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Over the Top Secret - Prologue
AKA Mission Report
Welcome to Over the Top Secret, a fast-paced, humorous mystery about a brainy, relatable heroine, a government experiment gone wrong, and the zany world of T.O.P.S.E.C.R.E.T. espionage! You’re starting at the beginning with the prologue.
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“Hi. My name is Julie Richardson, and this is my first ever mission entry. Mission log? Mission… review.”
I roll my eyes at the image of my recorded self and press the “delete” key again. How long have I been doing this? My stomach growls. Another deep breath. This time I press the space bar a bit more pointedly. The little red dot blinks at me. I smile at the camera.
“Hi there. My name is Julie Richardson, and I have absolutely no idea where to start. The last week has been…” I search for the right word, replaying everything that’s happened in the last few days. The logical part of my brain insists it must have been a fever dream induced by the stress of graduating, and yet the constant aching in my bones and the disheveled, baggy-eyed girl staring back at me suggest otherwise.
Has it really only been a week? I shake my head at my reflection. Time flies when you can’t remember what day it is.
“Insane,” I say, decidedly. It’s the only word that fits. Especially when you consider there’s absolutely no way anyone in their right mind would believe me if I told them. Not that I’m allowed to.
“Anyway,” I continue, “the last week has been totally bizarre and incredibly dangerous. I’m still not entirely sure if things will ever go back to normal. The Director says my situation is only temporary, but I think she’s just trying to convince herself that’s the case. I doubt Simon has any plans to remove his experiment from my brain, no matter how many times The Director tells him to.” I purse my lips, wondering if he’s planning another life-threatening test as I speak. “Honestly, I’m not holding my breath. But I guess that’s something we’ll find out in time. Assuming I live past this next assignment.”
Behind me, a head of short, jet-black hair pops into my video frame, followed by the annoyingly handsome face and ridiculously svelte body of Eric Shaw. He’s wearing his usual—a black leather jacket, white cotton shirt, jeans, and black boots. A single black ringlet juts out from the rest of his luscious waves, curling against his forehead as if to say, “Look at me!” I wonder if he spends time every morning perfecting the look, or if it’s au naturel. Probably the former. He gives me his signature crooked smile and swaggers over to my desk.
“Don’t say that,” he says with false empathy. “You know you’ll survive because it’s my job to save your ass.” He grabs my laptop and looks into the camera with a smolder. “Hi, my name is top secret, and you’re watching the lamest thing I’ve ever seen.” He winks, then shoves the laptop back in my hands.
I stab the pause button and give him my annoyed look, which he’s become oh-so-familiar with. “Ever since you appeared in my life, everything has gone to shit, and I’d really appreciate it if you could give me at least a minute to myself.” He smirks. “Maybe even two,” I add. He’s still standing in my personal bubble. “That’d be great.”
“Julie,” he says, leaning close to my face. His beautiful hazel-eyes stare into my turd-brown ones. “You’re the one who screwed with my life, so you might consider thanking me for saving yours on multiple occasions.” Why does his breath always smell minty fresh?
“Thanks for continuously putting my life in danger and making everything worse along the way,” I say, batting my eyelashes sarcastically. We stare each other down for a moment. Is he going to kiss me? I’m not sure if I’d like that, or if I’d slap him.
He backs off. I realize I’m staring at his lips. So does he. He gives me a smug look. Damn it, why does he always win? What are we competing at, again?
“I’m not here to eavesdrop on your pathetic vent session about the spy life,” he says as he saunters back toward the door. “I only came in here to tell you to hurry up. Pizza’s here, and we have surveillance to review.”
A furious surge of heat shoots through me. I growl through gritted teeth. “What did you say?”
“I said pizza’s here.” He steps toward the doorframe of my temporary bedroom. It’s somewhat shorter than most door frames. I’d deemed the compact safe house “cozy” when we first arrived, but after a week and a half of living in the same three cramped rooms with the same antagonizing mission partner has given me severe cabin fever. Looking at Eric’s judgmental expression reminds me how much I want to punch him. “Are you on your period?” he asks.
Ohmygod. “Eric, this is a safe house. Meaning we’re supposed to stay low, so we stay safe.” He gives me a blank stare. “Meaning, don’t order food to be delivered to a T.O.P.S.E.C.R.E.T. location!” I wonder how he’s managed to survive this long. “Also, did you forget for the umpteenth time that I’m lactose intolerant?”
“Relax, I got you a salad.”
I squint suspiciously. “What kind of salad?”
“Come and find out,” he says with a sexy smirk. Yeah… there’s definitely cheese on it. Or dairy-laden dressing. Or both.
Eric grins at my scrunched-up face, then heads back down the hall towards the living room, his voice echoing back to me. “Tick-tock, tick-tock…”
Technically his surveillance isn’t worth anything to us unless my messed up “McGuffin” brain is triggered by it. He can enjoy his pizza alone, thankyouverymuch. I’ve got my own work to do.
I turn back to the computer, shaking the image of his perfectly toned butt out of my head. Damn him.
I un-pause the recording.
“Sorry about that. Alright, back to business. I haven’t been briefed on how to correctly do a mission log, or whatever it’s called, so I’m just going to treat this as an opportunity to vent through my traumatic experience with T.O.P.S.E.C.R.E.T. I can’t tell my parents or my best friend because, well, you know. It’s T.O.P.S.E.C.R.E.T.” (Though, truthfully, if there’s anything I’ve learned from my time at T.O.P.S.E.C.R.E.T., it’s that everything they do is anything but).
“And you’ve just witnessed the incredibly self-centered Eric Shaw who would rather have nothing to do with me, so I can’t very well confide in him either. I’m sure you picked up on his lack of listening skills.” Major eye roll. (By now it’s become an unconscious bodily reaction to the mere thought of him.)
“Which leaves you. The computer. Probably not the best idea, after everything that’s happened with me and computers this past week. We’re currently on a mission in—” I stop short, realizing it’s probably not a good idea to reveal our whereabouts, even if it is in a T.O.P.S.E.C.R.E.T. mission log on a T.O.P.S.E.C.R.E.T. computer.
I conspicuously check over my shoulder anyway, double-checking the blinds are all closed. Will I ever be able to relax again?
“One sec,” I tell the camera. I dart to the door and softly guide it shut, careful not to alert Eric. Actually, I better lock it, too. Don’t want Eric to know what’s going on in my head, though it seems pretty pointless since everyone at T.O.P.S.E.C.R.E.T. is most likely dialed into my brain waves right now. I wonder if Simon has figured out a way to read my thoughts yet. I blanch at the possibility that he could be reading them right now. STOP RIGHT THERE, SIMON! I think loudly. Then I realize he never listens to me even when I’m right in front of him. Well, it was worth a shot.
I take a second to gather my thoughts. “It’s probably best if I start at the point where everything went terribly wrong. The first time. Here goes…”