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The Never Ending Rules to the Game
Always be prepared.
It was either always or never. I put the heavy leather-bound book on the table in front of me and gave my head a shake. Many hours had passed since I’d entered the library, expecting to give the Book of Rules a quick read before starting on my homework—my plans never went in the direction I wanted.
Shortly after sitting down, a short lady had waltzed up to me and placed a folded letter on the table, gesturing to it for one second, before walking away, wordless. My regret at not asking her a question plucked my insides.
The letter had vaguely explained my mission—first, to read the book, and then, to follow someone. Everything would make sense to me then. Follow who? How could following someone give me a clue to whatever it was I was supposed to find? Could I do it? Did I think I was ready? Did they think I was ready?
Always know your mission.
He was wearing a white baseball cap and casual clothes. His shoes were neatly tied and I saw a glint of light come off his finger. He wore a ring. It was on his left hand, probably because he was married. His hair was cut short and barely stuck out of the cap. He was a young man, muscular; I figured he was in his late twenties.
This was the man I was supposed to follow.
Knowing my mission was an instinct that had been ingrained into my head from a young age. My training had come to this: my first mission. But finding out what to do, what information to gather—that would be hard. The Book of Rules was very specific as to what to do and not to do. It was terse, straight to the point; there was never a time when the rules were confusing. You followed them, and you survived.
The man stood up, a small, paperback book in his right hand. He handed it to the woman behind the counter and checked it out with a library card.
Always be steadfast.
Calmly, I tucked the Book of Rules under my arm and swung my bag over a shoulder, then went to the counter as well. I tried to make myself look unsuspicious, and ‘accidentally’ knocked into the man. His library card fell by my feet.
Quickly, an embarrassed look on my face, I said, “I’m sorry. I wasn’t watching where I was going.” A lie. I picked up the card, only glancing at it once. HARRY PICKLE. Now I knew his name.
Never raise suspicions.
Always lie when you have to.
He forgave me and left the library, this incident probably already gone from his mind. I wanted to smile slyly, but the woman behind the counter was watching. Fortunately, I had a plan. “Do you have any book recommendations for me?” I asked.
She shrugged. “Most of the good books are already taken.”
“Oh.” My face fell. “That’s too bad.” Then I sighed and looked around me. “Well, I guess I’ll come back another time. Thanks for your help anyway.”
Never trust anyone.
Always have people trust you.
I walked outside and managed to keep a trail on Mr. Pickle. He took his car keys out of a pocket and unlocked his convertible, stepping inside. I hoped my bike would be sufficient for following him; how far away could he live?
My heart was thumping with anticipation. The engine of the car revved up and I walked slowly to my bike, unlocking the chain. Mr. Pickle drove right past me, never suspecting that he was on my mind, never suspecting that he was my target.
As I rode my bike along the sidewalk, my hair blowing past me, the silence of the world washed over me, resonated, rested upon the very essence that was me. The car was quite far ahead of me, but it was still in sight.
At times like these, I always found myself wondering what life was like for the normal, what my life would have been like if my father had changed his mind, if my mother hadn’t been who she had ended up becoming, the person I felt like I was becoming.
When she first sat me down to have a talk, our first mature conversation, she had explained the Ways of her People, explained that there were certain Rules involved, explained that once you became a Recruit, you could never leave the Community. And so now I was a part of the Community, playing a role in the Game.
I didn’t know my job yet; I was never assigned a fixed one. Right now, I was simply performing a mission, likely to test the skills I had, and the way I worked. Only then would I be a full Member, instead of the mere Initiate I still was.
In retrospect, I was extremely ahead of my years, having been born into the Community, and having been taught the Ways since a little girl.
Never lose sight.
Always keep your eyes open.
The car was slowing down and I switched back to the present, where my mission was still taking place. I could see the car entering the gates of a large house, a place I would call a mansion. As trained, I stopped my bike and got off, preparing to make my way inside the house without being seen, and to find out the point of my mission.
Why had my dad never stopped me from becoming this person? I wondered. Had he not cared that I would live as some sort of spy, instead of a normal person like himself? Or was it that he had admired my mother’s job so much that he wanted his daughter to follow in her footsteps?
These were the thoughts that plagued my mind as I walked to the gates of the house. I wouldn’t just walk through them of course. Things were never that easy.
Never get too close.
Always blend in.
I found my way in around the back of the mansion. The entire building was surrounded by a wall, but one side had been covered up with trees and vines that hadn’t been tended to in a while. This would be my way in.
Climbing the wall was easy, especially when I could do it so quickly that it was unlikely that anyone had seen me. This mission wasn’t too difficult—not yet anyway. I had been expecting this for several weeks now, since passing the Seventh Test. Whatever I had been given, I had told myself I would do it as skillfully as an expert.
Which was what I did. I couldn’t wait until nightfall, because then I wouldn’t have followed the Rules. I was never to lose sight of my target. Even though I knew the general area he was in, I couldn’t see him, and that would be a liability.
Softly, I flipped myself over to the other side of the wall, landing on soft tufts of grass. There had to be a back door somewhere… But it couldn’t be too obvious. It couldn’t be too easy.
I found a metal door by the side of the building but I didn’t enter through there. It stood out from the bricks of the sturdy mansion. I reckoned the door was a trap, only to fool those who didn’t understand the Laws. They wouldn’t even be allowed to hold the Book of Rules. And they would never be allowed to be in the Game.
It was a tunnel more than a door. There was a hidden door right by the metal door and I removed a lose brick, which set the automatic opening into motion. I had to crouch in order to fit inside the dark hallway that surely led into the house.
Never make unnecessary noises.
Always be listening.
The voices were muffled at first. The dark tunnel twisted and turned, leading to some sort of vent that would eventually be my way in. Except there were voices there as well. I strained to hear what they were saying.
“John, you can’t really think that. What happened to the woman you fell I love with?” A throaty voice said. In the back of my mind, I registered that my father had the same name.
John, or the man I reckoned was John, answered nonchalantly, “That’s in the past. We have greater things to do. I called you here for a reason, Harry. I need your help.”
“What could I possibly do?” This was Harry Pickle, the man I had followed. I twitched with excitement at having found him so soon. Usually, missions relied on chance as much as skill. There was a pause before Harry continued. “You don’t mean… But… You’re crazy!”
“No. I’m not.”
Harry Pickle sighed loudly. “Show it to me. This doesn’t mean I agree, but I’ll see what I can do.”
Their footsteps echoed as they walked away. I counted to ten before kicking the vent that had separated me from the room. I hadn’t been able to see a thing from there, but now I found myself in a living room, with ugly-looking couches and a lit fireplace.
Never be yourself.
Always be surrounded.
Living in a place like this, there were sure to be servants of some sort. A single man, even two men, weren’t likely to be living here and have it this neat all the time.
I walked outside the living room and was able to find the kitchen after making several wrong turns. A woman in an apron stood there, putting away clean dishes. She didn’t see me, as I stood behind her, and I waited until she had let go of the last plate before grabbing her from behind.
She struggled, of course, which I had expected, but I grabbed a cloth I’d seen lying on the kitchen table, the island, as most would call it, and gagged her. And then I worked on her hands and legs. This was all basic, things I’d learned almost immediately after being recruited.
The challenging skills consisted of watching, observing, learning, like the Rules of the Game implied—to always hide behind the cover of a shadow, or, in this case, a servant.
I walked out of the kitchen when my job within it was complete.
Never be too overconfident.
Always look over a shoulder.
The hallways were mostly empty, with wall hangings and paintings on either side of me. The faces of the people in some of the paintings followed me, judged me, and I breathed even breaths, ignoring the prying eyes as I took turn after turn, having memorized my way back to the living room.
The eyes were not those of real people, and I didn’t worry about getting caught, though I made sure every turn I made was careful. Besides, my clothes would help me blend in.
Recalling the direction of the voices as they had faded when I had still been in the vent earlier, I made a snap decision on which way to go once I had gotten to the living room. There was no doubt in my saying I was going the wrong way.
Never be unsure.
Always have a plan.
I walked more slowly now, because, really, I didn’t know where I was going. The weight of a small broken rule, twice now—never loose sight of your target—settled on me, but I calmed my anxious heart. As long as I stayed composed, the mission would proceed without trouble.
A memory wiggled its way to the front of my mind; it was a memory of my parents and I, sitting at a table, chatting happily about the most mundane subjects. It was insignificant, as I thought about it—I had been wanting a pet, because I knew lots of children who had those. Couldn’t I experience what other kids did?
I soon found out that pets, or any distractions, would hold me back from who I was supposed to be; it made me weak, and weakness was disrespectful in the Community’s eyes.
Still, something deep inside me stirred softly, aching for something I shouldn’t have wanted, having never known it. I couldn’t want anything. The Ways were strict, clear, concise, and I had always been taught them. This stirring within me was simply nerves, I told myself.
There. The voices, once again. They came from a room on my left; the door had been left ajar, and I gradually pushed the door slightly wider, so that I could look into the room. My eyes made out my exit routes if I were to be discovered, or if I happened to make a sound.
The two men stood side-by-side, and I finally got my look at John.
Always be prepared.
The Rule made me choke this time. I felt like I couldn’t breathe.
How could I believe such an impossible thing? But the men stood there, next to something I knew I shouldn’t have been given clearance to lay my eyes upon. But that wasn’t the only thing that made me take in deep, raggedy breaths, and cause my heart to beat widely with this unusual feeling of longing…
To jeopardize the mission or not to? I took a deep breath, smoothed out my ‘borrowed’ uniform, and made my decision. And then I took a step into the room.