“Good morning, James!”
That meant the Old Man had a mission for me. I sat up and ran a paw through my whiskers.
“Morning, Old Man. Gerbil-O-Seven reporting, ready once again to save the world and get the girl. What’s the deal?”
“I do wish you wouldn’t call me that.”
“Why not? In gerbil years, you’re eight hundred.”
He reached to open the cage door. I bounced out into his hand.
“Whatever it is, Old Man, I’m ready. I’ve fully recovered from my last mission and I’m at my physical peak. I’ve been clocking two hundred RPM in the wheel and my teeth can gnaw through a quarter-inch steel hawser. Psychologically, I’m up for any kind of physical or mental torture the bad guys can think of. Women want me. Men want to throw things at me.” I drummed my hind feet. “Bring it on.”
“I need you to plant a listening device in the gents’ toilets at the Swedish Embassy.”
“Oh.” I tried to keep the disappointment out of my voice. “Wily old Swedes up to their tricks again, eh? I always say you can never trust a Swede. Never fear, they shan’t take over the world as long as I’m around to stop them. And their women are gorgeous.”
The Old Man’s hand closed around me, and I found myself lifted until I was on a level with his eyes. I squeaked.
“James, listen carefully,” he said. “You are not a Double O agent. You do not have a licence to kill. You—are—a—gerbil. A genetically engineered surveillance tool. You carry tiny cameras. You plant tiny bugs. The backchat is an unexpected—and unwanted—side effect.” He tapped my nose gently with his finger. “You don’t drink Martinis - you nearly drowned last time. Also, for your information, you’re a girl.”
“But my name’s James!”
“Do you have any idea how hard it is to sex a two-day-old gerbil?”
“You’re the seventh prototype in the series. Do I need to restrict your Netflix privileges again?”
“What happened to prototypes one through six?”
“You don’t want to know.”
I blinked one eye, then the other. “May I ask a question?”
“Why am I a gerbil?”
“Biologically, religiously, or philosophically speaking?”
“I mean, I’m kind of noticeable. Why not a rat, or a mouse?”
“Because their little naked feet freak me out, OK? Now get some sleep before your mission, and remember: you do not save the world. You do not stop and sit up in the middle of running for your life in order to make wisecracks. You just do the job you were created for.”
As he placed me back in the cage, he added, more softly: “And stay safe. You silly little thing.”
I curled my tail around my head and moodily examined my hindpaws, with their dark nails and delicate fuzz of fine hair—the cause, apparently, of my existence as me. Thanks, feet. Thanks a whole bunch.
The action-packed introduction to a story about a genetically-engineered surveillance animal who wants to be James Bond. The thrilling conclusion, not to mention the highly readable bit in the middle, can be enjoyed in ROAR volume 6, available for preorder from FurPlanet.