Rachel stirred the maple syrup on her plate with her fork. Lauren shoveled a second helping of pancakes in her mouth, one-handed. Debriefing with Casey was hungry work and they hadn’t eaten since dinner last night. Each time Lauren opened her mouth for another bit the strange siren started up. A soft white latticework covered the outside corners of her eyes and her hair had a definite white tinge to it like someone had dusted it with snow. They were mostly alone in the cafeteria. Normally the big space sitting empty would bother Rachel, but this morning she was glad no one was around. She could just see all the other Agents and Support Crews staring at Lauren out of the corner of their eyes and whispering about her. Better to be alone.
“Any super powers yet?”
Lauren shook her head and shrugged.
Rachel sighed. “I want to do something. I’m sick of sitting around waiting to find out what’s going on.”
Lauren nodded in agreement. She took a last bite, filled the room with a siren, shut her mouth, and pulled out her tablet. Rachel watched over her shoulder shivering in the cold room. It would be only a few more minutes before it filled with the daytime crews coming in and the nighttime crews leaving. Lauren tugged her sleeve and pointed at her tablet.
“Good idea, Lauren. Let’s do our own investigation. Where is Peter?”
Lauren typed and Rachel shook her head. “We’re not asking Janice. She’ll never help us.”
Lauren bit her lower lip then smiled. She pulled up a schismatic of the Agency and pointed to the block of rooms where they debriefed the agents after missions.
“You think he’s still in one of them? No, you’re right, it’s a good place to start,” Rachel said before Lauren could shrug. “Let’s go.”
They found Peter behind door number 5 doodling on a napkin. A plate of donuts and an empty mug that looked like its contents had once been hot chocolate sat beside him.
“Hey!” he jumped up as they came in. “I asked to see you hours ago and they said I could—”
He stopped when he got a clear view of Lauren.
“She doesn’t have any super powers yet,” Rachel said. “And she can’t talk.”
“Why can’t she talk?” Peter asked.
Lauren opened her mouth and filled the small room with the haunting siren sound.
“Oh. I see.”
“Look,” Rachel said. “We know you already talked with Casey, but can we ask you some questions?”
“Sure,” Peter said. He climbed back in his chair. Lauren picked up one of the donuts and shoved it in her mouth muffling the siren. “I told Casey—”
Lauren stopped him with a donut-squelched blast from her mouth.
“Don’t tell us,” Rachel said. “We want to ask our own questions.”
Lauren grabbed her tablet and opened a note taking app. She pointed to the first question.
“You know the tree house in your back yard?” Rachel said after reading from the tablet.
“Tell us about it. Any special qualities? How much time do you spend there?”
Peter furrowed his brows. “Agent Casey didn’t ask me any questions like that.”
“Of course not,” Rachel said. “He’s a grown-up. Sometimes they get busy and forget to look up.”
“I play in the House, that’s what we call it, every day, pretty much.”
“Do you play in it when you get home from school?”
“When I get done with school. I’m home-schooled.”
“Us too,” Rachel said. “Why do you play up there?”
“Well,” Peter said guardedly. “It’s not like I’m playing house with my baby sister even though we call it the House.”
Lauren shook her head.
“We have a fort,” Rachel said. “We use it as base when we play capture the flag. Sometimes we spend the night in it. It’s also where we keep some of our Agency stuff cause our Mom doesn’t come up there very often.”
“Right!” Peter said. “The House has a mail box, or well, it’s a mail tube. My Dad built it. It connects to Roger’s tree house. We can send messages back and forth. I keep a lot of paper in the tree house. His house connects to Susie’s and hers connects to Ben. The lines go through the whole neighborhood until they get back to mine.”
“All the kids are connected?” Rachel asked after a nudge from Lauren.
“All but one.”
“Who?” Rachel said.
“Rick Bunker. He’s in house 1307.”
Lauren pulled up an aerial view of the neighborhood. She held it up to Peter and handed him her stylus.
“Can you draw the connections?” Rachel asked. “And show us Rick’s house.”
“Sure.” Peter picked his house out and drew a thick yellow line between the different homes of the kids. Last, he circled one house left outside the network before handing it back to Lauren. “We had to string a line over to Beth’s house and then to Nan’s before going back to Jake’s to bypass Rick’s house. His parents threw a fit when Ben’s Dad explained what the line was for. They made him cut it down and re-wire it. My Dad helped him.”
“Why were they so upset?” Rachel said.
“Something about an invasion of privacy.”
Lauren typed on her tablet and held it up to Peter. He read it and smiled. “Thanks, I think the Network’s pretty cool too.”
“What else do you do in the House?” Rachel said.
“Well, it’s cool cause it’s up so high. I can see a long ways off, if I look out the side. There aren’t any trees blocking the way.”
“Can you see into Rick’s yard?” Rachel asked just as Lauren started typing. Lauren gave her a high-five of agreement.
Peter shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “Look, I try not to see into his yard, but it’s right there. Dad said not to pry. He said respect their wishes. But it was right there.”
…To Be Continued…