If there was any message I'd give my five year old self, it'd probably follow along the lines of 'naps are way under appreciated'. Although, I suppose 'prepare to save the world' would be a good thing to add in there too. You know, just in case I felt lazy one day.
The office was boring. A perpetual snooze land, if I do say so myself (which I totally did just say). The walls were various bland shades of off-white and the floor was composed of dusty brown wood panels. Oak, I believe. There were no windows to the outside world. Which, in all due respects, was a good thing - 'cause we're a few hundred meters below ground at the moment. I have a feeling that the only thing we would see was dirt and maybe some rocks. There were a few picture frames on the wall but all they held were diplomas. Once again, might I say boring. Especially for a Spy Headquarters.
Yeah, you heard me right. I said spy headquarters. Where I'm at - sorry, the location's not allowed to be disclosed (don't bother asking) - is one of the top spy facilities in the world. We're a mega, super secret section that branches off of the CIA. We're called SPECTRE. Haven't heard of us? Not surprised. I wouldn't bother googling us. All you need to know is that we're A) secret and B) only called when things get really, really bad.
We're the ghosts of the intelligence community. SPECTRE, by the way, stands for SPecial Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion. We go in and we go out. And, most importantly, we never lose.
Enough about that. My name's Talia Noelia Travers. (And, just to let you know, my initials are the coolest - they spell TNT. It totally fits.) I am one of the spies employed by the U.S. Government.
I flicked a ball of lint off of the arm chair I was sitting in. Jacobs didn't seem to notice my (obvious, if I do say so myself) boredom. (That or he was used to it. Didn't really matter either way. Blah.) Instead, he continued to drone on and on and on and on about things to expect on the latest mission. I was only half listening. 'Cause really, all of these missions were about the same. Go in, extract Intel, kick butt, make sure there are no civilians involved, and get out. You've been through one, you've been through them all - in my humble opinion.
"There's a new threat that's surfaced recently," Jacobs said, typing on his computer. A holographic icon flashed in the air. The symbol was simple really. THRUSH was capitalized in the middle of a thin circle. Around the exterior of the circle, the acronym was expounded. Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity. I leaned forward. Okay, now this was interesting. "THRUSH," Jacobs shut the holograph down and stared me down, his gaze flashing momentarily to my Dad. "has been tracking down metas. We aren't sure how they're doing it, though. Murphy's hacked into their data and we're sending you two out to protect one of their newest focuses." The image of a girl flooded the air above the blue cube that was responsible for the hologram. It was wonderful technology, really, but that's not what I was focused on.
The girl had an innocent face, still round from childhood. Her eyes were big and soulful chocolate brown orbs that stood out against her pale skin. Brown hair, the same shade of her eyes, framed her face in loose curls. She looked like the average high school kid minus the acne. But then again, so did I. And I should not be underestimated.
"What can she do?" I asked, leaning back against the soft faux leather of the armchair. Jacobs looked embarrassed for a moment and a frown tugged at my face.
"We aren't sure," He started, one of his shoulders shrugging, "but they've been watching her for a while."
"Background?" My Dad asked. My gaze flitted over to him for a moment. He looked like he always did during a mission briefing: focused and confident.
"Fairly normal childhood. Father divorced when she was three. We believe her powers started to show themselves three years ago - her Mother disappeared and her sister abruptly moved them across the country. Since then, Layla and her sister, Naomi, have been living a fairly normal life. Layla's enrolled at the local high school - though she doesn't have any extra-curriculars. Naomi is enrolled in school with the aim to become a Nurse."
Well, then. Layla developed her powers during the beginning of puberty. That seemed to be a theme with all the Metas I've met. I had to wonder though - are her powers that dangerous or showy that her mother left and they had to do a long distance move? I voiced this question aloud.
"Dunno," Jacobs answered and I rolled my eyes.
I cut off his next sentence, "Anything you do know?"
"Talia." My Dad warned lowly. I glanced over to him and sighed, slinking into the chair a little.
Jacobs ran a hand through his already messed up hair. The short, black points were already sticking up vertically with all the stress he'd been subjected to. "I hate sending you guys in blind, but…" He trailed off.
Next thing I knew, I was enrolled in Willow High School. Which sucks, by the way. The school had too many students and not enough area. If I hadn't felt claustrophobic in the drive over, I definitely felt so now. Which was why I was in the bathroom.
'Cause I really hate being around a lot of people. Like, a lot.
I frowned, pushing a strand of blonde hair behind my ear. All I had to do was wait for the hallways to clear a little, then I'd be fine. Some great spy I am. I could handle crowds when I was in danger or doing an undercover mission (probably because my mind was focused elsewhere) but not in a simple setting like this.
I glanced at my phone and sighed. If I waited any longer, I'd end up with a tardy slip. I scooped up my backpack and slipped out of the stall. I was cursing time as I ran to English class. My gaze scanned the classroom for a moment. Escape routes, possible weapons, and most likely threats spun through my head in an instant.
I grinned as I saw one of the two empty desks. One was right next to Layla. Perfect. I slipped into the desk, a sugary-sweet apology slipping out as well. "Sorry, Mrs. Jules. I forgot one of my books and I had to go back and get it."
Mrs. Jules stared me down for a moment, blue eyes searching my face. "Don't let it happen again," she coughed. The teachers didn't know about my status as a spy, of course. That could only endanger the mission parameters. Gather Intel. Protect Layla and other citizens. Trash THRUSH. Easy as pie.
Hopefully. For all my bravado, I knew and understood the risks of my job. I knew what happened to the spies that got captured. I would not be spared simply because I was still a kid.
My gaze wandered around the room. I was automatically ignoring the lesson. Who the heck even cares about transitive verbs anyway? I watched Layla for a moment, sizing her up. She was the least likely thing to be a threat, to be perfectly honest. She was short with very minimal muscle definition. She could draw though, I'll give her that.
The picture of Mrs. Jules being attacked by flying monkeys was pure gold.
I grinned, getting my own notebook out. Wassup? I wrote. You look tired. P.S. I'm Talia.
I waited until the teacher had turned around before I threw the note onto Layla's desk. I could see the hint of a grin before a ripped piece of paper was on my desk.
Yeah I'm tired. Running on four hours of sleep. I'm Layla.
Ouch I wrote back. But really, four hours was great considering some of the situations I'd been in. I had to conceal a grin. My good mood was ruined quickly though.
All of a sudden, the lights dimmed. The whole room went into a fury of whispering.
"Everyone, please calm down." Mrs. Jules had a deep frown across her face, annoyance shone clearly in her eyes. "I bet it's just some prankster." She walked out into the hallway, closing the door behind her.
My mind was immediately in 'mission mode'. Which basically means nononononono was playing in a loop as I tried to figure out the best plan of defense. This was a school I was in. How the heck am I supposed to get outta-
"That's weird." Layla whispered. She was watching me intently and I couldn't help but feel a little weirded out. Wait. My brain stopped for a moment as I cleared it out. I didn't know Layla's powers. She could be telepathic for all I knew.
"What?" I whispered back. I glanced towards the door for a sec, wishing for the teacher to come back in.
"Nothing just taking a mental note that's all." Layla smiled politely and I felt my face blanch slightly. Mental note? Oh yeah, that totally didn't scream telepath or anything. I screamed mentally, watching her reaction (or, more realistically, her lack of one).
The lights came back on. Mrs. Jules came back in. I had never felt more relieved in my life. Okay, that's a lie. But whatever.
"The maintenance workers just hit a fuse. Now, onto our lesson." She walked over to the white board.
I threw my hand up in the air. If Layla was a telepath, I needed to get away, get away, get away. The teacher, though I could tell she was thoroughly exasperated, called on me anyway. Thank goodness. "May I go to the bathroom?" I asked, trying to keep my gaze off of Layla.
Mrs. Jules nodded reluctantly and I flew out of the room, scooping up my backpack as I went. It didn't seem to matter either way. I could still feel Layla's eyes burrowing into me.
I paused in the hallway. The lighting was dim, the only source of light coming from the classrooms that lined the wall. I felt an unnerving sense, like I was being watched.
If any of my time in the field had taught me anything, it was that there was something bad that was going on. I pursed my lips, trying to come up with a plan.
I needed to see more. But from the position I was at, my visual was restricted.
Mind made up, I ran to the principal's office, the soft, supple material of my shoes moving me along silently. Everything was mostly the same. 'Cept one very, very important thing.
The giant, sealed barrel in the middle of the hallway. Immediately, I moved the knife I stored in my pocket to my belt instead where it would be more accessible. Dropping my backpack against the wall, I pressed myself beside a locker, pushing my body against the wall as well. I needed all the security I could. And if that meant wedging myself between the lockers and the wall, so be it. I'd been in tough places and this barely qualified as one (although the walls were sticky. What even?)
My senses were tuned on the principal's door as I tried to gauge what in the world was going on. Was this THRUSH? If it was, I shouldn't have left Layla alone. She was in danger. A heckuva lot of danger too.
Someone was walking towards me. Loudly. I turned around and I could have screamed of joy. THANK GOODNESS FOR TELEPATHS. I tried to get the message to her, but she remained impassive. I frowned. Could she not hear me at all times? Weird.
I put a finger to my lips and motioned for her to stop. I sent a quick glance to the administrative office. The door was still closed. That was good. I could work with that. I slunk over to Layla. My mission was, first and foremost, protecting her. I put my hand out towards the front doors. We needed to leave. I was sure that whoever brought the bomb was here for her as well.
She shook her head, brown curls swishing around her audibly. "What are you doing? Aren't you supposed to be in the bathroom?" She whispered.
Use your telepathy! Gosh, I wanted to scream. How much of an idiot could she be? I put a finger to my lips again and gestured frantically to the closed doors. Whatever. I could see her. If THRUSH wanted to do anything now? Well... they can come and see my marvelous mood for themselves. Fists clenched ('cause, oh, I wanted to punch something - or kick. I'm not picky), I wound around the room to the pot, my eyes constantly glancing between Layla, the barrel, and the closed door. I flexed my hands, trying to remove some of the tension from my body.
This shouldn't be so stressful. It was just a simple barrel bomb. I've disabled a dozen of these when I was training with my dad. I had to get on with this. I couldn't mess up my first solo mission.
My knife found its way into my hands as I cut the lid off of the barrel. I glanced towards the door again before tipping the barrel over as softly as I could.
The coarse material dumped out of the ground, I dropped to my hands and knees, pulling out all of the wires. I can do this. I know I can do this. A grin fluttered over my face.
Sixteen and disabling bombs by myself. Mom would be so proud. Maybe.
I moved the wires to a separate table and as far away from the material as I could. I jerked my head towards Layla. She didn't move.
Maybe she wasn't telepathic?
Eh, who even cares right now. Certainly not me.
I couldn't help the frustrated huff though. This would be so much easier with more than one person. I began to push the material back into the barrel. That was Rule One, just so you know. 'The site must be cleaned up to the best of your ability. The less others know, the better.' Kind of a sucky first rule, if you ask me.
Layla moved over to me, her movements jerky and stiff with nervous energy. A grin fluttered over my face. Things might actually turn out okay, for once.
Just then, loud, unintelligible talking came from the office.
And, okay. I hate my life sometimes. And Karma. And- You know what? I'm just gonna end this list of things I hate now or we'd be here forever.
I jumped up, shooting towards the wires that lay on the table. Carefully, I stripped them and pulled a silver box off of one of them. I had to handle the box very carefully for the moment; any tampering could set it off - and that was definitely not good while I was holding it. I set it on the tiled ground and stomped on it, ultimately smashing it and ruining any hopes that the would-be-bomber have of actually being a bomber. Footsteps approached the door and my mind blanked, going into auto-pilot.
The next thing I knew was that I was in a classroom, Layla's arm grasped firmly in my hand. A younger woman that taught Earth Science looked up from the presentation she was leading.
"Call the cops," I demanded, my voice cracking mid-sentence. First mission or not. This was big. "There's a bomber here." I sent Layla a quick look before opening the door and locking it behind me.
Please stay safe. I thought.
This was a dangerous situation. I knew this. I was a sixteen year old girl up against grown men. The odds were not in my favor. I said a silent prayer that, if anything were to happen, Layla could at least be safe. The mission was what mattered.
The lights in the classrooms switched off and I let out a sigh of relief. The darkness could help me. The more advantages I had, the better. My knife slid into my grip as I scanned the area. The pot had a crack in it that I knew wasn't from Layla or I. But, most worryingly of all, the principal's office door was open.
THRUSH could be anywhere. Anyone. A flash of movement caught my eye. A man (6' 3". Muscular. Favors right leg.) was bent over a duffel bag. I saw the hint of metal and cursed internally.
Kids, might I just say: don't bring a knife to a gunfight. That's so stupid. Like, you've probably seen cartoons where the hero had a knife and the other guy had a gun. Real life doesn't always work like that - the hero winning despite a lame (or no) weapon. Real life works more like that Indiana Jones movie where Jones uses his gun to immediately win the knife fight and he shoots the other guy. You see what I mean here? Basically, I mean I'm screwed. D to the E to the A to the D. But, seriously, don't do it.
But I had to protect Layla - not to mention all the other idiots in this idiot school.
The second rule, 'the mission always comes first' was definitely coming into play now. And, by that, I mean I'M SO DEAD. Have I mentioned that? Oh, wait. Pshht. I totally have.
I remained in the shadows, slinking towards him. I stayed low, relying on my core to stay balanced. I was so close. Close enough to-
I'd probably regret this later.
And, as the teenager civvies are so fond of saying, YOLO.
My knife slashed at his right leg. It was a cheap shot but it worked. He crumpled instantly, the gun falling out of his hand. I twisted my knife and he howled. He grabbed the gun and aimed it at me.
His finger was on the trigger and I felt so, so small. And scared. And ready to react.
You know how people say that time'll slow down or some other nonsense? They lied. Time freakin' speeds up.
His finger pulled back and I moved. I ripped the knife out of his leg and slashed at his hand. He dropped the gun and I made sure it was for good this time. My ears were pounding and the world was silent for a moment. White formed at the edge of my vision.
His hand formed into a fist and punched my free arm. Hard. I cursed and kicked him in the neck. It was risky and a move only a rookie would do. But it worked - and that's what mattered. He went backwards, a grin was stretched across his face.
He looked into my eyes, stupid grin still there.
"Tell SPECTRE I said hi." He bit down hard and white foam filled his mouth. Cyanide.
I could feel my chest tightening. And, who wouldn't in my position? A super, uper secret organization known by its rivals? Yeah, that's real good. Who else knows about us?
I emptied the gun, putting the bullets in my pocket. I threw the gun to the side, wiping the blood on my knife of onto his shirt. I slipped the knife back into it's case and into my pocket.
My mind was filled with pleasant white noise and my body felt numb. I stepped over to the body and moved back into the classroom, grabbing my backpack on the way. I slipped my locket off and opened it up, pressing the photo inside. The cleanup crew would be here in a minute.
It'd be interesting to see who got here first - my cleanup crew or the police. I moved most of the bullets into my backpack, a smile on my face - an aftereffect of the adrenaline. I don't like killing, if you were wondering. It doesn't bother me either. And, besides, I didn't technically kill him, either. He did that himself. It wouldn't be right to feel guilty about something someone else had done.
I walked into the classroom I had left Layla in, grin still on my face. "I bought us some time. Heavy textbooks usually don't come in handy but there are times."
The teacher stood up from the chair she had collapsed in, concern painted on her face. "Ms. -"
"Travers." I answered, mechanically. The adrenaline was wearing off, leaving me feeling empty. And hungry.
"Ms. Travers!" The teacher resumed as if she had never been interrupted, "you are not to leave this room again!"
I slunk into an empty desk at the back of the room. I suddenly felt so very tired. I had to use my hand to hold my head up. Right now, I just wanted to be left alone. And to go to sleep. You remember that thing I said earlier about the importance of naps? Stupid, five year old me had no respect. Yeesh, I would take all of those naps in a heartbeat. Just call me Briar Rose.
Layla didn't seem to notice (or care) that I wanted to be alone. "That was stupid." She whispered.
I still had a mission. I put on a grin, throwing a loose strand of hair over my shoulder.
"Thanks." I mumbled back before fumbling with something in her jacket pocket. My hands rubbed one of the bullets. It's cold metal seemed to help jar me out of my numbness.
"What do you have there? Are you the bomber?" Layla asked, worry plaguing her voice. My mind was still coming out of the numbness and it took me a moment to register Layla's question. "Please answer me." She added desperately.
I blinked for a moment, ridding my mind completely of the white noise. Now was not a time for disassociation. I was still on a mission. Hopefully it would be time for a sandwich or something soon, though.
Finally, the words sunk in and I shook my head vigorously. It would be an understatement to say I was shocked. "Oh, heck no! I just disarmed him a bit." Heh, that was funny. "I really did have to use the restroom - I just came across the barrel bomb." I glanced down at my closed fist and dropped the objects into the backpack. "And those were bullets, by the way. Like I said, I got us some time."
"I-I don't know how to reply."
I forced out a laugh. Hopefully it didn't sound as hollow to her as it did to me. "Then don't." I glanced at my watch. The slim second hand ticked onwards, the silver glinting against the black background. "I give the police two more minutes before they get here, what do you think?"
"Uh," She looked down at her phone. "I give them one and a half minutes."
I nodded, absentmindedly. "What's your reasoning? Just want to make it faster than mine? Or did you include how far away the police station is - half a mile, by the way."
I was rambling – pretty badly, if I do say so myself. But I didn't know what else to say. I knew a little bit about Layla (mostly that she was into dancing and superhero movies) but I didn't know what to say. Being undercover seemed to be easier than being myself. Maybe that was because I could pretend who I was. Dang, I should go into acting.
"Yes." She laughed not knowing which one to choose. I grinned, biting my cheek as I did so and checked my watch again. They should be here. Where was my cleaning crew? I knew they practically followed me everywhere.
What was taking them so long? I wanted to leave to go and- The lights flickered back into existence and there was knocking at the locked classroom door. Okay, I breathed. Everything was fine. The world wasn't going to explode… yet.
"Officer Scully." A woman's voice floated through the thick wood door. A smile flickered onto my face.
I knew Scully. (Her real name was actually Yu Aoi - Scully was just the nickname she'd been given by Murphy, bless his soul.) She was okay, I suppose. A bit stuffy.
She'd been a member of my crew for three years. When she first found out that the spy she'd heard so much about was thirteen, she was not happy. Something about 'child endangerment' or some other nonsense. Pshht. The only 'child endangerment' going on was when other children were near me.
Seriously though, I was about in as much danger as a six year old around an open flame. Okay, bad example. Moving on.
"The school's been cleared out. However, we're going to need to interview some of the students that were at the scene there was some… tampering." A badge slid under the door for a second before I floated up from my seat to the door.
I unlocked it and grinned, hollowly.
Scully pursed her lips, frowning slightly. There was a look in her eyes that I couldn't interpret. I stared at her.
"You know what?" Scully nodded slightly to the teacher, picking up her badge from the floor. "I think we're good now. We just need to talk to Ms. Travers for a minute and then we'll be good to go."
I sighed, slinking back to the desk to retrieve my backpack. I walked backwards out of the classroom after the officer, saluting to the rest of the students.
Scully was silent, lips kept firmly shut, but I could practically hear the questions in her mind. She led me around the police who leaned over the body.
I averted my eyes, watching Scully, putting on a mask of bravado.
Yu led me to an empty room and sat down on the desk, ignoring the papers that were already there. I remained standing.
"Are you okay?" She asked. Of course she wanted to know about my mental health. To her, having a 'child' on the field was unhealthy for their mentality. Psht. Whatever, lady.
I kept my eyes on my feet, admiring the stark difference of the white laces against my red, hand-me-down converse. I so did not want to talk to her right now.
"Fine." I answered, gruffly.
Scully huffed a little. "You don't need to preten-"
"I'm not pretending." I growled, my hand slipping into my pocket to rub against a blue rock she had given me. It was supposed to help with disassociation or whatever and I guess it worked. Even though I kind of didn't want to be having this conversation right now. "I'm fine." I repeated.
Scully didn't respond for a moment, instead choosing to observe my face. She huffed a little, giving in. Between the two of us, we had enough stubbornness to… I don't know… do something that required a lot of stubbornness. You get the point! "Report."
"Barrel bomb - dismantled." The words flowed out, my autopilot taking control. Dang it. The disassociation was coming back. The corners of my vision was going white and a numbing sensation filled my body. I slipped my hand back into my pocket, my fingers rubbing the rock in an attempt to draw me back down. My gaze searched the room picking out different things that surrounded me. "Bomber had a cyanide capsule. Mission is intact. Possible leak of information-" I was back, feeling entered my body and my mind clearing. As an afterthought, I added, "He knew about SPECTRE."
The intercom went off, silencing the conversation. "We will be having an early dismissal today." The principal's voice wove through the school. "Your parents or guardians are currently being contacted. When they show up, you will be allowed to leave. Until then, all students must stay in the classroom they are currently in. Under no circumstances are any students allowed to leave until their parent or guardian are here to pick them up."
"You can go." Scully inclined her head softly. My own nodding felt uncoordinated and jerky in comparison. I scooped up my backpack and exited the room and made my way down the hall, fully intending to go back to the classroom with Layla.
The police weren't by the body anymore and I could see it. They hadn't covered the body yet, still frantically trying to clean the area up before students came out.
Bile rose in my throat.
It was different seeing the body in the light. Did he have any family? Any children? Nieces or nephews? Who would miss him? What would they say at his funeral?
I ran to the restroom and leaned over one of the toilets, heaving. My breathing came out in short gasps, rough and patchy as I struggled to clear my head of him.
I stood up. I was a spy. One of the best. I would not be reduced to this- this-
This level of idiocy was unprofessional. I walked back to the classroom, a grin slipping on my face as my gaze met those of the students. The grin slipped on just as easy as a mask. And, I suppose, it was a mask – like one of those out of a history book when they talked about ancient Greek plays. You know, the one with the tragedy and comedy masks? Yeah, that was basically what I was doing: switching facial expressions like those guys switched masks.
I inclined my head to them slightly, moving to the back to sit beside Layla.
My hand found my phone. I rubbed my fingers along the case for a moment before opening to the contact screen. Carefully, I put the phone on Layla's desk. She grabbed it immediately and began to put her number in.
"Now, I hope you know just because I'm putting my phone number in is because I want you to teach me what you did out there." She gave me a half smile and handed me my phone back.
I forced a grin.
But she didn't know everything that happened. The cleaning crew would take care of the body before any students were released. "Duh, you need to do more than sort through dirt next time." I winked, slipping my phone back into my pocket and took out one of the bullets from my backpack instead, holding it in my palm so only Layla could see it. "Wanna memento?"
"Duh! Do you even have to ask?" She latched onto it, examining it closely.
I laughed a little. "Put that away or you'll get us both in trouble." She nodded, stuffing it in her pocket.
The intercom turned back on and the principal read a long list of names that had parents ready to pick them up. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) Travers was one of the names listed.
My body felt heavy - like all my blood had been replaced with pure lead. I have to say, I can't remember everything that transpired between me leaving the classroom and me buckling up in my Dad's car. Maybe Scully was right – I might need to see someone that dealt with PTSD.
He was silent for a long moment, not starting the car until I made eye contact.
His gaze broke away first and he pulled out of the parking lot. "Cyanide's a nasty thing to witness." He said awkwardly.
No freakin' kidding, Dad.
"What about the mission?"
"What about you?" He retorted.
I frowned. "I'm not a child."
His eyes grew sad for a moment before he nodded, relenting. "True."
I smirked for a moment. That was one fight I had won. "What about the mission?" I asked again. I would not be the one to screw this up. Not more than I have already.
"Are you emotionally stable to go back into the field?"
Ugh. My answer was firm. "Yes."
He pulled the car around in a U-turn. "I'll take you back to your car." His voice was heavy, but his posture remained taut.