Tobias Bothrop has been watched all his life, he had no idea. Until the people who had been watching him approached him with an application form to V.I.P.E.R.S Academy for Promising Youth. Tobias accepts, then he discovers that the academy isn't at all what it seems...
Tobias ran, keeping on his toes, it allowed him to walk quieter, and cover more distance. The warehouse was ominously dark and silent; the air was still and stagnant. Tobias knew he wasn’t alone. He swallowed and breathed out slowly. Controlled. His throat was dry. He’d never been able to keep calm in this kind of situation. It was probably because Harrier scared the crap out of him, even though he had been travelling to various locations with him, and learned more than he could have hoped for, the man was still an absolute mystery.
Tobias licked his lips; his eyes were wide, straining in the darkness of the warehouse. There were windows covered by thick black cloth, one of them was torn, leaving a small gap where moonlight streamed in, but it didn’t illuminate anything. There were traps in here, but Tobias didn’t care about them, they would be easy enough to get through. No, what he was worried about was Harrier. The man was unforgiving, and if he found him…Tobias shuddered at the thought and tried to calm himself down, his palms were sweaty, he gripped the handgun tightly, it was his only protection. Tobias kept moving; he knew that somewhere, the assassin would be waiting, listening for his prey. Tobias stepped over a tripwire that he knew was there, he’d tripped over it once before, and it’d given him a bad laceration on his ankle, he still had the scar. A sound! Something toppling to the ground. Tobias gasped loudly in surprise and brought the handgun up, pointing it in the direction of the sound. He felt a twinge of anger, he was being played with, and his handler wouldn’t be so careless as to knock something over. Tobias choked down the instinctive urge to do what all doomed-to-be-killed people do, and call out “hello?” No, he’d be ridiculed for weeks. Plus, all of that had been drilled and beaten out of him in the last six months. Tobias moved quickly and silently, towards the location of the sound. He scanned the floor in front of him; it would be his first inkling that someone was there. You see the floor is stark white. It shows almost everything within close range, especially things wearing black. Tobias was wearing long white socks, it did well enough to hide him. Tobias kept his eyes peeled, even though he was facing forward; his ears were focused on what was happening everywhere behind him. He very nearly yelped aloud when his toe struck the object that had fallen off the shelving, sending it rolling in a thunderous beat across the floor. It was a can. Tobias backed up in a panic, his back hit something hard, but warm. His breath caught in his throat, but his whole body relaxed and his eyes narrowed. He dropped to the ground and thrust out backwards with his feet, they struck air, and Tobias used the momentum to leap to his feet. Fighting in the dark is not easy. Unfortunately, Tobias’s handler thought otherwise. The man’s fingers brushed Tobias’s neck as he ducked to the side just in time. He felt his feet swept from under him with a bruising blow to the back of the knees. Tobias caught himself on his toes and one hand. His other hand still clutched his loaded handgun. No longer. A straight-edged hand struck Tobias’s left wrist, the gun fell from his hand and clattered loudly onto the floor. It was the only sound besides the rustling of clothes as the two men fought silently. Tobias lashed out, and caught air again, he heard the squeak of shoes on the smooth white floor behind him, and before he could spin, a pair of arms wrapped around Tobias’s upper arms, and a pair of large, long-fingered hands intertwined behind his head, forcing his chin down onto his chest. He let part of his weight drop onto Tobias’s back. Tobias sank like a sack to the smooth white floor, his arms locked and neck already beginning to cramp; his legs were bent in a horizontal W beneath him. He was helpless, completely immobilised and at Harrier’s mercy.
‘Toby!’ A high, wispy voice drifted into 16 and a half Tobias Bothrop’s dream, he groaned, rolling onto his back.
‘Toby, are you awake?’ she called.
‘It’s Tobias!’ He groaned, he hated it when people called him “Toby”. He cracked open his eyes, swollen with sleep. He was buried under comfortable white sheets and a thick duvet. Tobias yawned widely and stretched luxuriously. He relished in the comfortable warmth of his bed, before tossing back the sheets and rolling out of his bed. He was immediately awake and alert, one of the privileges of youth, he supposed. He glanced around his room; it was a large square, basically. His bed occupied half of a wall, opposite to his door and underneath a window that overlooked the road at the front of the house. The walls were covered in dark blue wallpaper not even my favorite colour. Tobias thought. There were several posters and framed pictures of landscapes and animals that covered the walls. He had a desk in one corner of the room, a dresser and a wide wardrobe with bugger all in it. He had three large bookcases, two of them completely full of books, the third one housed ornaments of fantastical creatures and the like.
‘Toby?’ his mum called again loudly from the kitchen downstairs,
‘Yeah mum, I’m up!’ Tobias called in annoyance, stifling another yawn. He trundled quietly downstairs, rubbing his blue-grey eyes. His mother had recently taken to being his alarm clock, since his previous alarm clock had gone missing.
‘There’s breakfast on the table.’ Tobias’s mum said, jerking a thumb at the dining room table. Tobias sighed and took the bowl of cereal to the computer table, where he sat down, booted up the computer and ate while he was checking the usual emails, art accounts and social networking websites. Tobias didn’t really have that many friends, but the ones he did have kept telling him to get Facebook, even then, there was only one friend that he talked to every day. Most of the time he only played games on the website.
‘How’d you sleep?’ his mum asked, Tobias rolled his eyes, and chewed noisily to tell her that he was still eating, she always spoke to him when he had a mouthful. He swallowed, some partly-chewed bits of cereal scratching his throat as it went down, he coughed a few times and replied;
‘good,’ He said, ‘would have been better if I didn’t have school.’
‘I know how you feel,’ his mum sighed sympathetically. It was all routine talk. Tobias’s mum was tall, with brown-blonde hair; Tobias got his hair colour from his mum. His hair was short and messy; no amount of combing or gelling could stop it being messy. Tobias didn’t like using hair gel, anyway.
‘Well, I’m off to work,’ Tobias’s mum said, ‘Have a good day.’ She walked past and kissed him on the forehead, Tobias cringed.
‘You too.’ He replied. His mum grabbed her handbag and keys, and left the house, closing the front door behind her. Tobias heard her car start and back out of the driveway, the sound of the motor fading off into the distance. Tobias finished his breakfast five minutes later and logged off the computer, shutting it down. He went upstairs to have a quick shower and get dressed. His school uniform consisted of a white button up shirt made of thick material, and either long black pants or shorts. Tobias, like many others in his school, found the uniform uncomfortable. The material was too stiff and restrictive, especially around the arms. One couldn’t lift his arms out without revealing half of his torso, no matter how big the shirt was.
The house was always carefully checked before Tobias left it, on both levels, he checked every window and every door, making sure each was locked. Even when he closed the front door after himself, he’d triple check that it was locked.
Tobias's house key was located on the zipper of his pencil case, it was too large to not notice it if it went missing, unlike a single key by itself. It was one of many of Tobias's paranoid habits. Just like he could swear that a man, or maybe two men were following him as he walked to school. Both of them were strongly built, muscles strained against their black, strangely formal clothing. One of them looked as if he was on a phone, and he slowed his pace whenever Tobias turned around to fix him with a suspicious glare. The other man was less careful, he openly held Tobias's glare with his own intimidatingly emotionless stare before disappearing into an alley or building. Tobias was feeling increasingly vulnerable. Even though he had just entered a sizable crowd, he had a feeling that these men would have no trouble finding him and taking him out. Tobias shuddered at the thought and suddenly wished he'd kept going with his karate lessons. He had been an orange belt, and then he'd grown bored of his sensei's teaching methods, and dropped out. A stupid idea, Tobias scolded himself. He spent his day at Westfield high peering over his shoulder or out a classroom window, expecting to see those two men. And on two occasions he did. Once while he was in P.E class, the students were doing an obstacle course. The teacher had set up a circuit, timing to see who got around it the fastest. First there was a thick, old and smelly rope hanging from the ceiling, between two crash mats. The mats were about two meters apart. He had to swing from one mat to the other, and then run over a balancing beam, use a jumping pad to launch himself up onto a padded bench, about a meter high. Run over it, jump down, either run or roll over another lower bench, swing across another set of crash mats and then run across another balancing beam, jump to the second and cross that one to the finish. Tobias wasn't really that fit, but he enjoyed the subject, getting out of class for fresh air and a run around. He also liked going hiking, but rarely got the chance. It took Tobias just over a minute to pass the obstacle course. Sometimes Tobias liked to imagine that he was being pursued over these obstacles, like a spy dodging bullets and enemies. It made him move faster and with more accuracy. The second time he saw one of the men was outside a teacher's office as Tobias was on his way to see the cashier about a field trip payment.
Tobias had almost completely forgotten about the men that had been following him that morning. He was too happy over the fact that he had won over $600 on an art scholarship. He leaped up onto the front doorstep, a small, smug smile on his fair-skinned face, and pulled his key- attached to his pencil case, out of his black side-bag. They were harder to steal from people, since they rested across ones torso, which was why he had one. Tobias unlocked the door and found a series of envelopes on the ground, pushed through the mail slot. He picked them up, four of them were addressed to his mother, and the fifth was addressed to him. The smile faded from his face, confusion taking over.
The envelope read: 'Mr. Tobias Bothrop' and beside the postage stamp was the words 'V.I.P.E.R.S Academy for Promising Youth'
'I wonder what “V.I.P.E.R.S " stands for?' Tobias muttered as he shut the door behind him. He walked to the dining room, starting up the computer and tossing his mum's bills onto the kitchen counter. Dumping his bag on the floor, Tobias sat down on the computer chair and tore open the envelope.
'Dear Mr. and Mrs. Bothrop,
We are pleased to announce that your son, Tobias, has been chosen to attend the Academy for Promising Youth, as he has shown exceptional ability in several of the many fields we offer to teach. The academy is free to attend, and is offered to only a select few students between the ages of 16 and 18. An application form has been enclosed, please fill this out and have it signed by a parent if you are under 18 years of age. A postage envelope has been included.
Regards, Edward Vipers.'
Sure enough, there was an application form and envelope attached to the back of the sheet. Tobias scanned the application form skeptically. Was this for real? He didn't think there was anything "exceptional" about him. At the bottom of the form, it said,
'Once the application form arrives at the campus, a staff member will be sent out to answer any questions and collect your son/daughter and take them to the campus. You may arrange other transport if this does not suit you.'
Tobias pulled the envelope off the back of the page where a small string of glue connected the two pieces. Out of habitual curiosity, he opened the small envelope; there was a small piece of paper inside it. With a frown, he reached into the envelope and plucked out the small piece of paper, unfolding it. It was a perfect square, maybe five centimeters each side. Small, computer-produced writing was printed across the small piece of paper.
‘For your eyes only, Tobias,
One of our people will be in contact with you soon after you send in the application form. He will only speak to you. The academy is not what it seems. Burn this letter as soon as you have read it; we shall know if you don’t.
Tobias’s mouth had gone dry. He felt compelled to glance around at the windows in the room, no one was looking in, no one was in the house either, and all was silent. Tobias turned back to the small square of paper. What kind of academy was this? Clearly not the kind that it said it was. Really, he knew he should show someone the letter, but he felt compelled to do as they said. Tobias set aside the application form and stood, taking the small piece of paper with him to the smooth-tiled kitchen. He reached up to a cupboard above the counter; behind a sliding wooden door was a barbeque lighter. Tobias read the letter one more time and pulled the trigger on the lighter. A small flame burst out, and slowly caught on the paper, Tobias dropped it in shock as the paper was suddenly engulfed, scorching his fingertips and giving off a large puff of smoke. Too late, he realised that there were words in the smoke. It dissipated before he could read it. Tobias felt a sinking feeling in his chest, he might have just missed a crucial piece of information, or perhaps it was his imagination overreacting to this suddenly very out strange day. First he was followed to school, and then he gets this letter from a weird sounding academy. Perhaps they were related?After cleaning up the mess of ashes on the floor, Tobias filled out the application form, leaving the right areas blank for his parents to fill out when they came home.
‘My life is pretty boring,’ Tobias muttered as he trundled upstairs to get changed out of his school uniform and into something a bit more comfortable, ‘Whatever this academy is, I hope it’s exciting.’