These weren't any ordinary gadget you found in cheap discount stores - it was about the size of a peapod, and was inserted in the pillow on which Ceri as putting his head on. On signal, the alarm was activated, causing a terribly annoying buzz to emanate from the depths of your comfy headrest.
Ceri woke up blearily.
Something was different. The alarm wasn't the continuous ring he usually heard when he set off the clock - it was a series of loud beeps. Ceri struggled to remember what that meant.
He got up, pulled back the covers and quickly changed into outdoor clothes. He grabbed a hanger and lobbed it at Ross's head, waking him up even though the alarm was screaming through his pillow.
"What?" Ross groaned. "Emergency?"
"Yes," Ceri said, reaching into the fake bottom of his desk and tossing him a Centauri pass card. "Recognize the beep?"
Ross shook out of his blanket and rolled onto the floor. Then he looked at the passcard - only to be used at extreme cases. He looked up at Ceri.
"Woke up yet, sleepyheads?" a voice asked.
Six people were staring at them. Sabriye, who had spoken, smirked, sitting next to Alec and Yuki. Jean, Chong Fen and Taylor were at the opposite end of the table. The seventh person was facing the projector screen on the wall. It was Gillian.
"Sit down." he said.
They took their seats silently. All turned back to the screen.
"At exactly 0230 hours this morning, we received this message," Gillian hit a button and Kyioshi's voice crackled through the laptop speakers.
"Aborting mission. We -" (-this was followed by a weird swishing sound and static-) "- tracking us. Re -" (-more static-) "help ASAP."
"What does this mean?" Taylor asked, fingers steepled.
"The message was warped by a high density barrier surrounding Horean. The entire city is cloaked. No electronic message, even as highly protected as ours, can get through without being messed with."
"Intercepted?" Sabriye asked.
"Even if it was, the encryption handled by our Intelligence Agency should prove hard to crack. Maybe in a few months."
And you received this -?" Alec said.
"An hour ago. The message had only just been decrypted by the IA. They were quite busy with something else."
A few of them shot him puzzled looks.
"Troop movements. The Black Moon war machine is on the move, and the IA doesn't want us to be caught by surprise."
"Why are you telling us this?"
Gillian kept quiet. He tapped a few keys and a map of Horean was thrown onto the screen.
"This was their emergency beacon's movements."
As he spoke, four red dots began moving down the city square, heading downtown. They stuck to alleyways and small passages, and then sped up. Two veered left to a dead end. These lasted awhile before the dots vanished. The other two entered a building. Erratic movements from within, and then the two dots disappeared.
"We were lucky," Gillian said, "To be having these feeds. A surveillance drone in the shape of a pigeon - one of ours - was inside the barrier picking up stray broadcasts when it intercepted this one. The IA immediately sent a flock to swarm the city. It picked up one last broadcast - here."
A solitary red dot appeared in a building slightly north of the city square, glowing brightly before fading away.
Sacrificial beacon, Ceri thought. A one-use gadget as a last measure.
"So what's up with us?" Ross asked.
"Extract them, before war breaks out and frontlines are established."
"But it'll take days to reach there - "
"They could be moved -"
"We're not trained -"
"SILENCE!" Gillian shouted. "You have to understand what i'm asking of you. I know the risks - we all do, but senior Centauri members must remain to protect the school."
This shut them up.
"Another thing you must know." Gillian said, tapping at the keyboard. "There exists magister equivalent abilities amongst Black Moon academy graduates."
They all stared at him. "Excuse me?" Alec said, disbelieving.
Gillian hit enter and a black and white photograph appeared on-screen. Ceri frowned, squinting at the scene splayed on the wall. A platoon of White Sun tanks lay burnt, some on the side, some thrown upside down. But what was eye-catching was the tank on fire in midair, with a figure below.
"The appropriate term would be oragi. This picture was taken a month ago, when a stray tank division went over the border. That person over there -" he jabbed a finger at the silhouette "-was part of a five man Nobu assassination unit deployed to get rid of the tanks. The Nobu is their equivalent to us."
"Then why send the juniors?" Ross said, sounding slightly off-pitch. "We don't have anything like th- "
"But the four shinobi you're about to save do." Gillian said. "Ever seen Kyioshi darken a place instantly? Ever seen Kierra poison a person from afar? Don't you feel anything if your team leaders get killed?!"
Alec was quiet. Ceri thought back to the past op. Kyioshi made the staffroom pitch black to save him. And it wasn't just the electricity - the Watchers couldn't see a thing either.
"Alec's team leader. But you have one problem." Gillian announced, slicing his thoughts in half.
"What?" Alec asked.
"How to get these in time - only magisters can teleport." snapped Taylor. "I thought that was pretty obvious."
Gillian glanced at Taylor, and then at Alec. "Take care of it. Suit up and leave by 7." he said, not showing any emotion. He left and shut the door.
All eyes were on Alec now. She bit her lip for a moment, her brain going into overdrive. Then she cleared her throat.
And stared straight at Taylor, "Well," she said, "We need to get ourselves a magister now, don't we?"
Taylor's blog extract