The Shadow of Rebellion
Kimble struggled against the grabbing mud at her heels. Panic overruled her senses and she gasped in the darkness. They were coming for her! She couldn't run. She couldn't scream. In a wild spasm she broke free and her hand fell on fabric.
A sheet, damp with sweat.
She closed her fist around it and forced herself to breathe in, though the sour air caught in her throat and made her gag.
Light. She unclenched her fingers from the sheet to turn on the lamp. The closet door loomed across from her, draped with a clean uniform. Her roommate's pets shifted in their cages on the wall. Dilly's bed was next to hers, empty.
"Dilly?" she whispered.
Kimble shivered. She slipped out of her clammy bed and itched her elbow. Dilly was not in the room. No one was supposed to leave their room after curfew, and Dilly always abided by the rules. She must have had a good reason to risk her good reputation.
Had she left because of Kimble's nightmares? Her dreams often caused her to groan and call out, and Dilly was a light sleeper. Kimble winced and sank to the end of the bed.
The door broke open with a bang. Kimble jerked her head up. Dilly jumped inside and fumbled with the lock for a long moment before it finally clicked shut.
Her friend's face was in shadow, but her sharp breathing betrayed her. Fear ducked into the room.
"What's wrong?" Kimble asked urgently.
Dilly didn't answer right away. She hurried over to her wall of animal cages and knelt in front of one of the smaller doors. She gently pulled out a snoring ball of fluff, which she held to her cheek.
"Dilly--" Kimble began, folding her arms.
Dilly slumped on her bed. "Someone is creeping around the halls out there," she said at last.
Kimble sat up straighter. "What? What are you talking about?"
Dilly looked away. "I-- I couldn't sleep, so I just went out in the hall to stretch my legs. But all the lights went out, and then I heard someone sneak past me in the dark! I'm sure they were up to no good." She twisted her fingers in the animal's long fur.
Kimble frowned. "All the lights went out? That is strange. They're supposed to be hard-wired..." She got up and opened the door.
Sure enough, darkness filled the hall. Kimble looked both ways. To the right, she could see a distant cross-hall with the ceiling panels glowing as usual, but on the left, the hall faded into black. "Weird. No one should have been able to turn them off," she whispered.
Dilly came up behind her, still stroking her pet frantically. "And what about the person I heard?"
"I'll check it out. It was probably just another student, out to stretch her legs or something."
"In the dark?"
Kimble shrugged. "There's got to be a reasonable explanation. Don't worry about it. I'll be right back." She snatched her gun off the dresser and slipped into the silent hall, and began to run. She trailed her fingertips on one wall to guide her, but she couldn't see where her feet hit the floor.
When she came to an intersection, she stopped to catch her breath. Both halls were pitch black. She strained her ears, but her pounding heart drove away all other possible sounds.
Then the lights suddenly blazed to life. Kimble covered her eyes with her palms and groaned. She had to find out what was going on. She had to get to the utility room. She blinked a few times in the intense light, then turned and ran again.
It was odd to be out at this hour, when all the STEW agents slept and all the halls were empty. She felt as exposed as a crater on the moon. She almost wished the lights would go out again and hide her.
When she reached the heavy door to the utility room, she was dismayed to find it locked. She rattled the handle and tried a code in the keypad, but the door refused to budge. She had forgotten to bring her computer unit, so she couldn't pick the lock. She turned and found a woman staring at her. A hall monitor.
"Agent 1121, is it?" the woman said. Her eyes narrowed. "What are you doing? Don't you know the rules? You ought to by now."
"The lights went out in my hall, and I came to check it out." Kimble swallowed. It sounded so trivial now.
The monitor rolled her eyes. "The lights cannot be changed. Even the Headmaster can't turn them off. They're designed to stay on always, even during emergencies."
"Of course I know that, but somehow they were turned off. I was going to check the computer system to see if anyone had hacked into it. Someone was sneaking around the halls--"
"Yes, I noticed," the monitor said, and frowned at Kimble. "You will receive a warning this time, but next time I find you wandering about past curfew, you won't get off so easily."
"But I was just trying to find out what was wrong! At least let me see the utility system!" Kimble hated pleading with the smug monitor, but she had to know what was going on.
The monitor jangled her keys. "I don't have to let you in there. In fact, I shouldn't. I should march you right back to your room and stand guard outside the door."
Kimble clenched her fists. It was all she could do to hold back a sharp reply.
The monitor sighed and motioned Kimble out of the way. She grumbled as she fiddled with the lock until it clicked and the door shifted.
Kimble pushed past the monitor and entered the humming room. She bent over the main computer screen.
The monitor leaned against the wall and folded her arms. "Well?"
Kimble scanned the utility files. Nothing was out of place. The computer registered that the lights were on the entire time. "Whoever it was must have hacked into the computer system," she said. "And they covered their tracks completely."
"Face it, girl, you dreamed it," scoffed the monitor. "The lights can't be turned off."
Kimble shook her head. "I'm not the only one who saw it." She logged out and turned away from the computer.
"Then I'll have to report that several students are experiencing hallucinations. I always knew the pressure was too much around here. Maybe final exams did you in." The monitor leaned forward. A hint of sympathy creased her forehead for a moment, but it was soon covered with contempt. "Maybe I'll be next. Everyone knows I have way too much to deal with in the middle of the night."
Kimble tapped her gun on the wall and glared at the monitor. "I'll talk to the administrator about it tomorrow. This isn't normal."
"You're just paranoid. Now go to your room and don't come back out!"
Kimble watched the hall monitor secure the room again. There was nothing more she could do tonight. She could only go back to bed and hope that her nightmares stayed away for the rest of the night.
Kimble focused on her opponent. His lanky form made it difficult to pin him down, and he enjoyed taunting her with glib remarks about her height. He wasn't more than an inch and a half taller, but he was also growing like a vine. He would end up a giant, most likely, and he knew it.
Still, he was several years younger and overly confident. Easy prey.
He dove towards her with his knife extended. She batted him aside as if he were only a rowdy kitten, and hooked his ankle with her boot. He sprawled on the mat at her feet. She touched the tip of her knife to his ear. "Nice try, wise guy," she said. "Your feet are as big as your mouth."
He groaned. "Why do I have to be so clumsy?" He rubbed his shin and frowned.
"I've got to get back to my exams, Danny. We'll practice again tomorrow." Kimble sheathed her weapon.
"Aw, can't we do it just one more time?" His gray eyes grew large. "Please?"
"Sorry, can't do that. I've got to graduate first." She grinned. She was ready to move on to bigger missions as a level five agent. No more decoding endless documents and training first-year students.
Her computer unit buzzed. What now? She glanced at it. An emergency meeting had been called for only select students, and she was ordered to come to the conference room at once.
She looked back at her pupil. Danny was still sitting on the mat, picking at his boot-laces. She snatched up her shoulder bag and dashed out the door without another word to him.
She ran through the halls of the STEW Academy, her bag thumping against her leg every step of the way. A secret meeting! Could this be about a new mission?
She slowed as she passed the library, next to the conference room. Several other STEW agents were already standing in the hall. She stepped towards them, but someone grabbed her arm. "Kimble! Wait!" It was her brother, Angle. She allowed him to pull her into a corner of the library entrance.
"What's going on?" Kimble demanded.
Angle looked into the hall. More agents were gathering by the conference room. "It's about the meeting," he said. "I talked to Banu already. He's really upset." His gaze flickered between her and the other agents.
Kimble put her hands on her hips. "And?"
He rubbed his face. "He wants you to lead a team of agents--"
"That's good news, isn't it?" Kimble said eagerly. "I've been hoping for something like this!"
"No... you don't understand." He closed his eyes. "The M2 document. It's been stolen."
Kimble grimaced. She turned away from him and leaned against the wall. "Great," she muttered. "Just great."
"I know you've been in charge of that project since the Headmaster was arrested," Angle said from the shadows.
"So, it's my responsibility to get it back, right?" Kimble clenched her teeth. "Oh, this is wonderful."
Angle put a hand on her shoulder. She shrugged it off. Then she lifted her head and started towards the meeting room across the hall, but Angle grabbed her again.
"That's not all," he said. "There's something else you need to know."
Kimble folded her arms.
"The document disappeared last night, so few clues have turned up already, but the preliminary evidence points to a notorious thief called 'The Slippery One,' named so for his uncanny ability to slip in and out of the most high-security government institutions without ever getting caught. He escapes without a trace every time."
"And what does all that have to do with me?" she challenged.
Angle's electric eyes locked with hers. "The Slippery One is our father."