He carefully set the last block on top of the pile - just so - before stepping back to look at the structure he'd built. Absolutely perfect. And then, getting down on all fours, he grabbed the Tonka Truck sitting nearby and rammed it - as hard as he possibly could - into the tower of blocks.
Bright red, yellow and green shapes went flying everywhere, the sound of the impact loud even in the already noisy classroom. But it could be louder. And the blocks could fly further. Abandoning the truck again, he set about rebuilding the tower. Only this time, he was going to build it even better…
Immersed as he was in his quest for the ultimate smash-up, he didn't notice his preschool teacher's soft approach until he heard her quiet, "Matthew?"
Turning to look up over his shoulder at her, he asked, "Yeah?"
"You're wanted in the office, honey. Mrs. Stacey needs to talk to you."
"What about?" He hadn't done anything naughty. Lately.
"About what. And I don't know. She didn't say." He might be only four, but even he knew it couldn't be for anything good. She must have read something in his look, for she continued, "But don't worry. You're not in trouble."
Which showed what she knew because, on entering the office, he found two big guys in dark suits standing next to Mrs. Stacey's desk. And, unfortunately, one of the other things Matthew'd learned in his four short years was how to recognize Federal agents when he saw them.
As it turned out, though, Matthew O'Neill wasn't the only one in very big trouble.
He stood at the end of the ramp with everyone else, clutching tightly to Daniel's hand. In front of them, the round spinny-thing started to move. Even prepared for what came next, he jumped when the water shot out the front. He hated that. But, then again, he hated everything about this place: the soldiers standing around them, the TV screens showing ships floating in space… And all the lights and loud noises and people running around all over the place…
He didn't want to go through that gate, though, either. He hated the cold, and the shock of coming out on the other side. He didn't want to stay in that dirty camp again, in smelly tents with all the other kids, eating yucky food at long tables, bored until they finally let him come back home.
He just wanted to go home to Daddy.
So when everyone else started forward, he stayed where he was. Daniel turned around. "Come on, Matt."
Matthew shook his head. "No. I don't wanna."
"You have to. Come on."
He shook his head again. Harder. "No. I wanna go home." Matt sniffed loudly, and hoped Daniel wouldn't notice the tears in his eyes. Big Boys didn't cry.
"No. You can't. I'm sorry.. But you can't, Matt. Now, come on. We don't have time." Daniel tried pulling him forwards, towards the glimmering water.
"No!" Matthew pulled himself, backwards, breaking free of Daniel's grip. Then, turning, he slipped easily past the soldiers who moved to try to stop him, and ran from the room.
It sounded like Daddy, but Matthew was too afraid of discovery to answer. He tried to press himself back even further into the ductwork he was hiding in.
"Come on, short stuff. I know you're in there. They've got you on the scanner…"
It was Daddy.
"Yeah, short stuff. It's me. Now, come on out here."
"I wanna go home."
"I know. Daniel told me. But we don't have time for this now. Please, just come out here."
"Can I go home?"
"Please, Daddy? I wanna go home. Don't send me away." He hoped Daddy couldn't tell he was crying.
"Matthew… Come out and we'll talk."
"Promise, Daddy. Promise you won't make me go."
He could hear Daddy's sigh. Then, "All right, short stuff. I promise. Just come here."
Matthew made his way carefully from his hiding place. As he reached the outside, his father was there waiting to help lift him out. Still held close in Daddy's arms, he asked, "Are we going home, now?"
He could feel Daddy's arms tighten their grip. "We can't, Matthew. I'm sorry… But I have to get you through that 'gate."
It was impossible. He couldn't believe his ears. "You promised!"
"I know, Matt. But you need to go where it's safe."
"I'm safe here, Daddy. Please."
The look on his father's face was awful. Matthew didn't know what he'd done to make Daddy look that way, but he knew he was in trouble. He didn't want to go through the 'gate, but now he knew he couldn't stay with Daddy, either. In absolute terror, desperate to escape, he started to push - to squirm against the arms that held him.
"No.. Matthew… don't."
He was almost free; he could feel Daddy's grip loosening. And then, just when escape seemed possible, there was a sudden painfully sharp pressure on his arm…
Followed by nothing at all.
Jack marched into the 'gate room, and Daniel couldn't remember the last time his friend had looked so… Not angry exactly. But somehow furious all the same. His features were hard in a way Daniel hadn't seen in years.
Matthew lay draped against Jack's shoulder, seemingly fast asleep. Jack thrust his son out to Daniel's waiting arms.
"He didn't want to come. He fought…" Jack explained. Then he added, almost as if to himself, "He'll be furious when the drug wears off."
"Jack.. You did --"
"Tell him I love him." And then, without another word, Jack turned and, after a signal to those waiting in the control room, was gone in a flash of white.