After the talk we followed the man upstairs into the attic and watched while he searched around for files on Isabelle. They had been stored away for years without anyone coming across them because they had been placed underneath the flooring. As far as I knew there was no one else who knew about them and as they were closeted away so secretly it would be difficult to find without specific instructions. During this time I took the chance to ask for the man’s name – causing him to look over me with suspicion – before he relented and said he was called Antoine. Despite his impeccable English he had been born in France.
He rummaged around in the attic while we waited next to the step ladder to help him with his balance. I guessed there were a few places the files had been hidden because he took his time and made a lot of noise before finally appearing again. Then he handed us the papers and told us to look over them for the rest of the evening before coming to a decision. This had mostly been for our own benefit because he added that he already had a plan and was confident that we would agree. The three of us didn’t really give him an answer either way and moved into the office across from the stairs to study the papers.
At first we didn’t have much luck and I was worried that Antoine had grossly overestimated his sources. There were plenty of pages about Isabelle’s biography and a timeline sheet which had been created by someone else to give a clearer picture of her history.
Most of it simply shed light on her career and education. I struggled to make sense of some of the terms given my limited vocabulary and had to ask Aiden to explain some of the more dense descriptions. From his account I got the impression she had been a very successful, reputable military woman who didn’t seem to have any blotch on her career at all. She had lived by the book or so it seemed.
Later on Aiden told me that some of the information came from online sources that could be found after intensive research on the internet. I didn’t know much about computers but I gathered it had made it easier for the naval officer with his findings. Towards the middle of the section we came across lots of photographs that must have been retrieved through illegal means.
These had mainly been taken during her university years and when she had started her work with the military. Almost all of them were official and businesslike with little reference to her personal life. I noticed that Isabelle was often pictured with a group of colleagues or classmates and the rest of them were taken when she had been out in the field. We flicked through them one by one until coming across the last few pictures that showed a much younger Isabelle held up in the air by a dark-haired man with glasses. There was a date on the back of the photograph that said 1985 with the words ‘for my sweet Virgo’ written in purple ink. I re-read this sentence and handed it to Ollie and Aiden.
“This isn’t proof exactly, but it does raise some questions,” Ollie said, frowning slightly as he handed me back the picture. “It seems very deliberate that there is almost no history of her childhood. Even the biography doesn’t talk much about it, and I can clearly tell that much of her life wasn’t made public until university. You can also tell the writing on the back of that picture was written in longhand and I’d guess that her father, who I’m guessing that is, would have used purple ink for her amusement.”
“It looks like that was a name he might have called her most of the time,” Aiden said. “We know it wasn’t her real name, so it’s likely they both knew about her identity and ancestors. From the Eleven, I mean, not her blood relations.”
The files were largely official and didn’t contain anything that might not have been public knowledge, which made me think that the naval officer hadn’t intended to dig too deeply into her history. I reckoned that he had been curious and had gotten most of it from online, which didn’t give us much, except a comprehensive background.
There were some pages hidden within however that were more personal like the photograph, including some letters which had been handwritten and addressed to the Captain. At some point I guessed the naval officer had been in touch with the captain to borrow the files. It might’ve been during this time that he’d considered the need for a backup plan in case there was a betrayal.
There was nothing too indiscreet in the letters that gave her away but there was definitely informality to the language that suggested a more intimate relationship. By the way she wrote I could tell she was a bit paranoid and wanted to pass this urgency onto the captain. I also noticed she referred to him by his first name all the time and seemed eager to meet up on several occasions. I got the impression they were at the very least acquaintances, as she often made some references to the past, and I had a feeling this stretched back even further than university. In some ways I felt the captain was her only confidant and a friend from outside the military.
I couldn’t make out anything that would be enough to pin her down but I figured it would definitely rattle her if she knew about the correspondence being in someone else’s hands. The letters were quite secretive and made references which only the captain would’ve understood. This had gone on for some time until her final letter which was much shorter and less friendly than usual.
I speculated that she had been frustrated by the captain’s lack of concern for her divided state of mind and had ended the correspondence quite brusquely. We looked at the letters with interest before adding them to the pile and finishing through the remaining papers.
Most of the other files were just descriptions of her different positions in the military over the years. There was nothing that grabbed my attention and I found myself tiring – slowly losing enthusiasm for the project. The other two didn’t seem to be struggling as much, clearly wrapped up in their concern for the captain, and so I carried on without complaint. Then, after another half an hour or so, Aiden picked up a book out of the box and said excitedly: “I think this might be a diary!”
Ollie and I looked over his shoulder and scanned the diary with eagle-eyed attention. It had a sea green look about it with cartoon stickers – the handwriting was neat but still looked to belong to a smaller child. Her entries were both lengthy and descriptive, which made me think she was smarter than her years, and I wondered how long it might take to find anything helpful. Sometimes I noticed she would also leave a signature at the end of each date to leave her mark – the younger Isabelle could never have known that such a harmless act might actually land her in a lot of trouble later in life.
Here was definite proof that the diary belonged to her and if we were able to find some evidence of her connection with the Eleven then I felt confident that we did indeed have leverage. The first quarter of the diary didn’t seem very interesting and revealed little with Isabelle mainly talking about her experiences at school and her strong dislike for homework. She talked about some classmates and her father who she seemed to care about a lot by the way she wrote.
From the information given we could tell she was one of the lower years in high school and the way she expressed herself came across as very intelligent. I was really impressed. As we moved through page after page I could sense the impatience coming from the other two – clearly they didn’t have much in common with the experiences of a teenage girl – until we reached the middle parts of the diary.
Suddenly her entries became more frantic and urgent. Her handwriting was almost messy and without the care she usually gave, reflecting her changed state of mind. Most of her focus had turned away from everyday mundane matters to serious concerns about her father. She also spoke directly about her connection with the name Virgo and appeared especially hostile to her mother. We had found what we wanted and now I was keen to know the story. Together we began to re-read the first entry that caught our attention.
Diary Entry #72 25 November 1990
I don’t want to be here anymore. Everything is hard. I was just settling into school and now I find out this. My papa thinks he may be going away for some time and I don’t want him to go. He said to me tonight that he won’t ever leave me and asked me to trust him. But mama says I should prepare. I don’t know what she means by that but I hate the way she talked to me. She doesn’t care about papa or else she wouldn’t have said all those things. I like it here. I don’t want anything to change.
I couldn’t listen to what mama was telling me and had to go and see him. Papa let me into his study and sat there at his desk like he always does, looking so patient, looking like he didn’t have a care in the world. He put my mind at ease and said I’d be okay. He said that nothing was going to happen. Then he started talking about the Eleven again – I don’t really know much about all of that even though he used to tell me stories all the time – and talked about Virgo. That was always my special name. He’s called me that on and off since before I remember.
Papa is so funny sometimes when he talks about Virgo. He says that I’m special and come from an ancestral race, even though they aren’t my papa like he is. He says that’s not the point, that I was chosen for greatness. I don’t know what he means. Nobody else treats me like I’m special, nobody else calls me by Virgo. I asked him about that tonight and he said well that’s because it’s a secret. Soon, he said, soon I’ll understand what he means but one day I’ll have to be brave. I’ll need to grow strong like papa and keep a brave face like he
does and show people I’m happy even when I’m not. And I’ll have to help people I don’t even like too.
I don’t know if I can ever do that. My mama really upset me today and I don’t always like her. Sometimes I wish she wasn’t here. She’s not like Papa.
Diary Entry #76 29th November 1990
Papa’s gone! He’s just left me without even saying anything. Mama said he’s had to go and fight in the war against Iraq but I don’t even know where that is. I checked the map today and it’s so far away from here, I don’t know when I’m ever gonna see him again!
The last time I saw him was yesterday in the garden. He was tending to the plants and was so calm. I didn’t even think there was anything wrong. Everything had settled down and he didn’t mention anything about moving away. All I remember is him sitting next to me for a while on the bench in silence and stroking my hair. He said that he loved me, but he always says that, and he said something about Virgo again. He said that in a few years I’d be a fully grown girl – that I might even be a woman – and then I’d get to make a choice. I asked him why he didn’t’ tell me more about the Eleven and he said that I wouldn’t understand yet. He said it’s not my time.
That was it. I didn’t see him again! And mama today has been so calm and relaxed about it to the point I don’t’ even know if she’s upset. She keeps avoiding eye contact with me as if she’s guilty. Maybe she is! I can’t believe she didn’t tell me. I’m so angry with Papa too for not even caring about me. I want everything to end. I don’t want to go to school tomorrow. I don’t even want to come back to this house. If I could I’d get on a plane and leave just like Papa did, and I’d never come back!
Diary Entry #90 December 20th 1990
Today was the worst day of my life. Mama and I have been talking more lately, and I think I now forgive her, even though I don’t like her much. When I came down for dinner she was silent and I knew something was wrong. After a lot of questions she finally apologised and I saw that she was crying. When I asked why, she gave me a letter. Nothing else. She just gave me the letter and left and I read it. I am surprised I can even pick a pen. Even that feels too weighty right now.
Papa is dead. He died in the war within a few weeks after being put on the front lines. There was a lot of factual information in there like Papa was old and experienced and trusted with lots of praise about his service to the military and
I didn’t care about any of that. I just kept reading the words over again, that he was dead, which meant he was never coming back. There was no goodbye. No explanations.
Papa is dead. And so am I – I have lost my only real friend in the world.
By the time we had finished reading through the diary it was almost midnight. We’d been so engrossed with it that we had all but forgotten the time. After hours of research we’d stumbled upon some really interesting insights into Virgo’s descendant.
Ollie rubbed his eyes and made his excuses, moving into the next bedroom to get some sleep. Aiden and I stumbled tiredly into the next room and slept in the two single beds.
As I laid there looking up at the ceiling I found it very hard to switch off and kept turning over today’s events over in my head. There had been so much that had happened in such a short space of time that I didn’t want tomorrow to come. I was almost certain that we would agree to go ahead with whatever Antoine had planned for us and I wasn’t confident we would get through it without risking our lives. We had some proof but that didn’t guarantee us safety.
I kept playing over in my mind the shooting and how close Aiden had come to being stabbed. At the time I had reacted as well as I could but now that I’d settled I simply couldn’t believe that it had happened. I assumed Isabelle had been behind it but I didn’t know for sure and I felt especially grateful that we were sleeping in a different place. It suddenly hit me that no matter what we would never feel safe again and that everything changed the moment the ship had landed. We had already breached the rules and that put us all in danger. A part of me resented the captain for overturning all of our lives but I couldn’t let that way of thinking eat away at me for long. Right now we just needed to focus on getting away.
We were awoken the next morning by a knock on the door and as I finally rolled out of bed I saw Aiden already washed and dressed. He was looking at the files again and was deep in thought so I didn’t say much. I hurried into the bathroom and showered before having breakfast with the others. It looked to be a beautiful morning and I could hear the birds still chirping away from outside the window which filled me with a feeling of apprehension. I hadn’t considered it before but as I stood at the sink cleaning my teeth it hit me that this could be the last day of my life. I had thought I would have many more years.
This was the mood I took with me downstairs and I struggled to shrug off a sense of dread over the coming events. The others seemed brighter and even cheerful as they chatted with Antoine about the town. I noticed that the tension between us had dropped since yesterday and that now they were talking to our keeper with a much more relaxed attitude. We sat and had breakfast in relative silence while I glanced at the clock and saw that it was only 8:30am, giving us plenty of time to talk over our options.
Finally Antoine changed the topic and asked us if we had found anything in our readings. We told him about the pictures, the letters and the diary and why we thought they were important. He listened with interest but didn’t reveal anything in his expression. Ollie mentioned the letters and said that they added suspicion but might not be considered direct proof, while the diary’s connection with Virgo would likely be enough to scare her into negotiation.
We finished our thoughts on the subject and waited patiently for Antoine’s opinion. He looked at us knowingly and then said: “I see that you’ve been busy. Yes, you’ve found all of the pieces that I wanted you to find. As you are no doubt aware many of the files serve mainly as supporting information and most of it is not very incriminating – there are, however, a couple of files in there that I think will be very interesting for the courts. I am confident that the moment you make this clear to her she will be forced to give you back the captain. We will have to make sure that one of us stays hidden away with the diary so she doesn’t try any funny business.”
“So what is your plan? We can’t just knock on the front door and expect to be let in,” Ollie said. “I was there when the shootings happened. I don’t trust them.”
“Before we get to that, there is one other thing that I think you ought to know,” Antoine said. He moved from his chair and walked over to the cupboard, as if trying to avoid eye contact. Then, after a moment of looking busy and holding our interest, he added: “I am guessing that you read most of the diary and know about Isabelle and her father?”
“He was talked about quite a lot. Soon after Isabelle started playing up and seemed to lose her senses. She started to fail in school and stopped caring about her identity as ‘Virgo’. Later on I know that she renounced the name and stopped looking into it altogether.” Aiden said, his expression weary and sympathetic.
“That’s right,” Antoine said, sighing. “And with some regret, I must add. You see Isabelle’s mother had said that her father died during the Iraq war and could never come back to them, but that wasn’t the half of it. He hadn’t died at that time and was sent to prison instead. After having been a staunch activist and a supporter of the Zodiac movement he finally took a step too far and was sentenced for supposedly being antagonistic towards the government. He was imprisoned for 15 years before finally being released.”
“So did Isabelle finally find out?” I asked. The other two remained silent and kept their eyes fixed on Antoine.
“Even to this day she still believes that her father died a hero. It had been agreed by them both that they would keep the truth hidden from Isabelle so that her opinion of him wouldn’t be changed. Unfortunately, he stayed in prison for a lot longer than originally thought and the mother decided to tell her daughter a complete lie – changing all of their lives for good. After he was released he stayed away from Isabelle after finding out that she had a career in the military. He was disappointed that she had renounced her true purpose and didn’t want to ruin her career.”
“I see,” Aiden said. “That day had been significant because if the father had never been arrested then it is much more likely Isabelle would have never gone into working for the government. And I am going to guess that the man in this story is talking to us right now.”
I was taken aback by his accusation and swung around, failing to hide my panic. Had he lost his mind? I turned to Antoine, expecting him to retaliate against Aiden but instead he slouched in his chair and sighed deeply. Then I looked at how old he was and realised that the timeline did fit.
“I couldn’t let her know after all that time had passed and so I had to accept that she had moved on with her life. I never stopped loving her, you understand,” he said with a hint of guilt. “When I found out that she was working with the Captain I became interested again and followed their progress closely. I was determined to speak with her again now that she changed her mind but I couldn’t quite understand it. As much as I love my daughter, I can’t let her interfere with the Eleven. She hasn’t the right. I have no intention of harming her or getting her arrested, but I won’t stand for this nonsense.”
“What you’re trying to tell us is that you’re the proof we need,” Ollie said. “You were never going to rely on just the files alone. You are going to publicise your family connection if she doesn’t give in.”
“I have no other choice. She’s not the sweet little Virgo that I knew and I am not the same man that she will remember. Whatever my personal feelings I still have to do this.”
“Well this changes everything,” Aiden said, looking more tired than usual. I guessed he’d been under a lot of pressure the last few days and I could see it was taking its toll. “There’s a strong chance we’ll be able to make negotiations – and quickly. That’s assuming you aren’t found by anyone while we’re here.”
“I would doubt that very much,” Antoine said with a flicker of a smile. He seemed amused again. “I haven’t got anyone on my tail and no one will recognise me in this place. Even so, we don’t have very long. In fact, I’ve already put everything into motion.”
“What do you mean?” Ollie asked.
“You were right that we can’t just knock on the front door. But that doesn’t mean we can’t get inside,” Antoine said. “For some time now I’ve had someone I know keeping tabs on them and working from the inside. He’ll be the one to let them know that you will want to negotiate and he will make it clear that we can expose Isabelle at any minute. She won’t dare try and attack you without meeting with you first.”
“I see. That will buy us some time but it doesn’t change the facts. We have nothing to offer.”
“You hold all the cards here. I know my daughter well enough and she won’t challenge you until she knows what information you have. Isabelle will not struggle for long because she thinks that you’re trapped anyway. You will only have a few days to get away, and you will almost certainly get caught if you go back on land. In the meantime, she can find out all about what you may know. Unfortunately, she doesn’t know about me just yet.”
“So what happens to you while we’re busy getting the captain back?” Aiden asked.
“I’ve already arranged my travel arrangements. This house hasn’t been used for a long time but I don’t feel very safe here. Some places die with their owners. I will see you off to honour my contract and then I’ll be going myself. I will be keeping an eye out for what happens next, of course.”
“I guess we have no choice but to get on with it,” Ollie said after moving from the chair and finishing his coffee. “One way or another we’re going to be leaving this place tonight.”
“The moment I receive my phone call you will be going in for the talks. Until then, I think I’ll be having a drink of something strong.” Antoine said.