CHAPTER 1: ALERT
“Holey moley! A security breach right under our noses!” cried Agent Lee.
The Duty Controller jumped in her seat and roused her Control Centre colleagues in her bossiest tones. She keyed some commands into a console and raised the alarm.
“Alert! Code Ten! Alert! Code Ten!” flashed the computer, triggering a cascade of messages.
Speakers across the building joined in and repeated the words in unison. Communicators buzzed and beeped on the wrists and inside the pockets of all The Foundation’s Agents and Commandos. This was the first time in years a security alarm had been sounded. Staff across Foundation Headquarters stared at each other, unsure what to do next. And uncertain what ‘Code Ten’ actually meant.
“This is the Brigadier, where is this ‘Code Ten’ Control?” asked Cuthbertson, running to his nearest monitor.
It was mid-morning and he expected to hear it was a false alarm. The Foundation didn’t have break-ins, they were too well protected. Perhaps a squirrel had bitten through a spy-bot’s wires? Horrible creatures squirrels, he hated the darned tree rats. They were forever digging up his lawn and stealing from his bird feeders.
“We have a secure premises break-in at the home of a Priority One subject, Sir. The subject is called Sean Yeager,” replied the Duty Controller.
It was unlike Brigadier Cuthbertson to take a direct interest in security matters.
‘I’d better not foul this up!’ she thought.
“How did they get in?” asked Cuthbertson.
“I’m not sure Sir. It looks like they cut a hole through an upstairs wall.”
Or to be more precise, they took away half the side of the house undetected. Why on her shift and what did they use to cut a hole that big and that quickly?
“Agent Lee, show me live pictures from our spy cameras and send our nearest team over there at once. I want the whole area secured!” barked Cuthbertson.
“I would Sir, but our spy-bots are not transmitting. I had to use a scan satellite to zoom in on the area,” explained Lee.
“Well patch those pictures through to me then! I want our nearest Field Agents on site at the double, I need a full report before lunchtime!” snapped the Brigadier.
“Yes Sir! I’ll order a lock-down right away Sir.”
‘This is more like it,’ thought Cuthbertson after months of paper work and budget debates. ‘Something to get my teeth into!’
He tried to remember the Yeager family and shook his head. It mattered little, duty called.
Agent Lee felt relieved it would be someone else’s mess to sort out. Not to mention the endless reports and paperwork. The Foundation did not tolerate failure, ever. Apart from that incident in Montserrat, which no one dared to speak about in case they were somehow blamed. According to the rumour mill it had resulted in a volcanic eruption and the destruction of half an island, but that was years ago.
“Where is this Sean Yeager?” asked Cuthbertson, digging deeper.
“We think he went shopping,” replied Agent Lee.
There was a long pause.
‘Oops!’ she thought ‘Wrong answer!’
“We think? We think? Someone had better know! He’s under Priority One Protection!” growled Cuthbertson. “Collate all our video and monitoring data for the last forty eight hours. I want to know how a burglar broke into a protected house on your watch.”
“Yes Sir, right away Sir!”
Agent Lee’s cheeks flushed red and she felt a cold shiver run down her spine. She swivelled in her seat and called over a colleague to help. Brigadier Cuthbertson wasn’t nicknamed ‘Hard Cheese’ for nothing!
He had a point though to be fair. Priority One subjects were meant to be under constant guard. More importantly, how did someone dissolve half a house without her team being alerted? The Foundation had video cameras, tremor detectors and roaming spy-bots all over the site.
Her second-in-command rushed over and sat beside her.
“Call Satellite Control, we need all their data from the past two days,” she ordered, wincing at the prospect of reviewing hours of footage.
It was a bright sunny day. Between heavy showers it was pleasant. Underneath them it was dramatic and very much lacking in dryness. Steam rose from the tarmac as people rushed to and from their improvised rain shelters. Another bombardment of water was due at any time and grey clouds raced in loose formation across the mottled sky.
Sean Yeager and his mother arrived home to relax after a tedious shopping trip. The shops in question had completely run out of grey school trousers. Sean was elated and hoped to miss school altogether for the next term. However, Mrs Yeager was less than impressed. Grumpy even. She threw back her long bleached hair and screamed inwardly. Her day was unravelling into a mess and her roots were in dire need of attention. As for her summer wardrobe, she was still making do with last year’s clothes and they were nearly threadbare. It was a good job she had managed to stay slim, thanks mainly to her new fitness regime.
Their car came to a halt out on a narrow, paved driveway outside a red brick dwelling. It was small, but it was home. Car doors clunked and Mrs Yeager’s keys rattled in the front door, to sighs of relief all round.
It was a cosy and inviting house, with a faint smell of baking. All that was missing was a dog. They were forbidden by The Foundation apparently. It was something to do with digging up bugs or insects. Mrs Yeager was unsure which. Of course, Mr Yeager was still lost in action and was sorely missed. Sean had never even met his father, though he often asked about him. And the much wanted dog.
“Have you seen my phone anywhere?” asked Mrs Yeager hanging up her raincoat. “I could have sworn I left it on the table!”
“Maybe some aliens took it,” laughed Sean, running into the living room.
“What, you think Martians came all this way just to steal my phone?” laughed his mum, lifting the settee cushions one by one.
“Yeah, they’re bright green and hiding in your herb garden!” grinned Sean, who was now on his hands and knees peering hopefully under the settee.
“They’d better not phone home!” chuckled Mrs Yeager.
“Hey, where’s my Space Raider game?” scowled Sean, beginning to panic.
He had just enough time to set a new high score before lunch and with any luck his mum would be too distracted with her cooking to notice. Of course she may have hidden it. Again.
“It must be in your bedroom where you left it,” smiled his mum.
She secretly wished it had been blown up by the Martians. Still, if it kept him quiet where was the harm? No, on second thoughts it would be better if it had been crushed to the size of a pea in the black hole on Space Raiders Level Five. Sean would have more time for homework, sport and behaving like a normal human being.
‘He’s just like his father,’ she thought. ‘Always tinkering with gadgets. Now then phone! Where are you? I can’t afford to lose all my numbers and emails!’
“Sean, come and help me look for my phone will you?” she cried from the living room.
She pleaded in vain, because Sean had far more important things on his mind and pretended not to hear.
About twelve miles away, two Foundation Field Agents sat in a leather booth at an old style diner. Major Clavity was a thickset man with a big appetite. He had waited for his club sandwich with onion rings for literally minutes. It had been an early start and his empty stomach demanded food. The moment his meal arrived he complied, with two shovel sized hands and the biggest bite he could manage.
His partner, Agent Rusham, drank mineral water and eyed Clavity suspiciously. She smoothed her bob of jet-black hair behind one ear and placed a bet with herself that the Major would not make his sixtieth birthday. Not with all the fat and rubbish he ate! She liked Clavity like an eccentric older uncle, but would he listen to her advice about food and exercise? That was about as likely as him being promoted to Sigma Force. She on the other hand was going all the way to the top. Whatever it took.
The Agents’ collection of wrist and ear communicators abruptly chimed into life: ringing, beeping and buzzing in rhythm. Clavity ignored the noise and took another bite of his triple-decker sandwich.
“Major, we have a Code Ten alert!” cried Rusham, standing up and knocking her knee painfully against the table. “This is no time for gorging yourself! We need to fuse atoms! Time to ship out!”
Major Clavity shrugged and took his third bite. He mumbled something with his mouth full and made no sense. He struggled to swallow and took an age to answer.
“It’s probably just another protection job,” he said. “Surely it can wait a few minutes? My blood sugar can’t.”
“Shall we?” insisted Rusham, standing at the door and wearing her deepest ‘I’m not impressed’ frown.
Clavity threw some money on the table and brought the rest of his brunch with him as best he could. He caught the front door with his huge left foot, just before it swung back in his face. Remembering his untouched coffee, he complained bitterly under his breath and to no one in particular.
Agent Rusham was now long gone and Major Clavity chased after her skipping around puddles on the pavement. For a stocky man he could run surprisingly fast when he wanted to. He arrived on the passenger seat sideways avoiding a collision with Agent Rusham’s head by a whisker. Rusham did not even blink. She was quite used to her partner struggling into Hermes’ low seats and it amused her that he was so ungainly.
“Who is this Priority One subject anyway?” asked Clavity between mouthfuls.
“Sean Yeager,” she replied. “This is serious! The intruder could still be in the building and the Brigadier is having a fit!”
“Why?” asked Clavity shrugging.
“Because Major,” replied Rusham, stretching her slender neck towards the car’s vanity mirror. “We were meant to be there on duty all morning!”
“Oops,” muttered Clavity.
Rusham lifted her sunglasses and stared into a retina scanner for a few seconds. She had brown eyes with a tawny green outer rim, a gift from her father’s side.
“Welcome Agent Rusham,” said a warm voice around them.
Hermes started with a whirr of turbines and Rusham reversed out into the street before speeding away
Back at the Yeager’s house, Sean ran upstairs like a herd of wildebeest. He flung open his bedroom door and dived under his bed.
“All my crates are gone!” he screamed.
Sean’s heart pounded. The only traces of his treasured collection were some dusty indent marks in the carpet. His comics and racing cars were all gone. Where his beloved Space Raider game had vanished to was anyone’s guess and Sean clenched his fists in anger.
“If mum’s thrown my stuff away I’m going to …!” he hissed.
“Hey, what’s all the fuss about?” asked Mrs Yeager.
She stomped up the stairs and briskly entered his room.
“What have you done with my crates?” ranted Sean kneeling beside his bed.
Mrs Yeager looked baffled.
“You know I would never touch your…” she began to say and as she did so her mouth fell open.
Behind Sean and behind his bed, was a large round hole where the wall should have been. It was like a huge oval window without glass. Around its edges the bricks and plaster were cut clean through to reveal fluffs of cavity insulation. Mrs Yeager watched as neighbours walked up the road shielding themselves with umbrellas.
“Hey, where’s my Brazil poster?” cried Sean standing up.
Mother and son froze for a few seconds in complete shock. In the distance, they watched a black cat tiptoe across the road avoiding the puddles.
“I’m calling the police!” cried Mrs Yeager, breaking out of her trance.
They would know what to do about a missing wall. It was their job to find stolen property and fix buildings wasn’t it? Sean leaned across the bed on his stomach and crooked his neck out through the hole.
“Wow! Where did all the bricks go?” he asked, expecting to find a pile of rubble on the ground.
“Sean! Come away from there!” cried his mum in horror.
She grabbed Sean’s ankles and tried to drag him back into the room, but he was too heavy and moved only a fraction across the bed. Outside a dark cloud arrived and a noisy deluge of water filled the air. It sounded like a bath tap high above them had been turned full on. Spray blew sideways and covered their faces with tiny, wet pinpricks. In horror, they ran into the hallway and slammed the bedroom door behind them. It was raining indoors!
“Which emergency service do you require?” asked the phone operator.
‘Miracle workers,’ thought Mrs Yeager, reaching for a towel on the chair beside her.
“Where’s your father when we need him?” she whispered in Sean’s general direction.
“I’m sorry, what did you say?” asked the operator.
“Oh err, police!”
Sean sat next to the living room fire drying his brown wavy hair.
“I don’t get it, why would anyone want to steal my stuff?” he moaned.
His mother shook her head and continued her phone call.
“Good question, Sean!” she whispered. “Good question.”
Hermes growled as Agent Rusham accelerated away. Along the main road the metallic white sports car caught several admiring glances, which pleased her no end. It was an unusual disguise, but it seemed to work. Most people mistook Clavity and Rusham for rich property developers or City traders. Little did they realise.
“HQ has intercepted an emergency call to the police,” said Rusham. “They’re sending over a patrol car.”
“I’ll stand down our friends in blue with a quick phone call,” said Clavity. “Don’t spare the horses!” he chuckled.
“What horses?” asked Rusham with a frown.
In theory, Major Clavity was in charge.
“But look who’s driving the hi-tech car,” smiled Rusham to herself, as she weaved in and out of the traffic.