eleventeen Chapter Two
I walked in the door, completely out of breath.
“Hello, Charlotte!” Evander said, reaching over and patting a third chair at their table. “We've got dinner almost ready. Won’t you sit down?”
I put my things down and sat down next to him. “Where’s Iuean?”
“He’s finishing the food up. Why?”
“Just wondering…” I sighed.
“Not really. I mean, the Puppeteer was a little annoying, but hey–”
“The Puppeteer?” Evander interrupted. “You work with him?”
“Well, sort of.”
Evander bit his lip nervously. “What do you do?”
“Secret keeping. The job itself requires quite a bit of research, however.”
He nodded, and was quiet for a moment. Then he spoke. “Can you do me a favor?”
“What type of favor?” I asked nervously.
Before Evander could continue, Iuean walked in, holding a casserole.
“Dinner is served!” He said, excitedly.
“It looks great,” Evander said, clearly forgetting about what he was talking about beforehand.
We ate rather quickly. It was one of those moments in time where, as opposed to conversation, all there was to observe was the quiet sounds of chewing and the lights buzzing, the warmth and homey aroma floating from the food surrounding you. It was a short moment, but one of the most calming moments that I had in a long time.
When we were finished, Iuean grinned. “Looks like you and Evander have dish duty, Charlotte!”
Evander laughed. “No, she’s our guest, Iuean. She’s had a long day, too.”
“It’s alright,” I said, “I should at least be helping around if I’m going to be staying here for a while.”
They shrugged, and at that moment it was decided. I would be staying here for as long as I could. Although I had my doubts, I was around seventy-five percent certain that Evander and Iuean were people to be trusted.
“So, you said you wanted a favor?” I asked, bringing a dish over to the sink.
“Right, the favor.” Evander seemed to take an extra amount of time making sure that every speck of casserole was off the plate. “Can you keep a secret?”
I snorted. “Perhaps you forget what I deal with, Mr. Heckley.”
“Of course, secret keeping. But can you?”
“Yeah. How do you think I keep my job?”
“I need you to get some documents from the Puppeteer’s office.”
Suddenly, all the trust that I thought I had in Evander and Iuean Heckley came crashing down around me.
“What?” I asked, taken aback.
“Are you gonna help me or not?” Evander said.
“I know what you’re up to,” I snarled. “You’re with the rebellion! You’re going to use me. You’re going to use me as your little toy, get some information, and then leave me.” I laughed shakily. “That’s what you were doing in the richer district, weren't you? You were trying to find a lone government worker and then use them!” I stepped back and said, “Well, I’m not going to comply. I’m going to turn you in, that’s what I’ll do!”
Evander grabbed me and covered my mouth. “Keep your voice down!” He hissed, looking left and right, as if to be sure nobody had heard. “The walls have ears.”
I rolled my eyes at such a cliché expression. “Then why haven’t you gotten caught yet?”
He sighed, and sat me down at the table. “If you tell anyone about what you’ve heard, you’ll get caught too. You aren’t supposed to be living with us, are you?” I shook my head. He continued, “Then we’ll both get in trouble.”
He got up. “Look, about what I said, just forget it. It was stupid of me to try to talk you into doing that.”
“It’s okay.” I murmured. “What exactly are you doing with the Rebellion anyway?”
“Promise you won’t turn me in?”
I nodded, because I now knew what it would entail for me.
“Iuean and I, we’re twins. Twins…they’re kind of looked down upon. You know, because one of us is always unexpected and therefore a bother. Iuean’s the younger, so he has it worse, I guess. But we’re still ridiculed. Pretty lame reason, but it’s true.”
“You’d kill people over something like that?”
“Kill people?” Evander was genuinely confused.
“All those people…September 29th, last year? In the park?”
“We never killed anyone…” Evander said. “We’re mainly peaceful – we don’t hurt anyone unless we’re provoked.”
“I don’t know, Charlotte. We have our suspicions, but we don’t know for sure.”
I stayed quiet for a minute. “Will my getting the documents help us find out?”
“Possibly. But I don’t want to force you into doing something you’re not comfortable doing…”
“I’ll do it.”
Evander nodded, and we finished the dishes in silence.
I slept fairly well that night, and sat down to eat breakfast with Evander and Iuean.
Before I walked out the door, Evander stopped me.
“You have a cover story, right? In case you get caught?” I nodded, and he continued. “It makes sense and can be thoroughly examined?”
“Yes, don’t worry.”
“Just try not to get caught.”
“I will,” I said, reassuring him.
“Good. Now don’t be late!”
I arrived on time, and to no surprises waiting for me. My office was empty, so I sat down and spun around in the chair. My conscience kicked in, and soon an internal interrogation began.
Am I doing the right thing? Really, I mean, is what I’m doing going to hurt anyone?
Evander said that they never wanted to kill people, but was he just saying that?
He couldn’t have known I was in the park a few months ago, could he?
I eventually quieted these thoughts by telling myself I had already promised him these documents. I couldn’t let him down. It was much too late for that.
I sighed, and set up my laptop, preparing to make the most out of my day. The Puppeteer would be back at his office from a meeting in exactly three hours. I had plenty of time to get into his office, get the documents, and escape.
Time. The one thing I never seemed to have enough of. What a tricky concept – time can make two years seem like an eternity, or a blink of an eye. I was constantly in need of time. I needed more time to solve these impossible equations, to spend time with Chris, to have time on my own…
I shook the thoughts away and got up. I would have to get moving in case something went wrong. Sure, three hours was an eternity to do such a quick task, but I needed some breathing room. So much could go wrong in so little time, and I couldn't afford to compromise anyone. Even though I wasn’t for the rebellion, Evander was right. If someone find out, we’d all be in trouble.
I made my office appear as if it was occupied, and I locked the door behind me and stepped out into the hallway. I slipped a sign around the door that read, “Important Business – Kindly Come Later!” I made sure that there was music just loud enough so that it could be heard outside. I crossed my fingers and took a deep breath, quietly praying to whatever deity was listening – and began the walk down the hall.
Fortunately for me, not many people had arrived yet. It was a little early for me to be there anyway, but I could always make some excuse. Besides, I was a bit of a workaholic anyway, so I had a bit of breathing room in that area. I hurriedly dashed up the staircase and down the hall to the Puppeteer’s office. So far, so good.
But then, I heard a creak from one of the doors up ahead. I gasped and jumped into one of the nearby closets, and shut the door.
“My dear, there’s not much else we can do. This whole front…it’s not very versatile. There are still rebels on the streets, as well. They could tell –” A familiar voice drifted down the hallway, one that belonged to everyone’s favorite masked man.
“Not if we increase security. Tighter curfew hours, more raids, the like. Fear is the quickest human emotion to set in.” A female voice, one I hadn’t heard in a long time. It belonged to the Queen. Steely, harsh, yet overwhelmingly feminine, her voice was one that would stay in your mind for a very long time.
“That’s a valid point. However, I do have some solutions as well, if things get worse.”
“If things get worse?”
“Yes, I do believe I’ve told you about our little rebel, correct?”
By that point, however, the Puppeteer’s voice was far out of reach. ‘Our little rebel’. What could he mean by that? Surely not me – I had signed into a hotel under my real name, and I had checked and double checked to be sure that nobody knew about where I went, unless Eva?
No, she couldn’t have. There was no way she could have seen Evander and Iuean. I was far enough away so that she couldn’t see. It was impossible. But there was no other way…
I couldn’t get too caught up on this now, however. I’d just have to get the documents, and get out. I counted to ten before throwing open the door, and dashed down the hallway until I reached the Puppeteer’s door. I jiggled the knob – locked. No problem, I decided, making quick use of a bobby pin that held my unruly hair in place. Hearing a satisfying click, I threw open the door and shut it quietly behind me. My shoes clicked across the tile floor, the cold air raising goose bumps on my arms. I made my way over to the Puppeteer’s desk, and knelt down.
“Do you know where the documents are?”
“Right behind the desk, about a foot off the ground, there should be a tear in the wall paper. Tear it, but only a little. There should be a safe dial.”
“Do you know the combination?”
How comforting… I thought. Following Evander’s instructions, I found the dial. I tried the first combination that came to mind:
1 – 20 – 0
It worked. I grinned.
“Is there anything in particular I should grab?”
“There’s two manila folders in there. Take them both, but leave the folders behind. If you can, find other papers to replace the ones you took.”
I took out the documents, and hastily replaced them with some papers on the Puppeteer’s desk. I folded the documents and put them in my pocket. I debated between snooping around to find out a little more information, but I decided that I had done enough and, after a quick moment to be sure that I had left everything nearly identical to how I had found it, I left.
I jumped slightly. I looked up to see Maloney in the doorway of my office. “Oh, hey, Maloney.”
He grinned. “Sorry about that.” He looked at me. “Are you feeling okay?”
I nodded. “I’m fine, thanks. Just a little tired.”
“Join the club. I mean, my job isn’t as stressful as secret keeping, but since I’ve started I don’t think I’ve had a proper sleep in months.” He walked in. “So what’re you working on?”
“New formula, they just gave me it a few days ago.”
“Did they tell you what it’s for, or did they just tell you to solve it?”
“They just need a solution, by…” I looked over at the calendar. “November 23rd.”
“So not for a while yet?”
“That depends on your definition of a while. Relatively speaking, six months isn’t that long a time.”
“I’m sure you’ll figure it out before hand.”
We stayed silent for a moment, but then I spoke. “Thanks for stopping in.” I said, shattering the silence that had started to fall over the room.
“Ah, no problem. I just noticed you seemed a little lonesome, that’s all.”
“Me, lonesome?” I gave a cynical laugh. Goodness, I seemed so harsh…but I was at my wits end; who wouldn’t be?
“Yeah, cooped up here with your boxes of research and your laptop doesn’t seem like the most social thing to be doing.” He grinned. “I kinda took it upon myself to become your friend.”
“Oh, excuse me? If I wasn’t mistaken, I believe I talked to you first…” We laughed for a bit, and then we grew quiet. “Hey, didn’t you have something to tell me?” I asked.
“That’s right! So I was wondering –” Maloney was cut off by the emergency alarm. He let out a very small, exasperated sigh, and we gathered our things and ran out of the building.
“What do you think happened now? We didn’t have a drill scheduled for today, did we?”
“No, I don’t think so. Maybe…maybe someone just felt like pulling a prank.”
Unlikely. Nobody would dare pull a prank. Our workplace was like a clock – if someone sticks a prank in the gears, we could easily break and stop working. There was clearly another force at work here. I gulped, remembering the ‘rebel problem’ from earlier. Am I just paranoid, or…?
We reached the Emergency Situation Holding Station, but everyone else just called it the Panic Room. I sat down next to Chris and the new girl, Mary Claire, I think her name was. She was nice enough, but I didn’t feel the safest around her. There wasn’t as much trust as I had between Imogen and Daniel, that’s for sure.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” The Puppeteer announced. “We have horrible news. The rebels grow closer, and we fear that they have infiltrated our community. They could be among us, this very moment, incognito…”
“Then why bring it up, if they’re here?” Someone shouted.
“Indeed,” The Puppeteer said dryly, “Why bring it up? To tell them we’re onto them, that even they cannot bring down the mighty Lindonian Empire! Just let them believe that they’re going to win, encourage them to take us down!”
A wave of silence flew across the assembled. Chris leaned over. “He’s so confident in us, even with the rebellion. Simply inspiring…”
Even with all his shortcomings, the Puppeteer never lost the moment to tell the world of his mighty empire. Sure, he let the poor starve and the weak fend for themselves, but he made sure that his prized were kept safe. Simply inspiring, indeed.