Hamish X and the Hollow Mountain (5 page)

BOOK: Hamish X and the Hollow Mountain
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“Oh heavens,” Mrs. Francis whispered, taking his limp hand in hers, “how I wish he would.”

But he didn't. His pupils flickered under his closed eyelids. His breathing quickened but he didn't awaken.

“He must be dreaming,” Parveen said softly. “What are you dreaming about, Hamish X?”

. He arched his back until just his feet and the back of his head touched the metal table. Liquid fire coursed through him, through every fibre and nerve ending. The sensation went on and on … and all the while he heard voices.

“Is this normal, Professor?” The voice was cold and impersonal with a flat, lifeless quality. The answering voice was the opposite; it had a slight quaver that betrayed tense emotion.

“Normal? Nothing about this is normal. This whole process is unethical and immoral.”

“Spare us the humanity, Doctor. You have a job to do. Try to focus on the task at hand. Remember your poor mother. She needs you to do as you are told.”

“Good point, Mr. Sweet.” The third voice was as flat and dead as the first. “Describe to us what is happening, Professor.”

The Professor swallowed audibly. After a pause, he spoke. “The augmented nerve fibres are grafting themselves onto the boy's natural nerve fibres. The process is very painful.”

“Obviously,” said Mr. Sweet.

“Can we not give him some form of sedative? He needn't be
awake for this part of the procedure.”

“He won't remember the pain, Professor. His memory will be erased.”

“That's not the point!” the Professor shouted suddenly. “It's needlessly cruel!”

“Needlessly? Oh no, Professor. All cruelty is necessary. Cruelty instructs. Pain teaches lessons. Think of your mother and how she might react to such high levels of pain.”

“You wouldn't dare.”

“Oh but we would,” Mr. Candy said softly. “But as long as
you do as you're told, she will be spared.”

The Professor was silent.

“Aaaaaaaaaah,” Hamish X screamed unheeded, writhing in
agony as a new surge of pain washed through him.

“The artificial nerve tissue is accommodating the added power flow perfectly, Mr. Candy.”

“Indeed, Mr. Sweet. The genetic mapping was superb. He is ready for the memory wipe.”

The pain stopped suddenly and the boy slumped onto the cold metal surface. Sweat bathed his body. He quivered with remembered agony.

“M-m-mommy,” he whimpered.

The grey, goggled faces of Mr. Candy and Mr. Sweet loomed over him. The fedoras were gone, revealing the hideous nest of wiring that perched atop their skulls like bizarre multi-hued wigs. He sensed the presence of others, a silent multitude watching out in the darkness beyond the lights.

A third face leaned in. He wore a surgical mask covering his mouth and nose suspended by strings looped around his prominent ears. The eyes behind the thick glasses were watery and bloodshot.

Hamish X looked up into those eyes. “Help me,” he pleaded. It came out as a croak, his voice raw from the screaming. “Where's my mother?”

The third man, the boy assumed it was the Professor, opened his mouth. “I'm sorry—”

Mr. Sweet cut him off. “He's asking for his mother, Mr. Candy.”

“Fascinating. He doesn't realize what has happened to him. Should we tell him?”

“Why bother? He'll forget everything after we initiate the memory suppression therapy.”

“Mommy. I want my mommy,” Hamish X sobbed, a tear rolling down his cheek and into his ear.

“Your mommy doesn't want you.” Mr. Sweet leaned in close, his breath faintly metallic. “You've been a bad boy and gone out too far in the ocean. You didn't stay close to the beach like she told you. You are no use to anyone but us …”

“Just do the wipe!” The Professor's voice broke into a sob. “Just do it.”

Mr. Sweet and Mr. Candy exchanged a glance and nodded. Mr. Candy leaned in closer. The metallic stink of his breath washed over the boy's face. “She gave you up.” Mr. Candy smiled, a hideous parody of kindness. “You have no mommy now. Except this one …”

A beautiful female voice filled Hamish X's head. “Hamish X. That is your name. I am Mother. Initiating memory suppression sequence.”

Hamish tried to struggle but his whole body shut down. He felt a wave of nausea, and then darkness rolled over him.

Mr. Candy and Mr. Sweet

“Mister Defence Secretary,” Mr. Candy said, addressing the man at the far end of the table. “Are you telling me that the most sophisticated satellite reconnaissance system in the world cannot manage to detect one slow-moving aircraft?”

The defence secretary, one of the most powerful men in the government of the most powerful country in the world, swallowed hard. He wasn't used to being called to account, especially in his own bailiwick.
He looked down the long table, casting his eye over the generals, admirals, and colonels who were his advisers and who studiously avoided his gaze. At last, he gulped and cleared his throat. “Of course, we have been thorough but we have not tracked an object of the configuration you described, Mr. Candy.
All our assets are being focused on the task but so far … nothing.”

The Situation Room in the basement of the White House in Washington, D.C., is usually a very busy, noisy place. Today, it was tensely quiet. The sound of computers humming and the faint purr of phones served to underline the silence as Mr. Candy and Mr. Sweet stood at the end of the long table, tall and cadaverous as they stared down the collected commanders of the United States Armed Forces. On any given day these men and women could decide the fate of the world, move nations, command vast numbers of troops and a massive arsenal. Today they fidgeted like schoolchildren under the gaze of the mysterious Grey Agents.

“Gentlemen and ladies,” Mr. Sweet said, cocking his head to the side. “We have been of considerable assistance to the government of the United States over the years, providing our boundless mechanical and electronic expertise in return for your … cooperation. Now, at last, we need you to perform one simple task using the technology we have greatly assisted in providing. And you can't seem to give us any satisfaction.”

One of the younger generals, new to the job and appalled by the intrusion of these strange men into the hallowed corridors of power, decided that he'd heard quite enough. He stood up and faced Mr. Sweet. “Who the blazes do you think you are?” Everyone around the table collectively gasped.

“John!” the defence secretary snapped. “Sit down.”

The young general would not be stopped. “I'm ashamed of you all.” He looked around the table at the sheepish faces of the general staff. He turned back to the agents. “You can't just waltz in here and start making demands of the American military. This is a democracy! We don't answer to anyone but the American president, and he answers to the American people.”

Mr. Sweet turned to face the young general. “What a quaint little speech. You, sir, do not know the truth of things. The ODA has provided many services for which the American government can never possibly repay us. In turn, we may use your resources as we see fit. Your president won his office using money from our coffers and he answers to us. These men are ours to command as we wish.”

The young general's face reddened. “I won't stand for it! Do you hear me? I'm going to tell the world.”

Mr. Candy stepped in close to the young military man. He said softly, “You will tell no one anything.” Fast as a striking snake, he whipped off his glove and pressed his open palm to the man's face. “And you needn't stand.” From the grey, clammy palm of the agent's bare hand millions of wormlike filaments sprouted and burrowed into the flesh of the general's face. The man screamed briefly and then went silent. His entire body went rigid, and as if a switch had been flipped, he slumped back into his chair. Mr. Candy removed his hand from the man's face.

Where the general's eyes had once held intelligence and
emotion, they now stared blankly at the ceiling. Drool slid from the corner of his mouth to collect on the lapel of his uniform. The faces of his colleagues around the table were frozen in shock and horror.

Mr. Candy replaced his glove. The agents looked around the table at the fear they had inspired. They nodded in unison.

“Well, then,” Mr. Sweet said briskly. “We require results.”

“You may contact us through the normal channels,” Mr. Candy added, and the two agents strode from the room, leaving silence in their wake.

“I hate those guys,” the defence secretary snarled when he was sure the agents were well out of range.

“Guh,” the general barked. A rear admiral seated to his left used her handkerchief to wipe the drool from his chin.

“Get him out of here,” the secretary said. “What am I going to tell the president?”

lifted off from the White House lawn and swung out over the Potomac. Mr. Candy aimed the craft north and they set off for Providence, Rhode Island, and the Orphan Disposal Agency Headquarters.

“This is a very disturbing development, Mr. Candy.”

“Indeed, Mr. Sweet. Indeed.” The two agents flew on in silence as the midday sun struggled unsuccessfully to force its way through the heavy clouds. The windscreen of the helicopter was streaming with rain.

Their trip back from Windcity had been arduous and humiliating. The ODA had exerted its influence over the Canadian government to divert a military jet to the remote location and extract the bedraggled agents. After a long flight, they were met at the Theodore Francis Green Airport that served Providence.

A limousine, driven by a junior agent named Miss Taffy, had met them on the runway and whisked them back to the little house on Angell Street that served as headquarters for the sinister ODA. After donning fresh clothing and undergoing a thorough diagnostic treatment, the search for Hamish X and his companions began in earnest, culminating in the fruitless trip to the White House.

The agents were quite annoyed (or at least as annoyed as they could ever be, which was only slightly by our standards). Hamish X seemed to have completely disappeared. “Shall we contact headquarters and see if any progress has been made?”

“Indeed, Mr. Sweet.” Mr. Candy tapped a button on the control console. “Mother?” Mr. Candy addressed the empty air.

A faint glow flared in the space between the agents, hovering a few centimetres above the console. A cool, feminine voice filled the cockpit. “Mother is listening. What can Mother do for you?”

“Has there been any progress in determining the location of Hamish X?” Mr. Sweet demanded.

“None. I have been searching databases and coordinating
with NATO, the Russians, and the Chinese. They have been very cooperative.”

“They should be,” Mr. Candy said. “They know better than to cross us.”

“Still, utilizing all their detection systems, I am unable to contact his locator beacon.”

“It must have been disabled in the Electromagnetic Pulse blast. The one called Parveen is quite clever. I would greatly enjoy dismantling his mind,” Mr. Sweet said, as if a mind were a wind-up toy or a clock radio.

“Mother, give me a map of the world with Windcity as the focal point.”

Instantly, the hovering glow altered itself into a globe, tiny and intricate. The globe spun until a red dot blinked to show the location of Windcity. Landmasses and oceans were illustrated in three-dimensional detail. Mountains, valleys, rivers, and oceans were startlingly clear.

“Excellent. We must assume the children are travelling by zeppelin. Given the speed of the zeppelin from existing data, represent the possible distance traversed by the fugitives up to this point.” A green circle centred on Windcity appeared. The area of the circle covered roughly half the surface of the earth. “Mr. Sweet, I had no idea an airship could cover so much ground in such a short time. This
doesn't really narrow down our search parameters.”

“No, Mr. Candy. We must have more information.” Mr. Sweet thought for a moment, his head cocked to the side. “Mother, have there been any reported sightings of unidentified craft matching the description of the pirate airship?”

“Checking … Three hundred reports of unidentified craft. None with specific reference to airships.”

“This is getting us nowhere, Mr. Candy. The number of possible locations is too great. I believe we must initiate a remote reboot.”

“But, Mr. Sweet, Hamish X will be outside our control when he is restarted. His brain functions may be impaired. We don't know how he will react. He may do damage to himself. The results might be catastrophic.”

“Nonetheless, the asset must be returned immediately and the only way we can retrieve it is to find it. The integration is approaching. We must restart the unit. The locator beacon will tell us where he is. It was for situations like this, when he is beyond our direct control, that we embedded the remote Mother program in his mind. The voice will prompt him to return to us. As soon as we know where he is, we will move with all speed and force to retrieve the asset. There is no other way.”

The only sound was the thrupping of the rotor blades above as the Grey Agents pondered their decision. Finally, Mr. Candy ducked his head once in agreement. “Mother, initiate remote restart sequence.”

Chapter 4

Mrs. Francis couldn't sleep. She lay on her bunk and stared up at the wooden planking of the ceiling. Whenever she closed her eyes, images of the attack on Windcity filled her tired mind. She imagined the bird machines approaching out of the darkness, spraying fire over the airship.

BOOK: Hamish X and the Hollow Mountain
11.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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