Life for a cop is tough on a good day. And tough enough for one living on his own. Add a family to the mix, and it's almost too full a plate to handle.
Just ask Phineas Flynn.
As far as anyone else knew, his job was dangerous enough, even though Danville wasn't particularly overrun with criminals. There's a certain risk involved in taking the job in any setting, and Phineas of course knew this. When he had married, his job… his jobs, rather…and how he viewed them hadn't changed, but the birth of his daughter, Candace, certainly rearranged his perspective. How hard it would be even with a boring job, leaving his wife and little girl alone for so long, but with occupations as dangerous as his, when he could never guarantee for sure that he'd be coming back home every time he left—
"Hey, Agent P! Great party, huh?"
Phineas was jerked out of his contemplation by Andy Vesk, aka Agent A, to such an extent that he nearly spilled his green Kool-Aid all over himself. "Uh, yeah, great party, everyone needs an Ides of March celebration."
"And the OWCA is thoughtful enough to throw one for us!" said Andy.
This was not a police department party. For Phineas had another occupation, one that not even his wife knew about.
He was also an undercover secret agent.
"Are we all here?" Phineas asked Andy. "All twenty-six of us?"
Andy nodded. "Yep, counted them all myself. Agent Z was the last to arrive, as always…"
Phineas bit his lip in worry, his grip on his plastic cup of Kool-Aid tightening. "I just don't think it's such a good idea for all of us to be in the same place at once. It's like we're advertising that we're the perfect target for some fiendish plot."
"Come on, no one knows we're here," said Andy dismissively.
"I'd assume someone knows, given by all those directional 'Secret Agent Party Here, Follow the Arrows' signs pointing the way…" said Phineas with an exasperated eye-roll.
"So your wife's expecting, right?" asked Andy amiably, changing the subject. "When's the baby due?"
Phineas smiled, despite the worry. "In about two months."
"Is Candace excited about becoming an older sister?"
"I think so. When we told her she was going to be getting a baby brother she had this evil little 'I'm-so-going-to-enjoy-getting-him-in-trouble' look."
"So you know for sure it's a boy?"
"That's what the ultrasounds seem to indicate. Of course, we have a girl name ready too, but it seems pretty certain that we'll be getting a Stephen."
"Stephen, huh? That's a good name. A very good name. And Linda's holding up alright?"
Phineas nodded. "Of course. She's happy that he's coming at the end of the school term—gives her a longer maternity leave and a longer summer vacation!"
"I think she had the right idea, becoming a teacher. Three whole months off!"
The lights suddenly flickered, halting the various conversations and lighthearted anecdotal tales. All twenty-six secret agents looked about suspiciously, their special training and talents immediately kicking in.
But they weren't enough.
After the first brief flicker, the power suddenly completely shut off, leaving the underground chamber immersed in blackness. And just as suddenly, a searing electrical jolt shot through every agent in the room, and Phineas would have screamed from the most agonizing pain he had ever felt, but the pain was too strong to even allow that, nearly crushing him with the sensation that his entire body, from his lungs to his brain to his mouth, were being pulled apart.
And then there was blessed unconsciousness.
Phineas awoke slowly, numb and groggy with the still lingering pain. He had fallen over on his back and, try as he might—wow, he really was numb—he couldn't seem to even flip himself over, let alone stand up. It almost felt as though his limbs had shrunk to nearly useless lengths. With his aching right arm… or appendage that should have been his right arm… he somehow managed to reach the top of his head, feeling the familiar felt of his agency fedora. At least something felt as it should be.
The power was still out, so when Phineas finally managed to open his eyes, nothing but darkness greeted him. He could hear breathing and almost animal-like grunts around him as the other agents seemed to be awakening as well.
Phineas opened his mouth. He meant to call out "What's going on?" but nothing came out. Nothing could come out. "What's going on here?" he tried to demand yet again, but all that happened was that his mouth simply opened in a way that felt wrong. A way that almost made him feel like someone had taped a huge duckbill on his mouth. His tongue felt different, his throat felt different, his mouth felt like a beak, and not even the smallest squeak was escaping from him.
Good lord, what's happened to us?
With great effort, Phineas finally turned himself over, flopping onto his belly—and simultaneously quite comfortably on his hands and feet. Oh dear God! How short were his limbs? What had happened to him? Curse this darkness! Who had done this and why? What was going on?
In very close proximity to Phineas, a horse whinnied frantically.
Wait, a horse?
And then the yelp, and then unmistakable mournful howl of a coyote. The frantic chirp of a katydid. The bray of a llama.
Phineas's mind swam in horror.
Heavy, racing footsteps cut into the zoo sounds, and the doors to the secret underground party chamber burst open, Phineas wincing from the light. But he could still hear the unmistakable voice of his boss, Major Monogram, cry out in horror, "Oh good God ANIMALS? Where are my agents? And why are you all wearing my agents' fedoras?"
Phineas's eyes began to adjust to the light just in time to see a look horrific realization seep into Monogram's face. And just in time for the same realization to sink into his very bones—whatever kind of bones they were.
"My God," cried Monogram. "You've all been turned into animals!"
A mournful howl of various animal noises answered in the terrible affirmative.
Phineas wanted to join them, but he still couldn't figure out how to make any sound come out of his beak at all—and yes, he definitely had a beak. It looked similar to a duckbill, in fact. But what was he? He couldn't be a duck, since he was on all fours, right? He moved his front right limb again to make doubly sure he wasn't supporting his body weight on a wing… and what he saw made him even more confused. His appendage was webbed, webbed and… furry?
What the hell was he?
"Quiet, quiet!" Monogram shouted over the din. "Let's just figure out who's who and then we'll know what to do from there! Agent A! Step forward!"
With a slow, sad shuffle, an aardvark stepped forward.
Phineas drew in his breath. Andy! Andy was an aardvark! He might have been a different species, but there was no mistaking his eyes. Although sad and frightened, they were most certainly Andy's.
Monogram scratched his chin, examining Agent A. "Agent A, it appears you've been turned into an aardvark," he finally said decisively. "This'll certainly put a damper on those clogging lessons we've approved you for, but we'll deal with that later. Agent B?"
And as Monogram went through the alphabet and the agents, Phineas attempted to get his panic under control, so that by the time he got to P he'd be strong and brave in the eyes of his boss… and maybe by then he'd have figured out what the heck he is.
"…Agent O, you're clearly an okapi. It's obvious by those stripes on your buttocks. Thought you could fool me, huh? It was a tough one, but I've got quite the brain for this. Agent P?"
Phineas scooted forward as best he could on his belly and webbed appendages.
Monogram blinked in confusion. "Always have to try and stump me, huh, Agent P? You look like an evolutionary mess… you have a beaver tail and a bill…"
Phineas tried to look behind himself. His neck didn't work right either and he couldn't get it around very far, but he did manage to catch a glimpse of his tail. Long and flat and, well, beaver-like. An evolutionary mess indeed!
"In fact," Monogram was continuing, "you look like some sort of semi-aquatic mammal. Aha! That's it! You're a platypus!" He looked pleased with himself for figuring it out. "Excellent!"
Phineas hoped that his eyes still worked well enough to shoot Monogram a look of disdain. You think my being turned into a PLATYPUS is EXCELLENT?
But even if Phineas's expression had been what he intended, Monogram didn't see it. He was already on his way to Agent Q, who was now a displeased-looking quail.
The platypus felt his impatience and anger slowly reach a boiling point as Monogram made his way through the rest of the alphabet. Who cared who'd been turned into what animal? Who cared about how clever Monogram was that he was able to identify all of them? Who cared, who cared, who CARED? It was inconsequential! The only thing that was consequential here was figuring out who had done this to them and why, and how to change them back!
"…a zebra, Agent Z. Very original. Ahem, so I guess that's all of you." Monogram turned back around and began pacing in front of the lineup of twenty-six fedora-wearing animals before him, his hands behind his back. "From the gathered facts, it appears that you have all been turned into animals, and quite coincidentally you have all been turned to animals that alliterate with your own names. A stroke of luck, really; none of you will need new code names. Now that everyone's been identified…" He looked across the lineup. "Obviously, you keeping your secret identities will be much easier now that you're animals. This really is a positive step—"
Agent C growled dangerously in disagreement.
Monogram took one startled step back. "Of course, though, hopefully this won't be permanent. We'll find out exactly what happened here, who did it and why, and put a stop to it. But in the meantime…" He suddenly stepped out the door. "We'll fix the lights in here and keep you in here so as to not arouse suspicion, or any funny smells. Hope you'll all understand."
The door slammed shut.
And Phineas finally was able to make a noise—an irritated growl.
Days turned to weeks.
The OWCA did fix the lights, and did provide various types of animal feed after Agent J—now a jaguar—tried to eat Agent T—now a tapir. That was just a temporary moment of desperation, however. All the agents were stuck in the same boat, trapped as animals and trapped in an underground lair, unable to speak anymore but in their misery certainly could understand each other.
And there's no way to keep a secret agent down.
Busting out was tough. Agent E, an elephant, had tried ramming through the doors, to no avail. Agent M, a mole, had unsuccessfully attempted digging a tunnel out. But the walls were titanium enforced, and there was no way a mere animal could get out.
But they weren't mere animals. They were secret agents… with tools that they could no longer use, now without opposable thumbs.
Agent P wasn't about to let that stop him, though.
His hands were flat and webbed and stuck nearly straight out from his torso with barely any arms to speak of, but they were still hands. And although it took him two weeks to figure out how to even hold his titanium-zapping laser pen, and another week to figure out how to actually press the button while he was holding it… he got it.
He cut a hole right through the wall, large enough for even Agent E to escape from.
The larger animals—agents—made no attempts to conceal their stampeding movements throughout the town, attempts that would have been fruitless anyway. But some of the agents were smaller, much smaller. And Agent P was one of them.
Years of highly specialized spy training meant that Phineas could move about the city completely undetected even at his full human height of five foot eight—yes, so he was a little on the short side, but it was advantageous for a secret agent—and now of course he was far shorter yet. The weeks kept trapped in the party room had left him, as well as all the other agents, ample time to figure out how their bodies worked, and Phineas had even began to teach himself how to shakily walk on his hind legs. And now he was stealthily making his way across the city, a platypus undetected, to his house—
Wait a minute. What day was it? Phineas ducked behind a dumpster and shot a look out at a newspaper stand, squinting his eyes to glimpse the date. That agonizingly long stint locked in the windowless room had left him completely lost on time. It was—it was the middle of April already! And it was Thursday. Good. That was all he needed to know. Linda would still be at work and Candace would be at preschool, so there was no point in going home just yet.
He did an elaborate back-flip to land behind an adjacent dumpster, quickly and stealthily making his way to the preschool building.
Candace was a very bright, happy, social child—which is why when Phineas discovered her sitting in a corner of the sandbox all by herself, her back turned to the other children, he felt his limbs freeze and his heart break.
His little girl! So sad and all alone—and he of course knew why. Her father was missing, probably no one had any clue where he was, let alone what had happened to him—and his heart clenched again, overcome with the realization that as terrible as these past few weeks had been on him, they must have been far worse on his own family.
Tucking his fedora away, the platypus got down on all fours again and slowly approached his melancholy daughter.
Candace looked up with a surprised gasp, her initial mild fright giving way to confusion. Phineas waited, standing a few feet in front of her, not making any more movement so as to not startle her again.
Candace blinked and cocked her head. "You smell funny."
Phineas took another careful step forward.
"What are you, anyway?"
Phineas tried to make a comforting sound, but the only sound that came from his bill was the single sound he had figured out how to make—the clicking purr.
Thankfully, this noise didn't frighten Candace any more—in fact, it seemed to soothe her. "You're a kitty! A green kitty with a funny tail!" She scooped him up in her arms.
Phineas placed one webbed hand on her arm, his insides shaking with grief. How he longed to comfort her! But how? He wasn't human, he couldn't even talk, and—
Candace hugged him close to her cheek. "Maybe I'll get to keep you!"
Phineas felt his beak move into something that might have been a smile, and nuzzled his daughter's neck with the top of his head.
"Okay kids, let's get inside for story time!"
Candace quickly skipped back to the door, grinning wildly. "Mrs. Douglas, Mrs. Douglas, look what I found!" she shouted, holding Phineas out proudly. "I found a kitty!"
Mrs. Douglas let out a shriek at the creature being thrust in her face. "Oh my God—that's not a kitty, that's a—it's a… what is that thing?" she asked in confusion, turning to the other preschool teacher, Ms. Zusser.
Ms. Zusser stared. "I… I think that's a… platypus."
"A patty-tus?" Candace repeated in confusion. "What's a patty-tus?"
"A platypus is… that thing you're holding. Where on earth did you find that?"
"He just walked up to me," said Candace with an innocent shrug. "Can I keep him?"
"Um… actually, we'd better just—" Mrs. Douglas reached for Phineas.
Candace shrieked and pulled him back to her chest before Mrs. Douglas had a chance to touch him. "Don't take him! He came to me and he's my patty-tus!"
"Well… I guess… you'll… need to ask… your mother… if you can keep him," Mrs. Douglas faltered uncertainly.
Phineas purred in amusement. Couldn't really blame the lady for being at a loss of what to do. "Unexpected platypus arrival" probably wasn't covered in the training of a preschool teacher.
Candace laughed in happiness, taking this answer to be a yes. "I get to keep my patty-tus! I'm gonna name you Perry, 'cuz Perry starts with a P like patty-tus."
"Come on, Perry! Let me show you my cubbyhole and my drawings and my preschool and everything I do!" Candace rushed back into the room as fast as her nearly-five-year-old legs could carry her… which was not particularly fast. In fact, it was slow enough for Phineas to not only notice the newspaper sitting on Mrs. Douglas's table, but also to actually read more than the date this time:
SEARCH FOR MISSING POLICE OFFICERS CALLED OFF
After one month, still not a single clue to their disappearance
Phineas wouldn't have had to read the headline to realize that.
He had already suspected that was what would happen anyway.
But seeing it in print like that cemented the reality of his situation more than anything else had.
Seeing that, seeing the look in Linda's eyes when she arrived to pick up Candace, seeing the sympathetic touches on her shoulder that Mrs. Douglas and Ms. Zusser gave her, seeing the mild shock and then nearly immediate acceptance that her daughter was clutching a platypus, hearing very few words from Linda on the drive home as Candace blabbered on and on in the backseat about her new patty-tus…
Phineas knew what was coming as soon as they stepped out of the car, back at home, and Linda wearily sat herself down on the living room couch, carefully setting Candace on her knees—she was too pregnant to have a lap to sit on.
Let me go, Candace, let me go.
But still, Phineas didn't struggle against his daughter's grasp. He couldn't. He was about to hear his wife tell their daughter that he would never be coming home again, and yet he had to stay to somehow help them through this. He had to. No matter how much it would kill him inside.
"Candace, honey…" Linda finally began softly.
Candace looked up at mother, finally turning her attention away from her platypus.
Linda placed her arms around Candace's shoulders, and Phineas burrowed deeper in both of them—it was almost as if his wife was holding him again. "I need you to be brave. Your daddy… the search teams looked everywhere for him and all his missing friends, and they couldn't find him. I know I told you we had to keep hoping… but sometimes, even when you hope, things don't turn out the way you want. Daddy's not coming back."
Candace clutched Phineas tighter. "Not ever?" she murmured.
Linda gulped, her limbs trembling. Phineas felt his own short, webbed ones tremble too, and he nuzzled Candace again while attempting to, as nonchalantly and yet tenderly as possible, rest one hand on Linda's arm. "Not ever."
Candace's chin dropped and she closed her eyes.
Linda stroked Candace's arm, the platypus flipper on her own arm not distressing her at all. "Your daddy had a very dangerous job, and every day he knew he was taking risks. I don't know what happened to him, but I do know that it wasn't something he wanted. He never wanted to leave you, sweetie. He loved you very much."
Phineas closed his eyes. Thank you, thank you for taking the words right out of my bill.
"But he went away forever?" Candace whispered.
"Sometimes people go away forever, whether they want to or not," murmured Linda. "That's the way things go."
"Are you gonna go away forever?"
"No, honey. Not if I can help it."
"Is my brother gonna go away forever?"
Linda finally smiled, placing one hand on her belly. "He's definitely gonna stick around."
"What about Perry?"
Linda bit her lip. "Honey… you found Perry—"
"Yeah, like we couldn't find Daddy, but I found Perry!"
"Exactly. Someone else might have lost Perry. He might be from the zoo, or—or someone else in town who has a pet platypus—"
"I don't want Perry to go away."
"But his family is missing him too, Candace, just like we're missing Daddy right now."
Candace's eyes quivered with tears.
"I'll tell you what," Linda conceded. "If we can't find Perry's family, then yes, we can keep him."
"And then we'll be Perry's family," said Candace.
"Yes," smiled Linda. "Even platypuses need families."
Perry purred softly in Candace's and Linda's arms.
It was that day that Phineas Flynn was really and truly dead.
Ironic, then, that the very next day, Phineas Flynn was born.
When Candace got out of preschool on Friday, their next-door neighbor Margaret Jones was there to pick her up instead of Linda. Judging by the way Mrs. Douglas and Ms. Zusser greeted her and led Candace to her, Perry could only assume that either she or Linda had called in ahead of time to let them know of the change, although he didn't have a clue as to what the reason for that change could be. (Candace, still enamored with her new pet, had taken the platypus to school again that day, ensuring that most of the other kids kept their distance from her and the strange new animal.)
"Where's Mommy?" Candace asked while climbing into Margaret's car, Perry tucked under her arm.
"She's at the hospital—"
"The hospital?" Candace screeched in horror.
"Don't worry, she's alright, it's just that… your little brother decided to come a little early."
Perry jerked involuntarily in Candace's arms.
Candace hardly noticed. "My little brother? Ooh! Are you taking me to the hospital? Can I see him?"
"No, no, he's not born yet, your mommy's just—" Just in early labor, Perry mentally completed for Margaret, but she simply finished the statement with "Your brother hasn't actually been born yet. It takes awhile."
"Oh…" Candace blinked. "Why?"
"Because… it just does, that's why." They had arrived home in record time, and Margaret quickly got Candace out of the car and inside the house. "Now you just be a good girl and play with your pet… whatever that is."
"Patty-tus," Candace said. "Perry the patty-tus."
Candace plopped Perry down on the ground and headed straight for her dollhouse, and Perry made no objections. He quickly darted after Margaret as she made her way to the phone.
Please let Linda and the baby be okay, please let them be okay… Linda was eight months pregnant, the baby would be a preemie, but not a critical one, right? He'll be developed enough, he had to be… he was going to have a son, he was going to have a son, and he should be there, he should be by his wife's side, he shouldn't be stuck darting around the floor in a platypus's body!
Margaret placed a call to the hospital to let them know that Candace was home. From what Perry could pick up by only hearing Margaret's side of the conversation, Linda was still in labor, she was being carefully monitored, despite the fact that the baby was coming sooner than expected there seemed to be no complications, and Margaret found Candace's new pet patty-tus… excuse me, platypus, kind of creepy.
After supper, Candace had picked up Perry again and taken him to her room to play. Perry kept trying to scamper off again, to be there with Margaret by the phone so he could hear the news of the baby as soon as she did, but upon seeing his daughter's lip quiver the moment he broke free, he stopped, turning back around to her and curling up by her side as she looked at her picture books with him, even painstakingly trying to read aloud a few words. Perry closed his eyes and tried to calm himself, Candace's faltering reading easing his worries.
He heard the phone ring, though, and jumped.
Candace did too, quickly pulling Perry towards her. "Maybe that's the hospital saying that my little brother is born," she whispered, not moving and holding Perry so tightly that he couldn't move either.
Perry felt that he might burst from anticipation.
A few minutes later, Margaret stepped into the room, smiling warmly at Candace.
"Was that the hospital?" Candace asked excitedly.
"You have a little brother," smiled Margaret. "Phineas Stephen Flynn. He's a little small, but he's doing okay, and so is your mom."
Perry froze in numb shock. Phineas Stephen Flynn? Linda had named their son after… after him? He had never liked his name, and Linda knew that, and… well, she thought he was dead. She thought he was dead, and why wouldn't she name her son after his… after his late father?
And they were doing okay. Both of them were doing okay.
Candace shrieked in excitement, pulling Perry close to her again. "I have a little brother!" she exclaimed.
Perry felt like sobbing from complete… sorrow. He had a son… who would never know him. Who would only know him as the family's pet platypus. He had a daughter who would likely forget him—she wasn't even five years old yet, of course she'd forget, she had already so completely embraced her unseen baby brother and her pet "patty-tus"… and that was for the best. It was best that she wouldn't remember the pain of losing her father in the long run… it was for the best that she was moving on… his daughter was happy and he should be happy too…
Candace laughed again and kissed the top of Perry's head, and Perry's heart shattered.