Throughout December we shall be displaying the results of Echo’s first ever NaNoWriMo. Enjoy!
By Jaclyn Heng
A single beam of sunlight streamed in through the rectangular slit of the window and illuminated my hands as I smoothed the large blueprint over the collapsible table, quietly savouring the lack of crinkles. We had spent the last twelve hours in an abandoned warehouse as our makeshift office, pouring over the huge expanse of the map. Well, I had spent those hours deciphering the map. Rob basically gave up after hour number six and was now strewn over the single dilapidated sofa in the warehouse. God knows what kind of creatures have inhabited that sofa. His arms were slung over the sides and his head cocked backwards over the armrest, sending trails of drool down into his unsuspecting left nostril. His only contribution for the following six hours was the incessant hum of his snoring.
This blueprint was the best we had. It depicted the layout of the inner hallways and air vent system in the building, every twist and turn, nook and cranny. Rob was lucky enough to have obtained it by sneaking past a snoozing newbie security guard during one of our scouting trips to The House. He’d have better thanked the Heavens that luck was on his side in getting his hands on that map to make up for how his cocky idiocy screwed up my initial plan. Long story short, the smartass completely disregarded my instructions to look for another route on our first attempt at The House as a team. He casually decided that he would scale the walls to get in, simply because he thought he “looked cool climbing a wall”. The alarm was set off and a firing squad appeared so fast we barely got out with our skins intact. Worse still, security measures were heightened, delaying our plans by a week. That meant yet another week without those documents in my hands. But now, we were ready.
“Let’s go!” My hands left the table in an excited flourish. I proceeded to flick Rob’s forehead with a satisfying snap as I strode over to the stack of crates in the corner of the room.
“Huh? What? It’s in the office! What?” Rob fumbled out of his dreamland, seizing up with all fours in the air like a dead cat and snorting drool out of his nose.
“Get up, idiot. It’s time.”
I combed my fingers through dark curls of hair, sweeping and tucking it into the headwrap of our new uniforms. After the first mishap, it was decided that we would need more agility-supportive suits for this particular mission. Skin-tight and pitch-black, the new suits were covered in snakeskin-like carbon fibre plates and hugged my body’s every curve with additional weapon sheaths on the calves and waist for quick access. My new weapons, newly arrived in a polystyrene peanut-filled wooden crate, were the ones I was looking forward to most. Nothing quite parallels the excitement of receiving new weapons, especially since I designed them myself. Wedging open the crate stamped with a bright red “Authorized Personnel Only”, my new babies gleamed in the little sunlight of the warehouse as if they were smirking in excitement for when they would claim their next victim. Twin Incisura knives from the best weaponsmaker in town, made based on 3D prints of my own fists, guaranteeing a fit that would make it feel like an extension of my own arm. We donned our brand new gear and I slid the two knives into the camouflaged sheaths on the sides of my calves. As night fell and the moon unveiled herself, our plan was set in motion.
Years of practice at The Academy enabled me to silently glide past every dimly-lit hallway and security guard with no issue, right after Rob deactivated the door of the servants’ quarters. You’d think the owners of The House would have thought to use a more complicated security system for the staff rather than a simple four-digit pin. Upon cracking the code, that cocky partner of mine nearly laughed out loud. My narrowed eyes were enough of a signal for him to predict what I would do to him if he had. It was bad enough that his inexperience meant I needed to babysit him and make sure we got the job done without getting our heads blown off.
Soon enough, we reached The Office. Finally.
This code, now, we couldn’t crack. It was common knowledge that The Office was the most technologically-guarded room in The House, even among outsiders of the spy community. I’d give the owners the benefit of the doubt, but it would have been more of a rationally-sound decision to post human guards outside The Office, considering the type of secrets held in there. Though, their decision was definitely a 50/50 for me. The easier the heist the better, but I’m always up for a good challenge. I guess, for tonight, the challenge of night-activated alarms would have to do.
Surprise, surprise, there was no alarm installed in the air vents. Exactly what kind of tightened security did these guys do? We’d already decided beforehand that accessing the air vents was the only way in without causing suspicion if any curious passersby were to spot us outside The Office. Once guards were sent running, we would have turned ourselves into their next target practice. The vent grate swung open as I boosted Rob up into the vent and swiftly leapt in after him. I guess Rob was kind of useful since he had a photographic memory. Not having the physical map with us didn’t prove to be a problem as Rob led the way through the tunnel of interconnected vents. We crawled through the lightless silver tunnels on all fours as if in military bootcamp and hopped out the other end, straight into The Office.
Gleaming glass windows in gold-gilded frames lined the curved side of the semi-circular room, looking out over the expanse of dark forest behind The House. A grand mahogany desk sat in the middle of the room, piled high with paperwork and documents. The oak-panelled floor presented a background to an elaborate family crest of lions and swords surrounding a calligraphed “L”. The only illumination in the room came from the glow of moonlight, the moon sitting within the central window frame like an eye watching over us.
Rob was already dripping in a cold sweat by this time, his hands trembling and eyes darting. He had not been in the line of duty as a spy for as long as I had, and this was his first big job. That was probably why The General paired us together. Though, I believe The General just wanted me to do the dirty work of training a greenhorn, punishment for the time I snapped his beloved eagle-headed cane in half in a fit of anger after being removed from a job because I was, in his words, “impulsive and arrogant”. Rob was rummaging through drawers and boxes in search of the prized document, coming close to knocking a box off the table at one point.
The bronze bust sculpture of William Shakespeare, atop its pedestal in the corner of the room stared at us with glinting eyes.
Ah, old Bill, my favourite poet, I thought as I leaned over to stroke his chin.
Slack-jawed Shakespeare revealed a pretentiously wax-sealed scroll in the depths of his oral cavity. Rob could only stare at me in awe. I twirled the scroll between my fingers, the scent of Indian Ink on aged parchment tickling my senses as I stood behind the desk and looked out over the forest. Without warning, I swung open one of the huge glass windows and chucked the scroll out the window, just as the window alarm went off.
“WHAT????” Rob yelled, bug-eyed.
Oh, this was the fun part.
I brought my fingers across my lips in a zipping motion and grabbed his hand as we sprinted out of The Office and down the hall. The thumping of running footsteps approached from behind, which only fueled my excitement as my own feet leapt down the hallways. I spotted it right after the turning, a window. All within a second, with one hand on the frame of the window and another on Rob’s arm, I swung both of us out into the cool night air, landing on the waiting window ledge. I think poor Rob nearly wet himself standing on that ledge. We faced the dark, dense forest that surrounded The House. Dark and dense meant unnoticed movement. We scaled down the wall and rolled into a crouch under a young apple tree without so much as a rustle.
Rob was still staring at me in horror with the rhythmic blaring of security alarms sounding in the background. He looked as if he wanted to shake me. I had caused us to fail our mission. We had lost the document. But did we?
One of the twins in my hand and poised to strike, and my mouth cocked in a devilish grin, I sent it flying towards Rob. His eyes met mine in that split second and he had to good sense to shift himself out of the way just in time. The blade buried itself deep into the bark of the apple tree with a thump. A rustle, and the scroll dived out of the leaves and into my fist, waiting to clench the scroll in my grasp.
Rob’s mouth was a perfect O while mine held a triumphant smile. I held the end of the scroll with two fingers and swung it in front of his eyes like a hypnotizing pendulum.