All Creatures Great and Maul

by Kristen Bealer

CONTROL Agent 86, known to the public as Kevin Thompson, was whistling on his way to headquarters. The sun was shining, a gentle breeze was blowing, and a small brown squirrel was sinking its teeth into his ankle.

"Argh!" Kevin screamed, jumping in place a few times before falling face first onto the sidewalk outside the front doors. Another squirrel scampered over almost immediately, digging its claws into his back. By the time a third had arrived, eyes focused on the agent's left ear, he had recovered enough to stand up and shake off the fluffy-tailed rodents. Hearing the sound of agitated chattering nearby, he ran into CONTROL headquarters and slammed the door behind him before furry reinforcements could arrive.

He raced through the secret entrance before finally bursting into his boss's office. "Chief!" he cried. "You'll never believe--" He stopped short when he saw the Chief of CONTROL sitting at his desk, hand bandaged and tiny scratches and bite marks visible all over his face. "You were attacked by squirrels, too?"

The Chief shook his head. "Rabbits." He motioned for Kevin to sit down. "But we're not alone. At least half a dozen agents have been attacked this week, and all of them by small, normally nonviolent animals."

Kevin tapped his fingers on the Chief's desk. "I bet it's that new soap they put in the bathrooms. I told 99 just the other day that it smells like acorns. She didn't believe me, but now I'm sure of it!"

The Chief shook his head. "It's most likely a KAOS plot," he replied.

"How would KAOS be able to get their hands on our soap?"

"Forget the soap!" The Chief calmed himself before continuing, "I've already got 99 on the case. We have an inside man gathering information on KAOS's activities, and I sent her to meet with him earlier today. She'll be here any minute with news."

"I still think we should switch to Krazy Klean. I use that at home and it smells awesome!"

Kevin was spared the Chief's wrath by the arrival of his partner, Agent 99. "I'm afraid I don't have much to report, Chief," she said. "I had to cut the meeting short."

The Chief instantly looked worried. "Did KAOS track you there?"

She shook her head, looking truly disgusted. "No, I just couldn't stand talking to Agent 24 anymore, that...that...jerk! We agreed to meet at High Hills Park in an hour, but I wanted to bring someone with me for protection."

"Don't worry about a thing, 99," Kevin said with a grin. "I'll make sure you're safe!"

"Me?" she replied with a giggle. "I was talking about him."

Kevin was careful to check before he left the building, and was relieved to see no squirrels in sight. Even so, he and 99 moved quickly to get into his Jeep and drive to the park. Once there, 99 led him to a designated park bench where they sat down to wait for Agent 24 to meet them.

"The crow flies at midnight," murmured a voice behind them. Both agents turned to see a dark-haired man wearing sunglasses approach.

"The pigeons are at rest," Kevin quickly replied in the same low voice.

"Hark, I hear the cannons roar."

"The eagle has landed," returned Kevin. "Or was it a condor?"

"You were right; it's the eagle," the dark-haired man assured him. "The weather will--"

"We know it's you, Agent 24," 99 groaned in disgust. "I think we can skip the countersigns."

Both Agent 24 and Kevin looked disappointed. "Brian Danielson," the agent said, extended a hand for Kevin to shake. He sat down between the two of them on the bench, allowing his leg to rub against 99's for just a second too long.

"What can you tell us?" she snapped.

"Patience, little lady," he chuckled.

Agent 99's fists began to clench and unclench repeatedly, so Kevin took over. "Do you know if KAOS is behind the animal attacks?"

"All I know so far is that something big is about to go down. The top guys are touchier than a chick with PMS, and they only get like that when they have a major plan in the works. I've heard a few whispers about pet stores, but that's all I've been able to find out."

Through gritted teeth, 99 asked, "Do you at least know when they'll make their next move?"

"Sorry, Sweet Cheeks. It's hard enough keeping KAOS from figuring out I'm a double agent. If I start sniffing around too much, they'll be on me faster than a fat girl on cake. I don't expect you to understand how difficult a real agent's job is, but--"

Agent 99 was only prevented from attacking Brian because about half a dozen opossums emerged from hiding and lunged at him first. She and Kevin could only stare as the agent fell forward off the bench, screaming and flailing at the marsupials.

"Shouldn't we do something?" Kevin asked, rising quickly.

"No," 99 replied, trying to suppress her smirk. After a moment, she added, "Um, because I'm sure he can handle this on his own?"

Kevin nodded, but didn't look convinced. "Okay, but our double agent has blown his cover and we still don't know what KAOS is planning. I need to come up with a new course of action."

"Gahhh! Getemoffgetemoffgetemoff!!!"

Ignoring the shouts of pain, 99 said, "He mentioned pet stores. That's our only lead so far, so we should start with that. There's a pet shop at Cranberry Commons, which isn't too far from here. Let's head there and see what we can find."

"If you don't mind, 99, I'd like to figure this out myself."

"Not there! Anywhere but there! Arghhh!"

"Okay," she replied with a shrug.

"He mentioned pet stores. That's our only lead so far, so we should start with that. There's a pet shop at Cranberry Commons, which isn't too far from here. Let's head there and see what we can find."

"Wow! Good thinking, Kevin!"


Our Furry and Scaly Friends was closed, even though every other store at the mall was bustling. A sign on the locked gate read, "Closed for a family member's wedding. We apologize for the inconvenience."

"A wedding in the middle of a weekday morning?" Kevin asked, confused. "That seems like a pretty flimsy excuse. Besides, why would every single person who works at the pet store be at the wedding? And not only that--"

"I think the sign being written on paper with a KAOS letterhead might, like, have something to do with it, Kevin," 99 pointed out.

"Yes, I was just getting to that," he said after a short pause. "All right, it looks like we'll have to break in."

Opening her purse, 99 pulled out a case containing a set of lock picks. "Want me to see if I can get the lock open?" she asked.

Kevin shook his head. "I have a better idea. I'll bet you anything that there's some kind of release catch somewhere on this gate for emergencies. If I can just find that, we'll get this gate open in no time!"

As Kevin painstakingly scanned every inch of the gate, 99 looked at him, then at the gate, and finally at her lock picks. Shrugging, she opened the case and got to work.

After a few minutes, Kevin gave a triumphant whistle as the gate slid upward. Agent 99 hastily shoved the lock picks back into her purse and tried to look innocent. "Nice work, Kevin!"

"Thanks, 99. It was hidden really well, but I found it eventually." He frowned. "In fact, I'm still not sure exactly where--"

"Quick, we'd better get inside before we draw too much attention to ourselves!"

The agents slipped into the pet store, sliding the gate closed behind them. Kevin peered briefly at it before 99 pulled him away. Immediately after they entered, a cacophony of noise erupted around them. Canaries were screeching, puppies were snarling, gerbils were...squeaking, but in a very threatening manner. Only the boa constrictor looked unperturbed as it lazily coiled around itself in its cage, but the agents felt unsettled by the excessive interest with which it eyed them.

"Over here, 99," Kevin said, voice raised to be heard over the enraged animals. "It looks like some kind of schedule."

Edging nervously around a tank full of very agitated goldfish, 99 joined him at the store counter. "'4:00 â€" Change bedding in gerbil cage. 4:15 â€" Water for Maria and Pedro. 4:30 â€" Transport animals to PF,'" she read out loud. "PF? Who's PF?"

"I don't know," Kevin admitted, wincing at the noise, "but whoever they are, I hope they've got earplugs."

"Keep looking," 99 suggested. "I'm sure we're getting close, and if we can find anything that explains what KAOS is up to--"

"Oh, I don't think I can allow that," a voice interrupted. Both agents looked up to see a middle-aged man with a nametag reading "Mr. Matthews" calmly pulling the gate closed behind him. Kevin immediately reached for his gun, but Matthews pressed a button on a small remote, which was followed by a "bzzzt" sound as the lid to the boa constrictor's cage slid open. "Joanna, the gun!" he called out. The snake lazily slithered partially out of the cage and wrapped itself around Kevin's hand, squeezing until he dropped his weapon. It clattered onto the floor a few feet away.

Before 99 could reach for her own gun, Matthews clicked his tongue reproachfully and shook his head. He had his hand on the canaries' cage, prepared to open it. "Both of you just stay where you are, or else I'll have to open this cage." The mild and friendly expression on his face changed instantly to one of malice. "Have you ever seen Hitchcock's The Birds? That was nothing compared to what these lovely creatures will do if I release them."

Kevin and 99 looked at the super-aggressive canaries, all flapping and screeching, and decided to take his word for it. "How did you know we were here?" asked 99, nervously twirling a lock of blond hair around her finger.

"Even if the silent alarm hadn't let me know," Matthews answered, holding up the remote to reveal a flashing red light, "I could hear the animals from the Food Court."

"The wedding was in the Food Court?" Kevin asked. "Was it at the corn dog stand?"

Matthews rolled his eyes. "There was no wedding, you idiot. I was meeting with one of my contacts from KAOS."

"At the corn dog stand?"

"Never mind, Kevin," 99 said before looking back at Matthews. "So we were right; this is a KAOS front! And you're a KAOS agent!"

He shook his head. "Oh, no. I'm just an ordinary pet store owner. I have a contract with KAOS to obtain, store, and transport animals for them. They pay me very well and they always take very good care of the animals. Aside from turning them into vicious killing machines, of course." Seeing that Kevin had started to edge toward his dropped gun, he tightened his grip on the canary cage. "I'm sure I can get this cage open long before you can get your hands on that gun," he warned.

"Maybe, but what you don't know is that right now, CONTROL is sending fifty of its most highly-trained agents, armed to the teeth, to this very location. Can you believe it? Fifty agents!"

Matthews frowned. "I find that very hard to believe."

"Would you believe a dozen so-so agents with slingshots?"

"I don't think so."

"How about the janitor, and he's got a bucket of very soapy hot water?"

Matthews shook his head. Kevin decided he was out of options and dove for the gun. Immediately, Matthews released the canaries, which streamed out of their cage and began pecking at Kevin and 99's faces. After futilely swatting at them with their arms, the agents finally gave up and resorted to crouching on the floor with their arms protecting their heads.

Satisfied that the two had been subdued, Matthews gave an odd bird call and the canaries returned to their cages, with the exception of one which had apparently flown into an air vent. "Travis, Jr., no!" Matthews groaned sadly. He quickly confiscated the guns and bound the agents' arms before leading them out a back door and into the back of a delivery truck.

After a short drive, the van doors opened again and they emerged, blinking in the bright daylight, to see their doom spelled out in bright neon letters.


Kevin and 99 were ushered into the restaurant, followed closely by Matthews. Another cacophony assaulted their ears as they entered, but this time it was singing rather than the aggressive cries of murderous animals.

The singing was worse.

"The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round! The wheels on the bus go round and round, all through the town!" The overly-chirpy employees would have been annoying enough on their own, but they were joined by any number of off-key singers, bored mumblers, and shrieking children.

"Wow, so KAOS is not just teaching animals to attack, but also to talk and sing?" Kevin asked in wonder.

"Um, I think the singers are just people in costume," 99 explained.

"And those costumes also protect the agents from any attacks while they train the animals," Matthews added as he moved them along into a back room, "which makes this place ideal for a base of operations."

An armed guard stepped forward as they entered the back room, but relaxed as he recognized Matthews. "Tell your boss I found two CONTROL agents poking around my store," Matthews informed him. "I'm sure he'll want to handle this personally." The guard nodded and hurried away.

"Now's our best chance," Kevin told 99 as quietly as possible. "If we don't act soon, there's no way we'll get out of here." Although 99 nodded slightly in reply, she looked worried. "Don't worry; I have a brilliant escape plan." Now she looked even more worried.

Kevin turned to Matthews. "What on earth is that?!" he cried. Matthews turned to look, and Kevin hit him in the jaw with a solid right hook.

As Matthews slumped to the floor, unconscious, 99 stared in disbelief. "That was your brilliant escape plan?"

"It worked, didn't it?"

She had no response to that.

Slipping through a side door, the pair ducked quickly out of sight to avoid being seen by another KAOS guard in the next room. "We've got to find a way out of here without being seen!" 99 whispered. "And we can't risk going back out into the restaurant!"

"Or maybe we can!" Kevin whispered back as he opened a closet door and looked inside. "Check out these animal costumes. It's the perfect opportunity. We can disguise ourselves as singing animals and infilate--infitler--spy on KAOS without them finding out!"

"Do you really think it will work?" 99 asked nervously.

"Of course it will! It's foolproof!"

"B-G-I-N-O! B-O-G-I-N! N-G-O-B-I! And Bingo was his name-o!"

Not for the first time, 99 winced inside her costume. Kevin's off-key singing was bad enough, but in the past half hour he'd managed to give Old MacDonald a barking cow, mash "Baa Baa Black Sheep" and "Mary Had a Little Lamb" together into some kind of strange remix version, and point to all of the wrong body parts during "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes." Fortunately, most of the kids weren't paying attention and the adults were trying their best to tune them out.

In between songs, 99 got Kevin's attention and pointed toward the back room. "I don't think we're going to learn anything out here. We need to get back there. KAOS probably thinks we're long gone by now, anyway."

Kevin nodded, or at least the oversized gopher head he was wearing did, and they made their way to the back of the restaurant. Walking nonchalantly, they were able to move unbothered through the restricted areas until they reached a door labeled "Warning! Training in Progress!"

"A warning sign? I didn't realize the employee training was so dangerous here," Kevin said in surprise. "I mean, it's just singing. How hard can that be?"

"For you or for a normal person?" 99 muttered under her breath. Out loud, she said, "I bet it means the animals, not the employees. This must be where they train them to attack CONTROL agents!"

Carefully opening the door, they walked inside and found the room empty. Cages lined the walls, but the animals inside didn't respond to the agents in costume.

"Look!" 99 said, pointing out an open ledger. "They've written down the times and places they intend to attack our agents! And there are even code words that will stop the animals!"

"Good work, 99!" Kevin replied. "With this, we'll be able to defend ourselves and maybe even take down the KAOS agents responsible!"

"Hey!" yelled a voice behind them. They looked up to see a giant raccoon with a "Manager" nametag clipped to his costume. "We aren't doing any training today. We're understaffed as it is, and we've got a birthday party in half an hour!"

"No problem," Kevin replied immediately. The manager hesitated on his way out the door, and 99 made motions at Kevin to be quiet. "What is it?" he asked her. The manager took a step back in their direction, his large raccoon eyes now turned towards Kevin.

"Don't talk!" 99 hissed at him. "He doesn't recognize your voice!"

"Speak up," Kevin replied at normal volume. "I can't understand you when you whisper like that."

"Shhhh!" she said, one finger of her oversized glove pressed to her plastic mouth.

Kevin shrugged and pulled off his animal head. "What?"

Startled, the manager leaped over to a wall and slammed his hand down on a button. Instantly a computerized voice called from unseen speakers, "Intruders! Intruders! Intruders!" Kevin and 99 could hear footsteps pounding nearby, growing louder.

Matthews burst in and saw them instantly. "Take off the costumes!" he demanded. As armed KAOS agents poured into the room, Kevin and 99 complied. As soon as the animals saw them out of their disguises, a flood of barking and hissing and growling exploded into the room. "You won't get away this time!" he told them with a triumphant smirk. "Every KAOS agent in the building has his gun pointed straight at you, but we won't need them to dispose of you two!" He pressed another button and the cages all swung open, allowing the animals to bound out and charge toward the defenseless CONTROL agents.

"Eep!" cried 99, her voice hitting an even higher pitch than usual. Many of the animals stopped short, causing the others to bump into each other.

As the pack started to recover, Kevin turned to his partner. "Do that again!" he urged. "That squeak!"

"What squeak?" 99 exclaimed in confusion. Once again, the animals fell into confusion.

"Keep going! Your voice is stopping them from attacking!"

"Ohhh!" 99 replied in a normal tone, then raised her voice to correct herself, "I mean, oh!"

All of the animals were fully disoriented and running in random directions as 99 continued to speak in excited tones. Barely stopping for breath, she recited the Pledge of Allegiance, ran through as many celebrity names as she could think of, and made it through the first verse of "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees before the animals finally panicked and turned on the KAOS guards.

"Hurry!" Kevin said, grabbing a panting 99 by the arm and pulling her out of the room. They each picked up a gun, dropped by the guards during the attack, before slamming the door shut behind them.

As the screams and growls faded inside the room, Kevin called out, "All right, everybody, stay right where you are! If anyone tries to leave that room, we'll open fire!" He turned to 99. "You cover the door; I'll go call the Chief for back-up and then get back out to the restaurant."

"The restaurant? Why?" she asked, setting off another flurry of activity inside the training room.

"Didn't you hear the manager? There's a birthday party coming in less than half an hour!"

Thank you to RLobinske for beta-reading.