The man dressed formally all in black escorted us inside through a small camouflaged door hidden in the side of the mountain. Once inside a small alcove he introduced himself as Director Wesley Frost. The name suited, I felt almost cold in his stern presence. Even when he smiled there seemed to be a million plans ticking behind his grin. Running a hand through his dark curls of hair he informed us that we would have to wait a moment for the scans and then we could continue inside.
For a moment we all stood silently and finally a wall lifted and we were inside the mountainside. All around us there were computers and television screens. The ceiling must have gone up over a hundred feet, once I looked up I found myself feeling a sense of dread of what would happen if the mountain were to collapse.
Despite all the technology there were very few people running the machines. Two men were working between groups of computers and a few women appeared to be going over folders and paper work, but other than that the place seemed all but deserted. It also struck me that everyone was wearing white suits, while the Director was dressed all in black.
“Ladies,” Director Frost said. “I know two of you already know each other which is a real treat, but Miss Quinn, Miss Ritter, I would like to introduce you to Fateema Washington.” I shook hands with Fateema and couldn’t help but notice how striking she was. Her skin was such a rich dark brown, and she had eyes that were almost too big for her face. What was really striking was her height. Mattie was tall, but Fateema was taller, thinner even. I glanced at Mattie and could see she was making it obvious that she was sizing Fateema up, so I gave her a light jab in the ribs to get her to stop.
“Now,” Director Frost said, breaking up our introductions. “You girls are probably wondering what this place is and what we do here.” We all nodded so he continued. “This is W.A.S.P., one of our great country’s covert operations bases. You three are our newest members. We recruit two to ten women every year from Military Track campuses and you three are the only ones that fit the bill this year, a high honour indeed.
“You are probably wondering what W.A.S.P. stands for; we are part of the Women’s Agency Spy Protocol. Our job is to infiltrate and gather information in highly secure places from important people. You three each showed great commanding skills, hard work, great talent for military and spy tactics, and are all very beautiful.”
“I’m sorry, sir,” Mattie interrupted. “But what does our looks have to do with how well we can do our job?” I looked over at her to get her to shut up, but she didn’t look pleased. I still couldn’t tell why she would use her looks to get her way, but hated it when she was called out on it.
“Good question,” Director Frost said with that Cheshire grin. “Most of the power players we are spying on are men. Most men have a weakness for beautiful women. You get close, you get information.”
“You make it sound as simple as that?” Mattie said, pushing harder.
“No, it’s not and I guarantee by time you’re in the field there will be none better trained or equipped than you three. It’s been a long trip, I’ll have Gwyneth show you to your quarters.” He snapped his fingers and one of the women in white suits came right over. She was tall, lean, and had short white-blonde hair. “Gwyneth has been with us for seven years. She is the highest ranking member on active duty. You do as she tells you.” We nodded and followed when we were told.
“Girls,” she said with a friendly smile. “If you follow me this way I’ll show you to your rooms.” Rooms? We each got our own? Even when I lived with my dad my ‘room’ was a section of the living room quartered off with a sheet. She led us down a hall lined with heavy doors until we reached the end of the hall.
“I know you’ve had a long trip, and you girls must be tired,” Gwyneth told us. Despite her cool looks she seemed so nice, her face friendly and light. “This is where you’ll be living. For tonight we’ve laid out some food, so don’t worry about coming to dinner. Tomorrow you’ll be having breakfast in the dining area, but someone will come at six to collect you and show you where to go. Raina,” she said pointing at the door farthest from the end of the hall. “This will be your room. Matilda, you’re there,” she said as she pointed to the door across from mine. Mattie was just about to correct her, but then Gwyneth shook her head and laughed. “Sorry, Mattie. I know you prefer Mattie. And Fateema, you’ll be on the end here. Have a nice night, ladies.” Gwyneth took a step back and waited for us to enter our rooms, so I shrugged and headed in.
The first thing I noticed when I entered the room was a plate of food left for me on a small grey table. I grabbed a chair to sit down and dig in while I took scope of the room. The room inside was a rainbow of grey tones. The walls, the décor, the wardrobe, the doors, everything. Along the wall to my right there were bookshelves cut right into the concrete full of books. On the bed there were fluffy grey blankets and pillows. I was surprised at the size of the bed, I’d never slept in anything so large or comfortable looking.
The food I’d been left was a variety of vegetables and fruits with a few slices of what I assumed was turkey, but it might be chicken. It was light and tasty and must not have been easy to bring in to such an isolated area. As I munched away on my light dinner I wondered if Mattie and Fateema were eating the same thing in their rooms. I finished up and decided to explore my room a little more.
On the far side of the room was a second grey door. I opened it and was shocked to find my own bathroom. I couldn’t help it, I closed the door and opened it again to make sure I was actually seeing my own, private bathroom. I stepped inside on to the cool grey tiles and was shocked to find a full, working bathroom with a shower and everything. I’d been sharing one my entire life and now this one was all mine! Forget the big bed, this was the best part!
I ran to go compare rooms with Mattie and just about broke my wrist when the door wouldn’t budge. Behind me a voice crackled to life in a speaker sitting beside the bed. In a heavily robotic voice it said, “The door is locked for evening hours,” and then went dead again. I pulled on the knob a few times and the voice repeated itself every time I tried.
I resigned to staying in my room, which felt a little less homey now. I found myself at the bookcase and browsed the titles that were available to me, most of which were training manuals and the rest were texts on a variety of subjects and even a few novels. Despite the wide selection I went back to my bag and pulled out the biography Sam had given me and curled up on the big fluffy bed to reread it for what must have been the fiftieth time.
There was no way to tell time in the room which in addition to being locked inside was quite unnerving. I had no idea if it was dark outside or light, or if I should try to sleep. I was starting to feel tired but the lights were still on and I couldn’t find a switch to turn them off so I kept reading, but couldn’t help my mind from wandering.
I must have dozed at least a little because I was jolted awake by the robotic voice in the speaker announced that lights out would be in ten minutes. I found my book a new home on the bookshelf curled up in bed waiting for the lights to dim.
I didn’t even remember the lights going out because the next thing I knew I was awakened from a dreamless sleep by that same automated voice announcing breakfast would be in thirty minutes. I had a feeling I would grow to hate that voice very, very quickly. Laying there I wasn’t really sure what to do. I’d fallen asleep in my clothes and wasn’t even sure what I was supposed to wear.
I was about to throw off the blankets and take a look to see what to do when the door to my room swung open and Gwyneth waltzed in, looking prim and proper, blonde hair gelled back to show off her beautiful face.
“Good morning, Raina,” she said, chipper as a song bird. “We had a feeling you ladies might be a little overwhelmed this morning so I came to give you a hand. Did you sleep well?”
“I think so,” I mumbled, getting out of bed.
“Excellent,” she said as she moved about the room, grabbing clothes and shoes out of drawers and dressers. “You take a shower, I’m going to go get the other girls. I’m saving Matilda for last, I hear she’s a heavy sleeper. I’ll come back when everyone is ready and we’ll all go for breakfast together.” I nodded and she was out the door again. I couldn’t believe someone could be so awake this early, while I was struggling to shake the sleep out of my eyes and figure out how to work the shower.
I stood in the shower for as long as I thought I could get away with, letting the hot water run over me, trying to wake myself up, trying to process everything that was happening. I wasn’t even sure where I was. North I supposed, but how far north? I had to force myself out of the warm water and found my way back to the bed where Gwyneth had left my clothes out.
As I looked over my new uniform I noticed it was identical to the one Gwyneth had been wearing, a high collared white shirt, buttoning down one side with matching white pants and shoes. Putting it on I was amazed at how snug yet not uncomfortable it was, and the material was much lighter than it looked. I couldn’t help but look in the mirror, admiring how I looked in it, how the material curved around my body. My mind wandered to thinking if Sam would like to see me in something like this and I felt my face flush red, but I smiled a little too. I realized I would I have to find a way to write him, even if it was just to let him know I was okay.
I was about to make my way to the hallway when Gwyneth let herself and the other two girls in. I noticed that everyone’s uniforms fit them perfectly, they must have been specifically made with our measurements to get that good of a fit.
We walked down the hall and through the way we had entered, passing by the computers. “We call this the Hive,” Gwyneth said. “A little inside humour. Seriously though, all our work is managed through here. If you ever have any questions come here. All other areas lead back to the Hive.” As we walked through the Hive I saw people working away at computers, even this early in the morning. I had no idea what they were working on, but I could see most of the thin screens were displaying various maps.
“The whole place is laid out a bit like a beehive, whoever designed it must have been big on the whole bee thing,” Gwyneth said with a fluttering of laughter. “If you head down the north east corridors you’ll find most of the physical training areas. Directly east is the more abstract training, and this way is where we eat.”
I looked over at Mattie to see she could barely keep her eyes open as we followed Gwyneth towards the dining area. Fateema looked wide awake, soaking in everything with her big brown eyes, but Mattie looked terrible. I wonder if she even showered.
Inside the dining area was one big round white slab table surrounded by about a dozen chairs. “Usually there are only twenty or so people on site at any time, and we don’t usually have to eat together. Because you’re in training you’ll follow a pretty strict schedule, but once you’re approved for field duty you can generally come and go as you please, so long as you don’t slip in any of your work.”
“Okay,” I said as I sat down in front of a bowl of what appeared to be oatmeal. “What is our work?”
“It wasn’t obvious from my introduction?” a man’s voice came from behind me. Director Frost was standing directly behind me and any sense of morning hunger I had immediately disappeared. “Please, ladies eat,” he said, motioning at Gwyneth who was practically inhaling her breakfast. I looked back at Frost, he looked immaculate in a clean, crisp black suit and his curly black hair gelled back.
“The Women’s Agency Spy Protocol, or W.A.S.P. was formed about seventy-five years ago and we take pride in the fact that only the people we want to know about us do. Our job is information gathering. Your job is to get close to people and get them to let their guard down. My job is making sure you can do that, as well as defend yourself if the situation calls for it.
“After you are done your breakfast Gwyneth will be showing you to the Salon where we will begin the first part of your training.” As he said this, Frost picked up a lock of my hair in between two fingers and examined it. “Some of you need more training than others, but we have experts.”
“Director,” Gwyneth said as she finished her meal. “Should I have any of the instructors get prepared for today?”
“No, I think after their time in the Salon they will probably need their rest. Ladies,” he said as he turned to leave. “Today should be a fun day.”
After he was gone Gwyneth gave a wave and said, “he’s a little strange, but he runs a tight ship. He’s been here longer than me, and he knows how to get out of a bad situation.” She picked up her bowl and put it on the counter on the far side of the room. “Hurry up and eat, the Salon awaits!”
I looked at Fateema and Mattie and neither of them had finished much of their breakfast and I hadn’t either. I didn’t want to waste it, but I knew I wasn’t going to finish either. I got up and put my barely touched breakfast beside Gwyneth’s bowl and watched as the other two girls did the same.
“You girls are going to wish you’d finished that,” Gwyneth said as she led us out of the room. “I don’t know how long you’ll be in the salon and I doubt they’ll give you a break to eat. Oh well, let’s go.”
We passed back through The Hive and down a longer hall with several doors that were spaced out in huge gaps. Down at the end of the hall was a door marked with a simple sign that read The Salon, and Gwyneth showed us inside.
I was shocked by what I saw, and from the audible that came from behind me I could tell Mattie and Fateema were too. The inside of the salon looked like it was from another time and place. The décor wasn’t different shades of grey like everything else we’d seen so far. The walls were tiled in a light peach with a smooth white floor and ceiling. There were several wood paneled tubs full of warm water, and lounges placed throughout the room. I looked over at Mattie and she finally looked awake.
“This is amazing,” Fateema said quietly and I looked back at her. I couldn’t even remember if I’d heard her speak before.
“Yeah,” Mattie mumbled, taking scope of the place.
“There are three filled tubs, one for each of you. Please have a soak and the Georges will be in to see to you in a bit,” Gwyneth said as she handed out fluffy white robes. “Put these on when they get here. I’ll see you ladies when you’re done!” With a smile and a wave of her hand she was back out the door and we were left to claim our tubs and settle in to relax.
The three of us looked at each other for a second in silence and then I couldn’t help myself. “Oh yes!” I yelled and started unbuttoning my uniform. After living with so many girls for two years with absolutely no privacy all three of us had lost at least some degree of our modesty and within seconds we were all splashing into the tubs.
The water was warm and rich with the smell of flowers and oils. If this was how we were going to be spending our days in our Filter I wasn’t going to complain.
“Hey, Raina,” Mattie called over from her tub.
“Yeah?” I responded as I got a splash of water right in the face. As she started laughed I tried to splash her back with as much water as possible, but only succeeded in soaking the area around my tub. I looked over to see Fateema laughing quietly by herself and decided what the hell, and I splashed her with a bit of water too. It didn’t take long before the three of us were throwing water at each other, making a bit of a mess of the Salon floor.
“Happens every year,” a man’s voice said from the doorway.
“You think we’d stop being surprised by it,” said another.
Mattie, Fateema, and I all slunk down in the water of our tubs as we turned to see who I assumed were the Georges. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the two men in matching white suits, they were identical. Both tall with slicked back reddish hair and sharp cheekbones. I’d never seen identical twins before and I was glad they had the same name or I’d never know what to call either of them.
“Now that more water is on the floor than in the tubs I think we can begin, yes?” One of the Georges said.
“Time for the robes, ladies,” said the second. It seemed our modesty came rushing back at that moment, and I fumbled trying to keep myself covered while putting on my robe.
“Nothing we haven’t seen before, girls. Let’s get to it.” The Georges directed us to the lounges where we were pampered with pedicures, manicures, facials and every beauty treatment imaginable. They insisted on waxing our legs and arms, but said it must be done when I protested.
“Okay, now for the hair. George,” said one George to the other. “What do you think we should do with them?”
The second George looked thoughtful as he ran his hands through Fateema’s coarse hair, moving it back and forth. “I think with this one we cut it down short, yes? Show off this beautiful face.”
“You’re going to cut off my hair?” Fateema whimpered.
“But darling, you will look beautiful. Right now you are hiding behind such big hair. We want to show off your beauty!” Both Georges nodded at the situation and Fateema looked to Mattie and I, but Mattie just shrugged.
“And this one?” One George said as he moved to Mattie.
“The hair is gorgeous. We just need to layer it up, frame her face better. Maybe add some highlights to it.” Mattie smiled, obviously proud that her hair was so highly reviewed.
Then they moved over to me, mumbling to themselves as they examined my hair, lifting it, moving it, touching it. It had grown quite long since I’d left my father’s home and I hadn’t bothered much in its care the past two years. It was a thick, wavy mess.
“Yes, okay here is what we’re going to do,” one of them finally said. We’re going to thin it out a bit, layer it, blow it out, and bring it up to just below the shoulders.”
“Yes, and some side swept bangs, it will look beautiful with a soft curl.”
Once they had decided what to do with the three of us they went to work chopping, dying, styling, and working their so-called magic. It felt like hours and I definitely caught Mattie falling asleep in her chair a few times.
After all the tugging and pulling on my hair for hours, long after the other two were finished I was finally declared done. I couldn’t believe it when one of the George’s handed me a hand mirror. My hair looked shiny, silky, beautiful even. I went to touch it, but my hand was slapped away.
“Leave it alone,” George said. “We worked our fingers to the bone, please don’t ruin it for at least a few hours.”
“Are we done?” Mattie asked, sitting up in her chair.
“All but one thing,” said one of the Georges. “I need to get the Director first and then we can proceed.” He showed himself out of the Salon and the second George continued to circle us, making sure everything was perfect.
Frost couldn’t have been far because within minutes he and George entered the room and Frost immediately started dishing out praises for their work. “Gentlemen, it’s simply stunning. You’ve worked miracles again today.” I could hear the George who was standing behind me breathe a sigh of relief and he announced he would get ready to prep the final area.
“Wait,” I asked. “There’s more? What more can there be?”
“One more small thing,” Frost said as he pulled a small black box out of his pocket. He opened the box for us to see what was inside and I gasped.
“Are those teeth?” I felt horrified. In the box were three white molars staring at me when I looked into the box.
“Not quite,” Frost said as he picked one up. “This beauty is your marker as an agent of W.A.S.P.. We replace a molar in the back of your jaw, and this tracks where you are and lets us communicate with you both silently and invisibly.” As he picked up the tooth I saw a flash on the side. It looked like the outline of a tiny bee.
“No use putting this off. Georges,” Frost commanded. “Let’s get the gas going.”
Before I could argue I felt a mask being placed over my nose and mouth. I tried to protest and fight against it, but whatever I was breathing through the mask made the world grow hazy and dim. Before I passed out I looked over at Mattie who was sitting perfectly still, eyes forward. It was the last thing I remembered before I lost my grip on the world.