Eagle picked up the book and turned to the next chapter.

TOYS AREN'T US

"Huh? Like the shop?" Snake asked.

"No it says Toys AREN'T us not Toys R us."

In the London office, Mrs Jones sat waiting while Alan Blunt read the report. The sun was shining. A pigeon was strutting back and forth along the ledge outside as if keeping guard.

"A lovely day." Alex said sarcastically.

"He's doing very well," Blunt said at last. "Remarkably well, in fact." He turned a page. "I see he missed target practice."

"It's not like you were even going to give me a gun arsehole."

"Were you planning to give him a gun?" Mrs Jones asked.

"No. I don't think that would be a good idea."

"For once I agree with the man." Ben sighed.

"What? Why?" Alex whined.

"Because, Alex, you were only fourteen."

"Then why does be need target practice?"

Alex sulked silently.

Blunt raised an eyebrow. "We can't give a teenager a gun," he said. "On the other hand, I don't think we can send him to Port Tallon empty-handed. You'd better have a word with Smithers."

Alex's lips twitched out of his pout and into a smile, he loved getting gadgets.

"I already have. He's working on it now."

Mrs Jones stood up as if to leave. But at the door she hesitated. "I wonder if it's occurred to you that Rider may have been preparing him for this all along," she said.

"No... surely your Uncle wouldn't have wanted you to get yourself killed." Snake said

"What do you mean?"

"Isn't it obvious?" Wolf snarked.

"Preparing Alex to replace him. Ever since the boy was old enough to walk, he's been in training for intelligence work ... but without knowing it. I mean, he's lived abroad, so he now speaks French, German and Spanish. He's been mountain-climbing, diving and skiing. He's learned karate. Physically he's in perfect shape." She shrugged. "I think Rider wanted Alex to become a spy."

"I can't believe he'd do that! To his own flesh and blood!" Ben sneered.

"But not so soon," Blunt said.

"I agree. You know as well as I do, Alan - he's not ready yet. If we send him into Sayle enterprises, he's going to get himself killed."

"But they did it anyway." Alex murmured almost silently.

"Perhaps." The single word was cold, matter-of-fact.

This did not come as a shock to Alex, but K - Unit however, were disgusted.

"He's fourteen years old! We can't do it."

"At least someone has morals." Eagle sniped.

"We have to." Blunt stood up and opened the window, letting in the air and the sound of the traffic. The pigeon hurled itself off the ledge, afraid of him. "This whole business worries me," he said. "The Prime Minister see the Stormbreaker as a major coup, for himself and for him Government. But there's still something about Herod Sayle that I don't like. Did you tell the boy about Yassen Gregorovich?"

"Who's he?" Snake queried.

"No one." Alex said bitterly.

"No." Mrs Jones shook her head.

"Then it's time you did. It was Yassen who killed his uncle.

"No one." Wolf repeated sarcastically.

I'm sure of it. And if Yassen was working for Sayle-"

"What will you do if Yassen kills Alex Rider?"

"Yes, what would you do arsehole?" Ben muttered

"That's not our problem, Mrs Jones.

"Not their problem?" Snake gasped, "Of course its your problem, it's a boy's life not a play thing."

If the boy gets himself killed, it will be the final proof that something is wrong.

"Proof, thats all they care about?"

At the very least it'll allow me to postpone the Stormbreaker project and take a good, hard look at what's going on at Port Tallon. In a way, it would almost help us if he was killed."

"It was be extremely helpful." Wolf muttered.

"Yeah, him dying would be the best thing ever." Eagle said.

"The boy's not ready yet. He'll make mistakes. It won't take them long to find out who he is." Mrs Jones sighed. "I don't think Alex has got much chance at all."

"Thanks for the faith." Alex growled.

"Did you have a chance?" Eagle asked, getting side-tracked.

"I'm sitting right here, aren't I?"

"I agree." Blunt turned back from the window. The sun slanted over his shoulder. A single shadow fell across his face. "But it's too late to worry about that now. Stop the training. Send him in."

"That's why you left so suddenly." Snake realised.

Alex sat hunched up in the back of the low-flying C-130 military aircraft, his stomach churning behind his knees. There were twelve men sitting in two lines around him - his own unit and two others. For an hour now, the plane had been flying at just one hundred metres, following the Welsh valleys, dipping and swerving to avoid the mountain peaks. A single bulb glowed red behind a wire mesh, adding to the heat in the cramped cabin. Alex could feel the engines vibrating through him. It was like travelling in a spin-dryer and microwave combined.

Eagle snickered. Alex failed to see what was so amusing.

The thought of jumping out of a plane with an over sized silk umbrella

Ben snorted.

would have made Alex sick with fear - but only that morning he'd been told that he wouldn't in fact be jumping himself. A signal from London. They couldn't risk him breaking a leg, it said,and Alex guessed the end of his training was near. Even so, he'd been taught how to pack a parachute, how to control it, how to exit a plane and how to land, and at the end of the day the sergeant had instructed him to join the flight- just for the experience. Now, close to the drop zone, Alex felt almost disappointed.

"Poor you," Wolf muttered sarcastically.

Alex snickered at him.

He'd watch everyone else jump and then he'd be left alone.

"I suppose that is disappointing." Ben conceded.

"P minus five..."

The voice of the pilot came over the speaker system, distant and metallic. Alex gritted his teeth. Five minutes until the jump. He looked at the other men, shuffling into position, checking the chords that connected them to the static line. He was sitting next to Wolf. To his surprise, the man was completely quiet, unmoving. It was hard to tell in the half-darkness, but the look on his face could almost have been fear.

The rest of the unit looked at their leader in shock, he had been scared?

There was a loud buzz and the red light turned green.

"Woo! Time to jump." Eagle said with bright eyes.

The assistant pilot had climbed through from the cockpit. He reached for the handle and pulled open a door set in the back of the aircraft, allowing the cold air to rush in. Alex could see a single square of night. It was raining. The rain howled past.

"Perfect night for it." Snake chuckled.

The green light began to flash. The assistant pilot tapped the first pair on their shoulders and Alex watched them shuffle over to the side and then throw themselves out. For a moment they were there, frozen in the doorway. Then they were gone, like a photograph crumpled and spun away by the wind. Two more men followed. Then another two, until only the final pair had still to jump.

Alex glanced at Wolf, who seemed to be struggling with a piece of equipment.

"Struggling? You can sort your equipment with your eyes closed." Eagle said shocked.

His partner was moving to the door without him, but Wolf still didn't look up.

The other man jumped. Suddenly Alex was aware that only he and Wolf were left.

"Move it!" the assistant pilot shouted above the roar of the engines.

"Charming bloke." Alex said, stretching his legs out.

Wolf picked himself up. His eyes briefly met Alex's and in that moment Alex knew. Wolf was a popular leader. He was tough and he was fast, completing a forty-kilometre hike as if it was just a stroll in the park. But he had a weak spot.

The whole team alternated between looking at Wolf, Alex or the floor.

Somehow he'd allowed this parachute jump to get to him and he was too scared to move. It was hard to believe, but there he was, frozen in the doorway, his arms rigid, staring out.

Wolf gritted his teeth.

"Everyone has their weaknesses, Wolf." Ben said softly, and the subject was dropped, for the sake of Wolf's pride.

Alex glanced back. The assistant pilot was looking the other way. He hadn't seen what was happening. And when he did? If Wolf failed to make the jump, it would be the end of his training, maybe even the end of his career. Even hesitating would be bad enough. He'd be binned.

Wolf winced. Yep, that would've happened for sure.

Alex thought for a moment. Wolf hadn't moved. Alex could see his shoulders rising and falling as he tried to summon the courage to go. Ten seconds had passed. Maybe more. The assistant pilot was leaning down, stowing away a piece of equipment. Alex stood up. "Wolf," he said.

Wolf didn't even hear him.

Alex took one last quick look at the assistant pilot , then kicked out with all of his strength . His foot slammed into Wolf's backside. He'd put all of his strength behind it. Wolf was caught by surprise, his hands coming free as he plunged into the swirling night air.

"That could've been dangerous." Snake frowned.

"It was ok." Alex said.

"But-"

Wolf cut snake off quickly.

"It was fine, I was fine." He said.

The assistant pilot turned round and saw Alex.

"What are you doing?" he shouted.

"Just stretching my legs," Alex shouted back.

"Quite high and aggressively." Ben smiled.

The plane curved in the air and began the journey home.

Mrs Jones was waiting for him when he walked into the hangar. She was sitting at a table, wearing a grey silk jacket and trousers with a black handkerchief flowing out her top pocket. For a moment she didn't recognize him. Alex was dressed in a flying suit. His hair damp from the rain. His face was pinched with tiredness and he seemed to have grown older very fast.

"That's why we thought you were older than 14." Ben explained.

None of the men had arrived back yet. A truck had been sent to collect them from a field about three kilometres away.

"Alex?" She said.

Alex looked at her but said nothing.

"Silent treatment." Eagle smirked.

Alex ignored him.

"It was my decision to stop you jumping," she said. "I hope you're not disappointed. I just thought it was too much of a risk. Please. Sit down."

Alex sat down opposite her.

"I have something that might cheer you up," she went on. "I've brought you some toys."

The whole of K-Unit tried to hide their snorts and laughs.

"I'm too old for toys," Alex said.

"Not these toys."

She signalled and a man appeared, walking out of the shadows, carrying a tray of equipment , which he set down on the table. The man was enormously fat. When he sat down, the metal chair disappeared beneath the spread of his buttocks and Alex was surprised it could even take his weight. He was bald, with a black moustache and several chins, each one melting into the next and finally into his neck and shoulders. He wore a pinstriped suit which must have used enough material to make a tent.

"We get it, the guy's big." Eagle whined.

"Smithers," he said, nodding at Alex. "Very nice to meet you, old chap."

"What have you got for him?" Mrs Jones demanded.

"No hello." Eagle said sadly.

"I'm afraid we haven't had a great deal of time, Mrs J," Smithers replied. "The challenge was to think of what a fourteen-year-old might carry with him - to adapt it." He picked up the first object off the tray. A yo-yo. It was slightly larger than normal, made of black plastic. "Let's start with this," Smithers said.

Alex shook his head. He couldn't believe any of this. "Don't tell me!" He exclaimed. "It's some sort of secret weapon..."

"So eager for weapons." Ben said smirking.

"Not exactly. I was told you weren't to have weapons. You're too young."

"So it's not really a hand grenade? Pull the string and run like hell?"

"Good advertisement." Wolf snorted.

"Certainly not. It's a yo-yo." Smithers pulled out the string, holding it between a podgy finger and thumb. "However, the string is a special sort of nylon. Very advanced. There are thirty metres of it and it can lift weights of up to one hundred kilograms. The actual yo-yo is motorized and clips onto your belt. Very useful for climbing."

"That's not so impressive." Snake frowned.

"Amazing." Alex was unimpressed.

"Clearly, Alex agrees." Ben muttered.

"And then there's this."Smithers produced a small tube. Alex read the side: ZIT-CLEAN, FOR HEALTHIER SKIN. "Nothing personal ," Smithers went on apologetically, "but we thought it was something a boy of your age might use. And it is rather remarkable." He opened the tube and squeezed some of the cream on to his finger. "Completely harmless when you touch it. But bring it into contact with metal and it's quite another story." He wiped hi finger, smearing the cream onto the surface of the table. For a moment nothing happened. Then a wisp of acrid smoke twisted upwards into the air, the metal sizzled and a jagged hole appeared.

"Much better,"Eagle complimented.

"It'll do that to just about any metal," Smithers explained. "Very useful if you need to break through a lock." He took out a handkerchief and wiped his finger clean.

"Anything else?" Mrs Jones asked.

"Oh yes, Mrs J. You could say this one is our piece de resistance." He picked up a brightly coloured box that Alex recognized at once as a Nintendo Game Boy Colour. "What teenager would be complete without one of these?" he asked. "This one comes with four games. And the beauty of it is, each game turns the computer into something quite different."

"Now that, is better." Ben smiled.

He showed Alex the first game. "If you insert Nemesis, the computer becomes a fax/photocopier which gives you direct contact with us and vice versa." A second game. "Exocet turns the computer into an X-ray device. It has an audio function too. The headphones are useful for eavesdropping. It's not as powerful as I'd like, but we're working on it. Speed Wars is a bug finder. I suggest you use it the moment you get into your room. And finally...Bomber Boy."

"Do I get to play that one?" Alex asked.

"You can play all four of them. But as the name might suggest, this is actually a smoke bomb. You leave the cartridge some where in a room and press START three times on the console and it will go off. Useful camouflage if you need to escape in a hurry."

"Thank you, Smithers," Mrs Jones said.

"My pleasure, Mrs J." Smithers stood up, his legs straining to take the huge weight."I'll hope to see you again, Alex. I've never had to equip a boy before. I'm sure I'll be able to think up a whole host of quite delightful ideas."

"I get the impression, they're not going to let you go easily." Wolf frowned.

"Really?" Alex said.

He waddled off and disappeared through a door which clanged shut behind him.

Mrs Jones turned to Alex. "You leave tomorrow for Port Tallon," she said. "You'll be going under the name of Felix Lester." She handed him a folder. "We've sent the real Felix Lester on holiday in Scotland. You'll find out everything you need to know about him in here."

"Scotland? That sucks for him, it's so cold, and boring." Eagle whined.

"Excuse me?" Snake glared.

"And it's the best place in the world." Eagle continued, fearfully.

"I'll read it in bed."

"A bit of night time reading."

"Good." Suddenly she was serious and Alex found himself wondering if she herself was a mother. If so, she could well have a son his age. She took a black and white photograph and laid it on the table. It showed a man in a white T-shirt and jeans. He was in his late twenties with blond, close-cropped hair, a smooth face, the body of a dancer. The photograph was slightly blurred. It had been taken from a distance, as if with a hidden camera. "I want you to look at this," she said.

"I'm looking."

"His name is Yassen Gregorovich.

"Finally we find out more about this bloke." Snake said, satisfied.

He was born in Russia but now he works for many countries. Iraq has employed him. Also Serbia, Libya and China."

"What does he do?" Alex asked, though looking at the cold face with its blank, hooded eyes, he could almost guess.

"He's a contract killer, Alex. We believe he killed Ian Rider."

"An assassin?" Sanke asked calmly, much calmer than Ben and Wolf.

"A BLOODY ASSASSIN!"

"RUN ALEX, RUN!"

There was a long pause. Alex stared at the photograph, trying to print it in his mind.

Ben sighed, would Alex try to get revenge?

"This photograph was taken six months ago, in Cuba. It may have been a coincidence but Herod Sayle was there at the same time. The two of the may have met. And there is something else." She paused. "Rider used a code in the last message he sent. A single letter.Y."

"Y for Yassen."

"I'm glad kids aren't taught that to learn the alphabet." Ben said with a shudder.

"He must have seen Yassen somewhere in Port Tallon. He wanted us to know -"

"Why are you telling me this now?" Alex asked.

"Because if you see him - if Yassen is anywhere near Sayle Enterprises - I want you to contact us at once."

"And then?"

"We'll pull you out. If Yassen finds out you're working for us, he'll kill you too."

"Just like they want." Wolf glowered.

Alex smiled. "I'm too young to interest him," he said.

"No." Mrs Jones took the photograph back. "Just remember, Alex Rider, you're never too young to die."

"Ominous." Ben sighed.

Alex stood up.

"You'll leave tomorrow morning at eight o'clock," Mrs Jones said. "Be careful, Alex. And good luck."

"Thanks." Alex said softly.

Alex walked across the hangar, his footsteps echoing. Behind him, Mrs Jones unwrapped a peppermint and slipped it into her mouth. Her breath always smelled faintly of mint. As Head of Special Operations, how many men had she sent to their deaths? Ian Rider and maybe dozens more. Perhaps it was easier for her if her breath was sweet.

"There's heaps of theories about that," Ben chuckled, "But yours is the most interesting by far."

There was a movement ahead of him and he saw that the parachutists had got back from their jump. They were walking towards him out of the darkness, with Wolf and the other men from K Unit right at the front. Alex tried to step round them but he found Wolf blocking his way.

"What now!" Ben said angrily, "He helped you."

"It's ok Ben."

"You're leaving," Wolf said. Somehow he must have heard that Alex's training was over.

"Yes."

There was a long pause.

"AWKWARD!" Eagle shouted suddenly.

"What happened on the plane..." he began.

"Forget it, Wolf," Alex said. "Nothing happened. You jumped and I didn't, that's all."

"You're a strange kid." Snake said, watching Alex thoughtfully.

Wolf held out a hand. "I want you to know...I was wrong about you. I'm sorry I gave you such a hard time. But you're all right. And maybe ... one day it would be good to work with you."

"Wow, an actual apology," Snake mocked.

"Oh, shut it." Wolf muttered.

"You never know," Alex said.

Both Wolf and Alex snorted at this.

They shook.

"Good luck, Cub."

"Goodbye Wolf."

Alex walked out into the night.

"Well that was interesting." Ben said.

"Actually, I thought it was kind of a boring chapter." Eagle said.

"Maybe the next will satisfy you then." Alex said.


Thanks for all the support with this story.

Disclaimer : I don't own Alex Rider.

So what did you think? Sorry for the delay :( Really I am.