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November 5, 2011 / whirlingneedles

Knitting on the Edge

The tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife. The high-powered lights trained on the host and contestants didn’t help much, either. The buzzer in Agent K’s hand was slippery with nervous sweat as she waited for the game to begin. On the other side of the lights, hundreds of faceless audience members murmured and rustled in anticipation. The game would start soon.

The latest game show to be added to the fall TV schedule had taken the Agency by surprise, and the brass in the corner suite did not like surprises. “Knitting on the Edge” was airing on Tuesday nights, and there was definitely something fishy going on. None of the knitters who appeared on the show seemed to be known to the Agency, yet they were answering very difficult knitting and fiber questions with apparent ease. The initial investigation had turned up no one who knew them – apparently none of them visited their local yarn stores, shopped at online yarn stores, bought fleece, owned sheep, or had Ravelry profiles. That was enough to cause the Agency to become very concerned.

So here Agent K was, on set at the game show. The Agency had pulled a few strings at the network (several network executives were later spotted wearing handknit socks) to plant an Agent on the show. So far, the contestants had not been allowed to talk to one another or to the host, so Agent K had not yet been able to make much progress in her investigations. She had been hustled from makeup to a quick rules session to the stage in what seemed like a very short time. Someone had thrust a buzzer into her hand, and a minute later the theme music began to play.

“Welcome to Knitting on the Edge!” the host shouted with a toothy grin. “We’re expecting a wild and wooly contest today, so hang onto your needles because HERE. WE. GO!”

“First question: What animal does qiviut come from?”

Agent K thumbed her buzzer, but she must have been a half second behind, because the contestant to her right was already answering “Muskox!”

“That’s right!” The audience clapped as the contestant’s board registered a point. “Next question: In what year did Elizabeth Zimmerman write the seminal “Knitting Without Tears?”

This time the contestant to Agent K’s left managed to beat her to the buzzer. “1971!”

“Excellent!” More applause from the audience.

The score crept up on the other contestants’ boards, but Agent K never seemed to manage to hit the buzzer fast enough. She was beginning to smell a rat. There was no way two random people off the street could have faster reflexes than the Agency’s highly trained top Agent. They were nearing the end of the round of questions. The next round should be right up Agent K’s alley – an obstacle course with knitting challenges. If she couldn’t make headway there, she would know the game was rigged.

The final buzzer sounded. Agent K was in third place with no points, while the other two contestants were tied at 57 each. Yeah, nothing suspicious there!

Agent K followed the other two contestants backstage to be dressed in their protective gear for the obstacle round. An assistant shoved a mouth guard roughly into her mouth, smashed a helmet onto her head, and slapped knee and elbow pads on her limbs. She was reeling just a little from this rough treatment (one ear had been caught in the helmet and smarted just a bit) when the toothy host came backstage. He wasn’t so toothy now.

“Right, onstage. Now!” He was giving Agent K the stinkeye as she passed him, although she couldn’t figure out why. Could he be in on whatever was going on here? The other two contestants hadn’t said a word, just trotted out on stage.

“It’s EXCITEMENT TIME now!” cried the host, back to his charming and smarmy self for the audience.

The three contestants were lined up behind starting gates. Agent K’s gate would be released 57 seconds behind the other two because her score was so poor. There was no telling what was on the other side of the gate, so Agent K nervously shifted her weight from one foot to the other as the gasps, laughter, and cheers from the audience tracked the other contestants’ progress. She was trying to ease her helmet over her sore ear when the door opened.

She was all set to charge out of the gate but stopped in shock. There was nothing on the other side of the gate. No audience, no obstacles, just a large, dark room. She cautiously stepped forward into the room, but whipped around as the gate slammed shut behind her. She tugged at it, but it was firmly locked and she could see no lock or handle on her side.

Feeling more alarmed by the moment, she stepped away from the door and began to explore the dark room. There was just enough light to see where she was putting her feet, but that was about it. She held her hands out in front of her and stepped bolding into the room. A dozen paces took her to the opposite wall, which was cold concrete. Feeling along the wall, she discovered that the room was a concrete box with no other door than the one she had come in by. A metal table and a pair of chairs were in the center of the room, but the table was bare. She sat down at the table and took off her protective gear and waited.

And waited. She had no idea how much time had passed, but it was long enough that she was thirsty and hungry before a smell of wet dog indicated that a short-range teleport had been activated. The alien who had just appeared in the room set a lantern on the table, illuminating the room with a faint glow.

“Well, well, who do we have here?” sneered the alien. “Agent K herself! This is a red-letter day for alienkind indeed!”

“What do you want?” asked Agent K, ignoring his taunts. “What’s with this elaborate farce of a game?”

“This ‘elaborate farce of a game’ as you so eloquently put it has been our latest strategy of attack,” the alien said, oozing his lime-green rear into the other metal chair. “We’ve been capturing knitters for months. The fools sign up to be on the game show, and we are replicating them and sending the replications home to their families. The only difference between the real person and the replication is the sudden lack of desire to knit. Yarn sales have been in decline. WE are winning the war, one knitter at a time!” He roared with laughter.

Agent K felt sick. This was worse than she could have imagined. How could all those knitters have gone missing with no one realizing that they had been switched? What had happened to the knitters themselves? Surely, the aliens wouldn’t kill them, right? The war between Earth and the aliens was bloodless so far. If the aliens were killing knitters, the aliens must realize that they couldn’t escape retribution. And why had the Agency not noticed the absence of so many knitters? The Agency had noticed a down tick in the sale of yarn, fleece, and all the accoutrements of knitting, but no one had been seriously alarmed. The economy was bad, after all.

“How many humans have you kidnapped?” asked Agent K, struggling to keep her voice calm.

“Oh, just a few dozen, not very many, after all,” the alien replied casually. “Don’t worry, they’re in good tentacles. And they’re not bored or anything. Oh, no, we have them hard at work burning fleeces and making lamb chops.”

While she was relieved to find that they were not dead, she was horrified at the aliens’ cruelty toward the poor captive knitters. Forcing them to destroy the things they loved was tantamount to torture.

“I demand you release them at once!” she cried, pounding her fist on the table. “How dare you kidnap them? I say, how dare you, sir!”

“You’re in no position to make demands!” snarled the alien. “In case you haven’t figured it out, miss top agent, there’s no way out of here except by teleport. No one will know that you’re in our hands. You’ll be replaced just like the others and no one will come for you. You are our prisoner!”

Agent K glared at him, but he was right. There was nothing she could do, for now. She wondered how long it would be before someone noticed that her replication had no interest in knitting and start to ask questions. She was on her own, and she would have to get herself out of this mess on her own. She would get as many of the captive knitters out as possible as well, and alert the Agency to this fiendish plot.

She slumped in apparent dejection in her chair. “Okay, you’re right, you win.” From under her eyelashes she saw the evil grin of triumph on the alien’s face as he accepted her resignation at face value.
In a very short time, she found herself teleported out of the dark room and into a dark cell. From rows of bunks scared, anxious faces peered at her.

“It’s Agent K!” cried one woman. “From the Agency! You’re here to take us home, right?” The woman grabbed her arm in a frenzy of excitement. A cheer rang out in the room. Agent K gently shook her off, and shook her head.

“I’m sorry, I’m a prisoner just like you,” she said. A hush of disappointment fell over the cell, dampening the enthusiasm of the moment before. “But I’m going to do my best to get out of here and take you with us.”

“There’s no escape,” a thin man with glasses said. “We’ve tried. The only way in and out is the teleport, and there’s no way to get that away from the aliens.”

“First things first,” said Agent K, taking charge of the anxious group. “Is everyone okay? Any injuries?” Everyone signaled that they were okay, so she continued. “Assets. Bring everything that could possibly be of use to the front of the room and lay them out on the floor.”

In a very short space of time, a dishearteningly small collection of objects was laid out on the floor at Agent K’s feet. A few yards of worsted weight wool, a dozen ink pens, a handful of pocket change, and a couple of hard candies made up the sum total of the assets of the captive knitters. Agent K added her crochet hook from her boot to the pile. There was a defeated silence as the group surveyed the pile.

“Okay, next,” Agent K said as brightly as she could. “Intelligence. Do the aliens keep to a schedule? When can we expect them to come into the cell?”

“We don’t have any clocks or watches, so we’re not really sure,” answered the thin bespeckled man. “They go long stretches without coming at all, and when they do they feed us only on lime jello and then make us work at destroying fleeces and cooking lambs. It’s been horrible!” He dissolved into tears. His neighbor patted his back comfortingly.

“Well, it sounds as if they may be keeping to the schedule of their home planet, which has a 64 hour day. And they may not be aware that humans need more than lime jello to survive. The next time they come around, I’m going to demand that we be given better rations.” Agent K hoped that the group was looking more cheerful, but she suspected that it was just her imagination. “While they are distracted trying to feed us better, I’ll construct a net out of this wool.”

“Er, about that,” said a young woman with long blonde hair.

“Yes?” asked Agent K, reaching for the wool.

“That’s not wool.”

“What?” Agent K picked up and discovered that it was in fact a very nice acrylic, not wool as she had first thought.

“They took any wool we had away from us,” the young woman explained. “I guess these ones aren’t as dumb as they look.”

Agent K sat down wearily on one of the bunks, eying the offending piece of pseudowool. She wondered if she could fool the aliens for even a second with it, but decided it wasn’t worth the risk. If she had been alone, she might have tried it, but the consequences to the captive knitters might be too high. She needed a new plan, and fast, before they all starved on lime jello.

“Okay, here’s the new plan,” she said with what confidence she could muster. The next time the aliens teleported into the room, they were ready.

The aliens always teleported into the same spot in the room. (The captive knitters had learned to hard way to avoid that spot after one of them had had a very unpleasant sliming when the alien teleported on top of her.) Agent K had her troops deployed in a circle around that spot. When the alien teleported in with their daily lime jello, several things seemed to happen at once. The thin man with the glasses knocked the tray of jello out of the alien’s hands, sending green gelatin arcing across the room to splatter on the concrete floor. As the alien moaned and started towards it, the young woman with the long blonde hair tossed a bedsheet over its head, and Agent K wound the acrylic tightly around the bedsheet and alien.

“Hurry,” she gasped. “He’s already oozing through the sheet!”

A tall blonde Scandinavian lady grabbed the teleport from the alien’s thrashing tentacle and waved it aloft. The knitters and Agent K rushed to touch a finger to the teleport.

“Everyone ready?” shouted Agent K. Hearing no negatives, she shouted “GO!” to the Scandinavian lady. The room dissolved around her, and the gaggle of knitters staggered as they reappeared a few blocks from the television studio.

Agent K borrowed the cell phone of a passerby who stood gaping at the crowd of strangers that had just appeared out of thin air. “It’s for a tv show,” she explained kindly. The man nodded numbly.

In a very short span of time, the Agency had vans full of Agents swarming the tv studio, and other vans carting away the shell-shocked previously captive knitters. They would be debriefed back at the Agency over a cup of hot soup. No lime jello would be served. (In fact, none of the previously captive knitters ate jello every again.)
Unfortunately, the aliens had vamoosed as quickly as possible from the tv studio as soon as they were aware of the knitters’ escape. The Agency did not manage to find any aliens in the studio or the labyrinth of cells and passageways below it.


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