The three of them marched out. The bell had already rung and the halls were empty except for a few other stragglers and the hall monitors.
“Geez, he must’ve really been pissed to call us down during the school day,” Mal said.
“He has a point. Rules and protocols are in place for a reason.”
“You should stick up for yourself Steve. Aren’t you like twice as smart as Mathews?”
“I’m not gonna stick up for myself when I know he’s right. The truth is I didn’t check the comms because I knew you two would be talking and I didn’t want to have to break it up.”
Without warning, Mal wrapped her arms around Steve.
“That’s the sweetest thing you’ve ever done for me. You had the opportunity to be a jerk and you didn’t take it.”
“Don’t worry about it,” John said. “Mathews’ll get over it.”
Steve didn’t seem that cheered up as they went their separate ways to class. He wanted to be perfect.
John watched students filing out to the buses or heading to afterschool activities. The rest of the day had slid by in a sleep deprived blur. John could sleep like a baby in cargo plane netting, but it wasn’t as restful as his own bed.
John envied his fellow students sometimes, because they had real lives and not covers. John had a lot of real friends, even if he couldn’t tell them the whole truth about himself. But he could never let his guard down. He wanted to join the laughing stream of students heading to the auditorium. The school musical was coming up. It wasn’t a huge leap from martial arts to dancing, both required a lot of balance and precision. He probably could’ve gotten in if he’d been able to try out.
John turned down another hall. His destination was the boiler room. As his hand touched the knob, he automatically scanned the hallway to either side to make sure no one was around. There was nothing back here but a storage closet and the door to the basement. The cameras hanging in the hall kept students from trying to hide and skip classes here.
He turned his face to the nearest camera to let it scan his face for identification. Only then did he pull the door open and head down the discolored stairs. The boiler room was hot and smelled like mold. Opening an ancient and rusted thermostat, he pulled a lever and turned a dial back and forth. As he put in the last number to the combination the old panel swung open, revealing smooth metal, shining glass, and blinking lights.
The scanner under the glass analyzed his finger and palm prints and the lights turned green when his biometrics were accepted. A hiss tore through the grinding hum of the boiler and part of the wall swung inward. Light poured out of the gap, revealing a white, nearly featureless room. John slipped inside and the wall sealed up behind him.
He pulled open a door and beyond it was a small, cramped office. A half dozen computers were squeezed in on desks. Beyond one glass wall was the slightly more spacious meeting room and beyond another the training room—really, a small gym—was dark.
In the conference room, he could see Steve’s back through the glass. Something about the way his friend was standing put him on edge. He could feel the anxiety radiating off him. As he pulled open the door and stepped inside, he saw why.
A man he’d never seen before was standing against the far wall. He was dressed in a suit and tie. John’s training kicked in immediately. The suit was dark and not expensive. The hair was close cut but not in a military style. Whoever he was, he was some kind of government agent.