Alex Rider sat at his desk, his pencil tapping an irregular beat agaisnt the edge of the cracked wood. He sighed, looking up from his noticibly blank paper in into the gray sky morning. The smell of chinese wafted from the kitchen and he inhaled deeply, his stomach rumbling.

"Alex!" Alex's American house-keeper and gaurdian, Jack Starbright, called up. "Dinner's ready!"

"Okay." He called back, laying the flats of his palms on his desk and pushing himself up. "I'm coming."

Jack glanced up from the plate she was making as Alex walked in. Her hair was pulled back by a hair tie, but a few strands had fallen loose, framing her face. She smiled. "How's the essay going?" She asked, a teasing note in her voice. He scowled at her and she laughed.

A week ago, just before spring break, Alex's English teacher, Mr. Varned, had assigned the class My Life By Me by Penelope Treeborn. They were to read the book and write a 5,000 word essay, rationalizing war. After they rationlized it, they were to explain- in detail ( no less than 300 words)- why those rationalizations were merely excuses, and state their (400 word) opinions on whether those excuses were good enough. Although Alex had read the book at the begining of break, he hadn't started the essay. He'd spent his entire break getting back into the swing of things, and re-connecting with friends that had drawn away from him.

"I think I'm going to end up spending all night on this." He griped as he sat down. "To be honest, I really can't remember anything about the book."

"Well," Jack said, still teasing him, "Maybe if you actually spent some time on it over the week, rather than spending it laying about and causing mayhem." He knew she was teasing. She was more exstatic than he was that he was becoming more himself after everything with MI6.

He grunted as he scooped a spoonful of rice into his mouth, slightly wishing that he hadn't spent quite so much time with his friends. They ate the rest of the meal in companiable silence.

"Oh, before I forget," Jack said suddenly as Alex went to rinse his plate off. "Minerva called. Apparently, she's coming in for a few days. She said she'd like to see you, if your not too busy."

Alex blushed and rushed to his room. Minerva Parridizo was a french girl about an year younger than Alex. She'd come to Britian when her father had been meeting a client at a local resturant. She'd wandered away, feeling bored with the whole affair and had, quite literally bumped into Alex. They'd both appologized and instantly clicked. They'd kept in touch quite regularly ever since.

Alex pushed in the door to his room, suddenly to wired to sit and work on a paper. Mixed thoughts of Minnerva rushed through his head. On the one hand, he felt closer to her than almost anyone, save Sabina and Jack. But on the other, there were things about him he couldn't, wouldn't tell her. He sighed and sat down on his desk. Minnerva coming or not, Jack woulnd't let him out of the house unless his school work was all caught up. He picked up his pencil and began to write.

He walked down a familiar corridor, bare feet creaking as he creeped past shadowy gaurds and closed doors. He paused and he heard a rustling behind him. He turned and came face-to-face with Damian Cray. Alex gasped audiably. Make no mistake, the man before him was indead Damian Cray. But, make no mistake, the man before him was what Damian Cray would look like NOW. Dead, flesh torn into ribbons from the propellers of the jet and decomposing flesh falling in clumps unto the floor at his feet. Part of his lower jaw was missing and his entire arm was gone, leaving a bloody stub of bone protruding from the socket. He grinned, reveilling rotting teeth.

"Hello, Alex." He still had that soft voice. The voice that held an undercurrent of insantiy. This was, indeed, Damian Cray.

Alex stumbled back, shaken. "No," he murmured. "You're dead. This is a dream. It has to be."

Cray tossed back his head, which made a wet snapping sound as the bones snapped. He laughed. "Oh, Alex. You are right and you are wrong. I am indeed dead. You saw to that yourself. And this is a dream, for now. However, it doesn't have to be." He grinned again and Alex fought back the urge to vomit. "You shall see me soon Alex Rider. And I can promise you, I won't be alone."