Shimo sat in front of the communications station, recording a transmission given by a heavily muffled individual wearing a large sombrero hat. It sounded like the transmission was given by a person talking through a Styrofoam cup, which by chance it was.
"So, do you think there's any chance he'll catch on?" whispered Jack as he and Roger stood by the door.
"Well he hasn't caught on yet, and it's been months since the accident with the clone-O-matic" Roger replied.
"Hmm. Well, keep me updated, and find out what happened to the voice scrambler we sent S3, that stunt with the Styrofoam cup is just a little too lame for even Shimo to believe."
(Three months ago)
Smoke and obscenities competed with each other trying to fill the storage room. Phil punctuated the coarser epithets with blasts from the depleting of a extinguisher. When that gave out, she simply switched to beating on the thing with the empty cannister.
"What happened in here?"
"F'da-*WHAM*-ing braka-*GRUNT*-ing Clone-O-Matic spck-*CRUNCH*ing controls are f-*WHRAM*-ked. I can't shut it down!" shouted Phil.
A Jack shaped billow of smoke stumbled across the room and threw the switch to turn on the exhaust fans. The smoke was quickly drawn from the room. Phil and Jack looked at each other, Jack was about to crack a comment about running out of extinguishers when they both hear a familiar *Ping*. "Shimo!" they cried in tandem as they turned to face the smoldering remains of the Clone-o-Matic.
The door to the popped open with a puff of smoke, and a wretching, coughing voice gagged out "-OUCH(hack) THAT(cough-gough) Arrrrgggh Butt... uhh.. where did all this smoke come from?" Shimo stumbled out from the chamber, intact, and as normal looking as Shimo ever did. "And why are my ears ringing?"
"Are you O.K., Russel?" asked Phil as she steadied the unquavering Shimo.
"Yeah, I'm fine, just a little smoke inhalation, I guess." Shimo raised a confused eyebrow toward the uncharacteristically concerned Phil, "...you look a little peaked though if you don't mind me saying so."
Jack stepped in and grabbed Shimo by the elbow. "Well, we're glad you're feeling alright then Shimo, why don't you come along with me and we'll get things squared away." Jack paused by the door. If Phil had any lingering feelings of guilt, they were probably being worked out by the steady rhythm of the extinguisher against the smoldering device.
Phil took a last long look at the smashed control panel, swore, and hit it again with the fire extinguisher for good measure. The door to the Clone-O-Matic snapped shut, and the synthesized voice spoke out "Resuming process, 0.001% complete, process will be complete in 7 days, thank-you for using the Rhan-Kau Clone-O-Matic." Phil let the fire extinguisher drop to the floor with a dismayed *clank*.
Roger, Phil, and Jack sat gathered in the briefing room, the 36 volumes of the instruction manual for the Clone-O-Matic spread out before them in untidy piles. Roger finally spoke up, his finger high-lighting a section of text. "Well there's good news and bad news. According to the manual there's no way of shutting down the machine without the control panel until the process is complete. It'll be 3 weeks until we can get in a replacement control panel, until then the machine will be stuck in loop mode, with a new Shimo popping out once every 7 days."
"And what was the good news then?" asked Jack.
"Well, we are talking Shimo here, how long does he normally last? We'll just keep him shuffling around the globe on different make-work projects until he kills himself off again." replied Roger.
"Well, I have gotten a couple of tips in recently that need to be investigated, they're not the sort of missions I'd normally send Shimo out on alone, but considering the number of times the worst of things has happened to him, what's the worst that can happen?" said Jack, shrugging. "I have a report of a particularly surly bunch who are trading in foreign weapon technology out of an abandoned marine zoo on the west coast, normally I'd send Phil, but in the interest of getting Shimo out of the way, get him on a plane out there right away."
Shimo completed a final lap of the marine zoo scanning for any unusual life signs. So far, he came up with one, a seagull considering switching to a macrobiotic diet. To no one's surprise, the gull had no information about alien weaponry. Shimo started clearing the assorted rooms, pools, and labs room by room.
The old Penguin Adventure Zone was the only building that was in slightly better shape than most. The glass observation wall was free of graffitti and the floor had been swept clean. The suspended ceiling had been stripped away, leaving nothing but a mesh closing off the top of the room about half way up the window. In one corner sat a scuba tank, an inflatable couch and sleeping bag. Nearby were a few manilla folders and a still steaming cup of coffee.
"Bingo", thought Shimo, as he carefully made his way to the folders. The door behind him slammed shut with a clang that spoke of many pounds of steel locking firmly in place. His ears rang from microphone being turned on came from a speaker at the top of the room that was set far too loud.
"Hello?" Boomed the over amplified voice, "Can you hear me alright? Of course you can, and I knew Jack would send you, surly aliens trading weapons technology, who else would he send? Enjoy your cup of coffee, it'll be your last before you drown, just like you left me to drown, mwuh-huh! Mwuh-huh-huh HAAAAAA!"
'That', thought Shimo, 'was the worst maniacal laugh I've ever heard. Heck, I could do better.' Clangs and squeaks cut his critique short. Water flooded into the room, quickly soaking Shimo and the contents of the room. Shimo threw himself at the glass hoping to dislodge it, but it was designed to take far more than his weight. He tried the door just in case all that heavy clanking and rattling had been more for show. It wasn't.
He dug though his kit to see if there was anything he'd be able to use. Unfortunately, he had planned on doing simple recon and even the weapon he had was more defensive than offensive. He started to see the value of Phil carrying around a small personal armory. He dug out his phone and tried to get anyone at headquarters, however instead of Roger all he got was loud squawks and squeals. "Roger? If that's you, there's something wrong with your translator!" Sadly there wasn't anything wrong with Roger's translator, nor Shimos and the phone shorted out as the water continued to rise.
The coffee cup floated by, the water around it stained brown with leaking coffee. An idea percolated through the panic in Shimo's brain and floated to the top. He looked up at the ceiling above, mesh resting on a frame-work of angle iron, and waded to the center of the room, dragging the inflatable couch behind him. Locating the nozzle, Shimo began forcing more air into the slightly sagging couch, hyperventilating as the water continued to rise, and he was forced to swim, still hanging onto the couch. He began to rethink that personal armory thing. With the added weight he'd sink to the bottom in no time.
He began to see stars as the water rose to the level of the grate, and his head went underwater. Taking small sips of air back from the couch now, the water rose higher, increasing the buoyancy of both Shimo and the couch, until with a squeak, the grating was lifted out of place. Shimo struggled over the top of the exhibit's glass and into the relative safety of the original penguin enclosure. Minutes later he staggered out of the building and headed back to the van.
In the dim light of the debriefing room, Jack and Roger poured over the logs of the event. Roger sat back and with a furrowed brow said,"It's not right, Jack."
"I know, the security clearances on that tip all checked out, there should be no way something like that could slip past us.", replied Jack as he flipped through a few more pages, cross checking cargo information.
"No, not that," Roger dismissed with a wave, "accidents happen, things get missed, but ask yourself this, has Shimo ever survived something like that before?" said Roger, eyebrow raised.
Jack paused for a moment. He never appreciated Roger's habit of setting up a "Dead Pool" for Shimo, but he had to admit that Roger had a point. Honestly, Jack couldn't remember if Shimo had ever survived anything more dangerous than consuming a bag of pretzels.
Roger noted Jack's expression and nearly jumped at the chance, "See? I told you there was something wrong."
Jack sighed. "No, Roger, I'm not going to go in on the pool this week."
"You sure? I'm thinking that the odds have been dramatically improved." Roger replied.
Jack closed a file and glared at Roger for a second. "No, but we should also let Shimo know that we want him to track down this mysterious tipster. He's the best we've got at data referencing."
"Ooh, and with any luck he'll get himself killed in the process!", chirped Roger.
"In the meantime," Jack growled, "the next Shimo is due out shortly, and we're going to have to organize some way of having him report in without recognizing himself."
"Well, I still have my Groucho Marx eyeglasses stuck around here somewhere." Roger retorted.
Shimo sat, listening carefully to a heavily draped individual with a 10 gallon hat carefully concealed his features. He read a report to an attentive Shimo from the large communications screen in the control room while Jack and Roger watched from the doorway. "...and so ah analyzed dem readins. and came to the conclusion that them pilgrims were out ta bushwhack me." drawled the figure on the screen.
"So I guess he bought the story about risk of our signals being intercepted as a need for concealing his face and features, but you're going to have to do something about his voice, talking like John Wayne is not my idea of modifying his voice." said Jack, shaking his head.
"We're going to have to get this Shimo out shortly too, the next Shimo is about due." Roger reminded Jack.
"Yeah, I've got a report that the U.S. Army has gotten it's hands on some alien tech, and is storing it on a decommissioned base. Normally I'd send Rhino to deal with the local Grunts, but it's a good excuse to get the new-new Shimo out of the way for a few days while we sort out the old-new Shimo." said Jack.
"This is getting confusing, can't we just write numbers on them or carve bits off.."
"No, Roger, you can't."
Shimo drove slowly through the gates of the abandoned base. Light glinted off the shiny ends of the hasp where someone had snipped the locks. He drove up into the parking lot, and took a perverse pleasure in parking in the spot labeled "Base Commanding Officer Only." He parked over a faint pair of tread marks in an otherwise unmarked lot. Climbing out of his truck, and securing it behind him, Shimo entered the office proper, and began searching down the corridor, scanning side to side as he went.
At the half-way point of the hall-way, a familiar voice began speaking through the intercom system. "Ah, the noble Rhinoceros, patrolling the urban savannah. How's it going Rhino? Saved any lives recently? Like you should have saved mine? Well here's a little something to keep you from poking your head around where you shouldn't!" A massive wooden hammer like the sort used to send a weight climbing toward a bell at a carnival came swinging through the suspended ceiling, ready to send Shimo's head all the way to "Strong-man." With no time or room to avoid the hammer, Shimo moaned gently, pressed the panic button on his comms device, and then passed out before the mallet had so much as kissed his brow. Lifted forcibly into the air from the passing hammer's blow, he was limply deposited at the far end of the hallway.
"So the mallet didn't kill him?" asked Phil incredulously.
"No...but ironically if it had of been Rhino we'd sent, he'd be dead right now. That mallet was loaded with enough high explosives to have vaporized that entire office section, and Rhino too. When it hit Shimo's less than heroic forehead it wasn't enough of an impact to detonate the charge, it just left him concussed. First time I've ever heard of a kick in the teeth being better than something." joked Jack.
"It also means that someone is hunting us, someone who knows our abilities, and who wants us all dead, one after the other." mused Roger.
The two of them turned to look at the screen at the latest report from the recently concussed Shimo coming over the screen. "Good Cher impression, but the wig barely covers the bandages..." said a bemused Phil.
"So, now what do we do?" Rhino asked, getting the meeting back on track.
"We have a report that the Gypsy has been passing off his usual collection of borderline illegal imports. No one actually buys anything that he imports, but we're obligated to make sure that he doesn't ever find anything that will sell. Normally we'd send Roger, but we'll send the latest Shimo down to rattle his cage, that'll keep him out of the way for a day or so while we finish fixing the Clone-O-Matic." Said Jack
Shimo walked down the street, and from 100m away he could see the swathed form of the Gypsy trying to sell what looked like Ooglarthic art. Ooglarthic art was composed entirely of light in the Ultra-Violet range, so the art all appeared to be empty frames. As Shimo approached the rag-tag figure suddenly bolted into a near-by building. Through the door, and up the stairs Shimo chased him into a long hallway. In the center of the hallway the Gypsy's hat sat in the center of the floor. When he stooped to pick it up gates dropped in front and behind him. The racing figure disappeared laughing down the stairs shouting "I've been saving you for last, Roger! AH HA HA HAAA!"
Shimo tested the bars for a few moments, found that they were too solid to move, and pulled out his communicator to report that the Gypsy had escaped. Strange though...the voice sounded really familiar.
Roger, Phil, and Jack sat around the conference table, discussing the latest survival.
"So the bars were electrocuted? So why wasn't Shimo electrified when he pushed against the bars from the inside?" asked Roger.
"Ever heard of a faraday cage?" said Phil. "The electricity went around the outside of the bars, if it had been you, you'd have melted through the bars and kept chasing that guy, you'd also be a very dead shapeshifter when you hit the outside of the bars. He was aiming to kill you, and only you."
Three Shimo's sat in three separate labs analyzing their findings at each of the murder attempts, and each of them came to the same conclusion, that the glue holding together the coffee cup, the wood that made up the mallet, and the cloth from the hat were all manufactured exclusively in a small area of Manitoba, so the evil voice that had taunted each of them must have come from there.
Now all they needed was a disguise.
Somewhere in rural Manitoba...
Shimo crept through the woods narrowing in on a small cabin. That was it, the one place that every clue lead to. The lair of whoever was trying to kill off his co-workers... his friends. He stayed low paying attention to any noise. He stopped when he heard rustling, but it seemed to come from both sides. He kept is head low pulled up a small stone and threw it back toward the woods. He heard the thump, and echoes from both sides. He sighed, realizing that this was probably one of those "Mystery Spot" places that featured strange, but easily explainable phenomenon. He smiled to himself thinking that he'd have to come back one day to figure out what caused that sort of echo effect.
The cabin was lit, and featured a single window on the wall. Shimo pulled a shim from inside his jacket and carefully worked it to release the window's catch. He pushed up on the window lightly as a connection was broken in the house security system, a shadowed figure smiled, cocked his weapon, and stepped from the room to meet his intruder.
"STOP WHERE YOU ARE!" all four shouted, their weapons pointed at the man across from them." All four voices were the same, and all four wore the same disguise, that of a Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman. All four were Shimo's. All four shot the person across from them, and three of them dropped to the floor dead, the last staggering away, the only one to have worn a ballistic vest. He stopped in the doorway, looking back into the room.
"Wait, that's... me." Shimo sputtered, "They.. they set me up. They tried to kill me, kill us.. I'm just a replaceable part to them? I'll show them replacable! I'll destroy them. Destroy them ALL!"
News Headline from the Manitoba Tribune...
THREE MOUNTIES KILLED IN SHOOTOUT
"Well Jack, not the best ending, but at least it's cleaned up the extra Shimos, do you think we'll ever know who it was trying to kill us?" asked Roger as he put away the last of the newly repaired Clone-o-matic's schematic diagrams.
"It's strange..." Jack said, "the only DNA we found in that cabin was Shimo's."
"That's not horribly surprising. All three of them somehow got the idea to go up there. I could have used a trip up north, maybe get some fishing in. I'm fairly certain finding bait wouldn't have been a problem."
Jack ignored Roger and continued, "We should have found evidence of someone else there, but there was nothing, nothing at all...strange."
Shimo walked into the coffee room, with a large box, and a look of confusion on his face, "Hey, does anyone know why there's a whole box of disguises sitting in my room?"