The blond man sat on a bench at the eastern end of the Serpentine in London’s Hyde Park and sipped coffee from a takeaway cup. The cut of his light grey suit marked it as being expensive and, with one leg casually crossed over the other, he looked like a thousand other office workers across the city enjoying the mid-morning sun. He watched as a married couple with a young girl threw bread to a horde of hungry ducks.
‘Attention Alpha One,’ a clear voice said through the hidden receiver in the blond man’s ear. ‘Target has entered through the Park Lane gate. He’s heading straight towards the bandstand, no deviation. ETA thirty seconds.’
The blond man took hold of the folded newspaper next to him and stood up from the bench. The child was now crying because her parents had run out of bread and they tried to cajole her, saying that daddy would go and get more but the girl’s tears continued to flow. The blond man shook his head and turned away.
‘Is he alone?’ he asked. His clipped accent suggested a private education.
‘Check,’ the voice confirmed in his ear. ‘No shadow.’
‘Good. Keep eyes open.’
The man made his way to the elaborate bandstand, dropped his coffee cup into one of the bins and locked eyes onto his target; a man whose blue shirt was damp with sweat. He approached the sweating man from behind and smiled as he saw the man shuffle from one foot to the other, his hands fidgeting at his side.
The blond man stopped close to his target’s shoulder but kept his face turned away. ‘Don’t turn around.’
The sweating man froze.
‘I’m going to open my newspaper,’ the blond man continued, ‘and you’re going to put the information in it. Do you understand?’
The other man nodded – quick and edgy – and pulled a small brown envelope from his trouser pocket. He slid it between the open folds of the newspaper next to him.
The blond man snapped the paper shut and tucked it under one arm. ‘I hope that this is what we agreed it’d be, Michael.’ He leaned in closer, ‘For your sake.’
‘Of course it’s what you want.’ Michael turned around to face him. ‘I just want all of this to be over, Jim, okay?’
‘I said not to turn around,’ Jim hissed, the threat in his words clear. ‘And never speak my name again.’
The man turned back. Sweat beaded faster on his forehead. He wiped it away and swallowed hard. ‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry.’
‘I want this to be over too, I really do,’ Jim continued, his voice now soft and gentle. ‘I want you to be able to go back to your wife and forget that any of this ever happened. I wonder, though, what Amanda would say if she knew about you and Sophie?’
‘I’ve given you what you’ve asked for,’ Michael replied, close to tears. ‘There’s no point in threatening me anymore.’
‘I’m just letting you know that you might forget but should anything be amiss then we won’t.’
Michael shook his head. ‘It isn’t. Trust me; that’s where you can find the Tiberius file.’
Jim leaned in close once more. ‘Then you’ve got nothing to worry about. Stay where you are for five minutes then … then do whatever you want. It’s a lovely day, Mike, why don’t you go and feed the ducks?’ He turned and walked away.
Michael remained rooted to the spot. A tear rolled down his cheek and he gave a shuddering breath of relief. ‘God help me.’ He wiped the tear away. ‘And God help the boy.’
This was one of those moments that Daniel Henstock dreaded. He sat in Mrs Warner’s classroom, gripping his desk with both hands and waited for his test sheet to be handed back.
Mrs Warner was something of a traditionalist and from time-to-time she told her class to put away their Tablets and inflicted an old-fashioned written exam on them. With each test paper she handed back, the noise in the room grew louder. Some of his classmates gave a triumphant “yes!” upon seeing the mark she’d given them – a bold number written in thick red ink in the top right hand corner of the sheet – whilst others moaned.
Throughout it all Daniel faced straight ahead, concentrating on one of the garish wall posters for the upcoming 2028 Olympic Games in Sao Paulo. He caught the waft of flowery perfume to his right before hearing the clack of her heels on the hard floor.
‘Another splendid effort, Daniel,’ Mrs Warner said as she placed the sheet on his work-station, her fingernails painted a soft pink. She had given him a mark of ninety-nine percent. She had even written “excellent” under it, with three exclamation marks. Daniel managed a thin smile.
‘A shame about question seventeen,’ she continued, ‘but never mind – you’re still the top of the class.’
He smiled at her again as she moved past, handing back the rest of the sheets. He had known the answer to question seventeen, just as he’d known the answer to all of the other questions Mrs Warner had ever set. Even as far back as primary school he’d known the answers to all of the questions any of his teachers had ever asked. He read the tutorial notes and the details just stuck. One read was all it took for him to remember.
But getting the answers right all the time wasn’t always the smartest move. Getting a few of the questions wrong every now and then didn’t make him seem quite so perfect.
Daniel turned to his right and looked down the room to his friend – his only real friend – Oliver Martins. Oliver was a podgy, red-faced boy who always had his shirt hanging loose out of his school trousers. He had a huge grin on his face and held up his sheet for Daniel to see; seventy-three percent, and mouthed, ‘You?’
Daniel held up a thumb and grinned.
It was then that he caught sight of Terry Llewellyn sitting in the row behind Oliver, scowling. Terry had taken an instant dislike to him ever since they had both started at Primrose Hill Academy five years ago and when Daniel started to get near faultless results in his tests Terry’s hatred grew.
Llewellyn stood at least ten centimetres taller than the rest of the boys in his year, had broad shoulders and played rugby with a brutish enthusiasm. Daniel had overheard some of the girls in his year one day and, if there was any truth in their whispered, giggling gossip, then Terry Llewellyn was an object of desire.
‘Like most people who’re good at sports, I suppose,’ Daniel had mused to Oliver afterwards. ‘You know, like footballers.’
‘Yeah,’ Oliver had answered with a grimace, ‘but Terry Llewellyn? He’s just a thug.’
Thug or not, there was something about him that the girls liked – something which Daniel didn’t have. Despite this, for some unknown reason, Terry took his academic success as a personal insult almost as if Daniel getting a high mark made Terry less of a man.
And Terry was not the sort of teenager any of his classmates would choose to annoy. Rumour had it that Llewellyn’s father was one of the few bare-knuckle boxers still left. It was an illegal activity – had been for over a dozen years – so Terry always answered the speculation with an enigmatic grin. The thought that it might be true only added to his reputation.
Daniel turned back in his seat, knowing that Terry would soon come seeking some sort of retribution and they were standing at the bank of lockers which sat on one side of the Academy’s second floor corridor when it happened. It was a quarter past three and the rest of the school pushed past them on their way home. Oliver reached inside his locker and pulled out a small box, wrapped in bright coloured paper.
‘Happy birthday,’ he said handing it to Daniel.
‘What?’ He shook his head. ‘You didn’t have to get me anything.’
‘It’s not much, but I know it’s something you want. Don’t open it now though,’ Oliver said closing the locker. ‘Has your mum got anything planned for tonight?’
‘She’s making out she hasn’t but I’m pretty sure she has. I’d like to get a run and swim in this afternoon but she likes to do the whole surprise party thing. I don’t think I’m going to have the chance.’
‘You’re lucky you don’t have any brothers or sisters. It’s not easy being the youngest of five, you know. I think mum and dad are fed up of birthdays and Christmases now. The best I get is an e-card and an Apps voucher, if I’m lucky. When you get home just give them a wide-eye surprised look and …’ Oliver’s face changed. ‘Don’t look now but Llewellyn and his lot are coming.’
Daniel did turn around. Terry Llewellyn, flanked by two boys of similar build; Kevin Linley and Colin Lawson, made their way along the corridor against the flow of the rest of the students. The hardness of Terry’s eyes and the curl of his lip made anyone that got close to him veer suddenly away.
‘Why don’t you get lost, Martins,’ Terry said as he reached them. He almost made it sound like a request.
Oliver stayed where he was for a moment.
‘It’s alright,’ Daniel told him. ‘I’ll see you tomorrow.’
‘If you want some, fat boy,’ Terry said with a smile, ‘there’s plenty to go round.’
‘Just go home, Oli,’ Daniel said. ‘And thanks for the present, yeah.’
Oliver nodded, stepping around Terry and his two thugs. With a final look over his shoulder – his eyes wide with concern – Oliver merged into the mass of teenagers leaving for the day.
‘What did your girlfriend get you then?’ Terry asked, prodding the wrapped box.
‘He’s not my girlfriend,’ Daniel replied, ‘and what’s it to you anyway?’
‘You think you’re smart, don’t you?’
‘Depends on the company. What do you want, Terry? I should be getting home.’
Terry put his arm around Daniel’s shoulder. ‘Oh, don’t be like that. We just wanted to have a chat, like.’
Daniel turned the corner on to Palmer Court and stopped to wipe his lips once more before reaching his house. The bleeding had stopped and even the swelling had gone down a little. His left eye was sore from the punch and he counted himself lucky that Terry’s effort had been lacklustre at best. Perhaps his bully was getting bored with it, after all.
Daniel turned his key in the lock and stepped into the hallway. The house was quiet. He closed the door and took off his jacket. He put the crumpled and torn remains of Oliver’s present, along with his keys, onto the table. ‘Mum? Dad? Are you in?’
He checked his reflection in a mirror. Does it look as if I’ve been punched? He ran a hand through his hair. No, maybe not. He moved over to the lounge door, opened it, and was hit by a wall of sound.
The lounge had been decked out with coloured banners and balloons. His parents stood ahead of everyone else, singing their hearts out. Oliver was also there and Daniel could see his friend was worried about what Terry had done. The singing finished and was quickly followed by hugs and kisses from his mum and dad. Daniel blushed crimson with embarrassment. He was right though – no one had even noticed the swelling on his cheekbone.
It was twenty minutes later, after presents had been handed out and the birthday cake cut, before Oliver could pull Daniel to one side. They stepped into the hallway where it was quieter. ‘What happened after I left?’
‘The usual, you know,’ Daniel answered, mumbling through a piece of cake. ‘No big deal.’
‘We’re going to have to do something about him.’ Oliver’s eyes flickered doubtfully. ‘Well, you know what I mean. Someone should anyway.’
‘Do what though?’ Daniel laughed. ‘Saying anything’ll just make it worse. Besides, I think he’s losing interest in it all – his punches didn’t hurt half as much as they used to. Look, I’m not even bruised, am I? And after term finishes I’ll probably never have to see him again. So what’s the point?’
‘Look, just forget it. If he behaves like that in the real world then he’ll have the police after him in no time. I’d be surprised if they don’t already have him on their radar. Don’t worry about him, he’s nothing.’
‘Don’t worry about him? Right. Well he picks on you, so whatever you think’s best.’
‘Yeah, just forget him.’
There was a moment or two of awkward silence before Oliver spoke again. ‘Anyway, did you like your present?’
Daniel bit his lip and glanced down at the torn, crumpled box he had left on the glass table. Oliver followed his eye. A polymer action figurine lay broken in the paper and card box. ‘What happened to it?’
‘Terry broke it?’ Oliver’s voice was strained.
‘No. He just knocked it out of my hand. It was Kevin Linley who stepped on it.’
Oliver reached down and picked the box up. The figure was a character from the sci-fi series Border Patrol. ‘But Chett Peterson is your favourite.’
‘He is and it was a really great present. Look, I’ll pay you back for it.’
‘No. It wasn’t you who broke it.’ Oliver’s face creased and it looked as if he was about to burst into tears. ‘It’s not right –’
‘A little bird tells me that you had some test marks back today,’ Daniel’s mum appeared behind them. She wore her best dress and had even put her antique pearls on for the occasion. She put an arm around Daniel’s shoulder and kissed his cheek, leaving a ruby red lipstick mark behind.
Oliver quickly hid the broken present behind his back.
Daniel turned to his friend. ‘A little bird, eh?’
‘My mum told your mum when she dropped me off,’ Oliver apologised. ‘Sorry.’
‘So?’ His mum continued. ‘How did it go?’
‘Yeah, it went well.’
‘Is that all? It just went well? What mark did you get?’
He was almost too embarrassed to say. ‘Ninety-nine percent.’
She wrapped her arms around him and kissed his face several more times. ‘You’re such a clever boy. We’re so proud of you.’
‘Mum!’ Daniel fought his way out from her embrace, his cheeks as red as the lipstick. ‘It was an easy test, everyone scored high.’
‘Nonsense,’ she answered him with a smile. ‘You’re a very special boy.’
Arthur Thomas took his usual window seat on the six forty-five Mag-Lev evening train from London’s Paddington station heading west.
He took out a sleek data terminal from his briefcase and started to update a file. The compartment filled quickly and, even in First Class, there were few empty seats. The sound of someone sitting opposite him caused him to look up. Instead of seeing Elaine Richardson, the middle-aged barrister who normally sat there, Arthur stared into the face of a blond man wearing a fashionable, light grey suit.
‘Excuse me,’ Arthur said; his voice soft and reedy. ‘I’m sorry but I believe that seat’s been reserved by Miss Richardson. Look, there’s the reservation code in the seat-back.’
The man regarded him thoughtfully for a moment then twisted around to look at the digital display. He turned to face Arthur again. ‘If she turns up I’ll move.’
‘I see,’ Arthur muttered. ‘But she always catches this train, you know.’
‘Like I said; if she turns up, I’ll move.’ Although the man spoke politely and had the faint trace of a smile on his lips, there was a distinct, underlying edge to his voice.
Arthur smiled back and gave a trace of a nod. He wasn’t a coward; it was just that he detested any form of confrontation. ‘Yes, yes of course.’
The siren on the platform sounded and the train doors closed silently. It rose on its magnetic cushion and, without as much as a gentle jolt, made its way out of the station.
‘Looks like I get to keep the seat after all,’ the man said with a broader smile, ‘must be my lucky day. I’m Jim, by the way.’
‘Arthur.’ He gave a faint smile in reply then turned back to his data terminal.
Jim continued to stare at him for a few moments before glancing at a red-headed man sitting two places behind Arthur. Their eyes met and Jim nodded once. The man produced a can of lager from his jacket, opened it and took a large swig. He stood up and, in a loud, out-of-tune voice, began singing a football song. He swung the can around and spilled beer onto the other passengers. Arthur turned at the noise, just as half of the can’s contents were tipped over him.
He raised his arms in a futile attempt to protect himself. ‘What the hell do you think you’re doing?’
‘Sorry,’ the man said clambering over the passengers between them, his speech slurred. ‘I’m really sorry, mate. Are you alright?’
‘Don’t be ridiculous, of course I’m not. Look at me.’
The man wiped a dirty hand down Arthur’s shirt. ‘I’m really sorry.’
‘You’re making it worse. Please, just … just go and sit back down, will you?’
‘Now there’s no need to get funny about it,’ the drunk replied, his voice gaining an angry edge. ‘I said I was sorry.’
‘I’m not getting angry,’ Arthur replied, a forced smile on his lips. ‘All I asked was if you could go back to your seat.’
‘I get you,’ the drunk replied, poking a finger into Arthur’s chest. ‘Just because you wear a fancy suit and work in an office you think you’re better than me. Don’t you?’ He jerked the can at Arthur and more lager spilled onto him.
‘Come on then.’ The drunk grabbed Arthur with his free hand and hauled him into the aisle. ‘Let’s see how tough you are now.’
At that moment a porter entered the carriage from the far end, spotted what was happening and, with a frown, made his way towards the two men.
As soon as Arthur had been pulled from his seat, and with everyone else paying attention to what was happening in the aisle, Jim snatched the data terminal from on top of the table and moved it onto his lap. From his jacket pocket he produced a small display unit with a universal connector lead attached to one end and plugged it into Arthur’s terminal.
Jim tapped on the display unit screen a few times and a message flashed “Clone Device?” Jim tapped the screen once more and the message changed to “Clone in Progress”. A status bar appeared at the bottom of the screen, charting the process.
‘What’s the problem here?’ the porter asked as he reached Arthur and the drunk.
‘This lunatic threw beer all over me,’ Arthur replied, ‘and when I asked him to sit back in his seat he became extremely violent. He was singing too and this is supposed to be a quiet carriage, after all.’
‘There’s no trouble,’ the drunk said to the porter. ‘No trouble.’ His eyes darted to Jim. No one else noticed the slight shake of the blond man’s head.
‘Do you have a ticket for this carriage?’ the porter asked the drunk.
‘Course I do.’
‘Can I see it?’
The drunk patted his pockets, spilling more beer over Arthur as he did so.
‘Oh, this is ridiculous,’ Arthur said to the porter. ‘This man clearly has no ticket.’
The drunk flashed his eyes towards Jim once more who gave another almost imperceptible shake of his head. The drunk took another swig of lager.
‘Sir, do you have a ticket?’
The progress bar on the display unit read one hundred percent and the message changed to “Clone Complete”. Jim disconnected Arthur’s terminal and slid it back onto the table.
‘Alright, alright,’ the drunk said to the porter. ‘It’s a fair cop, you got me.’ He held his wrists out. ‘I’ll come quietly, officer.’
As the porter led the drunk away along the carriage Arthur sat back down, dabbing his jacket with a handkerchief.
Jim flashed him a smile. ‘Some people, huh?’
Jim made his way through the automatic barriers at Reading station and headed to a saloon car parked close by. He sat in the passenger’s seat and plugged his display unit’s connector into a socket in the car’s central console. A panel in the dashboard spun around to reveal a touch screen. Jim tapped at the screen and a list of the copied files from Arthur’s terminal was displayed.
He selected the one titled “Tiberius”
The car driver’s door opened and the red-headed drunk from the train sat next to him. Jim opened the Tiberius file and a class photo of Daniel Henstock displayed on the screen, its time-stamp showing it had been taken three years ago. He scrolled down and Daniel’s home address and personal details were displayed.
‘Is it what we want?’ the red-head asked, all traces of his slurred speech now gone.
Jim nodded. ‘That’s the one. And it’s his birthday too,’ Jim said, pointing at the screen. ‘Sixteen today. What present do you think he’d like?’
The red-head gave a snigger. ‘Nothing that he’s gonna get.’ He fired the car’s ignition and eased it out of the car park.
Jim took a mobile phone from his jacket and in a clear voice said, ‘Call, Control.’
The call clicked through after one ring. ‘Yes?’ a cold voice answered.
‘It’s Alpha One, sir. Our Intel was correct; the old man did have the data.’ Jim paused as if to add weight to his next four words.
‘Tiberius has been found.’
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish