“Olivia is minding her own business lately.” I said, watching Olivia at the far corner of the cafeteria. “Must be the double dose of scolding from Miss Fiona and Ray.” Anna mumbled. As usual she was having her coffee and another cup beside hers waiting for Ray. It has become a habit for both of them to get coffee for each other. “Hey there she is.” Jane pointed at Ivy, walking into the cafeteria with Daniel. “Busy girl.” Anna stated. Ivy joined us shortly, her face beaming brightly. “You went missing again last night.” I started. She smiled sheepishly. “Had something important to do.” Her eyes were on Daniel. Her expression was all too lovey dovey. “Don’t melt here, sweetie.” Jane teased her. “I might.” Ivy admitted, her face turning pink. “Gosh, you really like this guy?” I asked her. She nodded. “Are you guys serious?” Anna questioned her. “Of course I’m serious. I don’t play around with feelings. He’s amazingly cute and sweet. I just like him so much. I think I’m maybe falling for him.” Ivy claimed. “No, you’re not.” Anna retorted. “Anna!” Ivy raised her voice. It’s been awhile we had this kind of arguments. Normally I will side Anna because Ivy sometimes makes poor choices but not this time. “What? You know him like one month? How can you fall for someone in such a short period?” Anna questioned Ivy. “I know him for almost three months now. Thanks for noticing.” Ivy answered in irritation. “Anna, stop. Don’t get all parenting on her. Daniel is a good guy. I’m with her this time.” I told Anna. “I’m not saying I don’t like him. I just don’t get this falling in love in few months thing.” Anna explained. “You never do.” Jane muttered teasingly. “So are you saying falling in love requires a very long period of getting to know each other?” I asked her. She shrugged. “Yes. No. Maybe. I don’t know.” “Anna, oh Anna I wonder who going to make you fall badly.” Ivy singed mockingly. “Well, we do have the candidate.” I whispered when Ray and Ronald joined us. We laughed while Anna rolled her eyes. “What’s so funny?” Ronald asked us. None of us answered him. “Ray, I’m curious about Olivia. Did she say anything to you?” I asked Ray. He took a sip from his coffee before answering me. “I talked to her last Sunday.” He stated calmly. “That’s all?” Jane questioned. “Nope, when Anna got admitted he hunted her down again and bombarded her so badly that she caved in and admitted everything.” Ronald told us, earning dagger eyes from Ray. We stared at Ray in surprise. He shifted uncomfortably under our gaze. “What she did to Anna was really bad. Even she knew what she did was wrong and she promised me to not to cause trouble anymore especially using my name.” He told us. I have noticed Ray doesn’t get mad that often. This must have thrown her off guard. “Did she mention anything about Miss Fiona?” Anna asked Ray. “She got disciplinary action, undergoing some sort of punishment. Is it you that placed a complaint?” Ray asked her. “Yeah, the doctor at that medic asked me to.” Anna replied. I was relieved to hear that. At least after this, she would stay away from us. “Well, she deserved it. She had been treating you bad ever since you arrived. I doubt if she ever treat anyone good.” Ronald added. “So Ray, is it possible for you to talk about agents and missions?” Jane asked him suddenly, distracting us from topic Olivia. “Not really. It’s supposed to be a secret. Why do you ask?” He countered. “Just wondering about how the whole thing works like do people die or get caught?” She went on. I was curious as well but I dare not to speak about it since Mr. Henderson asked us to keep it a secret for the time being. Strangely Ray and Ronald stayed quiet as though they are trying to not say something. “Guys?” Ivy frowned at them. “Sometimes I forget how new you’re here.” Ronald told us. “I don’t get it. What do you mean?” I asked him. It was Ray who answered me. “Well normally we don’t talk about this. But if you’re curious then you should know things go bad sometimes like the recent one if you noticed or heard about it. Most of the times the agency deals with that sort of work so not many get leaked to the tyros.” “Recently? What happened?” I interrupted him. “Hugh didn’t tell you anything?” Ronald asked me. “Hugh? What about him? What should I know?” I didn’t expect my trainer to get involved in this discussion. The guys exchanged glances. I don’t think they will spill the beans. Stephanie joined us right on time. I knew how honest Stephanie is and also how easily she could blabber things out without thinking. “Hey guys. It’s been a while we didn’t hang out together. What you guys talking about?” She sat between Anna and me. “We talking about Hugh and what happened to him.” I simply stated. Anna narrowed her eyes at me. “Oh, that’s sad.” She said, oblivious to our curious reaction. “What is sad?” Jane asked her. Ronald interrupted her, “You knew what happened?” He threw Stephanie a suspicious look. “I heard rumours at the office. Even Ray heard about it.” Stephanie told us and all our eyes fell on Ray. He stared at us uncomfortably. “He failed his mission. That’s it right?” Ronald questioned him. My mouth dropped open, “He failed?” My great illusion about my almighty trainer just cracked. Ronald shushed me. “Keep your voice down.” “But how come? He’s…” I trailed off, not sure how to describe Hugh in one word. “Is that why he returned to institute and got all grumpy?” I asked them. “He’s not grumpy. He’s probably sad.” Stephanie muttered with her gloomy expression. “Why? Wait a minute there’s more isn’t it?” Apparently even Ronald had no clue about Hugh. “Yes but it’s not a news we should spread around.” Ray answered sternly. “We won’t spread around.” Ivy promised. “Yeah, Ray. What is it? I want to know. He’s my trainer.” I wanted to know so badly. That man is a shield of his own. I barely know things about him. This is a chance for me to learn more about him. “Ray, if it’s confidential then it’s okay.” Anna told him. He thought about it for a moment. “It’s not a secret or something but rather a bad news. Not much people aware about it. I heard it at the agency the day before I came back here. Yes, his mission failed and he also lost his two teammates. One of them was his own sister.” He’s voice was emotionless but we were all stunned to hear that. “Poor Ella.” Stephanie mumbled. “You knew her?” Ivy asked her. “She graduated last semester. Hugh’s younger sister.” She stated. “Is that why he’s acting that way?” I spoke out my mind. “What do you mean? We barely see him.” Ronald claimed. That was true I have only seen Mr. Henry in our combat class. He never joined others although it looks like he knew the tyros here more like a friend than a trainer. He don’t blend in. Anna suddenly stood up, “This incident happened few days before we came to this institute right?” She questioned Stephanie and Ray. Ray nodded. “Oh.” She looked frightened for a second but she recovered too quickly. As if gotten some idea, her eyes brightened, “Got to go. Need to clarify something to someone.” She dashed away. “Where she’s going?” Ray looked at us. We shrugged in confusion. Anna was acting strange lately. She was doing so much of extra readings and even visited the gyms often. I think she got worked out about the mission.
The day went by fast. My mind was fully wrapped around Mr. Henry the whole day. During our combat lesson, I kept my mouth shut not wanting to blab things out. I watched him more than practicing. He even noticed me watching. I had to turn away numerous times with my pink face. He stopped me before I leave at the end of our class. “You have something to ask?” He asked me. I shook my head innocently. “Naomi, there is another couple of months to go before our class end. I want you to take to your heart everything you learn.” He told me. “You won’t be teaching after this?” I couldn’t help asking. “That I couldn’t be sure.” He answered curtly. I nodded and left. The next few days I successfully kept my mouth shut. At the end of the weekdays, he brought me to the indoor shooting range room at the far end of Block D. My friends had already filled me in about this. They said it was fun as though playing some games. The room was wide and long. The boards with circular black and white designs on it were placed on the wall far end of the room. There were a few machineries at the front. Two chairs were placed beside it. Mr. Henry sat on one of it and called me to sit in front of him. We sat facing each other. He handed me something to wear on my head. It looks like a headset with many wires that’s connected to the laptop. Then he asked me to wear the black glasses. I had no idea where that is. He reached out the headset I’m wearing and draw out black glasses from both side of my ears and covered my eyes. He told me to sit still and wait. I nodded but the darkness was making me uneasy. Slowly, my vision became clear and I found myself standing in dark room. There was a gun on the table in front of me. I looked around and saw a doorway at my right. I looked for Mr. Henry but he’s nowhere to be found. “Where am I? I asked out loud. Mr. Henry’s voice answered me. “Naomi, this is a training session to evaluate your shooting skills. Instead of targeting unmoving object you will be tested with living beings. It is quite simple to identify your target, they will be in black. The others will be innocent people. You’re not required to shoot them. Do you understand me?” “Yes.” I answered. “Now pick up the gun and start walking.” I followed his voice. I stepped forward and took the gun. The gun felt real. I walked out of the room. I checked all the corners before I turned to new hallway. It looks like I’m in an old burnt building. The surrounding was eerily quiet. I could hear my own footsteps. My eyes caught a shadow flashed at the end of the hall. I gripped the gun and pointed it out front. I walked slowly not making any noise and crept to the guy in black clothes. His back was on me so without hesitating I aimed his neck and pulled the trigger. My shot hit the target and in a second he fell on the ground. I walked past the body, eyeing the surrounding cautiously. Then somebody ran towards me from my left. I pulled the trigger before I know it. It was a girl in red shirt and black pants. She dropped with her eyes opened, staring at me. I gasped in shock. I killed an innocent. “Naomi, what the hell were you thinking? You killed a girl.” Mr. Henry’s angry voice rang in my head. “Sorry, that was a mistake.” I muttered, still not believing my eyes. The whole scene looked very real, if not for his voice I would have believe this is reality and I truly shot a girl. I caught another glimpse of movement at the far end. It looks like a staircase. The place stank as I approached it. A guy jumped on top of me out of nowhere. I lost my footing and I fell on the filthy floor. I hold tight of the gun and shot the guy sitting on me. He was in black. I noticed that after he was dead. I mentally reminded myself to check on the clothing first. The next few targets were in black and I shot them mercilessly. It was fun a little until I shot another two innocents. Mr. Henry’s voice came in once in a while to scold me. I almost shot another innocent but manage to dodge the target. I hit the wall beside a huge framed guy. I exhaled loudly. “Thank god.” I muttered. “Naomi, focus! Do not make mistake and waste bullets.” I heard his voice in my ears. I didn’t reply to that and went on. Now I’m standing outside in an empty street. The shop lots were all destroyed. I spotted a girl standing at the middle of the street. She was wearing black and her gun aimed at me. I walked forward and raise my gun to shoot her but I couldn’t do it. She looked familiar. The tall, thin figure and her messy curly hair left loose. She smiled at me. “Anna?” I froze in my place, not sure what to do. Her gun was still pointed at me. I knew I should shoot her. She’s in black and its practice after all but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. “Naomi, what are you doing?” Mr. Henry asked me. I couldn’t answer. I put my finger on the trigger but that’s it. I couldn’t press it. Come on, Naomi. That’s not Anna. Shoot her. I was few seconds late. A bullet hit me on my shoulder hard. I staggered back and fell on the ground, my hand clutching my injured shoulder. Blood was gushing out. The pain was real. I cried in pain. I dropped the gun to my side. Anna came and stood in front of me, pointing the gun at me. Her smile was still plastered on her face. The contrast made me feel scared of her. I heard the shot but before it hit me. I lost my vision. I blinked and saw Mr. Henrys’ angry blue eyes few inches away from mine. He was holding the headset I was wearing and his was still on him but the glasses lifted up. I was speechless. I felt tear rolled down my cheeks. My hands were clutching my left shoulder. I looked down and my shoulder was fine, no blood. “That was not real.” I reminded myself. My voice croaked. Mr. Henry gaze softened a little. He sighed and looked away. “You failed.” He told me. I couldn’t reply anything. My mind was still on the fake Anna illusion. “I got confused.” I finally said. “Confused? The target was in black, standing still in front of you. What’s there to be confused of?” He asked me in disbelief. I jerked back to hear the harshness in his voice. “That was my friend.” I whispered, not looking at him. “She was your enemy. It was darn obvious. You hesitated and failed. Naomi, you can never succeed if you get emotional. You killed innocents because you’re terrified of getting hurt. You shoot without looking. Your fear confuses you. And the last part, even if it’s someone you know. If that person is the target, you should hit. You should not confuse your emotion with mission. You will fail.” His voice rang out loud in the empty room. I was unprepared for the Anna part and now him yelling at me making me feel worst. “I wasn’t… That was…” I struggled to defend myself. He shook his head disapprovingly at me. For some reason, I can’t stand it whenever he looked at me disapprovingly. I feel like a real failure. “That’s it for today.” He dismissed me but I didn’t move. I wanted to correct my mistake. “Can I try again? It’s a practice right? I will get better the more I train.” I said confidently. “No.” He answered while dispatching the wires. My eyes stung. “I wasn’t prepared just now. I want to try again.” My voice shook. I wanted to sound strong and determined but failed. He looked at me. “Naomi, you’re not getting the whole point. You will never get to use the excuses you just made in real life. You will only get one shot, it’s either you got it or blew it. If you want to become a good tyro every chance should be the only one. There’s no point getting emotional afterwards.” I forced myself not to tear up. His words were demeaning. “It’s just an exercise. You don’t have to make it sound that bad.” I said in slow voice before turning away. I don’t understand why he’s making it such a big deal. He always behaves this way, every time I failed to do something right. “You never learn, Naomi. You always think there’s another odd waiting for you. That’s why you don’t perform well in your first try.” He reproved me. “At least I’m not giving up.” I shouted back. “Obviously that’s the only thing you’re capable of thus far.” His voice was hurtful. A tear escaped my eye. “Yeah as I said at least I didn’t give up and stay in here like you.” My voice came out like an acid. He froze hearing that. “At least I’m not blaming myself for the mistake I did, for the lives that I cost.” I knew I should stop talking. He stared at me as though I’m a stranger. His eyes flashed pain, something I never seen before. I took a few steps back away from him and then turned, ran away and never looked back.
Instead of going to my room, I ran to the far end of the field. I sat down when I reached a huge tree. I stared back at Block D from here. The weather was windy. Dry leaves were floating around following the wind. I crushed a few of them. I shouldn’t have said that to him. That was mean. Who was I to say those words? My words hit the truth, his reaction confirmed it. He lost his sister and failed his mission. How could I? “Damn it, Naomi.” I cursed. The moment I reached my room, my friends felt silent watching me. “What happened? Another fight with your trainer?” Jane asked me. I ignored her. Anna called me, “Hey, you okay?” I glared at her. “It’s all because of you. Don’t you ever give me your creepy smile again.” I stated harshly. She looked at me in confusion. “And now he’s going to hate me.” I said, feeling miserable.
“You didn’t go with them?” I asked Anna. It’s Saturday morning. I decided to stay instead of going out with others. I wanted clear my thoughts by reading something at the library and surprisingly Anna was here all alone, reading a book intently. She looked up at the sound of my voice. Her curly hair is longer now. She tied it up in a high pony tail. Her face looked tired and weary. “Nope, I’ve no mood to go out.” She said as she close the thick book. “What is that?” The book title was ‘The Infamous Battles in the Spy World’. “Some book about who killed who and how with the whys.” She said dully. “You’re being a real nerd lately. What’s the matter?” I asked her. She laughed at me. “I thought I’m always a nerd.” “Anna, answer me. What’s going on?” I had a feeling that she’s hiding something. “I’m worried.” Her expression was unsure. “Why?” “This place, I don’t know what this place has in store for us. I’m wondering what will happen after our semester.” Her eyes were at distant, seeing something I don’t. “I will tell you what will happen. All four of us will graduate as one of the greatest tyros on earth and then, for our normal life sake we will continue our studies in probably business degree or something. So we will be having two lives like Superman.” I told her playfully. Her mood got better. “Undercover life like James Bond? Not bad I’m in.” We chuckled and earned a few stared from a few tyros in the next table. “Just be yourself Anna. Don’t stress yourself about future and go with the flow. I thought you love the uncertainty of life.” I remembered her words to me years back when we were starting to get to know each other. Anna don’t plan ahead for her life, she rarely decide her life course. She believes everything happens in the right moment. “Well, the uncertainty should be subjective not optional.” She muttered. “What do you mean? Is this about us studying here? You don’t like it?” I asked her. She smiled. “I like this place. It was strange at first but now it’s fun. I don’t mind studying and finishing my whole course here. The matter that bothers me is going outside. I doubt if it will be the same as we left it few months back.” She explained. I never thought of that. All this while I was more curious about my life here as a tyro with my friends. My family. They don’t know this life of mine. I told them I’m doing law, they knew I always wanted to be a lawyer. I know I’m not deceiving them because I will take that course next semester but still they are clueless about what I am now. “You’re right. I don’t think it will be the same.” I told her. “Forget about me, what happened to you yesterday?” She questioned me. I sighed out loud. “I did something very bad. I hurt somebody.” “Mr. Henry?” She guessed. I nodded. “You know, that man have very strong influence in you. He affects your mood every day.” She stated. It’s not a surprise she noticed that. She’s good at reading people especially me. I shifted uneasily in my seat. “I know but I think he hates me now.” “If you don’t want him to hate you then go apologize to him soon. Tell him you feel bad or whatever you feel right now.” She gestured to my face. “I’m scared to even see him.” I admitted. She laughed at me. “He’s your trainer. You’re going to see him every day anyways. You have no option here.” “I know. I hope he won’t throw me out from the class, literally.” A brunette shushed us loudly causing half the tyros in the library to look at us. “You want to get out from here?” Anna asked me. “Yup.” Our Saturday went by smoothly. I missed hanging out with Anna, just the two of us without any home works around us. We talked a lot about the Angels’ and our life. It was like one of our high school days when we walked back home together talking about everything that happened that week. I didn’t go to see Mr. Henry. I was enjoying the day and didn’t want to change that. At night, Ivy brought us to one of the tower in the institute. She said the place is magical at night. We crept into the tower without anyone noticing. The tower reminded me of light house. It has nothing but a very long staircase to the top. We reached the top and the view was breathtaking. The atmosphere was amazing. The cold breeze and the view of the entire city in front of us, plus the sky felt closer, the moon and the scattered stars above us. “I want to date here.” I stated. My friends agreed and Ivy launched into her the almost first kiss date night story again. It was inevitable. While staying up here with my friends my mind wondered about Mr. Henry. What he might be doing now? I imagined him here, standing next to me. Will we be arguing as always or will it be different? My slow paced brain caught up with my thoughts. I realize where this is going. I quickly dismissed my imagination. Oh, no.
I have been standing here for the past five minutes. It is Sunday morning I should have been having my breakfast with my friends not staring at the last flight of stairs leading to the fifth floor, to my combat class. I was not sure if he would be there since we are not having class but I’m guessing this is the only place he will be most of the time. It’s rare to see him anywhere else. Hoping he would not be there, I reached the fifth floor and I froze. He was standing right in front of me, his back on me. He was not aware of my presence. I took a few steps forward and saw him staring at a photograph. I have been always wondering what’s in his hand, he would always look at it but hide it whenever someone is around. I took another step forward, close enough to view the picture. It’s a family, his family. There was a couple with three kids, two young boys and a girl. The small girl looks like three years old. Her dark blonde hair was the same as the other siblings.
I have been standing here a while now, invading his privacy. I wanted clear my throat to get his attention but he did that first. “What are you doing here?” He asked me. His voice was rough but not mean. “I wanted to say something.” I started but he interrupted me. “Nevermind. You can leave.” He walked away without even looking at me. “No.” I shouted and he stopped. “I want you to hear me. Wait.” I insisted, half expecting him to start scolding me for behaving rude but he didn’t. He didn’t move. “Look, I didn’t mean to say those words that day. That was bad. Really bad. I feel awful and guilty. I know I have no right to judge you or to say anything at all to you. I know nothing about you and whatever happened to you. I just… I’m sorry. Sorry for what I said, sorry for your lost and sorry because you’re stuck with me here.” I stammered. I was always good in public speaking but here apologizing to him well I feel as though I got mud stuck in my throat. He didn’t say anything. Of course this is not going to be that easy. “Hugh, I feel awfully guilty for these past two days. I can’t even sleep. So please, please forgive me. I know what I said was terrible, malicious and…” “Okay.” I heard him. I stopped blabbering and went to stand next to him. “Really, okay?” I peered at his face. His expression was passive. I took that as a good sign and decided to leave. It’s better to go now before I make another mess. “Thank you. I should leave.” I started to back away but he called me. “Wait.” He leaned against the wall and looked at me. “How did you know?” I struggled to answer there’s no way I’m calling on Ray. “I heard it, the rumours. But don’t worry not many know it. Actually, many tyros had no idea why you are here?” “Do you?” he asked me. “What?” I was surprised at that question. “No, I don’t.” I admitted. “I thought you know, from your words last Friday.” He raised his left eyebrow and smirked humorlessly. This guy is mean. “I’m sorry.” I said, narrowing my eyes. “You’re not wrong.” He told me. “I mean not entirely. I’m not hiding here.” His eyes stared directly at me. I could see from his eyes that he wants me to believe that. I want to say something or at least nod but I stood still staring into his crystal clear eyes. It felt ages when he spoke. “You should leave now.” He told me, not looking away. I closed my eyes involuntarily. I had to do so to break away from his intense gaze. I turned without opening my eyes and walked away stiffly. It took me four flights of robotic walk until I realized how weird I would have seemed like in his eyes. Well at least I froze instead of melting in front of him.