***

Dad was already gone but I was still looking at the black screen. Cliff and Jett were stealing glances at me from the rear mirror but I didn’t mind. Dad’s words still echoed inside my head.
 
Philippines, huh? I really don’t wanna go back to that place.

Nag-iba ng direksyon si Jett at bumalik kami sa Cerebrum, our headquarters, dahil sa utos ni Dad. I couldn’t believe we had to drop this case and fly to the Philippines just because he said so. Being the director of CIA, his words are laws and I am not exempted from them.

When we arrived at the headquarters, Jett drove the car to Cerebellum, the headquarters’ technical center. Our equipment, gadgets and vehicles are all stored here.

“Go. I’ll park this first,” sabi ni Jett kaya naman lumabas kaagad kami ni Cliff.
“Didn’t know that going to the Philippines is one of the methods to make you quiet.” I glared at Cliff after he said that and he ruffled my hair in return. “What an ugly expression. Stop that.”

Dahil ayokong makipagtalo sa kanya ngayon ay inirapan ko na lang siya at hindi ko siya pinansin hanggang sa makarating kami sa Quadrant, our sleeping quarters, which is located at the left side of the building. The Quadrant is divided into four sides, just like the Cartesian plane and each of them are assigned to our classes. The first, second, third and fourth Quadrant house the class A, B, C and D, respectively.

“Nel!” Napatingin naman ako sa second floor at nakadungaw ro’n si Naia, ang roommate ko.

Sabay kaming umakyat ni Cliff at naghiwalay kami nang makarating kami sa second floor dahil sa left wing ang boys at sa right wing naman ang girls. Oh, and the second floor belongs to class S.

“Why are you here? I thought you guys are chasing Elliot’s business partners?” she asked as we walked into our room and I sighed in return.
“Dad told us to drop the order and he sent Blake’s team to continue it.”
“Why? Did you get a bigger case?” Kinuha ko ang dart na nasa table namin at tumingin ako sa world map na nakadikit sa pader.
“Nah. Dad wants us to go to that country.” I threw the dart and it hit my target.
“Philippines?” she asked and I nodded.

After that ay hindi na siya nagtanong at bumalik na siya sa kama niya. As usual, nakaharap na naman siya sa laptops niya. Yup. She has four laptops because of her line of work.

Bigla namang nag-flash ang relong suot ko at pagtingin ko ay nakadisplay ang pangalan ni Dad kaya pinindot ko kaagad ang accept button. Dad’s hologram hovered and I had to suppress my annoyance.

“Nel, come to my office.” 

Hindi na ako nagsalita at in-end ko kaagad ‘yon. Nagpalit muna ako ng damit at saka ako lumabas ng kwarto namin. Dahil nasa leftmost side ng headquarters ang Quadrant at nasa rightmost naman ang office ni Dad ay halos twenty minutes ang nilakad ko para makarating doon.

The Cerebrum is the main area of CIA and it’s divided into four lobes. Dad’s and the executives’ offices are located at the Temporal. Noong nasa tapat na ako ng office ni Dad ay saktong lumabas naman mula roon si Dale, one of his Executives and one of my mentors during my Academy days.

“Hey kiddo, long time no see!” sabay gulo niya sa buhok ko at napangiti naman ako.
“I’m not a kid anymore, stupid.”

He’s just 25 years old but he’s one of the best agents here. Plus, he’s got the looks-red hair that complements his red eyes, fair skin, the cute little mole right beside his left eye and his model-like body. Almost all the girls here admire him but he said he isn’t interested on complicated things like dating or love.

“Bye kiddo!” Naglakad siya palayo at tumalikod na rin ako sabay lakad papasok sa office ni Dad.

Pagpasok ko ay naamoy ko kaagad ang matapang na aroma ng kape na iniinom niya. Halos matabunan na naman ang desk niya ng papers at folders kaya naman sa sofa siya nakaupo. Naglakad ako papunta roon at umupo sa tapat niya.

“Are you ready?”
“Seriously, Dad? Are you really asking that question?” Napabuntong-hininga naman siya habang ako ay nagpipigil na sumigaw dahil ayokong mag-away na naman kami.
“I know this is a sudden request but you’re the only one I can trust regarding this matter.” Bigla naman akong napatigil nang narinig ko ‘yon.
“What do you mean by that? You know how much I hate that place.”
“And that’s exactly the reason why you need to be there.”

His expression turned grim and I could tell that it might be related to that case. Ilang segundo pa ang lumipas bago ulit siya nagsalita at kahit may clue na ako kung anong sasabihin niya ay nagulat pa rin ako.

“I got a clue regarding your mother’s death.”

Pagkarinig ko no’n ay bigla na namang nag-flashback ang alaala ko kasama si Mom. I was still a child when she died on duty. Because of that, I would always stare at her photo, afraid that I might forget her features. Sometimes, I’d wake up in the middle of the night, panting and terrified because of nightmares involving her.

Her death is shrouded in mystery and the only thing we know is that she died in the Philippines while spying for an underground organization. Dad didn’t give any information to me and has always been silent about her that was why I was surprised when he said those words.

“Alam kong gusto mong malaman ang nangyari sa kanya kaya gusto kong ikaw ang pumunta sa Pilipinas.” Pagkasabi niya no’n ay lalo akong nagulat dahil ngayon ko na lang ulit siya narinig mag-Filipino. Dahil ang base namin ay nasa America ay lagi kaming nagsasalita sa Ingles.
“What clue did you get, Dad?”

Tumayo naman siya at may kinuha siyang folder sa desk niya. Nilapag niya ‘yon sa table sa pagitan namin kaya naman agad kong kinuha at binuksan. Pagtingin ko ay profile ‘yon ng isang lalaki.

“That’s Nigel Grand, one of your mother’s team members when she was working there. He’s their Keeper. When Lace died, he also disappeared and we couldn’t contact him anymore.” He placed another envelope and pulled something out of it. “This photo was accidentally taken by a humdrum reporter three days ago because of a murder case inside the cafe.”

Tinignan ko ang picture at isang lalaki na nagbabasa sa isang cafe ang nandoon. Kinumpara ko siya sa photo na nasa profile ni Nigel at halos magkamukha sila. Naging mas mature at tumanda lang ang itsura niya pero alam kong siya rin ang nasa litrato.

“I really want to solve this case but I can’t leave this place,” he said and I could feel the sadness and bitterness of his words. The wrinkles on his face has gotten more visible. Being the director of our tribe has really taken a toll on his body.

Tumayo ako at kinuha ko ang folder na naglalaman ng information tungkol kay Nigel Grand pati na rin ang picture niya na nasa table. Paalis na sana ako sa office niya pero saglit akong huminto. Hindi ako lumingon sa kanya dahil ayokong makita niya ang expression ko.

“I’ll find this man and I’ll uncover Mom’s death so just do your work here and don’t worry too much. I promise.” Pagkatapos kong sabihin ‘yon ay lumabas na ako sa office niya pero bago ko tuluyang isarado ang pinto ay tumingin ako sa kanya. “And don’t drink too much coffee. You should eat some healthy food. Is that clear, Dad?”

His serious expression was replaced by a tender smile and when I saw that, I felt relieved. Tuluyan ko nang isinara ang pinto at saka naglakad pabalik sa Quadrant.
 
***

3:30 AM

Nagising ako dahil sa alarm ko at agad akong naghanda para sa pag-alis namin. Naayos ko na ang gamit ko kagabi at buti ay tinulungan ako ni Naia. Tumingin ako sa side niya at tulog na tulog pa siya dahil nakabantay siya magdamag sa laptops niya. 

Pagkatapos kong mag-prepare ay maingat akong umalis sa room para hindi siya magising at pumunta ako sa meeting place namin nina Cliff at Jett—sa lobby ng Quadrant. Pagdating ko ay nandoon na ang dalawa at lahat kami ay may tig-iisang maleta. Napatingin naman sa akin si Cliff at tinaas niya ang kamay niya.

“Nel’s here. Let’s go,” sabi niya kay Jett kaya naman binuhat na nila ang backpack nila.
“Who will drive?” tanong ko habang naglalakad kami papunta sa Cerebellum.
“Definitely not you,” sabay nilang sabi at sinamaan ko sila ng tingin.
“Why?! I’m the best driver among us!”
“We don’t want to die,” Cliff said while shaking his head.
“I’ll drive,” Jett added.
“Good, Jett. At least my life is safe when it’s you.”

Tss. These guys! Hindi ko talaga alam kung bakit ayaw nila akong pag-drive-in. I mean, ako ang pinakamabilis mag-drive sa aming tatlo and I think that would be the most efficient thing to do. Lagi na lang silang dalawa ang nagda-drive pag may missions kami. Unfair!

Pagdating namin sa Cerebellum ay agad kaming sumakay sa Porsche 911 ni Jett and as usual, nasa backseat kami ni Cliff dahil katabi ni Jett ang pinakamamahal niyang gun set. Pinaandar ni Jett ang sasakyan papunta sa airport at tahimik lang kaming tatlo.

Don’t worry, Mom. I swear on my life that I’ll find the truth about your death and your killers.



***