Looking at Dr. Xavier Mihm, you wouldn’t have thought he was the most dangerous man in the world. He was old—at least sixty—and slight, with thick round glasses, frizzy white hair, and a perpetual growth of salt-and-pepper stubble on his chin. He looked as if he could have been your eccentric grandfather.
Yet, just a few weeks ago, many of my friends and fellow agents at the US Science Bureau and most of Spider Squadron had fought a pitched battle against a giant tarantula outside Mihm’s Colorado lab. The doctor came peacefully; the spider, not so much. Agents Two and Thirteen had made a mess of the local countryside bombing it to hell.
Mihm hadn’t given us much since then, alternating between taciturn silence and wild outbursts. A medical checkup revealed no obvious sign of physical illness, though clearly he wasn’t “normal” by any stretch. He wore his lab coat while in custody after furiously resisting any attempt to put him in a prison uniform.
After that kerfuffle, the Teragons decided to let him cool down in an isolated maximum security ward, before trying to question him again. He was allowed pencil and paper to keep notes, and only non-uniformed agency representatives—like me and Shannon “Doc” Teragon—interacted with him. Eventually, Mihm calmed down and seemed to become more rational.
But the giant crab attack on a San Diego beach reminded everyone that we couldn’t wait forever. The strange invasion of the US hadn’t ended just because we had Mihm locked up.
Shannon took a deep breath as we stood at the door to the interrogation room. Doctor M hadn’t resisted being brought here, but he clearly wasn’t happy, either.
“Ready, Agent Seven?” Shannon asked.
“Ready. But remember, I’m just ‘Ruth’ to him, not ‘Ruthless’ or ‘Seven.’”
The room smelled old-man fusty as we entered and took our seats across the interrogation table from our subject. The place was the usual sparse affair, with a one-way observation mirror on one wall. Professor Teragon, Doc’s dad, lurked behind that mirror, watching. We figured having two women he knew questioning Mihm would be less threatening than adding a world-famous scientist into the mix.
Mihm finished scribbling notes on some papers strewn across the table and looked up as Shannon spoke.
“Dr. Mihm, we wanted to talk to you about the giant mutations…” she began.
He waved away the question and gathered his papers. “I told you before: I don’t know anything about that.”
I laid out a collection of photos taken during numerous incidents that the USSB had managed to keep out of the press or cover up. It was a rogues’ gallery of uncanny beasts: giant ants; the corpses of a dead “yeti” and a giant shrew; Donna, the fifty-foot woman, rampaging through Reno; tourist shots of the recent crab attack (explained as a “movie stunt”). And finally, images of the giant tarantula at Mihm’s lab.
“Tell us what you know about these incursions,” I said.
He glanced at the photos briefly and then shook his head. “I don’t watch science fiction films.”
I fought to stay calm. A lot of people had been hurt because of Mihm’s experiments. “These aren’t movies; they’re real.” I tapped the pictures Agent Nine had snapped of the assault on Mihm’s facility. “These were taken outside your lab, just a few weeks ago.”
“My lab…” he mused. “I need to return there. I’m in the middle of important experiments… Trying to feed the world.”
Shannon took another deep breath, and I knew—despite our preparation—she felt exasperated, too. “Well, that would be difficult, Dr. Mihm, because most of your lab was destroyed by your giant spider.”
Mihm seemed not to hear her. “If only I could make my fruits more stable… But they always rot so quickly… Wait… What did you say about my lab?”
Shannon leaned over the table. “I said, it was flattened by the giant tarantula you created…” She pointed at the pictures. “The same way you created those giant ants… and even that giant woman…”
“I created? Nonsense! I would never do any such thing. Do you think I’m some madman from the radio thrillers?”
I tapped the photos, calling his attention to them again. Now, he looked shaken.
“I’m a scientist… working to help all mankind.” He picked up a glass of water set out for him and took a drink. “If this isn’t some kind of trick… Those things must have gained access to my lab, somehow… Gotten into the element. Yes. That must be it.”
I pointed at the image of titan-sized Donna’s rampage. “This woman didn’t go to your lab. She was sleeping at home in Reno when someone kidnapped her and turned her into one of your giant mutations.”
“I-I’ve never been anywhere near Reno.” His face grew dark, and he mumbled to himself. “But it doesn’t matter. A few slip ups are bound to happen with work this momentous. It will all be worth it in the end…”
“When we searched the wreckage of your lab, we found this…” Shannon drew a small vial of glowing green goo from her pocket. “Is this the ‘element’ you’re talking about? Is it what makes things grow to enormous size?”
Mihm tried to snatch the bottle from her hand, but she pulled it back. “Be careful with that!” His eyes burned with a fanatic fire. “It’s precious!”
Shannon stowed it back in her pocket. “I know.” She and her dad had been pleased to obtain even such a small sample. “Where did you get it, Dr. Mihm?”
“I distilled it from the honey, of course!”
“From Hideaway Hunny in Colorado?” I remembered the jars of the golden sweetener we’d found in the lab of Dr. Hedison—the Mansect.
Mihm looked away, muttering, perhaps caught up in a memory. “But that supply was cut off… I thought I’d have to stop my experiments… Then they gave me more.” A Cheshire Cat smile spread across his weathered face.
“Who gave you more?” I asked. “Was it Dr. Hedison?”
“Hedison! That young fool? He could have been a great scientist, but he got sidetracked—decided the best way to save humanity was to improve the species, adapt to our changing environment… population pressures, the nuclear threat, environmental changes, and all that nonsense. He should have listened more closely. Increasing the food supply is a much easier solution.”
Shannon stared at him intently, as if trying to read his confused mind. “Listened to whom? To you?”
Mihm slapped his hand on the table. “Not to me. To the voices!”
“What voices?” I felt truly puzzled, and I saw that Shannon did, too.
“The voices from the sky! I hear them at night—when everything is quiet. They’ve encouraged some of my best ideas, my greatest discoveries! And they provided more of the element once my source ran dry and the honey stopped flowing.”
I now remembered Agent One reporting that Mihm seemed to be expecting a delivery when our strike team assaulted his lab. If we’d waited, hadn’t attacked right away… Would we have discovered who was supplying this dangerous and unstable element?
Unfortunately, that opportunity was lost. Nobody would be delivering anything to Mihm’s destroyed lab, now.
“Is it the Russians?” Shannon leaned forward, intense. “Are they the ones you’re working with? Do you have a hidden radio somewhere that we didn’t find? Is that how your Soviet masters communicated with you?”
Mihm’s uproarious laughter degenerated into a coughing fit. “Russians?! The communists are even bigger fools than Hedison. How could they help? You’re not paying attention! I hear the voices here.” He tapped one bony finger against his temple. “Their lights shine through my windows like divine inspiration. And then I listen… and I know what to do.”
Shannon and I exchanged a worried glance. There seemed only one conclusion: Mihm was off his rocker.
The madman grinned benevolently at us. “Do you know when they’ll bring my next delivery? I need to get back to my work.”
Professor Teragon’s voice crackled over the room’s loudspeaker. “I think that’s enough for today, ladies.”
Mihm looked around, confused. “But, what about my element? I need my element. All my experiments hinge on it.”
Shannon rose. “We’ll let you know when it arrives.”
She exited, and I followed her next door to the observation room. Prof Teragon stood in a darkened corner, his hand resting on his chin.
“Well, that was… weird,” I opined.
Shannon tossed up her hands, frustrated. “Is he crazy? Is he really just a Soviet pawn? Tanya Ruhoff told Agent One that the Russians were having similar troubles, but she’s a spy. And who else could be behind these recent monsters and UFO sightings?”
“Donna mentioned lights from the sky when we questioned her, too,” I noted.
Professor Teragon’s pensive voice almost startled me. “And when we debriefed him, Tom Stern said his wife claimed to have seen strange lights, and heard messages from space—before she transformed.”
I smacked my fist into my palm. “It sure would help if we could catch that Queen Bee! I bet she could tell us a lot.”
“It still might be the Russians,” Shannon observed. “We know they’ve experimented with atomic mutation—and advanced rocketry.”
Her father stepped into the light, his face looking grim. “The question remains: Which came first, the honey or the mutations?”
“And will the giant bug incursions stop, now that Mihm is in our custody?” Shannon wondered. “Was San Diego just a fluke? Or is Mihm a pawn in some kind of larger scheme we can’t see yet?”
I shook my head. “At least you’ve got some of Mihm’s goo to work with—and we can question him again.”
“Yes,” agreed Professor Teragon, “but this discussion makes one thing very clear…”
“What’s that?” Shannon and I asked.
“We need more specimens.”
About “Interrogating Doctor M”
It seems like only yesterday I was writing another “chatty” episode of Atomic Tales, “Interview with the 50-Foot Femme”—but that’s because I’m charging ahead with writing the stories, trying to finish this series so I can move on to other things.
So, while the space between those two stories may seem like mere days to me, it’s really been a few weeks, and for those of you reading and listening to the tales, it will be more like six months. Hopefully, the pair won’t be too many low-action episodes too close-together for you. And don’t worry, it’ll be a long time before another “slow” episode.
Atomic Tales: Strange Invaders is such a fast-moving series (by design) that stories like this where people just sit around and talk to each other are tricky to write. Ruth and Shannon are engaging characters, and, as an author, I have to hope that you like them enough to enjoy the pair chatting with a mad scientist in an interrogation room.
There are a lot of continuity elements in the AT:SI series, and as we move through the second half of the Big Story Arc, it’s tricky to make sure that none of the details get left behind.
Giant bugs and animals, UFOs, human mutations like Donna, the Mansect, and the Queen Bee/Sister Starlight… Now all of those strange invaders have been laid on the doorstep of Dr. M, who claims to just want to feed the world.
Does the USSB buy his story?
Whether you do or not, this is another tale where hopefully you start to see more pieces of the puzzle coming together.
For me, it’s another chance to write super-brains Shannon and Ruth together—which is great fun. And writing a mad scientist is always a blast, too.
Plus, we get another glimpse of Shannon’s seldom-seen father, Professor Niles Q. Teragon. It’s been so long since he had a speaking part, I’m not even sure what episode he appeared in. (I looked it up, it was way back in Episode 9.)
But it’s okay that we don’t see the USSB’s progenitor that much in the stories. He spends most of his time working in the lab on important stuff—including the kind of inventions that help our outnumbered agents stay alive in the field—and dealing with bureau politics that would be far more boring than a locked room interrogation could ever be.
In any case, I hope you enjoyed this little glimpse behind the Teragon curtain.
And though the Teragons and Agent Seven may be wondering if the current invasion is over, all of you can rest assured that there’s plenty more adventure to come!
You can listen to this story produced by Christopher R. Mihm from SaintEuphoria.com!