“So, Agent XR9 – or should I call you Major Arthur Shining? – you have found my final lair, my sanctum sanctorum, and defeated all my henchmen. I am defenseless … except for my attack robot!”
“Oh, please, Dr. Baddar; we both know that pile of nuts and bolts is worthless.”
Dr. Baddar aimed a remote control at the robot and pressed the activation sequence anyway. The silver robot, six feet tall, three feet wide, and designed with lots of odd, sharp angles, lurched toward XR9. It waved its arms menacingly and made a mechanical growling sound. XR9 watched idly as it slowly drew closer.
One of the shuffling ski-like appendages upon which the robot moved got caught on a lamp’s electrical cord and both the lamp and the robot crashed to the dark carpet. The robot sparked briefly and ceased to move further.
Dr. Baddar stared at it and sighed. “You’re right, of course. I never could perfect it.”
“Perfect it? You never even mediocred it,” XR9 observed wryly.
“So now what?” Dr. Baddar asked. “I suppose you mean to take me to the International Court of Justice and put me on trial for my crimes against the world.”
Shining holstered his pistol and looked around the villain’s final hidey-hole. It was comfortably spartan, with a large sofa off to one side of his desk, a couple of end tables, three framed prints of famous artwork – no, Shining realized; the nearest one was the original, stolen six years earlier – and one fewer lamp than when he’d come in.
“Well, I admit that’s what I was sent to do.” He reached back into his tuxedo jacket and brandished his pistol again. “Although if that weren’t possible I am also permitted to simply deliver your lifeless body.”
Dr. Baddar froze, expecting a series of bullets to smack into his thin frame, which housed a magnificent criminal mind.
XR9 laughed and put the gun away again. He dropped onto the couch and leaned back. Leather, good quality, he noted.
“I don’t really know what I want to do, Doctor,” he said. “I mean, all I’ve done for the last twelve years is chase you from one corner of the globe to the next, defeat your nefarious schemes for world domination, and start all over. Now that I’ve finally got you cornered and caught, I’m at a bit of a loss.”
Dr. Baddar sat behind his desk, the thronelike chair dwarfing him. He listened, curious, as his nemesis continued.
“We’re neither of us spring chickens. You could rot in a United Nations prison for the rest of your life. Even if you were to escape, I’ve destroyed your once-impressive and far-flung infrastructure and killed or captured or chased off all your henchmen and hirelings. You’re a little long in the tooth to start all over. And me … I can expect a desk job, maybe teaching the next generation of spies how to infiltrate undersea criminal laboratories, and then start collecting a pension. It’s not like I can be publicly lauded, given a ticker tape parade. I’m a secret agent, after all. What I’m asking is, what’s in it from now on for either of us? What, if anything, do we have to look forward to?”
Dr. Baddar applied his mighty brain, a brain 100 years ahead of its time, and came up blank.
“Doesn’t look too good, does it?” he said to XR9.
“No. It’s ‘game over,’ as the kids say. I’ve caught you. Checkmate. The final move. The chase has ended. The checkered flag has come down. It’s all about trying to recapture past glories from here on in.”
“We never stopped long enough in our pursuits to really connect with anyone,” Dr. Baddar said.
“I had my many dalliances, of course,” Shining noted.
“Many with women I sent to kill you,” Dr. Baddar observed sourly.
Shining smiled. “Yes.” The smile disappeared. “But they’re all gone now. Ships in the night.” He paused, thinking. “Do you know, in a strange way, all we’ve ever had is each other. The chase, I mean. One great mind and will against another. Two perfectly matched opponents.”
Dr. Baddar agreed. “It was an excellent game. Except for, shall we say, the final moments.” He held up a hand. “I’m not bitter. One of us had to win and I had my opportunities. As you say, we were perfectly matched. In fact…” He stood up and opened a hidden door behind which was a small wine cellar. He selected a bottle of champagne. “Won’t you join me?”
Shining stood. “Gladly.”
“I assure you it’s not poisoned,” he said, chuckling, as he poured.
“I’m sure I’d’ve already taken the antidote, anyway,” Shining replied, smiling.
“Well, then,” the evil genius said, lifting his glass, “here’s to us, and to a race well run.”
“To us,” Shining repeated, toasting his archenemy. “Mmmm. That’s quite good.”
“Yes, it is. I got it in the south of France about five years ago. And at a good price, too.”
“Well done. I’m thinking,” Shining said, “that maybe it doesn’t have to end quite this way.”
“Whatever do you mean?”
“Well, what if we were to skip the trial and all the boredom that appears to be bearing down on us and just go off together somewhere and enjoy life. As comrades, this time, rather than adversaries.”
“Why, that sounds delightful,” Dr. Baddar said. “Extremely sporting of you.”
“Not at all. Who can understand us and get along with us better than we ourselves? Birds of a feather. Two peas in a pod. We could pick up some cash at the tables in Monte Carlo and from there … the sky’s the limit.”
“Wonderful! Let’s do it.” And he saluted Shining with his champagne glass again.
Shining’s watch beeped a little melody.
“Excuse me,” he said to Dr. Baddar. “XR9 here.”
“This is Anchor. What’s your status, XR9?” someone on the other end of the secret radio connection asked.
“Code Jubilee. Repeat, Code Jubilee.”
“Congratulations, XR9! You’re the only man who could have defeated the dastardly Dr. Baddar! Well done!”
“Thank you,” he told his boss, even as he tipped a mildly embarrassed smile at Dr. Baddar, who waved it off.
“XR9, I am authorized to tell you, in light of Code Jubilee, that you are to be named Extraordinary Supreme Head of All World Coordinated Espionage Activities. With a commensurate raise in pay, I might add.”
“Really?” the spy asked.
Dr. Baddar set his glass down.
“You’ll have the penthouse office and living suite at the UN Building, and similar arrangements in all the capitals of the world.”
“How very pleasant,” he said, setting his own glass down and watching a nervous expression spread across Dr. Baddar’s face.
“You’ve earned it, XR9, or should I say, Extraordinary Supreme Head Shining?”
“Thank you very much, indeed.”
“Oh, one question: Is Dr. Baddar alive or dead?”
Dr. Baddar’s eyes grew huge as all the camaraderie leached out of the room. XR9 turned his wrist and fired his cufflink at the evil scientist. The dart paralyzed the smaller man instantly, including his vocal cords.
“He didn’t make it, I’m afraid. A pity he won’t be able to stand trial for his nefarious crimes, but at least we’re rid of him.”
“Very true,” Anchor said over the watch. “Come in to HQ, and we’ll begin the honors for you.”
“I’m on my way. XR9 out.”
Dr. Baddar could only stare hatefully at Shining.
“Awfully sorry, but it seems my life is going to turn out better than I had expected. I’m glad, though, we got to share that friendly moment before I did this.”
The pistol was in his hand again and he fired.
He saluted his fallen foe with his champagne glass and drained it.