The two people sat next to each other on the worn-out couch. The only source of illumination in the dark, dank basement was the laptop in front of them. They were wearing identical black hoodies and black jeans, with a metallic mask covering the lower half of their face. It distorted their voices, which was convenient because they weren’t supposed to know each other’s identity.
“We need code names,” one said to the other, typing away on the laptop.
“Alright, I’ll be Star One,”
“I guess that makes me Star Two?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Ha ha. Not happening. If you’re Star One, I’m Alpha Star.”
Star One sighed. “Deal.”
"I'm assuming you're a guy...?" asked Alpha Star.
Star One rolled their eyes. "Assume whatever you want,"
"Okay based off that reaction I guess you're a girl,"
"Why does it matter? Will it hurt your ego to work with a girl? Will it wound your pride?"
Alpha Star chuckled. "Definitely a girl,"
"And based off your masochistic chauvinism, I'm pretty sure you're a guy,"
"You've got quite an attitude,"
"Thank you very much, I work hard to maintain it,"
Star One's phone pinged with a message and she fished it out of her pocket. She checked the message and began texting.
"Hey hey, no personal devices allowed while we're meeting," Alpha Star said and plucked the phone from her hands. Star One grabbed her phone and flipped him off before stuffing it back into her pocket. The cold of the basement was seeping into her bones and she shook her arms and legs to ward off the uncomfortable feeling. Alpha Star gave her a weird look and went back to typing away on the laptop.
"What the hell are you doing anyway?" Star One asked.
"I'm trying to find the identity of our employer,"
"Why? Isn't it enough to just carry out the mission and take their money?"
Alpha Star shrugged. "I'm just curious,"
"Curiosity killed the cat," said Star One.
"But satisfaction brought it back," Alpha Star deadpanned.
Star One chuckled. "Fair enough,"
"How do you know the target?" Alpha Star blurted out.
"I just do," Star One said icily. "And besides we're not supposed to know each other's private information so maybe you should refrain from probing too much,"
“Okay. How did you land this contract?” Alpha Star asked.
“Same way you did,” Star One said curtly.
“Is there any reason you took it up?”
“Well let’s just say I’ve met our target... and I hate her. What about you?”
Alpha Star shrugged. “The pay is good. Really good. And I hate her too, so yeah,”
“This mission is dangerous, but it’s so cool! I can’t believe I got picked for this,” Star One said excitedly. “I mean, I don’t know about you, but I’m just an ordinary eighteen year old,”
Alpha Star rolled his eyes. “MRO does this all the time, they pick younger people to get rid of the minor targets because we’re less expensive. Also, we know the target so that’s convenient.”
“We? So you’re eighteen too?”
“Aren’t we not supposed to speak about ourselves?”
“Oh please, that’s a stupid rule–“
The laptop flashed with a message and they checked it.
Do not reveal your identity. Stay focused on the mission.
Star One gulped. “Okay so maybe getting to know each other on the first day is not such a good idea...”
“You don’t say,” Alpha Star said dryly.
Star One frowned. “So basically all we’ve got to do is dissuade her from doing whatever the hell she’s doing, right?”
“Right. Do you have any idea what she’s doing that MRO doesn’t like?”
“She likes exploring the dark internet, conspiracies, underground stuff... that sort of thing. Like that organization, Anonymous. Apparently she’s fascinated by Anonymous,” Star One explained.
“Yeah but what’s so threatening about that? Most people are fascinated by Anonymous and try to hack stuff but you don’t see them being targeted,”
“The thing is, she’s really good at it. She’s good at digging deep into the dark corners of the internet and finding stuff that’s not visible in plain sight. She has a talent for it,”
Alpha Star nodded thoughtfully. “Hmm. But she’s probably still an amateur, otherwise we wouldn’t be the ones tasked with getting rid of her,”
“Yeah, nip them in the bud. I hope it doesn’t get too serious though,”
Alpha Star chuckled weakly. “True. I wouldn’t like to become a killer at such a young age,”
The two of them sat in silence as their task suddenly loomed ahead in all its sinister glory.
"We should probably leave now," Star One said.
"Yeah. We can meet again if we gather any more information about the target or the mission,"
Star One nodded and stood up. "See ya,"
Star One headed to the rope ladder hanging against one of the walls and climbed up while Alpha Star packed up. Star One emerged into the hollow of a tree trunk and stepped outside, into the forest. Dusk was falling and the lilac sky was visible through the canopy. Branches and leaves crunched beneath her feet as she headed home. Star One had been a bit weirded out when she'd first been informed that their meeting place was a hidden cellar in the woods, but now she liked it. This way no one would find out, no one would know. But there was no denying that the forest creeped her out a bit. Strange creatures slithered and crawled on trees and on the ground. Little wild animals sprung out at the most unexpected times, always giving her a terrible fright. She was a city girl and the woods had been a foreign concept to her. Atleast till now.
Star One could hear Alpha Star's footsteps a few miles behind her. She didn't know what to make of him. He seemed a bit cocky and arrogant, but not too bad. Hopefully they could get along well and just finish this mission as quickly and quietly as possible.
After dinner Zehra had wandered off while Nora had gone to the washroom. She wondered where Zehra was, and remembered that Zehra had wanted to check out Nora’s grand piano. Nora was not musically inclined but her adoptive parents loved music and had a music room where they kept all their instruments and speakers.Nora walked into the music room and found Zehra at the piano. She knew that Zehra liked to play the piano but she wasn’t aware the Zehra was this good at it. Nora stood at the doorway as Zehra sang softly.“And you can’t see my covered hair, so you sit there and you stare, and you judge me with your eyes, you’re sure I’m in despair! But are you not aware... under the scarf that I wear, I have feelings, and I do care...”Nora smiled, and sat beside Zehra. She nodded at Nora and continued to sing. The words flowed out of her and Nora was reminded of what a beautiful voice Zehra had.<
“I shouldn’t have gone to the stupid party!” Ivanka shouted, tears streaming down her face.She was finally home; she’d hunted Hugo down and got home as soon as possible. She felt uncomfortably cold, even after having taken a warm bath and wearing warm clothes. Hurt and anger stirred in her chest and she felt awful. Humiliation filled her as she remembered the raucous laughter of the jocks who'd been in the pool when she fell. The water and loose dress combined with the mascara on her face had made her look like a total idiot. Ivanka squeezed her eyes shut, willing the embarrassing images to go away. What was it it about her that was so disastrous? How did she always land in such situations and wind up embarrassing herself? Why had she gone to the stupid party in the first place?!“It was your decision. I didn’t force you to come,” Hugo bit back. "In fact, you persuaded me to take you along with you,"
Nora and Zehra picked up a sleepy Ivanka from her house and headed to school in Nora’s car. Ivanka immediately fell asleep in the backseat but jolted awake when they stopped abruptly at a red light.“Didn’t sleep well yesterday?” Zehra asked.Ivanka shook her head. “Party at Shay Chris'.”The light turned green but neither Nora nor Zehra moved as they gaped at Ivanka. The car behind them honked and Zehra finally found her voice. “You. Ivanka Anne Schneider. Went. To. A cheerleader party?!”Ivanka ran a hand through her hair. “Just start the damn car, we’re causing a block.”Nora started driving and Zehra turned to Ivanka.“Seriously, what’s wrong with you? Shay Chris' party? Were you high!”“There could’ve been consequences,&rdquo
Alpha Star and Star One sat in the dark basement in front of the laptop.“I sent the voice clippings to MRO.” said Star One.“Good. They’ll like that,” Alpha Star said.“Yes. And I’ve heard a new organization has cropped up. They call themselves SRO. Kinda like an anti-MRO programme.”“SRO? What does that stand for?”“No idea.”“Hmm...” Alpha star said absentmindedly.“Listen... don't you think this is all–”“No,”“What?”“No. I know what you’re about to ask and I’ve asked it to myself a hell lot of times, and the answer is no.”Star One sighed. “Fine, what’s our next move?”
Svetlana Johnson sat across from Hugo Schneider as he ate his hamburger and she picked at her salad.“Does Lucas know?”“Yes. He wasn't happy,”Svetlana pursed her lips. “I'm not surprised.”“Does your sister know about us?”He shook his head. “No. Hardly anyone knows,”“Ivanka would be livid if she found out,”Hugo was quiet for some time. “Why do you torture her like that?”Svetlana shifted uncomfortably. “It’s not under my control, Hugo. You have to get that. I... I must do it. I must do as Alicia says or I’m...”“You’re what?”Svetlana swallowed and took her time. “Alicia knows a lot of stuff about me.”“What stuff?”
Zehra did get selected for the songbird contest. She squealed and hugged Nora and Ivanka, jumping up and down. Despite all her pretence and modesty, Zehra really did love singing. Seema Singh came up to them.“Congrats, Zehra. I heard you sing, it was amazing.”“Thanks!”“Hey Seema, you okay now?” Ivanka asked. Seema looked confused.“What?”“You know, you were sick and everything...”Seema rolled her eyes and ran a hand down her face. “Listen, I’m S-I-K-H, okay? You’re Jewish, Zehra’s a Muslim and I’m Sikh. Get it?”“Oh.” Ivanka looked dumbstruck. “Sorry...”“It’s fine, I get it all the time. Anyways, gotta run see you around!” Seema said and ran off.Zehra’s p
Zehra entered home and locked the door behind her.“Assalamu Alaykum, Mama,” she called out.“Wa alaykum salam, Zea,” her mother replied, emerging from the kitchen.Zehra put her sneakers away and was about to head upstairs to her room, when she noticed that something was off. She turned at the foot of the stairs and saw her mom watching her with a distant expression.“What’s up. Mama?”Her mother shrugged. “Nothing. Go and take a shower.”Zehra put her backpack down and removed her scarf. “Alright, tell me.”Her mom glared at her. “Go take a shower and pray ‘Asr, Zea,”“Not till you tell me what’s going on,” Zehra said and sat on the bottom stair, knowing that this would take some persuasion. Brown parents
Lucas plopped onto the seat next to Zehra's. She was agitated."Sup. Zehra.""Hey, Luke," she said absentmindedly."What's wrong?""Huh? Nothing. Nothing's wrong.""What happened? Another email!?Zehra sighed and shook her head. And then she told him everything. Lucas felt his blood boil as his jaw tightened and his fist curled."That son of a..." He got up suddenly walked out of the classroom. She sat confused, till she heard a commotion and rushed outside.Lucas was punching the living daylights out of Hugo.Zehra's hand flew to her mouth as they pounded at each other. Lucas' eyes had darkened and he was furious."How dare you, you conniving traitor!"Punch."I can't believe you were my friend!Punch."I trusted you!!"Kick.It took three minutes for four of their teammates to pull them apart. Ivanka rushed to Hugo and