A “Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons” story for Christmas
By Chris Bishop
It was only three days before that Colonel White had welcomed General Peterson onboard Cloudbase. Now, he stood yet again, this time with Captain Grey and Captain Ochre, in front of the large door leading into the hangar, waiting for the lift which was taken the Passenger Jet carrying the World President and his family down from the landing airstrip.
A man who generally prided himself with possessing iron nerves, Colonel White now felt slightly nervous. In normal circumstances, this visit would only be a formality – the World President strolling around, taking the usual tour of Cloudbase, visiting her various areas, and listening to the Spectrum commander’s report on whatever innovations and updates had been brought to the base’s daily routine since he last came onboard. But today, the situation was far from being normal, and that was the reason why the colonel felt uneasy.
Maybe I should have reported in its entirety the extents of the explosion of last week, he reflected inwardly as, through the large bay window, he distractedly watched the hatch opened over the lift slowly closing down. Maybe the situation would have been less complicated today. At the time, he had not deemed it necessary; although Spectrum officially answered strictly to the World President, its commander was given free reigns about the way to conduct the organisation. That meant, when necessary, not being obligated to give out unnecessary information on situations while they were still on-going, especially when such divulgation might have a negative impact in the progression of the operations.
Officials in the World Cabinet had nicknamed this the ‘Leeway Prerogative’, and many amongst the heads of the other World Government security organisations were not all comfortable with it, especially added to the fact that Spectrum was his own organisation, and shared no link or responsibility whatsoever with the Supreme Headquarters Earth Forces – which supervised the most of other peace keeping forces. Giving that much power to one man appeared somehow risky. If someone else but Charles Gray had been in charge of Spectrum, there might have been much more protest from heads of security than there had been had the time of Spectrum’s creation. Yet, Charles Gray was a man who was defined by his actions, and recognised around the world as a man of deep loyalty and total dedication to the cause of world security, peace and freedom. His integrity could never be disputed.
White had made the conscious decision to withhold some details regarding the accident in the engine room for exactly the reasons he had given his officers. Since the failed attempt on his life by Captain Brown, and the kidnapping he had been victim of by Captain Scarlet’s hands, and then the incident in Kenya where he had nearly been killed, Younger had somehow become fretful of all Mysteron-related situations. So, in addition of the mandate to fight the Mysterons given to Spectrum, he had enforced the ‘Leeway Prerogative’ and had given Colonel White a completely free hand to handle the Mysterons problem as he saw it fit. As long as a complete report was made once the situation was resolved, the World President was happy with it.
Scarlet had not died; the situation was still ongoing – as far as White knew. Telling Younger of his predicament would have served absolutely nothing constructive. White would have been forced to tell him about the ‘green light’, seen by Rhapsody, and the suspicion of Mysterons’ involvement. With nothing to support that theory, that would have been upsetting the World President for nothing.
In truth, White had fully expected that Scarlet, due to his retrometabolism, would shake his condition in no-time and that he would have returned to his normal, adult self to resume his usual duties. Then Colonel White would have reported the whole thing to the World President – who probably would have had a good laugh out of it, provided he had not believed in some kind of unusual joke from the Spectrum’s commander – and the dust would have settled without causing too many raised highbrows. Younger would have understood the secrecy surrounding the incident and all would have ended well.
However, the situation had changed considerably since then. Scarlet wasn’t retrometabolic right now, and six days had passed since the incident that had turned him into a ten years old boy. Neither Doctor Fawn, nor Doctor Lavender was even coming close to finding an answer to what had happened to him.
“I don’t have any comforting words to give you, Charles,” Fawn had told him the evening before. “I took a new sample of blood from the boy earlier today, but no exams or tests made on it give any indication of when this condition of his will revert itself. Nor did it give any way for us to revert it by ourselves. Lavender says his cells might still be saturated with tachyonic radiation, which he says was detected by an instrument he had built following the explosion… How the hell he could be sure it is tachyonic radiation that contraption is detecting is beyond my comprehension. I’m thinking it might be wishful thinking of his part and that he’s more excited about holding in his hands the actual proof of tachyon’s presence on Earth than anything else.”
“So what do we do?” White had answered, rather unhappy by the news.
“We keep on waiting, and we keep on working. I believe this will revert itself sooner or later. Let’s say that Lavender is right about the tachyonic radiation. Then this will surely dissipate one day and then maybe he will return back to normal.”
“Ah yes… Did I mention we might want to keep on praying as well? Some might consider that it’s useless… But surely, there’s no harm in doing it… Just in case it will help.”
Fawn had not been very encouraging, and that led Colonel White to consider that if the worst were to come, then maybe the clock had been turned back for good for Paul Metcalfe. If the effects of the tachyonic radiation – whether his cells were still irradiated or not – did not dissipate, then maybe he will not return to his adult self without following, yet again, the natural course of growing up and growing old. While this would undoubtedly cause problems to Spectrum, with the organisation now left without their most invaluable asset against the war against the Mysterons, there was also the personal impact this will have to the now young Paul.
Keeping secret what had happened to him wouldn’t be possible anymore – and would be cruel on him, all things considered. He would need to be told. Spectrum would have to take care of what would be needed to do for him… There was his family to consider, whether they should be told or not of what had happened to him.
And then there was Rhapsody… although she had behaved herself impeccably since the start of this. But maybe she was driven by the hope that all will settle itself in the end. But if Scarlet didn’t return to normal, then what consequences will it have on her? And on the rest of Scarlet’s colleagues for that matter?
Maybe Rhapsody was right, and that green light she had seen the evening of the explosion was indeed a manifestation of the Mysterons’ powers being at work. Maybe they were behind all this. Maybe this was their way of getting rid of the problem Captain Scarlet posed for them.
At least, they didn’t kill him, White reflected inwardly. So maybe we should be thankful for small mercies.
“Sir, are you all right?” That was the voice of Captain Grey, standing on his right, which drew White out of his fugue. He shook himself and turned to his officer who was looking at him with concern. Ochre, just standing by Grey, was also considering him with uncertainty.
“You seemed… far away, sir,” Grey commented. “That’s not usual from you… You’re generally so focussed. Is there something the matter?”
White grunted with some irritation. It wasn’t directed at Grey. “You have to ask, Captain?” he asked in a low voice. “I’m just hoping that everything will go well, now that we’re about to welcome the World President aboard. Somehow, I have a feeling we are courting disaster.”
The thought that the World President would need to be told if Scarlet stayed a child came to his mind. White was about sure that he wouldn’t be happy to hear the bad news, while he had been kept in the dark with the truth just there under his nose.
What should I do? Do I tell Younger or not?
I should consider this in the next hours…
The hatch had closed and pressure into the hangar had been equalized to that of the rest of Cloudbase. Soon, the klaxon announced that people were now allowed in, and the door in front of White and his two captains opened. White drew a deep breath – trying hard not to look too conspicuous – and stepped forward. Ochre and Grey following close behind him, he walked purposely towards the arriving Passenger Jet. He saw the hatch open on the side of the WAAF craft, and two of the World President’s personal bodyguards stepped out to stand on each side of the opening.
Theodore James Younger soon appeared, holding the hand of a chestnut-haired little girl in a pretty little polka-dot pink dress who was keeping by his side. She was holding a rag doll which was hanging loosely under her left arm. Just behind the girl, there was a strict-dressed dark-haired young woman, who looked rather pretty, and who was carrying a big handbag. White had almost forgotten that Younger was bringing his daughter’s nurse along.
Behind them, a teenaged boy appeared; he was clad in loose civilian clothing, perhaps a little too large for him – or perhaps it was the new fashion for teenagers these days, White couldn’t be sure. He carried a backpack on one of his shoulders, had speakers in his ears with wires dangling down his side to the pocket of his coat – indicating that he was possibly listening to some kind of music – and a football cap too large for his head with the logo of the Futuremen of Futura City. Brown hair, a little too long for White’s taste – eyes of the same colour, standard height and weight, he had no distinguishable features whatsoever. He was just a regular teenager, with shuffling feet, and slightly stooped shoulders, walking nonchalantly behind his father, and looking around with no interest visible in his eyes.
That made Colonel White scowl. What’s the matter with teenagers today? He wondered with irritation. This boy is on Cloudbase, the all-secret headquarters of the Spectrum organisation, and he doesn’t even appear suitably impressed by it. He should at least be aware of the rare opportunity he is given… It’s not just about anyone who is allowed to visit Cloudbase.
The two groups stopped in front of each others; the bodyguards had closely followed the World President and his family, and now stood behind, with their hands joined in front of them; their eyes were hidden behind black spectacles. White restricted himself from smiling knowingly: U.S.S. agents, he realised instantly. He could spot them a kilometre away.
“Welcomed onboard Cloudbase, Mister President,” White said, using his usual formal welcoming line. “To you and to your family.”
“Thank you, Colonel White,” Younger said a little less formally. “It is generous of you to have invited us all onboard.”
White almost scowled. Invited them? He had not invited them… It was Younger himself who had transformed an official inspection tour into a sightseeing visit for the whole family. Well, technically, it was Peterson’s idea, but the Spectrum commander was certain the general didn’t need to make use of all his influence to convince the World President.
“I don’t think you know my children,” Younger said in an upbeat voice, lowering his eyes to the small child he held by the hand. “This is Sahra.”
“Pleased to meet you, sir,” the little girl said, doing a reverence. She tripped slightly, but all in all, she didn’t do too badly. She had obviously been tutored by someone.
“Pleased to meet you, Miss Younger,” White answered with a smile, bowing perfectly to her. The little girl giggled, and almost hid herself behind her father’s leg. White considered she was agreeable and very nice. A sweet little kid from whom he didn’t think he should expect any trouble.
But the boy, on the other end, just by the look of him…
“And this is Daniel,” Younger continued, turning his eyes to his son.
The World President seemed to notice then, for the first time, the wiring emerging from the boy’s ears and the cap on his head. Scowling with obvious annoyance, he pulled on the wiring and removed the boy’s cap. The too-long hair was flat underneath, and there was the definite trace of the cap left after it was gone. White wondered if it wasn’t better to leave him with his cap on.
“Please, behave yourself,” Younger said with a sigh, tucking the cap into his son’s hand. Returning his attention to White, he failed to notice the boy’s rolling his eyes skyway. That didn’t escape White.
“How do you do, Mister Daniel?” the Spectrum commander asked him, politely.
The boy shrugged dismissively. “Okay, I guess,” he said in a voice which was still in its ‘breaking’ phase. “Thanks.” White fully expected to hear a ‘Pops’ escape Daniel’s lips, but it didn’t come.
“And this is Ms. Brenshaw,” Younger continued, stepping aside to present the young woman who was standing slightly behind. “She’s Sahra’s nanny.”
“How do you do, sir?” She made a reverence, quite similar to that of Sahra, but hers was performed without a fault. Ah, so this is the tutor…
“I hope this little change in the original plans didn’t cause you too much trouble,” Younger continued, addressing White.
Trouble? No… Not trouble at all… There’s only a young child running around onboard who could jeopardize both our security and our careers, and I would rather not have him meeting with you…
Fortunately, as far as White knew, Paul Metcalfe was busy that very morning, as Blue had arranged for him to have one of his other ‘flight lessons’ with one of the Angels in the simulator. The boy seemed remarkably keen to participate to those ‘training sessions’. But then, considering his background, it wasn’t too surprising. And possibly, he was regarding all this like a very sophisticated computer games. Nothing pleased a young boy better than those types of activities.
“Don’t think anything about it, sir,” White replied to the World President, trying to sound pleasant. “The V.I.P. suite is perfectly adapted for a larger group. Your whole family would fit right in. There are three bedrooms within the suite itself, and we prepared the joining room for your proximity bodyguards. Of course, Spectrum will provide with additional security guards.”
“Much appreciated, Charles,” Younger said with a large smile. “General Peterson told me you were a perfect host – but then I already knew that from my previous stays on Cloudbase. I’m sure that I will appreciate this short stay here, with my family.”
“Then I presume you remember Captain Ochre and Captain Grey?” Colonel White formally presented his escorts.
“Of course. How do you do, gentlemen?”
After they had shaken hands, White motioned for all of them to walk towards the hangar door, still opened behind them. Younger dismissed his bodyguards – “We are on Cloudbase, boys, I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about, Spectrum will take over from here” – to take care of their luggage, and White assigned a security guard standing near the door to stay with the U.S.S. agents and guide them to the V.I.P. suite.
The rest of the group started walking towards the exit, White leading the way.
“We’ll be passing Christmas here?” Sahra Younger asked, looking up at his father who was still holding her hand as they were walking. “Like you told us, Daddy?”
“Sure, princess,” he told her softly. “There’s a place here, they call the Promenade Deck, it’s very beautiful! I asked for it to be prepared so that we’ll have our Christmas celebration there… You’ll be able to see the stars with no clouds blocking the view. They’ll be very clear and bright. And exceptionally, you’ll be able to stay up late so you could watch them! You’ll see how magical this is!”
“We’ll be closer to the stars?” the little girl asked, her eyes bright. “And we might see Santa’s sleigh passing by?”
Younger chuckled. “This way up in the sky, why, if we’re lucky, perhaps we will. What do you think, Daniel?”
“Whatever,” the teenager grumbled seemingly unwilling to commit himself. It was clear he couldn’t care less.
Walking up front, Colonel White was doing his best not to roll his eyes. Granted, the Promenade Deck was a lovely place, and it had been prepared following the World President’s requirement, but the artificial Christmas tree set right in the middle of the tropical plants and trees located in there looked rather out of place. Plus there was barely enough space for a large group of people to fit in, without brushing against any of the plants. Younger will have to keep the number of his ‘guests’ to a minimum. Fortunately, the way the Spectrum commander understood it, it would be Younger himself, his two children, perhaps General Peterson, and of course, at least one or two U.S.S. agents – and Spectrum agents, considering the base was under Spectrum’s jurisdiction. White was praying fervently that the World President would not require his presence. He would certainly not be looking forwards for that.
He had reached the door leading out of the hangar and was crossing the doorway when he suddenly saw something unusual that made him stop in his tracks, causing the others following behind to almost collide with him.
Paul Metcalfe was in the corridor beyond the door, seemingly absorbed in consulting the flights chart on the side of the door. He was all on his own. When he noticed Colonel White, standing there, staring, he turned fully to face him and offered an impish smile.
“Hi, Colonel,” he said jovially.
White scowled deeply. Seeing the boy here – without supervision – wasn’t to his liking at all.
“What are you doing here?” He seethed between his teeth. “I thought you were training with the flight simulator this morning?”
The boy waved the question aside. “I had many sessions already,” he explained. “Harmony, and Rhapsody, and Melody… They say that I’m starting to get quite good. One day soon, very soon, I reckon I’ll be able to fly a plane on my own… What do you think?”
White wasn’t even able to restrain himself when he answered in a very low voice: “Not bloody likely.”
“What’s going on, Colonel?” Much to White’s displeasure, James Younger stepped forwards and came next to him, and instantly noticed the boy standing there. “Oh, hello, there… You must be the young man General Peterson told me about… Paul, isn’t it?”
White almost closed his eyes in a silent prayer, hoping that the boy with keep his promise to Blue and will hold his tongue. He almost heard Ochre and Grey hold their breath behind him.
“Yes, sir,” Paul answered swiftly. He passed by White and entered the hangar, standing in front of the World President and straightening up to his full height. “That’s my name.” He didn’t say anything else. But White could almost feel the boy’s malicious desire to add his last name.
“And what are you doing standing here exactly?”
“I came to see the World President,” Paul answered. “Are you him?”
“Yes indeed, I am, young man.”
Colonel White watched with dread as the World President, towering over the young boy, looked intently at him and offered his hand. Ochre had a displeased expression, and was watching Paul like an eagle, obviously intended to intervene should the boy not behave himself – White wondered, however what the hell he would be able to do, if the worst should happen. As for Grey, the colonel catch him Grey swallowing hard, and trying his very best not to appear too surprised by the boy’s presence. Fortunately, nobody else seemed to have noticed.
“Pleased to meet you, Paul,” Younger said.
Paul shook the professed hand and answered, very politely: “The same for me, Mister Bandranaik.”
The Spectrum commander and his two captains standing behind him had a sudden sense of foreboding. White would have almost wished for the floor to open up underneath him and to fall straight to Earth surface, only to escape the embarrassment. Younger simply chuckled.
“Ah… I’m afraid you are mistaken, Paul. I’m not Mr Bandranaik. I’m his successor, T. James Younger.”
Paul scowled with perplexity. “Really? What happened to Mr Bandranaik, then?”
“Well, he got ill…,” Younger answered, not noticing the Spectrum officers holding their breath. “And couldn’t continue his duty as World President. He retired some times ago.”
Paul shook his head. “I’m sorry for him. I didn’t know that he was ill. Must have been very sudden.”
“Oh yes, I supposed it was very sudden when it happened,” Younger replied, his eyes not leaving the young boy. “It certainly took everyone by surprise. But he’s fine now, and he’s enjoying a well-earned retirement.”
“What do you learn exactly in school, shrimp?” Daniel Younger then unexpectedly said, addressing a condescending look at Paul standing in front of his father. “Don’t they teach you anything, wherever you come from?”
Younger sighed. “Now, Daniel…”
“I’m from England,” Paul retorted, his eyes flashing as he turned to the older boy. “And I’m betting they teach as good as in your own country, ‘Danny’.”
“My name’s Daniel. I don’t like being called ‘Danny’.”
“Now behave, boys,” World President Younger said in a soothing voice, wanting to have peace around him. “You should learn to get along.”
His son waved dismissively at Paul. “Dad, he’s an idiot. He didn’t even know who you were. Even I know as much.”
“Well if you didn’t know, your dad would be very disappointed in you, isn’t it, Daniel?” Paul commented innocently, much to White’s exasperation.
“You’re a damn pain in the neck, aren’t you, shrimp?” Daniel seethed.
“Daniel…” his father started warningly.
“I didn’t even want to be here!” Daniel suddenly lashed aggressively at him, not even letting his father the chance to say something. “I was quite happy for you to leave me at school for the duration of the Christmas vacation… Like you always do!”
“And you would have gone and join your gang of chums who-knows-where,” Younger retorted, scowling. “Not on your life, young man! And really, you would have missed an opportunity for us to have a real family Christmas vacation, for once?”
“You know, I’d give anything for you to order these Spectrum guys to bring me back down there,” Daniel continued. “You know I get sea sick when I’m on a plane, and you go and take me to this… place, hovering zillions of kilometres above Earth.”
“40,000 feet,” Paul Metcalfe suddenly piped. All eyes turned to him. He shrugged and smiled sheepishly. “That’s what I was told.”
“Whatever, shrimp,” Daniel muttered. “I just don’t want to be here.”
“Well, you are here, so learn to live with it,” his father said stoically. “You can’t always have what you want. This is a unique opportunity to be here, Daniel. It’s unlikely any of your friends will ever get to set foot on Cloudbase.”
“Yeah… But what’s the point if I can’t even take pictures to even prove that,” Daniel grumbled again.
“If you do, they’ll confine you to quarters,” Paul then declared, much to the Spectrum officers’ alarm. “Don’t worry, it’s much better than the brig. You know this is a secure base, so you ought not to take pictures around, Danny. Isn’t that right, Uncle Charles?” He added turning to White who stood behind him.
Taken aback by such familiarity from the boy, White opened his mouth, not really sure what to answer for one of the rarest times in his life, but was suddenly interrupted before he could actually utter anything:
“I told you, shrimp, that I my name’s Daniel!” Daniel Younger growled, glaring at Paul. “I don’t like being called Danny!”
“Well, isn’t that the same thing?” Paul reasoned, seemingly not impressed by the older boy’s display of anger.
Livid, Daniel made a step forward, his father raising his hand in an attempt to calm him; Paul stood his ground and kept looking at him imperturbably. Colonel White didn’t want this to degenerate. He stepped forward and took Paul by his shoulders to pull him slightly back. “Boys will be boys,” he said with an uneasy smile. “We’d better put an end to the hostilities for the time being, Mr President. Erm… We probably should take you to your suite, now?”
Younger nodded. “Of course, Colonel. You’re right. Let’s go there and unpack our things first. Then you and I will be able to talk.” He glared at his son. “And I’ll have to talk to you too, Daniel.”
The boy scoffed. “That’ll make a change…”
Sahra Younger stepped forward and took Paul’s hand into her tiny one. That almost made the boy jump and he looked down at her with curiosity. “Hi, I’m Sahra,” she said with a wide smile. “I like you. I don’t think you’re an idiot. My brother is.”
Younger laughed, hearing these words. “Now you see who the real diplomat in the family is,” he said good-humouredly, steering his daughter in direction of the door. “At that rate, she’ll be World President before the age of sixteen.” He started walking out the hangar, followed by Ms. Brenshaw.
“Some diplomat, she just told me I was an idiot…” Daniel Younger followed his father out and closing the procession, Ochre and Grey fell behind.
Paul was about to follow, when Colonel White pulled him back inside the hangar; he turned his back towards the door, and glared down at the boy who was looking up at him with something of an clueless expression.
“What in blue blaze are you up to?” White asked him between his teeth.
Paul opened his eyes wide, seemingly shocked by the barely concealed accusation he could hear in the Spectrum commander’s voice. “Me?” He said innocently. “What makes you think I’m up to something… Uncle Charles?”
“The very fact that you call me ‘Uncle Charles’ is enough to make me suspicious,” White retorted swiftly. “Do it again, and you’ll spend the rest in your days onboard in the brig.” He noticed, with displeasure, that the threat had no visible effect on the boy. “Why are you here exactly?”
“Just as I said… I was just curious to see the World President.”
“Is that true?”
“Sure! And it’s not my fault I didn’t know he wasn’t Mr Bandranaik. Nobody told me Mr Bandranaik got sick and was replaced.”
“Mmm…” White straightened up. “Maybe I should have asked someone to inform you properly on the state of the world right now…”
“Maybe you should have,” Paul challenged him.
White grunted with annoyance. “Don’t be insolent with me, lad. I have much sympathy for you, but it would be better if you do not take advantage of my good nature.”
“Look, I promised Adam –”
“I promised Captain Blue I would not tell my whole name to the World President. I also promised I wouldn’t tell him anything about me, and why I am here, and how I came here… which is easy, ‘cause I don’t even know myself. It would be easier if you would tell me that too.”
“Didn’t Captain Blue tell you –”
“… It’s a secret for security reason, I know.” Paul recited, rolling his eyes to the ceiling. “I’m growing tired of that answer, sir. But don’t worry, I was taught I should always keep my promise. So I aim to do just that.”
White nodded slowly. If there one thing he had learned, it was that when the adult Paul Metcalfe gave his word, he kept it. He didn’t imagine that his ten-year-old self would be any different.
“I guess I will have to trust you will hold your promise, then.”
Paul looked at him defiantly. “Yes, I guess you should… sir.” He frowned at him. “Can I ask you a question? You’re English, aren’t you? Like me? Like Dianne?”
“Rhapsody Angel,” White corrected again. “And yes, I am.”
“Then can I ask how an Englishman can be commander of this base for the World Government? Considering that England isn’t a part of the World Government and that the Militarists are in power there…”
“You are much cleverer than young Mr Younger gives you credit for,” White said, narrowing his eyes at the boy. “But then, I’m not surprised.”
White looked over his shoulders, peering into the corridor beyond the hangar’s opened door. His guests were long gone, having obviously taken the lift at the end of the corridor; Grey and Ochre would have taken them to their suite.
I don’t have time for this, White told himself with annoyance.
He sighed and turned his attention back to Paul. “Look… I’d very much like to answer your questions, son…”
“Don’t call me ‘son’,” Paul retorted, his voice carrying some kind of an edge. “You’re not my father.”
White rolled his eyes. He’s angry at me. Better not infuriate him more. “Mr Metcalfe, at the moment, I am very much busy. I must deal with the World President. However, afterwards, when this visit is over with and he and his family are gone, then you and I will have a serious talk.”
Paul looked at him, dubiously. “Will we? And when are they supposed to leave, sir?”
“They’re supposed to pass Christmas onboard.” White grunted, showing his displeasure over the idea. “Why exactly, I don’t know. What could be so exciting in passing a family Christmas on a military base, I wonder…”
“Geez, you’re right, I do wonder,” Paul said nonchalantly.
White shot him a murderous look. This boy was definitely way too clever for his own good.
“After Christmas, Mr Metcalfe,” he told him. “Right after the World President’s departure, everything will be explained to you. I promise.” He shook his head with a grim expression. He wasn’t sure the explanation would be clear enough for Paul to understand or that he would believe any of it. But at this point, the Spectrum commander was fully convinced they owed the truth to the boy.
In case, he was to stay a boy.
“Now, if you will excuse me,” White told the youngster, “I have visitors to attend to.”
“Wouldn’t look good if you were to stay away from the World President too long, would it?” Paul asked with a malicious grin.
White pointed a warning finger at him. “Stay out of trouble.”
“And out of the World President’s way.”
“Go on your business then. I’m sure you’ve got plenty to do.”
And with that, White went through the door.
Paul looked at him go, thoughtfully, before looking around the hangar. He eyed the World President’s Passenger Jet, set just beside that of General Peterson’s, who had arrived a few days again. A littler further, still on the same lift, he could see the SPJ he had visited with Symphony Angel and Captain Magenta. Even from this distance, he could read the marking stamped underneath the side of the windshield.
He had seen that identification on the flight chart by the door of the hangar’s door. That craft was due to depart the next day. He stared at it, musingly.
He heard a klaxon resonating.
“Mister Metcalfe,” he heard the voice of Colonel White thundering after him from the other side of the still open door. “Don’t lag behind. The hangar is not one of those places you’re allowed to visit on your own. They have to close the door now.”
Paul grunted. That man was way too authoritarian. He wasn’t sure he liked him very much.
“Of course, Colonel. I’m coming.”
Quietly, Paul excited the hangar, and the door shut closed behind him.
The World President and his family had already arrived at the V.I.P. suite, and were already unpacking their luggage, which had preceded them there when Colonel White arrived. Spectrum security guards were already at the door, with Captain Grey and Captain Ochre, and the colonel asked for both officers to wait for him, before entering the V.I.P. suite.
T. James Younger was helping his young daughter get her stuff out of a strange-looking bag that oddly reminded White of a puffy, furry, pink hippopotamus – which he imagined it was supposed to be. Ms. Brenshaw was getting preparing coffee at the counter, and Daniel Younger was sprawled on the sofa, one foot over one of the armrests, beating at the same rhythm as his head. The speakers of his player were plugged deep into his ears and White could still hear clearly enough of the sound to recognised one of those deafening pieces of cacophony that youngsters of today had the audacity to calling ‘music’. It was awful.
No wonder the boy looked like he was a few sandwiches short of a picnic. Anyone putting his brain through such torture was bound to cause it irremediable damage.
“This is Dolly.” The thoughtful White lowered his eyes to discover Sahra Younger standing just in front of him, holding her ragdoll up to him. “Isn’t she pretty?”
The epithet wasn’t exactly befitting the description White had in mind for the doll. She obviously had seen much better day. He imagined that, as the little girl’s favourite toy, she had endured much.
“She’s indeed very lovely, Miss Sahra.”
“Would you want to give her a kiss?”
White was mortified. He couldn’t even imagine himself actually doing what the little girl requested of him. Fortunately, the World President came to his rescue:
“Now, Sahra love, don’t go bother the colonel. He’s a busy man. He doesn’t go about kissing pretty dolls.” Younger came behind his daughter and steered her away from White and into the direction of her bag. “Now go get Pinky and take it to that room the nice Captain said will be yours and Mrs. Brenshaw.” He addressed the nurse who was already leaving the counter. “If you would please take her, Ms. Brenshaw…”
“Of course, Mr Younger,” the young woman said. “Come over here, sweetheart…”
“Where will Daniel be sleeping, Daddy?” Sahra asked her father as she docilely followed the way her nurse directed her at.
“Well, there are three rooms,” Younger said, following her with his eyes as she took her hippopotamus-bag and followed her nurse in direction of her room. “You have one, one of them will be mine, and the last will be his. A boy his age got to be sleeping in his own room. Right, Daniel?”
As Sahra and Ms. Brenshaw disappeared into their room, Younger looked in the direction of his son. The boy didn’t react at the mention of his name and kept listening to his music. He probably never heard his name.
“Daniel?” his father called, a little more forcibly.
There still wasn’t any reaction.
“Danny!” Younger shouted so loud White needed to steel himself not to jump.
This time around, the teenager removed his speakers.
Interesting, White reflected impassively. He doesn’t like that name, but it’s the only one that he responds to.
“What is it, Dad?” Daniel asked, with a sigh that seemed to indicate he had been disturbed into doing something of the utmost importance.
“Get off your ass, and unpack your things,” his father told him sternly. “And get those things off your ears. When you have them on, you don’t even realise I’m talking to you.”
“Well, then, maybe it’s the reason I do put them on,” Daniel replied casually. “Anyway, you never talk to me.”
The tone of voice itself might not have been impertinent, but the words certainly were. White watched as Younger’s face became totally ashen, while the blood seemed to rush to his ears, turning them a dark shade of red.
“Young man, that’ll be enough,” Younger said between his teeth. “I will not tolerate that kind of behaviour anymore. Either you behave yourself or – ”
“Or what, you’ll send me to my room?” Daniel was on his feet faster than anything White had seen him done so far. He stood in front of his father. “Look around, Dad – this might look like a five starts hotel room, but it’s a military base, for Pete’s sakes… It’s no different than any of those other places you go to, as the World President… Except your bland all-dressed-in-black security guards have been replaced by multicoloured Spectrum agents.”
“Daniel, don’t be rude.”
“I’ll be bored out of my wits here… Ask Branson and Travis to bring me back home already… You don’t need me here, really.”
“So you can join your friends Drew and Steven, and go surfing in Rainbow Bay again?” his father snapped. “Haven’t you listened to something else beside that music of yours with that player, Daniel? The news said there’s a high proliferation of sharks this year along the Queensland coast. I don’t want you to lose a leg, an arm, or for something worst to happen to you from one of those predators.”
“Now you are exaggerating… That ain’t likely to happen to me.”
“No, lad. Bad things happen all the time, and they do not happen only to others, believe me.”
Daniel sighed with deep exasperation. “You’re totally unreasonable!” He turned to Colonel White, as if taking him as a witness: “Ain’t he unreasonable?”
At this point, White was wondering how he should tactfully answer that he didn’t wish to be dragged into this more than obviously private conversation, when – oh miracle – the door behind him slid open and General Peterson entered, accompanied by Captain Blue. White kept himself from sighing with relief. Saved by the bell. And about bloody time too.
“Ah, Brian!” Forgetting about his son – who immediately took a sulking expression – Younger strode towards General Peterson. In a fraction of a second, his whole demeanour had changed. “There you are… I was wondering where you had disappeared to. And Captain Blue, how are you?” he asked, vigorously pumping the American’s professed hand.
“Mr World President,” Blue said formally. “Always a pleasure to meet you.”
“And I, you, Captain.”
“I’m sorry if we made you waiting, Mr President,” Peterson then explained. “Captain Blue and I were busy in the control room. Well, that is, he was busy. I merely stood there watching, while with Lieutenant Green, he gave me a very interesting demonstration of Cloudbase’s security features,” he added, exchanging knowing glances with Colonel White, who stood only three feet away from them.
“Really now?” Younger said with a grin. “What kind of demonstration, can you tell?”
“Well, uh… erm…” Peterson was hesitant to answer that question, and quite frankly, didn’t know how to word it exactly, so it wouldn’t upset anyone. “Let’s say you have a… very handsome skeleton, Mr World President. Like all of your party.”
Younger’s smile felt slightly. If he understood the full significance of that answer, Daniel, who had heard it as well, got it all wrong, and flipped.
Peterson’s effort not to cause any distress had failed spectacularly.
“What!? You got us checked with X-rays without telling us? That’s it, I’m gonna have cancer!”
“Don’t worry, Mr Younger,” Captain Blue replied very patiently. “There is no way you will suffer from this. The amount of X-ray used isn’t even significant.”
“Yes, of course, you would say that. What, you thought we might have been armed coming onboard? That’s ridiculous!”
“The U.S.S. agents assuring your protection were,” Peterson commented, tongue firmly planted in cheek.
“Don’t be such a drama queen, Daniel,” Younger said with annoyance. “It’s standard procedure for Spectrum. They know what they’re doing. I’m guessing you can’t even come onboard Cloudbase without going through it.”
“And that brings us back to the problem...”
“No, it doesn’t ‘bring us back to the problem’,” Younger swiftly interrupted his son before he would go any further. “Now I’ve really got enough of it. Whatever problem you think you have, this doesn’t concern these good people. Dirty linen is to be washed at home, and not in public. So if you have something more to say on the subject of how mean I was to even take you here, I would ask you to wait until we are alone, so we would discuss it privately. Am I making myself clear?”
His tone of voice would not suffer any recrimination. Daniel seemed to understand that. He glared as his father with antipathy.
“Crystal clear, Dad,” he said between his teeth. Ignoring the furious way his father was regarding him, he turned to Colonel White. “Is there a place in this dump where I can let out some steam?” he asked, roughly enough. “A gym, a pool, a race track… anything?”
“We have all of those,” White answered calmly. “Down in the sports hall.”
“Ah. So can you direct me to the track, please?”
He said please. I’m sure the surprise will cause me a stroke. White turned to Younger, unsure.
The latter shrugged and sighed heavily. “Tell him the way, Colonel. Maybe some exercise will do him good.”
The colonel didn’t need to be told twice. “Ask Captain Ochre and Captain Grey outside. One of them will guide you to the gym.”
“Thank you very much, Colonel.” Daniel’s voice was filled with irony, but it wasn’t clear if it was directed at his father or at White himself. He turned on his heels, went to the sofa where he had left his backpack, and savagely grabbed the handles. Throwing it on his shoulder, he walked in front of the assembly in long strides and went to the door, to press the opening button.
It’s a good thing it’s a sliding door, Colonel White told himself, as the door slid open and the young man crossed the doorway to leave, because I’m about sure he would have slammed it on his way out.
The door closed and T. James Younger sighed. “I hate it when this happens in public,” he explained in a low voice. “I really don’t want to berate him in front of people he doesn’t know, but…” He shook his head in desolation. “He’s been impossible to live with since his mother passed away.”
“Does he carry his entire luggage in this one backpack?” Peterson asked musingly.
“Don’t ask me. He’s supposed to be old enough to do his own packing.” Younger chuckled slightly, as in a way to defuse the awkwardness of the moment. “Kids,” he said. “We do adore them, but sometimes, we can’t live with them. Especially when they reach a certain age.” He nodded to White. “But then again, I suppose you have your own problems, Colonel. That young man we met at the hangar…”
“I’m sorry if he caused you any embarrassment, Mr President,” White declared, as he took note of Blue’s slight scowl at these words.
“Embarrassment? Coming from him? Certainly not! ” Younger said with a dismissive wave of the end. “My own son was quite efficient to do that on his own without any of this young man’s help! To the contrary, I found the boy to be quite friendly. He certainly knew how to stand up to Daniel and didn’t let himself be bullied! He certainly has courage, I was impressed…” He sniggered. “But obviously, History is not his strong suite.”
“Paul was in the hangar?” Blue asked in puzzlement. “I thought he was at one of his flight simulator sessions.”
“I’m surprised you didn’t see him when you… erm… tested us, Captain,” Younger said. “He was at the door as we were about to leave.”
“Well, that must be why we didn’t see him then,” Peterson noted. “The Mysteron test was made as you all left the passenger jet, sir.”
“So, we all have ‘handsome skeletons’, then?” Younger grinned. “Tell me, how was it done exactly? I didn’t see any detector around… You said you did it from the control room?”
“A few of our security cameras, set in strategic places, are fitted with Spectrum detectors,” White explained. “So that permits us to check visitors as they come down their planes – and that, without alarming them.”
“General Peterson wanted to see how the process worked,” Blue concluded. “That’s why he stayed with me in the control room.”
“That’s a very ingenious process,” Peterson approved.
Younger smiled broadly. “Well I’m certainly glad to know my son isn’t a Mysteron agent… He’s bad enough as he is.”
“Daddy!” a small voice then called, coming from the room where Sahra Younger had disappeared into a moment earlier, which made everyone turn to took in that direction. “Come, please! I need you right now!”
“Ah, a father’s work is never done!” Younger said with an apologetic smile. “If you would all excuse me, gentlemen… Duty calls. I’ll see you later, when the lot of us will have finished unpacking.”
“Certainly, Mr President,” White said. “Take your time… Just use the communicator when you are ready for your tour of Cloudbase.”
“Will do, Colonel… Oh, Brian, please, stay with me a few minutes. There are things we need to discuss urgently regarding some businesses in Futura City. I promise, it shouldn’t be very long.”
“Daddy!” the little voice called with more insistence.
“Coming, sweetheart!” With a last awkward smile, T.J. Younger left his hosts and trotted to his daughter’s bedroom.
“Beware of politicians’ promises,” Peterson muttered, addressing White who couldn’t help but smile at his remarks. “I’ll be here until sundown…”
“Hoping you’ll have fun, General,” White told him as he started towards the door with Blue.
“Ha-bloody-ha, Charles. See you later, possibly.”
Both Spectrum officers exited through the door. They found Captain Ochre with the two security guards, who were now standing guard in front of the V.I.P. room. White instructed the guards to leave the door and to stand instead at some distance from it, so to give the World President and his family a little more privacy. Then the three officers left together and walked towards the nearest lift.
“Well, that went rather well,” White concluded. “At least for the arrival… The only sore note being the presence of our young friend at hangar’s door.”
“You want me to talk to him, sir?” Blue asked.
“Yes, Captain, I’d very much like that. He said that he was curious to see the World President but… I don’t know why, I don’t feel quite satisfied with his answer. Find him and see that he behaves, please.”
Blue continued his way down the corridor, while Ochre and White, stood in front of the lift, waiting for it to arrive.
“I think the boy rather behaved himself, sir, all things considered,” Ochre then declared, surprisingly.
“Oh, Captain?” White said, raising a brow in slight perplexity. “I thought you had your own troubles with him?”
Ochre grimaced. “Well, he could be difficult at times… But he’s a good kid anyway. Actually, I was rather proud by the way he stood up to that infernal Younger kid. Now that’s a problem child and a half.”
“Mmm…” White agreed with a nod. “It’s easy to see the World President has his hands full with his son.”
“You should have seen him when he stormed out of the V.I.P. room, sir - demanding that one of us took him to the gym,” Ochre continued, as the door to the lift opened and the both of them walked inside. “Spoiled little brat. I let Grey go with him. I was afraid I would throw him out an airlock.”
“Now, now, Captain Ochre… That’s no way to talk about the World President’s son…” White told him off in an even voice. He selected on the control panel the control room level and stood straight, with his arms behind his back. “But I agree with you,” he added, as the door closed in front of them. “Despite it all, I prefer a hundred times to deal with a ten year old Paul Metcalfe, than with that insufferable teenaged pain-in-the arse prat...”
Captain Grey led Daniel Younger to the sports hall. After signing him in at the reception, he pointed to the door leading into the main gym where the track were located, and then took the boy to the locker room where the boy changed into clothes more appropriate for sports activities. Daniel thanked him for his help – almost gracefully, and dismissed him – rather flippantly, in Grey’s opinion. The American captain was adamant that he would wait for the younger man at the reception.
“You don’t know the base yet, sir, and seeing how big it is, it’s likely you will get lost, if you were to leave the sports hall and try to find your way on your own to the V.I.P. suite. So if you don’t mind, I will wait for you and guide you back, whenever you are done.”
“I might be there a long time,” Daniel replied, obviously not happy that Grey would insist of keeping his eye on him. I do not need a nanny, Captain.”
“Which is fine by me, Mr Younger. I didn’t follow any nanny training, and therefore this is not part of my curriculum,” Grey deadpanned without a single hint of humour in his voice.
Daniel shrugged it off. If this stubborn Captain wanted so much to lose his time waiting, it was his problem.
Grey watched him go, and took a seat in the reception, picking up a magazine which was lying there and which was at least three months old. He certainly would rather hit the pool, which was only a few meters away from where he sat, than stay here waiting for that unpleasant boy. But he was concerned that Daniel Younger would take advantage of his absence to go and run around the base, unsupervised. Grey didn’t want for this to happen… at least, until the colonel would say that it was okay for him to do so. However, he suspected that, contrary to Paul Metcalfe, Colonel White would never give that kind of permission to the young Mr Younger.
As Daniel entered the gym, his ear was pricked by a curious sound; it was the thumping of padded gloves hitting an equally padded surface. He was quick to spot the boxing bag hanging next of a boxing ring set in the middle of the gym. It was bouncing back and fro at the same rhythm as the regular blows which landed on it. Daniel tilted his head to the side as he noticed that the boxer punishing the bag that way was none other that the obnoxious boy he had met upon his arrival on Cloudbase.
Daniel approached with curiosity and watched in silence; the kid seemed to pack quite a punch, despite his size, and he certainly had some technique. Obviously, someone had trained him well, and he had followed his lessons seriously.
Daniel made a step forward, making his presence known: “Hey, Kid Galahad.”
In one swift movement, Paul had edgily swirled on his feet, his gloved hands raised and ready to strike. Daniel instantly understood he had startled him, and he stepped back, presenting his hands in defence.
“Hey, whoa! Calm down, soldier! Don’t hit me!”
Paul stopped himself in mid-movement; he lowered his guard, his face set in an unhappy frown, and glared at the newcomer. “What are you doing here?” he snapped angrily.
“What do you think I’m doing here?” Daniel retorted. “I came to make use of the gym. They told me there was one here, so I thought it might do a few laps ‘round the track. For, you know… let off some steam.” He narrowed his eyes at Paul. “Looks like I’m not the only one needing that.”
“I’m not here to let go of some steam. I just needed the exercise.” Paul turned his back at him and started pounding on the bag again. “Beside, it’s none of your business.”
Daniel shrugged. “Hey, I know what it is,” he said. “I’ve got chewed out by my old man too, just now. I imagine yours did the same with you.”
“What d’you mean?” Paul asked without even turning around.
“Your father, I mean. The colonel –”
“That man isn’t my father!” Paul lashed suddenly, turning on his heels to face Daniel, his eyes bright with irritation.
He was breathing hard – not only because he had been working at the bag for some time now, but because he felt unnerved, angered by Daniel’s suggestion. The surprise expression he saw in the World President’s features quickly made him realise that the other boy genuinely didn’t know.
“Oh right,” Daniel realised. “You called him ‘Uncle Charlie’.”
“He’s not my uncle either,” Paul muttered.
“So who’s your dad, then?”
“My dad’s not on Cloudbase,” Paul said in a petulant voice, as he turned his back on Daniel. “He’s home, in Winchester.” He bit his lips, already regretting having revealed that piece of information. He had promised Adam he would not do such thing.
He hoped that wouldn’t be of importance.
“Winchester?” Daniel repeated. “That’s where you’re from? In England?”
“That’s what I said earlier,” Paul replied, nodding. Slowly, he started removing his gloves.
“Why the bloody heck is he down there, while you’re up here?”
Paul emitted a half-chuckle, half-sigh. “That’s a long story.” He turned around to face Daniel again. “And I’m not really allowed to tell anyone.”
Daniel followed Paul’s gesture as the latter threw the gloves onto the floor; they were not really boxing gloves, but rather fighting gloves, which didn’t cover the last phalanges of the fingers. Real boxing gloves of the same size would have been too big for the boy’s small hands and these obviously fitted him better, but still, Daniel reckoned the gloves were still a little too large for Paul’s hands.
“You’re quite good at boxing,” he admitted. “I’m rather glad our argument earlier didn’t generate. You might be smaller than me, shrimp, it looks like you pack quite a wallop.”
“Thanks…” Paul grinned mischievously. “… Danny.”
Daniel scowled, but let it slip this once. “Who taught you? Your old man?”
Paul shook his head. “Mum’s brother, my uncle Oliver. He’s been a champ at university. He started giving me lessons last year.” He paused a second, thinking of the incident that had led his uncle to teach him boxing. The same incident he had told Adam, two evenings before. “He said a man gotta know how to defend himself.”
“The gloves’re yours?”
“Naaa… They’re Melody’s. Melody Angel, one of the interceptors’ pilots. Said her brother gave them to her as a gift a long time ago. Her brother’s supposed to be a professional boxer. She lent them to me yesterday, as she knew I like boxing.” He scowled as he said these last words. Again, he was still wondering how all these Spectrum officers knew so much about him.
“You met an Angel pilot?”
“I met all of ‘em.” Paul started counting on his fingers. “There’s Melody, and Symphony, and Rhapsody… Destiny, she’s French. And Harmony. She’s Chinese, I think…”
“You lucky dog! I heard they’re real beaut! S’that true?”
“I guess.” Paul shrugged indifferently.
“You still a kid, shrimp,” Daniel declared, from the height of his fourteen years of age. Paul scowled at him. “Too young to know any better. That’s a shame. These girls are a waste on you if you can’t appreciate them.”
“Stop calling me ‘shrimp’,” Paul said between his teeth. “I’m not that small. I’m tall even, for my age.”
“That’s what they’re telling you?” Daniel said mockingly. He saw the warning glow in Paul’s eyes and waved dismissively. “Right then, if you say so, soldier.” He grinned at him, saying his perplexed expression. “You’re military, right?”
“No,” Paul replied defensively. “I’m not due to military school before next year.”
“That’s not what I meant. I mean… your family’s military. With my dad, I’ve been around military people enough to recognise the type a mile away. And you’ve got the type, soldier…” Smiling mischievously, Daniel presented his hand to Paul, with three of his fingers closed and his index finger hovering one inch over his thumb. He started talking to him mockingly, using a very childish voice: “… A tiny, weenie, tin soldier… Like those you kids often like to play with.”
Paul pushed his arm away. “You stop teasing me,” he requested with irritation. He walked passed him, picked up the gloves on the floor and started towards the exit.
Daniel laughed behind him. “Boy, you fly off the handle faster than a dingo crossing the bush! Come on, kid, I’m just kidding ya! You’ve got a chip on your shoulder, or something? Something’s bothering you?”
Paul didn’t even slow down when he said over his shoulders: “I told you already, it’s none of your business, Danny-Boy. And if you’re looking for someone with a chip on his shoulder, I suggest you look into a mirror!”
He heard the hurried footsteps approaching behind him and kept himself on his guard. If ever Daniel was to strike him from behind, he would be in for a big surprise.
But Daniel gusted by, and came to stand in front of him, blocking his way. Paul stopped in his tracks.
“Whoa there, boy – you’ve got a big mouth for someone so young… You’d better be careful what you say to people. If I was a mean person –”
“So what if you were, you would hit me?” Paul scowled. “I’ve never been afraid of bullies, Danny-Boy. You ain’t so tough. I faced tougher than you.”
“Don’t push me, kid. I’ve got a bad day today, and I’m trying to be nice.”
“That’s what you call ‘nice’?”
“Look, seems to me like we’re stuck together on this oversized, floating tin can for a few days. My old man got into his thick head to pass Christmas here…”
“So? You’re lucky, you’ve got to pass Christmas with your family.”
Daniel scoffed loudly. “Yeah, right… My father, whom I can’t talk to, and my little sister who’s only six, with whom I don’t have anything at all in common. Plus, she thinks I’m an idiot.”
“Stop acting like one, and maybe she’ll stop saying you’re an idiot. Besides, I doubt she doesn’t really think it and you should know better,” Paul retorted with a scowl. “She’s just a little kid. I would have loved to have a younger sister, even as young as yours. But I don’t have any. I don’t have any brothers either. The closest I have are cousins, but that’s not really the same, I guess. But I won’t even see them this Christmas – nor will I see my parents.”
“Then why don’t you ask your Spectrum buddies to take one of these planes of theirs and take you to Winchester, if you so want to go there?”
“I can’t. I’m stuck here, like you. I can’t go.” Paul saw Daniel’s perplexed look and shrugged with irritation. “And these Spectrum guys aren’t really my buddies… They are doing their best, I guest, but it doesn’t change the fact that they won’t allow me to leave.”
He tried to walk past Daniel, but the latter didn’t let him do more than two steps, before catching him by the arm and stopping him.
“Hey, whoa, whoa, whoa, there, shrimp.” Paul scowled again, as much because of the use of that hateful name as for seeing himself being restrained from leaving. He glared down at the hand holding his arm. Daniel got the message and let go. “You say you’re stuck here? Just like me?”
“Yeah… but for a different reason, obviously. Your Dad just wants to pass Christmas with you. Me, I’m kept away from my parents. I just want to be with them.”
“And Spectrum won’t let you leave?” Daniel shook his head in incomprehension. “Why?” He saw Paul hesitating to answer his question. He sighed. “I know, I know… That’s a long story and it’s not of my bloody business… Kid, it does look like we have the same problem. Me, I’d give anything to leave this place. And I’m guessing it’s the same for you.”
“Of course I’d like to leave,” Paul said with annoyance. “But that’s impossible. This place is way up in the sky… They only way to come and go is by plane. Unless you plan to parachute from here, you can’t go.”
Daniel looked around, as if making sure there was nobody else with them in the gym. They were all on their own; he gave one glance towards the doors, and seeing as there didn’t seem to be anyone about to enter, he took Paul by the shoulders, and, as if they were the best of friends, he casually guided him towards a nearby working bench. Docilely, Paul followed, rather curious to know what could be going through the mind of the older boy.
Daniel made him sit on the edge of the bench. “How about stowing away aboard one of the departing craft?” he suggested. He caught the almost unnoticeable twitch over Paul’s brow and grinned knowingly. “You’ve thought about it, didn’t you? That’s why you were at the hangar when we arrived. You were checking the place out.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Don’t play smart with me, kid. I know the signs. You’re thinking of getting away, that’s obvious. You’re just waiting for the occasion. And when it’ll arrive, you’ll grab it without thinking about it.”
Paul frowned deeply, glaring at the older boy. “You think you’re so clever?”
“Hey, knowing now that you want so badly to leave, it’s a natural guess.” Daniel’s smile broadened. “So I’m thinking right?”
Paul nodded slowly. “Yes, I thought about it,” he admitted, if a little reluctantly. “But it wouldn’t serve me much. That plane might take me anywhere other than where I really want to go. I want to go back to Winchester.”
“If it were me, I wouldn’t mind the destination,” Daniel said, shrugging. “As long as I’m off this tin can. A little adventuring might actually be kind of fun.”
“How did you guess?” Paul asked suspiciously. “You didn’t tell anyone else about this, did you?”
“Like my father, or one of those Spectrum officers living here?” Daniel scoffed loudly and dropped on the bench by Paul’s side. He dismissed the suggestion with a wave of the hand. “Please! Give me some credit! As for how I guess, well… Takes one to know one, I think.”
“What do you mean?”
Daniel shrugged. “I’ve got experience in these sorts of things.”
“Really?” That wasn’t a revelation that actually filled Paul with confidence. Neither did it surprise him that much.
“Yeah. Well… sort of. I made a few runs already, but the best… Ah, the best was when I stowed aboard the monorail train, from Melbourne to Brisbane… Okay, I admit, I didn’t leave the country, but even then, it wasn’t that easy. I didn’t have the money for the train fare, and I played hide and seek with the controllers all the way through. I wanted to go join some buddies of mine who were surfing in Rainbow Bay… I made the trip, no problem… But I made the mistake of telling Sahra that I was going. The little snitch… She told Dad, and he set the U.S.S. after me, and they caught me as I was getting ready to jump into the sea.”
“Monorail train? You’re kidding?” Paul scoffed derisively. “I should think stowing away into a plane leaving Cloudbase would be another matter. Getting in the plane is already tricky, if that works… and supposing that works, getting off it would be even trickier. They would find me and getting me back to Cloudbase just as fast. Anyway, as I said, I don’t want to go anywhere else but Winchester.”
“Kid, I doubt Spectrum would get a plane ready for you for wherever you might want to go! Unless you plan to flight it yourself,” he added mockingly.
“Well…” Paul said thoughtfully.
That got Daniel worried. “Hey, I was only kidding. I hope you’re not actually thinking of stealing a plane and flight it off Cloudbase. You certainly don’t know how to fly!”
“I do know how to fly!” Paul protested.
“At your age? Doesn’t seem likely!”
“I do! Well… sort of.”
“Enough anyway to aim a plane in the right direction and to keep it straight…”
“There’s more to that to fly a plane, shrimp.”
“I’ve got it all covered,” Paul declared with confidence.
Daniel narrowed his eyes at Paul, suspiciously. “You little… You are planning to steal a plane. Do you know how crazy that sounds? A little kid like you… You’ll never be able to do whatever you’re planning! You’ve got guts, I’ll give you that, but this is totally impossible.”
“Listen,” Paul told him with annoyance, “I’ve never asked for your opinion! You don’t even know what I’m planning exactly, and you stay it won’t work. But I just know it will!” He swiftly stood up and glared at Daniel, almost levelly. “And you’d better not tell anyone about this, ‘cause if you do, that’ll ruin everything… and the next moment I’ll see you, I’ll deck you!” he promised in the end.
“Really?” Daniel said, unimpressed. “Think you’ve also got a chance to do that?”
“You said it yourself, I’m good at boxing.” Paul showed the gloves he held in his hand. “I only need one good punch to your nose and you’ll be out for the count!” He saw the amused, almost arrogant smile on Daniel’s lips and could see that the older boy had trouble not to laugh in his face. He obviously didn’t take him seriously. That infuriated Paul even more. He pointed an inquisitive finger under his nose. “I warn you! I’m not kidding.”
“I can’t see you’re not.” But Daniel was still smiling, ever so lightly.
“Don’t get in my way, or else!” With that, Paul turned on his heel and started towards the door again.
Daniel jumped on his feet. “I wouldn’t dream of getting in your way. I’m joining you.”
That stopped Paul and he swiftly turned around, looking at Daniel with wide eyes. “You what?”
The older boy walked the short distance between them. “Listen, soldier. I don’t know what exactly that plan of yours is, but in the oft chance it’ll work, I want in.”
“You want to tag along with me?” Paul asked with doubt, why.
“I want to get away from here as badly as you, and I don’t mind if you go to Winchester, London, New York, or whatever… I told you, a little adventure might be fun.”
“But your dad… he’ll be furious.”
“Good. That’ll teach him to drag me on a military base by force. I never wanted to come here to begin with. The idea… And don’t you think your Spectrum buddies – starting with Colonel White – won’t be furious at you? I don’t think you care.”
Paul sighed. “I know they won’t be happy. But I just want to go back home and be my family. You, you want to runaway from your dad. It’s not the same.”
“Listen boy,” Daniel replied with some irritation, “I don’t care what you think about me. You don’t like me? Fine. I’m not sure I like you that much either, but it seems to me like we need each other. You’ve got a plan that might get us out of here, but it doesn’t stand a chance if you don’t get some help. And I’m just the one who might help you.”
“Why do you think I might need help?” Paul grunted in annoyance. “I can do that on my own. I don’t need anyone. ‘Specially not you.”
“You not only have guts, you have ambition beyond your age, shrimp. Think about your plan, and tell me it wouldn’t be easier if you actually had an… erm…”
“… Accomplice?” Paul provided.
“A partner, let’s say.”
Paul nodded, very slowly. “There might be some way you can be helpful,” he said thoughtfully. “But I’m not sure… You’re the World President’s son and that might get me in more trouble than I’m looking for.”
Daniel grinned as Paul seemingly thought about it, but still appeared to be reluctant. “I don’t think you have a choice, anyway. You need my help, like it or not. Plus, if you don’t let me tag along with you, I’ll tell everyone about your plan.”
Paul glared at him. “You snitch… You’d give me away?”
“Do you really think you scared me with your promise of punching my nose earlier, kid?” Daniel asked brashly. “That’s the deal, then: you let me tag along, I help you get to Winchester… and I don’t tell anyone about Operation Rainbow Bay.”
“Operation Rainbow Bay?”
“Your getting away plan, soldier. It’s got to have a proper name.”
“I was thinking of calling it Operation Pimpernel.”
Daniel rolled his eyes. “That’s a silly name if ever I heard one. So what do you say, soldier? We have a deal?” He presented his hand to Paul, grinning victoriously.
Paul grunted with irritation. He gave it more thought for a few seconds, saw that he had no way out of it and finally sighed, giving up. “Do I have a choice?” He shook hands with the older boy, scowling as he did. “Operation Rainbow Bay it is,” he agreed reluctantly.
“Now remember,” Daniel warned him. “I’ll be close to you from you on. You try to double-cross me and left me behind, and Colonel White will know right away what you’re up too.”
“You’re a real snitch, you know that, Danny?” Paul grumbled. “You have my word I won’t double-cross you. I won’t run the risk of you spoiling it all for me.”
“Super! You’ll have to tell me a little more about this plan of yours. Maybe I can help improve it –”
He stopped talking, just as he heard and saw the door of the gym open, a few meters behind Paul, who turned around. They both saw Captain Blue walk in purposely. He was in full uniform, so he obviously wasn’t there to get some exercise. He stopped in his tracks upon seeing the two boys standing in front of each other, holding hands; the scene made him frown with perplexity.
“I hope the two of you are not planning a duel or something,” he said, with barely a hint of humour in his voice. He pointed to the gloves Paul was holding. “Or a match, maybe.”
“Captain Blue, isn’t it?” Daniel grinned and let go of Paul’s hand. “Sorry, I didn’t get a chance to say ‘hi’ properly, when we met earlier. I was… erm… otherwise preoccupied.”
Blue tilted his head, regarding the boy intently. “That’s certainly a nice way to put it, Mr Younger.”
“My dad told me about you. Said you’ve saved his life.” He thumbed to Paul. “Me and the kid, we just made our peace.”
“Really?” Blue said doubtfully. “From what I heard about your earlier meeting in the hangar, it is rather surprising to find the two so chummy all of a sudden.”
“Like Danny said, we made our peace,” Paul said casually.
Blue nodded slowly. He wasn’t sure he believed it entirely. “Mr Younger, if you don’t mind, I would need to talk to Paul for a moment…”
“By all means, Captain… He’s entirely yours. We have finished here, for the moment. Isn’t that right, little buddy?” Daniel turned to Paul and addressed him a mischievous smile.
Paul glared at him. That idiot would ruin everything by acting so conspicuously. Blue might get suspicious.
“Yeah, we’ve finished,” the younger boy replied. “I’ll see you around… Daniel.”
“I’ll go, then. I’ll see you later, soldier.”
Paul simply nodded and watched as Daniel jogged out of the gym, passing by Blue who followed him with his eyes. He waited until the door closed and turned back to Paul, who had not moved from his spot. He looked suspiciously at him. “What happened? You cleaned his clock, and that made him see sense?” He pointed again to the gloves in Paul’s hand.
“We just talked,” the boy said simply. “That’s all. How’d you found me here?”
“Symphony. I found her in your room, she was… er… preparing some kind of surprise dessert for you. She told me she saw you leaving with the gloves Melody gave you and that you would probably be here.” Putting his hands into his pocket, Blue started walking casually towards the youngster, his eyes set on him. “Is everything all right?”
Paul shrugged. “What makes you think something might not be?”
“I don’t know.” Blue gave a swift nod towards the door. “From what I heard, you really didn’t get along on first sight. He wasn’t giving you a hard time, I hope?”
“And if he was, what would you do?” Paul asked, a little more sharply than he really intended to. “I can fight my own battle, Captain Blue. Even against bigger guys than me.”
“That I have no doubt,” Blue said. He was a little perplexed by the obvious hostility he could perceive in the boy’s voice. “Can I ask what you were doing at the hangar when the Youngers arrived earlier?”
“Just like I told the colonel: I was curious to meet the World President. He told you, then?”
“I am responsible for you, Paul. He thought it best to inform me he found you in a place where you weren’t supposed to be.”
“Yeah, of course… That way you can punish me and confine me back to quarters again. Did he ask you to do that?”
Blue shook his head. “He did no such things,” he reassured the young boy. “And I have no intention of confining you back to quarters. I genuinely believe your were only motivated by curiosity.”
“Sure, like I told you. By the way, you should have told me his name. I looked like a fool when I called him Mr Bandranaik. Since when is there a new World President, anyway?”
“Some time,” Blue said, not wanting to commit himself. He sighed. “Look, I admit we should have told you. It was an oversight from our part, I’m sorry.”
“Colonel White said the same. Well, I guess what’s done is done…” Paul muttered. He looked directly at Blue, his eyes a little brighter. “How about you making it up to me?”
Blue raised an inquiring brow. “How? I’m about sure you have something in mind already.”
“How can you tell?”
“I can read you like a book, Paul Metcalfe,” Blue said, shaking his head. “You’re a little too obvious. So… what is it you want from me?”
“Tomorrow, it’s Christmas Eve, right?”
“Yes…” Blue said carefully.
“How about you spend all day with me tomorrow?” Paul suggested. “We can do stuff together. Boys stuff, you know… You can… play videogames with me… Dianne and I we played some games together… She’s very good, but I’ve got the feeling she’s letting me win.”
“She’s letting you win?” Blue said with some amusement.
“Yeah… She keeps making mistakes at crucial moments. That cannot always be an accident. She’s doing it on purpose.”
“I’ve never known her to let anyone get the better of her. You realise that must mean she really likes you?”
“Well, it’s no fun. You wouldn’t let me win, right?”
“No. But then again, I’ve never been very good at videogames.”
“But you were a pilot.”
“A test pilot. Not a fighter pilot. Oh, yes… Test pilot games, I was good at. But I haven’t played in ages.”
“You never won any other type of videogames?”
Blue gave it some thought. “One, actually. Quite recently. A 3D role-playing game. ‘Twilight of the Gods’.”
“Never heard of it. Was it a good game?”
“It was terrifying,” Blue said, rolling his eyes. “One of these games that, if you miss, you die.” Literally, he added to himself. He shook his head, smiling apologetically. “I’m sorry, Paul. I wish I could pass the day with you tomorrow… But I won’t be available. I’ll be having a busy day.”
“Because of the World President’s visit?”
“Amongst other things.”
“What a shame…” Paul sighed. “I was thinking… that maybe you and I could have had a go at the flight simulator tomorrow.” He narrowed his eyes at Blue. “I’m pretty sure you’re good with that. You helped design the program, after all.”
Blue laughed. “Well, for starters, it’s not really a game… And that’s funny you should mention that…”
“Tomorrow, I’m scheduled to test a craft. You visited it with Symphony and Magenta, actually. The SPJ equipped with a new, fully computerised auto-pilot?”
“Georgina?” Paul asked.
“Exactly. I was supposed to test it today with Melody, but because of the World President’s visit, it’s been postponed until tomorrow afternoon.”
“You’re going with Melody?”
“Yeah… We’re taking the craft off base, and then we’ll test the auto-pilot. Set a course for a relatively nearby location, and see how it’ll actually behave in flight. Then we’ll let it handle the landing procedure…”
“I knew that auto-pilot could land itself!” Paul said excitedly. ‘It was too obvious… If it was as sophisticated as Symphony and Pat said, it had to land by itself!”
“Well you got that right,” Blue chuckled. “Its programming let him handle regular landing procedure and VTOL procedure.”
“You think so?” Blue shrugged dismissively. “There’s really nothing much to the test, actually. It’s only a formality. I don’t expect anything to go wrong. But we’ll be gone for at least five or six hours.”
That put a damper on Paul’s enthusiasm. “So that means neither you nor Melody won’t be available tomorrow?”
“I’m afraid not. Sorry about that. Look, it’s not like you’ll be left on your own. The others have agreed to pass some time with you tomorrow, so you won’t feel alone. I know you like Melody best of all, but –”
Blue frowned. “No what?”
“It’s not really Melody I like best. I mean… You’re all okay. The others are nice and kind… Even Ochre, in his weird kind of way. And doing stuff with them is fine. And Rhapsody… she’s a wonderful girl… and I think I like her a lot more than Melody… Now that I know her better.”
“I’m sure she’d be happy to know that,” Blue said with a grin. He couldn’t say he was that much surprised by this new development.
“But… as much as I like her… I think my favourite is you.”
“Me?” Now that was a surprising statement. Blue watched as Paul, seemingly feeling awkward all of a sudden, lowered his eyes.
“I don’t see a lot of you… You’re so busy all the time. I don’t know why, but… you’re the one I feel the closest to. I feel like you know me, better than anyone else… And you all know so much about me, it’s scary. But with you, it’s not so scary. It’s like you’re… well, like you’re a big brother to me, or something like that. Is that making sense?”
“Yes. It’s actually making a lot of sense,” Blue said with a little smile. This was good. This feeling the boy had could only meant that in some way, deep inside of him, Scarlet was still there, somehow… and that he remembered the brotherly friendship he had with his American partner.
Perhaps this was a sign of his coming back to normal? Blue didn’t dare hoping as much.
“So you understand, I was kinda I was hoping to have my big brother with me for Christmas…” Paul continued in a very tiny voice.
“But I’ll be there, Paul,” Blue told him. “I’ll be back by the end of the day tomorrow.”
“And what if you’re not?” Paul asked him. “Stuff happens to test pilots. I know that. What if the plane should… crash?”
“Oh, there’s no danger in that test! If something goes wrong, we’ll be disconnecting the autopilot and take the craft back into our control. And the chance that happening is even unlikely. There’s really nothing to worry about.”
“You’re sure?” Paul asked, still a little uncertainly.
“I’m sure, Paul. You don’t have to worry about a thing. I’ll be here for Christmas with you, and Rhapsody, and Melody. And all the others.”
“That’s grand…” Paul said in a distant voice. “All of you for Christmas with me… But I still won’t be with my parents.”
Blue watched with some surprise as the boy rubbed one of his eyes. He made a step forward. “Are you okay?”
“Sure… Why do you ask?”
“I don’t know… You seem… sad, all of a sudden. You’re thinking of your parents?”
Paul nodded. He lowered his head, not willing to look Blue in the eyes. “I guess... Seeing the World President’s family earlier…” He sighed. “Adam, I miss my family.”
Blue nodded his understanding. He swallowed hard. “Yeah, I know, kid.”
This situation was certainly was becoming more difficult as time went by. And he realised it was only harder for Paul Metcalfe than for any of the Spectrum officers who were taking care of him.
“What will become of me?” the boy said in a low voice.
That was a perplexing question. Blue tilted his head to one side. “What do you mean, Paul?”
“I was wondering... What will become of me… if I can’t go home anymore?” Paul’s voice was quivering. He raised his head and looked straight at Blue. The latter was slightly taken aback when he noticed the deep blue eyes, watered with tears the boy wasn’t willing to shed.
“Paul, I –”
“You had that thought once, hadn’t you, Adam? When that awful man took you from your parents. You wondered if you would ever see them again. Well, I’m wondering that too. And I… I miss them so much…”
Blue felt his heart melting; he crossed the distance separating him from the young boy and enfolded his arms around him. He was almost surprised that Paul didn’t push him back and actually held on to him, in a warm, shaky hug.
“Don’t worry, pal,” Blue said with a catch in his voice. “Whatever may come… if ever the worst should happen… You’ll be well taken care of. That, I promise you.”
“He can’t take anymore of this.”
Later that evening, Captain Blue met Colonel White in privacy in the Conference Room. Busy all day with their respective duties, and seeing that the presence of the World President and his family added to these duties for nearly all member of the senior staff and for security onboard Cloudbase, neither of the two men had been able to meet each other before that moment.
White was slowly stirring his cup of tea, looking thoughtfully at the younger man standing in front of him. Blue had told his commander of the discussion he had had with young Paul in the gym, and how emotional it had ended. There was no denying the boy was now in distress, and even Colonel White, with his lack of experience with children, could see that.
With a gesture, he invited Blue to sit in front of him; the American captain swiftly complied.
“And what would you have me do about it, Captain?” he asked softly.
“We have to tell him everything,” Blue said.
It wasn’t a suggestion. It was a plain request. He couldn’t lie to Paul anymore. He couldn’t hide the truth from him any longer.
“We have to tell him what happened,” he continued with insistence, as White kept on listening. “I know he probably won’t believe us… But it’s been one week, Colonel… One damn week we’ve been waiting he’ll return back to normal. And aside from some… ‘ghost feelings’ he’s been having, nothing changed with him. What if he never comes back to normal? What if the effects of that tachyonic radiation are irreversible? If he should stay a child forever…”
“We would lose one of our best men,” White said thoughtfully.
That statement raised Blue’s irritation. “Is that all that’s worth consideration to you?” He asked heatedly.
White’s brow furrowed in displeasure. “Of course not! Do you think me so insensitive, Adam?” White’s sudden outburst stunned Blue into silence. The older man glared angrily at him. “I know it’s been hard on everyone. It’s been hard on the boy, it’s been hard on you, it’s been hard on Rhapsody… especially on Rhapsody. And it’s been hard on me as well, and not only because I’m Spectrum’s commander. But I am Spectrum’s commander. And I do need to take Spectrum’s matters into consideration, with all the rest!” He threw his spoon onto the surface of the table with disgust. “Damn it all, I have to consider it as well.”
Blue instantly regretted his words. “I’m sorry, sir, I –”
White raised his hand to silence him; with a set face, he leaned over the table, interlocking his fingers together, and stared intently at the younger man. “I’ve been thinking about it a lot these last days,” he said in a calmer voice. “And the same thoughts as you went through my mind. We do have to consider that Scarlet might indeed never come back to normal.”
“Doctors Fawn and Lavender –”
“… So far have been unable to attain any indication that he will return. Or that they’ll find a way to get him back.” White sighed. “I’m not giving up yet. “There might still be some hope. So I’m willing to wait for that. For the sakes of everyone.” He shook his head. “But…” he added, his voice softening even more, “I agree with you. He needs to be told now. In case the outcome doesn’t turn into his favour. And it will be my duty to do so,” he said gloomily. “And to try to make him believe this is all the truth.”
Blue shook his head. “I don’t think he trusts you enough to believe you, sir. I’ll tell him.”
White considered him carefully. “In that case, we’ll do it together,” he proposed.
“All right, sir.” Blue let out a deep sigh. “I’m not really looking forward to this, but I know it’s the best.”
“I’m not looking forward to it either, son. Believe me on that.”
“When, then? Tomorrow?”
“No.” White sat back on his seat. “You have to these that auto-pilot with Melody. That has been postponed too often already. Beside, there’s no reason to rush this beyond reason.” He gave it some thought. “After Christmas,” he suggested. “Let the boy enjoy his holiday. No need to bother him with this for now. And who knows, if we’re lucky, maybe we’ll see some development with his condition by then?”
“Wishful thinking, sir.” Blue presented his hand, with his index and middle finger crossed. “I’ll be hoping for that.”
“In the meantime,” White declared with a downbeat tone, “there is still one unenviable duty that falls to me...” His eyes met those of Blue, who was looking inquiringly at him, obviously wondering what he meant by these words. It was White’s turn to sigh deeply. “I think it is time to inform the World President of what happened,” the colonel said with a gloomy voice. “And that, my friend, is something I will have to do on my own.”
“Have you done your teeth yet?” T. James Younger asked as he saw his young daughter trotting out of the bathroom in pyjamas, with her ragdoll under her arm.
Younger nodded and turned a page from the newspaper he was reading. “And you brush your hair?”
“Ms. Brenshaw did it for me, Daddy.”
“Good… So all set for bed, then?”
Sahra approached him, taking a large book from the sofa where he was seated and presented to him. “You will tell me a bedtime story?”
He eyed the title. “Cinderella again?” he mused.
“That’s my favourite story.”
“I figured that out already.” Younger folded his newspaper, put it onto the sofa and took the book from his daughter’s hands, before pushing himself to his feet. “All right then… But I will only read it only once, okay?”
“Sure, Daddy… I should be asleep before you finish it anyway.”
Sahra took her father’s hand and started guiding him towards the open door of her bedroom. Ms. Brenshaw just emerged from the bathroom and looked the both of them go, with an affectionate smile. Theodore James Younger might be the most powerful man in the world at the moment, but when he was with his little girl, he was the most dotting of father the planet had ever known.
There was a buzz at the door and the young woman was about to go answer when the World President stopped her with a wave. “I’ll get it, Ms. Brenshaw,” he offered. “Do take Sahra to be bed in the meantime… I will be with you in a minute, sweetheart.”
“Okay, Daddy. Don’t forget the book!” Sahra let go of her father’s hand and followed her nurse into her bedroom.
Younger strode to the door. It was beginning to be quite late, and he was wondering who exactly could be paying him a call at this hour. If it was an important visit from Colonel White or anyone else from the Cloudbase’s staff, he was they would have used the comm.link beforehand.
He didn’t even bother to ask who it was before opening the door. He was rather surprised to discover, standing just beyond the doorway, the young man he had met at the hangar the same morning.
“Oh, Paul, isn’t it?” he said, welcoming the boy with a smile. “What are you doing here at this hour? You know it’s late, don’t you?”
“I’m sorry to disturb you, Mr President Younger,” the boy started politely. “I’d like to talk to Daniel, if you please?”
“Daniel?” Younger frowned in perplexity. “Since when the two of you are talking to each other?”
“We met earlier at the gym,” Paul explained. “We talked… We decided it was better than be friends rather than yell at each other.”
“Well, that’s a very wise decision.”
“I’ve got it, Dad!”
Daniel suddenly appeared behind Younger, almost startling his father. The still puzzled World President watched as his son passed by him and stepped into the corridor. He was even more surprised to hear him welcome Paul with a friendly tone:
“Hiya, Paul, mate! Ow’ ya goin’?”
Younger rolled his eyes at his son’s exaggerated strine. He watched, bemused, as Daniel took their young visitor by the shoulders, as if he was his best friend in the word, before turning around to address him:
“Would you give us some privacy for a minute or two, Dad? Me and Paul, we gotta talk.”
Younger frowned. Daniel’s request was almost too polite. “Talk about what?” he asked suspiciously.
“About what we’ll be doing tomorrow,” Paul answered, before Daniel could actually answer. “We figured we should hang together and have some fun.”
“That’s a good idea,” Younger said approvingly. “You see, Daniel, this stay on Cloudbase will not be as boring as you thought. You have now a friend with whom you can spend time.” He looked at his watch. “Speaking of time, it really is late. Shouldn’t a young man your age be in bed, Paul?”
“I’ll be going right after, sir, I promise,” Paul said.
“Okay… Five minutes then. Daniel, I’m counting on you.”
Younger narrowed his eyes to his son; he nodded appreciatively. “Well, it seems your young friend is already having a good influence on you,” he said with a thin smile. “Don’t delay him.” He closed the door, leaving the two boys facing each other.
As soon as the World President disappeared, Paul removed Daniel’s arm from around his shoulders. As for the older boy, he was making a face as if he was in disgust.
Daniel looked over his shoulder, in direction of the two Spectrum security guards standing not that far from the lift, a few meters from them. Trying to appear inconspicuous, he motioned to Paul to walk with him in the other direction.
“So what’s up?” Daniel asked with a low voice. “Why have you come here this late?”
Paul looked gravely at him. “I’ve got the last piece of information I needed,” he said. “Now I’m ready to set my plan in motion.”
That took Daniel slightly aback. “When?”
“It’s got to be tomorrow. That’s the only chance I’ll have.”
“We’ll have, kid. We’re in this together. Don’t forget, if you don’t let me come with you…”
“You’ll tell, I know.” Paul sighed. “I’ll give you my word, Daniel. Why d’you figure I came here to tell you?”
“So what now?” Daniel asked with curiosity. “Will you tell me exactly what is this plan of yours?”
Paul shook his head. “No time tonight. Meet me tomorrow at nine, in the gym. We’ll try to find some place where we’ll be able to talk quietly. We have to plan this right, Daniel. And if this works like I think...” He nodded, very slowly. “I’ll be back home in time for Christmas.”