They hunched over their keyboards and pretended to be hard at work. After mastering dozens of cover identities in three languages, you’d think it’d be easy to fool a teacher, but Mr. Craig just seemed to know when you weren’t doing work. Or maybe he just knew the two of them and assumed they were slacking off. It’s not like he’d be wrong very often.
John and Mal were pecking at their research papers, waiting for the bell. With less than a minute to spare, the phone rang. Mr. Craig listened for a moment before turning to the two of them.
“Yeah, I’ll send them down. Mr. Mathews wants to speak to you two. Shut down your computers before you go.”
Mal and John got out the door a few seconds before the bell rang. Students flooded into the halls and they got caught in the crowd on the stairs despite their head start. They didn’t speak as they approached the assistant principal’s office. John held the door for Mal and then followed her inside.
Steve was already sitting in one of the uncomfortable chairs set aside for students along one wall. His skin was a half dozen shades darker than John’s and his hair was close cropped and curly. The room was exactly what you’d expect from an administrator’s office in a medium sized high school. Plaques and photos lined the walls along with a banner for the school’s football team. Totally normal, at least until Mr. Mathews took out a slim black device that looked like a cross between an antenna and a microphone.
It was a frequency jammer and active noise canceller rolled into one. There was a buzzing in John’s ears as Mathews turned it on, but the sensation quickly faded. Special Agent Mathews waited a few seconds before speaking.
John and Steve looked down at their shoelaces, but he could feel the steam coming off Mal.
“Disappointed? We stopped a kidnapping attempt and that little princess and her father stayed clueless.”
“You broke protocol on numerous occasions,” Mathews said. “Frankly, I expect that kind of behavior from you Ms. Bernard. What I can’t understand is how you could allow it to happen Greski, or that you would participate Santiago.”
“So, I take it when you said this was our first solo mission,” Steve said, “What you meant was that you were going to be following our every move and listen to everything.”
“I’m surprised you didn’t see this coming Greski,” Mathews said. “It is the logical move after all.”
Steve hung his head. John knew he was conflicted. He was kicking himself for not anticipating the test, but the part of him that was still a normal kid was hurt that a man he looked up to had lied and manipulated them.
“The Mentor Program is already behind schedule, but more than that, the missions you’re tasked with are matters of national security. People’s lives are at stake.”
“We’re just kids,” Mal said. She felt the need to defend the group, since Steve and John weren’t going to.
“I know,” Mathews said. “I know it’s unfair, what we ask you to do. But it needs to be done, and we need you to be the best you can be.”
“What if our closeness is what allows us to be the best?”
“Mal, that’s enough,” Steve said. “Agent Mathews is right. I accept responsibility. I should have monitored communications more closely and outlined protocol.”
Mal was about to light into Steve, but John kicked her foot. Mathews pretended not to notice.
“Alright, get back to class. We’ll meet for debrief at fifteen-hundred.”