There is no staircase in our house. We couldn't afford it. Just a one story room, filled with the little belongings we have. Our father built this house, all by himself. I remember him working hard every day just to try and build a roof over our heads and give us a place to rest for the night. As for my mother, I don't remember her. My older sister tells me I look like her, but I wasn't old enough to remember.
I lay there staring at my sister, who is asleep next to me. Her long, wavy brown hair is scattered all around her and he face looks peaceful. They say I look like her, in the way that they could tell we are sisters. But her features are lighter – her hair and eyes are both a lighter shade of brown. My features are just plain boring.
I stare up at the ceiling, unable to sleep. The Selection is tomorrow.
My family is not originally from this country. We are not Mirunaen, we are Aufein. My father was an Aufein spy, which is why when he moved to Mirunae, he had nothing. My sister says he chose to quit the spy life to take care of us, to do that he had to move to Mirunae. But because Mirunae and Aufeis were enemies since the beginning of time, he was not able to find a job. Neither can my sister and me, because we have Aufein blood. In the end, we both decided to do what he did.
We both decided to become spies.
My sister is already an official Aufein spy because she had passed the Selection before me, being two years older. Tomorrow, it will be my turn.
"Can't sleep?" my sister asks, while sitting up causing the bed to make creaking sounds.
"Oh, I'm sorry, did I wake you?" I say turning to face her.
"Are you worrying about tomorrow?" she asks me, yawning.
"A little," I say, turning back to face the ceiling again.
"You're my little sister, our father set up the Selection, so you'll be fine!" my sisters say, putting an arm around me.
My father was no ordinary spy; he was one of the founders. He was the one that first organized the Selections to pick trainees that were worthy to become full-fledged spies and go on missions. After knowing that, there was no way I could not want to be just like him. For my sister, she says that she wants to honor our home country; she wants to do anything she can to get revenge on Mirunae for making us poor. She believes that Mirunae is at fault for not supporting refugees like us who are originally from Aufeis. Honnestly, I do not blame them. We did nothing to deserve their support.
I wake up to the smell of bacon. I hate bacon, but my sister loves it so I don't complain.
"Oh hey, you're up?" my sister greets me, not looking up from her cooking.
"Yeah, the moment I realized I actually fell asleep was when I woke up just now." I laugh, sitting down on the floor. I put my shoes on and walk to the door but my sister stops me.
"Aria, you should at least eat breakfast first. It's going to be a long day for you today." She looks up at me while putting a plate of bacon down at the table and sits down on the floor at the table. I walk up to the table and grab a few pieces of bacon and put them in my mouth.
"I don't understand how you can like this greasy food," I say making a disgusted face before walking out the door.
I walk over to the only building belonging to Aufeis in Mirunae. On the outside, the building looks like an Aufein History museum. Our history is a lot different from Mirunae history as our countries vary a lot in not only geography but also beliefs. When you walk into the building, the inside looks like a normal museum. I walk into the elevator and open a secret compartment on the floor, revealing a button. A tall, dark-eyed boy walks in and presses the button before I can.
"Are you a trainee?" he asks me. The boy lifts his sun glasses and glances at me. I nod. He is wearing a suit, but not a tie. He looks fit enough to be a professional athlete but something tells me he isn't. He is a spy.
The elevator ride seems to keep going but that's just part of the illusion. The hidden button leads to the secret base of the Aufein Spies and the long elevator ride is for the security to identify anyone who accidentally discovers the button and so that they can be stopped before arriving. I only hope that the ride could be shorter so I do not have to spend the whole time in awkward silence in the presence of a professional Aufein spy. He stands completely still, and I can't help but take short, fast breaths. I have to admit, I am a little claustrophobic. That is definitely going to be a problem in the future as a spy…
Finally, the elevator reaches the floor that is supposedly 'hidden'. It makes a chiming sound and the door opens to reveal a long corridor of hundreds of identical doors along both sides.
"Thirty six," The boy turns to say. "That's where the Selection is taking place." He walks off and I watch as he takes out a card and swipes it on the panel located next to the door. The door clicks open and he walks in. I walk down the corridor looking above at the large numbers printed in yellow on the metallic doors. I find thirty-six somewhere in the middle of the corridor but it is different from the door that I saw earlier. There is no panel for the key card and the door is unlocked. Anyone can easily open it. Non-spies or trainees do not have key cards which is why the Selection room does not have a lock panel.
I walk into the room to find a large platform that is around a few meters above the ground. The platform is in a separate section and glass walls surround it. I see a number of other people, trainees just like me, sitting in the seats that faces the glass-encased platform. A skinny old lady, probably in her sixties starts calling our names one by one, checking attendance. As each of the trainees respond to their names, I look at them being called. I try to remember their faces as these were the people I would be up against in the Selection. There are all kinds of people here, even people you would never imagine to be spies. A tall, lean boy with ginger hair and glasses sits in his seat reading a book. A dark-haired girl, dressed in all black sits in her seat chewing gum, as she watches the others around her.
"Alright!" the old lady who was checking our attendance yells. "The Selection process will begin immediately after instructions are given!" She eyes us trainees one by one. "There will be three tests, a physical test, an emotional and mental test and a general knowledge test that will take place in that order." This times she glares at the girl chewing gum, "We will not give you any more information on the latter two tests." She then explains that the reason they will not tell us anymore about the emotional and knowledge tests is because we are not allowed to prepare for them. They will take place immediately after the physical test. With no time to recover, she says this will help us in situations that require immediate action even if you are severely injured.
A tall, dark-eyed boy - handsome as well, walked out of the glass-cased platform. The same guy I saw in the elevator. "It's all done, Commander Taylor." He says to the old lady. The only thing that surprises me is the fact she is our Commander. It would mean she was my father's mentor, at least in that generation.
"This is my grandson; he will be guiding you through your tests, your mentor." She looks at her grandson. "You may call him F2," The girl chewing gum snorts and Commander Taylor glares at her again before she walks out. Of course, I remember my sister mentioning something about the Commander's grandson. He was the only one that beat my sister, he got first place in the Selection while my sister got second. They're the same age. F2 watches as she walks out before turning to us and yelling.
"Everybody! I want you to line up at the door in the order I tell you to!" He starts pointing at us one by one; I end up standing right in front of the dark-haired girl chewing gum and behind the ginger-haired boy. The girl stands with her arms crossed, staring down at anyone who looks in her direction. The ginger boy continues to read his book. I pull down the hems of my t-shirt, my palms sweating. Three people left in front of me. Only three. I do not know what will happen inside, it turns out that the glass that appears see-through is merely an illusion.
"Next!" F2 yells. The ginger boy in front of me snaps his book shut and puts it down on the floor beside me. He pushes his glasses up and walks in. I am next. Now, I am clenching the hems of my t-shirt, I close my eyes and take deep breaths. I feel a hand on my shoulder so I open my eyes. "You all right?" F2 asks me. I can only manage to nod. "Alright then, you're up next, superstar." He pats me on the back and pushes me through the door.
The lights in the room dim and a spotlight appears somewhere in the center. A figure steps into the spot light, its face changing into that of a human person. As I get closer, it appears to be familiar.
"Charlotte!" I gasp with wide eyes. No, it isn't her. It is just a simulation, this isn't my sister. It charges straight at me, with a scowling face that does not match well on my sister's kind face. I jump up and dodge the attack, but the simulation recovers fast and comes back at me this time and punches me in the sides. I clutch my arm. It comes at me again, this time with a weapon. My spy instincts would tell me to steal the weapon from the enemy and use it against them, it is the easiest way to dispose of the threat to the spy but since the figure in front of me looks so much like my sister, there is no way I would be able to do something like that. I look at the figure that resembles my sister. It punches me until I am covered with bruises. What am I looking for? That my sister is in this simulation somewhere? I clench my teeth. It comes at me again, but this time, rather than dodging, I grab her wrists that hold the knife. It scowls at me again, and I wince at the thought of my sister actually making that face. It draws back its arms with force, making me let go and tries to stab me in the stomach. I jump up and the knife catches in my shirt, tearing it and scratching my sides. I'm bleeding a little bit but I am too focused on my sister to feel anything. I duck down and sweep my foot across the floor tripping my sister over. She falls, still clenching the knife but before she can get up, I get on top of her and hold her hands down.
She tries to wriggle her way out but I hold her down harder. I put my knees on her stomach to stop her from squirming. Normally, it would hurt but she shows no signs of pain. I clench my fists and punch her in the jaw. She hisses and me and struggles even more to get out. I pull the knife from her hands almost about to stab her but I stop myself, my arm in midair. The simulation made it look so real; it looked so much like my sister. In that brief moment I stopped, she manages to struggle free, but I still have the knife. She lunges at me and I can easily stab her with the knife, but I hold it back so she falls to the ground.
No, she isn't my sister. This is not Charlotte.
I hold up the knife and stab her, she falls limp to the ground and before I can realize that I killed my sister, the whole simulation disappears. The room turns bright again and F2 walks in. "Well done, that wasn't so bad. Now, exit at the back there and you should find the next test." He says and walks out calling for the next person to come in.
I walk through the door that opens up at the other end of the room. I go through and find a number of large seats laid out in a row. The trainees who came in before are lying in the seats, asleep with a head set on. A lady comes over to be and leads me to a seat.
"I'm Jay, I'll be helping you in your second test," she says as she prepares some sort of injection. "Name please."
"Arietta," I say as she tells me to lie down in the seat. It is fairly comfortable, but before I can get used to the seat, Jay lowers the seat so that I am lying at almost 180 degrees. She then injects my arm with the clear colored injection she was preparing earlier.
"Don't worry, that is so that you fall asleep, it's just so that your test isn't interrupted." She then puts the head set on me and fastens it on my chin, like those bicycle helmets young children use. "And this is so that the superiors can see what takes place in your test and monitor it." She smiles at me, while I look at her with serious eyes. "Sweet dreams Aria." She says as I drift off.
Clicking sounds. I hear clicking sounds. I open my eyes and find I'm in a murky alleyway. I am sat against the gate, on the other end, where the clicking sounds originate from is a timer. Fifty seconds left. It is a bomb. I try to get up but I find I am handcuffed to the gate. I yell. I try to struggle but the handcuffs will only be unlocked with a key. I clench my teeth thinking of a way to try and stop the bomb. They taught us how to escape being handcuffed. I remember. I have to clench my fist, luckily, only one hand is handcuffed. Suddenly, I feel a tingly sensation on my wrist that is handcuffed. I close my eyes, I feel movement. I open my eyes and start shaking my hand –a spider. It is a spider. I start panting heavily. I can handle anything. Fights, big tough guys, snakes, bugs. But never spiders. I scream. More of them appear. I close my eyes but the creepy crawly feeling makes me shiver. Panic.
No. I tell myself. No. I have to calm down. If I don't, I will not have the concentration to break free from the handcuffs. Relax. Breathe. It's fine. I can feel more of them crawling on my hands. No. Relax. I calm myself and my hands slip from the hand cuff. I am free.
I stand up and brush off the spiders, shivering with a look of disgust. Fifteen seconds left. I run as fast as I can, trying to get to the other end of the alley. I start sprinting. Faster and faster. The adrenaline from the spiders and the thought of completing the test allows me to run faster. Five seconds left. I reach the bomb, now to diffuse it. I fumble to find an opening, my hands trying to move as fast as my thinking. Three. I try to remember which wire I had to attach and which I was not supposed to. Two. I cut two wires and flip the switch, putting the lid back on. One. The countdown timer turns dark and disappears. I let out a deep breath and my surroundings begin to change again.
I feel myself being raised up high in the sky. Higher and higher, to the point I can no longer feel any solid surface beneath my feet, only cold rushes of air around me. It is pitch black so I can't tell whether it is the surroundings or if my eyes are closed. I feel the wind beneath my feet that prove I am high up, however now I can feel something solid below. My surroundings become bright, clearer and I see that I am standing on a platform raised up so high that I cannot see what is below, only the mist and fog that surround me. I start panicking again and find that my hands are gripping tightly onto the pole the stands on the platform. I also see that I am wearing a different outfit than what I started with.
The platform couldn't fit more than two people; it was big enough so that two people could stand there. My knees are weak, my hands shaking as they grip the pole. The second test – the emotional and mental one; it tests you against your fears. Realization hit me. Spiders and now heights as well as not being able to see what is out there; those are my greatest fears. I swallow hard, and take a deep breath trying to calm myself again.
"Help!" I hear a voice yell out not far from me. A female voice. No. A little girl's. "Please! Someone! Help me!" She keeps on yelling.
I take long, deep breaths and yell out. "Hang on, keep on talking! I'll find you." Normally, spies would depend on spy equipment in this but on this case, I don't have any.
"Okay! Um…What am I supposed to say?" the girl yells back, her voice sounding shaky. The air is quite cold probably because we are high up but because of my spy suit I don't feel that much chillier than before. "Tell me about yourself," I yell back, my own voice sounding just as shaky, maybe more.
The girl starts yammering on about her family and her life and my only regret is getting her to talk. I can't concentrate at all with her talking, but because I cannot see her, I needed a way to know where about she was. From the looks of it, she appears to be no more than around two meters away. Good. Without any equipment, that was a good distance. That way, she can jump.
"Okay, you have to do exactly as I say, alright?" I yell out to her. She goes silent and I continue. "I want you to do as I say because I will save you," This time, I get a reply.
"Yes ma'am!" I take one deep breath before letting go of my grip on the pole. I take off my belt that comes with the spy outfit I am currently wearing and tie one end to the pole. I grip the other end tightly and balance myself on the edge of the platform. I let go off one hand on the belt and lean to the side so I am balancing on one foot and holding onto the belt with only one hand. Trying to get as close to the girl as possible. If I slip or let go of the belt, I die. If I guess wrongly about how far she has to jump or if I don't catch her, the girl dies. I can still feel my whole lower body shaking from the height and my whole upper body shaking from the weight and adrenaline. I have to hang on tightly.
"When I tell you to jump, you jump as far as you can in the direction of my voice and jump, alright?" I yell at her. I brace myself.
"Yes ma'am!" The girl yells back. I take another deep breath.
"Jump as far as you can. Ready?" My grip on the belt tightens and I stretch my other hand out as far as possible. "Grab my hand after you jump! Steady!" I bend my knees. "Jump!" I jump while gripping on tighter to the belt. It happens so fast. I grab at something – a wrist. And I feel myself fall with the weight of the girl as well. The belt suspends us from falling further.
I try to pull the girl up first, still clenching onto the belt that we are hanging from. It won't hold for long so I have to get her up fast.
"Get on my back!" I tell the girl and she quickly, but clumsily, does as I say. I try to pull myself up with the belt but with both our weights it is difficult. "Can you get on my shoulders and pull yourself up with the belt?" I ask her. I could feel her nodding against my back as she hoists herself up on my shoulders. "Stand up," I tell her. So she does and she can just about reach the edges of the platform. "Can you pull yourself up?" I ask her. "I'll catch you if you slip." Again, she nods. And at first, shakily, but she manages to pull herself up on the platform. Now, with only my own weight to work with, I manage to climb up using the belt and land safely on the platform with only a few bruises. We are both breathing heavily but while she is crying, I am laughing as the feeling of relief flushes through me. The excitement and the adrenaline, it is never boring this way.
Again, my surroundings mold in to something else when I am still sitting back on the platform. After a few seconds I find myself sitting in water, my hands that support my position slipping. I taste saltiness. I am in the sea. The tide is rising. It is dark, with only the light of the moon. I immediately find myself standing up. I hate the sea.
You never know what's in it. There is always something we don't know about it. And like this, it is too mysterious. I can say that I am scared of what I don't know about the sea. What we humans don't know about the sea. I scramble to get away from the water, but the tide keeps rising, covering up more area of dry land each time. There is a cliff, if the water manages to reach it. That was it. I run towards the cliff and put my back against it, panting heavily either from the running or my fear of the ocean.
I hear someone call out to me. "Aria! Save me! Aria!" It is too dark for me to see who it is, but I can hear the movement of the water. She was drowning. "Aria-!"
The voice sounds so familiar but because it is too dark, I cannot tell who it is. The water now comes up to my shins, even standing against the cliff. I can no longer hear her screaming and yelling which tells me one thing - she has gone under. I start panicking again, not knowing what I should do. I was not confident to be able to jump in and saver. I am not confident I will have the courage to face the sea for that long. The water just keeps getting higher and higher, now reaching my knees. The girl is around five meters away, where I was standing before. If she were my height, the water is just a little higher than her. If I wait any longer, it will be harder.
I start walking towards her, but as the water rises, each step becomes harder. The further I go, each step becomes slower. The waves crash against me, trying to push me back. The water is cool. Still I do not know what could be there. With that thought, I take shorter, faster steps, afraid of what could or will be there.
Luckily, I cannot hear the sound of my heart thumping in my chest over the sound of the roaring waves. As I keep walking, the water is now just at my neck. Salty water sprays at my face from the impact of the waves. I start to swim, but it is difficult to see the direction. I paddle my way over to the area I saw the other person and take a deep breath before dunking my head in. No sign of them. It is too dark. I try again. This time, I go under and without the movement of the waves above, I can feel the movement in the water, a movement that is not my own. I wonder how long he or she could actually hold their breath for. I hold my hand out trying to find something to grab but I can barely see and my heart races faster. Being underwater helped but the lack of sight just re-accounted for that.
Trying one more time, I swing my arm across, fumbling around in the water. I wish I could see. I wish I was not afraid. I grab hold of something solid and hope that it is a person. I try to drag myself back to the more shallow part, keeping my head up at the same time. This time the waves crash against my back, pushing me forwards. Something that was an obstacle before now becomes a support. When I feel my feet sinking in the sand beneath, I feel a tiny bit more relieved. At least everything becomes lighter underwater, or I would not have been able to carry another person on my back all this way. I sit the person up in more shallow water. He was male. And I can barely see who it was under the moonlight, but I recognize this face.
I have never cried since father died, but now even if my eyes sting from the sea water, I know I am crying because of the person sitting her in from of me looking almost lifeless.
"Father!" I manage to say again. Then more tears. I am kneeling in knee-deep seawater but I don't care. I hug my father, forgetting that this was a simulation. I cry until I cannot see. My surroundings change again. "No!" I scream. "No! Not yet!" But it is too late.
My eyes are closed but I know that there is a bright light shining down directly at my face because I can see my eyelids turn an orange color. I open my eyes, still breathing heavily and see Jay looking pitifully at me.
"Welcome back," She says with a small but genuine smile. I realize I am neither wet nor covered in bruises. It was only a simulation. But my father seemed so real. "You finished fast; better than all the others," Jay tells me but I know she is just trying to cheer me up. As I get up from the seat, Jay removes my headset. "The injection should wear off if you stay awake for five minutes," She tells me. "You should head over to your knowledge test," Jay hands me a piece of paper with a number written on it.
"You'll need this." She says.
I nod and do as she says. Jay leads me to the door at the opposite end of the room and I enter another large hall. This time, there are many desks situated equidistant from each other. I see that there are numbers on the tables. I look at the number on my paper. Three. I get the third table in the first row. After all the trainees are sitting in place, Commander Taylor enters and hands us all our tests. We all begin.
F2 walks past my desk and watches me write, I slow down when I feel his stare penetrate through. He continues to walk to the next desk and I resume my speed. After what seems like either too long or not enough time passing the Commander announces the end of the test. F2 and other spies walk around collecting our paper. We are all instructed to leave the room together in a single file line in the order that we had lined up earlier when F2 called us. It was over.
We are sat back at the room we were before the Selection, everyone is chatting nervously asking each other how they did. I sit there staring at the ground hoping I did alright. A petite, blonde haired girl approaches me.
"You all right?" the girl asks me briskly. She is tall, with tanned skin and short wavy hair. Pretty.
I nod and she offers me her hand. "I'm Isabella,"
"Arietta," I say.
"Alright, to your seats please." Commander Taylor yells.
Isabella sits down in the empty seat next to me. I never had a real girl friend, spy training was done individually and because of that, I didn't get close to anyone other than my sister.
"I know you are all eager to see your rankings," she says. "But you must all expect the best and prepare for the worst, because not everyone did as well as they thought," she pauses "This means that out of almost two hundred trainees, only ten will have passed, my congratulations to the top ten" After finishing her announcement, she leaves the room.
Selections were held for sixteen year olds only, and if you failed your age group Selections you would have to take the make-up Selections meaning your skills are held back a year. Some people just quit the spy life altogether, even after having trained for who knows how many years because the pass percentage was quite low. Only the top ten would pass for both the Selections and the make-up.
F2 steps forward and stares down at us. "I will now reveal the rankings." The moment he finishes his sentence, the glass wall that appears to be the testing room lights up as a screen. The names appear in huge, digital font and my picture comes up next to number one.
The feeling of relief courses through me and I feel a weight lift off my chest. I only wanted to pass. This was better than what I expected. I am a spy. Isabella appears next to me and engulfs me in a bear hug. I am surprised at first but I hug her back, too happy to say anything at the moment and a little glad that I had someone to share this moment with. I look at the screen to see where she had placed.
I smile and congratulate Isabella as well. I see the ginger-haired boy's picture next to number 2 and the gum-chewing girl's picture next to three. Isabella hugs me again but I am too focused on F2 who steps forward again to announce something.
"Now that you've seen the rankings, I'd like everyone who has been cut to leave the room." He says and waits till they leave before continuing.
"You guys have passed the selection," he pauses, looking at all of us one by one. "But to become spies, you will all need codenames."
F2 presses a button on his watch and the screen changes, and a letter and a number appear next to our names.
"If F2 is your codename, what is your real name?" Isabella asks out loud. F2 raises an eyebrow and sighs.
"That's the point of a codename," he says, shutting both eyes. "But since you took the trouble to ask." He pauses. "It's Jayden."
"You have a hot name." Isabella says.
"And you talk too much for a spy." Jayden replies before turning to answer some other questions. I tune it all out, too distracted by the fact that I passed. I can't wait to go home and tell Charlotte.
I am a spy. I am finally a spy. I am A3.