Authors: Keith Mansfield
“Whatever is going on, Jonathan?” asked Miss Hewitt sternly. “Will you kindly stop messing around and start paying attention?”
“It wasn't my fault,” Johnny replied lamely. Alisha giggled.
“Well, if you and Alisha can't keep your hands off each other, I shall have to separate you. Come and sit next to David,” said the teacher, tapping the bench at the front, “and you, Ashvin, can swap places.”
Red-faced but relieved, Johnny grabbed his schoolbag and set off to sit next to Dave Spedding at the front. When he reached there, it proved the opposite of Alisha. Dave moved his stool so far away that Johnny couldn't even whisper to him safely so, instead of catching up on what had been happening, he had to follow the lesson. When the bell went, Dave threw everything into his bag and rushed out of the door without even a backward glance. Johnny sat at his bench, slowly gathering up his own things. He'd hoped his best friend at school would have been pleased to see him, but the prolonged absences must be taking their toll.
“Chop chop, Jonathan. Haven't you got lessons to go to?”
“Yes, MissÂ â¦ sorry,” Johnny replied. He stood up, hoisted his bag over his shoulder and was quite horrified to see Alisha standing in the doorway waiting for him. As he swiped his schoolcard, she scowled and folded her arms. Johnny tried to slip by to one side, but found his way blocked by a sixth former with messy hair.
“You Jonathan Mackintosh?” the boy asked.
“Who wants to know?” Johnny replied.
“Don't get clever with meâHeadmistress's officeÂ â¦ now.”
“What for?” Johnny asked.
“I don't know, do I?” replied the boy. “Let's just hope it's something bad. Come on.” He steered Johnny through the crowded corridor away from Alisha, who looked furious to be left behind. Johnny managed an apologetic shrug in her direction.
It had probably been too much to hope that Kovac's manipulation of his attendance records would go unnoticed, but Johnny was disappointed to be summoned to see Mrs. Devonshire on his first day back. He knew he should have had some sort of explanation prepared, but of course he hadn't and now he tried to think of one his mind simply blanked over. In no time at all, the sixth former was knocking on the door of the Headmistress's office.
“Come in,” said the dreaded voice from the other side.
Johnny's escort opened the door and said, “Mackintosh for you, Headmistress.”
“Thank you, William,” replied Mrs. Devonshire. “That will be all.”
The door closed leaving Johnny standing in front of a large desk which was entirely free from clutter, save for a small leather briefcase on one end. Behind the desk sat Mrs. Devonshire, wearing a very hairy purple jumper. Standing beside her, by a row of shiny new filing cabinets, was a tall balding man with round, steel-framed glasses, wearing a long white coatâDr. Carrington.
“Jonathan,” said Mrs. Devonshire. “Thank you for coming. Dr. Carrington's here with the results of your medical. And to discuss your Personal Healthcare Plan.” Johnny must have looked confused, because the Headmistress added, “It's a
“Right,” Johnny replied, composing himself. Although he'd missed his medical weeks ago, the doctor must be using some fake results as cover to arrange a meeting.
Dr. Carrington was a mystery. As well as officially looking after Johnny's mum for years, he'd been the physician at the Proteus Institute for the Gifted, the Krun “school” where Johnny had found Clara. But Johnny hadn't forgotten that, six months ago, when he and Clara were being held prisoner by Colonel Hartman and about to be placed on the dissection table, it was Dr. Carrington who had engineered their escape. Stillâthat didn't mean Johnny had to start liking him.
“As I have just been reminded,” said Mrs. Devonshire, “health matters are confidential between you and the doctor, Jonathan. You can use my officeâI'll be in the staffroom.” With that the Headmistress gathered some papers together, got up and left.
“AhÂ â¦ we meet again, JonathanÂ â¦ again,” said the doctor, taking a step toward Johnny, who took a matching one backward, closer to the door. Dr. Carrington stopped and raised both hands in the air. “I'm not here to hurt youÂ â¦ noÂ â¦ not at all,” he continued. “But to warnÂ â¦ yesÂ â¦ warn.”
“Warn me about what?” Johnny asked, now standing his ground.
“That stunt you pulled in New York. That was foolishÂ â¦ and riskyÂ â¦ risky, yes. Don't do anything like that again.”
“It wasn't my fault,” Johnny found himself saying again. “Anywayâhow do you know about it?”
“It's my business to know,” snapped the doctor. “Though the whole world knew something had happenedÂ â¦ everyone. You made the evening news.”
“I couldn't help it,” said Johnny. “It was your friends who started shooting.”
It was Johnny's turn to move toward the doctor, who
retreated, saying, “They're no friends of mineâneither the KrunÂ â¦ nor the CorporationÂ â¦ the CorporationÂ â¦ no. I had hoped to have convinced you of that.”
“What's the Corporation?” Johnny asked, backing Dr. Carrington into a corner.
“IÂ â¦ IÂ â¦ I didn't come here to talk about them.”
“You work for themÂ â¦ and the Krun.”
“I do what I have toÂ â¦ what's neededÂ â¦ yes,” said Dr. Carrington, recovering his composure. “But I'm on your sideÂ â¦ yes, your side. Remember that.”
Johnny took pity on the nervous figure cringing in the corner and relented. “OK,” he said. “TruceÂ â¦ for now. And thanks for not landing me in it with Mrs. Devonshire.”
“IÂ â¦ I don't follow,” replied the doctor.
“That stuff about the medical,” said Johnny. “Thanks for not telling her I missed it.”
“But you didn't,” said the doctor, looking puzzled. “What are you talking about?”
“I wasn't here,” said Johnny. “I wasÂ â¦ well let's just say I had to go away.” He might have called a truce, but wasn't about to tell Dr. Carrington that he hadn't turned up because he was flying his spaceship to the capital of the galaxy.
“InterestingÂ â¦ very interesting,” said the doctor, taking a stethoscope from out of the small leather case on the desk and inserting the two pieces into his ears. He approached Johnny holding out the other end, but Johnny pushed it away.
“What are you doing?” Johnny asked. “You're not examining meâI won't let you.”
“RelaxÂ â¦ yesÂ â¦ relax,” said Dr. Carrington. “I just wondered if you'd had any more of theseÂ â¦ these blackoutsÂ â¦ losses of memory.”
“I haven't had any blackouts.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course I'm sure,” said Johnny, very firmly, despite the sudden, awful doubt that had surfaced in his mind. He thought back to the reconstruction he'd witnessed on the
Spirit of London
's bridgeÂ â¦ when the figure who looked so absolutely like him had ordered the self-destruct. It couldn't have been him after allÂ â¦ could it?
“Well, you must have had at least one,” Dr. Carrington replied. “I came here several weeks agoÂ â¦ several weeksÂ â¦ when I warned you about keeping a low profile. And I performed a DNA test.”
“You did what?” shouted Johnny.
“And I need to do anotherâit's importantÂ â¦ yes.”
“If I recall correctly, you did one before,” said Johnny, “when me and Clara were your prisonersâat the Embassy. Or have
been having blackouts?”
“It's changed,” said the doctor, stepping forward and taking hold of Johnny with both hands. “Minute differencesÂ â¦ subtle mutations. So small no one else would have noticed.”
“DNA can't changeÂ â¦ can it?” Johnny asked.
“Not normallyÂ â¦ noÂ â¦ not at all,” said the doctor, letting go. “But it might explain your blackouts. I
to do another testâa full examination.”
There was a knock on the door and it opened without any invitation. Into the room, wearing his shabby green sweatshirt, came Johnny's PE teacher and football coach, Mr. Davenport. “Found you. If you ever want to play for the team again, get changed now. Kickoff's in twenty minutes. Cup match.”
“What? OKÂ â¦” said Johnny, moving toward the door.
“What about my examination?” shouted Dr. Carrington.
“I told you,” Johnny replied. “No more testsâI'm not your guinea pig.” Before the doctor could respond, Johnny had followed Mr. Davenport out of the door. “Sorry, coachâI didn't know there was a game today.”
“Look, JohnnyÂ â¦ don't take this the wrong way, but you weren't exactly my first choice. It's just that with all our bad luck over injuries, I need some cover. Go and get changed and I'll see you out on the playing fields.”
Mr. Davenport set off at a fast pace leaving Johnny alone in the corridor, bemused that his place in the team was threatened. He was definitely one of the best players, and last year had scored the winning goal in the County Cup Final. Still, there was no time to dwell on it. He ran in the other direction, hurrying to reach his locker, hoping his boots were in thereâhe was sure he'd not seen them at Halader House the night before. Thankfully the corridors were empty and Johnny soon arrived outside his empty form room. His luck continued when he opened the metal doorâhis best-case scenario had been that the boots would be there, but wrapped in a carrier bag at the bottom of his locker, probably covered in mud or mold or even both. Instead, by some miracle they sat neatly on the shelves, cleaned and even polishedâhe could smell the wax on them.
On the way to the playing fields, Johnny spoke to Clara on the wristcom, suggesting she come to watch the match with Bentleyâthe Old English sheepdog had always proved lucky in his unofficial role as Castle Dudbury Comprehensive School mascot. Clara might not be a football fan but, as it meant performing a couple of folds, she agreed straightaway.
Johnny reached the changing rooms just as the rest of the team were heading onto the pitch, psyched up and ready to go. Hanging forlornly on one peg was a single white shirt with the number 13 on the back. Johnny hated the thought of wearing it, not because it was unluckyâhe didn't believe in thatâbut because it meant he must be a substitute.
He changed as quickly as he could, putting his school jumper on over his football shirt as he didn't have a tracksuit, and ran outside. The match was taking place on the very farthest pitch,
close to the local rubbish tip. By the time Johnny had run all the way over, the game had already kicked off and he joined Mr. Davenport and two other subsâboys from the year belowâon the touchline. A smattering of other kids and parents who'd come to watch stood on the far side, with a trickle of other people making their way from out of the school buildings. Luckily, Clara was able to use the tip as cover for her fold. She and Bentley clambered up the slope beside the pitch and joined Johnny.
“How come you're not playing?” she asked.
Johnny shrugged his shoulders. “Guess I've missed too much training,” he whispered.
“Amazed you're in the squad at all, blondie,” said one of the other subs who'd been near enough to overhear. “You're useless.”
Johnny couldn't believe his ears. Watching the match take shape, he was desperate to get on the pitch sooner rather than later to prove the new boy wrong. From the look of things, he was certainly needed and it wasn't long before Castle Dudbury were a goal down. Micky Elliot, the regular captain and center half, was off school ill. It meant their opponents, Stortford School, were able to slice through the home defense with ease and, when the goal came, keeper Simon Bakewell had no chance with the one-on-one.
From the touchline, Johnny could see the Castle Dudbury midfield weren't pressuring their opponents nearly enough, making it all too easy for the Stortford midfielders to play dangerous through balls to their strikers. Johnny didn't want anything bad to happen to his own team, but when Naresh Choudhary (playing in Johnny's preferred position in central midfield) twisted his ankle, he thought it might have been for the best. Mr. Davenport ran straight over, carrying a yellow bucket with icy cold water sloshing over the sides and from
which he produced his “magic” sponge. Even that didn't seem to be helping and the coach shouted, “Get warmed up,” to the touchline.
Johnny started with a few stretches, before skipping along the side of the pitch, with Bentley running alongside him. He pulled his jumper over his head as Mr. Davenport helped Naresh hobble off the pitch, but the coach looked to the cheeky new boy and said, “On you go, Owen. More pressure on the ball.”
The boy nodded to the coach, but whispered, “Loser!” to Johnny as he ran past him onto the field of play.
Johnny put his jumper back on and walked down the line to where Clara and Bentley were standing. With no tracksuit bottoms his thighs were numb with cold and he looked enviously at his sister's woolly hat and mittens. “I should be out there,” said Johnny, shivering.
“Come on,” said Clara. “You're not exactly a regular at school at the moment.”
“I go more than you,” said Johnny. He knew it was unfair to pick on his sister, but it was even more unfair that he was standing on the touchline freezing to death and not playing.
“Johnny!” shouted Mr. Davenport. “Get back here and concentrate on the game.”
“Such a shame I don't have teachers yelling at me all the time,” Clara said after him as Johnny trudged away up the touchline to rejoin his coach, Naresh and the other sub. As he went, Stortford scored again. This time it was Simon's fault in goal, but that didn't stop him berating his defense. There was no leadership or team spirit. At least it wasn't too much longer before the referee blew for half-time and the white-shirted Castle Dudbury players trudged, silently with heads bowed, across to Mr. Davenport.