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Alias: Amy Rose; Occupation: Spy


by parmadur

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The Shadow Acara awoke with a bright light shining in her eyes and a harsh voice yelling in her ear. "What's your name? What's your owner's name?" the voice shouted again. "Whisper!" she replied, but then winced. "I mean, Amy Rose. Yeah. And my owner's name is, uh..."

      "Uh?" the voice replied, not impressed. The light moved, and Whisper could see the dim outline of a Grundo wearing a black mask and holding a flashlight. "Your number, recruit!" the pet snapped.

      "Recruit number 158, sir," the Acara mumbled miserably.

      "All right then, 158, needless to say, you failed this test." The masked Grundo looked at a clipboard in his left hand and shook his head melodramatically. "This isn't good, 158. This is going to cost you points. And," he paused with a grin, "your number's going in the black book." The black-clad pet chuckled.

      The Acara closed her eyes in unbelief, waves of panic suddenly flooding her stomach. No recruit who was entered into the black book ever passed. Get a grip, she told herself. She listened to what was happening around her, hoping to make the sinking feeling in her stomach disappear. To her left and right, Whisper could hear her cabin mates being woken up in the same manner she had been. All around her, pets in black clothes and black masks were shining their flashlights into the recruits' eyes, and shouting the same questions in their ears. "What's your name?" they screamed. "What's your owner's name?"

      As Whisper listened, her heart fell. All of the other pets were answering correctly - even the Faerie Uni that was supposed to be from Krawk Island.

     "All right, then," announced the Grundo by Whisper's bed, "You all pass - except for the Shadow Acara here who can't decide what her name is. Go back to sleep." The darkly clad pets tromped out of the room and slammed the door behind them.

     Whisper pounded her pillow in frustration. Ever since she was little, the Acara had wanted to be a spy. She wanted to live in the shadows, to search out secrets, to save kingdoms from the evil plots of their enemies. She had saved her Neopoints for years to buy a Shadow Paint Brush, so she would look the part. Then word had come of the Training Camp in Meridell. It was said that the camp director was one of King Skarl's retired spies, and that everyone who passed was recruited directly into the Royal Intelligence Agency. So, of course, Whisper applied as soon as she was old enough.

     And now it looked like she would wash out. The young Acara wanted to scream. At the beginning of camp, the old Draik director had given each recruit a number and a cover story. Whisper from Neopia Central, Recruit 158, was supposed to become Amy Rose from Happy Valley. Each recruit started with 250 points; each test that pets passed earned them a certain number of points, and each test that they failed cost them points. Those pets with 300 or more points at the end of the week passed, and those whose score dropped to 200 "washed out" and got sent home. But nobody knew what happened to those unlucky pets that got into the black book - they just disappeared. "It's not fair," Whisper muttered to herself. "It's three in the morning. Why do they expect us to remember things at three in the morning?"

     "Because the rest of us can," came an amused, whispery voice from right above her. A Hissi's head poked down from the top bunk and looked at Whisper. "So you're the one who flunked, huh?" the striped pet said. It was a declaration, not a question. "Too bad."

     "Go away," Whisper muttered.

     "Touchy, aren't we?" the Hissi murmured. "You'll never make a good spy if you can't take advice. Or remember your name, for that matter."

     "Leave me alone," the Acara said and rolled over.

     "As you wish." The Hissi shrugged and started to pull her head back up to her bed. "If you don't want to hear a way to raise your score and pass, then I won't bother telling you."

     "What?" Whisper sat straight up in bed.

     "I thought you wanted me to leave you alone."

     "You said something about a way to pass?"

     The Hissi smiled a toothy grin at Whisper. "Certainly," she hissed. "There's an easy way, but I'm not sure you'll want to hear it."

     Whisper licked her lips nervously and nodded her head. "I think I'm down to 225 points by now," she said. "I'll listen to anything you have to say."

     "Stupendous," the striped pet said, drawing out the final s. "It's simple, really. It doesn't say it in the rules anywhere, but for every other pet a recruit can turn in, that pet gets an extra hundred points."

     The Acara sat back, shocked. "Turn in another recruit? But we're all supposed to be on the same team! We're supposed to stick together, and provide alibis, and rescue each other if we're captured - we're not supposed to turn each other in!"

     The Hissi just smirked. "That's what THEY want you to think."

     "They?"

     "The pets that just broke your cover, Whisper - the ones in black."

     "My name's Amy Rose," the Acara said stubbornly. "I was half-asleep - Whisper's my nickname."

     "Uh-huh," the Hissi replied. "Sure."

     "Just go on, please."

     "All right, Amy Rose. The director wants you to pass, but THEY want you to fail."

     "Who are they?"

     "Real spies, I've heard. Real operatives from the RIA."

     "The Royal Intelligence Agency? Here? Really?"

     "Yes, here. Really. They only want the best to join them, so they try to keep the second-rate pets out."

     Whisper sat up indignantly. "I'm not a second-rate pet!" she declared. "I can be just as good a spy as anyone!"

     "Unless it's three in the morning," the Hissi reminded her with a sarcastic grin.

     The Acara's face fell again. "Oh. Right." She sighed. "So what were you saying? I mean, about turning other recruits in. Not that I would do it, of course."

     The Hissi smiled again. "If you can find out a recruit's real name and place of origin, and tell it to one of THEM, they'll reward you. Remember: a hundred points each. It could help quite a lot."

     Whisper suddenly thought of something. "Why are you telling me?" she asked. "And how did you find out yourself?"

     "You want to be a spy," the Hissi said, "Figure it out."

     "Okay, I guess that's fair," Whisper said. "Oh, one more question?"

     "Yes?"

     "What's your name?"

     The Hissi opened her mouth in a silent laugh. "This week, you can call me Slither." Then the striped pet pulled her head back into the upper bunk, and the room was silent.

     The next morning, Whisper woke up early and stretched. Then she remembered the night before and sank back down on her bed. Failure. She didn't like that word, and she liked the feeling even less. The Acara began to think. Maybe she could do a little snooping, try to get other recruits to slip up in her presence. She wouldn't actually turn them in, she told herself, but it would be good practice - both for her and for the other recruits. The Acara nodded to herself and slipped quietly through the front door. It was time for breakfast, but after, Whisper told herself, she could do some snooping.

     By the time the rest of her cabin came down, Whisper was eating the last of her breakfast. "Morning, everyone!" she said, sounding more cheerful than she felt.

     "Good morning, indeed, mate!" replied the Faerie Uni, who had sat down right next to her. "Nothing like a good bowl of grub to stir the blood in the morning, aye?"

     "I guess," replied Whisper. "By the way, I've been wondering. How do you do that wonderful accent? I mean, you're Faerie. I'm sure you don't really come from Krawk Island."

     "That's a secret now, isn't it, mate?" the Uni asked roguishly, winking one eye at the Shadow pet. "But I'll give ye a hint - I would fly from my home to Krawk Island and back nearly every day during the summer - aye, that I would."

     An Aisha broke in then. "But Crook-leg, I mean, it's obvious that you're from Faerieland. Why bother with hints and clues? All faerie pets live in Faerieland. Everyone knows that."

     Whisper hid a smile as Crook-leg turned around indignantly. "I can't have just heard ye right, mate. I could've sworn that ye said that all Faerie pets live in Faerieland! Now that's just not true. I most certainly don't live in that overgrown pile of clouds." The Uni covered her mouth with her paw. "Oops," she whispered, then looked around. "None of ye scurvy sea rats heard anything, did ye?" she asked with a glare. All those in earshot shook their heads quickly. Whisper shook her head too, and covered an elated smile. "Crook-leg" must be from Mystery Island, she decided. No other land was within flying distance of Krawk Island. Now if somehow she could find out the Uni's name... Whisper cleared her place quickly, and grinned as a plan formed in her mind.

     "I'll be right back," the Shadow Acara said to Slither, as their cabin got ready to go to a Physical Training session. "I just forgot my water bottle."

     "Really," said the Hissi with raised eyebrows. "I see."

     Whisper hurried off towards their cabin before Slither could say any more. It was obvious that the Hissi didn't believe her story, but there was nothing she could do. The shadow pet slipped carefully around the side of her cabin and pushed on the front door. It didn't budge. Whisper glared at the uncooperative door and shoved. With a protesting creak, the door swung open. The Acara darted in and ran to her room. She grabbed her water bottle, then, making sure no one was watching, the shadow pet crept over to "Crook-leg's" bunk. There was a faerie backpack - it was the Uni's all right. Whisper carefully examined it. There! It was a luggage tag. "Rose-blossom," the Acara read softly. That was a Uni name if ever she'd seen one. "Rose-blossom of Mystery Island," she chuckled. "Sorry, Crook-leg, but you've just been exposed." Whisper stopped herself suddenly. "Not that I would ever tell anyone," she reminded herself. With that thought, the Acara grabbed her water bottle and rushed off to rejoin her group.

     That evening, Whisper felt as if tiny Faeries were fluttering around in her stomach as she finished dinner. Every night after dinner, the director called to the front all those who had been "booked" during the day. Before, the Acara had just looked at the miserable recruits who had blown their covers, grateful that she wasn't there with them. But tonight... tonight was her turn.

     The Draik director of the camp, a cloud-painted pet with a long white beard, slowly approached the podium. Though he was old, the Draik's eyes were still fiery and keen. Whisper gulped as he began to speak. "Good evening, students," the director said, his voice gravelly but firm. "If your number is called, please come to the front quickly. You have already disgraced yourself once, don't dawdle and do so again."

     Whisper felt her cheeks burning at the director's harsh words.

     "Number 43," the director announced. A small brown Ixi scurried forward, his head hanging. Number 79 was next - a starry Scorchio. Numbers 82 and 104 quickly followed. "And last," the director said, "Number 158." Whisper stood up, and began to walk across the vast dining hall. Her legs felt like jelly; it was all she could do to make it to the front of the room. "You will come with me, please," the director commanded, and the five pets forlornly followed him from the room.

     Whisper waited as a Royal Guard escorted first the Ixi, then later the Scorchio, then eventually the other pets into the director's office. None of the recruits came out. Finally, the door was opened once again and the guard stepped into the dark stone hallway. "Number 158?" he asked coldly. Whisper just nodded. "This way," the guard said, and he held open the door. The Acara took a deep breath and stepped into the director's office.

      The director was sitting behind a large marble desk, and there was an empty chair in front of it. "Please, sit," the Draik said. It was a command, not a request. Whisper sat timidly and waited.

      "You have a choice, recruit," the director said somberly. "At the moment, you have two hundred twenty-five points. As you know, you need three hundred to pass."

      Whisper nodded but didn't say anything. "As you might also know," the director continued, "it is difficult to earn more than ten points a day."

     Whisper nodded again.

     "There are three days left in this training camp. That gives you thirty, maybe forty points if you work hard. And you need to earn seventy-five to pass. And that's assuming you don't lose any. At your present rate you'll wash out in a day or two. You have quite a dilemma, young Whisper."

     The Acara blinked at the use of her real name, startled. "I'm sorry, sir, my name is Amy Rose," she said in a confused manner. "Maybe you have the wrong pet. My number is 158; maybe you've mistaken me for someone else."

     "Ah, indeed," the director said, looking at his book. For a second, Whisper was sure she saw his eyes twinkle. But then they were hard as stone again, and they were looking straight at her. "Very well, then, Amy Rose," he said. "You still have a dilemma. There are two choices available to you." The Draik cleared his throat. "Option one," he said, "is to go home tonight. You won't have to suffer through the rest of a training camp that you can't pass and that you might fail in disgrace. You can be back home in Neopia Central, I mean, Happy Valley, of course, by tomorrow. You won't have failed - you'll have chosen to go home. And that, of course, means that you have the option of applying to Training Camp again. You might even be accepted."

     Whisper blinked back tears. To choose Option one would be to admit defeat, to give up on a lifelong dream. She couldn't do that. "And Option two, sir?" she asked.

     The Draik gave her a long, hard look. "You've never heard what happens to those who get booked, have you?" he asked. Whisper's look of panic was all the answer the director needed. "I'll tell you. Option two is to get interrogated - by a professional member of the RIA. That pet will thoroughly grill you on your background, on your current life, and on anything that he or she desires. It will not be easy. Almost nobody passes interrogation."

     "What happens after that, sir?" Whisper asked, hardly daring to breath.

     "Well, when the recruit fails, his point score is immediately reduced to two hundred and he is sent home in disgrace. And as you know, failed recruits aren't allowed back to Training Camp."

     "But what happens if the recruit passes the interrogation?" the Acara asked slowly, her mind racing.

     The cloud Draik shrugged, as if his answer wasn't important. "Well, they never do, but if a recruit managed to pass the interrogation, he would immediately earn two hundred points, and the camp director would write a personal letter of commendation for him to the Head of the RIA."

     Whisper sat bolt upright. That was it! If she managed to pass interrogation, that would be her ticket into the world of espionage. There were two choices - to give up, or to do her best. She could fail, or she could try to succeed. And succeed she would - Whisper was sure of that. "I'll take Option two, sir," she said firmly.

     The old Draik raised one eyebrow. "Are you sure, recruit?" he asked. "This is your final chance to change your mind."

     "Yes, sir, I'm sure." The Acara's eyes glowed with certainty, and the director shrugged his shoulders.

     "Very well then," he answered. "Go through the door on your right. Good luck. You're going to need it."

     The room was dark, and Whisper couldn't see anything, or anyone. Then a voice came from in front of her. "Sit down," it said harshly.

     "Where?" the Acara asked. "I can't see anything." A light clicked on - a solitary light, aimed at a plain metal chair in front of her. Whisper sat in it. The light was right in her eyes, and she could barely see the desk in front of her with a pet seated at it.

     "Your name." The deep voice was dry, and seemed to hold no emotion.

     "Amy Rose." Good, thought Whisper, her voice wasn't quivering at all.

     "Owner's name."

     "Snowflake Lover 1000."

     "Place of residence."

     "My permanent house is in Happy Valley."

     "Address."

     Whisper paused for a moment. "970 Blizzard Lane," she said.

     "You seem hesitant. Why?"

     The Acara took a deep breath. This was as good a time as any to begin to tell her cover story. "I live all over Neopia. I haven't been back to Terror Mountain in a few years. Most recently I've lived in Brightvale, and I'm on my way back home. It's only a short trip to Terror Mountain from Meridell."

     "I see." There was no change in that dry voice, and Whisper wondered if her story was even remotely convincing. "In that case, please give the address of the place you stayed in Brightvale."

     "It was a bed-and-breakfast, 2025 Scholarly Crescent."

     "And what did they serve for breakfast while you were there?"

     Whisper blinked and thought fast.

     "Eggs and bacon most mornings, sometimes pancakes. But there was always a basket of Brightvale Berries to snack on."

     "I see. Where did you stay before you went to Brightvale?"

     "Faerieland. Before that was Altador, then the Lost Desert, then the Haunted Woods, then Neopia Central, then Roo Island."

     "But first was Terror Mountain."

     "Of course. That's where I live when I'm not traveling."

     "I see. Could you tell me again where you went - this time starting from Terror Mountain?"

     "Sure. Terror Mountain, Roo Island, Neopia Central, the Haunted Woods..."

     The interrogation seemed to go on for hours. Whoever was behind the metal desk was very good. Whisper's brain started to hurt after going over her itinerary for the tenth time - this time giving all the addresses of where she stayed and what sights she saw in each location. After a while, the questions turned to her hobbies, where she'd gotten the money to pay for the trips around Neopia, and what piece of wisdom she'd shared with King Hagan in Brightvale. Finally, the questions stopped. The pet behind the desk got up and turned on the lights. Whisper winced against the sudden glare, and then looked up into the face of her interrogator. He was a tall green Techo, with sharp black eyes and a thin mouth. He was frowning. "You failed," he said to the Acara coldly. "You failed miserably. There's no way you could possibly expect anyone to believe that excuse for a story you've concocted."

     Whisper blinked back tears. This wasn't the way it was supposed to happen! She was supposed to pass and be accepted into the RIA. She was supposed to become the greatest spy in Neopia! But the Techo was continuing. "You now have 200 points, and are going to wash out," he was saying. "That is, unless you have something you'd like to share with me? Something that would persuade me to grant you some extra points?"

     Rose-blossom the Uni's face hovered in the Acara's mind. She opened her mouth, but then closed it again. She might have failed the test, Whisper told herself, but she wouldn't betray a fellow agent. Then an idea came into her head, and she smiled. Whisper the Acara was not going to become a failure. She lifted her chin defiantly. "I don't know what you're talking about, sir," she said calmly. "I don't know if you normally treat travelers this rudely, but I'm just here for the night. I don't know what I failed, and I don't really care to know. May I have my supper now?"

     The Techo just blinked at her. "What?" he asked.

     "When I knocked on the door this afternoon and asked if I could stay for the night, your director, the cloud Draik, said yes and told me to follow him."

     "How did you know he's the director?"

     "He told me, of course. He said he's the director of this place, whatever it is." Whisper was warming up now. She began to get into character - she was just a confused traveler with no idea of what was happening. "He told me that I was free to spend the night, and that he'd give me some dinner as soon as I'd answered a few questions. So may I have my dinner now?"

     The Techo blinked again. "I just told you that you're going to wash out, and your only concern is dinner?"

     "I told you already, I have no idea what you think I failed, and to tell the truth, I don't really care. Okay?"

     The Techo just stared into her eyes shrewdly, then pushed a button on his desk. A door behind him swung out of the wall, and a striped Hissi came in. It was Slither. Behind him came the director of the camp, who turned and closed the door. Now it was Whisper's turn to blink. What was Slither doing here? And if she had failed so miserably, why was everyone else smiling?

     "Congratulations, Whisper," the director said. "You passed the interrogation."

     "I told you she wouldn't betray a fellow agent," Slither said to the Draik with a slightly superior look.

     "Indeed you did, Agent Sinclair."

     "Sinclair?" Whisper broke in, her eyes wide. "Agent Sinclair?"

     "The one and only," the Techo interrogator said with a wide grin. "She's my partner at the RIA."

     For a moment Whisper could just sit and stare, her mouth open. Then she looked up at the Techo. "I passed?" she asked weakly. "But you said..."

     The Techo shrugged. "We had to see if you valued loyalty more than personal gain."

     Whisper's mind raced back to the night before, when the Hissi had told her that she could turn in agents for more points. Her questions then, why the Hissi was telling her, and how she'd found out, were now answered. She was part of the RIA, trying to help the director find the recruits that were more ambitious than loyal. Whisper still couldn't believe it. "I passed?" the Acara squeaked again.

     "With flying colors," the Techo affirmed, his once stone-hard face now full of merriment. "That was the tightest cover-story I've heard in years. You'll go a long way, Whisper."

     "Amy Rose," she corrected, not thinking. Everyone burst out laughing, and, when she realized what she'd said, Whisper began to laugh as well. "So what happens now?" she asked, once the laughing had subsided.

     "Well," the Draik said, "tomorrow I'll send a letter to the head of the RIA, and then your real training starts."

     "My real training?" the Shadow pet said in dismay. "I thought this camp was my training." At that, the three older pets began to laugh again.

     "No," the director said at last, "this camp was only the beginning."

     Agent Sinclair broke in then. "If you thought this was hard, Whisper, just wait and see what we've got planned for you next week."

     "I'm ready," the Acara said, her eyes glowing.

     "No you're not," the Hissi replied, "but you will be."

The End

The author can neither confirm nor deny the existence of the Meridell Intelligence Training Camp. *shifty eyes*

 
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