“So, Haelee Gnillig…Interesting name you’ve got there! You’ve been chosen as a secretary for PartTech. My name’s Miss Eleanora Brighton – I double as clerk and assistant PartTech Part Wizard overseer!”
Halo nodded. The people “up there,” as Mart put it, had given her the somewhat transparent code name of Haelee Gnillig.
“Where’d you get that sort of name? I mean, it’s interesting and all, but I’ve never heard anything like it.” The bubbly clerk looked up from her computer screen, which she had seemingly been talking to this whole time. It appeared to be a friendly question, but Halo was on guard.
Halo gave the answer she had rehearsed while flash studying the day before, playing with her nerdy plaid bow tie as she did so. “It’s Eastern European – originating in the area now called Bosnia and Herzegovina…When my ancestors immigrated, the officials at Ellis Island mixed their last name up even further – but us Gnillig’s are mighty proud of it nevertheless. My uncle, Josef “Gigabyte” Gnillig, declared that having a rare last name like ours was an honor worthy of being written into an encyclopedia!”
The clerk hastily interrupted Halo’s quirky speech, “Well, I’m sure it is an…encyclopedia-worthy honor.” the clerk frowned, then continued talking to Halo, as though to a little child, “But please go meet with Mr. Marinkovic in the back, okay?”
Halo nodded, then hastily retreated to the back. The first part of her mission – explaining her ridiculous last name – had been a success.
But really, “up-there” people. I mean, having “Gnillig” as a last name? I can barely pronounce it myself! Halo thought, Quite a thinly disguised name – Gillingham minus the “ham” part becomes “Gnillig.” Same sort of tactics for Haelee, made of part of Mart’s nickname for me.
She entered the back room, where a rotund man awaited her. “Miss – ahh – Haelee? I didn’t want to try your other name. How do you pronounce your – how do I put it? – unique name?” The rotund fellow smiled, but Halo could tell from his eyes that he was testing her patience.
“It’s a silent g. So pronounce it as “Nillig.” Halo grinned, friendly. “Bosnia and Herzegovina combined with clumsy Ellis Island officials certainly makes for a difficult name to pronounce!”
“You certainly seem to know a lot about your family history. I’m not sure I can say the same.”
Mr. Marinkovic responded, but Halo detected that his eyes had darkened suspiciously. Halo decided to deflect his suspicion a bit. She had to stay on this mission. She couldn’t be discovered the first day! After all, PactKV could have a base here at PartTech. What if the whole plant was just a cover for it, and Halo had to save the unaware Pennsylvanians from certain doom? She replied carefully.
“My family has always considered me to be a bit of a nerd. I spent hours on genealogy websites researching the Gnillig past.”
“Very well, then. I trust you have had experience with secretary work in the past?”
“Of course, sir. I worked with Wadsworth and Co.” Halo drew a certificate from her pocket and unfolded it. SU had forged communications, creating a certificate from the candy company “proving” that Halo had – supposedly – worked there. Besides, the Wadsworth company cooperates with SU, so it was fine to lie a little, right? Halo wondered, doubting a little.
“Good. Well, we’ve read the information that you’ve submitted for this job already. These questions just about finish this interview up.” Mr. Marinkovic smiled, and his smile seemed genuine to Halo for the first time. “You’ll be working for Eleanora Brighton and Ebony Hauser, assistants to me. A secretary to my personal assistants, won’t that be wonderful?”
“Again with the hidden threats, Mr. Marinkovic? And we’ve only just got started.” Halo muttered this under her breath as she thought it.
Mr. Marinkovic opened the door for Halo, and it quickly slammed shut behind her. Halo paused in the hall, looking for hidden cameras, then laid her ear gently against the door. She had guessed right. Mumbling! Mr. Marinkovic had been talking to someone – Halo had not been alone. Halo quickly hurried down the hall to the front desk once again. The woman smiled, pointed Halo in the direction of the elevator, and the spy rocketed up to the tenth floor and her new bosses.
As Halo wandered in search of her new cubicle, she passed many empty rooms. The halls were practically bare – only once did Halo pass a person, and it was a janitor halfheartedly scrubbing the already-pristine hallway. Much of the cubicles were empty, nameplates screwed to the walls and swivel chairs at the desks, positioned thoughtfully in front of ancient-looking computers, but no papers, magnets, or memorabilia on the desks. After much searching, Halo finally found her tiny compartment, right in between two larger cubicles with nameplates screwed to the walls reading, Ebony Hauser, Director of Part Wizard Ministries and Eleanora Brighton, Assistant Director of Part Wizard Ministries. Their desks were littered with papers and manilla folders of various stages of decay, tattered from much use – or possibly from no use at all. Miss Brighton’s cubicle was stuck with magnets from various vacation destinations, most magnets reading in the similar style such as, Matt’s Bar, Tampa Bay or The LIBERTY BELL, Philadelphia.
Philadelphia! A relatively close location to where PartTech was located, in rural Pennsylvania – and an interesting destination for a vacation. In her studies the night before, Halo had learned that the online ad-blocking program, Part Wizard, was PartTech’s most profitable business outreach. Possible, if the company wasn’t just a show. If all the other floors were as empty as this one, well, Halo’s mission would be an easy one. But Halo wanted the answer to another question – Was Mr. Marinkovic really the top person in this suspicious company? Halo remembered the mysterious voice Mr. Marinkovic had talked to immediately after she had exited the interviewing room.
She sighed. Already this case had so many questions! Halo left Miss Brighton’s compartment and glanced in Ebony’s cubicle, coated with photos of a smiling African-American family – birthdays, the park, a small boy on a trampoline – the average American life. Suddenly tired, Halo determined to study her coworkers’ cubicles later, and begin unpacking her supplies.
Carefully, Halo positioned a photo of her and her brother, Micah, on the wall, artfully arranging her magnets around it. The magnets were small, printed with dots and flowers, your average Target choice. Haphazardly, Halo stacked some classic literature on the filing cabinet, stuff just for show, books she had never read and never meant to read. The ominous size of Moby Dick and War and Peace prevented the girl from even opening the books’ covers. As she lifted a milk crate of office supplies to the desk, a sudden thought came to Halo’s mind. Why would SU have given her a last name which immediately made people suspicious and had to be explained to every person Halo met? What if – Halo could barely hold the idea – Simon Wholk had recruited her, not because of Halo’s skill as a spy, but to act as bait for a plot to overthrow a PactKV base! What if – Calm down, Halo. Don’t worry about your own life, just think about the business. Listen to your elders at SU. I’m sure that they know what they are doing. Halo tried to comfort herself and erase her rebellious thoughts. She reminded herself that she was safe, that no one was out to kill her, that the elders at SU had a plan to keep her safe, but for once in her life Halo was not sure at all.
“Aah, Miss Haelee Gnillig. Welcome to your new job!” The bubbly front desk lady brightened to see Halo’s flustered looking face. It was Halo’s first real morning at the job, and it had been rough; Halo’s shower was too cold, she had dropped her new outfit in the toilet, and her coffee machine in Halo’s room had exploded for unknown reasons. As an added bonus, Halo felt even more exhausted on account of her hard bed not allowing the young spy sleep. Also, there was the dissapointing lack of coffee.
“I am Miss Brighton, and I’m your new boss! Yaah!” Miss Brighton hurt Halo’s head with her enthusiasm. “We certainly hope your happiness here will not deflate. First, Mr. Marinkovic requested to meet you in the conference room as soon as you arrived. Of course, it will be difficult to accomplish what we need to accomplish today, so please comply willingly, or he will use force.” Miss Brighton’s face had turned from joy to horror. Halo gazed at her confusedly, but thankfully didn’t say anything. Suddenly, two gray-uniformed guards arrived at her side, grabbed her arms, and gruffly escorted her towards large brass doors. As soon as they arrived there, they roughly shoved her inside, allowing her head to slam back, giving her neck an uncomfortable feeling.
“Miss Gnillig.” Mr. Marinkovic looked like a snake, waiting for it’s prey. He knows who I am. Halo thought with horror. That would explain why Miss Brighton looked so horrified. “I hope you are happy with your current living quarters. You will not be returning to them.”
Just pretend you don’t know what he’s talking about. “Sir, I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Halo’s voice was uncontrollably shaky, but she did her best to hide it. Her hand discreetly closed around her small handgun, positioned in her waist belt.
“Oh you don’t?” Mr. Marinkovic fingered a remote, placed on the large conference table, and pushed one of several illuminated buttons. Above him, on a screen as big as a king size bed, a live feed of Mart glared down at her, and Halo stifled a gasp. He was pinioned to the ground by some thing not visible on the screen, in the control room of the main SU unit in New York. The main one, with the helicopter pads, rooms for spies…the main one where Halo was currently living! He looked as if he were in pain, and it made Halo want to punch Marinkovic in his toad like face. “Do you not know this boy?” His smooth, deep voice bit into Halo’s soul, and she emptied her mind of Mart’s possible pain.
“No, I’ve never seen him in my life.”
“LIES!” Marinkovic howled, as he pounded his brick-like fist on the table, sending a shivering crack all the way down. Halo gasped with surprise. His smooth voice returned. “I know exactly who you are, and who you care about, Halo Gillingham. I can ruin your life, and your entire corporation. When I’m through, there will be no more Spies Universal, only PactKV, at the top of the world!”
Mr. Marinkovic gave the kind of laughter maniacs do in movies.
“We – and I – will rule the greatest, most prosperous nations of the world, and I chose you, Halo the little business-brained spy, to help me!” Halo’s head was reeling.
“What? You didn’t choose me, Captain Byron chose me.” Halo moaned anxiously. Behind her, the gray guards stiffened with alert.
“Don’t you ever say my brother’s name again! If you do, your life will instantly be snuffed out – like this!” Mr. Marinkovic snapped his fingers, and a video surfaced itself on the screen. Halo tried not to look. She opened her eyes, and was greeted merely by a match being blown out – the bar at the bottom of the video revealed that the film lasted nine minutes – nine minutes of repetitive snuffing out. “Now, please enjoy this little film while I go work on some… important business.” Laughing, Mr. Marinkovic exited the room, leaving the two guards to secure Halo to the chair. Halo settled herself for what she thought would be nine minutes of constructive boredom. Constructive – because during those nine minutes Halo hoped to be planning her escape.
Those hours watching the snuffed-out match video were torturous. Minutes turned into hours, and someone kept remotely restarting the match film each time Halo thought it would end!
At one point, when she tried to get out of the room, a guard nearly stabbed her, trying to keep her contained. Halo was beginning to freak out. Suddenly, she remembered. Her phone!
Quietly, Halo wormed a hand out of her bonds, inwardly blessing Cap Byron’s lengthy training. Quietly, pulled her phone from her pocket, unlocked her screen, and brought up Mart’s thread. She typed urgently, one hand pecking out the letters as she tried to escape the more difficult foot bonds. Halo involuntarily smiled at Mart’s text from that morning:
Moose 13:Hope your new job goes well Hae stop.
Halo12:Moose SOS stop. The new assignment went wrong stop. bring backup please stop.
She waited. No reply. Seconds turned to minutes, and minutes to hours. The match films finally stopped. Halo glanced from her chair at the giant screen, and gasped. She had not expected to see Mart sitting at the control panel, seemingly deep in thought. Halo groaned. I’ll try Darren. Hopefully he’s smart enough not to come on his own, though, when I don’t check in at spy quarters. I told him I would meet him to discuss his latest coding efforts tonight.
Halo12: Darren? Get Mart to answer his texts stop. SOS stop.
Her phone dinged. Halo opened the new message tab anxiously, almost bursting with hope.
D_Florence: Wrong number. Why the stops?
Halo almost threw her phone to the ground. She and Mart always acted like the phone was a telegraph. Perhaps this blunderbuss didn’t know what a telegraph was! Telegrams had “stops.” Acting retro was cool. Halo rolled her eyes, then spiraled down in angry thoughts. So, it was a wrong number! Well, the text said SOS! Couldn’t that idiot tell – why not ask if she was okay – of course it didn’t sound like a prank! Halo halted her thoughts and tried to calm down. What if – she sent a group text to everyone in the SU? Why hadn’t she thought of that before! Halo’s fingers flew.
Halo12(to all):Hey. This is Agent Twelve. On new assignment. Gone awry. SOS!
Halo read over the text and was about to press send when the low battery icon flashed and her phone died. She should have charged it the night before like a good spy! Why was everything going against her? She stomped her foot, the chair tipped over, and Halo Gillingham crashed to her face, bound to the chair!
Halo grimaced, blinked her eyes. All she could see was gray fuzz. She blinked. Oh. The gray fuzz was carpet. And there was a heavy chair on top of her. And she was tied up in rope by a guy who definitely was not an ordinary office worker. A guy with guards. A guy who was probably a terrorist for PactKV. Halo struggled to flip over the chair. As she twisted, her phone skittered across the floor, loudly banging against something cold and metallic. The lights went out. Halo heard footsteps, and everything went black.