Dr Pheidippides took a deep breath before entering into the dark hole under the large oak tree; he hated to admit it but for one of the first times in his life he was scared. He was not scared of the unknown; he knew exactly what was waiting under the tree. He was not scared of an ambush by enemy agents; again he knew there was enough Agency fire-power under that tree to take out a small army. He was scared because he knew he was about to walk into a room containing the five most senior tortoises in the Agency and tell them they were wrong. He was senior enough himself that they would at least listen to what he had to say; but there was absolutely no guarantee that they were going to like it. His team all sat waiting quietly; they were all aware of the stakes.
The small tortoise entered the secret bunker and looked around. He had been here once before; the night he became a colonel. He felt the irony that his second and last entry into the chamber might be the day he went back to being a sergeant. Nonetheless, he believed what he believed; he felt it was his duty to inform the generals. "Ah, Marmaduke my boy, how is young Andromeda doing? No trouble I hope?" asked General Colossus. "None at all Sir," lied Dr Pheidippides. "So what can we do for you?" asked Theia; the oldest female in the room. The small tortoise noted how friendly the room was; many tortoises would give their shells to be able to walk into the Grand Council and be treated this way.
Dr Pheidippides swallowed hard: "your Excellencies, I have been going over the security plans for the Annual General Meeting and I fear that they are woefully inadequate." The room was silent. Finally the quiet was broken by Hyperion a slightly smaller but rather older version of Colossus: "As I thought you were aware the Annual General Meeting is a time of year when we gather agents from all over the cities and countryside to meet together. It is an opportunity for remote agents to relax and for us to inspect new Children that might be in need of protection." "I am well aware of that," replied Pheidippides, "in fact two of my humans are responsible for leading the children around the inspection tables and two are responsible for keeping the inspectors fed and cared for. My concern is that if this event is important to us then by inference it is important to our enemies too."
"I think we understand that SHOP would love to disrupt our AGM," said Selene, Colossus' younger sister, "the point is that we have so much firepower there that they wouldn't dare. They wouldn't attempt to take out our AGM any more than we could afford to attack their headquarters." "Unless," said Dr Pheidippides, "they had worked out that our firepower was completely useless to us." "What!" thundered Hyperion, "how dare you! We will have some of the finest agents on the planet in attendance including everyone in this room! What makes you think we are useless?" Dr Pheidippides kept his voice quiet but firm: "all of the reasons you gave me yourself Sir. This is a time we all relax and are surrounded by human children. How would the children react if they suddenly saw all of their pets engaged in a massive war? Our covers would be blown. The enemy can afford to attack; we cannot afford to defend."
The youngest female, Eos, spoke up, "I fear you have a point Doctor, and I can see why Colossus entrusted you with darling little Andromeda, you seem to think very deeply. However, it would appear that you have presented us with a problem yet no solution. You said yourself we cannot really fight; so how can we step up security to stop them attacking?" "I don't think we can," replied Pheidippides, "what we have to do is ensure that they launch their attack in a place we have chosen." "And how do you propose to do that?" demanded Hyperion. "Give them a target they can't resist," responded the Doctor, "one of you."
There is no official agency record of those occasions that the five senior tortoises have gasped, but most believe that this was the first time ever. "To be clear," said Colossus, "you want one of us to act as bait, get completely surrounded, single handedly battle an elite SHOP hit-squad while everyone else sits around doing nothing?" Suddenly the General frowned. "Actually, that sounds rather fun, I'll do it!" he continued brightly. "Well, almost," said the Doctor, "but the extra detail is that you have to fight, lose and get captured." "I would never allow myself to be captured," growled Colossus. "Which is why I have to do it," Theia spoke softly.
Pheidippides emerged (which means 'came out of') the hole and nodded to his team: "we have a go; all you need to do now is discover the spy." "How can you be sure there is a spy?" asked Andromeda. "If SHOP are going to attack our AGM they are going to want to find an easy target; to find an easy target they need information; to get information they need a spy. So GO FIND THE SPY!" shouted the small tortoise. His team looked a little shocked. The Doctor had not shouted at them before. On the other hand, he hadn't taken on the Agency leadership before either.
Pheidippides was napping in the cow-pen when his team returned. This was his favorite part of the fair; lots of Agency cows giving birth to calves that would one day be agents. It was a very happy occasion. Of course, security was so tight that a gnat couldn't get within 300 yards; which meant the small tortoise could relax for once. Winston coughed to get the tortoise's attention. Pheidippides popped his head out of his shell.
"So what do you have to report?" asked the small tortoise. Cham spoke first: "I have gone around every human stall and show. There have been no attacks, no sightings of wild animals, no damage to property. The only small issue is the missing food." "Missing food?" asked Pheidippides. "Yes sir, 18 sacks of strawberries, 48 sacks of lettuce and a bag of flour," replied the covert operations officer. Everyone looked at Andromeda. "Er, umm, I shouldn't worry too much about the lettuce and strawberries," she replied, "I suspect some poor little pet got hungry and nibbled one or two."
"Well," said Winston, "I did a tour of the grounds twice, sniffed every blade of grass at least once. I am sure that not a single SHOP agent has walked into this fair. Now to the North-East I smelt many, many of them on the wind; but I am sure none have come close." "If not walking then what about digging?" asked Pheidippides. "Well, Sir," responded Brownie, "I have also gone all over the fair looking for burrows, to see if GRUR were around, but I didn't find any sir. I even dug a few burrows myself to see if I could intercept (which means 'bump into') any GRUR burrows, but I didn't find anything, Sir, sorry, Sir."
Andromeda chortled, "well that isn't quite true is it brownie!" Brownie blushed. Andromeda continued, "I went around all of the inspection cages making sure all of the Agency hens and rabbits were being taken care of. I checked all of their cages to make sure no-one could break in. I even sampled their food to make sure that they were not being slipped anything dangerous. I had called in Brownie to check out a strange white powder under one of the cages and he fell in love!" Everyone looked at Brownie. Brownie quivered but his eyes sparkled. "I just looked up Sir and there was the fluffiest, whitest rabbit I had ever seen sir. She is just beautiful sir!" Pheidippides smiled. While not official Agency policy, it was quite common for agents to find mates at the AGM. "What is her name?" the Doctor asked. "Bruiser, Sir" said Brownie. Andromeda chuckled again. "Andromeda said that is a silly name for a tiny female rabbit, but I think it is beautiful!" said Brownie indignantly. "Did you talk to her?" asked the small tortoise. "Well, I said hello," said Brownie, "but then I got embarrassed and ran away."
"Which is all very well," said Winston a little shortly, "but the fact is we have made a plan that involves us finding a SHOP spy and we are no closer to doing so now than we were when we started!" "On the contrary," said Dr Pheidippides, "I know exactly where we can find the spy, and exactly how to give them the false information."
So: where is the spy, what were the clues and how is the Doctor going to pass on the false information?
The Doctor looked at Brownie sadly. "Did you work out what that white powder was?" he asked. "No Sir, sorry Sir, I got distracted Sir." said Brownie. "I believe," said the Doctor, "that the powder was flour. The reason you saw the whitest fluffiest rabbit ever is that it was a grey rabbit covered in flour." Brownie looked completely miserable. "But why would a grey rabbit be in a pet cage?" he asked. "When the Children bring their pets to the fair they have to leave them in a cage at the gate," replied Pheidippides, "I believe that SHOP let Bruiser out of his cage and then put your flour-covered friend in his place. Then the shop agent would be carried to the tent by an unsuspecting human." "The perfect spy," growled Winston, "in the middle of everything and being given food and water by humans!" "Exactly," said Pheidippides, "perfect for them, and also perfect for us."
Brownie jumped up onto the table and smiled at the little white rabbit. "Hello," he said. "What the... ahem ... I mean ... Hello nice to meet you again," replied the little white rabbit. "Are you looking forward to the meeting?" asked Brownie. "Oh yes," replied the little white rabbit, "I'm sure it will go with a bang," she continued with a slight grin. "I hope so," said Brownie innocently. "It is just such a shame that Theia won't be there this year." Brownie continued. "Why the ... ahem ... I mean really? What a shame. I hadn't heard that. Why not?" Brownie edged a little closer. "Can you keep a secret?" he whispered. "Certainly, I love secrets," grinned the little white rabbit. "She is getting old and is rather ill. She has to stay in the bunker," said Brownie. The white rabbit looked a bit less happy: "the bunker! Well at least she will be well guarded I guess." Brownie edged even closer and shook his head a very small amount: "actually Dr Pheidippides had a very clever plan. We are leaving the bunker completely unguarded. That way those stupid SHOP people will think that there is nothing in there to bother attack. Anyway we need everyone at the fair, we heard a rumor that SHOP is going to attack the AGM itself - so we lay an ambush for them!" sniggered Brownie very quietly. "You miser... ahem ... brilliant, just brilliant!" said the little white rabbit, "now the humans are coming, you had better go hide!" Brownie leapt of the table and went out of the tent; shortly afterwards a little white rabbit broke out of her cage and started burrowing furiously.
Theia lay in her burrow pretending to nap. She heard the crashing and explosions that told her that the firework display had started at the fair. She smiled to think of the thousands of Agents that were having a good time and the dozens of new children they had identified that were in need of protection. She smiled even more to think that in a few minutes she would be meeting some of the best agents that SHOP had; and who knew in a few hours she might meet some of the people she really wanted to meet.
She heard a scurrying at the entrance to the bunker. Young Marmaduke had told her that she should take out three or four to make this look realistic. She figured she could get away with five or six.....