It is a world ruled by mad science! Poorly. Only one person will stand to defend the innocent villager and abandoned construct alike – AGATHA HETERODYNE, GIRL GENIUS! In this thrilling tale, Agat...
Dedicated to Lester Dent. Because.
When the last bolt of her clank had been tightened, Agatha Heterodyne finally permitted herself to scream in frustration. The poor clank was not at fault, of course. Her latest creation – a wonder of brass, steel, and Yttrium, she felt safe to boast – had, in fact, exceeded her expectations. She threw her Right-Leaning Occipital Heterodyne Wrench back onto the workbench, where it landed with a clang. A shudder ran through the room, and another clang resounded as the wrench fell to the floor.
Agatha heaved a sigh and went to pick up the wrench. It would be better if she tidied up her tools now, anyway. Just then, the hatch opened, and in stepped Zeetha.
Her green-haired warrior friend wasn't one for small talk and cut to the chase. "Agatha, if you haven't finished, you'd best hurry – we've just docked, and I doubt the late Professor Zapruder's Venomous Spiders will wait for you."
Agatha gave a grin and waved over at the completed clank. This, she had under control. "Not to worry. I just finished the last adjustments – the new armour will stand up quite well against even the sharpest proboscis."
Zeetha returned the smile, and her mild worry vanished. "And your mind will be fully on the crisis at hand, I hope I can assume?" Zeetha crossed her arms in front of her.
Agatha avoided eye contact and turned to polish the frontplate on the newly-finished clank. "I'm certain I don't know what you're talking about."
"Oh, yes. And I'm sure your latest tiff with Gilgamesh won't cause any problems. The boy likely took you on your word and won't be bothering you again. Why, I wouldn't be surprised if he's already found someone else --"
Agatha cut her off. "He's not like that!" Eyes blazing, she had dropped far into 'de madness place', as the Jagers would say. "But he should have known better. How dare he send that gift. . . "
Zeetha rolled her eyes. "He couldn't have known. And honestly, if you hadn't just returned from pruning out a mammoth sentient rosebush with ambulatory vines and razor-sharp thorns, it wouldn't have seemed that bad to have a bunch of roses delivered to you . . ."
Agatha tossed the cloth back to her workbench, the armour already gleaming with a mirror-like finish, and calmed somewhat. "That may be so. But I'm not about to apologize."
"Honestly. You've both made bigger slip-ups, you'll be back to normal before you know it. For now, we have work to do."
Agatha sighed and gave a nod, her face grim as she recalled the situation at hand. The Venomous Water Spiders plaguing the eastern coast of England had been severe enough that, with their national heroine off on another mission of great importance, they had sent a plea to Castle Heterodyne for aid. If the message hadn't been rerouted to where her travels had taken her to Paris, the trip would likely have taken too long to be of much use. It was Agatha's first visit to the Glass City, and she was determined to make a good first impression. "Right. Let's be off, and make sure everyone has their antidote vials at hand, just in case."
Not ten seconds after they exited the lab, Jenka of the Jagerkin sped down the corridor toward them. "Mistress! You vill vant to be seeing vat is going on out here . . . it iz odd. Come."
With that, Jenka sped back the way she came, toward the exit. Zeetha and Agatha exchanged a worried glance. Something that one of the Jagerkin would consider to be odd? They took off after her without question.
As Jenka passed a doorway, Krosp stepped out. The cat looked rather irritated. "It's too early for me to get up. Can't you people keep it down out here?"
Agatha thwapped him and pulled the frustrated feline along with them. "No time to explain. I don't know the details myself, but we've landed."
"Dry land? Okay, there's a valid reason for waking me."
"That, and Jenka says there's something odd going on."
Krosp's eyes went wide and his tail poofed out. "LET ME OUT OF HERE! I want to go in the direction she isn't!" His limbs flailed wildly, all claws stretched out.
Agatha kept her grip on the scruff of his neck, ignoring the protests. As she had neglected to remove her lab gloves before starting off, his claws were unable to dig into the flesh of her hand and their progress was undeterred.
Finally, they reached the outer hatch, which Jenka was holding open for them. "Youse gonna vant to hear dis for youselfs. . ."
Agatha stepped forward, letting Krosp drop to the deck with what dignity he could muster. The spit of land they had docked on was barely a kilometer wide at that point, the space largely taken up by the many docks and a small town that prospered with the frequent trade. The graceful curve of the great dome of the Glass City of London could be seen on the other side. While the view was indeed splendid, what drew her attention more was the great heap of Venomous Spider corpses, and before them the mayor of this coastal settlement was standing on a platform, giving a speech. Given the streamers and the presence of the town band, it was, by all appearances, a victory speech. The three women exchanged glances.
"See? Dey sed dat dere vas trouble, but tings seem to be under control. . . ." Jenka scratched her head.
Agatha frowned slightly. "Let's see what's going on. I'm sure there's a good explanation – and there might still be something we can do to assist, this might just be a triumph over one wave of the pests."
The group proceeded to join the crowds, in hopes that some answers would be provided. Fortune favoured them in this, for the crowds were distracted in their glee and their arrival was barely noticed as they slipped in among the rear of the crowd. Several of the Jagerkin, considering it a shore leave until further orders were given, left the ship and followed to satisfy their own curiosity. After all, they had to find out what was behind their lost opportunity to have a good fight.
"And so," the mayor announced, "We take this occasion to honour our most distinguished guest and hero of the day. After all, where would we be, had the Heterodyne heir not saved us all?"
Agatha blinked in confusion, then spoke up. "Excuse me, but it wasn't the Heterodyne heir."
Only the fifty or so standing closest to her could hear, but to a one those turned to glare at her. One said, "Oh, really?"
Jenka felt this an opportune moment to defend her mistress. "Ja, is vat she sed. Sumvun else did et." pointing at Agatha.
The members of the crowd closer to the front weren't sure what was going on, but common knowledge of mobs will tell you that it was largely irrelevant. "That's horrible of you to say! What gives you the right?"
"But I just got here . . . I only want to see that credit goes to the one responsible and not have you all think I did just because of who my family was . . . " Agatha's attempt to explain didn't register with the crowd, and they began to close in.
While it is certainly common knowledge that it's unwise to anger a mob, slightly less known but equally true is that it is incredibly foolish and possibly suicidal to move in on a Heterodyne while there are Jagers about. Agatha could hardly see the mob around the circle of hats of her defenders.
Mobs aren't known for their wisdom, it must be said, and the Jagers were disregarded. "Get her! She spoke against our hero!"
Andre, standing to her left, flashed his mistress a grin. "Ve gonna haf some fun now!"
Agatha gave a desperate glance to Zeetha, hoping that there was at least some possible escape route. Unfortunately for her, or perhaps fortunately depending on the perspective, Zeetha instead saw this as an opportune time for a bonus training session, and passed Agatha a staff. "If you prove yourself now, in tomorrow morning's session I won't train you to the point of exhaustion for a change."
This was a generous offer, and Agatha gave it some consideration. As the mob had closed in, no nonviolent alternative had presented itself, and so she accepted the staff. "Right. Let's get this matter straightened out."
The Jagers grinned at this. They had a rather favoured method of straightening out problems such as this. But Agatha spoke up, doing her best to be heard clearly by the crowd. "I never said anything against the one who stopped them! I simply wished to give credit where it was due and not just assigned to someone with a famous name --"
"It's not!" someone called out, "I saw Gary Heterodyne destroy those spiders with my own eyes! He saved us all."
Agatha froze in shock as the words registered with her, and she noticed the man in a rather distinctive suit of armour just now striding up to the podium to receive his laurels.
"Get her!" one of the sharper bricks in the crowd spoke up, and the mob advanced.
Her grip tightened on the staff. Time to reflect could come later; for now, she might at least gain an easy morning tomorrow out of all of this and come out of it with minimal trouble.
Well, Agatha thought as she looked around the cell, That went down like a lead balloon.
She was rather relieved that she had managed to make a point with the Jagers early on that they were not to kill or seriously wound civilians, but perhaps she ought to have clarified something about kneecaps. Knowing the Jagers, they would likely argue that they just tended to forget just how easily humans could break in a friendly scuffle.
All things considered, it had ended in a relatively peaceful manner. But only relative, as there had been both a mob and Jagermonsters involved. Once the local police clanks intervened, the crowds were dispersed and the ones responsible for 'inciting' the incident arrested. There was no loss of productivity, at least she could accept. Had she been elsewhere for the past night, it would have been spent much the same – trying to figure out the truth behind this mysterious man they called the Heterodyne heir. It was perfectly possible that the Jagers had missed another child; it had taken them eighteen years to discover her existence, after all. Did she have a newfound brother? Cousin? Or, slightly more disturbing, a half-brother?
It had been odd enough, when she first discovered her heritage, to be reading and acting out the Heterodyne Boys stories that covered her parents' odd courtship, but to contemplate others her father may have dated . . . well.
Just then, the cell door opened. Agatha shot up from her cot, hopefully. The guard was the grizzled old sort who tended to be employed in jailhouses such as these, where clanks were the primary means of keeping the prisoners under watch.
He gave her a somewhat condescending smile and said, "You're free to go. They had ya fingered for starting the nastiness down there, but it's looking more like you were in an unfortunate spot when those wild Jagerthings picked the wrong way to celebrate. What harm could a little thing like you do, after all?"
Agatha resisted the temptation to reply, as winning her freedom held priority over making a point. For now.
The guard continued, oblivious to Agatha's near-audible teeth grinding, "Gary's a good lad, doesn't believe in having those nasty beasts trail around after him everywhere. Takes after the better part of his family, he does. He was surprised as we were that they came in on one of the ships, and said they were to stay in the cells until they learned their lesson."
He ushered her out of the cell, grinning. "Well, no sense detaining you any longer. I just have a form to fill out, and you can be on your way."
Agatha frowned once he turned, and followed him toward the exit. When he turned a corner, she paused by one of the cells and quietly called out, "Jenka? Andre? Are you all right?"
The two figures immediately sat at attention and flashed her matching sharp-toothed grins. "No vorry, miztress. Ve vill be hokay. Dis is only for a leetle while."
Jenka nodded and added, "And de food is goot. It vill do, until you can get dem to haf us go. Dat vun, who deigns to call himself Heterodyne. . . he smells wrong. It vill be simple enough to fix."
Agatha sighed, but couldn't help a smile. Their constant loyalty gave her great comfort. But she needed to hurry, or the guard would be suspicious. "All right. I will be back for you, I promise."
"Et deedn't hoit dat ve got to riot first, zo hey – ve came out ahead anyvay."
Agatha facepalmed, then hurried around the corner and called out to the guard, "Sorry about that. My boot was untied. . ."
Soon enough, the details were straightened away and Agatha was free to go. Zeetha had, of course, managed to evade capture and was waiting for her outside the jailhouse. She was smiling, so of course Agatha was nervous.
"Not bad, for your first real mob fight. You did well enough that, under the circumstances, I'll even allow your practice to be delayed until later. We have other priorities today, such as learning more about this supposed Heterodyne heir."
Agatha turned her gaze upward with an expression of supreme resignation. "I'm not certain I even wish to think about the possibilities . . . did you find out anything further after I was, well, forcibly removed from the scene?"
"Honestly, you doubt me, Agatha?" Zeetha said with a half-smile, "It was easy enough getting the locals to talk about him, but filtering out the general glowing praise to get the facts took some doing. The man who goes by Gary Heterodyne arrived here about a week before we did in a fancy airship, wearing that suit of armour. He claimed that the message you received had been sent to him, and no one questioned his story. He's spent the past week alternating between killing the bugs and seducing local girls with an interest in Heterodyne Boys stories. Once he killed enough of them that the tide went out without another attack wave, they declared him the ultimate victor."
"And none of them think that this might not be the end? The slightest suspicion that the Venomous Water Spiders might simply be regrouping? Or worse still, laying eggs?" Agatha grimaced at the general situation.
"I haven't seen any sign of it. Best case scenario, any who considered it simply didn't want to spoil the victory party. But Gary was relaxed enough that I'm certain the thought hasn't entered his mind." Zeetha frowned and shot a glare in the direction of the Town Square, where the aforementioned party had been held.
Agatha considered the situation and said, "Let's track down the mayor, he's the one who contacted me in the first place and should have a better idea of what's going on."
Exchanging a nod, the pair set off, feeling more confident about the situation.
After wrangling a meeting with the town's mayor, Agatha was beginning to wish she'd only had to deal with another mob.
"Now, now, dearie. Don't stress your pretty little head, you must simply be confused. I sent for the Heterodyne heir, I didn't mean to call a lady away from her housework and cooking and whatnot. We have a real situation here, worthy of Gary Heterodyne himself. Now, your trip doesn't have to be in vain – I hear that there's plans in the works for embroidering official Gary Heterodyne pillows to mark his victory. Play your cards right, and I could get you good work there. . ." The mayor seemed to be under the impression that he oozed charm when speaking like that.
Agatha and Zeetha grew more convinced with every word that he simply oozed.
Gathering her focus to keep from hitting the man, Agatha finally spoke. "I received your message at Castle Heterodyne, your honor. I arrived as requested, and the mistake was clearly on your end. If you'll stop condescending to me and listen for a minute, this situation should resolve itself."
At the mayor's response, Zeetha's hand tightened on the grip of her sword, a preferred method of resolving the situation.
Twenty seconds later, both women were deposited without ceremony into the street behind City Hall by the mayor's security clanks.
Picking herself up off the street, Zeetha said, "The man may be a pig in all other respects, but he has excellent choice in security."
Agatha nodded, brushing herself off, and they started back to Main Street. "I have to wonder what 'Her Undying Majesty' would think if she knew she'd given power to someone like that. . . and who is this supposed 'Heterodyne heir'?"
As if in response to her question, the man in the suit of armour they had seen the previous day came around the corner. The armour, they could now see, was brass polished to a golden shine, with a trilobite embossed on the chest, front of his helmet, and on each shoulder. A group of several dozen adoring girls surrounded him, stopping only once he'd entered City Hall and the guards refused entry to them.
Agatha shot a glare after him. "Let's head back to the ship. I'll need to get cleaned up, then we can take the memo they sent and try to get everything sorted out."
Zeetha said with a nod, "Right. And I need to adjust my arsenal, considering what we're up against . . ." With that, the pair made their return to the ship.
After a chance to clean up, change out of her travelling clothing, and arm herself subtly, Agatha felt much better, and far more prepared to face the challenge that awaited her. As she stepped outside once more, she nearly ran into one of the few Jagers who hadn't left the ship in time for the riot.
Dimo passed her a package, grinning. "A speed ship dropped dis off. Is from Mizter Gilgamesh."
Somewhat grateful for the distraction and curious, Agatha took the package and set it down to get a better look. It was approximately one cubic meter and had air holes. And something inside was moving. This was enough to ensure she stood back as she opened it, prepared for anything. The creature that emerged took her by surprise. It was. . . an adorable sheepdog puppy.
Shaggy tail wagging and a wide doggy grin on its face, the new arrival licked Agatha's face enthusiastically. Agatha couldn't hold back her smile, and scratched it between the ears.
"Gil's timing is improving . . . he couldn't have picked a better moment to remind me there are still some on my side." She paused a moment. "You need a name. Hmm . . .Guido. Yes, that will do. Well, pup, let's find out what's behind this nasty mess. . ."
Zeetha emerged then, her arsenal improved and her demeanor more determined than ever. Agatha stood and moved to her friend's side, Jager and puppy trailing after. "What are we waiting for? We have a mystery to solve, and possibly another invasion to repel."
The next few hours were taken up with largely boring legwork, questioning various people around town to find out the right people to ask, offering bribes and the occasional threat in order to get the needed details, grabbing some lunch when they realized it had been nearly a day since their last proper meal, and finally lying in wait until just the right time.
The park was one of the few places in the town that hadn't been paved over or built on. A few rolling, grass-covered hills were cut by gravel paths, and likely saw much use on days that it wasn't so drearily overcast. A good-sized grove of oaks took up the half acre before the jagged rocks shot up on the border of the crater in which the great dome of the Glass City was located.
Agatha gazed up at the graceful curve of glass, heaving a sigh. From all she'd read of England, their pride in the 'Spark of the Realm', Trelawney Thorpe, she'd expected the concept of a female Heterodyne heir to be received with far less disdain.
The spot she'd chosen to wait in was hidden from casual view by a line of trees. It also featured a natural stone bench, which had had a comfortable seat worn in it over the years. It was a lovely spot, and more importantly, her informant said that Gary Heterodyne was known to come there at five o'clock sharp each evening to relax.
Guido, tired from all the legwork he'd gone through on his first day with his new mistress, rested his head in her lap and gratefully accepted her skritches. Agatha thought he might deter 'Gary Heterodyne' from any plans he might form to become the only Heterodyne heir, but wasn't foolish enough to rely on the pup. Zeetha and Dimo were hiding in the trees, the general consensus being that Gary might be more willing to discuss things frankly with Agatha if she seemed to be alone.
Just as she was beginning to get restless, Agatha heard the clunk of metal boots on gravel approaching from somewhere down the path. Soon enough, the armour-clad figure came close enough to spot Agatha. Though it was difficult to tell through his helmet, she could tell he was surprised to find her there. He paused a moment as he registered her determined glare and the trilobite she wore around her neck, but approached nonetheless.
She remained silent for a few moments, the tension nearly thick enough that one would need an Electro-Megaknife to cut it. Finally, she said sparkily, "Who are you, really? The Jagermonsters know you've no true claim to the name Heterodyne, so spare me whatever story you've fed to the locals."
It was hard to say if it was the command in her voice or a desire to come clean that motivated him, but he reached up and removed his helmet. His black hair alternated between ruffled and matted due to helmet hair, and his sharp features bore such little resemblance to any of the family portraits Agatha had seen that she wondered how anyone could think him a Heterodyne heir. He shrugged at her, his expression almost sheepish.
"All right. Honestly, I never thought I'd be caught. I heard about them sending for the Heterodyne to fix the problem here and figured it was too minor for some bigshot Spark like that to bother with. And since it's pretty much all rumors these days, most people wouldn't have heard enough to doubt me."
Agatha frowned. At the words, partially, but finally having a close look at the suit, she recognized stylistic aspects of the design she knew from her own work. "Where did you get that armour? I know it's genuine, even if you're not. And again, who are you?"
He sighed. "Gary Dent. I'm a minor Spark, from over around Lunkhauster. The Heterodyne Boys made this suit for my family, to help defend our land, nearly thirty years back. It's mine by rights, and I figured there was no reason not to have a little fun with it. . ." He had the decency to shrink back from Agatha's glare at that. "Right. Okay, so I was wrong. Not like anyone got hurt."
Seething with barely repressed anger, Agatha said, "You deceived everyone here, and left them thinking that I'm the fraud. There haven't been any fatalities, but harm was caused nonetheless. What possible excuse did you have for this, when you could just as easily play the hero under your own name?"
"I grew up in one of the areas hardest hit by the Other war. I've seen how nasty it can be, and want to make a difference in the world. And as a bonus, the girls all over go weak at the knees just at the mention of the Heterodyne name. How can a guy turn that down?"
Agatha barely kept herself from facepalming. "Easily, if that man had a decent bone in his body." She paused, her Spark side focusing on mechanics above ethics. "And you haven't even maintained the suit very well! The shoulder joints are horribly weakened with age." A pause, considering how to use this to her advantage. "I'll repair the suit for you if you'll come clean about who you are and never again claim to be a Heterodyne. I won't stop you from trying to achieve fame of your own, as I will admit you managed fairly well when taking on the Spiders."
He considered this a moment, then examined the shoulders himself. "Hmm. . . no. These shoulders look perfectly fine to me; I figure you're just lying, trying to trick me out of this so you get all the glory for yourself. But hey, I'm not an idiot. I promise not to try going near Mechanicsburg or anything – everything west of Paris, you can claim you're the only Heterodyne. I only need a little slice of Europe to think I'm the greatest."
Before Agatha could respond to that, a massive explosion to the west drew their attention.
Gary gave Agatha a salute before turning to go. "I'll handle that, don't worry. Look at it like this – I'm saving you the effort of having to do all the hard work yourself."
Agatha glared after him, then carefully set Guido to the side and called up to Zeetha and Dimo. "Come on, we'll gather what equipment we need from the ship, then help keep the town from being destroyed – whether they want us to or not."
Dimo and Zeetha dropped to the ground with practiced ease, and the trio raced back to the boat. Agatha scooped up Guido to ensure the pup wasn't left behind as they ran onward. The screams that came from the west were largely difficult to discern, but enough of the shouts left no question that the Venomous Spiders were launching another attack.
Once at the boat, things were simple enough. Krosp had already locked himself in the control room, saying someone needed to stay at the helm in case of emergency. One order from Agatha, and both her specialized clank army and the Jagermonsters who missed the riot were set in motion, ready to go by the time Zeetha and Agatha had donned their armour to shield them from dangerous bites.
They emerged in proper fashion, marching to the focal point of the devastation to do what they could to help.
Gary had slaughtered the foot-long spiders in the foremost ranks, slicing off limbs and shattering fangs which tried to bite into the metal shell. He turned as Agatha's army approached, giving a hearty laugh and waving to them. "No need to join in, I have everything under control here."
His back to the ocean, he didn't even realize what hit him until it was too late. The pincer snapped off his left arm like a twig, and the gaping maw of the Mother Spider that rose over him bit off his head a moment after.
The mayor had been standing by, wishing to witness for himself Gary Heterodyne's triumph. When the great beast rose and his hero fell, all confidence vanished. He screamed, "The Heterodyne heir is dead! All hope is lost! Run for your lives, people!"
Agatha wasn't deterred. She strode forward with her usual confidence, pausing only a moment to mourn a man who had died fighting with good intentions. Well, mostly.
The army looked almost ridiculous; two women in front, wearing armour that was designed for practicality over aesthetics, a horde of Jagers bearing a wide variety of arms, a dozen good-sized battle clanks backing them up, and a shaggy puppy trotting egarly ahead.
Assessing the situation quickly, Agatha took aim with her latest gun and fired. BZAM! SNCK! The giant spider-monster's left claw was neatly sliced off. Its attention turned to Agatha, and it let out a screech of rage. A swarm of the smaller spiders came at them, which Zeetha dispatched as quickly as they came in. Agatha opened fire again, this time aiming for the eye. BZAM! A perfect shot . . . but this time, with no effect. The great beast's head had armour enough to withstand the blast, even if its legs didn't. Agatha didn't hesitate, and did what she could. BZAM! SNCK! The right claw went the same way as the left, but the great beast was only angrier.
"Clanks! Fire!" Agatha ordered. The squad fired with flawless aim, slicing off three additional legs, but doing no damage to the head or torso. This. . . was not good. The mammoth Venomous Spider scuttled toward her on its remaining legs, clearly aiming to do damage to the one that crippled it while it could.
Suddenly, Guido gave a loud growl and stepped forward, defending his mistress. He changed, eyes glowing a bright white as he grew almost faster than the eye could process, sprouting fangs, claws, and shifting to the size of a horse. Giving a deeper growl, he lept forward. His diamond-hard fangs sank through the hard shell of the mutant arachnid's chest, and it soon fell to the ground, dead.
The Jagers and the clanks stepped forward to work at taking out the rest of the Venomous Spiders, young ones whose shells had yet to harden to the same extent and thus provided a challenge only in their sheer numbers.
The battle ended swiftly enough after that. Agatha sent her clanks, which she had foresight enough to waterproof, into the ocean to track down the nest and ensure that no further attacks would come from the menace.
Zeetha and Agatha walked across the beach, occasionally giving a stab at a still-twitching Venomous Spider. Guido trotted up beside them, a puppy once more. Clenched in his jaws, his new chew toy – the heart of the giant mother Venomous Spider.
Agatha beamed and rubbed him between the ears. "Good boy! I knew you could do it."
Zeetha frowned. "But. . . how could you possibly know?"
Agatha flashed her a grin. "When mourning after a horrible knight, nothing will beat the dog of the heir that miffed you."