Song: “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” instrumental by Thematic Pianos
“I made you cookies,” I said to Nine, laying a plate of peanut butter cookies in front of him. “They’re soft and warm just the way you like them.”
“Thanks,” Nine said, swiping a cookie off.
“And here’s some milk,” I added, placing the glass next to his left hand.
“Thanks,” he said again.
“You need anything else?” I asked him. “Is it warm enough? Is the milk good? It’s 2 percent and I couldn’t remember if you liked 2 percent or whole.”
Nine dipped his cookie into the milk then took a bite. “It’s fine, Six. Thanks.”
I took a deep breath. I would’ve sat down with him, but I couldn’t sit. Not with everything on my mind. So I stayed standing and paced the room in front of the table as he ate.
“What’s up?” he asked me.
“Something’s happening,” I started. “With all the agents. Something’s coming. And I just want you to know that no matter what happens, I’m here for you.”
“I know,” Nine nodded.
“No.” I stopped and shook my head. “Listen to me. No matter what happens and no matter what anyone says, I’m here for you. If stuff starts to go down, I’m with you. If you leave, I leave. If you stay, I stay. Wherever you go, I’ll go.”
“Sis,” Nine said, looking at me with that worried face he always makes. “What’s going on? Why are you so worried all of a sudden?”
I turned my back to him and my head brushed against the lines of grenades hanging from the ceiling. I glanced at the left wall where all the submachine guns were racked. Was I missing one? Did someone take it? No, that was impossible. Nothing had shown up when I’d checked the cameras that morning. No one could get in here without me knowing or letting them in.
I glanced at the wall on the right to make sure all the magazines were still in place.
“Sis,” Nine’s voice snapped me back to the conversation. “What are you talking about?”
I turned back to him and walked up to the table. “Stuff has been going on. Someone’s targeting the agents. People don’t know who to trust and I want you to know that you can trust me.”
“I know I can trust you. And trust me, nothing’s happening.”
I groaned and lowered my head. He was always so slow to see problems that were right in front of him. Why was I always the only one who saw things coming? Why was this my curse? Why did I have to be the security system for the family? Why didn’t my brothers feel the danger coming when I did? Why did I have to have this high-resolution Spider-Sense and everyone else got to walk around in blissful innocence of the dangers lurking around every corner?
“Look at this,” I finally said, striding over to the back wall. From top to bottom it was covered in strings of different colors, connecting various pictures of the different agents in the agency. There were x’s marked on the faces of One, Four, and Two, circles and checks on Seven, Five, and Eight, and question marks on Nine, Three, and me. I reached out and touched the question mark on my face. It all came together in a giant, interconnected web that, to me pointed to a very clear conclusion–we were in danger. But to Nine and Three, this was just their little sister being paranoid again.
“Some of the agents are turning on each other,” I explained.
“No, Six,” Nine tried to reassure me. “I’m sure it’s nothing. If anything, it’s just a few feelings getting shot around here and there.”
“What do you mean?” I insisted. “Haven’t you heard? One took out Four. Then Four took out Two. Then Two–”
“Listen, Six,” he touched my shoulder and I spun, not realizing he had gotten out of his seat.
He glanced at the submachine guns hanging on the wall and the rows of grenades dangling like Christmas lights from the ceiling. I knew what he was thinking. Him and Three always joked that my apartment looked less like a living room and more like a black market arms shop. But he didn’t say anything this time and I was glad.
“What if the same thing happens to us?” I said.
“It won’t,” he assured me. “We all know that we’re on a different page than the other agents. ‘You, me, and Three’, remember?”
I nodded and looked down at my forearms. The number ‘3’ was tattooed on my left arm and ‘9’ on my right. ‘6’ was on the back of my neck. I’d gotten them a while ago as my way of showing them that no matter what, they’d always be with me and I’d always be with them.
Then something occurred to me.
“I think something’s wrong with Three,” I said. “I texted him today and he still hasn’t responded. And I called him and left a message. What if they already got to him? What if he crossed sides and he’s working with them? What if they’re planning something and they’re trying to take us out?”
“Sis,” Nine said. His phone vibrated and I saw his face change when he looked at it. I wanted to ask who it was, but he cut me off before I could.
“Look at me,” he said, rubbing my arms softly. “We’re all in this together. You can trust us. Three is fine.”
“Are you sure? Why hasn’t he responded? Did you talk to him?”
His phone vibrated again and he put it on silent.
“Who is that?” I wanted to know. “Is that Three?”
“Are you in trouble?” I asked, already swiping an Uzi off the wall. “Is someone coming for you? Who is it? Who do we need to fight?”
“No one, Six,” Nine sighed. “Everything’s alright.”
I held the Uzi in my arms as I eyed him carefully. Something wasn’t right, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Now I wasn’t sure if I should be more worried about Three or worried about whoever this was who was texting Nine. Either way, I still didn’t have an answer as to why Three hadn’t answered my text. Even if he wasn’t upset at me, what if he wasn’t answering because he’d already been attacked?
“Can you talk to him?” I finally asked Nine.
He sighed and lowered his head. “Sure. I’ll talk to him. But promise me something.”
“Anything,” I said.
He gave me that worried big brother look he always gave before he said something he knew I wouldn’t like and I knew what was coming. “Please leave the apartment.”
“You need to get out more.”
I ran my hand through my hair.
“Just get some fresh–”
“Okay,” I cut him off. “I’ll try.”
He turned and headed towards the door.
“Hey,” I called before he left. He stopped and looked over his shoulder at me. “I love you.”
He grinned. “Love you too, sis.”
Then he left and shut the door behind him.
I turned and faced the web on my back wall again and my entire body suddenly went cold. Nothing else on the web had changed, except for one very small detail.
There was now an x on my face.
Original artwork by Andrea Ng