By James Robert Smith
It was a tick. He could smell it through the walls of the house. Oh, how he hated them. He was more than ready to punch his way through the door and dispose of it, but first he had to make sure of the child’s safety.
Agent 67 looked down at the girl and did his best to give her a reassuring smile. His genetic makeup was top-loaded with both paternal and maternal instincts. In fact, it was foremost in his psyche. The child’s face was wet with tears and she was, of course, very afraid. Not afraid of the Agent, but of what she had seen in the house before fleeing for help. He wasn’t completely surprised she’d made it out of the home. Ticks were like that. They would become so absorbed in their attack that they allowed their bloodlust to blot out what remained of their common sense.
“Do you see the nice Police lady?” Agent 67 pointed to a young officer in blue who was stationed on the other side of the street. He motioned for her and she trotted across to where he was standing with the girl.
The child nodded. She was wearing a pink nightdress, spotted with blood. God knew what she’d seen. Enough to frighten her and send the six-year-old screaming into the lawn where neighbors had found her. Her nose was running and her red hair hung limp and damp to her shoulders. The Agent wiped her nose with his gloved hand as he lifted her up in his vast and powerful arms.
Just as the police officer got to him, he smiled at the girl one more time and handed her over.
“Take good care of her,” he told the young woman. The cop nodded and retrieved the child, reaching up to take her, nodding to the Agent.
The woman in police-issue fatigues backed away a couple of steps. She was a very attractive woman, the Agent noted. Her uniform fit her well, accentuating her physique to great effect. He could see both awe and a little fear in her green eyes. Without asking her, he knew that this was the first time she’d ever seen an Agent in person. And he was well aware of the effect he and his kind had on normals.
Just as the officer turned to trot across the residential street with her precious cargo, the child called out. “Please don’t hurt my Daddy,” she pleaded. “And make sure Mommy is okay.”
At that, Agent 67 ducked his head, turned his enormous, black-clad torso and strode toward the house until he was standing directly before the front door through which the little girl had so recently fled. If only he could have heeded the child’s wishes. But it was too late for that. Her mother was likely already dead and her father was no longer human. He was a tick, now. And there was nothing the Agent hated more than that.
He went directly to the front door and put his forehead almost directly on the white-painted wood. It had little windows cut into it with beveled glass that created prisms that glittered in the reflected blue and white rays from the strobe lights on the three police cars that had been called in as backup. The Agent always thought it was nice that they sent the so-called backup, but they would be neither needed nor used in such a manner. It was sufficient that they do things like care for soon-to-be orphaned children and to keep gawking citizens at bay and out of danger. Other than that, they were of no real service to him, or to any other Agent.
Agents were pretty much beyond such things as needing help from a normal.
67 furrowed his tan brow and glared at the door as he wished he could glare at the tick he knew was inside. His closely cropped blonde hair was almost like a halo of fuzz around his skull. He squinted, cleared his throat, and talked at the barrier of solid wood.
“Mr. Barris. This is Agent 67. You know why I’m here.” He paused. Behind him, the people were all quiet, although he could feel dozens of sets of eyes peering at the scene. “Have you…” he didn’t finish that sentence. The child was out of sight and could not hear. “Is Mrs. Barris still alive?”
At first there was no response, and the Agent squared his shoulders and tensed his legs which were clad in the same dark material of Kevlar that made up his jacket and his gloves and his boots. Even his neck was protected with the stuff.
Especially his neck.
“All right, Barris.” He knew it wasn’t really Barris anymore. Just something that had replaced the man who had been, until that day, a director at a nearby trucking service. “I’m coming in.”
At that, a voice called out. As always, it sounded perfectly human and perfectly average. “Wait! Don’t…don’t come in. Laura…Laura and I will…well, we’ll be right out. No need to use force.” Agent 67 gritted his ivory teeth and he frowned in pure hatred. “This…this is all just a mistake,” it said. And through the door the Agent could hear the tick suddenly take one last swig out of Laura Barris’ warm corpse.
The Agent roared. He knew that although he always willed himself not to do that, he could never quite succeed. It was a terrible habit and one that he’d been warned could eventually get him into some difficulty. Later, he would meditate on it and try to do something about it. But for now, all he could do was to protect his people. All of the people. All of the time.
A split second after his giant’s shoulder hit the door there were hundreds of woody splinters scattering into the front room of the house. It was a simple ranch home, but spacious. Agent 67 had recognized the neighborhood and the houses in it as being of decent quality, realizing that the people here pulled down good salaries and were mainly of management class, with perhaps some skilled craftsmen interspersed among the tie-wearing husbands and suited wives who worked their eight-hour shifts in banks and towers and offices where things were pleasant.
Things were about to become extremely unpleasant.
He found himself standing in a small foyer, the floor composed of a checkerboard pattern of actual marble, black and white squares twelve inches on a side. There were no lamps on in the room, but he could see well enough. The strobe lights from the police cars were bouncing across the walls of the living room and the furniture in it. He stood alone there, his head almost brushing the ceiling. Of course he didn’t expect anyone there and knew exactly where the former Mr. Barris and his either dying or dead wife were waiting to be encountered. Instantly he headed down the hallways directly before him, only briefly noting that he living room had been in relative order, and no sign or scent of blood or violence having been committed there.
Three long strides took him down the hall. Guest bedroom door stood ajar and he could detect no living thing in it. He passed the child’s room, decorated with plush animals and a cherry wood bed with a down comforter atop the mattress, flung aside when the girl had first heard the stirrings of madness that had spurred her to run for help. The door to the master bedroom was also opened wide, and the white carpet in the large space was scattered with dots of what looked like ink in the dim light. Of course the Agent knew that it was not ink there on the pale fabric of the carpet, but blood, and that the thing that had infected the household with its foul presence must have been anguished at every spilled drop that it had failed to ingest.
After that, he emerged into the dining room. It seemed hideously apt that he would find Laura Barris there, her body tossed now haphazardly across the gleaming oak top of a table suitable for eight guests, the polished wood shining and serving as a resting place for her shrunken, bloodless form. There was an awful wound at the base of her neck. These ticks were not delicate and were not clean. Nothing at all dainty about them whatsoever.
Ticks were vile creatures and it was the job of every Agent to do away with them and their related kind.
And now, it was exactly time to do just. That.
Although the Agent knew roughly where his target was waiting, he had missed a brief clue. It took him partially by surprise when his attacker came through the wall to his left, creating a void directly into the barrier of insulation and cedar paneling to strike him between the beltline and the bottom of his rib cage. Despite his advantage in mass, the sheer fury and speed of the impact sent him sprawling, his feet leaving the floor and his back crashing into the wall behind him with enough force to send him partially through it.
For an instant he saw stars, and when they cleared the thing had its hands around his throat. Agent 67 looked up and he could see the face of the former Ted Barris, the features now contorted beyond description. His nose had all but gone, and was merely a thin horizontal slit covered by a flap of thick skin that alternately lowered and lifted as the thing drew breath. Its eyes were great, wet pools of black tar that streamed tears of blood, and its mouth was the grimace of a hagfish, rows of sharp teeth like tiny blades sawing back and forth as it drooled blood and muck down on the Agent’s chest.
He hated them. Ticks were the worst of the lot, he figured.
Stiffening his back and forcing himself into a sitting position, the Agent used his right hand to grasp the tick’s forearm. With only mild difficulty he peeled the fingers of that hand from his throat and was amused at the surprise that painted the thing’s hideous face. It was always like that. They were so astounded over their newfound abilities and their apparent unmatchable strength that they couldn’t believe someone was not only stronger, but far more physically powerful.
Agent 67 then stood. He stood so violently that he sent both himself and his assailant partially through the roof of the room. The impact meant nothing to him, but once again the violence of it distracted the thing. In that moment he made a fist of his left hand and shoved it into the creature’s mouth, shattering many of those little razors that were its teeth and wedging the adamant bulk of his knuckles firmly into that maw. Then, while it was thinking how next to react, he suddenly twisted the other arm in his unbreakable grasp and turned it back until the bones shattered and speared out of the formerly human flesh like pink splinters of hard plastic.
But the tick did not scream. It did not call out or beg for mercy or help or God. This passivity in the face of destruction was one of the reasons he hated them so.
With his right hand free to act without having to deal with an opposing foe, he drew back, his arm a blur in the night. He struck downward, into the tick’s chest. Flesh didn’t quite part, but organs turned to water and all manner of bones broke and cracked and became little darts that swam through the bloody seas of its body.
The tick reacted by using its broken arm as a bludgeon, shoving the useless, flapping hand at the Agent, trying to jab the stub of sharpened bones into his eyes as if they were some kind of spear-point.
At that, the Agent smiled, placed both of his hands around the throat that had once belonged to a man named Barris and he bent the creature’s spine backward, bracing the pelvis of it against his flat, unyielding abdomen and he pushed—pushed with more than the combined strength of twenty men. If the tick had been inclined to scream or to call out for help or for mercy then that was the moment when it would have done so.
But, it did not. They never did. They could still speak; still communicate in the same voice they’d used in life. But they never did it to ask for relief.
The tick’s spine shattered with a loud cracking sound that filled the house. Agent 67 suspected that even the cops out on the street had heard it. His victim’s legs went suddenly to noodles, but it still tried to tear at this face with its one relatively intact left hand. The Agent’s face remained a mask of utter rage and disgust. He threw the thing to the floor and watched it squirm, its own eyes glaring up at him with an anger that matched his own. But impotent for all that anger.
While he looked down, not so much as winded, 67 was strangely impressed as the thing turned over, levering its torso up, as if it still had usable legs on which it might stand.
He raised his boots, the soles of which were coated in classic hob-nails, but consisting of the finest of steel sheathed in a thin coat of vulcanized rubber. He brought the heels of his boots down on the squirming tick again and again, using his nearly three hundred-pound mass to grind bone and flesh into paste.
As always, it took the tick and long time to die.
Finally, when the thing was a ruin of warm muck and neither moved nor breathed, Agent 67 stopped. His boots had wrecked the floor beneath the tick’s puddle of a corpse. The walls were splattered with all manner of gore. For a moment he stood and stared down at the thing he’d killed, searching for even the tiniest spark of life in it. But it had been a newly turned individual and thus easier to send to oblivion. It was only a few hours old. He’d done battle with ticks that were weeks old, and some of them had lasted fifteen minutes before he’d killed them.
Stepping away from the pond of goo, he went to the kitchen and ran the tap water. Although his hands were gloved, he washed them, letting the red and black ruins of his struggle flow off of his hands. When the fabric was relatively clean he retrieved a glass from a cupboard and filled it from the same tap and drank the water, put down the glass, turned off the tap, and headed to the front door where he stopped and peered into the dark that was broken by those familiar, strobing lights.
Two police officers saw him standing impassively there in the broken gap of the house and approached him.
“Agent 67. Do you require assistance?” The officer who addressed him was a male. The other was the same woman to whom he’d given the child.
“Is the little girl safe?” he asked.
The woman spoke up, immediately. “Yes. She’s safely off the scene. Proper authorities took her away a few minutes ago. Her grandparents have been called. Her…mother’s parents.”
Agent 67 nodded. His face was dotted with the blood of the encounter. “Good,” he said. “Thank you,” he added, as he came down from his place, towering over the police officers. “The tick is in there. On the floor. Have a crew come in and haul it away. The house will probably have to be sterilized. Frankly, I’m not sure if it can be salvaged. And Mrs. Barris…her corpse is on the dining room table where he left it. I don’t think she’ll turn…but you can never tell. You know the drill.” Then his long legs took him quickly across the lawn and down the street to where he’d parked his specialized, armored sedan.
The cops waited until they’d heard the low mutter of the sedan’s engine. When they saw the tail lights fade down the street and vanish, they finally spoke.
“Why didn’t he just shoot it?” Officer Mantle asked her partner. “He has those sidearms. He could have just shot the bastard.”
“I’ve seen him before,” the other cop told her. “Not just him. Other Agents. I’ve never seen one use a firearm on any bloodsucker.” He shrugged. “I think they like beating them to death.”
Although it was not particularly chilly, Officer Mantle shivered.