“Wasn’t expecting to see you so soon.” Matt looks up from his computer screen as she walks in, somewhat nervous. She’s wearing her old jeans and t-shirt again. The suit’s for special occasions only.
“I was told you’d be able to run me up a passport.”
“Yeah. They had me up half the night getting it done. It’ll be ready in a couple of minutes; the guys are just binding it for you.” He smiles. “They let me choose a name for you, so I spent ages on baby name websites trying to think of one.”
“Oh.” Skitter pulls out the wooden chair he’s got for visitors and sits herself down on the very edge of it. “What did you decide?”
“Ruth Camberwell.” His smile fades as he sees her expression. “That’s okay, isn’t it?”
Don’t give yourself away. Don’t react. Keep calm, Skitter. She breathes deeply. “Yes, it’s fine. I just knew someone called Ruth once.”
“I’m sorry. What happened to her?”
“She died. I killed her.” Though it’s not entirely true, it’s how Skitter sees it. She’s not the little girl rescued from the streets, if she ever was. She’s a spy now, and she doesn’t have anything else. The rest of her childhood was killed, so why not that little part too?
Matt frowns. “I’m going to hope you’re joking.” But she doesn’t reply.
A few moments later an alert pops up on his monitor and he walks over to a small chute in the wall, which is churning out papers of various kinds. It’s pretty neat, as inbuilt printers go, though in this building Skitter’s learned not to be impressed too easily. A small red booklet lands on a pile of forms and he picks it up, coming back over to his desk. “Here. You’ll need to sign for it.”
“Of course. What name would you like me to use?”
“Skitter is fine. That’s what you are on the system.” He watches her scrawl her signature on the dotted line and says, “By the way, if anyone asks, you’re fourteen.”
“Fourteen? I can’t even pass for my own age, let alone older.”
“But you can’t go on a plane without an adult until you’re fourteen or above and even then you have to have an adult take you through the check-in process. We didn’t think you looked sixteen, so we’re sending one of the senior spies to be your mum. I hope you don’t mind, but we don’t have a choice. You’re fourteen and if anyone doubts that, tell them you’ve got a rare form of dwarfism or something. Make up an ailment that’ll make them feel bad about asking.”
“Like that I had cancer as a kid and it stunted my development?”
“That’ll do nicely. Are you ready to leave?”
“I’ve not got anything to pack, but I haven’t bought a ticket yet.” Instead of answer, he slides one across the desk towards her. Everything’s been taken care of, it would seem.
“It’s time to meet your mother then,” Matt tells her, and she follows him across to a telephone on the wall. “Nicki? She’s ready.”
But Skitter backs away. “What did you say her name was?” she says. Everything inside her is screaming – she tries to calm her thoughts. It’s a coincidence. It’s someone else. She’s dead, Skitter.
“Nicki. Is that… is that a problem? She’s been with us for a few years now, since she was about nineteen. Running from her old life, but isn’t everyone?”
Running from her old life – a younger brother and a four-year-old girl, yeah. Just the sort of life she’d run from, isn’t it? “I knew someone called Nicki, too,” she admits.
“Did you kill them too?” But he sees her expression and apologises. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to sound cruel.”
The door at the far end of the Requisitions office opens and a young woman enters. She’s about twenty-eight, tall for a girl, and her hair’s falling over her face. She looks at Skitter and there’s a strange expression on her face as she turns to Matt. “What was her name again?”
“Skitter, or so she says. Turned up three years ago with no name but that one and no possessions to speak of. She’s a damn good spy, though.”
Nicki looks at Skitter. “Hello, Ruth,” she says. “Not the first time I’ve played at being your mother, is it?”
Skitter throws herself across the room and pounds at the woman with both hands. “I thought you were dead! When you didn’t come back we didn’t know what to do – Jim hadn’t a clue! Where the hell did you go?”
“Don’t – call – me – Ruth!” She slaps the girl who brought her up. “I thought you were dead, and you turn up here? Just how long have you been working for these people?”
“Eight years.” Nicki’s voice is quiet. “Since I left you.”
“I thought you were dead.” Skitter’s words catch in her throat and she turns away. “Matt, this isn’t going to work.”
“She’s only going to take you as far as the airport, Skit. You’re on your own from there. One spy’s a risk; two is suicide. You’re being sent to Snake Eyes; Nicki’s got her own assignments.”
“She’s spying on a super?” Nicki seemed horrified. “But she’s a kid. She’s only twelve.”
“I was only a child when you left me and Jim, too, but I survived that!” Skitter grabs the passport from the desk and runs over to the door. “I’m not going anywhere with you. We thought you were dead.”
She storms out. Someone pulls the heavy door open and calls after her, “Skitter, please, think about this! You’ve forgotten your ticket!”
“I can’t get on the plane without a parent,” she spits, turning on her heel. “So any way I travel is going to be illegal, isn’t it?”
“Don’t you dare,” says Nicki, but Skitter’s already hurrying down the stairs. “Ruth, don’t you dare try and stow away. Don’t you bloody dare.”
She reaches the bottom of the flight of stairs, turns back, and shouts, “DON’T call me Ruth!”