CHAPTER 1: BARGAIN
Sean Yeager scratched his nose and rolled over in an unfamiliar bed. He wriggled his toes and tried to recall the previous night. It was all a blur. He knew he had taken a long drive in a car with slippery leather seats. He remembered being helped up some creaky stairs by a man who smelled of coffee. After that, he remembered relaxing in a cold bed with clean sheets, but the rest was hazy. He had no idea where he was. Was he in a hotel, Foundation HQ or a new house?
The last thing Sean remembered was a bright light that dazzled his eyes. It was so intense he could not recognize its shape or size. Murmuring voices called his name over and over, until suddenly the light had vanished. Sean rubbed his eyelids and shuffled around between the smooth cotton sheets. How much had he dreamt and how much of it was real?
After a few yawns, Sean sat up and found himself perched on an old fashioned double bed. He was alone in a large, ornate room with light pouring through a leaded window on his left. A pair of thick, red curtains had been pulled open and a gentle smell of lavender wafted under his nose. He noticed a polished oak dressing table shining in the sunlight and across the room stood a huge antique wardrobe about ten times his size. Facing him was a small, open fireplace surrounded by a white marble mantelpiece. It bore a crest of antlers and a crescent moon. Curiously, the door beside it had a lock, which held a large metal key.
Sean felt his stomach rumble inside a pair of loosely fitting pyjamas. He slid down from the bed and looked for his clothes. The floorboards creaked and groaned beneath him as he tiptoed across a cold wooden floor. He took refuge on a deep-pile rug, which was much warmer, and spotted a pile of freshly laundered clothes lying on a chair next to the dressing table. His left foot hit something rough and unforgiving on the floor. He knelt down to rub his sore toe and caught sight of a pair of brand new silver and blue trainers, with tissue paper still poking out of them.
“Cool!” he yawned.
While he dressed, Sean thought about his home. He missed his room and winced when he remembered his stolen comics, models and video games.
“I hate you Krankhausen! When I catch you I’m going to….”
Sean crouched down to tie his laces and his eyes were drawn to a strange blue glow beside the bed. Shafts of light seemed to be coming from a silver object lying on the bedside table. He walked over and discovered a watch flashing up at him. It was wide and angular, with buttons all over it. Intrigued by its unusual design, Sean picked it up. It was much heavier than he expected and its strap unfurled in his hand. Its face glowed ‘10:35’ in large blue numerals and to his great surprise it spoke.
“Good morning Sean, how are you?”
Sean stepped back in horror and let it drop. The watch bounced on a floorboard and disappeared under the bedside table.
“To activate, place your thumb on the pad indicated.”
“Who said that?” he cried, peering under the table from a safe distance.
“The time is now 10:36. To activate, place your thumb on the pad indicated,” repeated the watch.
Lying on the floor, the watch continued to project numbers in a neat row onto the table leg.
“Hi Sean, this is a recording. Major Clavity here. Press your thumb on the illuminated pad to activate your watch.”
“Who are you? What do you want?” demanded Sean, keeping his distance.
“By my calculations you are now at Kimbleton Hall. Touch the watch to activate its functions,” repeated Major Clavity’s voice.
“How do you know who I am?” asked Sean.
The watch ignored his questions and continued to play its recording.
“Wakey, wakey! Over here! The code phrase is ‘do not touch the red button!’ Repeat ‘do not touch the red button!’ Over and out.”
Sean laughed. He remembered accidentally setting fire to some trees with Hermes’ afterburner button. The voice had to be Major Clavity, who else could have known about his mistake? Agent Rusham? He reached under the table and picked up the watch. At the bottom of its face an oblong pad glowed orangey-red. Sean touched it with his right thumb and held his breath.
“Welcome Sean, this is your Foundation omni-purpose watch. To activate your watch think ‘Watch Alive’. For ‘Settings’ think ‘Watch Settings.’ For ‘Help’ think ‘Watch Help.’ For ‘Time’ think…”
“Stop will you?” he gasped.
The watch fell silent and displayed the time in steady blue numerals.
‘Watch Date’ thought Sean, tempted to try out his new toy.
The display changed to ‘Sept 5th’ for a few moments before returning to the time.
“Wow!” said Sean.
A message flashed across the screen. It said ‘Command not recognized’.
“Watch Off” ordered Sean.
He noticed the display change again to show two clock hands with the time in digits beneath.
“Neat!” he said, clasping the strap around his left wrist.
It was a perfect fit.
Sean’s tummy issued a final demand for food and his mouth watered in sympathy. He decided he needed to find some breakfast urgently, but where? He considered the options. If he were staying in a hotel, surely it would have a restaurant? And if he were staying at someone’s house, they must surely have a kitchen? Either way, Sean was determined to fill his empty stomach.
Meanwhile, a debate was taking place in the dining room.
“Look Mr Brawne, there’s no way I’m taking a bunch of your goons, I mean guards, to a care home!” snapped Mrs Yeager.
“But that’s the only way we can protect you! Don’t you realize Krankhausen is still at large? We’ve no idea what he’ll try next!” replied a dark haired giant of a man.
“I know you’re only doing your job Mr Brawne, really I do, but my aunt may be dying. I have to go and visit her. What else can I do?” pleaded Mrs Yeager.
“And I can not let you or Sean leave Kimbleton Hall without an armed guard Mrs Yeager. No disrespect to your aunt, but orders are orders!” frowned Brawne.
A portly woman joined the two quarrelling figures and touched Mrs Yeager gently on the arm. She wore an apron and a concerned smile nestled below two rouge cheeks.
“Sean could stay here with me. I can look after him and then you can have some peace with your aunt for as long as you need.”
“Oh that’s very kind of you Mrs Campbell, but we’ve only just arrived. Sean won’t know if he’s coming or going for at least a few days.”
Behind them a heavy wooden door creaked and swung open.
“Is this the restaurant?” asked Sean, squeaking on the polished floor in his new sneakers.
“You’ve come to just the right place young man. Sit yourself down at the table and I’ll rustle up some bacon, eggs and toast for you. My, you look half starved!” said Mrs Campbell. “Orange juice?”
“Yes please,” replied Sean, licking his dry lips.
“Morning sleepy head,” said his mum. “We were going to wake you, but…”
“What’s all the fuss about?” asked Sean, noticing a huge man wearing khaki fatigues.
“This is Mr Brawne, he’s the Head of Security.”
“Pleased to meet you young man,” nodded Brawne.
“Hi,” smiled Sean, unsure what to say.
Brawne was wider than a bull and had almost no neck. He looked as if he could charge through brick walls without even trying. Sean watched him tower over his mother with a mixture of admiration and fear.
“What’s going on Mum?” he asked. “Is this a hotel?”
“No Sean, it’s our new home. We’re being protected here by The Foundation until they find Krankhausen.”
“Really?” asked Sean, looking around the enormous dining room with wide eyes.
“That’s right lad, I have a team of Foundation Guards on patrol around the clock,” added Brawne. “This whole building is protected by our latest defence system.”
“Wow!” said Sean, wondering what equipment might be hidden around the house.
“So Mrs Yeager, can we come to some agreement?” asked Mr Brawne with a faint smile.
Sean watched his mother sip her tea nervously. She nodded and put her free hand up to acknowledge Brawne. Before she could speak, Mrs Campbell returned with a plate of hot food. Sean picked up a knife and fork from the table and devoured a sausage within seconds, to the housekeeper’s amusement.
“Well I suppose it could work, Mrs Campbell,” continued his mother. “But are you sure you’ll have time?”
“Please call me ‘Martha’,” she smiled. “Of course I’ll have time, I’m your housekeeper silly. Anyway, my daughter will be back from her camp in a few days. They’ll keep each other company.”
“Okay Mr Brawne, I’ll visit my aunt alone and Sean can stay here. I should only be away for a few days at most.”
“HQ will insist on two bodyguards, but I promise they’ll be discrete,” added Brawne.
“If you must, but I won’t have them stalking me like gamekeepers. I am not a wild animal!”
Brawne nodded. He shook his head and nodded again.
“Of course not, Mrs Yeager,” he added bashfully.
“What’s up?” asked Sean between mouthfuls.
“It’s Aunt Helena, she’s not feeling well and they’ve taken her into a care home.”
“Will she die?” asked Sean casually.
“I certainly hope not!” replied Mrs Yeager taken aback. “I’m just going to visit her for a couple of days to make sure they’re looking after her properly. Will you be okay here with Mrs Campbell?”
Sean looked thoughtful for a moment and chewed his bacon. He studied the faces of the housekeeper and Mr Brawne. The idea of exploring a rambling old house and being spoiled rotten by Mrs Campbell appealed to him. He remembered being very bored when he last visited Aunt Helena and would not miss her big slobbery kisses one bit. Sean nodded and tried to suppress a smile, in case he appeared too keen.
“Yeah I think so,” he replied.
“Excellent,” said Mr Brawne, walking to the dining room door. “I’ll make the arrangements right away.”
Two red eyes glowered inside a narrow submarine. Their owner stalked along a dimly lit corridor and entered a noisy control room. He looked like a ghost and was as thin as a rake.
“Did it work? Have you made the clones I ordered?” he demanded.
“No Master, we were unable to complete the process,” replied a stilted voice. “The gene samples are broken and irregular, they are not suitable for cloning.”
“Broken? Then Krankhausen lied to us!” cried Deveraux, clapping his hands together. “Bring him to me!”
“Yes Master,” said the muscular creature, scuttling away.
Deveraux felt an intense pressure. His pulse quickened and painful thoughts filled his head. He knew they came from Vrass. They always came from Vrass. Deveraux was constantly amazed by the speed of mind-to-mind communication and surrendered his thoughts to the inevitable.
“What is your will, oh Great One?” he whispered and waited for instructions with closed eyes and a dry mouth.
Moving shapes and figures invaded his thoughts. They changed and became quicker and quicker until Deveraux nearly passed out.
“I understand. It will be done,” he muttered weakly as the pictures ended.
He took some deep breaths and rubbed his temples. As usual, it made little difference.
“Master?” asked a voice nearby.
Deveraux opened his eyes to find Egbert Von Krankhausen hunched before him. He was held on either side by two identical figures clad in grey overalls. The man looked humble and afraid. His short hair was almost entirely white and his eyes bore dark rings. The Androbots beside him stood upright with their limbs twitching and wore blank expressions.
“Ah, Mr Von Krankhausen, it seems your merchandise was not as good as you promised. What did you do, microwave it? Or perhaps you used a food blender?”
“But I uh, don’t understand,” spluttered Krankhausen.
Deveraux put up his left hand to silence him.
“Now we must find this Sean Yeager ourselves to make up for your clumsy mistakes,” he continued.
“But we did everything we could to extract the DNA,” explained Krankhausen.
“Then it appears that once again you have vastly over-estimated your feeble abilities,” interrupted Deveraux. “Why didn’t you just bring the boy to me?”
“My apologies Darius, it won’t happen again.”
“Indeed it won’t! You have failed me for the last time Egbert. I won’t be plucking your pathetic little carcass from the ocean again.”
“Please don’t hurt me!” pleaded Krankhausen on his knees.
“I have no intention of releasing you from your bargain so easily,” smiled Deveraux. “You have a contract to honour. Take him away!”
“It’s not my fault! Let me go!” wailed Krankhausen.
“All in good time Egbert, all in good time,” laughed Deveraux, waving his servants to the doorway.
The Androbots dragged Krankhausen away kicking and screaming. He tried to grab hold of a steel door frame, but one of the guards placed a long webbed hand on his forehead. Instantly, Krankhausen slumped forwards helpless and unconscious.
“What are your orders, Master?” asked Seventy-One.
“Our Great One wishes to meet Krankhausen. Please introduce them.”
“Yes Master,” replied the Androbot, closing its eyes to relay the orders.
“But before we begin the preparations, we must surface and activate Greerbo,” ordered Deveraux with a glint in his eyes. “He’ll know what is expected of him.”
“Yes Master, it will be done.”
Professor Quark rushed out of his office and raced up a flight of stairs. He buzzed with energy and carried a black leather attaché case. Halfway up the stairs he coughed to clear his throat. Even after the clean-up operation, there were still specks of soot floating around. Repairs in the basement were progressing well, but Quark had much more exciting news. He bounded towards the Brigadier’s office and knocked at the open door.
“Brigadier, good morning! How are you?”
“Not bad, not bad at all Professor,” replied a serious looking man wearing a moustache and a deep frown.
“When did they discharge you?” asked Quark.
“I err, discharged myself actually,” replied the Brigadier. “Couldn’t take any more of their fuss and nonsense.”
“Have you told your doctor?” enquired the Professor.
“Oh, he’ll find out soon enough. It’s not as if I’m an invalid now is it?”
“Of course not. And are you still taking your medication?”
“What these little pills? Yes, they keep away the aches and pains,” added the Brigadier shaking a white container.
“May I?” asked Quark.
The Brigadier handed him the pill bottle.
“Err Henry, how often are you taking these?” asked the Professor reading the label.
“Oh I don’t know, I had a couple after breakfast and a few with my coffee.”
“It says here ‘Take one tablet every six hours’ Henry,” read the Professor. “I’d be careful with these if I were you, they’re very strong!”
“Oh Professor, you worry too much,” said the Brigadier, looking a little sheepish. “Anyway, how can I help you?”
He pointed to a chair and Quark quickly sat down. The Brigadier’s new office was clean and modern with spotlights above a large, oval table surrounded by elaborate seats. It was a temporary arrangement until his antiques were repaired, but the Brigadier was growing to like his brighter surroundings.
“I bring good news,” began the Professor.
The Brigadier brushed his moustache excitedly.
“We’ve captured Krankhausen and tracked down Darkly Devious?” he boomed. “Excellent news, you’ve made my day Professor! Actually you’ve made my entire year!”
“Err, my news is not quite that good, Henry,” replied Quark.
“But we do have Krankhausen?”
“Err no, we think we know where he is,” offered Quark.
“And we’ve found Deveraux?”
“Actually no, we lost contact with his submarine a few days ago,” added the Professor.
“Well confound it man, what is your good news?” snapped the Brigadier.
Quark paused and took a deep breath.
“We’ve installed the new scanners and security systems you approved,” he smiled.
“Scanners?” repeated the Brigadier shrugging his shoulders. “Security systems?”
“Yes,” replied Professor Quark proudly.
“I left my hospital bed for scanners and security systems?”
“Well not exactly Henry, you err…” began Quark.
“Thanks Professor, run along now. Bye,” waved the Brigadier.
“Sorry Henry, I err…,” said Quark.
“Still here?” asked the Brigadier. “Don’t you have things to do, like tracking down our arch nemesis and saving the world?”
“Actually there is something else Brigadier,” added the Professor.
“Well spit it out man, can’t you see I’m busy?”
Quark glanced at the Brigadier’s desk. It was completely empty.
“We’ve examined the prisoners we took from Krankhausen’s base and they’re both harmless,” he added. “The mutant is almost certainly a bio-construct or a clone. It’s quite intelligent, but poorly educated.”
“Whoopee do!” replied the Brigadier.
“Sorry?” asked Quark.
“Freeze them! I’ve had enough disasters on my watch for one lifetime. Freeze them immediately, if not sooner! Do it now!”
“Yes Brigadier, I’ll see to it right away.”
“And where is that troublesome boy Yeager?”
“I think Ayres took him to Kimbleton Hall, Sir.”
“Good, keep him there! Better still send him abroad. I don’t want the Yeager family within a hundred miles of my Headquarters!”
“Err, well I suggest you speak to Captain Ayres about that one Henry,” suggested Quark.
“Captain Ayres, who’s Captain Ayres? I fired him this morning. You see to it!”
“Okay Brigadier, I’ll see what I can do,” replied Quark raising his eyebrows. “Remember now, one painkiller every six hours.”
“Thank you Professor, I’m not a complete idiot you know! Shut the door on your way out will you?”
‘He’s lost his mind,’ thought Professor Quark, hurrying from the room. ‘I need to call The Founder urgently.’