I'm sorry that updates are a little irregular and not as frequent as I had hoped. Final exams are stressful things, but seem to decide my future and so demand more attention than fanfiction does (gasps of horror) I know...
This chapter is focussing on the Trio. There will be several that do that; they are main characters after all, and what they do is important to the story.
'I think it's time for plan B.'
Luke Jones raised his eyebrows. 'Plan B?' he asked uncertainly, 'are you sure?'
'Nope!' Lizzie said, 'but it's either that or get shot. What do you think?'
'Plan B,' Luke agreed. They both climbed up onto the edge of the building.
'What!' the leader of their pursuers hissed, 'what are you doing?'
The two looked back at him. 'Plan B,' they said simply and with that, they jumped off the building.
The two fell through the air, picking up speed at an alarming rate. Behind them, they could hear the shouts and curses of their Japanese followers as they watched their precious work plummet towards the ground.
Luke reached forwards and grabbed hold of Lizzie's arm. Her hand crept up and squeezed his. She glanced at him and then the hand reached out and grabbed hold of the air as if she was grabbing a long piece of rope. Slowly, far too slowly for them to realise, their acceleration towards the concrete pavement below decreased.
But they were still accelerating.
'If ever you wanted to do a last minute rescue,' Luke yelled in the direction of the microphone he was wearing somewhere in his jacket lapel, 'now would be good.' But he received no response.
'Luke,' Lizzie screamed, 'hold this.' She thrust her box at him. He wrapped his arms around her waist, taking the box in his spare hand as he did so. Lizzie reached out with both hands and tried to calm the air around them. In her eyes, it wasn't working. Then, so gradually she didn't notice it at first, the air rushing past the back of her neck softened.
But they hadn't enough time. The pavement was drawing ever closer. They were going to hit it.
It was around this point that time slowed down. It didn't exactly stop, but slowed considerably. Lizzie felt the air around them growing thicker as they continued to fall at the same rate, but the air around them was trying to resist, trying to make them slow down like the rest of the world was. Sizing her opportunity, Lizzie reached out again and strained with all her might.
She only just managed it. Luke let go as they finally reached the pavement. They had lost enough speed for him to land safely and then catch Lizzie as she fell past. He placed her on her feet. She was wincing at her hands which had become raw red, like they had received bad rope burns. She glanced up at her older teammate.
'I'm willing not to do that again in a hurry,' she volunteered.
Luke chuckled and looked around him. Everyone on the pavement around them was frozen with time staring up at the position the two assumed they had been seconds before. 'He finally got his act together,' Luke muttered and then added, 'ouch,' as Lizzie trod on his toes.
'You're not going to mention it to him,' Lizzie told him firmly.
'You're not. The last thing we need now is another argument.'
Luke scowled but said nothing more. His relationship with Max Hardy hadn't been the same since their failed mission which caused the team to split up. Instead, Luke turned and began working his way through the crowd, trying hard not to touch anyone. Lizzie followed him, still rubbing her raw palms.
Max Hardy met them at the foot of another tall skyscraper several roads along. This was their hotel, although all their stuff had been cleared out earlier and into the helicopter they had "borrowed" from a SKUL agent a couple of weeks back. A dab of paint and nobody could tell that it had been previously owned by one of the UK's most wanted men. Without saying a word, except that next time plan B shouldn't be so dangerous, Max led the way to the elevator and the three of them departed without any more trouble.
Once in the air, Luke opened up his briefcase and began sorting through his files as Lizzie rubbed a soothing palm onto her palms and fingertips before wrapping them in a damp bandage. She winced as she tied the fabric off but refused help from both males. She snapped at Luke to tell Max where to fly to, before opening up her little box.
Inside was one of the most dangerous pieces of equipment in the world, although many people would argue with that. But to Lizzie, this was more dangerous than the atom bomb, or a nuclear missile. The little contraption that sat in the box, its syringe needle just seen among the wires and data strips, was a piece of the machine that changed Lizzie's life.
If she hadn't come into contact with that machine, she wouldn't be sitting in a stolen helicopter with the two men. She wouldn't have the job she did. She wouldn't even be the age she was.
Lizzie shut the lid of the box with a snap. She didn't want to think any more on it.
A little while later, Luke clambered into the back of the helicopter, followed shortly by Max. They had landed on the other side of a hill from a concrete Chinese factory, which they were planning on infiltrating. The thing in the box was just a prototype, their Japanese informers had said. This factory was apparently making hundreds of thousands of copies of this. If SKUL succeeded in making one machine, they were planning on selling the idea worldwide.
That was the Trio's worst nightmare.
'The plan is simple,' Luke told Lizzie, 'we break in. we destroy the equipment. We blow up the factory. We get out.'
'What about the workers in there?' Lizzie asked.
'We'll set off the fire alarm,' Max said, 'it will limit our time to get everything ready however, so we'll have to do that last.'
'Right,' Lizzie said monotonously. There was something bothering her.
The guys exchanges glances before Luke prodded Lizzie's knee. 'What's up?' he asked.
Lizzie glanced up at them, wide eyed innocence on her face, before her eyes dropped back down to the box on her lap. 'Nothing,' she muttered, 'just homesick.' Above her head, the boys rolled their eyes. That was Lizzie's excuse whenever there was something wrong with her but she didn't want to talk about it. It stemmed back from their days in training camp together, not a time the three of them wanted to relive.
'Can you ignore it just so we can complete this mission?' Luke asked, 'we're heading back to the UK after all this is over.' Lizzie took a deep breath and nodded. Luke smiled. 'Then let's do this.'
The first part of the mission went smoothly. They infiltrated the factory with their regular efficiency. It involved taking out most of the security without anybody else noticing, which was a benefit later on when the Trio had to make their escape. Whilst Max scurried up to the head's office, Lizzie and Luke arranged the explosives around the main rooms where they could see lines of workers slowly piecing together the strange devices. They weren't aware of what the items were. They were just doing as they were told.
Luke thought back to the statistics they had heard in the Japanese boardroom. Despite the thousands produced, they had said, only a random ten or so would work. The probabilities were low, but the results were astounding. Luke fingered the silvery slit across his right wrist and shivered. Astounding was just a matter of perspective, he thought. No matter what the probabilities said, ten was still ten more than Luke would have wanted to work.
Max emerged from the other side of the room and nodded. The other two members walked slowly towards him, avoiding guards and workers. They slipped into a back room in which Max had discovered the flammable substances they apparently used for storing certain items that were to be added to the contraptions. Max had soaked everything in the flammable liquid and was ready to set it alight. Luke prepared his features so that he resembled the factory's head of security. Lizzie hovered by the door, ready to help Max escape.
Max lit the match and dropped it.
That was when everything started to go downhill.
Luke burst out of the smoke filled room shouting, 'Fire! Fire! Smoke! Smoke! Out! Out!' He hit the fire alarm and the room erupted into pandemonium as the workers began fleeing for the exit. Working quickly, Lizzie and Max set off the first of the explosives in the second storage room along, destroying a majority of pieces for the contraptions.
But Luke was struggling to get the workers out as the fire swept into the first of the working areas. And, as Lizzie and Max hurried to the second set of explosives, a spark lit up too close to Max, who had been in a room filled with flammable liquid and so had quite a bit of it on his clothes. His clothes caught fire and Max had to drop and roll to cover the flames before they spread. Lizzie stopped to help him tug his shirt off, when Max ordered her to go ahead.
Lizzie, hating herself for leaving her teammate behind but knowing that this was their one opportunity to set back SKUL's plans for the machine by several months or so, obeyed and raced ahead to set off the second set of explosives in the second worker area. This one was clear of workers and Lizzie had dropped to her knees to light the second cord, when the sound of clapping caught her attention. And Lizzie lifted her head and her eyes met those that she thought she'd never see again.
On the balcony above her stood a woman that had been a guiding light in Lizzie's life. On the balcony above her stood a woman who had made Lizzie the person she was today. On the balcony above her stood a woman Lizzie had never believed would be outside of a barred cell again.
On the balcony above her, stood Jade Dixon-Halliday.
'Recruits, line up!' The order was barked at the group of late teenagers lounging around on a pack of benches in a small gap between the campus buildings. Trying to cover up their groans as they worked their aching muscles to stand up, the group marched across the short stretch of grass to where the head operative of the training camp stood. Each teen stood to attention, trying to stand straight and not sway in the wind.
The head operative nodded as they stood in a line before him and wandered down the line, checking each trainee. Finally, he came to the final three, whom he shook his head at.
The final three in the line were clearly younger than the rest. The oldest must have been about fifteen, a broad shouldered male with tight blonde curls and dark brown eyes. He was staring straight ahead, hands behind his back, totally at ease.
That couldn't be said of the other two, another boy and a girl. The second boy's long sandy hair was being blown into his face and tangling up with his glasses. The head operative smirked; he was going to get that boy's head shaved as soon as possible. He told him so; 'To keep that ridiculous mop out of your face'. The boy flushed as the rest of the older trainees sniggered.
The girl was trying hard to keep her green-hazel eyes staring ahead, but every so often they would wander sideways to where the head operative stood, then snap forwards again as he looked at her. She had plaited her long auburn hair back so that it wouldn't get in her way. The head operative considered making a joke that she should do the same to the boy next to her. He decided he would. The girl blushed as he did and stared down at her feet. The only response from the blond boy was that his fists clenched ever so slightly behind his back.
The head operative was pleased with the responses he had gotten from the younger two however, and so he turned away and strode back up the line, talking about the upcoming year of training. When his back was turned, the boy with the curly blond hair gave the other two an encouraging smile, which neither of them returned.
'...And so,' the head operative was saying as they tuned back in to his speech, 'we will be assigning you tutors. This is compulsory. Do not roll your eyes at me. If you act like a child you will be treated like a child, understood?'
The unfortunate trainee, who had large ears, closely cropped brown hair and a prominent nose, stood to attention and nodded hurriedly with wide brown eyes. The three at the end tried hard not to snigger with the rest of the trainees.
'That goes for all of you,' the head operator shouted, glaring down the line. The light tittering stopped abruptly. The head operator glared at them all before turning and facing a line of young men and women standing across the other side of the field from them. Now that they had the trainees' attention, the line began to advance across the drizzly field towards them.
'These shall be your tutors,' the head operator shouted, 'those of you who can count will have noticed that there are fewer tutor than there are of you. That is because we do not believe that you require one-on-one tuition. Some of you are adults and so we have respected that by assigning one tutor for every five students. Only those of you who are totally inept get the one-on-one tutorship.' He smirked down the line at the three at the end. They glowered ahead, not risking their positions on the course by complaining at his insults outright.
When the tutors were close enough for them to be individually defined, the head operator strode down the line, assigning each one to a group of four or five trainees. When he reached the youngest three, his sneer widened and he introduced each tutor and trainee in turn.
'Jones,' he snapped at the blond boy, 'your tutor shall be Christian Hancock.' The thickset black man he gestured at glared down at the blond trainee. 'Any jokes about his name will see you severely punished, is that understood?'
'Yes sir,' Jones replied, scowling inside at the giggles coming from further up the line and not bothering to mention that he wasn't the sort to joke about people's names. That was for children. He did not get on this training programme by acting like a child.
Disappointed he hadn't even managed to get a smirk out of the elder boy, the head operator moved onto the younger. 'Hardy,' he barked, 'your tutor shall be Brian Juniper.' He gestured at the wizened man standing in front of the young trainee. 'Any jokes about his age will see you severely punished, is that understood?'
'Yes sir,' Hardy replied, smiling slightly, if only out of relief, at his tutor. He would have been terrified if it had been a huge muscular man like Hancock, but the older gentleman didn't scare this trainee. In fact, he was glad about the man's age. With age came wisdom, but also a fighting style that Hardy would probably prefer, not having much muscle himself.
Secretly furious that he hadn't managed to get a response out of either of the youngest male trainees, the head operator moved on to the final trainee. Her stance had relaxed and she was examining her tutor with pure curiosity. This would make her an easy target.
'Evens,' the head operator shouted and the girl snapped at attention at once. But she was on edge, he could tell. 'This is your tutor, Jade Dixon-Halliday,' he gestured at the tall brunette woman standing across from the young girl. The two women exchanged the briefest of nods, the younger a little uncertainly. The head operator bent low and hissed in the girl's ear. 'And if I hear any trouble has been caused by you then...'
He didn't get much further as a force collided with the side of his head and sent him spinning to the ground. He leapt back onto his feet, furious and ready to batter the person responsible for that assault, when Jade Dixon-Halliday stepped forward and glared down at him. Despite being the woman in the situation, she had at least two inches on him. The heels didn't help.
'I would ask you,' she said coolly, 'to stop terrorising my student.' The head operator started his impression of a goldfish when Dixon-Halliday continued, 'need I remind you that these children did not get onto this programme out of luck. They are here because they are mature enough, and skilled enough, to cope. What they do not need is some bullying prejudice snake in the grass putting them down every few minutes, because they will no doubt be getting that from the rest of their group already.' Dixon-Halliday glared at the line of squirming trainees, most of whom had already made bad jokes about the youngest of them already. 'And if I hear that any more jokes have been made, I shall be speaking to your tutors about it. I believe that the fact that we can punish anyone as harshly as our dear head operator can was overlooked in his little speech. Thank you.'
Dixon-Halliday stepped back into the tutor line up. Her pupil was gazing at her back with open mouthed amazement. Now that they were facing one another again, Evens quickly shut her mouth and stood up straight, though her eyes still betrayed her wonder at her new tutor. Dixon-Halliday privileged her to a wink that caused the girl to flush pink.
The head operator's impression of a goldfish slowly came to a halt. He shook himself and was about to reprimand Dixon-Halliday for her actions when he noticed restlessness amongst the rest of the tutors. They were shifting subtly into prepared positions; ready to come to Dixon-Halliday's defence should the head operator start on her. So he decided to ignore what had just occurred and turned back to the rest of the trainees, many of whom had their mouths open and were staring at him, including the trainee with the big ears and nose. He snapped, 'are you trying to catch flies with those big gobs of yours?' the open mouths snapped shut.
The head operator's scowl deepened. He'd be having strong words with Agent Dixon-Halliday later. 'This morning will be a tutorial based exercise,' he shouted at the line, 'you shall be under the command of your tutors, who will be discovering your weaknesses and testing your limits. Understood?' The line nodded. 'Dismissed.' The head operator turned and strode down the line with the full intention of shouting at Dixon-Halliday for her actions. But when he reached the end of the line, the female agent had already disappeared, her pupil along with her. Juniper and Hardy were in discussion about pressure points, whilst Jones and Hancock appeared to be having a staring competition.
'Where did Evens and Dixon-?'
'No idea,' the four said instantly. Jones' eye colour changed from brown to blue, making the head operator start in surprise, but Hancock only raised his eyebrows. The head operator muttered something about women and strode away towards his office. Behind him, Jones made his nose the same shape as Hancock's, but the older man did nothing.
Meanwhile, two female agents were walking away from the rest, weaving in between the buildings. The older, taller one had an arm around the younger's shoulders and was chatting away happily, whilst the younger one listened in silent wonder. 'Honestly,' the older was saying, 'and he thinks he's scary? I have a two year old son whom I'm more terrified of, mainly because he keeps doing stupid things like falling down stairs. How he managed to break the lock on his cot I don't know.'
'I have a two year old sister who's doing silly things too,' the young girl said shyly. 'She fell in our neighbour's pond last summer.' The older woman nodded understandingly. The younger girl looked up at the older woman, a glint in her eyes, and added, 'I still don't know how she managed to get outside, over the fence and past the neighbour's dog in the first place.'
Dixon-Halliday stared down at the young girl and then threw back her head and laughed up at the grey drizzling clouds. 'Children can do silly things,' she chuckled. Evens nodded, a blush creeping across her face.
'Yes, Mam,' she murmured at the ground.
'Mam?' Dixon-Halliday questioned, amused at the term, 'please, call me Jade.'
Evens nodded in agreement. 'Yes... Jade.'
Jade Dixon-Halliday tilted her head to one side as she studied the young trainee under her arm. 'Do you have a name?' she asked teasingly. She knew the girl did, she'd seen it on the form.
Evens nodded again and lifted her head to meet Jade's eye. 'Lizzie,' she said, 'I'm Lizzie Evens.'
Seventeen years later, Lizzie Evens had experienced a lot. She had succeeded in rising to one of the highest ranked agents to emerge from that batch of trainees. She had completed many missions with her teammates, Luke Jones and Max Hardy. She'd been re-aged by said teammates to a six year old and had to re-experience puberty and public schooling. She'd met a very cute boy, who had turned out to be her tutor's son.
And now she was staring at the woman who had helped her start it all. Staring at her as if she was the enemy. Because that was what Jade Dixon-Halliday had become.
Yes, Jade's out and back and ready to cause trouble.
:) Please review; I need to motivation to stop revising and keep writing. ;)