The team had watched the family for another half an hour, until Kitt had stopped the live feed to give the core the full specs on the family.
Jacque Mathaise was the head of the family. He worked in the local industrial vehicle firm, and left early in the morning to catch a lift to his office, only returning just in time for dinner.
Benita Mathaise, Jacque's wife, and the children's mother, was a head nurse in the local private hospital. She was intelligent, and would have made a wonderful doctor, save for the fact that she preferred to spend time with the patients awake and recuperating than in an operating theatre or private practice.
Then there were the kids; all four of them. Gabriella was the eldest. At eleven years old, she was considered to be a genius by some adults, and a geeky, nerdy know-it-all by others.
Charlotte and Daniel were the life of the family. Nine-year-old twins, they were a package deal; mischievous proof that dynamite comes in small packages.
Little Marian had the whole family wrapped around her little finger. The angelic two-year-old was a dream for the family to look after. She seldom woke up in the night, and was almost never any trouble.
Gabriella attended the local private high school, and the twins attended the third grade in the junior section of the same private school. Mariah stayed at home, where she was watched by the housekeeper/babysitter, a warm-hearted woman named Eliza. Eliza was a fantastic multi-tasker; taking care of Mariah's every need while managing the house expertly. She was practically a part of the family, having babysat all four of the kids.
He watched as Gabriella entered the classroom filled with ninth-graders on the first day of the new term, and noted that the moment she passed the homeroom teacher's desk, almost all conversation immediately stopped, and the little girl seemed to shrink under the cold gazes of the teens. The teacher looked up, and flashed the now quiet class a death glare that would send Billy running for cover, before smiling encouragingly at the stone-faced eleven-year-old. He was rather saddened to see that the sadness and despair were very evident on her young face. According to most modern research, once children found that their behaviour had an effect on a weaker child, they became more and more unkind, in order to assert their dominance and prevent the other person's retaliation.
Very much like wild animals. Aren't humans supposed to be the higher intelligence? This is cruel…
For the rest of the day he watched. It only seemed to get worse, but he couldn't see if the children did anything – there were few cameras in the hallways between classes, as the school, being so small, was only two stories, and it was mostly open-plan as well. Every time the class changed buildings or classrooms, she entered the next more depressed, or closer to tears than when she had left the previous one. However, he did notice the teachers' attempts to console her and make her feel even the least bit better. One even asked her what was wrong. She had simply shaken her head, and returned to her seat.
He was intrigued to learn the entire school was released for recess, and later lunch break, at the same time. Gabriella exited the classroom and Kitt was just about to accept that the little girl was going outside to enjoy the cool autumn morning when his camera in the school's small library picked up her small figure. She chose a number of books before sitting down in a corner and losing herself in Computer Programming for Dummies. He was about to access the librarian's computer to see what else she had borrowed when Sarah and Mike entered the SSC.
"Hey Kitt, whatcha doin'?" Sarah asked, curiosity getting the better of her.
" I am observing Miss Mathaise's activities at school. It is quite disturbing."
"Whaddya mean, Kitt? They teaching the kids the wrong things in that school?" Mike looked worried until Kitt elaborated.
"No, Michael, in fact the standard of education here is rather high, considering what I have observed today. What worries me is the other students' treatment of her. They are very cold and unfriendly, and she seems very hurt at their behaviour."
To prove his point, he brought up various clips from that day, and put them on the new 'big screen'.
Mike and Sarah watched the clips, and by the time the last one was finished, both looked horror-struck. Finally, Mike broke the silence.
"Well, at least the teachers are nice to her…"
"Mike! She's eleven, and the only people that speak to her on a regular basis are adults, or her family!"
Sarah was fuming at the downright rudeness of the other students.
"I mean, even when I was ahead of my class in fifth grade I still had friends! Barely anyone in the entire school was that cold!"
Mike saw an opportunity to lighten Sarah's mood, and grabbed it with both hands, knowing that she would stay grumpy for the rest of the day if something wasn't done soon.
"Awww, come on, you had me! Wasn't I enough?"
Sarah took one look at his attempt to imitate a kicked puppy and started laughing outright.
"What the… hehehe… what are you… hahaha… trying to do… hehehe!"
Mike dropped the expression like a brick, knowing that his job was done.
"See? I'm a great friend! I mean, who else can cheer you up within seconds?"
Sarah chuckled, but then seemed to remember what they were talking about.
"Mike, she may be a genius, but every person needs at least one person to confide in. For me, that was you, and you had me, but she doesn't seem to have anyone!"
"Sarah, she may vent her feelings in a regular diary, or to her family. We have not been watching her for long; maybe she does have a friend who is not at school today."
Sarah scoffed, "Yeah, it's perfectly normal for kids to be absent on the first day of school." She shook her head. " No, I get the feeling that only the teacher's really care about what Gabriella does… and even they have limits."
He could see that Sarah was really concerned about the little girl, the fact that the little girl was also highly intelligent making her empathise and compare her treatment as a child to Gabriella's. He tried to think of a way to distract her with a problem she could solve to help the small girl, but came up with nothing. So he decided to try another approach.
"Hey, Sarah, have you finished the designs for the new earwig we're going to use on Gabriella? Last time I checked, you were having a couple of problems with the circuits and relays."
His misdirection worked like a charm, and soon Sarah was prattling on about wire thickness and satellite reception, and all sorts of other things that only a programming/computer geek would truly understand. As he watched Sarah, he absently thought about the little girl, and idly wondered if she too became animated when she spoke to others about the projects she probably worked on.
Suddenly, Mike remembered something. "Hey, Sarah! Just hold up for a second there! These new earwigs… Aren't they going to be two-way? Don't you think there'll be a slight problem when the child starts hearing voices?"
Sarah giggled manically at Mike's expression. " No, Mike. Yes, the earwig will be two-way, but we can specially adapt it before we install it- we'll completely mute the receiving speaker so that it'll never actually make any accidental transmissions audible."
Mike relaxed at Sarah's explanation. " Oh, good. So, how soon are we gonna be able to implant this earwig, huh? The medics have bin getting kinda antsy- they're ready to go, and are getting' sick of the delays."
Sarah beamed, and Mike could practically see her glowing with pride. " Two weeks, tops! We only have a couple of bugs to work out, and then we send in the team to set it up."
"That's great! I'm gonna tell Dr Clarke, OK? He's been a little worried about a couple of things, maybe this good news'll cheer him up a bit." Mike grinned at Sarah and Kitt, and strode purposefully in the direction of the medical wing.
*** Sarah's pov ***
As soon as Mike turned the corner, Sarah rounded on Kitt. "Ok, mister, what's bugging you? You've been quiet all day. You know you can talk to any one of us, right?" Her voice was playfully stern, but she soon sobered when Kitt seemed to be thinking something over. "Kitt?""Sarah, upon receiving Gabriella's files from the local hospital, I have discovered a slight problem. Gabriella has a moderate to severe allergy to codeine, which is a main component in many anaesthetics and other painkillers, relaxants and anti-inflammatory medications. Would you please inform the medical team? This could have serious side-effects if used in the procedure to implant the earwig."
Sarah grinned wryly. "Nice try, Kitt, but I know that that's not what's bothering you. Besides, you can tell the team yourself, seeing as you have full access to the room's cameras and other equipment. So, what's up?"
When Kitt didn't reply immediately, Sarah began to grow worried. Finally, Kitt spoke."Sarah, I believe that you will need to see this in order to understand." Before Sarah could respond, Kitt opened his driver's side door, and tinted his windows until they were almost black. "I will show this to you in my cabin, as this should remain confidential unless deemed otherwise."
Sarah sat down in Kitt's driver's seat, and the door closed quietly. A window opened on the HUD, but Kitt spoke quietly before playing the recorded footage, "As you know, I record and file every cameras perspective for future references, but do not really actively observe the footage unless my sensors alert me to an important occurrence. This footage was recorded last night, at about two in the morning."
The clip began to play, and Sarah soon realized that the clip was of a sleeping Gabriella. At first, everything was normal, but about thirty seconds into the clip, the tiny body on the bed began to thrash, and soon after that, Sarah was shocked to hear the little girl begin to whimper, and then scream outright. Soon after the screaming began, both her parents rushed into the room and attempted to wake her, but to no avail. Eventually, they seemed to settle with holding her while she shrieked, until she finally calmed and slept peacefully once more. Kitt ended the programme, and Sarah turned to look at Kitt's voice modulator with wide eyes.
"She slept quite soundly after that incident, but this morning she slept through her alarm- worrying, because it rings very loudly, and carries on for about ten minutes, changing alarms every minute or so. She refuses to speak to anyone about what the dreams are about, but she does remember them very clearly, according to her psychologist's report, and no sleeping-medication seems to have an effect. She began having these nightmares when she was about five years old, and they leave her physically drained and exhausted. The family records the occurrences of the dreams in a journal for her local doctor, and, as far as I can see, there is no pattern."
Sarah seemed to contemplate for a minute, and then she turned to Kitt with a determined gleam in her eyes. " Kitt, I know that you didn't really want to break into any local computer networks here, but I need you to get any and all data on Gabriella that you can: photographs, medical records, newspaper reports, comments; the works- anything on the Internet as well. We'll probably have to show this to Dr Clarke, the medical team and my dad; this will probably affect our plans for installing the tracer."
When she saw that Kitt had already started the process of hacking the local hospital's network, Sarah smiled at Kitt, then exited his cabin and set off in the direction of her father's office. She didn't know why, but Kitt's observations seemed frighteningly familiar, but she couldn't for the life of her remember where she'd seen something similar before. She knew, however, that whatever it was wasn't normal, or good either, for that matter.'Oh well, maybe dad will know why this feels so weird.'
She sat in her usual corner of the library, the one furthest from the door, reading her book. The first time she had been chased into the school library by bullies in fifth grade, she had thought she had died and gone to heaven. Few people regularly visited the library, and those that did soon learned that disturbing a highly intelligent nine-year-old when she was researching could be very bad for their health.
After her fifth in-school visit, she had come after school one day, and had spent about two hours finding the perfect reading spot. The librarian, Mrs. Bevis, was extremely warm and accommodating, and Gabriella had been delighted to discover that her sense of humour was as wicked and twisted as she herself loved books. The woman always did her best to help the young girl when she was looking for something, and had willingly listened to the small child's ideas and opinions on books she had read and the library itself. Over the course of one week, the two had worked to make the small corner a perfect place to read, or just disappear for a few minutes.
Suddenly, the bell rang, signalling the end of the short break. Gabriella stood, packed away her books, and made her way out of the library, making sure to greet Mrs Bevis on the way out. She quickly made her way to class, and got out her books, but by the time the teacher entered the classroom her smile was gone, and so was her attention. Said teacher, a Mrs Esmé Strafes, just smiled and continued with her lesson- the little genius had already learned all the ninth-grade coursework, as well as the optional, extra-difficult credit course, and was now halfway through the next year's syllabus. At the rate she was going, she would be skipping straight into the eleventh grade the next year.
As she worked through the equations she was working on, Gabriella's mind strayed to the conversation her mother had had with her a few days previously. Apparently, due to the rate she was learning at, her teachers wanted her to move onto the tenth grade syllabus. There was one small problem, however; moving on in the syllabus would require her to write her end of year examinations as the rest of the class wrote their mid-years. This she wasn't worried about– she had never been afraid of exams, nor was she afraid of failing. No, what troubled her was that she would have to choose which electives she would study. The problem was, well– she had decided that she wanted to take most, if not all, of them.
The school, due to its small size, offered only a limited selection of subjects. English, Afrikaans, Life Orientation (including Physical Education) and Religious Education were all compulsory, and then students had to choose between Biology and Computer studies, Pure Science (Physics and Chemistry) and Geography, Higher and Lower-grade Mathematics and Accountancy, Art (strictly visual and dramatic) and Business Studies. The school also offered a few 'extra' classes: French, German, and Music (vocal and/or instrumental).
Gabriella had spoken with her teachers, and had decided that, in total, she wanted to study: English, Afrikaans, French, German, Higher Maths (which included Lower-grade Maths as well), Biology, Computer Studies, Pure Science, Geography, Accountancy, Music (piano, theory and choral vocals), Life Orientation and Religious Studies. Her teachers had agreed that she could study everything, but that she would have to come up with a timetable that they could work with, and this was proving to be tricky.
Her parents, ever encouraging, had also agreed to allow her to study as many subjects as she wanted, provided she could handle the workload and that she still attended her tri-weekly martial arts classes as well. They firmly believed that Gabriella should be strong not only academically, but physically, too, and Gabriella agreed wholeheartedly. The martial arts allowed her to work off frustration and negative energy, and were fulfilling in their own right, as well as being thoroughly enjoyable and exhilarating.
When the teachers had first given her the job of working out her timetable, their had been a few stipulations. Generally, the accepted timetable worked so that there were five one-hour lessons of Maths and English each week, four one-hour lessons for each elective and Afrikaans, one hour for Religious Education, and two one-hour lessons for Life Orientation, which was split into Phys Ed and 'Life Lessons'.
However, everyone knew that Gabriella was a special case. Languages came naturally to her, so all her language teachers had decided that three hours a week would suffice, as long as she still had the mandatory five hours of English. Music, too, came easily, and the school had a senior choir, which Gabriella sang in twice a week, and a junior choir, for which she played the piano- the theory she did during both lessons, and for homework. Still, that left the martial arts and the electives.
By the end of the day, Gabriella was tired, but triumphant. She had managed to come up with a suitable timetable, and had shown it to all the teachers necessary and the headmistress. The only downside would be the amount of homework, and the fact that her school week would carry on into much of Saturday, only closing one hour earlier; but Gabriella could live with that- it wasn't like she had any friends to socialise with, except her teachers, that is.
As she climbed into the car at the end of the school day, she chatted happily to her mother about the current events, but she soon quieted down. All that day, she hadn't been able to shake the feeling that she was being watched. Pondering over the nagging sense, she examined her day over again, and analysed exactly what the feeling had felt like; eventually, she decided that, whatever it was, it didn't seem harmful. She wouldn't worry over it if it persisted, but she would be sure to keep her eyes and ears open, and be more careful about what she did when she got that feeling again.
*** Third person's pov ***
The teachers had been enthusiastic about Gabriella's idea, and had decided that as soon as she completed the ninth grade syllabus, she would be able to write the exams and move on to implement her plan. The following two weeks turned into a flurry of activity as Gabriella ate through the remaining coursework, and by the end of July, she was ready. The first week of August were devoted to not only her end-or-year exams, but also her electives' entrance exams.
The results were perfect, as they had all expected, and Gabriella set her now timetable into motion. Soon, Gabriella's anticipation began to mount again; the annual grade tour was fast approaching, and this year, she would be participating in both the ninth and tenth grade tours. True, she wouldn't really be participating – both classes had clearly stated that they refused to do any of the exercises with her – but she would be able to do the activities on her own. Sometimes, she even preferred it that way. Also, doing the activities on her own allowed her to complete them with time to spare, so that she could also complete the homework her teachers would inevitably send with her.
Meanwhile, the FLAG team prepared for their latest operation, and gathered all the information they could find on the little eleven-year-old. Kitt and the core team could only watch in amazement as the small girl ate through three times the work an average high-school student covered, in half the time, with seemingly no effort.
Things were beginning to warm up as they took on a few smaller cases, and their deadlines approached. Spring would soon arrive, and the team had to be ready to move and implant the new earwig. They had decided to turn the operation into a bit of a 'road-trip' for the entire team.
The class tour would be the only time available to them to work while she was both asleep and alone; her parents never left the house at night, but Gabriella was always put in a separate cabin on a tour, due to the possibility of her having a nightmare and waking up anyone in the immediate vicinity…
I've kind of lost my muse for this fic… Help me catch it again?