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March 25, 2011 / whirlingneedles

Icy Outpost


The surf pounded on the beach and the rest of the humanity shivered in the icy wind, but Agent K was warm in her Icelandic wool sweater, thick boot socks, double layer mittens, and earflap hat. She’d come to this god-forsaken spot as part of an Agency international exchange. No doubt her counterpart was enjoying himself in sunny Florida, hanging out with Mickey, while she froze her nose off here on the coast of the North Sea.

A helicopter whap-whap-whapped its way out to sea, ferrying oil workers out to a rig. Agent K’s contact had just come in from a rig on the same helicopter and she waited her him to emerge from the heliport.

A burly guy came out, looked around, and headed straight for her. He could tell a knitter at a glance, as could he. He too was swathed in wool from head to toe. No doubt he normally word coveralls or some such thing while working to protect his beautiful handknits from oil and seaspray.

"Agent K?" he asked cautiously. "I’m Sven, your contact."

"Nice to meet you, Sven," replied Agent K. "Is there someplace we can
talk without being overheard?"

"Follow me," said Sven, beckoning her.

Agent K followed Sven toward the small town, through a series of winding alleys. Sven stopped in front of a store, looked both ways up and down the street, then ducked into the doorway, nodding to Agent K to follow him. Agent K looked around the inside of the shop in bewilderment. It was a butcher’s shop, with sides of meat hanging from the ceiling and a teenager working a deli slicer far too quickly for Agent K’s taste. That kid would be lucky to have all his fingers still attached for much longer. But, Agent K wondered, why had Sven brought her to a butcher’s?

But Sven kept going, past the customers waiting patiently for their deli orders to a door at the back of the shop. He rapped his knuckles on the wood-paneled door with a curious rhythm, and the door was opened from the inside. Agent K stepped through the door, wondering exactly what she had got herself into this time.

Agent K’s jaw dropped. The backroom of the butcher’s was a local yarn shop. Skeins of hairy Icelandic wool hung cheek by jowl with delicate laceweight alpaca. A table stood in an alcove to her left. The alcove was lined with benches, on which sat several more hulking oil rig workers and one tiny little old lady. She appeared to be taking a cabling lesson from the burly bearded behemoth next to her. Agent K picked her jaw up from the floor and turned a questioning look on Sven.

Sven grinned at her astonishment, then clapped his hands and addressed the other knitters in the backroom.

“Folks, this is Agent K, who is here to help us with our little problem,” he said. “Scoot over, boys, and give her somewhere to sit.”

The knitters at the table obliging slid along the bench, and Agent K perched on the edge next to a very large man wearing a navy gansey.

“Agent K, I guess you’re probably wondering why you’re here,” began Sven. Agent K nodded. “We have been having a bit of an alien problem here lately.” The other knitters nodded earnestly.

“As soon as we get a shipment of sheep, those stinkin’ aliens swoop in and take it right from under our noses!” the little old lady piped indignantly.

“Gertrude’s right,” the navy gansey growled. “I’ve had three shipments of sheep delivered to my family farm, and every single one of them has been sheepnapped by them aliens!”

“We’ve taken to hiding to prevent further wool lose,” explained Sven. “Sorry about the roundabout journey to the shop, but we’ve been hit so many times that we’re afraid to knit openly, in case the aliens spot us. Our oil rig knitting club has been running low on supplies. It’s really boring out there on the rigs. If we lose any more wool and sheep, we’ll have to take up badminton again. Do you know how hard it is to play badminton on an oil rig? We spent a fortune on shuttlecocks before we took up knitting.” Sven ended on an almost desperate note, and one of the other knitters patted him encouragingly on the back.

“Well, we’ll just have to see about stopping those aliens!” declared Agent K. “Tell me about the next shipment, and the lay of the land, and is that Malabrigo on the wall over there? Sorry, go ahead, tell me everything.”

Later that night, Agent K tied the last of the ropes tightly, and double-checked all the ropes again. She picked up some straw, and began to spread it over the contraption. Gertrude (who was a spry and game old thing) began to spread straw as well.

“Will this really work?” asked Gertrude, spread straw for all she was worth.

“I have used similar devices in the past, with great effect,” replied Agent K. “The sheep should be able to pass with no problem, but the aliens are in for a surprise!”

Gertrude shook out the last of her straw, and Agent K made some final checks.

“Looks good,” said Agent K, nudging a bit of straw into place. “Now, let’s go have some of that delicious pie I saw Sven making.” Gertrude and Agent K linked arms and headed back to the farmhouse, leaving a pen full of newly delivered sheep as bait for the alien trap.

It was several hours later and dark as the inside of a sheepdog when Agent K heard the noises. She nudged Sven, who nudged Bjorn, who nudged Gertrude, and so on down the line. No one had been asleep, of course. This much excitement rarely came their way, so, replete with pie, they had told stories and knitted while they waited. Now was the time they had been waiting for.

Agent K led them silently out of the farmhouse towards the sheep pen. Agitated noises were coming from that direction, and Agent K could see the silhouettes of several aliens moving among the sheep. Agent K counted three of them. Good. The traps would work perfectly for three!

One of the aliens moved slowly towards the first trap. “Just a little more!” breathed Agent K. “Just. one. more. step.” The alien slid his slimy foot on top of the trap…

And suddenly he wasn’t standing there anymore! Agent K watched with satisfaction as the green blob flew in a perfect arc over the farmhouse and splashed into the sea. There had been no sound, just a click from the catapult trap and a low whooshing as the alien was propelled through the air, then the splash of water.

The second alien, obvious to the fate of his companion, was moving towards the second trap. The knitters had told Agent K that the aliens placed transmitters around the perimeter of the pen, always in the same places, then teleported the sheep out of the pen. Those three places were where Agent K had set the traps.

The group of knitters had had a hard time stifling their giggles when the first alien had been flung through the air, but they couldn’t contain themselves as the second alien soared overhead, tentacles flailing in surprise.

It didn’t matter how much noise they made this time, however. The third and final alien had been facing the second alien and had seen it take its journey. It whirled around towards the noise, only to see Agent K sprinting towards it.

“EEP,” said the alien, taking an involuntary step back.

“Stop!” cried Agent K. “Not another step! I want to talk to you!”

The alien paused in its tracks, waving its tentacles and rolling its eye around in fear. These aliens were definitely NOT in the same league as the ones Agent K was used to dealing with. Those were highly trained hit aliens, while these seemed to be rather less intelligent. They could probably handle sheepnapping on these isolated farms, but not much more.

Agent K approached the alien cautiously. “We don’t want to hurt you, but we will if we have to. I know you don’t want to go into the drink, so we won’t fling you if you just listen for a moment.”

The alien thought for a second, then nodded its eyestalk.

“You have to stop stealing the sheep around here,” Agent K said sternly. “These are not your sheep. You go back and tell your superiors that these sheep are no good. They are bad sheep. You don’t want these sheep. Repeat after me, these sheep are no good. They are bad sheep.”

The alien swallowed, then nervously repeated, “These sheep are no good. They are bad sheep.”

“Very good,” approved Agent K. “Will you tell your superiors you can’t come back?”

The alien nodded its eyestalk.

“Good. Now leave, and don’t come back,” Agent K told it sternly.

The alien nodded again, then took a step. In the wrong direction. Directly onto the trap. For the third time, an alien flew through the air and splashed into the sea. Agent K slapped her forehead in exasperation.

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