“Well then, well then,” Jane coughed waving her hand in the air in a vain attempt to dissipate the eye-poking fog.
Rachel rushed over to a box on the wall, lifted the panel, and hammered her fist into a big, red button. An alarm sounded. Overhead, a exhaust fan ground to life and sucked the dangerous mist out of the hallway.
“ALL CLEAR,” a simulated, monotone voice said.
The alarm shut off.
Jane removed her goggles and leaned against the tunnel wall. “That wasn’t right,” she whispered to herself tapping her chin and staring off into nothing.
The three special agents slipped their goggles up onto their foreheads. If they had a dollar for every time one of Jane’s experiments went wrong, they’d be rich. Three pairs of eyes rolled. Rachel giggled.
“Lauren, you’re hair!”
“What?” she patted her head.
“That’s not right,” Jane said straightening up from the wall.
“It’s yellow! And even curlier!”
“Yellow? Wait, you’re hair’s turning blue!”
“And it’s straighter.”
The girls both turned to Jane.
“Well, I guess this isn’t a dangerous, eye-poking smoke,” Jane smiled.
“It most certainly isn’t,” Lauren said.
“More like a strange hair dye,” Rachel said.
“This better come out before we go home,” Lauren said.
Sam shook his head. “Jane, we’re supposed to see you about some new toys.”
“Oh right, the monsters under the bed!” Jane said. “Let’s go.”
Jane led them into her department. Blinking lights, small moving objects that walked around on their own, test tubes, wires, glass beakers filled with oddly colored liquids, things hissing smoke, and odd things just hissing covered the developmental stations. The testing areas waited on the other side of the large room. Several children in white lab coats and goggles aimed Lego guns, swung sticks the length of their forearms, played with oddly colored string, shot marbles down long tunnels creating controlled explosions, and wrote all of it down on tablets stuck in their pockets. Each of them had oddly colored hair. They ignored the smoke and kept working.
“Paisley. Roger,” Jane called her two top assistants. “Can you show Agents Rachel and Lauren the new Monster Guns? I need to figure out why everyone’s hair changed color.”
“Andhowtogetitback,” Lauren said in a rush.
“What?” Jane said.
“How to get it back,” Rachel said more slowly.
“Yes. That too.”
Jane hurried off and Rachel, Lauren, and Sam followed Paisley and Roger, with bright green and red hair, over to a test room with a shooting range. Paisley and Roger where older kids, no longer young enough to go on missions, but they came back every summer to help with the cases and both planned on majoring in Chemistry and Engineering in college so they could continue working with Jane and design better toys. Roger held the door to the shooting range open. Rachel and Lauren hurried over to a table with two large water guns.
“Okay, you two, test out these babies,” Roger said. He plucked a gun up off the table and handed it to Lauren. Paisley handed the other to Rachel. Sam pulled his goggles on, stayed by the door, and took notes on his tablet. Paisley and Roger joined him.
“As you can see,” Paisley said. “We’ve modified the Super Soakers. You no longer have to pump them to build up enough force to fire. Just press that red button on the side and the gun’s ready to go. If you don’t press it, the gun will never fire.”
“Kinda like the Nurf guns?” Lauren asked hefting the bright orange and green gun up near her waist.
“Exactly,” said Roger.
“Okay,” Rachel said.
Both girls assumed the proper stance: feet apart, weight back, dominate foot just a little forward. They let the guns hang at their waist, their arms supporting the weight. A door chimed open and three cardboard monsters flipped up at the end of the shooting range. The special agents thumbed the red button simultaneously and fired.
Bright yellow and blue goo spewed from the front of the guns. It flew at the cardboard monsters encasing them and stiffening in an instant. The monsters were immobilized.
“Sweet!” said Lauren.
“This is much better than the Nurf guns,” Rachel said.
Paisley and Roger both gave them a little bow.
“Let’s take them down to the obstacle course and really test them out,” Sam said. “I need to see them in action if I’m going to approve them for the mission.”
“You worry too much,” Lauren said. “Look at this! We don’t have to worry about hitting them dead center with a capsule. This is way better.”
“Exactly,” Rachel said. “We both hit them the first time.”
“Yes, but we all know shooting in a room like this is totally different from shooting in a bedroom. I want to see them there. I need to know what kind of clean up we’re going to need. I need to know if the Pause is going to work. You both remember George, don’t you?”
Roger and Paisley shifted uncomfortably. Rachel and Lauren nodded, sober.
“If you want to see them in action before we go on the mission,” Rachel said, “we better hurry. We’re running out of night-time.”