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June 14, 2013 / whirlingneedles

Danger at the Opera

Agent K adjusted her long formal gown, smoothed her elbow-length gloves, and nervously checked her sequined clutch to make sure her dpns weren’t poking through. Taking a deep breath, she swept grandly into the opera house. She tried not to gape too obviously at the opulent surroundings, remnants of a by-gone gilded era. Consulting her ticket, she made her way to her luxury balcony in a prime location of the house as the squeaks and squawks of the orchestra warming up filled the air.

Agent K mentally reviewed her assignment while scanning the crowd. She was here to make contact with an undercover agent, known as Agent M. The agent’s cover was in danger of being blown due to the betrayal of the agent by her nemeses. An important part of Agent M’s cover was a knitting podcast on which the agent protested strongly against the spread of knitting (and even more vehemently against crocheting) while secretly passing messages and promoting knitting culture. Sadly, the knitting world is not without jealousies, and this agent had drawn the ire of a rival group of podcasters, the Multi-Generational Gang. Agent M’s nemeses, expert fiber crafters in their own rights, had grown tired of the attention paid to one who was so vocally anti-knitting, without realizing how vitally important the agent’s work was to the knitting community. A devilish plan had been hatched to eliminate the secret agent and her anti-knitting podcast and allow the Multi-Generationals total control over the knitting podcast realm.

As an internationally famous opera star, the secret agent was a perfect courier for the Agency, and Agent K had been sent to warn her about the danger in which she stood. The details of the plot against Agent M were unknown, but Agent K knew she would have to act fast to prevent disaster. Accordingly, Agent K had hurried to the next performance, armed to the teeth with the latest in Agency tech. Perhaps she might finally get to try out the vool and vine auto-grow trap-o-magic that the geeks down in R&D had developed.

The orchestral cacophony died down and the house lights dimmed as the conductor mounted the stage. A hush fell over the crowd, then a discretely enthusiastic clapping greeted Agent M’s entrance to the stage. Several besotted young and handsome men jockeyed to throw roses at her feet, eying each other in hostility. An usher quickly moved them away from the stage, and the music began.

The beautiful strains of a classical aria filled the hall. Agent K scanned the audience and the stage carefully, but soon was caught up in the music and lost in the emotion. The crowd was breathless in admiration of the music. Agent K almost forgot why she was there, so caught up in the moment as she was.

That was nearly a fatal mistake.

Halfway through the second piece, the peace was shattered by a loud BANG! The acrid smell of smoke filled the hall, and Agent M disappeared under a tastefully knit black lace pi shawl adorned with a multitude of sparkling beads. Three people had appeared on stage wearing expertly knitted sweaters with brightly colored balaclavas over their faces. But Agent K didn’t need to see their faces to know who they were.

The house was in chaos, and Agent K had to get to Agent M quickly before the Multi-Generationals succeeded in getting her off the stage. Agent K leaned over the balcony and looked for a way down. The opera crowd was in full panic mode – elderly ladies ran in circles like over-dressed and over-jeweled headless chickens. Handsome young male opera groupies lay fainting in their seats. The aisles were choked with fleeing patrons and struggling ushers. Agent K shook her head. She’d never make it to the stage fighting through that crowd. She’d have to go over them.

Agent K moved quickly to zip off her long, elegant skirt, revealing tactical pants underneath. She pulled a utility belt out of her elegant sequined clutch and buckled it around her waist. Pulling out the grappling hook, she swirled it around her head and cast it into the rafters above the stage where Agent M was putting up a valiant fight against Gi, Jazz, and Danger Mouse, the Multi-Generationals Gang members. Agent K tugged at the grappling hook to ensure that it was stuck fast, climbed over the edge of the balcony, and swung across the hall on the stainless steel-reinforced yarn line.

She slammed hard into the midst of the group struggling in the center of the stage, knocking all four people to the ground like bowling pins. Agent K sprung to her feet and pulled out the vool and vine auto-grow trapomatic and pointed it at Gi and Jazz.

"Freeze!" she cried. "You’re under arrest!"

"Are we?" sneered Gi. "Arrest yourself! You’re committing a crime against sewing with that poorly-constructed zippered skirt. Don’t you know you’re supposed to press fabric before sewing?"

"Well, I didn’t make it myself," replied Agent K, thrown off momentarily. "OW!"

Agent K made the mistake of looking down at her ankle, where Danger Mouse, sneaking unobserved past Agent K’s guard, had just whacked her with a spindle. While her attention was distracted, Jazz launched herself at Agent K and they fell in a heap on the stage, rolling about, each trying to get the upper hand. A mad scramble ensued, with yarn and needles flying in all directions. Agent K managed to get her hand into her sequined clutch and attempted to tie Jazz’s hands together with a retractable tape measure. Gi kicked the tape measure out of Agent K’s hand, and it skittered uselessly across the stage. Danger Mouse squealed in the delight as she slid a steel-reinforced spindle to Jazz, who snatched it up and was trying to spin Agent K’s hair painfully into a single. Meanwhile, Agent M had managed to free herself from the enveloping pi shawl and pulled a circular needle from a hidden pocket in her operatic costume. She whirled it over her head and flung it with a piercing battle cry at Gi, who fell to the floor with a thud when the needle wrapped itself around her ankles.

Just as the battle seemed to reach a stalemate with Agent K taking on Jazz and Danger Mouse and Agent M grappling with Gi, a new figure launched herself into the fray. Agent K breathed a sigh of relief as she recognized Agent M’s partner, Agent D. With reinforcements at hand, the Multi-Generational gang was quickly overwhelmed and in a very short space of time sitting in a row on the stage, bound with their own yarn.

"Just in time, Agent D," panted Agent K.

"Sorry I was late to the concert," replied Agent D. "I got hung up in the Gobi Desert fighting a gang of yak smugglers. Those smugglers won’t be smuggling yaks anytime soon. Oh, and I picked up some yak fiber from the grateful farmers. It should spin up nicely."

"Spinning wules!" squeaked Danger Mouse.

Agent M shook her head. "Poor kid. She’s being sucked into a life of yarn and knitting." She turned to Agent K. "What are you going to do with the Multi-Generational Gang?"

"They’ll be taken to an Agency facility," replied Agent K. "They just need a refresher course in not being evil and sharing the airwaves. If they knew how valuable the work you and Agent D were doing for the knitting community is, they could be your biggest supporters." She turned to the Multi-Generational Gang. "The fiber community supports one another – that’s what makes us great. A few weeks at the Elizabeth Zimmermann Memorial Don’t Be Evil Center and you’ll be right as rain."

As the Gang was carted off by the Agency cleanup squad, Agent M turned to Agent K and asked, "Do we have to support the crocheters too?"

Agents K and D looked at each other and laughed.

"Let’s finish the concert," chuckled Agent D, "And then I know a great little yarn shop right around the corner…"

April 29, 2012 / whirlingneedles

Knitting and Crochet Blog Posts, Day 7!

Today is the last day of the Knitting and Crochet Blog Week, and I hope you have enjoyed the story and the format. This last post of the week is all about balance – how is balance in crafting achieved, and how should it be maintained? In the exciting conclusion to this week’s story, Agent K restores the balance of power between the knitters and the aliens. The aliens had the upper hand with their wool-altering drugs, but Agent K steps in to stop them once again!

And now, the exciting conclusion!

The formula worked. The garishly colored wool that was completely unaffected by standard color methods was easily bleached by Laci’s formula. Laci’s formula was also fortunately cheaply made from nontoxic substances found in nearly every home (or at least in nearly every dyer’s home). Now Agent K had to spread the word and let the aliens know that the knitters had an effective defense against their nefarious plans. How to do that, though? It would be dangerous to communicate with the aliens, but Agent K was just the knitter for the job.

The next day, Agent K sat in a public park near Agency Headquarters, calmly knitting row after row of the unbleached wool from the alien-poisoned sheep. It hurt her head to do it, but it was probably the method most likely to catch the eye of the aliens. Even though the town of the Agency Headquarters was well-known to the aliens, the exact location was a carefully guarded secret. The aliens were constantly on the lookout for Agents to tail to the Headquarters building. The best way to attract their attention was to knit in public. (Agent K frequently knit in public in other places too, and was constantly surprised when non-knitters commented on it. Everyone in the town where Headquarters was located was so used to seeing knitters that they never blinked when they saw one.) She figured that in this case, the best advertisement that she knew what they were up to and was not intimidated by it was to use the brightly colored yarn produced by the poisoned sheep.

She sat in the park and knitted the wool into a flamboyant cap for as long as she could stand to look at it. She winced at the result – a hideously variegated wool cap with every color of the rainbow in neon brights. It was horrendous. She would have to think just who she disliked badly enough to inflict it on this Christmas. Finally she couldn’t take looking at it anymore, and packed it into a bag. She collected her things and headed to her car. She noted with some relief that a black van pulled out of a parking space half a block away – at least she wouldn’t have to repeat this performance. She repeated the route she had taken earlier in the week, careful once again to keep the van on her tail, but not being obvious that that was what she was doing.

Once again, they ended up at the base of the trail up the mountain. Once again, Agent K raced to the top of the mountain clutching a valuable piece of information that the alien on her tail wanted very badly to get. Once again she climbed up the stone tower and waited at the top for the slimy green creature to catch up.

It was strangely peaceful at the top of the mountain. This time it wasn’t quite so beautiful. It had been raining for the past couple of days, and heavy clouds raced across the sky, plunging the valley into a deep grey and drowning out all the colors. Just as she was about to drown out the colors in the wool that the aliens had altered.

She heard a squelching sound of an alien footstep behind her, and turned slowly to face a laser gun leveled at her.

“You can put that thing away,” Agent K said. “I just want to talk, and then I want you to go talk to your superiors.”

“Talk? There won’t be any talk!” snarled the alien. He hopped a bit and reached down with a tentacle to pull a twig out of his slimy green foot. “Why the heck did you come back up here, anyway? Man, I really hate the woods!”

“Never mind the woods,” said Agent K patiently. “I’m here to tell you that we know all about the scheme for unbleachable and undyeable wool in Alaska. We know about it, and we have a solution.”

The alien’s eyeball shifted back and forth on its stalk. “Scheme? Alaska? I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

“Yes, you do,” said Agent K. “You followed me here because you saw me knitting with some of that awful wool you aliens created. No human would ever create such terrible colors, and you know it.”

“Okay, so we experimented with some dyeing,” bluffed the alien. “So what? It doesn’t mean anything!”

“We know that you hoped to stop knitters from using the wool,” replied Agent K. “We know that you would stop at nothing to do this. You had us in a tight corner for just a bit there. If one of our independent dyers hadn’t figure out a counter-formula, you might have succeeded. We might have been brought to our knees, because let’s face it, we can’t use this stuff for long.” She pulled the cap she’d knitted out of the horrible yarn and displayed it to the alien.

“It’s pretty horrible, isn’t it?” sneered the alien. “Don’t like the woolie stuff so much now, do you? HA!”

“Have you been listening?” sighed Agent K. “We have a way to combat this stuff and bleach it.”

“Wait, what? HOW?” roared the alien.

“An independent dyer figured out a formula to fix this wool. We’re even now dosing the world’s sheep to inoculate them against your drugs. So, nice try, suckers, but next time, don’t mess with our wool!” Agent K pulled a handful of the treated wool out of her bag and flung it at the alien’s eyestalk. It was a shame to use the wool that way, but she needed to get the alien to see the bleached wool and she also needed a way off the mountain.

A roar of pain and anger issued from the alien, and he instantly began scratching every bit of him that had been touched with the wool. More importantly, he dropped his laser gun, and Agent K took the opportunity to duck around him and head for the stairs.

Her last view of the alien was of him hopping around the top of the tower, trying to scratch every last inch of himself all at once. Giggling, she ran down the mountain side, raced to her car, and drove away triumphantly. No doubt the aliens would try again, but Agent K would be there to stop them.

The End.

April 28, 2012 / whirlingneedles

Knitting and Crochet Blog Week, Day 6!

Day 6 of the Knitting and Crochet Blog Week. Today it’s all about improving your skill set. Even though Agent K is an expert knitter, no one can know it all, and she’s challenged today to improve and try some new things. I’m not a dyer myself, so apologies for any inaccuracies that might creep in. One day, I’ll learn to dye my own wool!

The whirlwind trip to Alaska had exhausted Agent K, but there was no time to rest. If the trip to Alaska had accomplished anything, it was to convince Agent K at the urgency of the mission. If the Agency didn’t act fast, not only would Laci be in imminent danger, but independent dyers everywhere would lose their livelihood. There was also a danger that the wide variety of colors the wool world enjoyed today would be compromised. The garishly colored sheep couldn’t be bleached or overdyed, which meant that there would be none of the subtle and beautiful shades of nature, only wild neons. No matter what her color theory teacher had said, BRIGHT colors weren’t necessarily HAPPY colors. Neither were natural colors like cream, brown, or grey unhappy colors. The possibility of losing natural colors to a neon crayola palette was unthinkable.

Agent K took the precious cargo up to the chemistry labs, where Agents waited to examine the colorful sheep and Laci’s solution. Time was of the essence, and Agent K had radioed ahead to have the lab prepped.

Normally, Agent K would let the chemists do their thing, but she had recently taken an introduction class to dyeing wool, and she was eager to watch the process and help where she could. The Agency was very keen on having its Agents learn knew skills, and the Chemistry Department was constantly holding classes to introduce Agents to the art and science of dyeing. Long counters, deep sinks, and forests of drying racks filled the room on the third floor of the Headquarters building. The floor and counters were splattered with dye of every shade and hue, and rows of liberally splattered lab coats hung along one wall. Selecting one of these, Agent K snapped a pair of protective goggles over her eyes and drew some rubber gloves over her hands. (She had learned a hard lesson after her first class when she had purple hands for two weeks.)

One of the chemists, Agent C, stumbled in under a load of brightly colored wool, freshly shorn from the sheep Agent K had brought back from Alaska. (That was the one and only time she would ever have a live sheep in a helicopter so long as she lived, Agent K vowed.) Agent C dropped the fleece into a sink full of soapy water and began cleaning it. As he cleaned, he pulled locks of wool out and placed them on a tray next to the sink. The other chemists began picking through the wool, separating it out by color. One of the chemists took a bit to test for colorfastness. After all, they only had the word IGLOO and Laci that it was impossible to overdye or bleach. If it was ordinary wool that could be bleached, drastic measures need not be taken.

However, they did not have time to wait for the results of that testing. They were running against the clock. Agent K took a batch of particularly putrid puce wool and carried it to a sink. She dried the wool with a towel as best she could, then photographed it. They needed a basis to compare the change to, if any change took place. Agent K made a note of the camera settings and light intensity, then began mixing a solution based on Laci’s recipe.

As she mixed, she wondered about Laci. According to Agency records, Laci was an independent dyer who had once worked for one of the world’s largest chemical companies. Laci had become disgusted with the corporate red tape and struck out on her own. She had been impatient with Agent K, demanding instant action on her formula. Agent K had tried her best to make Laci understand that they couldn’t just take her word that the formula worked. It needed to be tested to make sure that the cure actually worked and wasn’t more harmful than the disease the aliens had caused the sheep to have.

Agent K looked doubtfully into the dye pot. The solution was comprised of individually harmless elements, but the resulting dye bath looked like a witch’s brew. It bubbled ominously and emitted a surprising smell of butterscotch. Agent K picked up a lock of wool, dropped it into a mesh bag with a label on it, and dropped it into the dyepot. She continued to drop locks into the pot at regular intervals. These individual locks were coded so that she could tell how long they had been in the pot, and they would know if there was an ideal exposure time for the wool to be in the pot.

It wasn’t terribly challenging work, and as she waited the alloted interval time between dropping locks, she watched the other Agents working. Some were doing similar dyeing work to what she was doing, only with different color wool. Agent C was still at work washing and drying the rest of the fleece. Another Agent was preparing a set of powered drugs to be fed to the affected sheep. They would closely monitor the sheep Agent K had brought back with her to see its reactions to the drugs. If there were no issues, more drugs would be fed to the rest of the sheep in Alaska.

Agent K dropped the last lock of wool into the chemical bath. She turned off the heat under the dye pot and let the mixture cool down somewhat. Once it was cool enough, she poured the contents of the pot out over a strainer, which caught the wool but let the liquid run off down into the sink. The wool was still steaming hot, but she carefully spread it out on the counter to dry. Again she patted it dry with a towel, and was interested to see the color was gone from all but the last few locks of wool to be dropped into the pot. It seemed that Laci’s formula worked.

All around the room, pleased murmurs came from Agents bending over steaming locks of wool. Agent K set up the camera apparatus to the same conditions as before and took a set of photographs showing the change in color. Any lock of wool that had been in the dyepot for more than ten minutes was a snowy white. Agents around the room began reporting the same results. No matter what color the wool started as, the solution had removed it.

The door burst open, and the Agent who had taken a bit of the wool to try to bleach or overdye it using normal methods came into the room holding a steaming pot of brightly colored wool. Normal methods had had no effect whatsoever.

Laci’s formula worked! Now for the hard part.

To be continued…

April 27, 2012 / whirlingneedles

Knitting and Crochet Blog Week, Day 5!

It’s day 5 of the Knitting and Crochet Blog Week, and today’s challenge is to look at a different way to present content on your blog. Normally this blog is a text-based story telling, but today’s blog will be a cartoon. Please excuse the amateurish drawing. I am not an artist, and it’s definitely a challenge for me!

Panel 1

Panel 2

Panel 3

Panel 4

Panel 5

Panel 6

Panel 7

To be continued…

April 26, 2012 / whirlingneedles

Knitting and Crochet Blog Week, Day 4!

It’s day 4 of the Knitting and Crochet Blog Week, and today’s prompt is A Knitter for all Seasons. Weather and the seasons are the topics, and Agent K is about to learn what the code means by WINTER COLD WOOL WARM IGLOO HELP…

Agent K descended in the elevator to the bowels of the Agency, heading toward the basement archives. She glanced at her paper scrap once again, frowning. WINTER COLD WOOL WARM IGLOO HELP must mean SOMETHING. There must be a reason why the color theory teacher had risked her life to pass it to Agent K, and there must be a reason why an alien would chase her up a mountain side to retrieve the message.

The elevator doors slid open, and Agent K stepped out. She was directly across the hall from the entrance to the Strategic Wool Reserve, but she didn’t have time to go in and swim around in a vat of cashmere today, as much as she would have liked to. Instead, she discovered that there was a door to the right of the SWR’s entrance. She had never noticed this door before today. Well, she had never actually LOOKED at anything but the SWR’s door. She’d always gone straight into the Reserve without pausing. Now that she did pause, she discovered an ill-lit musty room.

She sneezed as she opened the door, a wave of dust greeting her as she entered. Choking just a bit, she waved dust away from her face and saw a morose, elderly clerk sitting behind a counter. He was painstaking knitting a grey wool scarf in garter stitch with size 0 needles and fingering weight wool. She coughed gently, and the elderly man looked up over his gold-rimmed glasses at her.

“Yes?” he asked, wheezing just a bit. “The Strategic Wool Reserve is down the hall. You can’t miss it. Thank you for stopping by.” And he looked back down at his knitting, slowly wrapping stitch after stitch as if he had all the time in the world.

“No, I don’t want the SWR,” said Agent K. He looked up at her in disbelief. “Okay, I do want it, but I can’t right now. I’m looking for something. An old code, perhaps 40 years old. And I need to hurry, someone’s life may be in danger.”

“In danger, eh?” The old man pushed his scarf up onto the needles and creaked as he got up from his chair. “What code did you want, now?”

“I’m not sure what it was called, but it was put together using hand-drawn symbols from Barbara Walker’s third treasury. Can you help me, um, Ronald?” Agent K glanced up from his name tag and smiled in a friendly manner.

“Barbara Walker, third treasury, yes, yes, let me see…” Ronald shuffled off slowly, muttering to himself. Agent K sighed. How long was this going to take? Several minutes passed before Ronald came shuffling back, holding a copy of the third treasury and a dingy file folder.

He placed both of them on the counter, then resumed his seat. He slowly opened the book and placed the file folder next to it. He looked expectantly at Agent K. She wordlessly slid the slip of paper with WINTER COLD WOOL WARM IGLOO HELP written on it under the symbols from the ball bands.

He glanced at the paper, then gasped and jerked his head up to look at Agent K intently.

“When did this come in?” he said urgently.

“Um, this afternoon,” she said, startled. “I just got it this morning, and have just had it decoded.”

“This says IGLOO,” he said, shaking the paper under her nose.

“Yes, it does,” she replied, backing up just a bit. “What’s IGLOO?”

“Not what,” he said. “WHO.”

“Okay, then, who?” asked Agent K.

“IGLOO was an operative in the old days,” he said. “She was the best. She took all the hardest assignments and always came home from them. This was back in the days when the Agency was little more than a resistance movement, operating out of a small local yarn store. Not like this.” He waved his hand in the direction of the SWR. “In those days, it was hard to get good wool. We didn’t know what we were up against, just that it was big. The aliens hadn’t shown themselves at that point. They were careful, very careful to stay in the shadows. They made it look like it was a natural wool shortage at first. They tried all sorts of things, introducing gosh-awful acrylics that made your hands bleed to use them in disgusting colors. It was the seventies, of course, so no one thought much about that barfy greens and oranges. Until IGLOO was nearly killed on a sheep ranch, we had no idea the terrible danger we were really in. She was nearly killed by a wool-bailing machine, and it was no accident. That’s when she became IGLOO.”

“So what does the rest of this mean?” Agent K asked, frowning at the paper. “I’ve never heard of IGLOO – surely she must not be an active agent.”

“She retired, long ago. A recalcitrant sheep kicked her hard, and her knee has never been the same,” explained Ronald. He opened the manila folder and pulled out a sheet of paper. “WINTER COLD WOOL WARM is an SOS. She must not have been able to include more, but it basically means to send an Agent ASAP. These are all the agents who would have used the Walker codes. There aren’t many of them left, even though everyone uses the Walker books. Let me see…” He ran his finger down the page, reached the bottom, turned the page, and reached almost the bottom before stabbing the paper with his finger and looking up in triumph at Agent K.

“She’s here.” He wrote out an address on a sticky note and handed it to Agent K. “Enjoy your trip!” He picked up his scarf again and patiently resumed knitting. Agent K realized that the interview was over, and quietly left him to it.

Stepping out into the hall, she examined the note.

“Moose Creek, Alaska,” she read with dismay. “Alaska!” She glanced down at her summery outfit. It was late April, but the weather had been exceptionally warm this year, and she wore sandals, shorts, and a handknit, lightweight silk and cotton t-shirt. She had been so glad to set aside the heavy wool knits for such light, cool knits. She pulled up the forecast for Moose Creek, Alaska, on her phone. Below freezing, with a snow advisory. Even though there hadn’t been much snow this year where Agent K was, she was still sick of cold, grey skies and the wintry lack of color. She should have known – with a name like IGLOO, there was no way the agent would live in Costa Rica where it was warm.

Sighing, she phoned the Agency travel agency (”The Agency for all your Agency travel needs!”) and booked a flight for Moose Creek, Alaska, then went home to regretfully put aside her cool summer knits and pull out the so-recently put away wool sweaters, socks, mittens, hats, and cowls. She contemplated how many of these to take, and began stuffing her suitcase with wool.

An hour later, she was heading out the door with her suitcase bulging with wool. It had taken her most of that hour to wrestle as much wool into the small capacity suitcase as she could. She had had to stand on the lid to get it to close. Good thing wool was so squishy. If it were cooler today, she would have worn some of the sweaters and socks, but she would have died of heatstroke if she’d tried. As it was, she’d had to leave behind the sock project she was halfway through in favor of the laceweight shawl. The laceweight took up less room in her carry-on, and was perfect for knitting in her warmer location as well as in the frozen north. Summer knitting for Agent K usually meant socks or lace, rather than a heavy blanket of wool on her lap.

Agent K pulled up to the airport, where a helicopter was revving up its blades for the trip to Alaska. The Agency travel agency had told her that no flights were expected into Moose Creek until two days from now, so it would have to be a chartered helicopter. As the helicopter picked itself up from the pad, she pulled out her lace knitting and settled in for the long flight.

To be continued…

April 25, 2012 / whirlingneedles

Knitting and Crochet Blog Week, Day 3!

We’re on day 3 of the Knitting and Crochet Blog Week. All this week, bloggers are writing posts with given topics. I’ll be doing a week-long story, using the topics to shape the story. Did you miss the posts from Monday and Tuesday? If so, go back and read the beginning of the story. Today’s challenge is to blog about someone in the fiber crafts who truly inspires you. We pick up Agent K’s adventure as she returns to Agency Headquarters with the mysterious code on the ball bands…

Agent K sat watching the Agency’s top code breaking team puzzle over the strange symbols on the ball band she had been given by the mysterious color theory teacher. They had been at it for hours now, and no one appeared to be any closer to the solution then they had been when Agent K had arrived. Right now they were arguing over whether the symbols might be Sumerian or Comic Sans. Okay, maybe they weren’t such a crack team of code breakers after all.

Agent K got up from the metal stool she had been sitting on with a groan and a stretch. A race up a mountain and back down again had left her muscles sore and tight, a condition which hadn’t been improved by sitting on a cold metal stool. She wandered around the code breakers’ room, randomly picking up and putting down books, drawings, and inscribed amulets. (The amulets had turned out to be a gift from a code breaker’s mother and had no significance whatsoever, despite days of code breaking attention.)

As she ran her fingers along the bookshelf, she came across a section of Barbara Walker stitch dictionaries. She’d always loved flipping through these, and a little Barbara might make the time pass more quickly while she was waiting for the code breakers.

She flipped slowly through the first treasury, with the stitch patterns passing under her gaze like old friends. She remembered when she had first had the epiphany. Knitting patterns were really just blank canvases on which could be painted just about anything the artist wanted. Designers weren’t really gods and goddesses from on high, they were just humans who picked a silhouette and picked a picture to draw on that silhouette. Barbara Walker had taught her that there really were infinite possibilities, and you could do almost anything you could dream. All you needed was a swatch to determine how the stitch pattern affected gauge.

Agent K set the first treasury back on the shelf and picked up the second. More stitch patterns, when it seemed that there couldn’t possibly be any other way to combine knits and purls.

Then she picked up the third treasury: Charted Knitting Designs. This was her favorite. This was the first of the treasuries to chart out the stitch patterns. Agent K was a very visual person and the charts made much more sense than the lines of knitting code that Barbara had presented in previous volumes. Feeling like she was visiting an old friend, she paged slowly through the book.

She stopped. She flipped back to the front of the book. She blinked. She shut the book, then opened it again.

She snatched up the ball bands and held them next to the book. She could have smacked her forehead, and thought very seriously about cracking the heads of the code breakers together. The symbols weren’t ancient Sumerian or Comic Sans.

They were knitting symbols.

Of course, many of the symbols in Barbara Walker’s books were hand-drawn, not like the slick computer-generated and standardized symbols that most modern knitters were familiar with. The Agency had long-ago standardized symbols for the codes used in official documents and communications, but these standard symbols were based on the earlier hand-drawn symbols used by an earlier generation.

Using the cable crossing reference guide and the list of symbols in the treasury, Agent K had the code broken in no time. It was an old code, one that had not been used in nearly forty years. Once she realized what the key was, it was easy to translate the symbols into letters and words.

On second thought, WINTER COLD WOOL WARM IGLOO HELP was perhaps not quite so helpful. At least she had translated it into English, which was more than could be said for the bozos in the code breaking department.

Agent K and the code breakers looked at the semi-sentence in dismay. What was she going to do with this? Everyone knew that winter was cold, and that wool was warm. And obviously someone needed help. But igloo? What did it mean?

“Time for a coffee break!” said one of the code breakers. Agent K sighed in exasperation. They had been taking coffee breaks all afternoon, and then taking bathroom breaks. It was no wonder that they hadn’t gotten anywhere. When she had confronted one of them with the time they were wasting in coffee and bathroom breaks, he had said “But I do my best thinking in the bathroom!” Trying to get THAT picture out of her head, she concentrated on the igloo problem instead.

“What if IGLOO is a code name of some sort?” she said to the coffee-sipping code breakers, who blinked stupidly back at her. “Does it mean a location, maybe?”

“You could check the archives,” one of the said doubtfully. “There’s all these papers and stuff downstairs next to the Strategic Wool Reserve. I don’t think anyone goes down there anymore. There aren’t any computers down there.”

“Right,” said Agent K, snapping shut Barbara Walker’s Charted Knitting Designs in decision. “I’m off to the basement. Enjoy your coffee.”

The code breaking team sighed a breath of relief as she left the room, and they turned back to their Sudoku games.

To be continued…

April 24, 2012 / whirlingneedles

Knitting and Crochet Blog Week, Day 2!

It’s day 2 in the Knitting and Crochet Blog Week! All this week, bloggers are writing posts with given topics. I’ll be doing a week-long story, using the topics to shape the story. Did you miss yesterday’s post? If so, go back and read the beginning of the story.

Day 2 is a photography challenge. I had intended to take some pictures that artistically looked at how Agent K foiled the aliens, but it was pouring all day on the day I had planned to take pictures. So instead, the story will be slightly altered to take advantage of the wildcard challenge. I haven’t been hiking in a long time, but I used to take my dog (Agent K-9) up to Sleeping Giant Mountain, on top of which is a stone lookout tower. If the weather cooperates, maybe soon I’ll take my knitting up there and enjoy the view. On with the story!

Agent K got into her car and closed the door with a sigh. Finally the class was over. She leaned back and pressed her hands over her eyes in an attempt to block out the bright colors from the class. It didn’t work – the colors still popped and danced across her retina. She wondered if she would ever see normally again. After a few minutes, she gave up and accepted that she would probably have the afterimages for the rest of her life. She pulled out the ball bands that had been cleverly palmed off onto her by the class teacher and examined them.

The ball bands were by themselves unremarkable. From the outside of the bands, they looked like ordinary labels. On the inside, though, there were strange drawings, hieroglyphics almost. Agent K turned them this way and that, but couldn’t make heads or tails of them. The geeks in the lab would have to deal with them.

She shrugged and tucked the ball bands into her jacket pocket. As she started the car and pulled out of the parking lot, a large black van pulled out of the lot from across the street and pulled into traffic behind her.

She sighed. Just how dumb did the aliens think she was? She shifted into merged onto the highway and shifted into high gear. Weaving in and out of traffic, she looked back to see the van easily keeping pace. She had to find a way to lose them and get these ball bands back to Headquarters.

After a few minutes of thought, she yanked the steering wheel suddenly to the right and, tires screeching and horns honking in protest, cut across three lanes of traffic to take the next exit. She checked the rear view mirror – the van was still there. Good.

She led the van through the small town where they had left the highway, making sure to keep the van in sight behind her the whole way. She couldn’t risk losing it now and having her scent picked up again later. She led the van through the small town where they had left the highway, dodging down alleys and making sudden turns, all the while leading the van on. Finally, up ahead she spotted the park entrance that she had been heading for.

She zoomed into a parking space and took off running towards the hiking trail. She knew this trail like the back of her hand, having brought Agent K-9 here many times for walkies. At the top of the trail was a small stone tower overlooking a deep valley full of woods and streams.

Agent K paused for breath, chest heaving as she listened for pursuit. The sounds of aliens struggling through the underbrush filtered through the trees, and she continued up the trail, panting slightly.

She reached the top of the trail and entered the cool stone tower. She could no longer hear the sounds of pursuit, but she knew that the aliens would be along shortly. She climbed slowly up the weathered stone steps to the top of the tower and gazed out across the valley. It had turned out to be a beautiful spring day, and the trees were beginning to spread their leaves after the long winter. It would be hazy later this afternoon, but at just that moment everything was perfect.

Well, almost perfect. She sneezed violently and, wiping her streaming nose and eyes, fervently hoped that she had some antihistamines in the car.

At that moment, though, a cold voice said "Give me the ball bands!"

She turned reluctantly from the peaceful vista and stared defiantly into the eyestalk of an angry alien. He was considerably worse for wear after the hike up to the tower. A small branch was embedded in his slimy foot, a leaf stuck up behind his eyestalk like a feather in a Native American headdress, and a tentacle was distastefully brushing pollen off his eyestalk.

"Why would I give you the ball bands?" asked Agent K.

"Because I have a ray gun," replied the alien, waving a tentacle holding this in her face. "Enough of these games, I want those ball bands and I want them now!"

"Any particular ball bands?" asked Agent K sweetly.

"The ball bands you got from the class teacher this morning!" the alien shouted in frustration. "You think you can lose me in traffic, or dodge me in town, or try to escape through the woods? Well, you’re trapped now, missy, and I want those ball bands! I know you haven’t interpreted them yet, and if I take them from you the Agency will never know when we will strike! BWAHAHAHA!"

Agent K waited for his maniacal laughter to subside before saying dejectedly, "Well, I guess I don’t have much choice." She pulled the ball bands out of her jacket pocket. "Oops…"

Just then, a small gust of wind blew the bands out of her pocket and over the tower parapet. She watched as the paper seemed to hover for a second on the breeze before plunging down into the valley. The bands were quickly lost to sight among the trees.

With a roar of rage, the alien leapt for the edge of the tower only to have the papers slip through his tentacles. While he was preoccupied, Agent K slipped around the slimy lime green body and dashed down the stairs out of the tower. She could hear alien curses being flung from the tower but made it to the tree line just ahead of the laser guns blasts. A small tree directly behind her burst into flames when a bright blue beam struck it.

Agent K knew that the alien would be right behind her, but she also knew that aliens had difficulty navigating downward slopes. She should be okay as long as she hurried.

She slid down the last few feet of the trail, skidding on a handful of loose gravel. She had been careful to park her car at an angle to facilitate a quick getaway, and now all she had to do was jump in the driver’s seat, crank the engine, and speed off out of the park with a spray of gravel.

As the car merged back onto the highway, she slid a finger between the car seat and the center console. The precious ball bands were right where she had left them, hastily tucked down out of sight before she raced up the trail. It had been a gamble that the alien would chase her rather than search the car, but it was a gamble she had won.

Now it was off to the Agency to see of anyone could decipher the strange characters.

To be continued…

April 23, 2012 / whirlingneedles

Knitting and Crochet Blog Week, Day 1!

Today is the first day of the Knitting and Crochet Blog Week! This is a challenge where knitting and crochet bloggers are given topics every day to interpret as they wish on their blogs. The topics are wide-ranging, but all of them relate back to fiber crafts in some way. I decided to write a serial story for Agent K that spans the entire week, using the challenge for each day to give that day’s episode a slightly different flavor. The story spans the entire week, you’ll have to check back every day to get the next installment. (Or, I suppose, wait until Sunday to read everything at once. But where’s the fun in that?) The first challenge is to blog about color. We start our adventure at a color theory class with Agent K. Not just any old color theory class, though…

"The vibrant greens of happy little trees in the spring! The bright yellows of a sprinkling of hopeful dandelions pushing their way up through the carefully manicured grass! The bright red of a robin perching on your windowsill first thing in the morning, tweeting a happy "HELLO!" to you! These are what we will be discussing today!" The lady teaching the color theory class beamed at Agent K through thick horn-rimmed glasses. Agent K smiled weakly at her and reached for the large cup of caffeine on the desk in front of her.

No one ought to be that chirpy this early in the morning. Agent K snuck a glance at her watch. 8:06 am. Perhaps not quite so surprising – it had been 8:05 am when she had looked at her watch a minute ago. She glanced up at the teacher, who was dressed in a long flowing skirt and long flowing blouse in bright spring colors. Birkenstocks with brightly colored socks peeped out from under the skirt. A Crayola box must have had a slight accident over her, Agent K decided. At that moment, she flung her hand outward in an exaggerated movement to illustrate the vibrance and vitality of color and neatly swept a student’s work in progress off the table and onto the floor. Agent K leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes for a brief nap while the student and teacher bumped heads under the table trying to retrieve the fallen WIP.

Order restored to the classroom, the teacher once again began whittering on about colors and their happy and hopeful nature. Agent K pried her eyes open and glanced casually around the room. One of the people in this class was her contact, but which one? The Agency hadn’t sent her here just to learn some elementary color theory, of course. One of the other students had sent the Agency an SOS, begging for help. According to the scrawled message on the back of the sheet torn from a first edition of “Knitting without Tears," the aliens were hot on the trail of an independent dyer. (Agent K tried to contain her dismay at the desecration of the first edition masterpiece and focus on the emergency at hand.) The message had warned the Agency that the aliens were now targeting dyers to reduce interest in wool, and the message writer had proof that a particular dyer was next on the aliens’ hit list. The only other piece of information was the date and time of this color theory class.

So here Agent K was with her project bag stuffed with scraps of a wide variety of colors, a large reservoir of caffeine, and small reservoir of patience. She had been up late last night chasing what the Agency had thought was a small group of alien infiltrators but which had ended up being bored and surly teenagers. By the time she’d gotten to bed, it had been nearly time to get up and come to this class. So, yes, she was just a bit grumpy and fed up with the cloak-and-daggerness of the whole thing. A nice, normal desk job seemed like heaven just now.

“Please, take out your needles and pick two BRIGHT colors to knit with! Remember, BRIGHT colors are HAPPY colors!”

Agent K grudgingly pulled out a set of needles and a neon pink and eye-searing yellow. She hoped these would be bright and happy enough to satisfy the teacher. They were certainly bright enough to give her a headache. Would it be rude if she put on her sunglasses in the class? She decided it probably would be and that she would have to squint instead.

“I’m sorry, those colors just don’t go together,” the teacher said in a happy sing-song. Agent K looked up to see the teacher looming over her like a very colorful shadow. She looked back down at her knitting and frowned. The colors were appalling, to be sure, but mostly because they were just very bright, not because they didn’t go together.

“What did I say at the beginning of class?” the teacher chirped. “Remember that colors should be HAPPY! Try these colors instead!” She dropped two balls of yarn onto the table in front of Agent K.

Agent K was about to tell the teacher exactly where to get off when she looked her in the eyes. She stopped and looked again. The teacher’s gaze was boring directly through Agent K’s eyes in an extremely tense and anxious manner. Suddenly something clicked, and Agent K realized she had just made contact. As she picked up the two balls of yarn (a violent violet and a gross green), she realized there was writing on the insides of the ball bands.

“Thank you, those are much better!” Agent K lied. “I will use these lovely yarns instead of the ones I brought!” She nodded to the teacher, who gave her an apologetic look and moved off to help another student.

Agent K slid the balls of yarn off the table into her lap, where she quickly and unobtrusively swapped the ball bands for the ones on her own neon yellow and pink yarns. She sat back and began to knit. The pattern provided for the class to practice with was of a bird pulling a worm out of the ground. Agent K quickly had it knit in the violet and green colors and sat back to admire her work. It was frankly appalling. The bird glared at her balefully as the worm writhed in agony. Agent K reflected that it must be a metaphor in some way that she couldn’t comprehend. The early bird gets a barely digestible worm in exchange for crawling out of his comfy and warm nest.

Agent K sighed. It was going to be one of THOSE cases.

To be continued…

April 1, 2012 / whirlingneedles

Knitters in Black

Some of you have commented recently about the lack of Agent K stories lately, and have pushed me to publish more frequently. It’s true, I haven’t been publishing as much lately, but it’s not because I’m too busy eating Cadbury eggs and watching Netflix. (That’s just this weekend’s excuse.) It’s because I’ve had something in the works for quite awhile. Something big and exciting.

Are you ready?

Okay, here it is.


Knitters in Black: Agent K Pulls the Wool over the Eyestalks will be available very soon in the Amazon Kindle store as an e-book. Not only that, but we here at Whirlingneedles are in the process of getting hardbacks printed by a very reputable printing house for a very reasonable price. We will be partnering with Amazon on order fulfillment. Soon you will be able to proudly display your Agent K literature cheek-by-jowl with such spy literary giants as Dorothy Gilman and John Le Carre.

For those of you who don’t have a Kindle, the Nook and the Sony Reader editions will follow shortly. We don’t want anyone left behind. (Please, those of you with Kindles, don’t spoil the exciting ending for anyone. Spoilers posted here, on Facebook, or on Ravelry will be deleted as ruthlessly as Agent K pursues the aliens.)

Head over the Amazon now to snag your copy!

knitters in black

March 22, 2012 / whirlingneedles

Cruise Ship of the Cursed

Agent K surveyed the sparkling sea that reached out to the horizon. This cruise had been a dream of a lifetime, and she had won the Agency’s knitting contest to get aboard. (The doctor said the twitch in her eye would go away soon, as long as no one mentioned entrelac for a while.) She breathed the sea air deeply and exhaled slowly. She planned to enjoy herself for the next few weeks without a care in the world. No aliens, no government bureaucracy, just sunshine and relaxation.

That was the plan, anyway. As she settled into her lounge chair by the pool and slathered herself in SPF 45 sunblock, she sensed something was just a tiny bit off. She paused and glanced around the pool area, but nothing seemed amiss. She shrugged. It was a perfectly normal cruise, but she was still jumpy from her last assignment. A cloud seemed to pass over the sunny pool at the thought of her last assignment. The aliens had been too close for comfort that time. She shook her head to clear the dark thoughts and settled in with a copy of Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Knitting Without a License as a little light reading.

The combination of warm sun, soothing garter stitch, and exhaustion soon caught up with her, and her head drooped slowly forward. The Agency’s top agent does not snore, so instead she indulged in a bit of deep breathing while her eyelids were closed. The gentle rocking of the ship lulled her. Children splashed in the pool and cabana boys served other patron briskly, but Agent K enjoyed her slumber undisturbed.

The afternoon wore on. The sun moved in the sky, and eventually Agent K discovered that while she had gone to sleep in the warm sun, she now was napping in the cool shade. It was getting a bit brisk here in the shade – the slight sea breeze that had felt so wonderful and kept her so cool now chilled her exposed toes. She got up groaning at the inevitable sunburn, stretched gingerly, and picked up her things. Time to head to dinner.

She sleepily made her way to her cabin to change for dinner. As she fumbled in her bag for her room key, digging in a squirrel’s nest of knitting project, cable needles, patterns, and various notions, her attention was drawn to a cabin down the hall. A young woman was arguing with a young man, the two of them tugging at something between them. They struggled for a moment, then the young woman won the tug-of-war, sending both them staggering back a pace. She gave a brittle laugh, waved whatever it was in his face, then stalked off. The young man frowned, then caught Agent K’s eye and hurriedly opened his cabin door and slipped inside.

Agent K probably wouldn’t have thought much of this incident if she hadn’t happened to be next to the young couple’s table at dinner. The woman was overly bright at dinner, and the man was slightly sulky. Agent K picked at her excellent dinner of filet mignon while stretching her ears eagerly to find out what the disagreement was about.

“I wish you’d stop sulking!” the young woman exclaimed. “It’s getting really old, Ben.”

“I just think you should let me take care of it, Jamie,” Ben said. “It’s very valuable and you never know who is going to try to take it from you.”

“Oh, come on, who do you think is going to try to take it from me?” Jamie rolled her eyes. “The only people who know that we even have it are you and me. It’s extremely doubtful that they’ve followed us onto the boat, even if they did know we have it. And the chances of someone on the boat finding out about it and actually wanting it are slim to none.”

“It’s that kind of talk that worries me,” Ben said angrily. “The chances are slim, but that doesn’t mean that no one will be interested. Someone may find out, and someone may decide to act.”

“Ben, has anybody ever told you you’re an old woman?” Jamie said contemptuously.

Ben set his drink down the click. He threw down his napkin, pushed his chair back, and stood up. He glared down at Jamie and said, “Fine. I will see you back at our cabin. Just make sure that you don’t lose it.”

“Don’t worry, I’ve got it,” Jamie said. “Enjoy your evening.”

Agent K watched Ben stalk off as Jamie sat smugly at the table. Once Ben was out of sight, though, Jamie slumped down into her seat. She reached under her chair and pulled something into her lap. Agent K leaned casually back in her chair pretending to stretch. She couldn’t quite make out which Jamie was looking at though. It seemed to be something tiny, in a small drawstring bag. Jamie hurriedly rifled in the small bag, then pulled the drawstrings tight and stuffed the little bag back into her pocket. She glanced around the room as she did this, and Agent K looked carefully back at her dinner.

Agent K knew that she should mind her own business. She was here on vacation, after all. But something about this young couple and their furtive behavior had caught her attention. What had been intended to be a relaxing and uneventful cruise was starting to shape up as something more.

Dinner was starting to wind down, and Jamie continued to sit all by herself. Agent K continued to watch Jamie out of the corner of her eye. If Agent K hadn’t known that Jamie was hiding something to begin with, she would have known by the end of dinner. Jamie continually touched the pocket where she had hidden the drawstring bag, taking the bag out periodically and touching whatever was inside, then stuffing it back into the pocket. Agent K thought grimly that any pickpocket on the ship worth his salt would be targeting Jamie the minute she left her seat. Agent K ate her chocolate chip cheesecake thoughtfully, then got up just as Jamie did.

“Oh my, I’m going to weigh about 50 pounds more at the end of this cruise as I did at the beginning!” Agent K said ruefully, effortlessly catching up to Jamie as they headed out the dining roome.

Jamie had been deep in thought and started at Agent K’s voice. “Um, yeah, me too,” she said nervously, looking around the hallway.

“It’s a good thing I don’t eat like this all the time!” Agent said, tittering just a bit.

“No, no, me too,” replied Jamie.

“Aren’t you just down the hall from me?” asked Agent K. “I’m sure I’ve seen you before tonight. And that handsome young man you’re with. Is he your boyfriend?”

“Ben?” Jamie gave a brittle laugh. “Oh, no, we’re second cousins twice removed. I wouldn’t have taken one step with him otherwise.”

“Not very good company?” sympathized Agent K.

“Oh, he’s okay,” Jamie said. “He’s just a bit … nervous.”

“Nervous? Oh, yes, I was very nervous on my first cruise too!” Agent K fibbed. She crossed her fingers behind her back. “But this is my tenth cruise, and there’s nothing to be nervous about! These ships rarely sink.”

Jamie gave her a funny look, as if she were about to correct Agent K’s misapprehension. She opened her mouth to speak, but seemed to think better of it. By this time, they had reached the hallway where their cabins were.

“Have a good evening,” Jamie said with finality. “I’m sure you’ll have a great cruise.”

Agent K stood at the door to her cabin watching Jamie continue down the hall. The whole time since they had left the dining room, Jamie had been holding her hand either over the pocket with the drawstring bag, or dipping into the pocket. She might as well have been waving a red flag and yelling “Pick my pocket!” at the top of her voice. Agent K watched to be sure that Jamie got safely into her cabin, then entered her own cabin.

She had just settled down with a plain sock in self-striping yarn when the yelling started. She threw the sock aside and ran to the door. Jamie was standing in the hallway screaming at Ben.

“I told you I would take care of them, and I will! I don’t need you looking over my shoulder all the time!” she screeched. Ben looked apprehensively up and down the hallway where doors were popping open and curious heads peeping out.

“Now, now, I’m not looking over your shoulder,” Ben said feebly. “You know that I wouldn’t do that. I just want to make sure that they’re safe.”

“Oh, they’ll be safe, all right! I can handle it!” snapped Jamie, lowering her voice as she noticed the curious onlookers they were attracting.

“Excuse me,” said Agent K, stepping up to the couple. “Is there anything wrong? Can I help?”

“Not unless you know how to secure a priceless set of ivory and diamond stitch markers with someone constantly looking over your shoulder!” retorted Jamie. She clapped her hand over her mouth in shock. “Pretend you didn’t hear that! No one is supposed to know!”

“Stitch markers?” Agent K said curiously.

“Yes, stitch markers,” said Ben, looking daggers at Jamie. “No one is supposed to know about them, Jamie! It’s supposed to be a secret. Now the whole hallway knows! Nice work! They will hear about it, and that will be the end of that!”

“Are these knitting stitch markers by any chance?” ask Agent K.

“Yes,” sighed Jamie. She looked at Agent K for a moment, then seemed to decide that Agent K looked harmless enough and invited her into the cabin. Jamie closed the door before continuing. “They belonged to a royal princess, but were stolen in the late 1790s under mysterious circumstances. They’re said to be cursed – that anyone who tries to use them who is not their true owner will never be able to follow a pattern correctly. We’re on a mission to find the proper heir and return them so that no more knitters have to suffer the curse. It’s been a grueling process with way too many late nights spent on”

“Not only that,” added Ben, who seemed to have accepted Agent K’s presence with little more than a scowl at Jamie. “But we have to keep on the move because THEY are trying to stop us.”

“And who is “THEY”?” asked Agent K.

“We don’t know … exactly,” said Jamie. “All we know is that we keep having all sorts of inconvenient accidents. At first we couldn’t work out what was happening, but then the accidents seemed to focus on the stitch markers. The luggage that we decided at the last minute shouldn’t have the markers went missing at the airport. Not just once, but several times. We’ve been mugged by someone looking for a drawstring bag. The police caught that guy, but he said he was paid to steal the drawstring bag, and only the drawstring bag. He wouldn’t say who had hired him. We’ve had a couple of burglaries where nothing was taken, but the room we usually stored the markers in was ransacked. Well, I say nothing was taken. It was really nothing of value.”

“But who would break in only to steal lime jello?” burst in Ben.

“Hmm…” said Agent K.

“Anyway,” continued Jamie, “we are getting really close now. We’ve identified the proper owner of the stitch markers. We are posing as ordinary tourists, but we’ll get off at the next stop to give the markers to the rightful owner.”

“What happens when the owner gets the markers?” asked Agent K.

“According to the lore, the curse will be lifted,” answered Jamie. “The rightful owner can sell them, or give them away, or whatever he wants. From that point on, as long as the markers change hands willingly, there should be no more trouble. As long as we can keep them safe until the next port of call, we should be fine.”

“That’s two days away,” said Ben wearily. “We’re going crazy trying to protect the things, and it’s highly likely that whoever is trying to get them from us is on the ship right now, just waiting for an opportunity. If he or she doesn’t strike in the next two days, the markers will just be ordinary markers.”

“Right,” said Agent K, rubbing her hands together briskly. “I’ll help you out. I think I know who is after the stitch markers, and while you’ve done a bang-up job keeping them safe up to this point, the aliens’ efforts will likely be stepped up considerably.”

“The … aliens?” said Ben, staring at Agent K. Agent K waved a hand dismissively.

“Yes, aliens,” she said irritably. “Aliens exist, and they are on Earth to make sure that all wool is eradicated. If they can discover how to curse knitting notions, they’ll be well on their way to accomplishing their goals.”

“Um … aliens?” echoed Jamie in a stunned way.

“Yes, aliens,” said Agent K. “Right, now you’re in luck, because I’m a member of an elite corps of knitters who fight the aliens to stop them from taking away our wool. I’ve heard rumors of cursed knitting notions before, but I always thought they were myths. Anyway, it’s lucky I ran into you. Where are the stitch markers now?”

Jamie reluctantly pulled the drawstring bag out of her pocket and held them out to Agent K.

“No, I don’t want to handle them, just show them to me,” she said. No sense in risking the curse rubbing off onto her!

Jamie spilled a set of six stitch markers into her palm and showed them to Agent K.

They were amazing. The ivory was worked into a set of animals, each with two tiny diamond eyes winking up at her. A sheep, a llama, an alpaca, a goat, a rabbit, and a yak were posed in mid-step, with hooves or paws raised jauntily. The rings were of tarnished silver. No one had used these markers in a very long time, Agent K reflected sadly as Jamie slid them back into the bag.

“First things first,” said Agent K. “You are no longer to carry them around with you when you leave the cabin. They stay here in the cabin with us. I had you pegged as someone with something valuable the instant I saw you.” Jamie blushed and hung her head. “From now on, no one leaves this room. We’ll order room service as sparingly as possible and keep the door locked at all times. We’ll sleep in shifts, and only one person leaves the room at any time for bathroom breaks. Understand?”

Jamie and Ben nodded, and Agent K went to her cabin to fetch some gear. The next hour saw the three of them securing the room against all comers, and when the room was practically airtight, Agent K flopped into a chair with a sigh.

“We’ve done what we can,” she said, regarding the room with satisfaction. “I’ve set up an anti-teleportation device that should stop any aliens from appearing inside the room. If they do manage to get in through the porthole or door, they’ll find a wool net ready to descend onto them. The stitch markers as housed in a transparent wool case so that we can see them at all times but they’ll be protected from the aliens. Arm yourselves, and get ready for a long two days.”

All three of them picked up a set of knitting needles and some wool, and were soon knitting away. Agent K found that Ben and Jamie were already competent knitters and surmised that they had not succumbed to lure of those beautiful stitch markers. It was difficult – from a distance of only a few feet, the urge to use the stitch markers was overwhelming, but the Agency had trained Agent K well to resist just this sort of torture.

As they knit, Agent K told Ben and Jamie all about the Agency, and her own fascinating story of how she had become an Agent. She described some of her more harrowing and dangerous missions to a flatteringly wide-eyed audience. The evening wore on and slowly dimmed to darkness. The ship was a noisy place even at this late hour, but as the revelers trickled back to their cabins the noise faded. Ben and Jamie nodded off, but Agent K remained watchful.

She was rewarded for her vigilance when the door to the cabin slowly opened. She had not heard a sound, and Ben and Jamie remained peacefully asleep. The crack in the door widened, letting in soft light from the hallway. A tentacle tentatively wiggled into the crack, followed by an eyestalk which glared around the room. Agent K sat motionless, waiting for the alien to make its move and hardly daring to breathe.

The door opened wider and the alien slowly entered the room. Just as the slimy green creature was fully in the room, Agent K sprang into action. She yelled “NOW!!!” at Ben and Jamie, then hit the switch that turned on the light and dropped the wool net. Ben and Jamie rubbed their eyes and stared at the angry flailing alien in the middle of their cabin. The alien roared and tried to fling off the net, but he was well and truly trapped. Agent K gave him a minute to get his frustration out, then flicked the lights to get his attention. He subsided, but glared at Agent K with an angry red eye.

“Okay, time to talk,” said Agent K. “What do you want in this cabin?”

“I heard there was lime jello in here. Isn’t this the galley?” asked the alien, trying for nonchalance a bit too late.

Agent K rolled her eyes. “No, it’s not the galley. Why don’t you just admit what you’re really here for?”

“Why should I tell you anything? Who are you, anyway?” retorted the alien. “Just because I walked into the wrong cabin doesn’t mean anything. Here I am, minding my own business, and you throw this nasty wool all over me. Do you know how much this stuff itches? I’m going to need a vat of calamine lotion to stop the itching.”

“If you must know, I’m Agent K,” she replied. The alien suddenly stopped scratching himself with his tentacles and became very still, staring at Agent K.

“You can’t be!” he gasped. “They said this was a routine case! Just steal a few cursed stitch markers, nothing too it! Only a couple of dweebs to deal with, and I’d be home free. Now you’re saying you’re the Agency’s top agent? How did you get assigned to this case?”

“DWEEBS?!?” chorused Ben and Jamie.

“It’s just you unlucky day, I guess,” said Agent K, ignoring Ben and Jamie’s indignation. “How did you find out about the cursed stitch markers, and what were you planning on doing with them?”

“Nothing, nothing, we just wanted to look at them,” the alien said airly, shifting his eye around. “We just heard a rumor, that’s all.”

Agent K picked up a ball of wool from the table next to her and advanced menacingly toward the alien.

“You wouldn’t!” he gasped.

“Try me!” she said, unwinding a bit from the ball.

He gulped. “Okay, I’ll talk! We intercepted an email from an antique knitting notions dealer a few weeks ago. These dweebs…” Ben snorted angrily. “As I was saying, these dweebs were going about trying to find the rightful owner for a set of stitch markers. They were refusing to sell the markers to anyone, at any price. This, of course, was very suspicious, and emails starting flowing around the antique notions dealer network. We have spies and monitors who watch for this sort of activity, and we did a bit of research and discovered the alleged power of these markers. We tried several times to get our tentacles on them so that we could study them and figure out how to curse more notions.”

“Whose idea was that?” asked Agent K.

The alien smirked. “Oh, that was my idea! No one will want to knit if they can’t get past a little curse. It was one of my frequent bursts of brilliance.”

“I’m sure it was,” said Agent K dryly.

“Well, we kept trying, but nothing worked. We couldn’t get the markers. Then we heard that these dweebs were going on a cruise, and we decided to strike while we still could.”

“Stop calling us dweebs!” fumed Jamie.

“Whatever you say, moron,” said the alien. “How were we to know that the Agency would get involved? It was supposed to be a quick snatch and grab. Easy peasy.” He sighed despondently. “You are going to take me to the detention center with the lime jello, right?” He brightened a bit at the prospect.

“Yes,” Agent K said. “If you go quietly, you’ll have all the lime jello you want.”

“Do you have any on you now?” he asked hopefully.

He seemed to deflate a bit when he was assure that Agent K did not in fact have lime jello on her person, but did not resist when the ship docked and the Agency cleaner team came aboard to escort him off. Agent K watched as he was led from the ship, still boasting to the Agency cleaners about his brilliant scheme to curse knitting notions the world over.

It was almost an anti-climax when Ben and Jamie took the stitch markers to the elderly lady who was their rightful owner. She seemed oblivious to their import, and calmly agreed to sell them to Jamie for a pittance. Ben and Agent K watched with bated breath as Jamie cast on a complex lace swatch using the stitch markers. They breathed a bit easier as each row came out perfectly.

Agent K reboarded the ship, determined to enjoy what remained of her vacation. A deck chair in the warm sun called to her…