It was 3.51 am and all was well.
Uber Trooper Experiment One stood as straight as an iron rod inside his BioCapsule, eyes shut, breathing perfect, heart humming at optimum level. The thick glass cylinder encasing him shimmered in the darkness, with occasional flashes and sparks as a green life-giving gas swirled around the super soldier. Meters trembled, tiny lights flickered and a bank of screens displayed data showing that all the necessary adjustments were being made to keep TEX in peak condition.
As the clock turned over to 3.52 am, two dark figures in balaclavas entered the tiny room. Somehow by-passing Professor Perdu’s elaborate security system, they moved quickly, tapping into the Central Processing Plant that controlled and monitored TEX’s condition. Then, with a few deft movements, they shut down his Life Support Unit.
The green gas quickly dissipated, the rejuvenating sparks ceased, and soon the super soldier was gasping for breath. His lids flickered for a moment and then shot open, fear flashing in his eyes. He was trapped, and he knew it. His unbreakable, life-giving capsule had turned into a coffin.
The last thing he saw as he lost consciousness was two dark figures slipping out of the room.
* * *
Napoleon Augustus Smythe (aka Battle Agent 005) was in heaven. Early morning laserboarding. Nothing better for clearing a muddled head and exactly what he needed after yesterday’s mission.
He still couldn’t believe they’d pulled through. BA004 had come within a millisecond of having his head cut off by King Harold. And then they all could’ve been trapped in the Battle of Hastings, which itself was caught inside a virtual capsule, which in turn was locked in the weird Time Store of the even weirder Horace Horologe. Napoleon shuddered. They could’ve been history.
He took a deep breath, drawing in the crisp morning air. It was just before sunrise and he had the area to himself so he could let loose his board. He was in a back street with a few great curves to bank on, and one top hill for getting serious air, followed by a bit of max gravity cranking for real speed.
But Napoleon was extra excited this morning because he had the means of taking his laserboard a whole quantum leap further.
‘We’re going to push this to the limit. Isn’t that right, Skin?’
‘Negative, BA005. This is highly irregular. I am not at all comfortable with the present situation. I am only meant to function within the parameters of Operation Battle Book.’
That was sort of how Professor Perdu had put it yesterday when Napoleon, Maz and Winston went off after the mission still wearing their Simulation Skins. She was NOT pleased. It was strictly against the rules: gadgets and gear from the College for Independent Studies were not allowed in public.
‘Relax, Skin. I won’t tell Prof we did a little road test. It’s our secret.’
‘That is not quite the case, BA005.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘A black van has been following us. My Vibe Detector indicates trouble.’
Napoleon used Skin’s rear vision on a drop-down Eyescreen to spy the vehicle. It was about half a kilometre behind.
‘Looks like the van that nearly rammed us yesterday near Horologe’s Time Store.’
‘Affirmative, BA005. It is precisely the same type, model and colour and, like yesterday’s vehicle, it has no registration plate. Its occupants also remain unidentifiable.’ Skin zoomed in but the windscreen was too dark to identify any faces at that distance.
‘Who could they be? MANIC thugs?’
‘Impossible to say with certainty at this juncture,
005. Nonetheless that is a distinct possibility. My Vibe Detector indicates that the occupants of the van are certainly less than likeable.’
‘In that case we’d better lose them.’
Napoleon came to at the bottom of a big hill. He leaned forward to accelerate. But he wanted to really accelerate. ‘Give me Boot Boosters, Skin, all the way up the hill. And don’t stop at the top. I want to eagle it.’
‘If you insist, BA005.’ A sudden burst of power sent Napoleon shooting
up the hill like a rocket. At the top he took off, getting air as never before. He grabbed the deck with both hands, looked down and yee-haa’d hard. He was way above the streets, cruising over house tops.
‘Deadly, Skin! Best hit ever.’
He looked back to check on the van. It was far behind.
‘They must be spewing, Skin.’
‘If by that you mean they are annoyed, even irate, then you are correct, BA005.’
‘Let’s leave them in our dust.’
Napoleon thought-channelled Skin to add Hover-Vest to Boot Boosters, and was soon flying through the air. In no time at all his stalkers were kilometres behind.
‘That should do it, Skin,’ he said, and descended for a smooth landing in a park. ‘We won’t be seeing them again.’ He carved a wide arc and headed for home.
He didn’t get far, though, before Skin gave a warning beep. Napoleon couldn’t believe his eyes. The black van was there again, keeping its distance, keeping him in its sight.
‘What’s going on? They must have the latest geosensitive tracking gear.’
‘Correct, 005. Analysis indicates that to be the case.’
‘Okay, then. If they want to meet, let’s meet.’ Napoleon said doing a 180-degree kick-turn. ‘In fact, let’s do it head to head.’ He leaned forward, pushing the laserboard to peak speed. ‘We’ll see how much nerve these thugs have really got.’
Napoleon headed directly at the van on the straight stretch of road.
‘I’m trusting you, Skin. I want to face off with these creeps to the very last second. But be ready to activate maximum Vertical Thrust if I call for it. I don’t want to be splatter matter on their front grill.’
They were less than a hundred metres apart, boy versus van. With the laserboard at maximum speed Napoleon fixed his eyes on the dark windscreen. Behind it he could see the upper body outlines of driver and passenger. He focused on the driver with all his inner strength.
Head throbbing, fists clenched, heart pumping like a thumping drum, he locked onto the shadowy shape as the van roared closer, closer, forcing down his fear, the terrifying possibility that he might be making a huge mistake.
Suddenly he could see a face: a real face with a mouth, nose, eyes. Eyes! He stared into the eyes, and in that moment realised that they were the eyes of a killer – cold, cruel, unblinking.
He’s not going to swerve. I’m road-kill!
Napoleon didn’t even have time to scream. Before his thoughts were vocal, Skin activated maximum Vertical Thrust and Napoleon shot straight up, like a rocket, his laserboard clipping the roof of the van. He just managed to grab the deck as he hurtled upwards.
‘Ooowee, Skin. That was close.’
‘Correct, BA005. Calculations indicate we had a safety margin of precisely 0.023 of a second before collision was inevitable.’
Napoleon took a few deep breaths. ‘Can we just hover for a minute while I lower my heartbeat?’
‘Certainly, BA005. Cardiac Relaxation software also activated.’
As Napoleon re-adjusted, he glanced down. The van had skidded to a stop and the driver and passenger had climbed out. They were staring up at him.
Skin automatically zoomed in on the figures. ‘Facial images recorded and filed.’
Napoleon took in the faces as they streamed across his Eyescreen. Not that there was any need in the case of the driver. That was one face he wasn’t likely to forget.
A second later his Battle Watch beeped with an urgent message from Professor Perdu:
MASTER MISSION. LEVEL 7 RATING.
PLUS DISTURBING COMPLICATIONS.
REPORT AT ONCE.
A Master Mission? YES, thought Napoleon. And about time. But what were these disturbing complications? Best get to HQ ASAP.
As Napoleon swung around on his laserboard, he noticed that the black van had gone.
Excerpted from History Hackers by Charlie Carter. Copyright © 2012 by Charlie Carter.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Pan Macmillan Australia solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.