Authors: Sean Cullen
Parveen broke the silence. “At least we have a goal now.”
Mimi locked eyes with her friend. “Whaddya mean?”
“Those numbers were map coordinates.” He reached into his pocket and withdrew a dog-eared map. He opened it and flipped from section to section until he reached the one he wanted. He stabbed a finger down in the centre of the European continent. “There. We're going to Switzerland.” He looked up and his usually calm eyes were glowing with excitement. “We're going to find the King of Switzerland.”
“Excuse me,” Mr. Kipling raised a finger in gentle protest. “I don't mean to be difficult but, as I said before, I am fairly certain the Swiss have no king. Switzerland is a republic. At least it was the last time I checked.”
“That's what I thought, although I ain't had much opportunity to study gee-o-graphy!” Mimi said.
Parveen looked at the knife for a long moment. Then he spoke.
“Ever since Hamish X told me that the King of Switzerland gave him this knife, I've been doing some research. When we came back from Snow Monkey Island, I was able to rig an internet connection through the satellite television dish. This certainly facilitated my inquiries. The internet is quite a marvellous resource. I find it very useful to be able to access the great libraries of the world. Trulyâ”
“Parveen,” Mimi interrupted, “can we get to the meat o' this particular nut, please?”
“Right, well.” Parveen pulled his glasses off and polished them again with the corner of his shirt. Mrs. Francis frowned but he ignored her. “The King of Switzerland is a legend among the orphans of the world.
He is said to have a hidden kingdom called the Hollow Mountain where any orphan may seek shelter from the adults who would exploit him or her. The King is the sworn enemy of anyone who would mistreat a child. One has only to make contact with him and the orphan in question will gain his protection even against the terrifying power of the Grey Agents.”
“If that's true,” Mimi asked, “how can we contact this dude?”
“I believe,” Parveen replaced his glasses and held up the knife. “I believe he has already contacted
. We must go to these coordinates and hope that he will find us.”
They all looked at the knife in Parveen's hand. They had no other lead. Hamish X was in a bizarre state of shock. They were alone in the world and at the mercy of the ODA. They needed an ally.
Mimi shrugged and summed it all up. “What the heck? It can't get much worse. Switzerland it is!”
HALFWAY ACROSS THE WORLD
, a boy with unruly red hair pored over his jigsaw puzzle. The puzzle, only a third of its four thousand pieces in place on the vast tabletop, depicted a field of red poppies waving in the sunshine. The pieces were very small and the difficulty very high as the flowers all looked very similar, but the boy liked it that way. He loved puzzles, the more complicated and vexing the better. He spun a piece in his pale fingers, turning it to see if it fit into a particular gap he needed to fill. Despairing, he dropped it onto the tabletop and picked up another piece.
A soft chime sounded. The boy looked up, blue eyes questioning. “Yes, George?”
“The knife, Majesty. It has been activated.”
The King of Switzerland smiled. “So,” he said softly. “It is finally beginning.” He looked down at the puzzle and laughed. “Aha!” He placed the piece he was holding into a gap, completing a poppy's red petal. “Excellent.” He reached for another piece.
Mr. Candy and Mr. Sweet
The wind pushed drifts of snow over the ruined helicopter, spilling in through the shattered windshield and pooling around the feet of the two inert agents. Already the hollows of their faces were etched in lines of white where flakes had gathered. The only sound was the high keening of the wind singing in the ruins of the town. The fires had burned themselves out, leaving a patchwork of charred foundations and blackened beams. The helicopter had crashed in the centre of the square in front of the cheese factory and so had escaped the fire. The craft sat like a black wounded beetle, lying tilted to one side.
Mr. Candy and Mr. Sweet lay strapped into their seats. Their heads were thrown back. Their mouths were open. Their sightless goggles reflected the pale dawn light. The grey pallor of their skin added to the overall impression of death. For two days and two nights they had lain, still and silent as the snow shrouded them.
At noon on the third day the sun finally broke through the heavy cloud, casting a watery white glare on the ruined town. A shaft of sunlight crawled across Mr. Sweet's face and alighted on the black surface of his goggles.
The glass of the goggles absorbed the faint trickle of solar energy. And with that, Mr. Sweet's right hand twitched.
The fingers spread and then clenched like a spider waking up from a deep sleep. Tremors passed through the agent's body. His muscles flexed and tensed painfully. Finally, he lifted his head and spat snow from his mouth in agonized, wheezing coughs. With great effort he tipped himself forward against the straps that held him upright. His right hand fumbled at the control stick of the helicopter. After two clumsy attempts, his fingers closed on a knob. With what feeble strength he had, he pulled on it, and out of the console a thin cord emerged. Drawing it towards him, he took the knob pinched in his fingers and pressed it to his head, pushing back his hat as he did so. On his forehead, in a place normally hidden by the brim of his fedora, was a black metal socket. He pressed the knob into the socket with a soft click and fell back exhausted in his chair.
Moments passed. A soft hum filled the cabin. Soon, Mr. Sweet flexed his hands, gingerly raised his arms as if testing their strength. When he was satisfied, he pulled the plug from his head and placed it into a similar socket on the forehead of Mr. Candy.
Mr. Sweet waited for a few seconds. Suddenly, Mr. Candy tilted his head forward and turned it to look at his fellow agent.
“Auxiliary battery,” Mr. Sweet said simply. Mr. Candy nodded.
Mr. Sweet scanned the horizon. He saw nothing but
lowering clouds, the precursor to a major storm. “Gone. A storm is coming. We can do nothing from here.”
“Shall we begin searching for him?”
“Indeed. I'll call for transport.” The agent tapped the side of his skull, tilted his head, and mumbled as if to the empty air, “HQ. Sweet. Two for extraction. Immediate. Here are our coordinates.”
The valley below was impossibly green and lush, like a painted rendering of an ideal spring day. Tiny star-shaped Alpine flowers, the type the Swiss call edelweiss, added a delicate sprinkling of white on the lush green turf of the meadow. On all sides the sheer mountains soared, their peaks perpetually white with snow.
A clutch of rabbits rooted in the grass, nibbling the juicy clumps of stems. Their tiny wet noses sniffed constantly for danger. For a rabbit, life is an endless round of nibbling and sniffing. Enemies are ever present.
Foxes prowl the Alpine meadows. Hawks circle overhead. The lynx and the wildcat stalk in a quest to feast on rabbit flesh. The rabbit must always be on the lookout for predators intent on a rabbit supper. And so the rabbits watched out for one another, shouting a warning if danger approached.
Theirs is a highly effective survival strategy, considering that rabbits still exist and are found throughout the world.
Unfortunately, though they were keenly aware of danger from predators, they had no way of preparing themselves for what was about to occur in the next paragraph.
A huge metal spike plunged down into their midst. The force of the impact drove its point a metre into the earth. The concussion knocked the rabbits off their feet. Even the bravest of them passed out from sheer terror, after first voiding the contents of their stomachs then covering themselves with steaming, semi-digested grass.
These little creatures were, indeed, members of the rare species of Alpine Puking Rabbits.
Little did the panicked rabbits know they were in no danger.
All they managed to do in the end was to miss the arrival of the airship that had once been known as
but was now rechristened the
. The huge metal spike, the airship's anchor, trailed a long chain that disappeared into the vessel's undercarriage. The chain grew taut as the weight of the vessel strained against it in the stiff mountain breeze. With much ratcheting and clanking, the chain was slowly reeled in until the airship gently bumped the ground, gouging a furrow in the rich earth.
The rabbits were usually quite good at spotting danger from the skies, but they had never seen a vessel like the
. From below, the ship appeared to be the same colour as the sky: pale blue with wisps of white cloud. The section of the hull that rested on the grass had already begun to shift to lush green with flashes of colour to reflect the flowers. The chameleon paint was working
perfectly. It had even managed to mimic the splashes of lighter green that represented the vomit-covered rabbits.
A section of the airship's stern dropped slowly on hydraulic hinges to reveal the cargo hold. As soon as the ramp touched the grass several children dashed down its length, holding long ropes threaded through metal pegs. They hammered the pegs into the ground with wooden mallets.
When the ship was secure, swaying slightly in the breeze, Mr. Kipling, Mrs. Francis, Mimi, and Parveen strolled down the ramp and looked around. A little boy saluted Mr. Kipling. “The ship is secure.”
“Excellent work, children.” Mr. Kipling leaned on Mrs. Francis and breathed deeply. “Well, we've made it. Welcome to Switzerland.”
“It's beautiful,” Mrs. Francis whispered reverently. “Look at the mountains â¦”
“The blue sky,” Parveen added.
“And get a load o' those rabbits all covered in puke,” Mimi said with disgust.
“We don't have time to waste,” Parveen said. “The ODA may track us at any moment.”
Mimi surveyed the empty field and scowled. “Are you sure these is the coordinates? It don't seem like nuthin' is here. Either the King o' Switzerland is a barf-covered rabbit or he ain't around.”
“This is the exact location stipulated by the knife.” Parveen surveyed the valley, a hand shielding his eyes from the morning sun.
“But why're we out in the middle o' nowhere? Shouldn't there be a town er a farmhouse er even a barn er sumthin'?”
“I assume the King wanted us to stay away from the major centres of population to avoid being spotted by the
ODA. He seems to be cautious. Otherwise, he would have been found out long ago.”
“How do we know this ain't all a trap? Maybe he's workin' fer the Grey Agents his own self.”
“Why go to all this trouble?”
Mimi glowered and scuffed the grass with her toe. “I ain't figgered that out yet.”
Mr. Kipling raised his ancient binoculars
and scanned the surrounding mountains. “No one in sight. Which is not to say that they mightn't be watching us from a hidden vantage point.” He smiled and laid a hand on Mrs. Francis's shoulder. “It might be nice for the children to get out of the ship. A little sunshine, eh? Chance to play â¦ Blow off some steam, what? Every child needs a little playtime.”
“Good idea.” Mrs. Francis nodded primly and waddled back up the ramp into the ship.
AN HOUR LATER
, the former inmates of Windcity Orphanage and Cheese Factory were happily playing in the shadow of the
. Certainly, they had gained their freedom from the oppressive Viggo when Hamish X had rescued them from the Cheese Pirates, but this was the first real taste of true liberty in a place where liberty might actually be quite pleasant. Being free in
Windcity wasn't really like being free at all. Here, under the warm sun, with beautiful mountains all around and green grass underfoot, the orphans could finally breathe easily and revel in their newfound state. Their eyes had shone as they piled out of the airship and onto the green meadow, shouting and laughing, tumbling and wrestling in the clear morning air.
The older children had begun an impromptu
game of soccer on the grassy meadow. The children too young to play soccer happily played tag or duck-duck-goose. The ones too small to play duck-duck-goose were very small indeed and amused themselves by gurgling and tugging on their own feet. Some of the youngest hugged soiled rabbits, much to the chagrin of Mrs. Francis, who took the rabbits from the disappointed children and rinsed the poor creatures in the galley sink.
And now Mr. Kipling sat smoking his pipe, keeping a watchful eye over the children while Mimi, Parveen, and Mrs. Francis held a meeting in the cabin occupied by Hamish X.
the heck do we do? We're here in Switzerland but there ain't nobody ta meet us.”
“I think we have to be cautious. We must wait. The coordinates are correct.” Parveen shrugged. “We wait for this King of Switzerland to initiate contact.”
“What about the ODA? Surely they are looking for us?” Mrs. Francis glanced nervously over her shoulder, as if
expecting Mr. Candy and Mr. Sweet to walk in the door any moment.
“We must assume they are looking for us,” Parveen agreed. “But the EMP has slowed them down and the
's stealth capabilities make her difficult to track. Let's hope we've bought enough time for the King of Switzerland to make contact. If we haven't heard anything by dawn tomorrow, we'll have to start making a new plan. Agreed?”
Mimi nodded. Mrs. Francis wrung her apron in her pudgy fists and nodded, too. Their decision made, they looked at the object of their plans, Hamish X, lying under his blanket on the former Captain's bed.
“Looks like he could just wake up and start talkin', don't he?” Mimi said.