Hikaru had chosen to live in an apartment in the Carrington Institute’s headquarters. As an agent who would probably be called on to perform missions at all times of the day, she needed quick access to the equipment she would need. Many other agents chose to live outside the building. Hikaru had never had any complaints about her place of residence. The apartment was merely a place to sleep. For all her other needs, she had access to a 70 story building equipped with a fitness center, movie theater, shops and no fewer than three restaurants. And Carrigton’s daughter got a special discount from them all.
As she entered her room, she saw that the lights were on. “Shouldn’t you be in bed, Jasleen?”
The head of a 15-year old girl peeked around a corner. “I can stay up as long as you can,” Jasleen said challengingly.
Hikaru smiled wearily. “Jasleen, it’s 11:45. In just a few minutes, it’s going to be Saturday. Don’t you feel the least bit tired?” Her eyes suddenly narrowed and she looked about for a moment. “Have you been staying up watching TV again?”
Jasleen stepped all the way into the room looking perplexed. “How did you know? I’ve got the volume turned down.”
“My ears, remember? I can hear your TV buzzing even when you’ve got the mute turned on.”
Jasleen sighed. “I’ll never understand how that works. I can’t hear a thing, and I’m standing a whole two meters closer to the TV than you are.”
“A genetic thing, I suppose.” Hikaru’s expression softened. “I guess you did have a pretty hard week, after all.”
Jasleen made a face. “Tell me about it. Mr. Hirschfield spent two days going over derivatives. It was the most boring thing I ever had to sit through.”
“Why don’t you let the school principal know that you aren’t learning anything?”
Jasleen sat down on the couch in the room they shared. Hikaru sat down next to her. “I’ve already skipped two grades by now. There’s nobody my age in any of my classes, and it only gets worse when I explain something they don’t understand. They just can’t stand the idea that I know more than them.”
“I know what you mean,” Hikaru said wryly. “The schools around here are a little slower than what you’re used to in your home, aren’t they? Well, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. You just have to survive this year, and then you’ll be done with high school. After that, you can get enrolled in CI’s school and start your training.”
Jasleen’s eyes brightened. They always did at the prospect of becoming a CI agent. “Do you really think I could do it?”
“You certainly have the smarts for it.” Jasleen’s face shifted slightly. Hikaru knew that she was stifling a yawn. “I told you you’re staying up too late.”
Jasleen’s rebellious spirit seemed to have disappeared for the moment. “Yeah, I guess so. You want to sleep on the top bunk tonight?”
“Actually, I might get called at any time, so I need to be ready. I’ll take the couch tonight.”
The other girl got up and stretched. “All right, then. Good night.”
“Good night.” Hikaru watched her walk into the other room. The sound emitted by the TV didn’t stop. Hikaru smiled and slowly shook her head. Then she got up and walked into a separate room to get dressed for bed.
Logan had seen a fair number of sleeping women in his life, but none of them had been quite like Hikaru. For one thing, most grown women don’t clutch a teddy bear in their sleep. Therefore, Logan stopped for a moment to consider the slumbering form curled up on a couch before him. Then he shrugged mentally. Everybody had their idiosyncracies. He reached out and lightly touched her shoulder. Her eyes immediately opened, and she turned her head to face him. She smiled. “You must be Logan.”
“I am,” he said.
She held the teddy bear out to him. “Have you ever met Snuffels? I think he wants to meet you.”
Under the skilled manipulation of her fingers, the bear seemed to regard him for a moment with his head cocked over and then hold out his paw. He was very cleverly designed. He was unmistakably a polar bear, but just enough change had been made to make him look much less menacing than a real polar bear would. Logan reached out and shook the offered paw. “How do you do, Snuffels?”
“You disappoint me, Logan. I was expecting you to be at least a little surprised.”
“I am surprised. I didn’t know the Gund Corporation still produced this particular line.”
Hikaru smiled. “Snuffels is a rather old line, isn’t it. And this guy is pretty old. I’ve had him for about eighteen years now.”
Suddenly, Logan understood. He had learned a few facts about her from Carrington. One of those was that she had been orphaned about nine years ago when her parents were killed in a fire. The apartment they had lived in had been completely destroyed. If this bear was as old as she said, then it was the very last remnant she had of her dead family. He felt something like pity rise within him, but then he remembered that he had a duty. “I’ve been sent to fetch you for your next mission.”
Hikaru immediately rose and seemed to grow by about five years. “All right,” she said in a tone that would have done any professional soldier proud. “Just give me a few minutes to change.” She appeared to stop for a moment to consider something, and then handed Snuffels over to Logan. “Could you take care of him for a moment? He’s not old enough to be with me when I’m changing.”
Logan took Snuffels and watched her walk into another room. She would have made an interesting case for him had he pursued a career in psychiatry as originally planned. Even after nine years, she showed signs of still wanting to be the little girl who still had her parents. He looked down at the bear in his arms. It was gazing right back. There was something strangely understanding in that gaze. A certain sympathy, and at the same time, there seemed to be an absolute trust in Snuffels’ eyes as he gazed up at the person holding him. Logan looked away.
The mission had been as routine as a dangerous mission regarding national security could be. Mostly, it consisted of penetrating a building and avoiding all the assorted guards. That was easy for a person who could sprint faster than most and still remain absolutely silent at the same time. Getting past all the locked doors had been a different matter. For that, Hikaru had to rely on a palmtop computer that she carried on missions whichcould decode the electronic passwords on the doors. Jasleen had written the software for doing that in her spare time. Hikaru spared a moment to wonder how an untrained 15-year old like Jasleen could crack codes that stumped CI’s best programmers. She shrugged. It wasn’t her place to worry about it.
And now she was standing in front of her goal. Carrington had explained United Motors’ secret operations to her. In a computer somewhere was believed to be a list of all the robots that United Motors had manufactured. The fact that UM was manufacturing robot spies had tickled Hikaru. It was well known in the CI community that she detested cars manufactured by General Motors and that she had a strong preference for Honda.
Hikaru’s mind snapped back to her current situation. In front of her was a computer that contained all the files she wanted. She quickly hooked up the computer she had brought along and began downloading. Jasleenhad used a few tricks for this operation as well. Somehow, this download would be undetectable. Nobody looking through the computer would know that Hikaru had even been there.
Hikaru started the download and then sat down in a corner to wait. She idly watched the screen of her computer as data flowed in, reading the names as they appeared. Crane, Robert. Crew, Anna-Nicole. One of the robots, it appeared, had been elected to the position of mayor in a small town. Cromwell, John. Crondy, Jake. Czech, Alexandra. Dahl, Ernest.
Then she blinked and leaned forward. Tapping a key on the computer, she backtracked in the list. Selecting the file that had caught her eye, she opened it to see the profile. The profile contained everything that she had feared it would. Lifting the communicator to her voice, she spoke softly, “Bear, this is Yuurei.” Bear was the codename for Daniel Carrington.
“Bear speaking. Go ahead, Yuurei.”
“I’ve discovered a major security breach within CI.”
“If you could see the file I have here, I think you would understand immediately, sir.”
“All right, Yuurei. Send that file to me by wireless. Use the standard encryption. I’ll take a look at the file from here.” Hikaru did that and waited tensely. On the other end, she heard Carrington swear in startled surprise. “Yuurei, return to base for an immediate debriefing. We’ll use the personal location.”
“Yes, sir.” Hikaru glanced down at the palmtop in her hand. The download was complete. She took one last look at the name list in her hand and shook her head in disbelief. Dalton, Rebecca. Datton, Michael.