Alex held the book and shuddered lightly at the chapter title.

"Are you alright?" Ben asked, frowning slightly.

"Fine." Alex said, mentally berating himself for letting his emotions be shown so easily. He was too comfortable around these people.

PHYSALIA PHYSALIS

"What does that mean?" Eagle asked.

"I'm not sure." Snake said.

"It'll be in the chapter." Alex reassured them blankly. He had, had many nightmares about that bloody jellyfish.

The silver-grey Mercedes SL600

"Fancy car." Wolf grinned.

"It was a pretty nice car." Alex agreed. Despite the fact that Sayle was a complete madman, he really did have good taste in cars.

"Pretty nice? I bet it was brilliant!"

cruised down the motorway, travelling south. Alex was sitting in the front passenger seat, with so much soft leather

"I love leather seats." Eagle smiled.

"Me too." Alex agreed. That definitely had been a highlight of the car ride.

around him that he could barely hear the 389-horsepower, 6-litre engine

"You sure know your cars, don't you, Cub?" Wolf chuckled.

"I find them a lot more interesting than near death experiences." Alex said, causing a silence to fall over the room.

that was carrying him towards the Sayle complex near Port Tallon, Cornwall. But at eighty miles per hour, the engine was only idling.

"I'd love to take that baby full speed." Eagle said wistfully.

Alex could feel the power of the car. One hundred thousand pounds' worth of German engineering.

"This is rather unfair." Snake grumbled. He wished he could have been in that car. Despite their appearances the whole of K-Unit really were car geeks at heart.

One touch from the thin, unsmiling chauffeur and the Mercedes would leap forward.

"You'd think he would be a bit happier about driving such a good car." Ben frowned.

"He had to deal with Cub here. That would cause anyone distress." Eagle joked.

"Hey!" Alex yelled indignantly, punching Eagle squarely on the arm, hiding a grin when Eagle rubbed it slightly.

This was a car that sneered at speed limits.

Eagle snorted slightly imagining the car sneering at the signs. Even flipping off the 30 mph sign, although how a car could do that with no hands was beyond him.

Alex had been collected that morning from a converted church in Hampstead, north London. This was where Felix Lester lived.

"Nice house?" Ben asked.

"Very."

When the driver had arrived, Alex had been waiting with his luggage and there'd even been a woman - an MI6 operative - kissing him, telling him to clean his teeth, waving goodbye.

"It was strange, but nice." Alex admitted.

"Nice?" Ben asked.

"Jack was never very motherly, and I never really knew my own mother." Alex said, looking down.

He didn't see the sad glances the men exchanged.

As far as the driver was concerned, Alex was Felix.

"Hopefully as far as everyone else is concerned too." Ben said.

That morning Alex had read through the file and knew that Felix Lester went to a school called St. Anthony's,

"Fancy." Eagle muttered.

"You went there?" Ben asked.

"No, but it starts with St. so it must be." Eagle said, using some sort of logic foreign to those who are sane.

had two sisters

"Poor bloke." Wolf grinned.

and a pet Labrador.

"I've always wanted a dog." Alex sighed.

His father was an architect. His mother designed jewellery.

"Happy family." Ben snorted.

A happy family - his family if anybody asked.

"Why would they? 'Excuse me but is that family really yours?'" Eagle said in a high voice.

"How far is Port Tallon?" he asked.

So far the driver had barely spoken a word.

"Must have been a great journey." Eagle said, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

He answered Alex without looking at him. "A few hours. You want some music?"

"He actually offered you music?" Wolf asked.

"I think he had orders to make sure that my journey was as comfortable as possible." Alex muttered.

"Got any John Lennon?"

"I wouldn't have took you for the John Lennon type." Ben said, raising an eyebrow.

"I'm not. However, Felix is apparently." Alex explained.

That wasn't his choice. According to the file, Felix Lester liked John Lennon.

"It must be awful, having to make all your decisions based on someone else's preferences." Snake said.

"It is." Alex and Ben said together, before smiling slightly.

"No."

"Apparently it's not his choice either." Eagle said.

"Forget it. I'll get some sleep."

He needed the sleep. He was still exhausted from the training

"That wasn't well thought out on MI6's part, they should have let you rest a little before sending you in." Ben sighed.

and wondered how he would explain all the half-healed cuts and bruises

"That could cause some trouble." Wolf frowned.

if anyone saw under his shirt. Maybe he'd tell them he got bullied at school.

"That may work." Wolf nodded thoughtfully.

He closed his eyes and allowed the leather to suck him into sleep.

"You're lucky you can fall asleep that fast, takes me ages." Snake grumbled.

"I can't now." Alex said too quietly for anyone to hear.

It was the feeling of the car slowing down that woke him.

"Good instincts. Once I'm asleep, nothing wakes me up." Eagle smirked.

"Well it also helped that the driver braked quite abruptly; he forgot all about speed limits." Alex chuckled.

He opened his eyes and saw a fishing village, the blue sea beyond, a swathe of rolling green hills and a cloudless sky.

"Sounds wonderful." Wolf said acerbically.

"It actually was rather pretty." Alex said.

It was a picture off a jigsaw puzzle, or perhaps a holiday brochure advertising a forgotten England.

"Fake." Snake snorted.

"Yeah, those holiday brochures make places look way better than they actually are." Wolf said bitterly.

Alex laughed, "I sense a story."

"I was booking a holiday for my girlfriend and myself and I saw a really lovely looking place. It was a nice hotel, private pool, some nice attractions nearby, of course. However, when we got there it was awful, the hotel looked ancient and the pool water was green. It took at least an hour to get to a small shop."

Alex laughed at the look on Wolf's face.

Seagulls swooped and cried overhead. An old tug - tangled nets, smoke and flaking paint - pulled into the quay.

"Fishermen off to work." Eagle said merrily, earning a few odd looks.

A few locals, fishermen and their wives, stood around, watching. It was about five o'clock in the afternoon

"Or coming home." Eagle said, slightly less happily.

and the village was caught in the silvery, fragile light that comes at the end of a perfect day.

"This doesn't seem to be good, everything is too perfect." Ben frowned.

"Port Tallon," the driver said. He must have noticed Alex opening his eyes.

"It's pretty."

"Not if you're a fish."

"Cheerful bloke."

They drove round the edge of the village and back inland, down a lane that twisted between strangely bumpy fields.

"They're not strange, the reason they're bumpy is because in-"

"Save the geography lesson for later Foxy, we're reading." Eagle said, cutting off Ben.

Alex saw the ruins of buildings, half-crumbling chimneys and rusting metal wheels, and knew that he was looking at an old tin mine. They'd mined tin in Cornwall for three thousand years until one day the tin had run out. Now all that was left were the holes.

"It's rather sad, if they'd been a bit more careful and hadn't been so greedy, perhaps they'd still be mining it." Alex murmured.

A couple of kilometres down the lane a linked metal fence sprang up.

"Rather out of place in the nice scenery." Wolf said.

It was brand-new, ten metres high, topped with razor wire.

"You'd think they don't want visitors." Snake said wryly.

Arc lamps on scaffolding towers stood at regular intervals and there were huge signs, red on white.

Red signifies danger, Alex thought wildly.

You could have read them from the next country.

SAYLE
Enterprises
STRICTLY PRIVATE

"Trespassers will be shot," Alex muttered to himself.

"Pleasant thought." Wolf snorted.

He remembered what Mrs Jones had told him. He's more or less got his own private army. He's acting as if he's got something to hide. Well, that was certainly his own first impression.

"I would get out if there Cub. I don't have a good feeling about all of this." Snake frowned.

The whole complex was somehow shocking, alien to the sloping hills and fields.

"Completely."

The car reached the main gate, where there was a security cabin and an electronic barrier.

"Do you think they have enough security?" Wolf asked in mock concern.

"I'm not too sure." Ben said solemnly.

A guard in a blue and grey uniform with SE printed on his jacket waved them through.

"Just like that?" Eagle asked in shock.

The barrier lifted automatically. And then they were following a long, straight road over a stretch of land that had somehow been hammered flat, with an on one side and a cluster of four high-tech buildings on the other. The buildings were large, smoked glass and steel, each one joined to the next by a covered walkway. There were two aircraft next to the landing-strip. A helicopter and a small cargo plane. Alex was impressed. The whole complex must have been about five kilometres square. It was quite an operation.

"It does sound rather impressive when you put it like that." Eagle conceded.

The Mercedes came to a roundabout with a fountain at the centre, swept round it and continued up towards a fantastic, sprawling house. It was Victorian, red brick topped with copper domes and spires that had long ago turned green. There must have been at least sixty windows on the first five floors facing the drive. It was a house that just didn't know when to stop.

Wolf snorted slightly.

The Mercedes pulled up at the main entrance and the driver got out. "Follow me."

"He is quite rude." Ben frowned.

"What about my luggage?" Alex asked.

"It'll be brought."

"After being thoroughly checked of course." Snake said.

"Of course." Wolf repeated.

Alex and the driver went through the front door and into a hall dominated by a huge canvas - Judgement Day, the end of the world, painted four centuries ago as a swirling mass of doomed souls and demons.

"Sounds like a cheery place." Eagle snorted.

There were works of art everywhere. Watercolours and oils, prints, drawings, sculptures in stone and bronze, all crowded together with nowhere for the eye to rest.

"Some people just have too much money, it's unfortunate." Eagle muttered.

Alex followed the driver along a carpet so think he almost bounced. He was beginning to feel claustrophobic and was relieved when they passed through a door and into a vast room that was practically bare.

"Bloke sounds a bit bipolar." Eagle muttered.

"Mr Sayle will be here shortly," the driver said, and left.

Alex looked around him. This was a modern room with a curving steel desk near the centre, carefully positioned halogen lights and a spiral staircase leading down from a perfect circle cut in the ceiling high above. One entire wall consisted of a single sheet of glass and, walking over to it, Alex realised that he was looking at a gigantic aquarium.

"He has a giant aquarium?" Wolf asked. "Why?"

"Because, he's creepy, and evil, and cruel, and twisted." Alex muttered.

The sheer size of the thing drew him towards it. It was hard to imagine how many thousands of litres the glass held back, but he was surprised to see it was empty. There were no fish, although it was big enough to hold a shark.

"Why have an empty tank?" Eagle asked.

And then something moved in the turquoise shadows and Alex gasped with a mixture of horror and wonderment as the biggest jellyfish he had ever seen drifted into view.

"A jellyfish?" Ben snorted.

Alex shivered lightly, not just any jellyfish.

"Are you alright, Cub?" Snake frowned.

"Yeah, I just don't really like jellyfish." Alex said.

The main body was a shimmering, pulsating mass of white and mauve, shaped roughly like a cone. Beneath it, a mass of tentacles covered with circular stingers twisted in the water, at least ten metres long.

"It sounds dangerous." Eagle commented.

"It is."

No one asked how Alex knew this, but they all exchanged cautious glances. The young spy seemed very nervous, and they wondered if they were missing something important.

As the jellyfish moved, or drifted in an artificial current, its tentacles writhed against the glass so that it looked almost as if it was trying to break out.

Alex shivered, that was too much imagery. Flashes of his time in the tank overcame him, but he managed to regain his stoic expression before he was seen.

It was the single most awesome and repulsive think Alex had ever seen.

"It's not awesome at all." Eagle said, looking rather pale. Alex agreed.

"Physalia physalis." The voice came from behind him and Alex twisted round to see a man coming down the last of the stairs.

"Sayle?" asked Wolf.

"Sayle." Alex confirmed.

"Finally, took his bloody time."

Herod Sayle was short.

"That's the first thing you noticed?" Snake chuckled.

"He was, he was almost the same height as me!"

He was so short that Alex's first impression was that he was looking at a reflection that had somehow been distorted. In his immaculate and expensive black suit, with gold signet-ring and brightly polished black shoes, he looked like a scaled-down model of a multi-millionaire business man.

"He's definitely not short of cash." Eagle chuckled.

His skin was very dark, so that his teeth flashed when he smiled. He had a round, bald head and very horrible eyes.

"Ugly eyes? I take it you dislike this man." Ben sniggered.

"With a passion."

The grey irises were too small, completely surrounded by white. Alex was reminded of tadpoles before they hatch. When Sayle stood next to him, the eyes were almost at the same level as his and held less warmth than the jellyfish.

"Who was taller?" Eagle asked.

"He was, but only slightly."

"The Portuguese man-o'-war," Sayle continued. He had a heavy accent brought with him from the Beirut marketplace. "It's beautiful, don't you think?"

"No it's not, and you're a raving lunatic." Eagle muttered.

"I wouldn't keep one as a pet," Alex said.

"Amen." Eagle whispered.

"Ignore him, he's been bitter ever since he got stung at the beach."

"I came upon this one when I was diving in the South China Sea." Sayle gestured at a glass display case and Alex noticed three harpoon guns and a collection of knives resting in velvet slots. "I love to kill fish,"

"He loves to kill fish?" Snake said. "I mean fox hunting and deer hunting, I've heard of, even whale hunting. But fish hunting? 'Oh no, it's a trout!'"

Sayle went on. "But when I saw this specimen of Physalia physalis, I knew I had to capture it and keep it. You see, it reminds me of myself."

"It's ninety-nine per cent water. It has no brain, no guts and no anus."

Ben laughed so hard he could barely breathe, "you're a nutter, Alex."

"He's going to kill you, you're dead." Snake gaped.

Alex had dredged up the facts from somewhere and spoken them before he knew what he was doing.

"Teenagers, should not be spies." Wolf muttered.

Sayle glanced at him, then turned back to the creature hovering over him in its tank. "It's an outsider," he said. "It drifts on its own, ignored by the other fish. It is silent and yet demands respect. You see the nematocysts, Mr Lester? The stinging cells? If you were to find yourself wrapped in those,it would be an exquisite death."

"Stunningly exquisite."

"Call me Alex," Alex said.

"Oh hell." Wolf cursed. "What did you say that for?"

He'd meant to say Felix, but somehow it had slipped out. It was the most stupid, the most amateurish mistake he could have made.

"You are an amateur though, Alex. Despite what you been through, you're a teenager." It wasn't condescending, there was a painful truth in Ben's statement.

But he had been thrown by the way Sayle had appeared and by the slow, hypnotic dance of the jellyfish.

"The grey eyes squirmed."I thought your name was Felix."

"My friends call me Alex."

"Why?"

"After Alex Ferguson. I'm a big fan of Manchester United." It was the first thing Alex could think of. But he'd seen a football poster in Felix Lester's bedroom and knew that at least he'd chosen the right team.

"Did you pull it off?"

Sayle smiled. "That's most amusing. Alex it shall I hope we will be friends, Alex. You are a very lucky boy. You won the competition and you are going to be the first teenager to try out my Stormbreaker. But this is also lucky, I think, for me. I want you to tell me what you think of it. I want you to tell me what you like ... what you don't." The eyes dipped away and suddenly he was business-like. "We only have three days until the launch," he said. "We'd better get a bliddy move on, as my father used to say. I'll have my man take you to your room and tomorrow morning, first thing, you must get to work. There's a maths program you should try ... also languages. All software was developed here at Sayle Enterprises. Of course, we've talked to children. We've gone to teachers, to education experts. But you my dear ... Alex. You will be worth more to me than all that put together."

"Worth so so much more." Eagle chuckled. "Ickle Cubby?"

"Shut up, Eagle."

As he talked, Sayle had become more and more animated, carried away by his own enthusiasm. He had become a completely different man. Alex had to admit that he'd taken an immediate dislike to Herod Sayle. No wonder Blunt and the people at MI6 mistrusted him! But now he was forced to think again. He was standing opposite one of the richest men in England, a man who had decided, out of the goodness of his heart, to give a huge gift to the British schools.

"Don't do it." Wolf warned.

"Do what?" Alex asked bewildered.

"All madman seem sane, when they're talking about something as crazy as themselves. Don't believe that he's sane."

Just because he was small and slimy, that didn't necessarily make him an enemy. Perhaps Bunt was wrong after all.

"Follow your instincts, Alex." Ben said.

"Ah! Here's my man now," Sayle said. "And about bliddy time!"

"Aw, was his man running late?" Eagle said acerbically.

The door had opened and a man had come in, dressed in the black suit and tails of an old-fashioned butler. He was as tall and thin as his master was short and round,with a thatch of ginger hair above a face so pale it was almost paper white.

"That is not normal." Snake muttered.

From a distance it looked as if he was smiling, but as he drew closer Alex gasped. The man had two horrendous scars, one on each side of his mouth, twisting all the way up to his ears.

"Sounds like a real charmer." Ben said.

It was as if someone had attempted to cut his face in half.

"Inventive." Wolf said.

The scars were a gruesome shade of mauve.

"What the hell colour is mauve?" Eagle said.

"I think it's purple." Snake said.

"Then why not say purple?" Ben asked.

"I don't know, does it really matter what colour his scars are?" Alex said.

The were smaller, fainter scars where his cheeks had once been stitched.

"Were they mauve too?" Eagle asked.

"Does it matter?"

"This is Mr Grin," Sayle said. "He changed his name after his accident."

"He has a sense of humour then?" Snake asked.

Alex just shook his head.

"Accident?" Alex found it hard not to stare at the terrible wounds.

"Mr Grin used to work in a circus. It was a novelty knife-throwing act. For the climax he used to catch a spinning knife between his teeth, but then one night his elderly mother came to see the show. She waved to him from the front row and he got his timing wrong. He's worked for me for a dozen years now and although his appearance may be displeasing, he is loyal and efficient. Don't try to talk with him, by the way. He has no tongue."

"Well..." Ben trailed off lost for words.

"Poor woman." Eagle sighed. "Having to witness that happen to your son must be awful."

"Eeeurgh!" Mr Grin said.

"Nice to meet you," Alex muttered.

"If you say so."

"Take him to the blue room," Sayle commanded. He turned to Alex."You're fortunate that one of our nicest rooms has come up free - here, in the house. We had a security man staying there. But he left us quite suddenly."

"Oh." Ben said, understanding who the security man was. "That must've been tough."

"Oh? Why was that?" Alex asked casually.

"I have no idea. One moment he was here, the next he was gone." Sayle smiled again. "I hope you won't do the same, Alex."

"That sounds like a threat." Snake said.

"Ri ... wurgh!" Mr Grin gestured at the door and, leaving Herod Sayle standing in front of his huge captive, Alex left the room.

"That sounded very similar to 'Rider'." Eagle said.

"I think he was trying to say 'Right this way'." Alex said.

"Nope it sounded like Rider."

He was led along a passage past more works of art, up a staircase and then along a wide corridor with thick wood-panelled doors and chandeliers. Alex assumed that the main house was used for entertaining. Sayle himself must live here. But the computers would be constructed in the modern buildings he had seen opposite the airstrip. Presumably he would be taken there tomorrow.

"You should leave, it doesn't seem right."

His room was at the far end. It was a large room with a four poster bed and a window looking out on to the fountain. Darkness has fallen and the water, cascading ten metres through the air over a semi-naked statue that looked remarkably Herod Sayle was illuminated by a dozen concealed lights. Next to the window was a table with an evening meal already laid out for him: ham, cheese, salad. His bag was lying on the bed.

"They probably searched it thoroughly." Ben said.

He went over to it - a Nike sports bag - and examined it. When he had closed it up, he had inserted three hairs into the zip, trapping them in the metal teeth. They were no longer there.

"Good technique, Cub." Wolf praised.

Alex opened the bag and went through it. Everything was exactly as it had been when he had packed, but he was certain that the sports bag had been expertly and methodically searched.

"Without a doubt."

He took out the Game Boy Colour, inserted the Speed Wars cartridge and pressed the START button three times. At once the screen lit up with a green rectangle the same shape as the room. He lifted the Game Boy up and swung it around him, following the line of the walls. A red flashing dot suddenly appeared on the screen.

"They bugged the room?" Snake asked.

"Is it really a surprise?" Alex said.

"No, but you were fourteen."

"So?"

He walked forward holding the game boy in front of him. The dot flashed faster, more intensely. He had reached a picture, hanging next to the bathroom, a squiggle of colours that looked suspiciously like Picasso. He put the Game Boy down and carefully lifted the canvas off the wall.

"You should wear gloves while dealing with original artwork." Ben said.

"Unfortunately, I didn't care."

The bug was taped behind it, a black disc about the size of a ten pence piece. Alex looked at it for a minute, wondering why it was there. Security? Or was Sayle such a control freak that he had to know what his guests were doing every minute of the day and night?

"I reckon it's a bit of both." Wolf said,

Alex put the picture back. There was only one bug in the room. The bathroom was clean.

"Good, that would have just been plain creepy." Eagle said.

He ate his dinner, showered and got ready for bed. As he passed the window, he noticed activity in the grounds near the fountain. There were lights shining out of the modern buildings. Three men, all dressed in white overalls, were driving towards the house in an open-top jeep. Two more men walked past. These were security guards, dressed in the same uniform as the man at the gate. They were both carrying semi-automatic machine-guns. Not just a private army, but a well-armed one.

Alex shuddered, remembering the sniper.

He got into bed. The last person who had slept here had been his uncle, Ian Rider. Had he seen something, looking out of the window? Had he heard something? What could have happened that meant he had to die?

Sleep took a long time coming to the dead man's bed.

"Morbid." Eagle said.

"That's the chapter done."

"Great, I'll read next." Ben said, taking the book from Alex.


AN

I do not own Alex Rider.

Thank you for reading, let me know what you think

I am really sorry about the lack of updates, but I do have a very good reason, I promise. I have a strict schedule and my computer time(lazy time)is short as I am training for the RAF, I'm applying soon, wish me luck!