Bryan pulled into the hotel determined to have it go better. This time, the attitude he got at the front desk was totally different as he tried arranging for adjoining rooms, offering to pay a hefty, only partially refundable, damage assurance fee so the three boys and the dog could have their own room. At first the desk clerk balked at the request, saying she could lose her job. However, after Bryan offered to talk to the manager and even pay double if need be, the very polite woman quickly summoned the manager.
Alex and Ryan found their attention pulled away from the news on the holovid as a rather aloof man appeared, scolded the desk lady for bothering him, and turned his attention toward Bryan with a rather smug sounding voice. "Sir, this hotel simply does not allow ruffians to have a room to themselves."
"Ruffians?" Alex asked in a rather shocked and angry voice, "What did we ever do…"
Before the man could do more than glare at Alex, Bryan shook his head and pointed at all three boys. "I don't need backup yet, but keep your eyes open."
He then turned and dropped his travel card on the counter. Bryan's whole demeanor turned darker and his voice exuded an almost sinister, very perilous, undertone. "I have had a long day, sir. Don't try me. The last hotel employee to do so didn't end up having a very good day. Just give me a damage waiver cost or something and get me the rooms!"
Alex's eyes went wide and he backed up a step, pulling Ryan and Evan back as he did so. In his entire life, he could not ever remember his dad sound so forceful or dangerous as he did at this instant.
The manager frowned deeply, but as he looked over at Bryan, then down at the three boys, something caused him to pause. Maybe it was the fact three of the four of them looked angry enough to start chewing on him, or maybe it was the fact others in the hotel were now turning their attention to him and he didn't want a big scene. No matter the reason, the man reluctantly took the offered travel card in one hand while coming up with a price that was several steps above unreasonable for the boys and their dog to have a room of their own.
Bryan edged closer to the desk and his voice took a truly ominous tone, "Fine, I'll pay, but if one single thing is wrong with the service here. If there is so much as a speck of dust in the rooms I am renting, or there is a dirty spot on a towel, washcloth, sheet, or pillowcase you better be ready to deal with me face to face. If I find the rooms without toilet paper, or a single hair in the tub or on the bathroom floor, I will hold you personally responsible. Do I make myself totally clear?"
The manager turned a bit pale as he edged over to the card terminal, clearly wondering if he had underestimated the man across from him. The look quickly went from bad to worse. Of course it didn't help matters when the rather skeptical, German-business-suit-wearing, day manager ran Bryan's travel card.
Even before the amount of the stay was punched in, the computerized terminal displayed available funds. With a bit of a smirk, Bryan nodded at the man and leaned forward to give a retinal scan to verify the person in control of the card was really him.
Beads of sweat appeared almost instantly as the man behind the desk came to the sudden realization the slightly overweight balding guy was not the average Unified North American tourist. In fact the guy in front of him had enough money on his travel debit card to buy the hotel and the surrounding few blocks of London without causing so much as a flicker on the number appearing on the terminal. "Sir, are you sure we cannot interest you in…"
Bryan was not normally an aggressive man. In fact, unless he was in a lab with scientific equipment surrounding him, he was actually quite timid most of the time. Today, however, he found within himself an assertive, bordering on aggressive side, and it was getting stronger as the day wore on. "If I was interesting in something else at the moment, my boys and I would already have it."
Bryan pulled out the card given to him by the customs guy and thrust it into the now shaking hands of the manager. "But since you choose to think my boys will somehow be destructive to your rooms and you charged me so much, I will let you give this gentleman a call. Tell him where I am staying, what room my boys are in and what room I am in. He will need to know he should find a guard for a close friend of my boys as well. Furthermore, since he will be arranging for bodyguards for us, I expect you to provide interconnecting rooms for them as well. They need to have easy access to us."
"Sir, I don't currently have four interconnecting rooms…"
Bryan gave the man a sharp glare and spoke in a rather harsh tone, "Then you best figure out how to make it happen so you do. You certainly have no problem taking my money and belittling my boys, so I expect… No, actually, I demand the services equal to the price you are charging me. Or would you prefer I find your boss?"
The man glanced down at the credit terminal and gulped, "No, no, I am sure I can manage to arrange for interconnecting suites for you, your children, and your security detail. Would you and your wonderful boys care for a complimentary meal in our fine dining establishment while I get things organized?"
"Actually, I think my boys would prefer to go swimming. I assume you are capable of finding them some swimwear, since the storm has prevented us from doing some much needed shopping."
"I will send someone to get what you need at once, Mr. Caldwell. In the meantime, we have a fine game room for their pleasure!"
"Excellent. Take the needed funds off my card and arrange for each of them to have an unlimited game card so they can unwind. In the meantime, I need private access to a secure computer so I can gather some information from my ship. I expect my boys will be swimming within the hour under the watchful eye of one of your hotel security detail and one of your staff will be available to take care of the dog so they don't have to worry about it for a time. I will, of course, pay extra for said service. It would be in your personal best interests for us to find our rooms available before dusk, and the private security guards in place before nightfall."
"I will make it happen, Mr. Caldwell." The man's head was now bobbing up and down, making it hard for Ryan and Alex to not outright laugh.
Bryan turned away from the man and nodded to Alex who looked quite shocked at his dad's forceful behavior, having never even imagined the most gentle, loving man he had ever met had it in him to raise his voice to a complete stranger. As the manager hurriedly pointed for a security guard to accompany Bryan to a secure computer, Alex couldn't help but wonder if Uncle Stan had given his dad some lessons on how to deal with jerks like the hotel manager, or if the magic had somehow changed his father. No matter what the cause, he liked what he was seeing.
Alex pointed to Evan, "Hey, you better go with my dad so he can arrange for proper protection for your family and so he can get ahold of all the right people."
"What do I tell my mum?"
Ryan smiled, "Tell her I was an exchange student in one of your classes this year and my dad came to see me. You and I happened to meet in the street and you agreed to stay with us because of the storm. Since my dad hasn't been here and wanted me to be around someone I knew, he offered you a sweet deal. I'll let you work out the rest of the details."
Evan nodded and hurried to catch up to Bryan.
"Nice one!" Alex grinned.
"I learned how to lie real well at the orphanage. It became a survival thing."
Before Alex's thoughts could go any further, the woman who had been behind the front desk when they arrived appeared, "Boys, I will be getting you some swimwear. Where is your brother?"
Ryan once again proved he was really gifted in the arts of deceit, "Cousin, actually. He had to go with my dad to let his mom know where we would be staying. She was kind of freaked out with him spending the whole summer with us, so she needs to hear from him at least a couple of times a week. If this storm is on the news, then she is probably biting through her fingernails right about now."
"I can certainly understand." The woman voice told of her caring and understanding. "If I could trouble you two to come over to the computer to show me what styles and colors you each would like?"
"What about Evan?"
"I will get with him as soon as he comes out of the security room. Only management and security are allowed in there normally. Don't worry. I will make sure you three, and the dog, are all well taken care of during your stay."
Alex glanced at his dad and Evan as they disappeared around a corner, then looked up, showing his astonishment at how well he was being treated, "Sorry, ma'am. My dad does not normally do this. As long as the swim trunks fit and they're not pink, I'll be fine."
Ryan nudged Alex playfully, "Oh, you'd look so cute in pink!"
"I'm throwing you in." Alex responded with a laugh before turning his attention back to the woman, "How about some of those that kind of look like long shorts with side pockets?"
"Sure, how about a color?"
"Something in black and red or blue and yellow would be fine, ma'am. You can make his pink!" He pointed at Ryan.
The woman seemed to ease some at hearing how polite Alex was. At the same time she couldn't help but smile at the teasing comments as she turned to look at Ryan.
Ryan flashed a huge grin, "Same style is fine, but just to make my brother happy, get it in black and pink." He then lightly pushed Alex again. "You may toss me in, but you'll be getting dunked by the guy in pink!"
The woman snickered, "Are you serious about wanting black and pink?"
"Oh yeah!" Ryan grinned evilly. "Just no hearts or anything too stupid!"
"You got it, young man." The woman chuckled as she handed over a couple of game cards. "These fit into all the games. We don't have a way to put unlimited access on them, but if they run out, all you have to do is go up to the terminal in the game room and they will be automatically set back to maximum. If you happen to lose them, you need to tell us right away so we can get your old ones cancelled and issue you new ones. The most we can put on each of them is one hundred international credits, so we did. They also work for food from the vending machines, and I'll arrange for the restaurants to take them for all of you as well."
"Ma'am, you really don't need to go to all the trouble. It was kind of a bad day for us at the airport with the storm and all. My dad isn't going to freak out if you treat us like everyone else." Alex stated, knowing his dad normally hated any favoritism.
"You know young man, I find your attitude rather refreshing, but really it is no real trouble. Besides, your father has done all of us working here a great favor by reminding our boss, he is not nearly as important as he likes to think he is."
Ryan grinned, "Well, if the bloke is really so awful, I'd be more than happy to be very nice to all of you, while making the next few days the worst in his life. I'm sure Alex would be in for such an event as well. All you have to do is give us the word, ma'am."
The lady covered her mouth to cut off some of her laughter. "You have no idea how tempting…"
Alex gave a deep bow. "Then we have a deal. You get us the swim suits and we mess with your boss."
"Now boys, I have to get your suits; it's my job, and I really don't want to lose it."
"Not going to happen." Alex assured the nervous woman. "Whenever he makes you deal with us, we'll shape up for a while. He'll either promote you or he'll quit by the time we're done."
"Besides, ma'am," Ryan added with a sly twinkle in his eyes, "you need to say nothing more. We will find out who his boss is by hook or crook and tell him what an outstanding job you do. If your boss doesn't treat you right, we'll also tell his boss just how poorly mister know-it-all manages."
"Ok boys, I'll warn the staff I can trust, but make sure you don't get any of us fired or anything."
"Consider it done, ma'am." Ryan gave a bow very similar to the one done by Alex. Neither of them realized they had just preformed an absolutely perfect royal court bow fit for a person coming before a queen from centuries past.
As the two boys exchanged glances and made a dash for the game room, Bryan entered the small security room with Evan and was directed to a side computer.
The guard moved forward. "The storm has messed with getting a good signal, but I'll get you set with a secure link…"
The sides of Bryan's mouth twisted upward, "No need."
The guard frowned deeply, "But was told you needed a secure uplink for off shore communications."
"I do, but I am not going through a commercial system. I'll be linking up to one of my own satellites."
Even as the guard's jaw dropped, Bryan's fingers flew over the keyboard. Within a minute he had established a link and had the computers on Cynthia run a back trace and send an encrypted file into the hotel's mainframe. Once this was established, he sent a brand-new broadcast channel accessible to only himself and Cynthia's communication system. Satisfied the link was now all but impenetrable, he glanced back and motioned for the guard to leave.
The guard started to say something, only to be cut off by Bryan, "Young man, my company built the communication system in this hotel. If I happen to screw something up, I'll replace it with the newest version, but trust me, it won't happen. I designed it."
The guard took a deep breath, glanced at a very nervous looking Evan and stepped out, closing and locking the door as he did so. Bryan glanced out the window to make sure the guard was staying at the door before he turned on the microphone. "Stan, are you on?"
A rather static filled reply came back, "We are, but world-wide communications are barely functioning. Whatever is going on, it is disrupting everything. All those waves of whatever are causing full breaks across a wide spectrum, including all radio traffic. Your filters are probably the only reason we are talking without periods of total breakup at the moment. I strongly recommend you get your butts back to the ship."
Bryan glanced at the keyboard and grumbled. "Give me remote access for a moment and stand by."
A few seconds later Stan's voice came back. "It's all yours, boss."
Bryan glanced over at Evan, "Take a seat. With this storm, I bet your mom is going out of her mind, and having the communication link breaking up as you are talking to her would not very comforting to her. I should have this fixed in no time."
Evan started to say something, only to find he had nothing to say. The very fact he had just heard the man had his own satellites was just one more in a growing list of things the boy was finding too astounding for his brain to fully wrap around.
Bryan gave the youngster a friendly grin and pointed to a chair next to him. "Have a seat, I really don't bite."
Evan managed a small, yet nervous grin as he pulled up the chair. "I have never seen anyone type so fast!"
Bryan chuckled, "Normally I don't have to. But with interruptions in communications it is the best way to keep the data until it can be sent between the waves of … um, magic..." Bryan shuddered, "I still can't believe this…"
"Me neither, sir, and I saw it."
"Yes, but even seeing does not make believing any easier, especially for a lifelong guy of science."
"Maybe there is some kind of science, or at least pattern, behind it, sir."
Bryan's fingers paused, hovering over the keyboard for a few moments as he glanced back at Evan. As if a light bulb came on in his head, his slight frown changed to more of a bemused grin and his eyebrows shot up. "Laws of magic?"
Bryan nodded slowly as he patted Evan on the shoulder. Without saying another word his fingers once again went to work. This caused the keyboard to sound more like an automated machine than something human fingers were hitting. He first pulled up all reading on the strange phenomenon being gathered by Cynthia's systems, then pulled up a dozen more screens. His eyes darted over the multiple streams of incoming information, muttering in annoyance as the screens kept fading out as each new wave of energy cut through filters he had designed to maintain satellite communication in every possible extreme including another nuclear war.
Still, while holovid screens across the world were totally filled with static with each wave, his system didn't totally cut out, allowing him to analyze almost every aspect of the disruptions much faster than anyone else on the planet. He spent a few minutes trying to adjust frequency ranges, with little effect, then changed tactics altogether. Bryan started streaming multiple simultaneous paths while adjusting the hotel's system and Cynthia's systems to be able to handle it.
Less than five minutes later, even Evan's untrained eye could see the difference as the computer terminal no longer faded at all and data streamed flawlessly from wherever the man next to him was pulling the information from. "Wow!" he whispered in awe as Bryan made a few more tweaks to the dataflow and nodded in satisfaction.
Bryan quickly reached over and gave Evan a quick hug. "Excellent idea young man! The disruption is hitting different frequencies at slightly different times, so I can bypass the whole mess with what is already available! I owe you one, son."
With a victorious grin he then hit the voice transmit again, "OK, Stan, how does this sound?"
An astonishment filled snort was the first response. "Boss, you are a-freakin-mazing! Whatever you did makes the last couple of hours spent by the whole communications team here a giant waste of time. Your sound is clear as ever, maybe even better than before! Now, as I was saying, you should get back here. The world is going crazy!"
Bryan glanced over at Evan and snickered, "No, it was already crazy, now it has dropped into the realm of the insane. But at the moment we can't come back. Anyway, I am in a perfect spot to study this as I actually think we have a brand new field of science opening up before us and we are dead center in the middle of it. To be honest, I am all but certain we are the cause, or at least Alex and Ryan are."
"The cause!" A very worried voice came back. "Are they OK?"
"Fine, maybe even better than fine, at least I think so. I'll fill you in shortly, but pass on to the science teams to stop playing with what Alex found. We currently believe each of those items is meant for someone very specific. Also, I want… No, I need you to assign as many people as it takes to track down another friend of Alex's, Zachery Norris. Finding him at all costs is a must, and if what Alex, Ryan and Evan believe to be true is indeed the case, he needs our help in the worst possible way."
"The kid from Hawaii?" Stan's voice sounded skeptical, but his voice changed as the rest of what was said sunk in. "Alex hasn't had any contact with him in… Who is Evan, and what does Ryan…"
"Stan!" Bryan did something he could never remember doing before. He cut the man off in mid-sentence. "Trust me on this and find him. It is beyond important to both Ryan and Alex, and may be vital to getting a handle on what we are seeing worldwide."
Stan's whole tone changed as he heard urgency in Bryan's voice. "All you had to say is it is for Alex, but don't you think you are taking things a bit over the edge by saying finding a kid is important to what is currently happening on seven continents and at least half a score of islands?"
"Stan, I'm sorry, but the answer really is NO this time. We have to locate the boy. There are several things rapidly slamming together in ways much too bizarre to be mere random coincidences. I am on edge about this, but I can all but assure you, he is part of this, and even worse, Alex and Ryan will both have my head if we don't locate him."
"So Ryan knows the boy too?"
"Umm," Bryan suddenly thought back to the conversation at the airport and felt a tingling feeling shoot down his back. "Well, I guess he at least knows of him. I know I am sounding a bit nuts at the moment and am not giving you all the information, but I'm not so sure how much I even know or understand yet. So, you'll just have to go with the insanity of what I am asking for now." Bryan held up a finger, "One other thing, Stan, there is something else I need you to do while COSAM is blanketing the globe looking for him."
"Name it, boss; this sounds important."
"Well, I just got a strong gut hunch, and if it's right then it may be critical. Pull the kid's, um, Zachary's birth records and compare them to Alex's and Ryan's. If it is what I suspect, I need you and only you to comb the world and find out who else fits into the same criteria."
"Sure, but I have a full file on Zachery. Getting information of other kids would require getting into national and international secured databases."
"First we ask nicely; anyone who says no, we inform them of a price increase. If this still doesn't do the trick, I'll personally crack in and take what we need. But first I need to know if my guess is correct."
"Boss… I mean, well… Sure. How will I know what to look for?"
Bryan's fingers continued to move over the keyboard as he started downloading his communication fix to send into his phone, while sending a duplicate fix over to Alex's. "Trust me, Stan. It'll stick out, especially as thorough as you are. To be honest, if this plays out like I am suspecting it will, you won't even have to tell me the answer because your voice will probably sound as anxious as I feel. Also I need two more encrypted phones like Alex and I have, same access, same apps. Also, get a third ready so we can get Zachery one when we find him. All three will need a security file put in for single person access only as well, so you'll need to send a rental scan case."
"Alright boss, I'm on it… So, if I find this Zachery Norris, you want me to send him to you?"
"When you find him, Stan, not if. And the answer is yes."
"OK… Well it looks like you don't care what it costs."
"Spend whatever it takes, and if or when money is not enough, I give you full permission to bend arms in very uncomfortable ways."
"OK, what happened to my former boss? You can't be him!"
Bryan chuckled, "As the pieces start to fall into place in your head like they have mine, you'll understand."
Stan let out a long breath, "All right, one last tough question. What if his parents say no?"
"If what we here suspect, he may be in a worse spot than Ryan was. If not, then pay whatever it takes to get his whole family here. And in case you're interested, this is one time I will not take no for an answer. I think things will become a bit clearer in short order."
"You sound worried, boss; what about sending you some extra security."
"Normally I'd have said yes. Unfortunately, we have other even more immediate problems to deal with, which you and your people are probably better-served handling, than worrying about me. Besides, I really liked the military guy you sent to talk to me, and he has promised me the type of guards I want for Ryan, Alex and Evan."
"OK, boss," Stan's voice hardened, "this is the third or fourth time you have mentioned the name Evan. Who is he? What is the situation with him? And even more important, since it sounds like he is going to be spending a great deal of time around Alex, what is his full name and family address, so I can do a background on him and his family."
Bryan temporarily killed the voice feed and shot a smile over to Evan. "Don't worry; he is this way with anyone who ends up around my boys for more than a couple of days. Besides, the background check will only confirm what you are going to tell him, so don't sweat it"
He quickly plugged his phone into the terminal and turned the micro-camera so it was pointed at Evan and turned it on while reactivating the sound feed. Bryan's voice hardened. "Stan, this a new friend of my boys. Run all the background checks you want, but no matter what you find, he stays with Ryan, Alex and me until I say differently."
Bryan paused, "And, Stan, he needs help. Some I can do, others are directly in line with your former and overall preferred style of dealing with things. His family's problems need to come to an abrupt halt, and I really don't care how you do it"
Stan's face appeared in the holographic display module next to the computer station looking rather shocked. "My former… Are you… um, like under the radar stuff?"
Bryan shrugged, "In my opinion, the new boys you brought from Down Under would be a really good start."
"A start?" Stan shouted, "You do remember me telling you they are among the best and most dangerous men I have ever worked with, right?"
"As a matter of fact, I do. A way's back, when you came to tell Alex face to face how his mother had died, he cried on your shoulder and asked you why people had to fight and die. Your answer was not one I really agreed with, until now. Sometimes one must put his or her life on the line and be prepared to use extreme prejudice to prevent others from suffering. This is a case where your level of extreme prejudice is what I want, maybe even a step further. Stan, whatever resources, funds or contacts need to be used and abused, just get it done and make sure whatever fix you feel is best, is also permanent."
Stan let out a long whistle and turned, directing a couple others to exit the room he was in. "Sir, I think I need to remind you, COSAM bylaws forbid any clandestine undertakings except to counter corporation espionage."
Bryan's eyes narrowed. "I know, I helped write them, and now I am allowing, actually demanding, an exception be made."
"My level of prejudice is not small. So the next question I have is, how major an exception are you talking?"
"Short of starting another multi-country war, I really don't care," Bryan stated blatantly. He then stood and moved to stand behind Evan. "This young man has a serious problem and I want it ended yesterday."
Bryan put both his hands on Evan's small thin shoulders, "Evan, I want you to start from the beginning of the mess surrounding your dad and take us both through everything. The more Stan here knows, the angrier he will get and the unhappier those who have harmed you and your family will be. I want you to include every detail, including how and why you ended up meeting me and my boys."
He then stared directly into the camera, "And Stan, no matter how outlandish some of the things you are about to hear sound, believe him. Like it or not, I have seen some of what he will tell you and I am afraid this is only the beginning. In the last couple of hours our world has started to change and this fine boy is part of the puzzle."
Stan scowled for a moment, then nodded. "All right, Evan, we'll take this for the top. I gather someone has hurt you and your family?"
Evan's voice squeaked, his hands shook, and a tear slid down his cheek, "Uh huh."
Stan both heard and saw the fear, even as he felt an internal rage grow, his voice became much calmer, deadly calm to be precise. "Son, those days are over for you and soon will be for everyone else you love. Take a breath, go slow and trust me when I say you have never in your young life been as safe as you are right now." Even as he talked to the lad, Stan turned on the communicators to the men he had just hired from Australia by remote and sent an alert tone to each unit so the men would know to grab them and listen in.
In order to give the men an idea of what they were listening to, he continued to speak. "Remember, Evan, the more details you can give me, the faster I and my people will be able to deal with whoever has been harming you. If your family is in danger, I also need cell phone numbers and addresses. If you are certain of any locations those who have hurt you are at or operating out of, you need to let me know this as well. As of now you are under COSAM protection and, believe me when I say, COSAM Special Action Teams will take it from here!"
Before Evan was even half done explaining the situation leading to him being attacked on the streets of London, Stan sent an emergency message through COSAM headquarters. In turn, COSAM fired off a message advising the UB government of a possible terrorist attack against COSAM interests in England, requesting, almost demanding, they be allowed to handle it, using UB forces for backup only. Even before a green light was given for COSAM security forces to deal with the threat, a pair of stealth attack helicopters lifted off the forward deck of Cynthia. Two squads of heavily armed men double-checked each other's gear as the pilots turned the noses of the aircraft and pointed them toward the dense black clouds clinging to the English coastline.
Little could anyone know, as the men continued to angrily listen to the sobbing child talk of the horrible things the gang members had done, they would be the first to fire shots in what was soon to become a worldwide battle for the future of everyone.
Back in the game room, Alex and Ryan quickly befriended a couple other boys. Within minutes, the four were seated in cockpit-like pods, all hooked up to one another. Each pod allowed them to pilot a heavily armed robot in a holographic battlefield. As Ryan familiarized himself with all the controls he turned on a radio linking him to the other pods. "Let's fight as a team against the computer the first few times so we can all get used to how these things work. Once we have it down, we can do a free-for-all or make teams."
The others quickly agreed. The four youngsters continued to get to know each other while taking turns gloating and giving good natured jibes at their own successes and each other's failures. The first five games went great, each boy getting more comfortable with the controls, until they all had down even the most advanced features. But halfway through the sixth session, one of the others seemed to get a bit wild with his shots and talk from his pod dropped off a great deal.
Ryan, who was his team mate even heard things like: "What?", "No way.", "Come on, stop it.", "Did you see that?", and "Who said that?"
Each time, Ryan would try to respond, only to find the kid sounding confused, and even a bit scared. Still the boy's responses were short and seemed to point to some sort of mechanical problem, "I guess it's nothing. I think the pod is acting up. Are you sure you didn't see that thing in the sky?", and a couple of, "I think I am getting sound from somewhere else."
After the sixth five-minute session, all four climbed out and glanced around, making sure no one else was interested in jumping in before Alex made his way back over to swipe his card, only to see Ryan's partner hold up his hands while using his shoulder to wipe beads of sweat off his forehead. When he spoke his voice didn't sound carefree either. "Sorry guys, I'm out."
Ryan frowned, "It sure sounded like your pod was acting up, there are a couple of others and I'll even swipe you in for another round."
The kid noticeably gulped and shook his head. "Thanks, maybe tomorrow if you are all still here." All three of the other boys noticed the boy glanced back at the pod he had been commanding for the last half an hour with an almost fearful look, then back at the three of them, eyeing the boy Alex had teamed up with specifically, before exiting the game room.
As the boy continued to walk down the hall toward the elevators, Ryan frowned deeply. "Alex, I know your dad said to stick together, but something is way off. Something happened to him in there. Take another round with Lyle or something. I need to go talk to him."
"Any chance of…?" Alex tapped his necklace to finish the question.
"I think so." Ryan tossed his card to the other boy, "Use my credits, I am sure I have more than you and I don't want Alex alone at the moment." At the same time he leaned into Alex. "I don't like the feel I was getting when I was in my pod, and I had to make the ring calm again. He is going to be safer with you than alone, and," he pointed down the hall, "he is certainly better off with me than without me."
Alex nodded, "Go. I'll challenge Lyle to a couple of other games until you get back, but don't leave the hotel no matter what."
Ryan gave a sharp nod and took off after the departing boy.
The other kid caught the card and observed Ryan as he basically ran out of the game room. Noting a few other kids had watched the whole exchange with at least some degree of interest, he turned to Alex, "What gives?"
"I don't know for sure." Alex stated and shrugged, "But Craig didn't do so well this last time and my brother hates it when he thinks he may have hurt someone else's feelings. He probably said something he shouldn't have, or at least thinks he did."
The boy frowned, making it clear he was not fully buying the story. "So why did he tell me he didn't want you alone?"
Alex, knowing he was not nearly as good at hiding the truth as Ryan was, decided to go with more truth than lie. He let out a long sigh. "Normally we don't tell kids we meet what I am about to, Lyle, so if you don't want to hang with me after this, I'll understand."
Lyle's brow furled, "What, you got something wrong with you or something I need to watch out for?"
Alex shook his head, "No, I'm not sick or anything. To be honest, our dad is really wealthy and we are supposed to stick together until our bodyguards get here." Alex kind of blushed as he pointed at the card Ryan had tossed to Lyle, "Swipe it, and you'll see what I mean."
"Bodyguards?" The kid stared at Alex, firmly believing the boy was pulling his leg. Getting nothing more than a shrug, Lyle stepped up to the center post where there was a place to read how much was left on a card and if need be, recharge it by putting in cash. The second he did so, however, the seventy-five credits left on the card was updated to automatically read one hundred. The kid frowned, "It just updated to read one hundred!"
Alex nodded then tossed his card over, "Now try mine."
As the machine once again caused the Alex's card to max out, Alex rolled his eyes, "Unlimited gaming is just one of the perks our dad is giving us this time. Unfortunately, it comes at the price of having what amounts to a babysitter before we can do much of anything." He then pointed to a hotel security man. "He is currently radioing for someone to come take his spot here, so he can go chase after my brother. My dad is paying a small fortune for this service and I am stuck with one of them until my new bodyguard gets here."
Alex then pointed to a bag hung next to the pod he had just come out of, "And in there is swimsuits dad had the hotel staff buy for us since we didn't bring any. The second I go swimming, the security guy will follow me to the pool. It kind of sucks."
Lyle gazed into Alex's eyes looking for any sign of deceit. Finding none, he decided to test him. "So if you go to the bathroom, hotel security will follow you and not watch the game room?"
"Yeah." Alex pointed out the guard who had been on watch was quickly moving down the hall to catch up to Ryan. "Give it a second for the replacement for hotel security to show up."
Before Alex could even grab the bag off the pod Ryan had been using and secure the one off his pod, another guard showed up, glanced around, caught sight of Alex and moved to where he could easily keep an eye on him, not hiding the fact he was paying sole attention to Alex.
Alex let out a long sigh, "Man, is he ever new at this." He snickered, "OK, Lyle, if he is really as green as I think he is, he'll even follow me into the bathroom and pretend to wash his hands or something while I change into my new swimsuit."
"Uh huh, and yes, it is kind of creepy, but he is just doing his job and I am used to it. Come on, I'll prove it."
Lyle skeptically glanced at the guard as they passed by on the way to the bathroom. The young guard quickly followed, and just as Alex predicted, went straight to the sink while Alex went into a stall and changed. The moment the two boys exited, the guard was right behind them, staying only a few paces back until they were back inside the game room.
Lyle shook his head as he walked back toward the pods giggling, "You really do have a guard!"
"Once the guy my dad is hiring gets here and goes over his rules with me, it'll get a lot better, cause it won't be nearly as noticeable. But like it or not, I'll still have a shadow until I am back at home. So do you still want to be around me?"
"Actually it's kind of cool getting to know someone who has his own guards, but when my parents get back from shopping they may be a bit worried," Lyle looked out the window into the driving rain storm and his visage betrayed his own unease. "If they get back…"
"I'm sure they just are waiting out the storm like everyone else." Alex pulled out his phone, "I could call them if you want."
"I got a cell." The boy dug into his pocket and pulled out his own, "But it isn't getting any reception."
Alex started to show his new friend his did, but as he glanced down he noted the gem on his necklace was starting to glow again. Frowning he shrugged, keeping his back to Lyle and a few other kids in the game room. "The storm probably killed a few transmitting towers. We saw a lot of sparking poles and signs as we made our way here."
Alex slowly walked toward the pods. He couldn't help but notice his necklace started to glow a bit more with each step he took toward the pod Craig had been in. Taking this as a warning, he put his hand over the stone, and forced it to calm while pointing to the far side of the game room. "Robot wars wouldn't be much fun with only two of us, so let's see how we do at racing."
Lyle shook his head, "Let's grab a bite to eat at the stand by the front door, then we can go up to my room so I can change and go for a swim."
Alex grinned, "Sound good to me. Race you!"
Both kids tore out of the game room, running toward the front of the hotel with a very annoyed security guard in hot pursuit.
Ryan got to the elevators just as the doors started to close. He darted in sideways to avoid hitting the doors. As they continued to close he shot the hotel security guy assigned to watch him a big grin and to add insult to injury he waved as the guy lunged to toward the door, just missing stopping the doors from sliding closed.
Knowing word would certainly get back to the day manager he had promised to torment, he snickered to himself before glancing over to Craig. The boy had his head in the corner next to the buttons, was breathing hard, and didn't even seem to notice Ryan had caught up with him.
Ryan frowned, "Hey, what's wrong?"
The boy's head jerked up, causing his fairly long reddish blond hair to partially cover his grey eyes, but not enough to where it hid the streaks of tears. Craig cringed. "Just leave me alone, Ryan."
Ryan held up his hands, "Hey, I know we were ragging on you a bit hard the last game, but…"
Craig shook his head, "It wasn't anything you all said. Just forget about it and me."
"Come on, Craig, we were getting along great; something must have happened to make you cry."
The elevator came to a stop on the seventh floor and the door opened to a deserted hall. Craig stepped out and shook his head as Ryan followed. He took a couple of deep breaths and pulled up the front of his shirt to wipe his eyes. "Look, you don't want to be my friend, but thanks for trying."
Ryan was not so easily dissuaded. He continued to follow the kid as he rounded the corner away from the elevators. "First off, you're wrong. I do want to be your friend."
Craig's hands balled into firsts as he stopped in front of a door. He then turned, glared and spoke loudly, without quite yelling. "No, Ryan, you don't! No one wants a freak who hears and sees things in his sleep that sometimes come true. No one wants a friend who sometimes does weird stuff to other things and people, and no one wants to be friends with a kid who is now starting to see and hear things when awake! Can't you just leave me alone?"
Before, Ryan could respond, the door behind Craig opened and a woman poked her head out. Seeing Craig and Ryan the woman frowned, wrapped her arms around Craig, and glared at Ryan. "Can't my son go anywhere without getting picked on?"
Craig shook loose and glanced up, "For once it isn't like normal. He was trying to be nice, Mom." He gulped and blinked a couple of tears out of his eyes, "But it happened again."
The woman's head dropped in disgust, "OK, what did you do this time?"
Ryan spoke up, "Ma'am, he didn't do anything, but I think something happened to him while we were playing a game, and I want to know what and make sure he's OK."
Craig turned sharply to face Ryan again, "Look, I know you are trying to be nice, but you really don't want to be around me. Bad things happen to people who are around me."
Ryan shook his head, "Look, bad things have already happened to me, so I am basically immune. Besides, I highly doubt bad things happen to everyone around you."
Craig's mom backed off a few steps. "Why don't you come inside so we don't make a big scene out here? I have had more than my fair share of those over the last couple of years."
Ryan paused at the doorstep, then shrugged and entered, noting the holovid screen was playing the news of the events at Stonehenge and no one else was in the small room. He paused as he saw yet another wave of energy blast out of the site, temporarily killing the cameras as it did so. He closed his eyes. A few moments later he felt it impact him and at the same time he absorbed some of it. He turned away from the news broadcast and took a seat on the edge of one of the beds while turning to look at Craig's mom.
She sighed and shook her head. "Would you like a bottle of juice or a soda young man?"
Ryan nodded, "A juice would be great, ma'am. Thanks."
She smiled and pulled a bottle out of the small refrigerator. "Very polite and a touch caring. You are certainly not like most kids these days."
Ryan glanced over at Craig. "My parents were really big on sticking by friends no matter how new, and I fully believe something real happened to you during the last game."
This caused Craig's mom's eyebrows to arch in surprise. "So you really aren't here to tease my boy?"
"No way. I heard his voice change. Whatever happened was real and may even be part of all this." Ryan pointed at the projected image being shown on the holovid.
Craig managed a weak shrug as he sat next to Ryan. "I was already weird. But I think whatever is going on there is certainly doing something bad to me."
Ryan reached over and patted Craig on the back, "You aren't weird."
"Yeah, I am. I am haunted."
Ryan shook his head hard, "Haunted?"
Craig's mom managed a weak smile. "It's a term we came up with after he proved to me many of his dreams do come true."
Craig anchored his elbow into his thigh and rested his head into his hand. His voice started to quake. "Someone talks to me, shows me things, and prevents me from fully going to sleep. It's almost always bad things, horrible," Craig whispered. "I almost never get a good night's sleep. Most of the time, I wake up in a cold sweat and can't remember much. Other times, I linger in a strange place between wake and sleep for a while and then wake up. When I do, I remember more. Those are the ones I started telling my mom and dad about. Dad left us after I told him about a train crash in India caused by a bomb. I was able to pick out almost everything including how many cars derailed, the exact time, and the train number. When it happened two days later, and everything I said was exactly the same, he called me a freak and left."
"My dad would have called it a gift."
"To Craig, it's a curse." The boy's mom stated, "And then there are the other things he does…"
"Oh, Mom, don't tell him."
"Come on, dude, if my brother and I are going to help you, I need to know."
"No one can help me."
"Craig," his mom lightly scolded, "the very fact this boy is listening and taking this seriously is far more than anyone else has done."She then turned to Ryan, "But I also agree with my boy. I don't see any way you can help him."
"First off, he could let me be a real friend."
The woman smiled, "Very good point, but unfortunately, we are only here for a week, then it's back to the daily grind of Liverpool."
"I'll still be able to stay in touch." Ryan stated with total certainty. "Also, for now, let me just say, Craig is not alone."
"Really?" Craig's mom carefully eyed Ryan. "Are you saying you know someone else who does things like my son?"
Ryan held up his arms in some frustration, "Like what?"
"Breaking things, moving things around, turning on and off lights, locking up the front tire of a bike and tossing a kid clean over the handlebars when the kid threw a stick at him, putting a girl through a window when she kept calling him weirdo. All of it without touching a thing. Name it, he has done it, normally when he is very mad or tired."
Ryan's eyebrows shot up, "How far away are you when you do these things, and how much control do you have?"
"Pretty close, a few meters at most…" Craig responded then glanced over at Ryan with some shock. "You mean you actually believe us and aren't afraid?"
"No, I'm not afraid. Sounds to me like they got what was coming to them. So how much control do you have?"
Ryan frowned and shook his head. "If it just happened randomly, I'd believe you. But if you hurt others when you are mad, then you have some control. My karate master would always do things to make us mad, then have us do something we didn't think we could do. He then would point to the broken boards, bricks or throwing knives stuck into the middle of the target and tell us we can, but anger is reckless and destructive. Control of emotions and belief in self are keys to real control. If you can do it when mad, then you can do it any time, only better. You just have to believe in yourself, focus and drop any doubt."
Craig slowly shook his head. "Something is different when I make it happen, but I don't know what it is. Normally it only happens after a long dream or when I am really tired."
Ryan chewed on his lip for a few seconds as he thought back to his own recent spell casting. "Do you say anything before it happens?"
Craig looked dumbfounded as he turned to face Ryan, "Yeah, really weird words."
Ryan took a few breaths and forced himself to pull words to one of his newfound abilities out from the hidden place they all seemed to be hiding deep within. He then held up his hand to cut off any further response. At the same time he watched the holovid while pointing at it. The moment another green burst erupted he closed his eyes and started counting until the energy wave hit him.
Seeing the confusion and bewilderment on both Craig's face and his mom's, he smiled. "I can be a bit weird too. Now Craig, I want you to try to do something when I tell you."
"Do something? What?"
Ryan's eyes darted around the room for a moment before settling on a small suitcase on the end table. "Anything breakable in there?"
"No." Craig's mom responded. "Just clothing. Why?"
Ryan nodded. "A guess, a hunch, a feeling, whatever. Craig, focus on the suitcase and try to make it fall on the floor. Pull it toward us so you don't accidentally knock it through the window."
"Mom has had my try to do this sort of the thing on and off for…"
"First off, I am not your mom. Second, I am going to tell you exactly when to really try to yank it, and what to say when you do so. But I think it would be better if you were first focused on it."
"You know something we don't." Craig's mom stated.
"I do, but I am only guessing about this, so humor me for a few minutes."
Craig shrugged, "Sure, why not?" He stared at the suitcase and repeatedly tried to make it come toward him. "How long?"
"I'll tell you when, forget about everything else and keep trying. When I tell you to do it, I want you to say Gom-to-ren and make fists with both hands."
Even as Craig spoke the words the suitcase shifted slightly. Craig's mom's eyes went wide, "It moved!"
"It might have been me." Ryan stated. "The next time it will be all Craig."
"So you can do stuff too?" Craig asked in shock.
"Yes. Now close your hands into fists as you say it. But only when I tell you."
"What is all this about, young man? How do you know how to do this?"
"If this works, I'll be able to tell you more; if not, I'll do my best to explain. Just let us try this, OK?"
Craig's mom let out a long breath, "Sure, I'll just sit here and look stupid."
Ryan rolled his eyes, "And adults call kids impatient."
This got a slight grin out of Craig's mom. "Ouch."
Ryan snickered, then turned his full attention to the holovid and waited until an energy wave burst outward from Stonehenge. The instant one did, he closed his eyes and started counting. The moment before the wave got to him he shouted, "Craig, now!"
Craig threw up his hands clenched his fists and shouted Gom-to-Ren all at the same time. A split second later the wave hit him and Ryan. Instantly, the suitcase shot off the table at Craig and Ryan. Ryan reacted with lightning-fast reflexes, rolling off the bed, yanking Craig with him as he went. The suitcase whistled past them and slammed into the wall leading to the bathroom area with enough force to put a small hole in the plaster.
"Oh crap!" Craig's mom shouted as she jumped up to made her way over to the hole. "How in the hell am I ever going to pay for this?!"
Ryan rolled off Craig and looked at the damage, somehow knowing Alex had a magical way to repair the damage, but not knowing exactly how he knew. "My brother can fix it; it's OK."
"OK? OK? There is a hole in my wall!"
"Ma'am," Ryan moved up to the wall, "My brother will be able to fix it. Just put up the do not disturb sign until I get him up here."
"And if he can't?"
Ryan grinned, "Then my new dad and I will pay for something I broke, before I have even lived with him a single day."
Craig eyed the hole in the wall and the suitcase with some disbelief, clearly way more thrilled with what he had done, than the damage he had caused. "I did it! I really did it!"
Ryan nodded, "Now we know you can do things you want to do. All we have to do is work on control, teach you the proper words and see what else I can teach you, preferably somewhere where we can't break anything important."
Craig's mom poked at the hole, "There is no way I can afford this."
Ryan moved up and stood with his back covering the hole. "Ma'am, relax, if Alex can't fix it, then we have enough to pay for it. This is my fault. I had no idea it would fly all the way across the room. I thought it would just fall of the table or something."
The woman calmed some, but eyed Ryan suspiciously, "So you know what is going on with my boy?"
"Partially yes, but I still don't know what happened when we were in the pods."
"Game simulators, Mom. They're called pods."
"Oh, OK. So something else happened. What was it?"
"The voice spoke to me and I saw it happen. Something bad is about to happen, very bad, and none of us can do a thing to stop it."
The woman's eyes went wide, "You had a dream?"
"No, Mom, it was worse. I was awake. I saw it, heard it and someone was talking to me." Craig took in a couple of deep breaths, "It has been getting worse and worse the last few days and I swear I can feel a power growing. Even worse, something horrible is going to happen to that other kid…"
"What kid?" Ryan pleaded urgently knowing even as he asked he had stumbled upon someone else who was gifted in the arts of magic spilling back into the world, "Alex, my brother?"
Craig shook his head, "No, the other one, the dark haired one."
Craig's mom knelt, "Son, we have talked about this before. Can you tell me what is going to happen or when? Maybe we can stop it."
"I've tried, Mom, and I always get hurt and it still happens."
"But, Son, you've always tried to do it alone…"
Ryan pulled his cell phone and found it had no reception. Tossing it to the ground, he interrupted, "Craig, you have to tell me what you saw. My brother is with Lyle right now. If something bad happens to him, Alex will at least try to stop it. If we can get there, we can help!"
"You believe me?"
Ryan pointed to the hole in the wall. "Yeah, I helped you ruin a wall and a suitcase, OK? Alex and I are a lot like you. Now you have to tell me what you saw!"
"A ground car is going to pull in and the kid is going to run out to greet them, but the car can't stop. It will hit him and will smash into the front window…"
Ryan's eyes narrowed. "When?"
"I don't know. All I can tell you is the rain will still be coming down, but not as bad."
"Day or night."
"It wasn't as dark as the clouds are…" He glanced out the window noting the sky was not as dark and the rain was not falling quite as hard. He pointed to the window, "I think real soon."
"Bloody hell!" Ryan turned and ran out of the room and back down the hall.