Monday, April 25, 2016

Week 8 - Golden

Michael Salsbury
“Dr. Genome, we need to talk.”  Second’s eyes had that opposite-of-dollar-signs look. 

“Let me guess, it’s the henchminions again.”

She nodded, then handed me a tablet.  The screen was filled with financial figures.

“This says we’re nearly broke!”

“Yes, Doctor.  Unless we get some new operating funds soon, we’re going to have to let everyone go.”

“Everyone except the henchminions.”

“Well, yes, of course.  They won’t leave under any circumstances.”

I sighed.  “No, that much is true.”

The henchminions adored me.  I could probably set them all on fire and they’d still follow me around like a swarm of blazing puppies.  I’ve wanted to test that theory more than once.

People imagine that living with a lair full of furry henchminions who adore you must be something like shacking up with a bunch of cuddly cartoon characters.  The thing is, cartoon characters aren't alive.  They don't eat.  When they're done not eating, they don't create feces, and they don’t (outside of a few fringe cartoon cases from Japan) fling the feces they don’t create at each other as a kind of game to keep them busy between heists. 

Are henchminions cuddly?  Probably.  I’m sure my henchminions would happily cuddle me.  It’s just that the feeling’s not mutual.  If you’d ever smelled one, you’d understand.  Combine all the least pleasant parts of the aromas of an Oceanside dock, a chimpanzee in the jungle, and locker room bouquet.  It’s something like that… but worse.  Eye-wateringly worse.  There will be no cuddling.


I created the first henchminions entirely by accident…  I finalized a plan to crash the world financial markets.  It required simultaneous action in every major financial center.  My recruiting efforts hadn’t yielded the top-notch, reliable henchmen I needed, so I put my genetic skills to work building a cloning machine.  I’d successfully cloned a worm, a rat, a house cat, and finally a chimpanzee.  Since chimpanzee DNA is not far from our own, cloning myself was the next logical step.

Before I’d finished loading my genome, that pompous British Commander Lance Wellington and his men started swarming the place.  They set off an explosion to breach the outer doors of my lair.  The shockwave made me stumble, right into the cloning machine’s activation button.  I have no idea what gene sequence it had loaded.  All I know is that the machine worked out some combination of DNA from everything it had on file and dumped that into the chimpanzee eggs loaded into the uterine simulator.  Before I could stop the thing, Wellington and his men swarmed in, guns drawn.  That was before I learned the most important part of international villainry:  Always have a backup plan and an escape route.

Wellington started toward me, as his men began to encircle me.  He’d won.  I dropped to my knees and put my hands behind my head, waiting for him to slap the cuffs on.  The output chamber of the cloning machine opened.  All heads turned toward it, mine included.  I couldn’t begin to imagine what genetic mess was about to stumble out of it.  What came out, naturally, were the henchminions.

Somehow, hard-coded into their DNA, is a fanatical devotion to me.  Seeing me on my knees, eyes wide with fear, drove them into a frenzy.  They attacked Wellington and his men.  As quickly as Wellington killed a henchminion, the machine spit out another, and another.  I couldn’t help but laugh maniacally as Wellington turned and ran out of my lair. 

With the threat expelled, they returned to the lab and gathered around me.  I looked down at them, trying to guess what genetic soup the cloning machine used to create them.  One thing was certain.  My DNA was in there.  Their eyes were the same color as mine. 

That was ten years ago, but it feels like a hundred now.


The figures Second showed me were depressing.  In about two weeks, I’d have to let go of most of my human staff, including Second herself.  She had children to feed… little henchminions of her own.  If we didn’t pull off a heist soon, it’d be me down here alone with the henchminions.  I’d set off the lair’s self-destruct system if it came to that.

I called up my file of encrypted heist plans.  Most of them were still too early in the idea phase to be useful enough, but the Fort Knox plans were nearly complete.  I’d bribed several retired guards to give me all the details of the security systems and guard schedules.  The plan was to get in, grab some gold, and get out.  Each bar would be worth about $500,000.  We’d need to get out of there with about a hundred bars to fund our operations for a year.  It was doable.

The designers of the vault had built an impressive fortress.  You couldn’t blow it apart with explosives.  You couldn’t tunnel into it.  It had a huge open field around it, which made any invading force visible to the guard towers and cameras long before they got close enough to even touch the building.  Any kind of conventional heist would be suicide.

We needed something a bit unconventional here.  Aside from being foul-smelling, the Henchminions were certainly unconventional.  The last census figures showed we had about a thousand of them in the lair and around the world.  If I calculated correctly, it would be enough.  If everything went reasonably well, enough henchminions would survive to bring at least one hundred and ten gold bars back to the lair. 

Henchminions seem genetically predisposed to be completely loyal to me.  I can order one to comb my hair or to jump into a shark-infested pool, and they’ll approach either task with gusto.  This makes them perfectly suited to the task of cannon fodder.  Combine this with their reproductive drive, gestation period, and growth rate, and they seem to almost have been designed for the task. 

Before you think me too cruel and heartless, realize that I’ve done the math on this.  Without a strong source of population control, it wouldn’t take long for an unchecked henchminion population to overrun the planet with sheer numbers.  If I didn’t devise increasingly lethal operations to, so to speak, thin the herd, they’d outnumber humans at least ten to one… assuming the food sources held out.

So, my Fort Knox Vault plan was to dust off some of the old cognition enhancer helmets I had in the storeroom, charge them up, and supercharge a few henchminion brains.  They’d act as the leaders for a frontal assault on the vault.  The would plow through the fences surrounding the building, charge across the minefield outside, overwhelm the guards in the towers, and keep going.  Hundreds would probably die before the first one touched the entrance door.  Hundreds more would die breaching it.  Still more would perish fighting their way past the guards and other defenses inside.  I estimated that about a hundred would make it through.  If they each brought back a gold bar or two, we’d be funded for a good, long time.


Second found my plan barbaric, and told me so.  When she had no plan of her own, she agreed that mine was the best we had.

I fought the urge to giggle when I realized she was standing under one of our henchminion motivational signs that read “When you poo-poo, flush your doo-doo.”  We’d made them rhyme because it seemed to trigger something primal in the henchminion brain, and made them remember things better.  We’d created a number of signs like it, with sayings like:

Every shower brings you power.

When Genome asks, complete your tasks.

Strangers are dangers.

We’re still looking for a way to rhyme a celibacy saying…

There’s one other saying among the human occupants of the lair:  If you want something done right, do it yourself.  If it can be done by a blindfolded drunken chimpanzee, give it to a henchminion.  Like most old sayings, it has a basis in fact.

We made the arrangements to slip a twelve hundred henchminions into Kentucky from our island lair.  I put the few cognition amplifiers I had on the hechminions that seemed the smartest and most stable, and told them to follow me.  A few steps away, I explained to the ones without helmets that they were to stay where they were.  I led the helmeted henchminions to a conference room and closed the door.

I flipped on a projector and showed them pictures of the gold depository.

“Cut a hole in the fence.”

“Faster to go over,” one of them said.

“No.  Too dangerous.  The man here, or here,” I said, pointing at the guard posts, “will shoot you before you get down the other side.  Cut hole, go through.  Run for the towers, take out the guards.  Run for the entrance.  Get inside.”

I changed the picture to one of gold bars in the vault.

“This,” I said, pointing to the screen, “is what we want.  One hundred of these.”

“Take them all?”

“We won’t be able to take them all.  We take what we can.  We get out.  Understand?”

A chorus of yeses went up.  I wish I could afford to put these helmets on the rest of them.  It’s much easier to talk to them this way.

“Explain to the others.  Get them ready.”

They left.  I sat there at the table for a moment to collect my thoughts.  I saw a reflection of myself in the glass covering a picture on the wall.  I didn’t recognize the man for a moment.  He seemed older, more tired, and more unhappy than anyone else in the lair – including Wobbles, the henchminion who had eaten his own feet by mistake, thinking them to be fish that had attached themselves to his leg.

Thirty-seven shouldn’t look like that, I thought.  I miss the old days, when I had the time to really plan a heist.  Back then, a heist was a thing of beauty.  Something would go missing, and the authorities didn’t have a clue.  Now, anyone gets a glimpse of a henchminion and old Lance comes running for me.

I took a deep breath and sighed.  It was time to pay the bills.


I knew the Fort Knox depository defenses were formidable.  I knew the soldiers were well-armed and well-trained.  I knew it wouldn’t be easy, only that it was possible. 

As I watched henchminions dying by the dozens, it became clear.  This plan was a failure.  My new calculations showed a less than ten percent chance of escaping here with any gold, and a thirty percent chance of being captured by the military… and I knew they wouldn’t have a sense of humor about this.

I tapped my communicator button.  “It’s over.  We’ve failed.  All henchminions back to the lair.”

The ones nearest to me didn’t move.  They only stopped and stared at me.

“Didn’t you hear me?  We’ve lost.  I failed you.  The heist is over.  Let’s go home.”

They seemed to puzzle this over.  I thought I’d kept the thoughts and words simple enough, and short enough.  Why weren’t they getting it?

Time was running out.  I had to act.  I jumped behind the wheel of my Jeep and waved to them.  “Come on, let’s go.”

They shook their heads, as if to say “We’re not giving up” and ran toward the building.  I shrugged, put the Jeep into gear, and drove back to our little staging area.  We waited an hour, but not a single henchminion showed up.  I couldn’t decide whether to feel sad or relieved.  What I did feel was tired, so I told the pilot to take us back to the lair.  If the henchminions survived, they’d have to make their own way back to us.

Saddened… sickened… and thoroughly disappointed with myself, I crawled into my bed and fell asleep.


As daylight crept into the room, I became aware of an aroma permeating the room.  It was a smell I was all-too-familiar with.  I opened my eyes to find the bed surrounded by henchminions.  They were grinning like they’d simultaneously won the lottery, fallen in love with a supermodel, and learned they were invincible.  That, or they thought I looked like a very tasty snack.  I shrieked, which made them jump back, then composed myself and sat up.

Turning my head so that I could make eye contact with all of them, I looked for one wearing a cognition amplifier.  I found one, and stared directly at him.

“Why are you here?  You know I don’t like to be awakened.”

The henchminion smiled, and moved its claws from behind its back.  In each was a gold bar.

“That’s very nice, and I’m very proud of you, but we needed—“

At that moment, every one of the henchminions in the room held up its claws.  In each one, there was at least a single gold bar.  Some of the more burly ones held two or more.  I did some quick counting.   There had to be at least sixty bars in the room.  It wasn’t the haul I hoped for, but it was better than I thought was possible when I left Kentucky the night before.

I stood up, dressed, and walked into the hall.  Lining the hall were more henchminions, each one holding a gold bar in each hand.  This continued until I walked back to the lair’s control room.

I’d lost count of how many gold bars they had.  It didn’t matter anyway.  When I looked at the security monitors in the warehouse, I nearly lost consciousness.  I doubt anyone outside Fort Knox had ever seen this much gold.

I felt simultaneously happy and sick.

Second walked in the room and handed me a cup of coffee.

“Still in your pajamas, I see,” she said, smiling.  “I take it last night went well?”

I sipped the coffee and looked at her.  “We are in SO… MUCH… TROUBLE…”

She nodded.  “Yes.  Consider this my resignation.”

“Yes, yes of course.  Please, grab a bar or two on the way out.  I think we have a few extra.  Take care of your children.  Change your name.  Vanish.”

“I intend to, Doctor.  I suggest you do the same.”

“Yes. Tell the others to go, too.  They,” I said, rubbing my temples, “They didn’t sign on for this.”

She left, making sure the base’s other human occupants did, too. 

When you steal from Fort Knox, you know you can expect trouble.  But when your henchminions practically empty the place, the word “trouble” doesn’t begin to explain it.  Not only would the United States be coming to retrieve their missing gold, but every nation on Earth would come here to try to claim its share.  How we hadn’t been raided already, I didn’t know.

I whistled.  Several henchminions appeared.

“Find all the ones with the helmets,” I said, pointing at my head.  “Bring them here NOW!  Go!”

They went.

I looked down at the coffee.  It wasn’t half gone yet, and already I needed a plan… and an escape route.  I went into action.


My few remaining cognitively-enhanced henchminions stood before me, awaiting their orders just like well-trained soldiers – which they weren’t.

“You two,” I said, “will stay here with me to lead the others outside, and to protect me.  Attackers are on the way.  They will be here at any time.”

They smiled and nodded enthusiastically.  Henchminions love being given a job to do.

“The rest of you have a different mission.  You will each grab one of these bags,” I told them, holding one up.  “You will go down to the warehouse.  You will put as much gold as you can carry into your bag.  Inside is a device.  You will take it out.  It will tell you where to go.  When it tells you that you have arrived, you will dig a deep hole and put the bag inside it.  The device will tell you what to do when you are finished.”

I’d whipped up a quick GPS program for a cell phone, to lead them to different hiding places around the world.  I knew some of the henchminions wouldn’t make it to their destinations, but others would.  They’d hide the gold and we’d go back for it once the dust settled.  We’d start over again, someday.

The henchminions did as they were told, grabbing their bags and leaving.

As the last one disappeared from view, I heard the familiar sound of explosives at the main entrance.  I knew by the sound alone who it was – Commander Lance Wellington.  The rest of us would buy them time to reach their destinations.


Having fought so hard to get the gold away from Fort Knox, the henchminions didn’t make it easy for Wellington and his men to sweep through the lair.  For a while, it looked like they might even repel the invaders.  I smiled at the memory.

The tide turned slowly in Wellington’s favor.  I began making my way to my office.  It was rigged with an escape hatch to my private submarine.  Once aboard, I could go anywhere and start over again, like I did the last time Wellington ruined my plans.

Outside the door to my office, I heard a familiar voice.

I smiled, then stepped into the office, door.  A few henchminions followed me, and took up ambush positions near the door.

The sounds of a struggle continued outside.

I pulled a pistol out of my desk drawer and sat down.


When the door opened, I knew who would be stepping through it.  I raised my pistol and aimed it right where I expected Lance Wellington’s smug little smirk to peek around, and it did.  I began to squeeze the trigger.  Then I did what I always do.  I thought ahead.

Lance foiled my plans a dozen times over the years.  We had a history.  That made him easier to predict, easier to plan around.  A dead Wellington would only be replaced by some other spy.  That spy would have the advantage, at least until we came to know one another. 

I released the trigger and placed the pistol on the table.

“Mr. Wellington, I’ve been expecting you.” 

The henchminions attacked.  I don’t know what he did to them.  Whatever it was, it happened so quickly that my mind barely had time to register that the henchminions were unconscious.

“Don’t worry, old bean,” Wellington said, keeping his gun pinned on me, “They’re only asleep.  I only kill when I have orders to… like I do now… for you.”

“I’m sure you do.  But you won’t.”

Instinctively, I felt for the cover over the button in the arm of my chair.  I flipped the cover out of the way and placed my finger on the button.  When I pressed it, my chair would be sucked into a hole under it.  A trap door would seal me off from this room.  I’d be able to take a leisurely stroll to the sub and escape right under Wellington’s nose.  I kept my finger on the button as I watched Wellington make his way toward me, his gun aimed at my head.

“Are you ready to come along… quietly?”  Wellington asked, his tone suggesting that he had trouble conceiving of the very idea.  I had to admit, that after our long history, I did too.

Still, there I was contemplating that very thing. 

Giving up would cost me the lair.  With the British and American agents already swarming through it, the lair was worthless to me anyway, save as a piece of beachfront property I could sell to a real estate developer. 

I would lose the henchminions.  The ones with any native intelligence would be arrested.  The rest would likely become wards of the state.  I would probably never see them again.

That last thought lingered in my mind as Wellington took another step toward me.  Losing the henchminions… Would it be worth it?  A few years in prison, in exchange for a life that’s henchminion-free? 

It would be like going back to the man I was ten years ago, a Dr. Genome filled with thoughts of creating a race of supermen, instead of a Dr. Genome doomed to forever spend his days arranging for the toilet facilities, cots, food, water, medical, and other needs of hundreds of furry little semi-intelligent beings.

I slid the pistol across the table toward Wellington and raised my hands.  “You win,” I told him.  “I’m not going to run this time.  I’ll come quietly.”

“Wise move, old boy,” Wellington said.  He snapped a pair of cuffs on my wrists.  I hadn’t felt such a sense of freedom in years.  A few years behind bars will do me good.  Plenty of time to work out my next scheme.

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About the Author

Michael Salsbury / Author & Editor

In his day job, Michael Salsbury helps administer over 1,800 Windows desktop computers for a Central Ohio non-profit. When he's not working, he's writing, blogging, podcasting, home brewing, or playing "warm furniture" to his two Bengal cats.


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