Hannah Firth

School: West Kilbride
 

Stay Alert

 

          I had one task.  Under the identity of Emily Tristia, representing an opposing company, I was to obtain Ralph Sternsbein’s passport and print a tracking device into it.  Just one task.

          He was my, and by extension, my organisation’s enemy.  Lately his schemes had become so twisted and dangerous that they had decided I was the one to stop him.

          As I strode briskly through the ornately decorated hallway, I paused to survey my appearance in a conveniently placed mirror.

          Good.  I looked neat, composed and business-like.  I felt confident: this is what I had been working towards for months.  I had designed a character, and now I was playing the part.

          Still, I couldn’t help a stab of anxiety as I clicked smoothly over the elegant floor.  For my whole life I had been playing it safe.  I took my time, waiting until they were at their weakest and then striking.

          Well, there was no time for that today.  I had four hours to carry out this task.  I was approaching the table where Sternsbein sat.

          He looked up and acknowledged me with almost dismissive respect.  “Tristia, I was wondering when you were going to arrive.”

          A horrifying millisecond of nothing…

          And then I was in control again.  “Ralph Sternsbein, it is a pleasure to meet you.”  Mentally I was rehearsing my neat diagrams of plans, remembering practising my ideas and excuses as my fingers trailed across the page.

          He shook my hand, and stood to pull my chair out with exaggerated courtesy, mocking me.  I pretended not to really notice; perhaps I allowed a flash of discomfort to show in my face.

          ‘Act intelligent and friendly, but naive to the cruel works of life,’ my mind told me.

          Sternsbein began to explain, with a confidence that matched my own, “The situation is difficult; we have been … rivals for so long.”

          My first plan had been to head for the conveniences, then double back to collect the passport and mark it, but I saw now that Sternbein would see through that.  He was quick witted, and knowledgeable with it.

          “At first you seemed very against this idea,” he continued, “but - I apologise if I am incorrect - now you are willing to consider?”

 

 

          I answered, “Quite correct, sir.  Yes, the situation is difficult, but this would greatly increase our opportunities.”

          As I was speaking, I saw the flash of a passport corner out of a coat hanging in the hall.  That must be it.

          “And now,” Sternsbein said, “why don’t you tell me why you are really here?”  Until then, I would have never believed such a soft, respectful voice could strike such fear inside me.

          ‘And above all,’ I remembered, ‘always stay alert.’

          Unrecognisable panic began rise inside me.  The consequences for failure would be severe, assuming I survived the consequences for working against him.

          Sternsbein sounded delighted, “You are of great renown!  How elegant, how neat, how fitting that I am the one who will finally bring about your death.  You always did play it safe.”

          “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I hissed.  It was so sudden.

          “Ah, but you do.” His voice had risen to a triumphant laugh, and I stared at him, wondering how he could be so easy, so certain of safety.  I glanced around, hoping someone had heard.

          Sternsbein gestured lazily at those who surrounded us. “Don’t bother begging them for help.  I paid them to close their ears and look away.  For them to just not notice that one, tiny little killing blow.  It didn’t take that much.  They didn’t want to get involved.”

          I sighed heavily.  “Of course you bribed them to allow you to kill me.  I assume you suspected me all along?”

          “I was certain you were not authentic, if that’s what you mean.  I didn’t realise that you were our great opponent.”  He tilted his head, eying me critically, “You don’t look much like a dangerous spy,” he shrugged, “but you'll still be fun to kill.”

          “You’re insane,” I spat.

          “I didn’t realise how powerful you were, but I suspected I would need to work against you.” He smiled, “You never know when someone may turn out to be your enemy.  You also disappointed me in that regard.  I was hoping you’d attempt get someone on your side.”

          “Maybe I did,” I said carefully, “I wouldn’t tell you, would I?”

          “A point well made,” he conceded, “but I happen to know that you have not.  You’re not as good as you think.”

          I smiled, trying to match his unnerving, strangely friendly confidence. “Perhaps, then, you should find someone more interesting to kill?”

          He laughed, “I do not think so.  No, however disappointingly unaware of danger you are, you still are accomplished at ruining our plans.  No.”

  

          “Well, then.” I said.  Then I picked up a knife from a neighbouring table and swung it at his arm.

          He leapt out of the way with an agility that send prickles of alarm down my spine.  I had chosen the wrong fight.   Instinctually, I changed the game, “You think that you know how to defeat me?  You may have guessed at who I was, but I knew who you were from the beginning.  I will win.”

          “Why so certain?  You’re just like normal humans.  You find the concept of dying unimaginable.  And that, ironically, will be your downfall.”

          “Do you even know what I’m here for?”

          There.

          The slight, irate movement in his eyelids gave it away.  He didn’t know.

          Which meant I still had a chance.

          So I twitched like an animal locked in the static centre of combat: the battle of wills, waiting for the right moment.  And then I ran.  Hopefully he would think that I was trying gain the advantage, and would wait instead of following me in direct pursuit.

          I crouched in among the dusty coats, suddenly feeling strangely exhilarated.  This was fun.

          He was blinded by his superiority, and he still had no idea what I was trying to do.  He thought I was hiding.

          My arm slithered innocently towards his coat.  I picked up a small splinter of something from the ground and threw it towards a decoration, detracting attention from myself.  Then I memorised the angle the passport was set at, pulled it from the coat pocket, taking care not to brush it against the edges and stamped the tracking device into it.  Success!

          I carefully replaced it, and moved swiftly through the dusty space, breathing slowly and silently.  Then I moved the coats, making an obvious clattering sound.  A knife flew through the air, stabbing into the ground beside me.

          How convenient, I thought.

          I needed to set a convincing scene.  The only choice was to use his nature against him.  I made a shallow cut in my arm.  Blood dripped on to the floor.  I pulled coats silently so they covered an open window then clambered loudly and swiftly up and struggled out, deliberately ensnaring a fragment of my clothes on the corner.

          And then I headed home to clean the deliberate cut on my arm and contact my leaders to inform them of my success.

 

 

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