John moved through the party and found the ambassador’s daughter bouncing up and down near the DJ. He kept an eye on her but stayed far enough away from the speakers so he could hear his earpiece if Steve or Mal had something to tell him.
“So, you’re gonna have coffee with Brian, huh?”
Steve must not be monitoring the frequency if Mal was using names again.
“Yeah,” he said, hoping the earpiece could pick up what he was saying.
“That’s got to be exciting. I’m jealous.”
“I hate to be the one to break this to you, but you’re not his type.”
“I know, but he’s gorgeous,” Mal said.
“To be honest, I’m a little scared.”
Laughter filtered in over the radio.
“You’ve got to be kidding me. You just beat up someone twice your size and you’re scared of a date? Besides, it’s just coffee, not even a real date.”
When he didn’t say anything, Mal spoke again.
“Don’t pout. It’ll be just enough of a date for romance to blossom. And don’t roll your eyes at me. You did a great job setting up those hidden cameras.”
“You’re not supposed to be watching me you know.”
“Yeah, yeah. The princess is doing fine.”
“She’s not a princess.”
After a few more minutes, Steve got back on the line and without gossip the night started passing more slowly. It was hard to enjoy a party when you were watching to make sure someone didn’t get abducted. And John had math first period tomorrow and an hour long flight before he could sleep in his own bed. He snuck a few texts in to Brian in between scanning the party for danger.
* * *
Math class had come early and it’d come hard. He’d have to get Steve or Mal to explain the quiz he’d just bombed at some point. Normally he was pretty good at math, but he couldn’t do it in his sleep like Steve and Mal.
John stumbled to second period. It was strange to think of Steve and Mal being alike. Usually they had a lot more contrast and a lot less compare. Steve had been trained by Mentor for years to be a tactical leader. His tests for logic and reasoning and mathematics had been off the charts. John had scored equally well, but in other areas. If you needed to beat a lie detector or rappel down a building, John was your guy. Game theory made his head spin. Even their handler, Special Agent Mathews, found himself at a disadvantage when dealing with Steve.
Mal was everything Steve wasn’t. He was all business. She was more than a little wild. She’d been recruited into Project Mentor late—after she’d hacked into the Pentagon. She was the second youngest person ever to do it, which meant she had exactly the kind of skills Mentor needed for its computer expert.
Speaking of computers, John and Mal were working on research papers for English class in the computer lab. Mal sat next to him, twirling her black hair and spinning her ear piercings. They were allowed to see each other in public, as long as they didn’t reveal any classified information. They were also under orders to maintain other social relationships as part of their cover. John always found it funny that he had to hang out for national security reasons.
“This is absolutely disgusting,” Mal said.
“Everyone hates the school computers you know, it’s not just you.”
“No one else can appreciate just how bad they are, not until they’ve used Bertha.”
Mal had named her computer in the operations center. Not only had she built it herself, but she was always tweaking and upgrading it. She was also starting to get pretty protective of her laptop, so that might become the latest named member of her electronics family.
“She has your eyes you know,” he said.
“Shut up. So, have you been texting?”
“I text all the time.”
“Have you been texting Brian, duh.”
“Maybe a little, I don’t want to be too pushy.”
Mal leaned over and pinched his cheek.
“Aw, Johnnie’s in love.”
“Keep it down, Mr. Craig’s looking at us. And don’t talk in a baby voice, it’s creepy.”
“You secretly love it. You know you can tell me all the romantic details, right? It’s not like you can have share time with Steve.”