By: Bryan Tan
It was a Saturday morning, and I was in a plane heading over the Atlantic Ocean to reach the CIA headquarters near Washington DC.
I glanced at my watch. It was three o’clock in the morning, and somehow knowing that made me sleepier. This was probably the effect your body would take a toll on when you wake up to the sound of turbulence.
Adrenaline pumped through my veins, and my heart beat at my chest, screaming for it to let out of my rib cage. I was strapped tightly to my comfy seat cushion, still not quite grasping the meaning of all this. For some reason, there was a mirror installed in the seat in front of me. My hair was a rat's nest, with a mohawk on the left side of my head—a result of my restless sleeping—and the occasional mark from spilled milk splotched smack dab in the middle of my shirt. I tried to imagine how I looked. I grinned at the thought of it all.
It was a disorderly scene, and as I peered out the windows, I could make out a few cumulonimbus clouds below me.
The dismal weather made me feel worse. I had never seen anything quite like it. Cracks of lightning and thunder reverberated almost simultaneously, and when you take in the fact that the sun was still shining jubilantly on top of all that mess, you start to wonder how it was so calm up there.
And then I realized reality as it all sank in again.
I hit myself for just remembering. Two weeks ago, on March 30, my grandfather died. I had never seen him before, so I was unfazed, or at least how they described it when comparing it with the tragic turn of events when my pet hamster died. He had made an invention but died quickly after skin cancer. It held the key to future forensics. It could change all current theories and even challenge general knowledge related directly to math, history, and who knows what else.
How was I part of all this drama?
You see, my grandfather had not built the invention yet. He did have blueprints, but they were all locked in his underground bunker. He was dead serious about this stuff, and I heard he would spend a few hours a day just investigating if anybody had been at his workshop. The last time the world heard of him before he died, he was having dinner in a restaurant to celebrate his eighty-second birthday. Unfortunately, he put a lock on the door that required gene scanning and eye pattern recognition. On top of all that, there was a twenty-three-digit code to unlock the scanning system in the first place.
That was where I came in since I was the closest to my grandfather. That meant I could maybe help unlock everything.
At least, that was everything I knew from overhearing the news.
I felt uncomfortable in the seat I was strapped in, mainly because I had to get in from an awkward position while my hands fumbled the whole time when a big bulky guy kept reminding me to hurry up. They kept on reminding me this was all a very urgent case. Honestly, I thought he needed some mental help. Somebody died and did not get to finish an invention, big deal.
Dumbstruck? I know, I know. My teacher tells me to talk slower and jump down a dimension whenever I start doing that.
Perhaps I should start with my name. Hi. I am Drew Thompson. Being twelve makes me a ninth grader.
No, not quite.
First, I am what you would consider a genius. I got to skip a few grade levels, but some bad news about this is I get older classmates that sneak surreptitious glances at me when they think I am not looking or if I am taking a small nap in physics. At some point, you realize it gets too awkward.
My heart was beating faster, and it was getting eerily silent in the plane except for the occasional vibrations of turbulence.
Second, I have something called perfect recall. It helps me ace everything I need to ace. If I read an entire Wikipedia article, I remember everything from it, but sometimes the words get jumbled. It sounds like a gift, but sometimes there are things I do not want to remember. Around five, I decided life was boring when the answers went ding in my head the moment I read even a quarter of a problem.
A kind voice interrupted my train of thought. “May I help you? I can understand the stress you are in from all this disturbance,” the lady waved and gestured around, carrying a thick British accent.
She was dressed in a black and white outfit, having a neat ponytail ending at her shoulders. She had uniquely pink eyebrows, the color of cotton candy, with streaks of white running through them. From guesstimating, her age was twenty-nine.
I honestly had zero clue what to answer. Uh, no. I am fine, except that I am only a 12-year-old child lacking sleep, or why am I even on a plane? Maybe I could have some water, thanks.
It turned into a mix between the three, “Sorry if I sound rude, but I need sleep that a 12-year-old needs. A cup of water would be lovely, thanks.” Whatever it was, something important happened since I was on a plane at 2:00 AM, so I aimed high to make a charming first impression, even if my lack of sleep interfered with my ability to do so.
"Oh yeah, quick question: why am I in a plane right now?"
“Oh, um, I might not be the person you should ask. I will gladly give you a cup of water though." She looked troubled. It looked like she wished she knew the answer to my question. I guessed this was top-secret stuff, but then, I could just be getting too creative about it.
Off the top of my head, my first inference was that I was getting pulled into an interview. Then, of course, the interviewers come to my place at a more reasonable time.
I sighed. I was on my first plane ride, and there was a reason.
I was afraid of planes.
Thinking of yourself being that high up with nothing under you is terrifying. Funny how someone with such a high IQ can doubt the physics of planes so quickly because of his instincts.
The lady walked behind me and whispered something to a man. The next thing I knew, he was coming over.
“Sorry for the hustle. I am Agent Dan from the National Forensics Association. ” His hazel eyes locked on me. He reached his blue-glove-covered hand out for a handshake but then jokingly jerked it back.
“Er… I forgot kids this age will not do handshakes,” he chuckled. He seemed like a good man, a trustworthy one. But even so, my nerves were still screaming stranger danger. I could not help but smell the scent of freshly opened plastic gloves.
I stared at him like a lunatic.
“I understand you are confused right now. Why are you even on a plane?” He paused. He took a loud sip from his morning coffee. “Well, as you may already know, a passed away grandpa of yours had this, this, breakthrough,” Agent Dan had a twinkle in his eyes. “It was a great deal for future forensics, and he was quite a bright man. According to records, he had an IQ of 177. But the most important aspect is his creativity and perspective changed the physics and laws of our forensics. Some were concerned this would not turn out well, and some were enthusiastic. In the end, he proved some wrong and some right. But most importantly, now we finally have a chance to seek this knowledge he was onto,”
“You mean you were not able to, like, access the information before he died? Was he, like, keeping it to himself?”
Dan rubbed his temples for a long while before breaking the silence. “Let’s just say he thought some breakthroughs were too risky to share with others.”
“Like, he was afraid some bad guys would get the breakthrough, whatever that was, and like, use it for bad stuff?”
Dan nodded. “We were clueless to his discovery,” said a voice behind Dan, “until yesterday, when we picked you up immediately, ASAP.”
The voice belonged to a bald woman.
The only sound I could make before Dan slapped his hands on my mouth was an eek.
“Mia is sensitive when it comes to her baldness,” Dan hissed gently, his breath smelling like mint gum and black coffee. “She got some thallium poisoning in her noodle soup on a mission nine years ago. Huge blow to her, you know?”
My eyes drifted out the window, not understanding. I was slightly embarrassed, confused about whether or not I understood.
Dan slapped his forehead. “Thallium is lethal. Even if you get immediate emergency help, you lose your hair over time.”
I soon noted that Dan seemed to be saying enough about her baldness that suggested not to ask any questions. In the back of my head, I thought this was strange.
“Already getting into detective mode, huh?” I murmured to myself.
Mia pointed her chin towards Dan. “Gatorade?”
Dan opened his hand, and Mia tossed it to him. They had been friends for some time.
“So, what did I miss out on?” Mia said.
She then noticed me still staring with my completely idiotic face. I wondered if this was a bald man with plastic surgery and lots of makeup.
“Hi. Did Dan confuse you too much with his explanations?” Mia slightly spits her tongue out at Dan. Without waiting for me to answer, she said, “See? Dan, I told you you were a bad, no, horrible explainer.”
“Well, if I’m terrible at explaining, then what does that make of you?" Dan retorted.
“Well, whatever it is, it’s better than you!” Mia countered.
“No! If I’m horrible, then you must be terrible!” Dan said with a chuckle.
“Well, that’s not true!”
I was honestly surprised to see Mia this amiable. I had expected her to be bizarre or unique, but she got along great with Dan. Their laughter brought out the humor in me.
“Well, technically, horrible is worse than terrible, so..."
My speech caught the attention of Dan and Mia as they slowly turned their heads toward me like they had completely forgotten I was there. Then they burst into laughter.
I felt more welcomed, considering they were part of some national society for forensics.
“Why don’t we give our guest a small tour?” Dan suggested after catching his breath, already waving at me to follow him, a smile painted on his face, his jovial countenance expressing his buoyant mood.
“The ride won’t be short as we are going in some loops just to shake some people off our tail. That’s why we tried to make your stay as welcoming as possible.” Dan proudly opened a door near the back of the plane, leading to a luxury room lined with gold curtains and a mattress imprinted with rubies.
It was as if Dan had read my mind because as soon as I walked into the room, he pulled a switch, and the tiles on the floor shifted, revealing a secret bathroom and drawer that had rotated into place, seemingly out of nowhere.
Dan gestured with his hands. I walked into the room, my eyes greedily taking in the wondrous view and the sparkle of jewelry. Dan left the room to let me enjoy it by myself. The sight was too much to take in, as I had never had this much luxury in my life. Running my hands across the smooth surface of the bed, I suddenly felt extremely tired. I woke up very early in the morning, and I barely got any real sleep on the plane so far.
Just a little nap won’t hurt. I don’t have anything to do anyways. Upon closing my eyes, I suddenly began to feel a strange prickly sensation on my scalp and neck. A portentous shrieking noise was becoming louder and louder. I peered out the windows. A bulbous missile was heading towards the right side of the plane, just where I was! Fumbling with my hands, I stumbled to the door, opened it, and yelled frantically. Mia was the first to hear me. She walked out of the cockpit, and her blue eyes pierced questionably into me.
“I think there’s a missile heading towards us!”
“Uh, to the right!”
“Get into the cockpit. It’s bullet and missile-proof. I’ll see what I can do.” She rushed into my room, alerting Dan as well through a small bead-like transmitter.
I felt like a useless piece of deadweight in the cockpit. I thought I should be helping, not just sitting in an everything-proof chamber, waiting to be rescued. I also couldn’t stand looking through the windows. The vast sea of clouds was taunting me, as if I was just a grain of sand being blown around in a desert, helpless. The white expanse that seemed to stretch on forever was constantly shifting like a beast in restless sleep. If it woke up, I would become its victim, falling into its infinite stretch of a mouth.
Every second I was expecting to hear an explosion of shrapnel and debris getting blown out. But nothing happened. Instead, a flashing red light appeared on a control screen. An automated female voice announced that an unknown object had interfered with the plane's trajectory. A diagram I had only seen before in movies had popped up, showing that some... thing had attached itself to the belly of the plane.
What?! Something attached to the plane?
I just couldn’t stay put anymore. Sliding open the cockpit door, I found myself in a perplexing sight. Five men were surrounding Dan and Mia, who were raising their guns back-to-back in a defensive stance. Four of the five men were holding tranquilizer guns. The fifth one was holding a jar containing some clear liquid, which sloshed violently as if it was a monster waiting to be let out of prison. Dan and Mia raised their guns, pointing them at one man, then another. I didn’t know what to do, and the men didn’t seem to notice me, so I just crept slowly from behind.
Dan saw me, his eyes widening, his expression telling me to leave.
“Look, there are two options. The first one is simple, just give me the kid. The second choice may not be too pretty.” The man holding the liquid threatened in a menacing voice. “Just so you know, one drop of this liquid,” the man gestured to the tiny glass vial with liquid inside, “just one drop can melt through anything. Except, of course, this glass. So I’ll give you ten seconds to decide: the boy or the entire crew?”