Authors: Lauren Child
Spectrum — a spy agency set up to foil the plots and plans of evil geniuses capable of grand theft, extortion, fraud, and murder — did not employ agents who were less than a hundred percent smart and a hundred percent discreet. As far as LB was concerned, “You mess up, you leave forever.”
LB — the big cheese, the top dog, the head honcho in charge of Spectrum 8 — was not big on second chances, so the odds of getting kicked out were high, and Ruby would have lost her agent status almost before she’d begun if it hadn’t been for one thing: she was brilliant.
Actually, brilliant was an understatement. Ruby Redfort was a genius: her specialty lay in puzzles and codes. In fact, she had won the Junior Code-Cracker Championships when she was just seven, and the following year was offered a place at Harvard University, though she had turned it down flat. She didn’t want to be regarded as some kind of geek freak.
It was because of this phenomenal skill at cracking codes that LB had recruited Ruby. The Spectrum 8 boss had no desire to employ a kid. Kids could be trouble, LB knew that — but what choice did she have? Her ace code breaker, Lopez, had been murdered at the hand of Count von Viscount, a villain so dreaded that one shivered to speak his name.
When one dared to speak his name at all.
Ruby had first encountered LB about a month ago, on her first visit to the Spectrum offices. The spy boss had been dressed entirely in white and sitting behind a huge desk that dominated an entirely white office; the red polish on her toenails being the only flash of color in the room. At fifty-something she looked both beautiful and intimidating: one tough cookie. Ruby was a confident, somewhat fearless kid, but she instinctively knew that in LB she had met her match: an intelligent woman who did not suffer fools gladly. In fact did not suffer them at all.
It was fair to say Ruby hadn’t exactly followed orders during the weeks spent working on her first Spectrum assignment, but she had foiled the Fool’s Gold Gang and prevented Count von Viscount from stealing the priceless Jade Buddha of Khotan.
It was for this reason that LB had granted Ruby Redfort a second chance, and for this reason that she was now being trained at the Spectrum dive camp.
“If you do come face-to-face with one of our ocean friends,” continued the dive instructor, “then just stay where you are. Don’t back away. If it comes toward you, then swim toward it. He’ll probably get the message.”
“Oh, yeah,” said Ruby. “And what message is that?”
“That you aren’t lunch. Lunch usually swims in the other direction,” said the dive instructor with a wink.
“And what if this shark ain’t so smart?” asked Ruby. “What then?”
“Then,” said the dive master, “it will probably try to explore you with its teeth. That’s how they check things out. Only you don’t really want them to do so as it could mean waving bye-bye to an arm or a leg.”
“Well, I kinda need my arms for waving — my legs sorta tend to come in handy too,” said Ruby.
“So that’s why I suggest you swim with this stick.” The instructor picked up a retractable aluminum pole. “If said shark gets too near, just prod him and he’ll most likely back off.”
“And if he doesn’t?” asked one of the other divers — a guy named Bosco. He was trying to sound casual, but you could tell the whole mentioning of sharks thing had him worried.
The dive master smiled. “Then try to look unappetizing.”
Ruby rolled her eyes.
“Don’t you worry, Redfort,” said the instructor, chuckling. “It’s highly unlikely they’ll want to snack on you — far too small.”
“On the other hand,” said Kip Holbrook, another of Ruby’s fellow trainees, “maybe the kid’s the perfect bite-size portion.”
“Funny, really funny,” said Ruby. She pulled down her mask and fell backward off the boat.
Ruby Redfort was not scared of sharks — not yet anyway.
NOW, THERE ARE A FEW LOGISTICAL PROBLEMS
involved in being a schoolkid secret agent, the most obvious one being: how to get enough time off class to carry out your secret-agenting missions.
Not easy. But Ruby Redfort was a good persuader: she could convince most people of most things. She avoided “complete” untruths if at all possible, preferring to steer clear of certain topics. Her tactic was to leave out various details, keep the picture blurry; this wasn’t so much lying as being economical with the facts. As far as this particular trip went, Ruby’s friends believed her to be on a family vacation over spring break. She hadn’t told them that she was with her family; she hadn’t told them she was on vacation; they had just put two and two together and come to this conclusion.
As far as Ruby’s parents were concerned, Ruby was on a school dive trip: “An opportunity not to be missed,” was how Ruby had sold it to them. She had not actually told them that it was a school dive trip, but they had naturally made this assumption.
RULE 65: PEOPLE BELIEVE WHAT THEY WANNA BELIEVE.
In other words, if they expect you to be on a school dive trip, then they’ll assume that that’s where you are.
Ruby’s personal dive instructor was Agent Kekoa. Ruby had never seen Kekoa in anything but swim gear or dive suits, and her hair — black, long, and sleek — was always tied neatly back from her face in a practical way.
Kekoa was the strong, silent type, not what you would on the whole call blabby; she only spoke if there was something she really needed to say. Perhaps this was a habit developed in the ocean, where talking was not an option. Or perhaps she had found the career that perfectly suited a person who didn’t particularly need to share.
Ruby, on the other hand, was indeed a talker. She often found it hard to keep her mouth shut, and so to her, Agent Kekoa was a conundrum.
“But what if I need to tell you something — urgently I mean?” said Ruby.
“Signal,” replied Kekoa.
“Yeah, but I mean, how many signals are there?”
“Enough,” said Kekoa.
“But I mean, what if I need to say something that there isn’t a signal
“Then keep it for later.”
“So you’re saying there’s no gadget for underwater talking?”
“There is,” replied Kekoa. “But I don’t use it. Much better to listen with your ears, your eyes, your hands; use all your senses and keep your mouth shut. Just . . .” Kekoa drew her fingers across her lips. Her meaning couldn’t have been clearer:
keep it to yourself, zip it,
shut your cake hole,
depending on how polite you thought she was being.
Ruby shrugged, put her regulator in her mouth, and sank beneath the waves. Of course, Kekoa was right. Signals did the job fine. There was no need for words down here, and Ruby, despite her talkative nature, enjoyed this watery universe full of sounds rather than voices.
As they swam deeper into the ocean, they saw some incredible marine life, passed cities of coral, met creatures that were beautiful, a few that were lethal, and several that were both. Useful to know the difference, but the general rule seemed to be, don’t touch! A lot of these things could sting, and some of these stings could kill.
unfortunate enough to brush tentacles with something unfriendly, then there was still hope. Each Spectrum agent was equipped with a tiny vial of anti-sting Miracle antidote, just enough to save a life if administered at once. It came in a little fluorescent orange envelope bearing a tiny logo of a fly, with a picture showing the canister attached to the zipper of a dive suit. It was very discreet and looked like it was just part of the design, a tag or something.
The label said:
ANTIDOTE SERUM FOR SEVERE UNDERWATER STINGS
Administer fast for successful results.
CONTAINS ONE DOSE.
Followed by the caution:
Attach canister to wet-suit zipper and
DO NOT REMOVE.
Kekoa repeated this particular instruction more than once. “Keep it attached to the zipper on your dive suit and never be without it. These few drops could be the most important liquid you ever tasted. You understand?”
Ruby had nodded. She had no intention of letting go of the tiny life-saving tincture. Why would she? Only a total bozo would deliberately part company with a piece of gear that could prevent his or her death.
Once the dive basics had been mastered, Ruby picked up other skills. She learned how to navigate underwater in daylight and in moonlight and, finally, in pitch-dark swimming through underwater caves. It was here that Ruby came up against the one thing she was
Small confined spaces. Spaces that might be short on air. Spaces where you might find yourself gasping for breath. Spaces where you were highly likely to die.
They brought on her deepest fear: her claustrophobia.
As Ruby discovered, claustrophobia made cave navigation
challenging. A large part of underwater caving was about discovering ways in: fissures in rocks that led to secret caves, to spaces inhabited only by sea life. Sometimes the rock entrance would appear impossibly small, but with a certain amount of contortion and expertise one could make it in and hopefully out. How to look for telltale signs of ways
was a key part of the training, for obvious reasons. Ruby had rarely been so grateful to learn anything before.
The less time she had to spend in underwater caves, the better — in fact, she wished quite fervently never to have to go in one again.
It was a wish that wasn’t going to be granted.
DURING DIVE TRAINING,
Ruby was also given instruction in unarmed underwater combat. This was even harder than it might sound. Punching underwater was a little like running in space. The trick seemed to be to disable your opponent by cutting off their air supply, or releasing their dive weights. Kekoa was an expert: she was slight and she was fast, and Ruby mastered dodges and grips and tackles.
Agent Kip Holbrook was Ruby’s in-training dive partner, and the two of them spent a whole lot of time winding each other up.
“Redfort, you call that a punch? I coulda sworn I just got patted on the nose by a plankton.”
“Holbrook, you call that a nose? I coulda sworn I just spotted a rare and ugly sea cucumber.”
They got along like a house on fire.
Ruby particularly looked forward to mealtimes. Ruby Redfort might be shrimp-size compared to the other trainee agents, but she’d always had a big appetite, and Spectrum camp food was surprisingly good. On the whole, she was having a pretty good time; her fellow trainees were a friendly bunch, and hanging out on a Hawaiian island was no huge chore. Everything was swell.
Well, except for Sergeant Cooper.
“Redfort! Get your sorry behind out of that bunk before I inhale my next breath or tonight you and your bed ain’t even gonna make contact.”
This order — given every daybreak by Sergeant Cooper, the drill sergeant employed by Spectrum to “motivate”— was beginning to wear.
, thought Ruby. She was not a natural early bird, and so would reluctantly and with some effort drag herself from her uncomfortable bunk. More than once she had found herself scrubbing the bathroom floor with an orange toothbrush (her own) — punishment detail.
If Sergeant Cooper wasn’t impressed by Ruby’s time-keeping, then her flouting of the camp dress code really got him marching up and down. His least favorite item was a T-shirt printed with the words:
could you repeat that? I wasn’t actually listening.
“Redfort, how many times have I told you about that T-shirt of yours?”
“I’m sorry Sergeant Cooper, I haven’t been counting, but I can take a wild guess if it’s important to you.”
Sergeant Cooper was keen to put Ruby “back in her box” whenever he got the chance. He was under the misguided impression that this hard-nut approach would instill respect in the kid.
He was wrong about that.
One such time was when Ruby had done particularly badly in her free-dive training, free diving being the art of swimming underwater unaided by any breathing apparatus. Ruby’s parents were big fans of free diving; indeed, her father, Brant, had gone to Stanton University on a free-dive scholarship.