Once the five minutes are up I wipe my eyes and join the others. I avoid their gaze as I take my seat between agents #6 and #5.
The boy takes my hand under the table. I glance at him and see that he looks sad and concerned over me. I glance at the others. They seem the same way. I look away.
“Guys, I’m fine,” I tell them quietly, yet firmly. “We should get to work…”
There is silence for a moment, then Mud stands.
“Now here is how we are going to capture #3’s so called brother,” Mud begins. “As you all now know, he is not actually #3’s brother. You also knew him as Agent #7… we are not going to call him either of those things anymore because he is neither.” Mud looks over at me. “Agent #3 you told me that he knows your real name. Did he tell you his?”
After a moment of hesitation, I nod.
“Ok. What did he say it is?” Mud asks.
I swallow hard. “Ryder.”
“’Ryder’. Ok. Thank you. I seriously doubt that Ryder is his real name. He would have been very foolish to use his real one, but, for simplicity’s sake, we will call him Ryder. Understand?”
Mud smirks. “Excellent. Now, Ryder is on his way through the valley right now to a secure base near the north end of the ruined city. Tonight, he, along with his party, will be spending the night in a tower not to far from here. Now you are all here because this plan has many roles, so listen carefully. I want agents #4 and #6 to take the most powerful chargers they can handle and take a position on the building across the street.”
He points to a spot on the map.
“From here, you should be able to give us the best cover fire possible. The rest of us will be going inside the tower itself. Ryder will be staying on the forth floor. We will move as quietly as possible through the building to reach him. When we find him, we need to make sure we take him alive. I don’t really care what happens to the rest of the Octarians, but we must take Ryder alive. Agents #3 and #5 will come with me to capture Ryder while agents #1 and #2 go after the other Octarians. As soon as we have the target, we knock him out with a sleeping drug and carry him back here to be questioned. Understood?”
Everyone nods in agreement.
“Good! Hoo boy, that was a lot of talking.”
Marie takes it from there.
“Better get your gear ready guys. We leave in one hour.”
We all go to the armory while agents #1, #2 and Mud stay behind to talk.
As we walk off Agent #4 turns to me, saying, “Hey, you going to be ok? I cannot imagine this will be easy for you.”
A sigh escapes me. “I’m not sure, to be honest. One day I’m finding out we have a secret agent within the secret agency, the next day I’m finding out my brother is not my brother but a spy. I’m a bit overwhelmed right now.”
#5 puts his hand on my shoulder. “Don’t worry, we have your back. Your confusion is our confusion.”
“Yah!” agent #6 chimes in. “We are a team, and we stick together!”
“Thanks guys, I really appreciate it.” I smile gently, comforted by their words.
Two hours later we stand outside the ruin of a big tower. It can hardly be called a tower anymore. It appears the top of the building had caught fire and collapsed, and not that long ago by the looks of things. Agents #4 and #6 are already in position to cover us across the street in a different building.
“All clear guys. we have your backs.” #4 tells us through the radio.
#2 responds. “Good work guys. Keep an eye on the fourth floor.”
“On it!” replies #6.
The rest of the team moves into the structure. It is dark and cold inside, and the smell of burnt everything hits me like a train.
#5 coughs then whispers, “Whoa, it smells horrible in here!”
“Sorry, that was my fault,” explains Mud. “I had a mission here a few years back.”
#5 and I share an alarmed look.
We waste no time and find the stairs. When we reach the fourth floor agent #6 comes over the radio.
“We see at least five Octarians by a camp fire in a big room near the middle of the floor,” she says, “and looks like…three…four others walking around.”
“Thanks guys.” #1 whispers. #1 and #2 go towards the area that agent six explained, while Mud agent Five and myself move to a different part of the floor. #1 and #2 are not going to attack until we have Ryder. We move through the smelly ruins, it isn’t long before the footsteps of the walking Octarians is heard. They are coming towards us. We run into the closest room and hide. We watch one Octarian walk past the door, then another, then an Octoling and finally, an Inkling. Who else could it be but Ryder. My heart feels like it stops completely as the Inkling I once called my brother almost walks right by us… almost.
Mud doesn’t hesitate. He rushes out and grabs Ryder by the collar and drags him into the dark. He’s clapped his hand over the traitors mouth, so Ryder can’t make any sound. The enemy doesn’t notice their friend get taken.
Mud is holding Ryder down on the floor. Ryder is struggling, but still can’t cry out. I move to help hold our prisoner down. #5 is doing something, but I don’t know what.
As I start grabbing Ryder, he suddenly goes very still. I lock eyes with him. He’s staring at me. I stare back sadly for a moment. Then I feel anger. My face hardens and Ryder’s eyes widen in fear.
Mud pulls his hand away from Ryder’s mouth, but before the prisoner can shout out, #5 holds a cloth over Ryder’s mouth and nose.
I back off and the boy begins struggling again. It’s futile though. After a moment Ryder slows, his eyes begin to droop, and, once again, his struggling stops. He looks up at me before falling unconscious.
“Finally,” Mud mutters. He picks up Ryder and roughly puts the prisoner over his shoulder. I find myself wishing he would be a little more careful.
“He was easier to capture than I expected,” #5 admits as he wipes his brow. “I thought #7 was tougher than that.” Mud gives #5 a stern look. #5 swallows before correcting himself. “Er, I thought Ryder was tougher than that.”
Mud nods. “Let’s get out of here. #1, #2, #4, #6, my team is ready to get going. How are we looking out there?”
“You’re all clear,” answers #1. “We took them out nice and quick. You should have seen their faces!”
“Noice, Cal. Let’s all meet at the tower base. #4 and #6, stay put and meet up with us after you see us exit the tower.”
Two and a half hours later we’re back at Mud’s hide out.
Ryder had started to wake up earlier, but we drugged him again. Mud sets the prisoner in a chair and he and #4 tie Ryder down.
I move to the bedroom and collapse onto the bed, burying my face in the pillow. I feel awful. Anger and sadness and fatigue overwhelm me. Others come and go from the room, but I ignore them. I don’t know how long I lay there before #2 sits on the edge of the bed and puts a hand on my shoulder.
“Splat?” She says. She surprises me by using my real name. “Ryder is waking up. Mud wants us all to be there when we question him.”
I sit up slowly and look at her. I’ve been crying and by #2’s expression I can tell that it shows. She puts her arms around me.
I choke. “Why- why- how could he hurt me like this? Why would anyone manipulate a person like he did? Marie, I don’t understand.”
“I know. I know. People can be cruel. They don’t care about others, only themselves.” She strokes my head. “People like that don’t deserve your care. I know you care about him, but, and this will be hard for you to hear, but he clearly doesn’t care about you.”
I shut my eyes tight and shudder. “I… I know. I can’t help caring about him though. He feels like my brother now… he basically is.”
Marie nods. “It will take time, but everything will be ok. Come on. The others are waiting on us.” She lets go of me and helps me dry my eyes. Then we join the others in the mission room.
“Ok guys!” Mud says. “Ryder is in the next room. Before we question him, I want to go over the plan with you. You remember that I mentioned Fort Stronghold?”
We all nod.
“The Great Zaplfish has been taken there and our mission is to rescue it. Stronghold is the most difficult place to get into in the whole valley, but it does have a weakness. Underneath the walls are old tunnels, the same ones that connect to this station. We can get a team to sneak in right under their noses, but we need to go in small numbers, or else we’ll get caught. We will also need a team to stay here and keep an eye on the prisoner.”
“So who stays and who goes?” inquires #6.
“I think #1, #2, and I should go,” Mud answers. “You guys should stay here and guard our friend.”
#1 shakes her head. “Sorry, Mud. We need to get back to Inkopolis. People are going to start wondering where we are.”
“Also, we shouldn’t leave Ryder here,” puts in #2. “We should take him back to Inkopolis. #1 and I can’t take him on our own though. We’ll need some of the other agents.”
Mud sighs. “Oookkkk…..” He looks to me. “I understand. #3, your Octoling friend was captured right?”
I stiffen and so do agents #1 and #2. Numbers 4-6’s eyes widen and they look at Mud then at me.
I swallow hard before answering. “Yes. She was.”
Mud is eyeing the others. “Uh, they did know that your friend is an Octoling… right?”
“No we didn’t!” exclaims #4.
#6 put in, “All we knew was that she was someone who works with the agency through #3.”
“And,” says #5, “that she lives with #3 and they are good friends.”
Mud stands there awkwardly for a moment. “Ohhh….. oops. Well, now you know! We apparently have an agent that’s an Octoling! Now that that’s cleared up, #3 there is a chance that your friend could be held in Stronghold. I should not do this alone, so you wanna go on a mission?”
I nod. “Sure I’ll go.”
“Why can’t some of us go as well?” asks #4.
“The more people we have, the more likely we’ll be caught. She has more experience than you. Finally, I want you three to go with #1 and #2. You three help them get Ryder back to Inkopolis and protect my cousins!”
“Excuse me?” #2 begins sassilly. “I can protect myself very well, thank you.”
“Oh lighten up!” laughs #1 as she hugs Mud’s arm. “I think it’s sweet that he’s concerned about us.”
Mud gives #1 a distasteful look. “Please let go of me,” he requests. “We need to focus.” #1 does as he says and Mud gets back to business.
“So here’s the rundown. We are going to go question Ryder for information about Fort Stronghold and why he turned traitor. Then #3 and I will prepare to infiltrate the fort and rescue the Zaplfish while the rest of you take the prisoner back to Inkopolis. Any questions?”
There are none.
“Great! Now, let’s get some answers!” Mud rolls up his sleeves and motions for us to follow him.