Three Black Dragon Rotor Jets thumped-thumped in the night sky over Futura, escorted by Stingray fighters. They touched down at the Hover Drome on the southern outskirts of the city. A fleet of black vans was waiting, supported by motorised guardroid units with weapon-equipped ATVs.
Once the Dragons had come to a standstill, their doors opened and scientists in lab coats, officials in suits and uniformed military figures spilled on to the tarmac. They climbed quickly into the vans and were driven away, each vehicle escorted by a pair of armoured ATVs. The whole operation took less than 15 minutes.
The convoy raced down the motorway towards the Time Store district of Futura.
The road was empty, except for one other vehicle – a limousine. It was travelling in the opposite direction to the convoy. ‘They’re heading somewhere in a hurry,’ said BA004, sitting in the front of the limo. ‘I wonder . . .?’
‘No, Four, please don’t,’ said BA009. She was stretched out in the back of the vehicle as Bernard drove them home. ‘I’ve had enough wondering for a while.’
‘I’m not surprised,’ said Five. ‘It’s 4.06 am. We’ve been on one humungous mission, and the day hasn’t even begun.’
‘It’s not because I’m tired,’ 009 replied. ‘I can handle that. It’s making sense of all that’s happened.’
‘Yeah,’ said 005. ‘Prof reckons we’re close to solving this puzzle, but I can’t see it.’
‘There are so many bits and pieces,’ Nine groaned. ‘But which pieces are important and which bits aren’t is so hard to decide. My head is spinning.’
‘Then we’d better stop it spinning,’ said Four. ‘Oh yeah, Mr Smarty? And how are we going to do that?’ Four tapped his head. ‘Good old grey matter.
We need to stand back, collect our thoughts and make some rational judgements.’
‘Oh, is that all?’ Nine rolled her eyes. ‘Take it away, then.’
‘Very well, I will. As I see it, there are four main facts in this case. Fact Number One: Time and Energy packets are being stolen and stockpiled at Horace Horologe’s Time Stores. And it’s been going on for quite a while if Alpha One is right. Fact Number Two: historical figures are also being stolen and stockpiled at the Time Stores. And that’s been happening for a while as well.’
‘Yeah, we know that,’ said Five. ‘But we don’t know why the T&E packets and the historical figures are being stolen. And what are they being used for?’
‘Ah, but that’s where I think you’re wrong. The answer lies in the other two facts. Fact Number Three centres on what Horace Horologe said about the real purpose of those incubation cylinders – the ones that nearly killed us. According to him, what’s really going is the extraction of Time and Energy.’
‘Sorry,’ said 009. ‘But I’m still lost.’
‘Enter Fact Number Four: the processing plant Prof reckons is operating somewhere in the Time Store area. She said it was like a reactor, and my guess is that it lies at the bottom of all this.’
‘Are you suggesting that the reactor thing is processing Time and Energy?’ said Five.
Four shrugged. ‘Do you have a better idea?’
‘No. But what’s it processing the Time and Energy into? What’s it making?’
‘I don’t know, to be honest. But I do know that we must’ve come close to discovering the answer; close enough for someone to want us terminated.’
‘And I bet Alpha One has got even closer,’ said Nine.
‘Yes. I think he might know what’s going on.’
BA009 shuddered. ‘Which is why we haven’t heard from him.’
‘Not yet, Nine,’ said 005.
‘Not yet is not good. We should have heard from him by now. I’m really worried that something very bad has happened to Alpha One.’
The Battle Agents sat in silence for a moment, weighed down by the fear that Nine could be right.
BA005 was weighed by another matter – the bearded man, none other than Abraham Lincoln, an American president. The mysterious historical figure was lodged in Five’s head like a tune that wouldn’t go away. Lincoln’s talk of rights and freedom had affected ordinary people in the streets of Futura. It had deeply moved Alpha One as well, and Five even felt as if the president had actually reached out to him for some reason. But what did that have to do with Time Stores and reactors and packets of Time and Energy?
In the end Five decided it would only complicate things if he mentioned Abraham Lincoln. There was already more than enough to think about.
‘I know how you feel, Nine,’ he said after a while. ‘My head is spinning, too.’
Suddenly all their Battle Watches beeped at once, and the same message from Professor Perdu flashed across their dials:
Return immediately. Alpha Agent 001 has arrived.
* * *
‘Oh my god!’ BA009 gasped in horror. Five and Four gaped, too stunned to speak. Alpha Agent 001 was lying on a narrow bed in Professor Perdu’s office, a sheet pulled up to his neck. His eyes were closed, his breathing shallow, his face pale and gaunt. The swelling around his lips and left eye had subsided a little, but the bruising had become more pronounced.
‘He looks a thousand times better than when he came in,’ said the professor. ‘He was covered in blood and dirt. His attackers must’ve left him lying in a muddy ditch somewhere.’
‘He must be in agony,’ said 009, her eyes welling with tears.
‘He was, but I pumped him full of painkillers. He’s been through hell, that’s for sure.’ The professor pulled back the sheet a little; Alpha One’s chest, shoulders and arms were a mass of black and blue welts. ‘His heart was racing wildly when he came in; another few minutes without treatment and we could’ve lost him. But he’s stabilised now, and out of the high danger zone. His nose and teeth will need work, but his jaw is not broken. And he’s okay internally, although his kidneys have had a nasty pounding.’
‘What about his head?’
‘Concussion, of course, but the brain scans are good. Nothing to worry about there.’
Alpha One’s body was seized by spasmodic twitching and his eyes flickered beneath their lids as though seeing things they didn’t want to. ‘No,’ he muttered several times, then groaned long and low before slipping out of consciousness again.
‘Who did this to him?’ said Nine.
‘It’s not who did this that matters. There are plenty of sadistic creatures ready to do their masters’ bidding. It’s who authorised it that matters most. They’re the real monsters.’
‘Shouldn’t he be in hospital?’
‘Right now he needs calm and quiet more than anything. And we have everything he requires for treatment. When it’s safe to move him, perhaps we will. But I don’t know who to trust any more. Whatever we do, at least one of us must stay with him at all times.’
‘I will,’ said 009, edging closer to Alpha One’s side. She rested her hand near his.
‘Did he say anything when he arrived?’ BA004 asked.
‘Oh yes. He had a great deal to say. Not that I could make much sense of any of it.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, he was quite delirious. He stumbled into the room yelling something about a DataBlok. He shouted it several times. Get . . . DataBlok!’
‘DataBlok? Those tiny data chips that are personal records of our missions?’
‘Exactly. Anyhow, I asked him which DataBlok I had to get, from which mission, and that really upset him. He became most agitated, raving and ranting, muttering all sorts of strange things. And then he
‘So do we have any more to go on?’ asked Five.
‘You decide for yourselves.’ Professor Perdu moved to her control panel. ‘Luckily I recorded most of our conversation. I’ve already replayed it twice but I can’t get anything from it. See what you think.’
Professor Perdu flicked a switch and Alpha One’s voice filled the room.
Excerpted from Time Makers: Omega Squad 3 by Charlie Carter. Copyright © 2013 by Charlie Carter.
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