R & R
The year: 2012.
The place: G.U.N. HQ (Guardian Units of Nations)
The time machine Caleb has spent two weeks building, scavenging parts from the reasonably shallow waters of Futuregate Lake, had worked perfectly. Power and Caleb were back in Power's time, and sure enough, G.U.N. wanted details. Inferno had been working on a time machine too, and considering how the roboids suddenly had extra parts, it looked like Inferno had done it!
Caleb's cybernetics still weren't functioning properly, so he was taken straight to the medical hall. Power had recorded the whole thing on his spy cam, and all the agents were stunned at Caleb's dramatic escape.
The next morning, he was woken by the nurse - Diana Meacher - coming into his room.
"How are you feeling?" she asked.
"Tired," Caleb replied.
"How did you manage to think up that escape? I could have never done it!" She went over to the window and raised the blinds. "Everyone's talking about it - although we've all been told we're not allowed to." She came back to the bed and started looking at a computer screen, which was hooked up to his chest plate. "And those weird robot things! How did you survive them for 30 odd years! You must be really brave!"
"Thank you," said Caleb, his voice stronger than yesterday.
"I'd watch out, though, if I were you. Our new boss is hopping mad. He says he didn't spend hours training up two of the most promising young spies ever for you to nearly get them killed before they even go out on their first field mission! Speaking of which… where is Crystal?"
Caleb didn't make eye contact. The nurse got the message.
"Ah…" she said quietly, and left the room, Caleb lost in his thoughts.
Later that morning, the tech guy of G.U.N., Keswick, came in and certainly seemed less than cheerful. He gave Caleb a thorough check-up, starting with his cyber brain and arm and moving on to examine a rather deep knee wound he'd gotten in the escape. He barely spoke a word as he did it.
"It's lucky you're used to this," he remarked at last. He looked and spoke like a long-suffering headmaster. "All those shenanigans could have caused you serious damage, but it looks as if your cybernetics are okay and you're generally in one piece."
"I need to get out and find the roboids!" Caleb said. "They've brought 12 million of them to this time! I need to stop them!"
Keswick chuckled. "Caleb, I think we'd know if 12 million evil robots just suddenly popped up!"
Keswick departed and Caleb was left on his own. He'd heard Power had been transferred to G.U.N. America for all kinds of details, and he had a feeling he wouldn't be seeing him for a while. But he would keep his eye open, and he WOULD find Crystal. To kill some time, he went for a walk down the corridor. He saw nothing of interest, and returned to his room.
A little while later, one of the top agents at G.U.N. came in. He had with him a tall, blonde woman who looked vaguely familiar to Caleb. "Caleb," said the agent. "According to all the recordings you've made, you had a friend. Cybele. Before the Roboids grew in strength, and then you said she just disappeared."
"Yes…" Caleb replied, wearily.
"Caleb - meet Cybele. 21st century Cybele. She's not just a person from your past. She's immortal. She can never die and will never die. For now, the reasons are better forgotten. But while you are stuck here in the 21st century, Cybele will be your guide. There's a lot of things you're not used to."
"Hello, Caleb," said Cybele. "I'm looking forward to getting to know you."
"But we already know each other," Caleb replied. "We were hiding from the roboids for around 30 years together!"
Cybele looked confused. "No, this is the first time we have ever met!"
Caleb realised. The first time he ever met Cybele, back in Futuregate, he was just heading to his lair, when she stepped out of nowhere. Just behind her, were three very deactivated roboids. In about three thousand pieces altogether. She's known everything about him. His name, his past, his favourite foods. Everything!
Cybele nodded and left the room with the other agents.
After this meeting, Caleb was much more optimistic. Now he kind of had a partner, and soon enough they could go looking for the roboids! But spies! G.U.N! He never expected "help" to be a whole organization of highly trained people!
His next visitor arrived just before lunch. It wasn't the person he expected.
In the week they'd spent building the time machine, Power had nothing more to do than tell him all about the top spies at G.U.N. There was Mrs Jones. Alan Blunt, basically leader. He had realized that G.U.N. would want to know about what had happened, since the roboids were now a threat to their time, and Power had told him to expect Mrs Jones. But it was someone else Power had told him about, John Crawley, who arrived, dressed in a nasty blue blazer with a crest on the pocket, and holding a box of Roses chocolates. Power said Crawley had once claimed to be a personnel manager, and that he still wasn't quite sure what he did at G.U.N. He was in his late thirties with thinning hair and a rather worried-looking face. He looked like the sort of man who counted paperclips and kept his pencils in a special drawer.
He sat down by the bed. "Got you these," he said, handing over the chocolates.
"What are these?" asked Caleb. "Roses? I think I read about them in the Cycon archives. Aren't they some kind of green organism that you grew for pleasure? And it also said highly inedible. I think I'll pass. But thanks anyway."
Crawley took the chocolates with a rather strange look on his face. Now that he was closer, Caleb could see that the badge on the jacket belonged to Royal Tunbridge Wells Golf and Croquet Club.
"Our deputy, Mrs Jones, apologizes for not coming in herself. She's in Berlin. She asked me to find out what's going on. Obviously G.U.N are the only ones who know about these roboid things. The police and government are being kept well out of it. How are you feeling, by the way? We've read your archives and very shocked. Who would have thought Cobra would be going on at 2347? I had a run-in with them about ten years ago and it nearly did it for me. (To find out more about Cobra, check out the prequels to this story, coming soon). Anyway, let's get back to Operation Boid. That's what we're calling this, by the way. What exactly happened?"
Crawley took out a miniature tape recorder and laid it on the bed. Quickly, Caleb took him through the events of the last fifty years, starting with the moment the first roboid showed a hint of malevolence in its voice. It occurred to him that Crawley had let slip a little clue about his past that Power probably didn't even know. He too had fought against Cobra. Cobra - was as old as 2012? Well, 2002-ish, if it was ten years ago. 2002. He was so far in the past! The strangest thing was all the little boxes on wheels outside. They looked so strange! He wondered what they were.
Caleb ran right through to the escape from Futuregate, the time machine build, Power and Crystal, and Boid.
"Well, that's quite an adventure," he commented, when Caleb had finished. "I remember when you and I first 'met'. I could see straight away you were something special. I 'knew' your father. I wasn't allowed to tell you that before. I worked with him a couple of times."
Caleb was amazed. Crawley… knew his father? How?
"Crawley…" Caleb began, but Crawley was already leaving.
"Thank you for the information, Caleb. See you again some time."
"Wait!" Caleb cried.
Crawley stuck his head back through the door. "Yes?"
"Boid… had a contact. There were still humans left. The evil ones. Or the sneaky ones. They called themselves Force Three. They describe themselves as eco-terrorists. They said they would help the roboids conquer the universe as long as there was no eco-damage. It seems very likely that if the roboids went back in time, Force Three went back with them. I do believe their leader called himself Kaspar. He was very persistent about slowing down global warming."
"I would have said he rather added to it by setting fire to Futuregate."
"I thought so too."
"What else can you tell me about him? Did he speak with an accent?"
Caleb thought back. "I don't think he was English. He might have had a slight French accent. I'm not sure."
Crawley nodded. "Just one more question. Back at Futuregate. You said you mentioned Dr. Inferno. Did Boid ever claim to know him? Maybe even ally with him?"
"It seems likely. He definitely knew the name. I don't know how anyone would have got to my time though. Except Cybele."
"Thank you, Caleb." Crawley pressed a button on the tape recorder. There was a click as it stopped turning. "You know, Force Three weren't originally from 2350. They're active today. This time-hopping is doing my head in."
"So you know them? Who is Kaspar? Who is Force Three? What's it all about? All I know about them is that Boid must like them, and therefore they must be evil."
"It's a long story."
"I'm not going anywhere."
"Well," Crawley began. "Let's start with Nikolei Drevin. I suppose you've heard of him."
"Ahh, yes. 2350 and everything. Well, he's a Russian multibillionaire. Well, born in Russia. An absolutely wonderful man. He lives in England a lot of the time, and he's made it clear that he likes to think of himself as English. He bought a football club."
"Never mind. Safe to say it's very influential at this period of time. He has a huge in Oxfordshire, a penthouse near Tower Bridge and houses all over the world. He even has his own island out in the Caribbean. Flamingo Bay. That's where the launches take place for Ark Angel. Ark Angel is the name of the space hotel that he's building. It's being put together piece by piece, and he has to send rockets up every now and then with the next component. You probably don't know this, Caleb, but the British government are partners in the project and it means a great deal to them. The first hotel in space and it'll by flying a British flag! Ten years from now, commercial space travel will be a reality."
"I read about that in the archives!" Caleb cried. "An American businessman paid twenty million dollars to do that."
"Yep," Crawley replied. "Once Ark Angel is up and running, more will follow. The most powerful and influential people in the world will be queuing up for tickets, and we'll be the ones supplying them."
"I think Kaspar mentioned outer space," Caleb said. "He didn't seem too happy about the idea."
"Kaspar is a fanatic," Crawley replied. "It's true that few wild birds got wiped out on Flamingo Bay when the launch pad was set up. As a matter of fact, there aren't any flamingos there any more. Friends of the Earth and the World Wildlife Fund got a bit upset about it, but you don't see them going around murdering people. Force Three's a different matter."
"What do you know about them?"
Crawley scowled. "Not a lot. Before this year, nobody had ever heard of them. Then a woman in Germany wrote an article about them in Der Spiegel and a few days she was shot in the street. The same thing happened in London just over a week ago. A chap by the name of Max Webber denounced them at a conference on international security and got blown up as a result. We're looking into both deaths right now - that's why Mrs Jones is in Berlin. Force Three seems to be something new. Eco-terrorists… It's all very alarming."
"What about Kaspar?"
"Apart from what you've told us, we hardly know anything about him."
"Well, he should be easy enough to catch." It was something that had puzzled Caleb from the start. The tattoos. He had tattoos on his face that made his head look like a giant globe. "With a face like his, you'll be able to spot him a mile away."
"At least we know what we're looking for. As for Drevin, he can take care of himself, I imagine. He's got plenty of security out on Flamingo Bay. Our real worry is that Force Three might have a crack at Ark Angel. They've already blown up a car manufacturing plant, a research centre and quite a few other installations. Of course, they'll have their work cut out. After all, Ark Angel is three hundred miles up in outer space. One thing though: Drevin had been complaining of giant robots entering his base, and generally blowing things up. Everyone thought he had gone loony. We were thinking about shipping him off to an asylum. But then he showed us this photo."
Crawley held up a photo of Caleb, foot on a roboid, looking very proud. He was wearing a very strange looking helmet, with a fluorescent green visor.
"Does this ring any bells?"
Caleb shook his head. "This is my first time anywhere other than the 2300s. Wait! I remember! The VR Training Simulator! That looked like a tropical island. With rockets and stuff. Are you saying… that was real? I actually had a time machine all this time!"
"Looks that way," Crawley replied. "Anyway, we've given Drevin a shout, let him know the person that saved his career is here. I'm sure he's enormously grateful. I wouldn't be surprised if a large cheque didn't turn up in the post. At the very least, you might get a couple of tickets to watch a football game."
"I don't want a cheque," Caleb said. "I want to find out what Boid, the roboids, Dr. Inferno, Force Three, Kaspar, them all… want!"
"I heard the doctor says you can leave this evening." Crawley slid the tape recorder into his pocket. "I've stayed long enough," he said. "Very good to see you, Caleb. I'm sure we'll meet again."
I'm sure we'll meet again.
Caleb remembered the words now as Cybele showed him what would be his home for the time being. Did Crawley really think he would ever work with G.U.N? If so he was very much mistaken. Caleb intended to take down the roboids himself. Alone. The way he'd been doing it for years. He'd found himself in a world where he couldn't believe anybody and where nothing was quite what it seemed.
Cybele had been telling him about her very long past. In recent years, she'd been looking after a 15-year-old spy, who'd recently moved to America, in an attempt at a normal life. From the way she'd been speaking to him, it seemed as though Caleb would be treated as a 15-year-old for a while.
His new home was nice. It was in Chelsea, a two-storey house with three bedrooms, a nice size living room, and a huge screen thing in it. Cybele told him people watched it for fun, but Caleb found it rather boring, looking at a huge black screen for ages. Cybele used a little stick thing with buttons on it to turn the screen into other things, but Caleb found them all just as boring.
Caleb had been there for three months now. He'd heard nothing from Power. It was too late for… Crystal. Cybele was a nice "guardian." Every day he went out looking for roboids and Inferno, and Boid, and everyone else. No luck.
The phone rang in the hall.
"I'll get it," Cybele said.
Caleb took the dirty plates they had been eating scrambled eggs from over to the dishwasher and began to stack them. About two minutes later, Cybele came back in. There was an odd look on her face.
"Who was it?" he asked.
"It was for you. I don't believe it! That was Nikolei Drevin. "
"He rang himself?"
"Yes. He's invited you to have tea with him this afternoon. He's giving a press conference at the Waterfront Hotel and he wanted to know if you'd come along and meet him afterwards."
"What did you say?"
"Well, I told him I'd ask you and he said he'd send a car." She shrugged. "I guess he expected you to say yes."
Caleb thought for a moment. Mr Crawley had said that Drevin would probably get in touch. "Do you think I should go?"
Cybele sighed. "I don't know. I suppose he wants to thank you. After all, you saved him billions of pounds. If the roboids had destroyed Ark Angel, that would be his reputation, plus almost twenty billion pounds, down the plughole."
"I could call him back and say you're too tired," Cybele added.
For a moment, Caleb was tempted. The last time he'd met a multimillionaire, it was back in 2332 - before the roboid revolution. That had been Damian Cray - and the experience had nearly killed him. (See Falcon Strike, prequel #4, coming soon). On the other hand, this was different. Drevin was a target. It was Boid and Force Three who were the enemy. And it was fair enough that Drevin should want to meet him after what had happened. Caleb felt awkward about saying no.
Sometimes it's the tiniest things that can mean difference between life and death. A few centimetres of kerb had saved Caleb from the Roboid Revolt. (See Cobra, prequel #5, coming soon). Now two words were going to drag him back into the world he thought he'd left behind. Caleb preferred to work alone. He'd never said it, but he'd worked with an agency like G.U.N once before. He'd had friends like Power and Crystal. Friends who were now dead because of one thing he'd done. One small mistake. But these two words would drag him back into it all.