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Rochester, New York to Brisbane, Australia
MEL: tough 15-year-old female spy
ASSETS AND PERSONNEL:
THOMAS SYME [AKA: SHADOW]: principal of Watson Institute and Melâ€™s guardian
RAY: meteorology prodigy and Melâ€™s best friend
CAIDY: jealous student who may know more than sheâ€™s letting on
BONNIE ROBAR: Rayâ€™s mom, also a meteorologist, whose whereabouts are unknown and who may have left behind a project with dangerous potential.
MISSION: follow the trail of stolen birth certificates (including Rayâ€™s) which uncovers a plot that involves more than anyone had anticipated.
Reader Rating: Not rated (0 Ratings)
The stars spin.
They fly in and out of focus as I attempt to draw air. Breathe, my head chants, but I can hardly hear it through the sharp pain wrapping around my skull. The asphalt presses into my back and the concrete walls of the alley frame my vision. A ringing sounds in my ears. As I struggle for oxygen, other injuries come forth, the feelings blossoming in my spine, my ribs, my shins, my arms.
I should be getting up, preparing to defend myself, to make some sort of attempt to resist my attacker. But I can't get my body to listen, I can only lie here and waitâ€¦.
For a moment the agony peaks, and my lungs stutter. When I regain semi-awareness I urgently try to focus. At Watson they teach us to concentrate on something, anything that will motivate you to fight. Anything that will give you the strength to get up.
My mind lands on Ray. Immediately I'm lost in memories, one's I've been suppressing for years, and they flash through my mind with more clarity than the pain in my body.
That's where everything started, anyway. At the beginning, my mind says, as if I'm telling myself the story, which cues the first memory, the first time I saw himâ€¦
Five years before
The first time I saw Ray was when he walked into the lobby the day he arrived at Watson. He was called Anthony back then. I was supposed to be at lunch, not squeezed behind a large cement flowerpot, but I didn't have to worry about getting in trouble. I was more a part of Watson than half the teachers. Oh yeah, and the principal was my guardian.
Two men accompanied Anthony. The first was a thin, pale fellow who dug his fingers into the kid's shoulder to support himself. The other was Mr. Syme, the head of Watson Institute. I called him Shadow because he always seemed to be right behind me, especially when I didn't want him to be. Everyone at Watson got into troubleâ€“right into the middle of trouble, actually, and then to the bottom of it. That's our job. But I was more trouble than the rest of the students combined, so he kept a close eye on me.
I had been reading in my position behind the flowerpot, but I decided this was the perfect time to practice some of those stealth observation skills we'd learned in class earlier that week. Ten-year-olds weren't taught many real techniques. Other than a few simple defense moves, we were basically instructed on how best to report to our seniors in case of a real event. I couldn't wait to be in the Red Group, the highest group, the group that got to do real stuff.
Red Group was a few years away. Right then the stealth observation seemed like good practice. I positioned myself on the balls of my feet, crouching behind the ferns. Rule #1: Never kneel. Always position yourself in a stance from which you can easily get up and run.
Anthony carried two duffel bags. His dark red hair was sort of curly and jumbly, and he had his head bowed, making it hard to see what color his eyes were. The gray Jersey City sweatshirt he wore looked old and slightly damp around the cuffs, and his jeans seemed a size too big. Nothing at first glance would tell me exactly what was going on with him.
I was especially curious because this was such an interesting occurrence. Watson Institute never got new students his age. Parentsâ€“usually former students themselvesâ€“enrolled their children around age two or three, sometimes as old as age five, so the kids could start learning at an early age and accelerated rate such crucial skills as noticing things. I myself had been enrolled at age zero. I assumed Anthony was ten, as he seemed about my age.
Shadow addressed the man who'd arrived with Anthony. "We've got lots of paperwork to do. Maybe Anthony could take his things up to his new room while we get some matters straightened out? I'm sure someone would be glad to help." His eyes slid around the room. "Isn't that right, Amber?"
I grumbled under my breath and stood up. It wasn't that Shadow actually saw me. He just expected me to be wherever I wasn't supposed to. He raised one eyebrow, but I could tell he was more exasperated than upset. His cheek always twitched when he tried to mask anger. It wasn't doing that now. I crossed my eyes at him in reply.
"Anthony, this is Amber Rind. Amber, this is Anthony Luther. He's going to be in room 716. Would you kindly lead the way?"
"I'm supposed to be at lunch," I told him, eyeing Anthony. He was avoiding everyone's eyes, staring off to the side.
Shadow sighed. "Anthony, Amber will show you to your room."
I scowled. I didn't mind the job, but I minded being ordered around like a Labrador. Sparing the adults another glare, I turned and strode down the hallway. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Anthony hesitate and look back at the man with Shadow. I wondered if the man was his dad.
"In here," I said when Anthony caught up with me by the stairwell. "Hope you don't mind walking a few stories."
Anthony stared at me for a moment, then looked away and began to climb. "Don't you have an elevator here?"
I took a second to process the sound of his voice, then dashed ahead so I was leading the way again. "Of course not, stupid. Elevators are too easy to stop, essentially trapping us inside. We always use stairs. This is the second floor, where the nurseries are, as well as the Green Group rooms. All the other dorms are on floors seven and eight. The classrooms are on the floors in-between. The first floor, where we just were, that's where the lobby and cafeteria and gyms are." I tried to improvise a tour guide tone.
"So what is this place?" Anthony asked, looking around as we reached the first landing. I waited impatiently on the next flight. "Dad didn't exactly say. I mean, what's the deal with the no elevators and stuff?" I sensed the curiosity and apprehension behind his words. "Are we training to be in the CIA or something?"
"Do you think the only secret agents are with the CIA?" I scoffed. "Sheez, what's your problem? Adults can't do all of the work all of the time. In fact," I said, "kids are better in some ways. Who's suspicious of children? That's why we're so good. We're good at helping people, not just dealing with international arguments and stuff. Like, if a thief is in town, we're the ones who'll get them. And we can pick up on so much more detailâ€“" I stopped, aware I was starting to ramble. But I hated it when the new kids assumed that we were all just training for when we were adults. I only had to wait until I was fourteen, or sooner; if I was good enough, I might be in Red Group when I was thirteen. I intended to be good enough.
Anthony was looking at me in surprise.
"What?" I asked.
"Girls train, too?"
"What, you think I'm Shadow's daughter or something? You think that's the reason I'm here?" I said, anger flaring inside me. "Of course girls go here! We're just as good as boys!" That was another thing I hatedâ€“when boys assumed they were superior. To prove my point, I stomped hard on Anthony's foot. While he was distracted, looking down, about to protest, I gave him a neat shove and pulled off his duffel bags, dislocating his center of gravity. He toppled over. I tossed the bags on top of him with a smug grin. I'd seen something like that when I was spying on a Red Group the week before. I'd been dying to try it out. Maybe this Anthony guy could come in handy.
"Chill!" Anthony yelled, scrambling up. "What's your problem? I was just asking! My dad made it sound like it was boys. That's all. I don't know very much."
"Sorry." I turned away so he wouldn't see me smirking. "But I do rest my case."
"You never needed one! I wasn't arguing."
True, I admitted silently. But it felt good. There were some boys who treated me like I wasn't as good as they, even though I could kick their eyeballs to Timbuktu if we actually did some real combat training. "Are you coming or what?"
"Or what," he muttered. We climbed another flight of stairs. At about floor five he stopped and switched his bag arm. "That was pretty neat, though," he said, not quite meeting my eyes. I was shocked, but didn't say anything. "Do you learn that stuff here?"
"Yes, but not until we're older," I told him proudly. "That was a Red Group move. I'm only in Yellow Group for now. Red is the highest."
"Well," was all Anthony said. I showed him to his room.
"How do I get in?" he asked.
"The key's tucked under the door trim."
"Why? Isn't that obvious?"
"Yes," I told him, "but that's the point. It's so obvious no one would look there."
I turned to leave as Anthony fumbled for the key. Ten feet from the door I stopped and looked over my shoulder.
"Who brought you here?"
Anthony was quiet for a second. Then he said, "My dad."
"Oh." I couldn't find a way to reply to that tone, so I left.
The next day at breakfast, I stood in line fuming. I'd told Shay to stay in my room last night since Lyvia was showing signs of the flu. But she hadn't listened, so now both girls were sick. Classes weren't as fun without them. Plus, Shadow had pulled me aside that morning and asked me to baby-sit Anthony. Well, he didn't say it in those words, exactly. What he did say was, "Amber, you're practically a member of the faculty, so I feel I can trust you to help Anthony adjust to Watson Institute." And then he added some other stuff, but I didn't pay attention, knowing it was going to be just blab about how I could be a great role model if I wanted to and blah-blah-blah, which I got every day.
I took a piece of French toast and two glasses of orange juice. Vitamin C was my main food group.
I hesitated before I sat down when my eyes caught Anthony hovering at the edge of the room, obviously unsure where to sit. Sighing, I walked over to him.
"There's an empty table over here." I nodded to a small round table in the corner of the room. Anthony shot me a grateful look and followed me to it. I flopped down in my chair. Anthony sat down across from me, then seemed to decide that didn't work and awkwardly shifted ninety degrees to my left, his back to the wall. I drizzled syrup on my toast and began cutting it while waiting for him to say something. He stared at his food, picking little bits out and chewing very, very slowly. At first I wondered what his problem was. Then I saw his hand clenching the bottom of his new uniform shirt.
"Oh, are you nervous?"
I startled him and he jumped. He turned to me, slowly relaxing his grip.
"No," he said after a moment.
I rolled my eyes. Boys who pretended to be tough drove me insane. "It sure looks like it to me."
"I'm not," he repeated, then added in a whisper, "Terrified is more like it."
I felt the corner of my mouth twitch. "Scared we super spies'll kick your butt?"
"Huh. You lucked out." I sawed at my thick toast. It was like trying to cut down a tree with a baseball bat. "The teachers have the Yellow Group learning observation right now. And in science we're doing weather."
The instant those words left my mouth, Anthony's eyes lit up.
"Weather? Really? I've always wanted to be a meteorologist," he said excitedly. "I'm telling you, it's going to snow today."
"The weatherman said it wouldn't. It's going to pass us by," I said, contradicting him. I rolled my eyes, unable to help feeling irritated. The one subject in school that I wasn't the best at was weather, and what do you know, it's my little charge's favorite.
"But look!" Anthony pointed to the window. "See that dark gray line? That's the storm. And on my walk over here I found the wind was coming from the northeast." He opened what I'd thought was his watch and showed me a compass. "This was my mom's," he said quietly. "She was good at meteorology too." I didn't say anything as I gazed at the gold and blue instrument.
"But anyway, the wind was moving pretty fast. It was gusting around, maybe, twenty miles per hour. And a cold front's coming, and the jet stream should be moving the speed of the wind." Anthony finally stopped jabbering and leaned back, looking pleased. I scowled.
"If you know everything about meteorology already, why are you here?" I demanded. His face fell.
"Because my dad's getting too sick for me to live at home," he said quietly. "And he'd worked with Mr. Brothers, the previous principal, so he knew about Watson. For some reason he thinks this place will be good for me."
"What about your mom?" I asked, then I wished I hadn't. Maybe he was like me, maybe his mom died when he was young. Or maybe she was an ax murderer or a psycho. It was probably painful for him to talk about her.
But Anthony just shrugged. "She and my dad got divorced when I was four. She was a weather-channel host until then. But after the divorce she quit and went off on some big project. She moved, and I haven't seen her since. I get a few letters now and then. But that's it."
"Sorry," was all I could think to say. He didn't respond, only worked at his breakfast. I continued my attempts at hacking through my own meal.
Suddenly Anthony raised his head, eyes narrowed in my direction. "Wait a minute. What about you? Why are you here?"
"Sheez. You have fairness issues." I finally managed to tear a corner off my toast. I put it in my mouth and chewed slowly, eyes on Anthony, grinning as he started to scowl at me. I swallowed the gooey mass and put down my fork. "Okay, fine. I have my mom's last nameâ€“Rind. She went here when she was a kid, then went on to an adult espionage life. But when I was born she obviously couldn't keep me. Shadow's her old friend so I came here really early, when I was a baby. And thenâ€¦it's been almost five yearsâ€¦since she died." I said it as quickly as I could. I hated telling my life story. The only part I didn't mind was letting the listener know how long I'd been at Watson.
"Who's Shadow?" Anthony asked, not making a fuss over my mom. I felt a rush of gratitude.
"Oh." Anthony kept his eyes on me, obviously waiting. I scrunched up my mouth, gratitude gone. If he was waiting to hear about my dad he could wait a long time, partly because I couldn't tell him anything. My mom had to keep his identity a secret from everyone, because of, duh, her line of work, so my dad probably didn't even know I existed.
I bent over and continued eating. Tired of trying to cut through the toast, I just picked up the whole piece, syrup and all, and bit my way through the meal.
Anthony was really, really good at predicting the weather and anything to do with air pressure, relative humidity, static electricity, whatever. Ms. Keen fawned over him the entire fourth period. He wasn't half-bad at the other classes, either. Miss Blume, the Inspections teacher, said he was the most observant first-timer ever, and according to his performance in scenario class fifth period, he was a really good judge of when was a good time to report back to older agents.
To top it off, it really did snow. When it started halfway through lunch, all the students flocked to the windows and started cheering. Anthony gave me a triumphant look. I crossed my eyes at him and shoveled grapefruit into my mouth so I wouldn't have to say anything.
The next day Shadow asked me to continue keeping an eye out for Anthony, to help him out whenever I could (read: let him tag along everywhere). So, with Lyvia and Shay still sick, I sat with him again for breakfast. I hadn't for dinner since we were allowed to eat in our rooms in the evening.
"It's going to rain," he said in greeting when I sat down in the vacant seat ninety degrees from his spot.
"Well, no duh, Einstein." I rolled my eyes to the window where dark, rolling clouds lined up on the horizon.
"Yeah, but do you know how much?" he countered.
"I'm guessing about a tenth of an inch, enough to wash away the snow, unfortunately. But the rain won't stay too long. It'll get turned back by the colder winds coming from that cold front I was telling you about."
"The rain's not with the cold front?"
"Come on, Amber, really. Those clouds are coming from the south!" Anthony pretended to hold a microphone and spoke in a deep news anchor voice. "In our next segment, we'll cover the arctic blast coming into Rochester, New York. Reports say the cold weather is heading north from the Caribbean, since, as everyone knows, it's freezing at the equator."
It was so stupid, I had to laugh. Anthony shook his head.
"Hey, well, how was I supposed to know it was the south?" I demanded.
"A good agent always knows what direction they're facing," Anthony said, quoting Ms. Keen. I stuck out my tongue at him and he shrugged. "It's important."
"Yeah, maybe. But I'd rather be doing something real."
"You have to be good at the basics before you can be good at anything else." Anthony swallowed a bite of cereal while staring down at his tray.
"Since when are you an expert?" I said, annoyed that his remark made sense.
"I'm not. That's just something my dad used to say. He was a tennis coach."
"Was?" I blurted it out before I could catch myself.
Anthony didn't respond.
RainBy: Kieryn Nicolas