadn’t been able to shoot. I cut the one after that in half as it zeroed in on me.
So far, my French Resistance knife-fighting training had saved our bacon, but I knew that’d only last while the bugs came one or two at a time—and it looked like our luck had just about run out.
Three of them angled in on us, buzzing bundles of yellow-and-black fury.
I dodged the first, neatly bisected the second, and cut a wing off the third.
I kicked the crippled one into the nearby lake before it could crawl over to Ray. If my partner had been conscious, now would have been a great time to dive into the water and hold our breaths, but with him out cold…
Pain like fire shot up my back. I wheeled, cutting with my knife, but my fingers had gone numb from the sting. I watched helplessly as the blade flew from my hand into the cattails.
The wasp hovered less than a yard away, looking to sting me again.
Desperate, I threw a haymaker left as my knees went weak.
I got lucky and smacked it in the head. The bugger scudded through the air, out over the lake, before righting itself and coming at me again.
I ducked, throwing my body across Ray’s, hoping that I might at least protect him, even at the cost of my own life.
The evil buzz of giant insect wings droned ever louder.
I looked up, and a demonic yellow and black face leered at me, hovering, aiming for the kill.
I’d have swung at it, but now pain from the previous sting made it impossible to even stand. Being stabbed during the war had felt better.
“Sorry, Ray…!” I managed to gasp between gritted teeth.
A shadow swooped overhead, and suddenly the wasp just vanished.
I didn’t have time to figure out this miraculous save. I could see through the reeds that two more monsters were winging our way.
I fought down the pain and struggled to my feet, determined to make the best fight of it that I could.
But a tingling sensation in the back of my neck told me to duck. I did, just as a huge shadow buzzed past me, followed by another.
I gasped. “Dragonflies!”
The new bugs were at least a yard long, with wingspans twice that. They plucked the deadly wasps out of the air as easily as a kid pulling petals off a flower.
I read once that dragonflies were the deadliest predator in the world, and these sure were making short work of the wasps. As soon as the bigger insects appeared, the wasps lost all interest in Ray and me.
I didn’t have time to admire the lopsided bug fight, though.
“C’mon, Ray!” I said, grunting as I dragged Agent One out of the cattails and toward the safety of our Studebaker.
Every muscle in my body was ablaze, but if I could just get us to the car…!
Ray groaned and actually started stumbling along as I half-carried him. Our Studebaker still lay a long way off.
The flutter of giant wings grew closer.
I looked back and cursed as a dragonfly big as a bald eagle vectored toward us. Apparently, humans were on its menu once wasps ran out.
“Get the hell back!” I screamed futilely, still half-dragging Ray toward the car.
The dragonfly exploded. For a moment, my pain-wracked brain thought I’d somehow done it. Then…
Two more—the ones closest to us—went down, too.
I turned and saw a second Studebaker parked next to ours, and Agent Five—Nelson “Dead Eye” Corrigan—grinning at us. Thin whisps of vapor drifted from the muzzle of his specially modified sniper rifle, and the stench of cordite and rancid bug guts filled the early summer air.
“I got worried when I couldn’t raise you on the car radio,” Five said. “Figured I’d better drive out and see what was going on.”
Under his watchful eye, the remaining handful of giant dragonflies kept their distance, though they continued picking off the remaining wasps. Seems they feared Five’s sting more than that of their fellow insects. I didn’t blame them.
“Want me to mop up the rest?” Five asked. He pressed his eye to his scope once more, as Ray and I reached the cars.
“No way to tell if those are the only ones,” I replied. “Time to call in the army.”
“So, that’s exactly what we did, Gigi. Ray and I got some much-needed medical attention as Five helped the grunts clear the area of bugs of all types—even Ray’s fireflies.”
“Aw! That’s kinda sad. They weren’t hurting anybody.”
“Yeah. I guess. But with what we’d been through, none of us wanted to take any chances. The Teragons were pretty disappointed, though. By the time they arrived, there was nothing left to take samples of.”
“So, what caused it all, Rocky? Atomic radiation? Flying saucers? Natural mutation? Soviet experiments? What did the Teragons figure out?”
“Nobody knows, Gigi. They’re still working on it. Ray and I recovered, and at the time, we all thought that Colorado might be the end of it. Of course, it was only the beginning.”
“Did the Teragons know this was coming, somehow? Is that why they formed the Bureau?”
“I’ve got to get back to work. You’ll have to ask the Teragons yourself.”
“If my dad… I mean, the general… will let me!”
“Gigi, keep studying and keep asking questions, and you’ll make a fine agent one day. But don’t let anyone—not even your dad—tell you what you can or can’t do or be.”
“I won’t. Thanks… Suzanne.”
“You’re welcome, future Agent Brock.”
ABOUT “WINGS OF DEATH”
I wrote this story out of sequence. I knew a couple of tales that I wanted to write after #7, “The Buzz of Doom,” but I was still struggling with the story order after that. Because Atomic Tales is serialized, I’m not writing it all at once, the way I would with a regular novel. I know where I’m going with it, the Grand Plan as it were, but the episodes are getting done in pieces, with me figuring out the order a few stories ahead.
Normally, this wouldn’t present much of a problem, but I started AT in the middle of the continuity, because it wasn’t until after I wrote “A Sci-Ant-ific Problem” that I thought: “It might be fun to make this a series.”
That means, all the sections of the bugs’ “origin story”—that is, what happened before that initial giant ant tale—have to be flashbacks.
And because I want to keep the thrust of the main storyline moving, I can’t just do a whole bunch of flashbacks all at once and then move forward from there. That’d be a sure way for readers (and listeners) to lose the ongoing continuity, though all the episodes to date have been single-episode, standalone tales. (Although the second part of the origin, “Buzz of Doom,” did end its flashback in a hell of a cliffhanger, setting up this tale.)
Anyway, I’d finished “Buzz…” and was struggling with story order, when I decided: “Heck, I might as well finish episode three of the earliest bug storyline.”
And so, I wrote “Wings of Death” right after “Buzz of Doom.” Which, as it turned out, also helped me catch a potential continuity error—a nice side-benefit, because continuity is also pretty tricky when writing serials (even if you keep as many notes in your Story Bible as I do).
Plus, by doing it right then, I didn’t have to wait months to find out how my characters were going to get out of the predicament I’d put them in. Ha ha!
(Though, actually, I had the denouement planned from the start.)
My lucky readers and listeners, though… Y’all had to wait.
(Can you see me grinning?)
Anyway, this small section of the pre-ant Colorado tales is finished, though I’ve already thought of some more events that need to take place after the dragonflies are wiped out, because in “A Sci-Ant-ific Problem” Agent One is not completely surprised to be attacked by a giant ant in the desert, though he is caught with his pants down—literally.
Of course, first, I have to figure out where those new ideas fit into the story order…!
You can listen to this story produced by Christopher R. Mihm from SaintEuphoria.com!