St. Joshua’s Academy: Chapter Three
Before she could begin to panic a blue light flickered on to illuminate the small space, now that she could see her surroundings she realised that far from a box in the ground it was in fact a very swanky and high-tech looking lift. It was still plummeting and her stomach was somewhere near her throat, but seeing the brushed metal walls and myriad of buttons across the ceiling made her feel somewhat calmer than she had been a moment go. Somewhere in the back of her mind she wondered if she was like Charlie but in reverse, a mental elevator instead of a glass one and plummeting down into the earth instead of through the ceiling.
Snapping her back to reality and as swiftly as the lift had descended, it shuddered to a halt and made a completely out-of-place ‘ping’ as the wall to her back opened, Martha had been leaning on said wall and so stumbled backwards and out into another metal lined room. An automated voice blasted all around her “Agent J, please state your Agency code” to which J pulled out his harmonica and played three ascending notes. “Agent J confirmed. Please enter sterilisation pod”.
“Sorry about this, you never know you see. Could pick up an array of radiation or airborne viruses, H insists on it.” He said to Martha, she almost thought he seemed embarrassed at this excessive measure. Because going down in a hidden lift to an underground lair was completely normal, Martha thought sarcastically. Nevertheless she followed him through to a glass corridor where she was blasted with a gust of sweet air and nearly blinded by a flickering light which grew to drench the whole glass box before flickering back out again. Martha coughed and followed J, somewhat blindly, out of the box via another door at the opposite end of that which they had entered.
Reaching a hand to her head she could feel her frizzy hair sticking out in all angles and she sighed resignedly at the knowledge she probably looked even worse than she usually looked of a morning. Looking around her, she slowly lowered her hand as she realised that she was standing in a wide open cavern, all around her there was the telltale click clacking of keys on a keyboard as she looked to her left and saw a cluster of people crowded around low desks along one side of the ginormous room with multiple screens stuck high up to the roof, the data on the screens looked completely incomprehensible to Martha, all green blobs and long streams of digits. Looking to her right she saw a group of people wearing the symbolic white coats and goggles of scientists encased in a perspex rectangle, which also reached high up toward the ceiling and spanned ten foot in towards the centre of the room. She saw a flash and a stream of smoke and realised that the box was completely sound proof. In the centre of the room was a circular glass office, which J was now standing at the door of.
“Please, do come in.” He gestured for her to go ahead of him and she nervously complied. “Can I get you anything to drink, some tea perhaps?” Martha made a face, she hated tea, seeing her reaction he said, “Ah, not a tea drinker I see. I know just the thing.” Leaning his cane against the back wall he plopped down into the plush chair behind the large oak desk, he opened his drawer and seemed to fiddle with something in it, muttering under his breath. Martha was just wondering if A she was dreaming or B was about to be murdered or C if her sister had pulled off the most elaborate joke of the century, when a section of the desk opened and up came a glass of steaming hot chocolate with a dollop of whipped cream, not realising how thirsty or in fact hungry she had been she automatically licked her lips and leaned forward eagerly. Sitting in the chair opposite J and pulling the drink towards her, she smelt the distinct warm, spicy tingle of cinnamon and looked up at J suspiciously, she and her sister were the only people she knew who liked cinnamon on top of their hot chocolates. He simply smiled back at her innocently as she took a sip and liquid comfort trickled down her throat and into her empty belly.
“So Martha, I know this is very unusual and seems like you’ve stepped into…oh what’s that ridiculous film called…Spy Kids…” he said this with the emphasis on the ‘kids’ which made Martha giggle and momentarily choke on her drink. “…but the CCB has been operating out of St. Joshua’s since its establishment in 1912. Did you know St. Joshua is the patron Saint of Spies? A bit ‘on the nose’ you might say, but sometimes the best hiding place is in plain sight, don’t you think?” He asked her expectantly.
“Yeah?” Martha said not at all sure if she did.
“Did you notice anything…interesting about the ladies and gentlemen we passed out there?” He gestured to outside of his office and Martha let her eyes skim across the people surrounding her, her answer in the negative already on her lips before she spotted something, or rather someone, familiar and her voice caught in her throat. Dressed in a white coat instead of her usual blue, and wearing goggles instead of her hair net was Mary, her favourite dinner lady. Her grey streaked raven hair was unmistakable. Taking another look at some of the others in her vicinity she saw Mr. Halpen the caretaker also dressed in white, instead of his usual brown, and some of the cleaners she knew to attend the other houses on campus. Scanning over towards the left she saw the indisputable hooked nose and thickly framed glasses of Mr. Broom the I.T teacher tapping away furiously at the keyboard in front of him and to his left was Mrs. Albert her photography teacher who seemed to be swiping through a cache of images at the rate of knots.
“It isn’t all of the faculty you understand, just a few. Mr. Rees for example is not in divinat cognitionis, plausible deniability and all that are essential for the figure-head of the academy. That and someone has to deal with the parents!” J chuckles almost sardonically.
“So…Ms. Phillips, she is…ummm…” Martha stuttered.
“Ah yes, she is. She is in fact Hermione Clara Philllips, you know her as Claire and I know her as H. She is the granddaughter of Claire Phillips, American spy. She was instrumental in setting up St. Joshua’s, when she wasn’t busy writing books. Being ‘on the nose’ was apparently her specialty but this place was her secret, her brain child if you will.”
“So, you want me to be…a spy?” The words sounded ridiculous even to Martha and she was the one who had uttered them.
“In so many words—yes. It is very rarely that someone of your instincts appears. It was Joan Stevenson who first alerted us to your special skill set. Something about fixing a grandfather clock in your old school room at Red Hall when you were seven.”
“Mrs. Stevenson?” Martha nearly choked on her hot chocolate, again. She thought back to the petite woman who was so kind to her as a child, her first grown up friend and mentor and struggled to imagine her as being aware of this life.
“Listen, it is a lot to take in I know. So why don’t you take the day to decide. You can meet H in the form room after this evenings reg. I have to warn you however, that if you say a word to anyone today…well the consequences would not be good”. He said looking somewhat severely down his long nose.
“Er, OK. What exactly am I considering? To be a spy? Are you…good guys? I don’t really understand why you told me all this.” Once again Martha was ashamed at her naïveté in this matter. J surprised her with another blasting chortle.
“My dear girl, we are not just good guys we are THE good guys. If you say yes you will be serving Queen and country. There is no finer venture.” He said proudly.
“It sounds a bit old-fashioned to me.” Martha muttered before she could stop herself. In a far gentler tone than she thought she deserved, J simply turned to her and said, “Well maybe that is precisely why we need you on our team.”