Written By: Kristof E-Mail: Kristof.firstname.lastname@example.org Disclaimer: All characters expect "Firehound" are copyright 1990/1991 Walt Disney Company and are being used without premission. The writer of this fanfic has made sure that no money was made in the creation of this fanfic and that all material is used with the upmost affection and respect to the Walt Disney Company and the Tale Spin Team. "Firehound" and others is the property of the writer of this fanfic and may not be used without the writers prior consent. You may give copies of this fanfic as long as they are not altered in any way and proper credit is given to the writer. Disclaimer#2: First of all, let me start off by saying this: Baloo, Kit, Rebecca Cunningham, Molly Cunningham, Louie and other Talespin characters are property of the Dinsey Company. The writer used these characters for non-profit purposes only and claims no rights to these charaters or affiliated names and/or places Don't you just hate that disclaimer stuff? As far as I'm concerned, Disney doesn't give a damn about TS until they see some community using the characters. Kill the fan's thoughts to preserve the series…or to preserve the healthy copyright profits? Think about it for a while. Second: this story leans heavily upon the Windward-theory, property of Constance Cochrane and Highflight. Equally, 'San Flamingo' is property of the same writer and writer collective. Both are used with permission. The views of the author and Highflight concerning these two are radically different and as of such completely unrelated..... Now, on with the show.
Kit was glad to be out of bed. He felt like an eternal sleep was holding him hostage, but no matter how sleepy he was, exercise felt great. Or at least, he had expected it to feel great…
The cub was currently living day one of his revalidation period and couldn't even perform the most simple of tasks like keeping his balance or stand up alltogether. Walking without help was out of the question. Never the one to give up, Kit was giving walking a try, leaning on two handlebars offcourse. His confidence was gone, Baloo had to give him courage with every step
"C'mon kiddo, you know how it's done. Foot up, forward, down, lean forward, other foot up, forward, down…take yer time"
Some sort of shuffle, that was supposed to be a walk, was all Kit could produce. His face turned red: he couldn't even lift his foot anymore. Leaning on the handlebars, the strength in his arms seemed insufficient to keep himself standing up.
"Man, I must have gained a few pounds"
"Kit, you weigh half of what you did when you came in" Lou was evaluating these first steps…there was still a long way to go "you're probably just weaker"
"Thanks a lot…I can't do it, it's too hard" tears formed in Kit's eyes. He had expected to be able to walk again immediately. The blindness, the liverproblems, his legs…he had given up all hopes of ever living normal again. Baloo picked him up and set him back down in his wheelchair. Lou knelt next to him
"Hey hey, what's up with the waterworks?" the bear wiped away Kit's tears "It's not more than normal that a patient can't walk for a few weeks…we even have to consider the possibility you won't walk in a few months. I hope you realise you're lucky to be alive. But I promise you you'll be back on your feet within six months"
"I had…I was…I was supposta be on the Usland national team for the junior olympics…that's next month. It's the highest reward a kid like me can get doc. I know the competition and I would have won the gold medal! Olympic gold doc, that's what could have been…now I'm stuck in a wheelchair. The lightest feet in Cape Suzette and look at me now. So don't tell me it's allright and leave me alone"
Kit wheeled himself away from the doctor, away from the gym alltogether. His hopes, his dreams, they were all shattered and spread by the winds because of one fatal moment in time. Lou wanted to do something but Baloo stopped him. It was best to give the cub some time alone with his thoughts.
Two hours later, the grey bear spotted a familiar form staring out the glass wall of the westwing corridor. Nature was going about its business, a colourful display of fauna and flora. Baloo pulled a chair next to Kit's wheelchair and sat down.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" Baloo broke the silence, hoping to help Kit out of his self-pity.
"Reminds me of how I was tricked here. 'They're letting you go in a few days'. It's almost spring dammit. All those months locked away in here, people constantly telling me to get better soon and how sorry they are for me…I wanna go home Papa Bear, read my old comics, look at the incoming planes and maybe take my P40 for a little spin"
"That's gonna be a little though…" how was he going to say this? He, of all people, knew how important a plane was to its pilot "You know that officially it was still property of Beckers"
"Why are you using a simple past Baloo?" Kit almost knew what was going to be said
"We were a little short on cash last month…very short actually. After a long talk, we decided it was best to rent it out for a few months"
"They pump me full of lead, patch me up, drug me, knock me around some, shoot me again, patch me up again, drug me again, kidnap me, use me as a living shield, sucker me into a three-month stay and clip my wings…but other than that, everyhting is just peachy" Kit turned away and wheeled off again. Baloo still hoped to humor him somehow
"Hey kiddo…wait up, I can't go anywhere"
Kit turned around, he was fast in that wheelchair. Baloo sat in his chair, arms over the sides, trying to push something invisible
"Somebody stole my wheels"
"Yeah, I know, had to lock my airboard in a safe…hop on, I'll give ya a ride home" It was a bitter joke, but at least someone tried to make him laugh. The grey bear shot up and took the handles of Kit's wheelchair
"No sir, I will be your driver today. Whereto?"
"Home ,James, take me to my quarters"
They bantered and joked all the way back to the fifth floor.
"Yes dad, I know you always told me never to trust…oh, now he was a doctor, how was I supposed…It's been four months dad, give it a rest…offcourse I'm grateful for that contract…I love you too, tell mom I said hi…bye!"
Rebecca practically slammed down the phone. Her father had phoned her everyday since she got back, telling her time and again how stupid she had been to trust someone with her money and how lucky she was to have a rich father to back her up. Like she was a stupid little girl that still had to learn how the world worked, like she had no sense of business whatsoever. It made asking for more money even worse: the bank was about to foreclose and the shipping contract was about to end. Without her father's capital, the future looked grim.
"Good afternoon miss. Cunningham, crates delivered, plane refueled and I believe it's Friday"
Jules had a way to demand something without showing it as a demand. At least Baloo would nag her about that paycheck, even ask it in advance…she missed him here somehow. Granted, Jules was more dependable but was he going to come look for her when she went missing? Take care of Molly when she was out of town?
"I know just what you mean. And although it's not my business, you were acting a bit strange last Tuesday"
"Yeah, ehmm…I discovered this refueling station on an island, about half an hour away from here, and it had a bar. I figured it wouldn't hurt if I got something to drink and then get on with the schedule…you know how it goes Rebecca: the new guy buys a round, another one follows, the bartender gives one for free"
"So you were drunk? You had one last shipment to deliver and you were drunk! Mr. Jameson called back yesterday to tell me there were two crates missing. They were most likely stolen from your plane while you were having a party at Louie's!"
"Listen, I feel bad enough as it is…just keep it out of my pay"
"In that case" Rebecca tore up the paycheck and stuck out her hand "you owe me ten shaboozies"
"Ehm…I'm a little short on cash right now. We go back for years, can't you just forget about this?"
"If those crates had gone missing for any other reason, I would have let it be. We can't afford that kind of publicity…because it's you, I'll deduct the costs from your next paycheck. If you have a drinking problem, just say so and we'll find some help. Jules, are you an alcoholic?"
He had hidden it well, tried his best never to touch alcohol again, but yes: Jules Crane was an alcoholic. If Rebecca found out, she'd fire him on the spot. Much to his relief, the radio started to receive a message. Static at first, but clearer every time the broadcast was repeated.
"Kitty Shark to Higher for Hire, do you copy?"
"Higher for Hire to Kitty Shark, we receive you loud and clear"
"Tell Ol' Baloo we're coming in and we have a surprise for him"
"I'm sorry to be the one to tell you this, but…"
"Baloo, hand me my watch wouldya?" Kit lay in his bed, his eyesight slowly returning. He had decided to clock the progress darkness was making. When he looked at his chronometer, it indicated four and a half hours. Baloo recognised his expression
"How long this time?"
"Half an hour longer than yesterday…I'm scared: it used to be five minutes a week, now it's half an hour each day. I'm running out of time! I still want to see the ocean again, fly like a bird, see the look on Jimmy Larson's face when he loses the finals…see you and Rebecca smiling again…ain't never gonna happen is it?"
"It might be jumping, it'll probably be less tomorrow" Lou walked in and as usual answered a question that wasn't directed to him
"I'm getting pretty tired of you guys always eavesdropping on me"
"Can't help it, we have your room bugged"
"DON'T YOU EVER JOKE ABOUT THAT!" The memories were still too fresh for Kit, too lifelike.
"Whoa, sorry…I just came here to take your bloodpressure but I think I already know what it's going to be"
"What did you expect" Lou still took the cubs pressure, frowning at the readout "I'm going nuts in here"
"15/9, that's more than just nuts, that's irritated beyond belief"
"Another right diagnosis doctor, congratulations. I take it you'll be wanting to see that scar again?" Like everyday, Kit pulled up his shirt. The wound in his side had finally closed but left a hideous scar. It started out as a simple, small circular wound, but during the operation and the numerous times Kit had torn his stitches, it had grown and now almost covered his entire side. Lou felt the flesh to be sure it was strong enough. It felt a bit rougher than yesterday
"I think your fur is finally growing back"
"Was about time" Kit pulled his shirt back down "when am I finally getting that burger I asked for?"
"Don't make me scrap the fries from your allowed diet…I'm giving in to you too much already young man"
"So I'll be out of here when bulls fly?"
"Then they better grow wings before the end of next week. After that, we can let you go under supervision"
"Don't take it personally doc, but I'll be glad to be out of this dump. You all took good care of me, but it's getting BORING in here!"
"And I'm getting tired of your complaining too…now rest or I'll add another week to that stay"
Kit rolled his eyes and leaned back until he was in a semi-reclined position, not quite lying down, not quite sitting up. Lou stepped to the door and quickly spun around to catch Kit sitting up again. The cub sighed and gave up his attempts to outsmart the bear. Lou left, Kit looked until he was sure he was out of hearing distance
"There goes the end of medicine as we know it"
"Can't you two ever get along?"
"I'm no baby and he's treating me like one"
"Nope, yer no baby: yer worse: stubborn!"
Kit crossed his arms and stared at the ceiling, muttering something under his breath. The grey bear laughed: he and Lou were too much alike to get along…reminded the old bear of him and Firehound. Youth and 'elderly', it would never match.
For the hundreth time this week, Kit browsed through his cards. It seemed like every day he kept getting new ones: his class, the school principal, friends, Rebecca's parents (that one had a special place), Jules, Wildcat, Molly…every Jack and Joe had sent one. He just missed them more now. His eye fell on a card in the new pile: even after four months they kept sending him cards.
"What are you laughing about?"
"I was just reading this card, it's from my coach. He says I 'better have a damn good reason to miss the training and throwing away the chances of my teammates'. I think he'll want to see the hospital bill when I get back, just to prove I was here"
"That guy has a special kind of humor"
"Can't believe it took him four months to write that one…who's next? Sarah Dorington?! Whatthe…"
"Who is she? Never heard of her"
Baloo tried to take the card to look for a return adress, but Kit pulled it away and looked at him intently. He needed no more to know what this was about
"I think I heard someone calling me at the reception"
"Thanks, I appreciate it"
The grey bear stood up and left. Kit had expected messages and cards from everyone, but not from her. As far as she knew, Kit didn't even know her after they erased his memory. It looked like a regular 'get well soon' card. He started reading, still remembering her soft voice
I heard about what happened just now. Though break, but things happen I guess. I hope it doesn't hurt too much and you'll be back on your feet soon. Well, I gotta run, if you're around, come by and we can chat about old times.
-What an odd message…why would she underline those letters? Ah, there's more- A small, quickly folded paper fell out…even Kit hadn't seen it until it fell. In hastily written letters, it read
"Read between the lines, seek out the truth"
-Seek out the truth? What is that supposed to mean?- He knew the truth already, his past, his parents, Karnage…Fang. At least there was no more reason to fear him, or his past alltogether. Maybe she meant something else, maybe with those letters.
"No, SIR, YOU CAN'T GO IN THERE…FAMILY ONLY!" the yelling came from the hall. What on earth was going on? Wasn't anything going to be normal today?
"I AM family medboy, buzz off"
That low voice…that rough vocabulary…it could only be one man. The opening door confirmed his guess
The two hugged, AC a bit careful not to hurt him, like Kit would break if he hugged him too tight. He sat down and cast a look at all the scattered cards lying around. Kit smiled at him…more of a mischievous grin actually
"You know Kit, you look good for someone that was almost dead two months ago"
"And you look good…for your age"
"Your dad is over thirty and you say I'm old?"
"You do need reading glasses for your compass"
"Come here you!"
AC grabbed Kit's throath and pretended to squeeze it shut while Kit faked suffication. Lou had forgotten something in Kit's room and opened the door. They both looked at him with a sheepish smile, AC let go of Kit's neck and whistled a tune while inspecting the ceiling
"I warned you! Chalk up another week and a good dose of tranquiliser. As for the newcomer: no 'roughhousing' in the rooms"
"Great, now look what you did AC! I'll be your age when I get out of here"
"By that time they'll have planes faster than sound"
Shaking his head, Lou took his clipboard and left. The whole world had gone mad and nobody had informed him…
"So, who was that rocketscientist?"
"Lou Bagher, my doc"
"Looks like a bore to me. Take your crutches and we'll go for a short walk okay?"
"That would be 'wheelchair' and I can't go out anymore today: Lou'll lock me up in here"
"But ehmm…I'm still in here!"
"Don't give him another reason…"
"I was wondering" Kit just had to know about that message, and AC did know a few codes "I think I got a coded message, but I can't figure it out. Could you…?"
"Sure, let me see"
Kit handed his friend the card and paper. He frowned, read the contents thoroughly and looked at the paper. This was an easy code, but quite effective under the circumstances. He showed the card to Kit
"There's an extra sentence in there. You're supposed to put all the underlined letters together and use a synonym for the words in italic."
"So actually it says….I….I kno…I know about 'old times'….ehmm…I know about the past?! I know about the past?"
"Seek out the truth buddy"
"…five crates, are you sure mister Harrison? Yes, I understand…now certainly that won't be necessary! This is a one time…I KNOW where the flaw is and I'm correcting it. We will give you a discount offcourse…absolutely, thank you for your kind understanding" This was the drop, the last straw. Ever since Jules had visited Louie's, cargo went missing. Rebecca walked up the stairs, to Baloo's old room. Jules had taken it, much against her will. Rebecca opened the door and motioned him to come downstairs. Cautiously, knowing half what was about to follow, Jules walked up to her desk.
"I told you last time that we go back a long time, and that I'm willing to overlook things. What I don't understand, however, is that you get yourself into trouble again, same as last time. Harrison called, he's missing five crates…FIVE CRATES! That's half the load, don't tell me you didn't notice it"
"I think I counted double on the strip…the other five oughta be where the others came from"
"They probably were three days ago, the point is you didn't bring them and now they're gone. You can count, you don't have any problems with your eyes, you can read…HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN?" It wasn't Rebecca's custom to chew out an old friend, but the hard truth was that he was now her employee. She was getting a pretty good idea why her father fired him
"That's *Miss. Cunningham* to you *Jules*"
"Whatever…I was just a bit confused that day, no big deal"
"NO BIG DEAL?? That's exactly what I'm never going to get out of Harrison again: a big deal. I hired you to bring some new life into this place, only to find out you're worse than Baloo. He delivered late, but at least he delivered. If any customer has to call me again, even for a missing pencil, you are fired Jules…I'm not going to warn you again. As of tomorrow, you'll fly with a copilot, I don't care who it is"
"Co…copilot? I always fly solo, have been ever since…"
"None of your business"
Jules turned and sat down in the easy chair. Rebecca knew she had hit a soft spot, but had to know why he refused
"I'm your boss, it's my right to know why you refuse to take a copilot"
"I've flown solo ever since my wife died, now ya happy? She was my copilot, my navigator, my eyes and ears, my heart, my love, my life! We crashed, she died, that's all you hafta know! I lost my sons because of that…"
"I'm sorry to hear that" Rebecca sat down on her desk, looking at the sad bear. She didn't have to know any more, but Jules continued anyway
"We were in the middle of a divorce, we hadn't even named the kids yet. I didn't want to divorce…I loved her. I guess she couldn't live with the fact I was a pilot…"
13 YEARS AGO, 25 MILES OFFSHORE NEW CATALINA
The grey and brown seaplane soared through the air, it's color contrasting sharply against the many white clouds. Rustmarks populated the hull like pocks, but the pilot didn't care. It was his plane, he worked for it and paid for it with the little money he had left every month. Every rotation of the prop was a wonder, every landing a reason to live.
Inside the cockpit, two bears, male and female, stared out the front windshield in an attempt to get their minds off the present. They were licensed, full-fledged, professionals…and yet they couldn't concentrate today. The woman looked at her husband wiping away a tear
"How many times am I supposed to tell you I'm sorry?"
"Don't tell me you're sorry…save it for our kids. How could you do this to them?"
"Jules, you're never home, spend your spare time in your plane and hardly say three words to me every day"
"Is that why you filed for divorce? Is that why you called child welfare to tel them our kids were neglected? Is that why you allowed that judge to place two babies in that dark hole?!"
"As soon as I have custody, you can come by and visit them as much as you like"
"What makes you think you're going to get custody?"
"You're a boozer, and I can prove that. Judges don't like drunken maniacs" the woman grinned wickedly. Her husband didn't stand a chance against her arguments. She had already given the evidence to her attorney, he would reveal it with or without her presence in court today. Jules slammed his fist on the dashboard, the plane rocked violently "Jules, this is not the time to start flying like a lunatic"
"I'm not" the bear eyed the gauges, seeing the number one intake drop below critical "the number one is choking…I don't get it" He looked outside, his eyes widened in disbelief. Feathers stuck to the turbine, dents were clearly visible in the coverplate. "Birds in the engine…why didn't you warn me of an incoming flock?"
"I wasn't watching. Where do all those birds come from all the sudden?"
Hundreds of seagulls were gathered in the sky, making looking out of the window useless. More and more birds hit the plane, some got caught in the engines. The intakes were clogged, choking out the engines and ultimately stalling them.
The crash was brutal…
HIGHER FOR HIRE, TODAY
"…Kate…she couldn't get her seatbelt on in time and flew through the windshield. I don't endanger anyone anymore. I've never seen my kids since…they told me they died in the shelter but I don't buy it. Fact remains that they're gone"
"Seek out the truth? What can she possibly mean by that?" Kit was a bit confused: why would Sarah write him a message after all these years and put a code in it? A code that said 'I now about the past' none the less…it didn't make sense
"I don't know her, I can't tell you. Think about it for a while"
"Where have you been all these months?"
"About everywhere…we travelled from west to east, from north to south, seen continents, islands, oceans, species on the virge of extinction and trade ports. We set up a little business until we had that…run-in with the…ehmm…'regular delivery agencies'"
"I can't believe it…you did it again! You started shipping cargo without asking questions. You _know_ that always backfires!"
"It's not like we got into serious trouble. We just had to close up and leave again. What have you been up to lately?"
"Let's see…making a mess of the Port Green lawenforcement, leading an army platoon, running for my life, getting shot at, getting shot, resting, getting shot at, resting, getting kidnapped, burying my own brother, resting, getting bored and currently resting" Kit rambled it all in one breath, like he had rehearsed it several times -which was most likely true. His ears pointed up and he grabbed his watch. When routines develop, timing is based on several elements. AC didn't get it, Kit smiled "Ten seconds before the nurse walks in…9…8…7…6…5…4"
"Good afternoon Kit!" the nurse walked in, Kit cursed softly while AC laughed. The lioness didn't get it "What are you laughing about?"
"Nuthin'…my watch is just a bit slow…are you after my bloodpressure again? Last time it was a tadbit too high"
Leia released the valve of the handpump and listened until Kit's blood started flowing freely again. She knew of the last test: it was why she was instructed to test again.
"15/9 is not a tadbit too high…darn kid, can't you relax? When I test you again tomorrow, I want to see better results or…"
"or what?" Kit didn't really want to know but asked anyway. Leia showed a rather large injection
"…or I'll have to give you one of these…and this one doesn't go in your arm"
"Guess I'd better come up with a way to relax then"
The lioness removed the armbond and put it away. Now it was time for the routine checkups and medication. No matter how many times she asked, she always got the same answer
"How are you feeling?"
"Lock a kid up in the same room for three months and ask him"
"Good thing you haven't lost your sense of humor."
"So, what do you have for me today? Morfine, Methadon, Sodium-Pentanol…?"
"Same as yesterday"
Kit offered his arm, the nurse cleaned the needle
"I suppose you better hook me back up to a tube then: this stuff doesn't work"
"Really?" Leia was about to inject, but pulled the needle back
"Yeah, it knocks me out, but when I wake up it still hurts…I know that other stuff goes straight to my head, but at least it worked"
"I'll talk to the doctor about it. For now, I'll give you the old medication"
AC frowned, not knowing what to think of the strange conversation. Kit looked healthy and Baloo had told him that the cub's wound was healed…why would he still need such medication? The nurse simply took another syringe and injected the cub.
From the second the medication entered his bloodstream, Kit closed his eyes and tensed up. His mouth opened a little as Kit leaned back against his pillow. AC opened the cub's eyelids, only to notice that his eyes were rolling upward. Leia pulled the needle back
"It'd be best if you leave sir, he won't be much of a chatpartner anymore"
"What was that stuff?"
"Every junkie's dream…and sadly, exactly what he needs"
AC followed the nurse down the hall, motioning her to hold up for a second. She simply entered another patient's room and shut the door. There was nothing else to do for AC than wait for her to return.
He waited for what seemed to be an eternity. Leia didn't seem to be coming out. AC suddenly remembered a detail from Kit's room: it had a door to the next one…most likely all rooms were designed like that so nurses could escape from nosy visitors. The system was proving its effeciency yet again. Too bad they forgot about one thing: Lou still walked around in the corridors, AC spotted him and blocked his passage
"Allright rocketscientist, I'm not leaving here before you tell me about Kit"
"What's left to say? He was brought in more dead than alive, we patched him up and keep him happy. Case closed. Now if you would excuse me, I've got work to do"
"It's 6 o'clock and he's asleep. I've seen the look on his face when they drugged him…he's addicted"
"OFFC…"Lou almost violated his own rule" offcourse he's addicted, what did you expect? It's a good thing too: he'll need it"
"Why? Why does the world need another drug addict? I've been there myself, it ain't pretty"
"First of all: there's a lot of schrapnel still in his body. There is such thing as a limit to an operation. We couldn't even try to remove them because we'd kill him. Second: these pieces of schrapnel cause a constant pain stimilus. A nurse gave him an overdose of morfine and his body accustomed to that. We tried to decrease the dose, but now he complains we have to keep whatever he's getting now. Makes perfect sense, doesn't it?"
"Ultimately it won't be enough. He'll want more"
"Ultimately he'll die of that schrapnel too, but let's give him as much of a normal life as we can. Besides, Baloo consented. Talk to him if you want a change in treatment"
"I would if he wasn't in Cape Suzette right now"
"Use a phone"
"*What* do you want to know about *who*?" The bear sat in his chair, looking out of the window. He was a bit taken by the question, but nevertheless glad that his daughter had phoned him for a change
"Daddy, it's quite simple: was Jules fired because he was always drunk?" Rebecca doublechecked wether Jules wasn't in hearing distance. Luckily, she found him out on the dock, working on his plane
"You know I'm not suposed to answer that…he's a personal friend. Let's just say you better keep a close eye on him and tell the bartender to watch out how much he gets. But let's forget about him for a second, buttercup, how are things going in Cape Suzette? And don't you go reciting your business record again!" The bear wasn't easy to get along with, but he was getting older and complained about not seeing his granddaughter enough. His fur was greying, the sun was setting on him. Pretty soon he'd have to retire and if he hadn't made peace with his daughter by then, how would he spend his days?
"Everything is pretty good around here I guess…Molly is doing well in school, Wildcat still fixes everything from a phone to a drainpipe -saves a lot in aircraft parts, Baloo is on his way back from Port Green, Jules is doing his job pretty well considering the obvious. There's not much more to say…"
"What about that boy you were talking about…you know, the reason you needed that contract. I bet he's jumping around in there"
"He's still in hospital…I don't think he'll be coming back any time soon"
"That's four months already! And why is Baloo coming back? A father is supposed to be with his child when it needs him"
"So, it took you fifteen years to come to that conlusion huh? You should start taking your own advice"
"Rebecca, I thought you had forgiven me by now…listen, maybe we better end this conversation before we start fighting again."
"Yeah, maybe we should. Goodbye father"
Rebecca hung up, abrubtly ending the talk. Her father poured himself a brandy, oblivious of how he had hurt his daughter with a simple statement. But this was no time to get emotional. The bank had sent her numerous notices…she was going down like Baloo's air service. Maybe it was time to sell assets: they didn't need that P40, it was costing her a lot and selling it would make ten times what she got from renting it out. It was a hard decision…should she sell it, break clear of all financial problems and break Kit's heart, or should she keep it, ask her father for more money and see Kit's smile again when he walks through the door with his flightjacket, scarf and goggles?
It wasn't fair: either way she chose, she lost. Her father wouldn't really protest against another 'parental loan' but the principle annoyed Rebecca: she vowed to make it in the world without her father's millions, without having to use her name to unlock doors. But would it make her any less a bussinesswoman if she stepped through the doors her father had opened? A great idea entered her mind.
Rummaging through papers, she was able to find the original shipping contract her father had granted her. It was temporary and very limited but what if… Intertran Cargo Inc. was land-based and one of the biggest. Why would they need an air cargo company unless they were expanding their market? Some of the freelancers at Louie's had planes with heavy-lift capabilities…why hadn't she thought of this before? If she could pull this one off, her problems were solved without having to touch at her staff or equipment. If Louie would cooperate and if she got a hold of Intertran's general director…She could provide pilots, planes and maybe the best of all, it would assure that they wouldn't be taken over by Khan.
AC was awake despite the nightly hour. He was rehearsing what to do, what to say…Kit was going to wake up sooner or later and how was he going to explain the cub that his father wasn't coming back? Maybe he'd understand, maybe he'd freak out.
It wasn't like Baloo abandoned him, he just had to go back to take care of a few things. He heard of the way things were turning out and figured Rebecca could use another pilot plus plane. There was probably no work for him, but he checked anyway. Maybe it was his way to escape reality.
Kit was still out cold. The mix he had gotten would assure sleep for another three hours at least. The doctors figured that if he slept a lot, he'd heal quicker. It wasn't until after a few weeks that they realised the flagrant mistake they had made.
Even after all the arguments he had heard, AC still thought he could help Kit on a different level than these doctors. He had been addicted himself, for different reasons offcourse, but nevertheless he got over it. Were those drugs really necessary? Or were the doctors afraid of what might happen if they took them away from the cub? But who was he to decide? There was only one person that could make such a decision and he was asleep…or was he?
"Hey, watcha worryin' 'bout?" Kit whispered: it was still night and he just woke up.AC stopped his pacing and sat down "Where's Papa Bear?"
"He went back to Cape Suzette" all that time rehearsing, and this was the best he could do? "Ehmm…I didn't mean it that way"
"Whaddya…he went back? Naw, naw, he would have told me" Kit looked around him, seeing nothing but a dark room "Baloo? C'mon, it ain't funny no more…Baloo?" The cub tried to sit up, AC helped him
"I told you, he's not here. I'm sorry. He asked me to look after you as long as he's helping out Rebecca"
"Did Miss. Cunningham ask him to come back?"
"Yeah, that's it" AC lied for an obvious reason "It's a good thing you're awake, I gotta talk to you about something very important. Those shots you're getting…"
"I hate them too, don't worry. Sometimes I just…wanna…" Kit closed his eyes, forcing them shut. He grabbed his left side and almost doubled over"
"Hey, kiddo, what's wrong?"
"What's the time?…gotta know the time"
AC cast a look at his watch, barely making out an hour with the sparse moonlight. "Midnight…Kit, it's 12PM sharp"
"Dammit…I'm not supposta be awake yet…not yet, it's too soon"
"Waddya mean? Hey kiddo, talk to me…man, this is bad"
Kit was curling up, knees almost to his chin. Tears rolled of his cheeks…everything in his chest hurt "Get a…nurse…hurry!" it wasn't but a squeek. AC hurried away, Kit grabbed the bars of his bed. It had happened before that he woke up before he was supposed to, which ment his last injection wasn't effective. The first time he thought he was dying, the second time he just 'rode it out' until Baloo woke up…one thing was for sure: without his shots, this would be a constant instead of an exception. Even AC got it now: Kit wasn't addicted, he really needed those drugs. The cub struggled for air until he got sweet relief from a needle…
"He was so close by…and yet so far away. I couldn't help him. He was hoping for me to help him and I couldn't" AC sat next to the nurse, trying to convey the emotions that welled up in him. He wasn't the 'soft' type, but what he had just seen had really upset him. The nurses of this hospital came across shocked visitors often and had developed a sixth sense when he needed to talk about it.
"There was nothing you could do. There's nothing anyone of us can do except give him his medication and hope for the best. You'll have to learn to live with it, just like he has: these 'attacks' won't be too uncommon, he had three in the last three weeks"
"I just thought…I was a fool to doubt Bagher! Five minutes more and I would have convinced Kit to refuse the treatment. All I was thinking about was that drug, not how much he needed it…the remorse of an ex-junkie I guess, on a crusade to rid the world of all drugs and tranquilisers"
"Some really need those things…they're rare, but they exist. And when it comes down to them, doctor Bagher is an authority. Give him some credit: he knows what he's doing. When Kit's stomach is strong enough, he'll only have to take pills and get one injection a week. That can be done by his usual pediatrician. What worries me more is his blindness: it's going faster every day…I expect him to lose his sight permanently in two weeks. We bought him some time with those eyedrops, but time is finally running out"
"So the last thing he'll see is this room? That ain't fair"
"Life hardly is, you of all people should know that. Like I said: give doctor Bagher some credit. He's arranging a temporary release so Kit can enjoy the few moments left. You better tell the boy's father to come back in a day or two"
"You're just stalling! Ever since I got here I haven't gotten a serious explanation, a prognosis or possible options. It's like you're trying to suck more money out of your patients. Rebecca's bussiness is going down the drain because of the medical bills"
"Rebecca isn't paying the bills: it wasn't a work accident. Her father provides us with the necessary funds. And we don't stall anyone…if we have kept Kit here for this long, it meant he needed it. Now excuse me, I've got work to do"
"That's what you all say when I'm right…"
A soft carribean tune drifted out the closed double doors. The temperature both inside and outside the club was alike: hot. Inside, the party was picking up speed while outside a red and yellow seaplane was slowing down. The pilot set foot on the dock for the first time in four months but this time not for a party. When he came back to look for work, he had expected to find none so he could leave for Port Green again…boy, was he wrong!
The urang-utan behind the bar poured out drinks, made cocktails and accepted money at the same time. A party like this brought in loads of cash, an event that should make him happy. Yet, for four months already, his mood wasn't too good. Party after party, celebration after celebration, dance after dance, nothing could cheer him up. He needed something else, something with grey fur, about six feet tall and a stomach that could digest anything. He needed…
The cry came out of nowhere. The rasp but oh so familiar vibrations, the tones of that voice and the heavy footsteps on the dock. The band stopped playing, Louie cautiously made his way to the doors. The crowd wondered what was going on and turned to follow the scene…only the regulars smiled already. The doors flew open
"Outtah da blue, into dah club, big ah life, twice ah ugly, BA-HA-LOO!" when hearing that name, the band started playing a merry tune that got most of the crowd back to dancing. Louie now had some privacy "I knew ya wouldn't ferget an' ol' pal fuzzy! C'mon, drinks on da house fer once"
The duo wrestled their way through the dancing frenzy. It took them almost ten minutes to reach the other side of the club as they were occasionally dragged into a dance. Baloo sat down on a barstool
"Great party goin' on"
"One o' da greatest: yer back! Ya hafta sneak out while da navigator snoozes now? Heard about da adoption man, congrahtulations. Now, just between us compadres" Louie pulled Baloo closer and whispered in his ear "I expected ya ta rent da place fer a celebration. I woulda have made a price, ya know"
"It wasn't the money Louie, things wasn't that bad back then. But you hafta have a kid that kin party" Baloo always forgot about his finer vocabulary when he got emotional. At least Kit's advice knocked some civilisation in him
"Boogy, da kid kin PAR-TEH! Ya shoulda seen him swingin' on the last Mambo night" Louie hopped on the counter and did a little Jive himself "fastest feet in da West fuzzy. Floatin' over da floor"
Baloo threw his arms in the air and walked away from the bar. Louie stared and stopped dancing, following the grey bear to a table where he sat down, miserable.
"Didn't mean ta offend ya cuz, yer a great dancer yerself ya know…"
"It's not that Louie…t'is just that everyone I meet starts talking 'bout Kit and how fast he was"
"Dhat's a compliment fuzzy, nobody wanna drag ya down or anythin'"
"Louie, he's in a wheelchair! He'll never be as fast again or even come close. Last time I saw him he could hardly move his legs"
"Whoa, heavy. Where you been all this time an' what happend?"
"Long story Louie, I'd rather not talk about it. I was with Kit all da time, he hardly noticed me. Ain't never gonna be the same again cuz. Don't wanna think about it"
"Then ya sure picked a lousy place ta swing by"
"Rebecca sent me" Baloo refocused on his assigned task. Rebecca wasn't putting any pressure on him, but she made it clear he was still one of her employees "she wants to know about that deal you two discussed"
"It'll lure a lot o' customers…are those trips long haul?"
"Most of the destinations can't be reached without a full gastank…they'll hafta refuel here. That reminds me: I need a full tank and a cooling liquid refill"
"Ya got yerself a deal cuz…Cooling liquid? Ya haven't asked fer cooling since…"
"Let's just say the Duck is fully customised again"
Baloo loved the surprise Firehound had gotten him…
"Yeah, come one! Whoho, not that fast, I can't keep up. Slow down, you're running!"
AC's encouragements were only making Kit laugh. He was exercising his walking again, not making any progress. Where Baloo was explaining him what to do, AC figured it was best if Kit didn't think about the disappointment and emphasise what he was doing right
"Watch out Larson, I'm coming back!" Kit tried to move faster and miraculously succeeded in lifting his right foot a few centimeters. Jimmy Larson was second in line to lead the track team and would now have no more competition. His times were slower than Kit's, but with the cub immobilised he would lead the team for the junior olympics
"That's it! Come on, we don't take nothing from nobody! We'll show Jimmy who's the fastest!" AC knew of the rivalry between the two kids and used it to his advantage now…after all, someone who was ready mentally was ready physically
"You call 11.5 a time on the dash? Try my 10.3! Try it!" Kit let go of the handlebars and stood without help of any kind "Come on! Show you're a sprinter dammit!" slowly, almost impossible to see, Kit's foot started to move. The cub didn't realise it, but he was walking "TRY MY TIME DAMMIT! TRY IT! TRY….WHOOAA" the cub lost his balance. Luckily AC had been standing behind him and caught him without difficulty
"One wheelchair, coming up"
Kit was exhausted and sat down in the quickly fetched wheelchair. Lou noted, a big grin on his face as he marked a distance.
"Why…why are you so happy?" Kit was catching his breath, AC hung a towel around his shoulders to catch most of the sweat
"Remember how I told you you had to expect babysteps at first?"
"You just made a giant leap forward: three yards without help. I bet you want that leader place bad"
"I'd go to the ends of the earth for it. AC, what was my time?"
"A disappointing 12.3" he massaged Kit's shoulders to relax the boy further. He felt like a coach and it was most likely a true resemblance
"Hey, no way I'm stooping down Jimmy's alley. I'd better double my trainings"
"Hold on there for a second" Lou finished his report and looked into Kit's eyes "I warned you not to force yourself. I know there are patients here that would kill for your stamina, but there's a limit to everything. Tomorrow we'll try to exercise your balance, then the walking and when you can walk 100 yards without help, we'll do some condition training, how does that sound?"
"You don't want to be exhausted for the big games do you?" AC smiled to Lou over Kit's head. He turned the wheelchair around and rolled it out of the gym "no sir, I don't think so. You gotta save some to beat Jimmy, remember? Not that he's better, but you can't run when you're tired. Do you want him to think he's better because you were tired?"
"Heck no! I'm gonna give him what he deserves: humiliation. I'm gonna beat him with 9.8, that's what I'm gonna do!"
"Exactly! How about we head on down to the cafeteria? I'm in the mood for a few beers, you?"
"Yeah, but Lou'll probably want me to drink water or lemonade"
"Oh, YOU are thirsty? You haven't done anything but shout"
"It's not like you have done much yourself. You go to that gym, walk three yards and get to rest in a wheelchair for the rest of the day"
"Hey, don't get me started…"
"First load delivered"
"Good, the next assignment is on the board to your right. Pick whatever you like"
Bussiness what going great for Higher for Hire. Ever since Rebecca had her genius idea, work was pouring in…so much she had to hire freelancers from Louie's. Intertran Cargo Inc. was expanding it's market as was expected. Their only problem was that they had no way to transport cargo over the ocean: they were landbased and shipping them would take too long. Rebecca's proposal was mutually beneficial: Intertran informed her of outgoing cargo and her pilots flew it to its destination where affiliations of Intertran picked it up again. It was cheaper than maintaining their own fleet. In addition, Rebecca recruited pilots with heavy-lift planes directly from Louie's who got an exclusive refueling contract. And who stayed for a refuel, stayed for a drink or two. The freelance pilots were paid directly for their flights, Baloo and Jules got bonuses per Intertran flight in addition to their usual pay.
Yes, business was going very well. The bank got paid in time, the freelancers were paid more than they would make on regular flights and pirates didn't have a clue of what was going on. The only loser was Khan who saw an impending takeover go down the drainpipe. Rebecca was even considering upgrading her dock for higher capacity. The water around the once so unsuccessful place now buzzed with activity.
The phone rang…it hadn't stopped doing that since yesterday. Rebbecca was also considering an extra line
"Higher for Hire, how may I help you? Oh, hi daddy…no, I don't need an extra loan…what do you mean the bank is about to foreclose on me, I paid them yesterday…yes, yesterday, you heard right…uhu, you're right: it's a miracle. A miracle or great business sense, goodbye daddy, time is money" That felt good! For the first time in two years, she was able to show her father that she knew how to make a decent profit. The phone rang again
"Higher for Hire, how may I help you?"
"Lou Bagher from the Port Green hospital. I have two times good news and one time bad news about your navigator. Could I speak to Baloo please?"
"He's not in at the time" Rebecca sat up, getting off her cloud "can I take a message?"
"I might as well tell you I supose: you're as good as his mother. Kit's making some marvelous progress in the revalidation proces. He even walked without help today. And again on the bright side, I'm letting him go under medical supervision in two days. Which leads me to the bad news…"
"I don't think there can be any bad news left mr. Bagher, but go on anyway"
"We do expect you to bring him back in for care when…when the light has left his eyes permanently" Lou tried to express it poetically to make it seem less dramatic "Then we can guide him through the initial weeks psychologically and develop his non-visual skills"
"Isn't there any way to stop that from happening?"
"Several opticians have examined him, some the very best, and they came to a unanimous decision: Kit's eyes will never get better, only worse. It'll take a miracle to cure them…and quite frankly, I'm never a religious man in those matters"
"It's not right a kid should go blind…Offcourse we'll bring him back. How did he suffer this damage anyway?"
"Most likely the coma…it's the only medical explanation. Psychologically, it's a completely different thing. Children that suffered post-traumatic stress have been known to develop pseudo-blindness at rare occasions or when they are exposed to another traumatic experience…please don't ask me how I know that…in which case there is some sort of treatment. But I can't find anything in his files, so…"
"I don't know doctor…Maybe it's just me or maybe you're just made of stone, but getting shot twice seems like a traumatic experience to me, especially when you're thirteen. Not to mention getting kidnapped or see someone murdered, get caught in the middle of a crossfire or dropped twothousand feet…reasons enough to get traumatised?"
"I was just pointing out that there was no recorded trauma. I don't want to get anyones hopes up. And even if it were so, there isn't much hope anyway. I have no wish to discuss this over the phone…I will talk to Kit though. Please inform Baloo that he can pick Kit up in two days. I hope I haven't wrecked your day"
Chris was living the best day of his…death. Today, he was officially appointed Kit's guardian angel. The boy was pretty proud of himself: Gabriel, THE angel among angels had practiced for centuries where Chris only took months. Maybe he was destined to become an angel…was there a bigger force than his boss? Someone knocked and entered. The stranger was wearing a loose fitting shirt and a worn-out pair of pants. Chris turned away from his work for a second
"Hi. Ehmm…I'm kinda busy right now, could you come back later?"
"Yah, sure, whatever…I've got an eternity"
The stranger turned to leave. Only now did Chris notice his shining white wings. Guardians didn't have the right to turn away angels
"No, wait, hold on…I'm sorry, I didn't realise you were an angel"
"Doesn't really matter, we're all the same. All that's different is that I got those darn heavy things on my back" the unknown angel couldn't be much older than 17 or 19. His hair was a mess, his attitude relaxed to the extreme. He offered his hand
"Chris, Kit Cloudkicker's guardian"
"How ya doin'? The name is Gabriel, archangel for some reason…"
"You…You're Gabriel?!" Chris blurted it out without thought: Gabriel was almost second in command "I didn't mean it that way. The way you're dressed is somewhat in contradiction with what I expected"
"So what was you expectation?" Gabriel scratched the back of his head "A long white dress or something? 'Cause everyone seems to expect that from me. That look is truly passé…only the boss' son still wears that. The sweater is innovative, haven't seen that before"
"What? Isn't there a tailor up here? Or wool to knit one?"
"Yeah, but if you haven't heard of it, it's hard to ask for it or make one"
"Was that the only reason you came here? My sweater? It's not even your size…"
"No, no, I just tried to break the ice as they say. You know you got the entire heaven talk about you…or at least mention you on the side. You ran over the entire system, broke the rules and got away with it, even got to talk with the boss and change the masterplan…I was just wondering: are you interested in my place?"
"Come on Gabriel, I'd never try to take your place"
"That's a shame…I'm getting sick of these wings. They're nice, but I can't seem to fly with them and those feathers get stuck in my clothes. Maybe I can give you a few pointers…is that your plan?"
"Yeah, it is. Is it any good?"
"A bit variable, but failsafe. Not bad all in all. Now, what you can easely do is…"
The fox walked into the hospital, determined. A higher force had sent her: her own will! She was still disgusted with what had happened a few years ago and was taking every opportunity to set things right. The card was a first step, now it was time to take personal action. Making the same mistake as everyone, she walked into pediatrics
"Excuse me, but it's outside visiting hours" the nurse stopped her in a friendly but commanding tone. Sarah wasn't too surprised to hear that: she didn't exactly look like a psychologist
"The name is Sarah Dorington, psycho-analist. I came here for Kit Cloudkicker in room 104 down the hall" The fox knew Kit's room number, but always forgot the first combination. She just figured a thirteen year old kid would be in pediatrics
"Wrong room Sarah. You won't find Kit in 12104…you might want to check out room 53104. Fifth floor, to the right of the elevator"
"Don't mention it, just join the club"
Wondering what the nurse meant by that, Sarah got back into the elevator and reached the fifth floor. Every sign read 'intensive care'…her courage left her. Maybe she wasn't supposed to come by yet, maybe it was a bad idea. -You came this far, don't give up now- Determined once again, the fox turned right and marched through the corridor. She was considering the possibility that her card hadn't arrived yet or that Kit wasn't able to figure out its hidden meaning, it was even possible that he didn't remember her. Room 53104, she had the doorknob in hand…just a matter of turning it and entering, why was it so hard?
"Good afternoon, the name is Sarah Dorington. You might not remember me, but…"
"Sarah? I can't believe you actually came!"
So far the introduction was going great. Kit recognised her and even seemed happy to see her. In itself, that wasn't a bad thing, but it also meant something didn't make sense. She would have spoken freely from the first second if it wasn't for AC sitting next to the cub.
"Excuse me, sir, but visiting hours have been over a long time. I would appreciate it if you left" Sarah still knew Kit was an orphan, so that man couldn't be a relative but a close friend at most. Knowing when he wasn't welcome or when Kit would want him to leave, AC stood up, casting one last look at Sarah before leaving. When he had shut the door, the fox sat down
"Creepy guy. Wouldn't want to run into him on a dark night"
"He's a friend. He might be a little rough around the edges, but it's not like he's a dangerous criminal" -at least not anymore- There had been a time AC was the fear of everyone with a plane, even Karnage stayed away from him "What are you doing here?"
"I think I'm mainly here to clear my conscience. Since you remember me, I think it's safe to assume you remember what happened a few years ago"
"Yeah, it's very safe to assume that. I don't blame you, though: it was out of your hands. I'm just weary now when someone tries to give me vitamines…at least I didn't suffer any permanent damage"
"Hmm…maybe. I can't be sure yet. There's something you should know: when they wiped your memory, without success, they also…how am I supposed to say this?"
"Maybe you should just say it like it is" Kit had no idea what he had gotten himself into. If Sarah doubted her own words, it meant something off-scale was about to impact
"Allright…when they wiped your memory, they also tried to 'reprogram' you. It is safe to say that many of the characteristics you own aren't yours! Kit, you're not the Kit from back then…maybe it wore off, maybe some elements are still present. The only way to be sure is make a detailed psycho-analysis of your entire psyche, no matter how insignificant something seems, it might make a difference. I was able to reverse some of the damage before they dumped you, but I don't know how much"
"So, what you are saying is that I'm not me, but some sort of malfunctioning robot that's about to go nuts? That's crazy!"
"It's not quite like that. You were almost programmed to self-destruct, if I may put it like that. They tripled your agression and cut your trust in half, meaning you wouldn't hold out long on the streets. The memory loss was temporary and you were supposed to be dead by the time you remembered anything. I tried my best to make you the kind, gentle boy you were again but the agressive factor remained" While she was explaining, Sarah was helping Kit sit up and put the pillow behind his back. She was subconciously taking care of him, like a mother for her young. After careful consideration and lots of arguments with Dave, she was determined to reverse the damage…if Kit consented
"I'm not agressive at all…as long as nobody gets me steaming mad. And I trust plenty, like Baloo and a few other persons…"
"Don't you see? You work in several predetermined gears! If one of these gears you've built to protect yourself fails, you go back to your basic instincts…the agression and fear to trust. You're a loose cannon and it will only get worse from here. Your gearwork will eventually fail completely and the world will have yet another criminal. It already got you here and face it: it killed your brother"
"That's not fair! I couldn't help it" Kit wished he could have helped Chris. There was no reason for him to get involved in the Fang-case, but he did out of his own free will. Throughout the months, Kit had to convince himself multiple times that it wasn't his fault
"Don't worry, I can help you forget all about that incident, all about your brother and every other unpleasant memory you might have"
"Maybe I don't want to forget about all that, maybe it's just part of who I am?!"
"It's not part of who you are, it's part of who they want you to be. I can hypnotise you and bring you back to your 'original setting'. After that I'll bring you back and you can decide what you like better, allright?"
Kit nodded. Sarah dimmed the light and turned up the heating. When it was sufficiently hot and dark, she took an old pendulum. Wrecking the mood, AC walked in, wondering what was going on
"Am I interrupting something?"
"Not really" Kit answered before Sarah could "I want you to stay here for a while and make sure Sarah doesn't erase my memory again" the cub felt a little paranoid, but she hadn't been completely straight forward with him in the past…Windward and Norville didn't match
"Afraid to trust me Kit? Don't worry, I'll fix that…relax and look at the pendulum" the light object swung from left to right in front of Kit's eyes, the boy followed it with all his concentration. After a while, he got tired of concentrating "relax…follow the object" Sarah repeated it in a soft tone every so often "I want you to imagine you're floating in a pool of warm water…all around you warm with nobody to disturb you…close your eyes, you're getting sleepy…you gently float on the water, relax…sleep overcomes you, relax…my voice is the onlly thing that you hear, the only thing you know…we go back to the time you were happy, what is your first memory?"
"I can see…it looks like an airplane hanger, but everything is so big! Someone else is here, he looks like me…it's Chris! Mom and dad must be here too, but I can't see them. What's that noise? Is that…? It's her! It's mom! She's…she's not even looking at me, she's playing with Chris. Why doesn't she want me? I understand, she's telling dad to look after me but I can't see him anywhere. Where does that alcohol smell come from? Somebody grabs me by my arm and lifts me up…it hurts. Dad? I can't make out his face, my eyes are tearing from the smell…it must be his breath. He's gonna hit me, mom isn't looking…no, please…I'm back into that pool of warm water"
Sarah listened a bit shocked, AC didn't know what to make of it. It clearly wasn't a happy memory, but Sarah didn't seem to be surprised.
"uhoh…he wasn't supposed to go back to the pool-suggestion"
"What does that mean?"
"Either there is a problem with the suggestion…that should mean he's afraid of water or something…or that was the only memory he had from his parents. I'm gonna ask him…" she turned face to face with Kit and spoke up "all is quiet, nothing can hurt you here…do you have another memory of your parents?"
"I don't remember one…or wait, there is one, one I had forgotten about years ago…I wanted to forget it…No, I don't want to remember it, I'm afraid"
"Relax, there is nobody around to hurt you, all is quiet. There is nothing to be afraid of now. Don't try to supress the memory, let it out. Tell me what you see, feel and hear…"
"Chris! You gotta stop it, NOW!" the woman ran in without knocking, Chris and Gabriel looked up. Why would his mother be so afraid of what was about to follow? It didn't make sense, but nevertheless it was too late to stop the command
"I'm sorry mom, it's out of my hands now"
"Oh god no…" she grabbed Gabriel by his shoulders "Gabriel, I beg you: stop that command!"
"Ehmm…I would REALLY like to help you, ya know, but uhmm…it's out of my hands already too. Kit's already in a logic think pattern that can't be disturbed anymore…relax, it's nothing serious"
"Uhoh…Gabe, take a look at this" Chris motioned to his plan. Strange things started happening: routes were altered, thoughts completely changed and Kit's life shortened to a few more days. Gabriel looked at it closely
"That wasn't in there before…it's that memory! It's gonna turn everything around"
"Some guardian angels you turned out to be. Lucky thing his mother is here to protect him"
The woman walked to the center of the 'room' and snapped her fingers. Clouds gathered around her and gradually her form disappeared. Chris sighed, Gabriel slapped himself in the face
"*Now* we're in trouble!"
"I'm lying somewhere, I can't see clearly…it's clearing up…this must be my crib, I feel so tiny…I'm drinking something…I think…yeah, it is: it's my bottle. I was so thirsty, but it doesn't matter: mommy always gives me my bottle of milk in time. Somebody is towering over me…it's that awful alcohol smell again…he's taking my bottle! No wait daddy, I'm still thirsty! Why did you do that? Mom? She calms me down and tickles me a little, the smell is gone. I think she wants me to go to sleep…MY BEAR! She's giving me…my old bear" Completely unaware, Kit started crying softly "It's not big or nice, but my mom gave it to me…it means the world to me. Now, if she would only…she is! She's doing it! MY MUSIC BOX! I love that tune. She places it next to me…it plays a bit loud, but I don't care. She looks like she's afraid of someone now…hmmmm, my blanket. It's so warm and soft and fuzzy here, I feel safe…I'm tired…thanks for everything mommy, I'll see you tomorrow"
AC scratched his head while Sarah wiped Kit's tears away. A few things didn't add up though, no matter how cute that was. AC just couldn't imagine Kit as a baby, it contradicted everything he was.
"Why was he afraid of that?"
"SHHH! It's not over yet!"
"I'm almost asleep, but not quite. The tune plays on and on, my bear safely in my arms…so soft, so safe! Mom is still here, singing. It's warm here, I love that…the tune never seems to end…I don't want it to end, never. Time to sleep…what's that noise? I can barely here my sleeping tune, mom stopped singing. The smell is back…someone is shouting…mom, make it stop, I'm afraid! Mom? Where are you? Mommy! Dad, why do you hate me? What's that? I've never seen something like that before. Why is he pointing it at me? He yells again…mommy, I'm scared, help me! I hear a series of loud, deafening bangs…my music box…no…no" Kit cried harder now "MY MUSIC BOX! IT'S BROKEN! Daddy, you smashed my music box! I need that tune, I love it! Put it back together! No, you can't have my bear…NO! GIVE IT BACK!…No! Please, don't tear it up! I beg you! There's that thing again…it put holes in the bottom of my crib…don't point it at my bear! Let me have something! Mom gave that to me…to me! Give it back! Those bangs are back, I close my eyes…the alcohol smell is overpowered by another smell…sulfur I think…MY BEAR! I don't even recognise it anymore…I just see something with the same color and filling flying around. I've got nothing left…it's all gone…my bear, my music box…why daddy? Why? WHY? I was a good boy, WHY DID YOU DO THAT? IT WAS MINE, YOU DIDN'T HAVE THE RIGHT! MOM GAVE THAT *TO ME*"
Kit was shouting loudly, tears streaming down his face. He squirmed around in his bed, almost chocking in his own sobs. Sarah now knew why he was afraid of that memory: it was his first trauma. Unfortunately he was now too emotional to bring him out of that trance. Kit opened his eyes, regressed to his early childhood, crying like a baby, punching and kicking around him. The window flew open and revealed an ink-black sky. This wasn't a storm: it was a hurricane. AC tried to close it, but didn't succeed. Sarah helped him.
When both were struggling with the window, a figure appeared out of nowhere. The wind didn't seem to affect this side of the room anymore. She gently calmed the cub down and tickled him a little.
"Shhh…no more need to cry fuzzybear, I'm here"
The woman took Kit gently in her arms, rocking him to sleep. Kit couldn't sleep, he never could this way. His mother knew that. Praying that her powers hadn't left her, she produced an old, battered bear
"BEAR!" Kit eagerly took the stuffed toy: it was his and he was never going to let it go again. The woman started singing a soft tune and put the cub back in his bed. Clinging to the bear, he curled to a ball, thumb in his mouth. A familiar tune replayed through the room. When Kit opened his eyes again, the music box he loved so was standing next to him again. His mother sang the song, the music box played the notes. A tune long forgotten, but still loved by the boy.
The window closed almost automatically, the duo looked at the strange scene. Kit was lying in his bed like a baby, covered by a skyblue blanket with little airplanes on it. He held on to a bear neither had ever seen before, the room was filled with a soft tune, played by a shining music box.
Kit had never slept so good before. He felt like a heavy burden was finally lifted off his shoulders. Nobody could wreck his mood today. Knowing he'd wake up and be surrounded by the people he loved was all he needed to be happy today. Slowly, unwilling to really face reality again, he opened his eyes. A research team was dusting for prints and Jerry was questioning AC. It took them all a while to notice Kit was awake.
Only now he noticed the bear he was holding. True, he dreamed of it often but was it really the same? He turned it around and once again found his name in fine stitches near the left paw. It was the bear he had lost years ago. Someone took the music box and put it in a small plastic bag for evidence. With a quick move, the cub grabbed it back, took it out of the bag and opened it, hearing the tune play once again
"That's mine…don't touch it"
"Jerry, tell him to let us go about our business"
"Huh?" Jerry turned around without knowing who could possibly be obstructing justice. Once again, the rookies were blundering "Leave the victim alone, okay? If he attaches certain value to some things, let him keep them"
"Jer, you know that music box had to be full of prints. He just destroyed the evidence"
"What evidence? What crime could have possibly been comitted?" Kit didn't get it. His mother had come back and given him his stuff back and now his room was crawling with police
"Someone tried to kidnap you again, most likely trying to lure you with those toys. Have you seen anyone?"
"As a matter of fact, I have. A woman, blue eyes and long hair"
"Great!" Jerry noted the description "anything else you remember?"
"She was about 5 foot 7, had a soft voice and called me fuzzybear…which leads me to believe that woman was my mother. The stuff she left is mine, I can identify it without problems. All in all, I would appreciate it if you stopped touching my personal belongings and try to arrest my mother because she cares for me. There are worse criminals on the streets"
"You heard the kid" Lou was watching the investigation come to a sudden and unexpected end. He hated such a mess in 'his' hospital "everybody out. Go bust some toddlers for stealing candy from eachother or something like that. Come on, out out out" he pushed the baffled officers out of the room and shut the door "and stay out! They never told me anything about that in medschool…"
"Kit…" Sarah sat down next to his bed, carefully choosing her words. The cub was very fragile at this point "who was that woman yesterday? You know it couldn't have been your mother"
"It was her, there's no other possibility. That voice, the way she talked to me…the nickname 'fuzzybear' in itself. And then this bear, that music box, the blanket…only my mother could have those"
"You mother is dead Kit! She died when you were hardly one year old! Don't fool yourself or anyone else. If anyone presented herself to you as your mother, then she lied to you! Now tell us who that woman was"
"It was my mother dammit! She came back for me, just like Chris came back! I can see them, nobody else can, I don't know why"
Lou was thinking. Either he had to start being a religious man or…It was possible. He had gotten several warnings that Kit could easely start hallucinating
"Why haven't you told me about Chris? I declared him dead myself! He's gone! Don't torment yourself. When did the hallucinations start? No more stalling, I gotta know"
The world had turned against him. Nobody believed him, they all thought he was crazy. AC was nowhere in sight to defend him, he'd have to stick up for himself like it had been the case frequently.
"I…I started seeing him when I got out of that coma. He said he was going to be my guardian angel. I've seen him every day since then, always at the same time"
"Before or after we gave you your shot?"
"Always after…you're not implying that he's just a figment of my imagination?"
"Maybe it's better if we tie you to your bed every night. You don't want to hurt anyone, do you?"
"I can't believe this! How do you explain this stuff then?"
"You always had it but just suddenly remembered it and imagined the entire motherfigure around it. It's jut a battered old bear that, if I smell it, would most likely have the odour of a hospital corridor" Lou grabbed the bear and sniffed it. Much to his surprise, it didn't smell like a hospital, a smell that had invaded all of Kit's belongings. He gave it to Sarah "Is it just my imagination or does that bear smell like…"
"Rosepeddles and…baby oil? What an odd combination"
"Somebody once told me saints always leave the odour of roses" They were both whispering. The evidence was going beyond their definition of reality "and the baby oil could have been Kit's smell years ago!"
"What are you saying? That his mother stood up from the grave and came here to protect her son?"
"Death doesn't necessarely mean the grave Sarah, it can also mean paradise and eternal life! Wasn't Kit going nuts when she appeared? Maybe she couldn't stand it anymore and came down from heaven to give him what he longed for"
"It's true that these objects must have had a serious impact on his psyche, but I don't find your theory of how they got here very scientific"
"They stopped making those music boxes in 1905! Isn't it possible that it was one out of his mother's own past? Fact is that nobody else could have gotten those objects, not with this kind of detail! And as long as nobody got hurt, I'd like to believe this was a miracle. AC went to church today for a little prayer…AC! In a church! That's a miracle in itself. I've seen weirder things in this hospital before Sarah…let it be"
Baloo was winging back over the ocean, his mind set on reaching port. It was like something called him back to Port Green. His cargo runs were dull and empty without his navigator. He missed their chats during long flights, how he asked to open the hatch, how the grey bear tried to keep the plane steady when he was out there so the rope wouldn't break. Baloo must have checked that winch fifteen times before takeoff when he knew Kit wanted to do some cloudsurfing.
The wind was picking up, the elements seemed against him. A lightning bolt shot out of nowhere, missing the fuselage by an inch. The engines struggled to counter the headwind. Any normal pilot would have given up and landed, Baloo flew on without knowing what awaited him behind the next cloud. He didn't care: he was going to reach his destination.
"That looks like some real nasty weather out there. I wonder why you don't just land"
"Hey, who are you?"
Baloo turned to the voice in the copilot's seat. The stranger was wearing the red and blue cap Kit always wore. His shirt and pants made him look like a wanderer, a hobo. Somehow he came across as relaxed and unhindered by the burdens of the world
"My name ain't important, just the fact why you don't land"
"I have important business where I'm supposed to go"
A gust of wind rocked the plane violently. The stranger didn't seem to be the least concerned. He leaned back in the seat and put his feet on the dashboard. Only now did Baloo notice the map on his lap
"If I were you, I'd turn 375"
"The compass only goes up to 359 and then starts again from 00, any navigator should now that!"
The wind kept twisting the plane, the hull started to buckle under the pressure. No matter what the pilot tried, the plane couldn't escape from the wind
"If you really want to see Kit again, I'd just let go of the stick"
"The wind'll throw me off course or slam me into the ground, I gotta get to Port Green"
"You're never gonna reach it like this: the wind will blow you away unless you have some faith"
Baloo tried to correct his course but no matter how much he turned into the wind, it kept blowing him off course. The stranger smiled
"The wind of change is strong Baloo, you might not be able to correct your old course. Have faith and don't stick to old values"
Slowly getting the message, Baloo let go of the controls. The wind played with the plane like crazy, but somehow the grey bear realised he couldn't touch even the slightest of controls. They spun around the axis of the plane, the magnetic compass went crazy. When the spin was over, it pointed 016…375. The wind dropped in speed and the clouds disappeared. The storm was over and Port Green peaked its head over the horizon. When Baloo turned back to the young stranger, he found only the baseball cap…
The wind of change is very strong indeed, but not always slowing you down or blowing you off course…
"Are you trying to lose me again? Slow down! I'm no track sprinter…man, you're too fast for me!"
Kit was in the gym again, feeling better than usual. AC was shuffling behind him, letting him walk a distance in front of him. Not only did it build his confidence, it was also a good way to encourage him to walk faster.
"You're not catching me! Oh no, not this time. You've been chasing me for fifteen yards but you'll get tired"
Sweat dripped down Kit's face. He couldn't hold on to the handlebars anymore, what forced him to put more power in his legs. But now he could walk by himself, he was sure he could keep his balance without problems
"Let's see how fast you get tired trackdemon! We're not in a stadium now, you're on my turf"
"Any turf is fine for me! You want a piece of me? Feast your eyes on this"
The cub lifted his foot higher than usual and was able to make somewhat of a normal step. It wasn't much, but it felt like an enormous distance to the boy. Step after step, he could repeat it without falling. A few yards later, he had to stop, exhausted. AC slowly shuffled closer, but when he was about to grab the cub, Kit stepped on. AC walked after him, forgetting about his shuffle
"Hey, come back here, you little sneak!"
"What's the matter? Am I too fast for you? You're never gonna catch me now"
They walked around the room, a bit slow maybe and step by step, but they were walking. A burning feeling grew in Kit's chest, but the boy swallowed it down. Lou marked expected distances but had to erase them time and again. Kit was coming awfully close to his 100 yard goal and it had taken him only a few days…maybe miracles did happen. Around 75 yards, the boy stopped, tried to catch his breath and sank to the floor. AC picked him up and set him in the wheelchair again
"Lemme just catch my breath…can't ya roll me to an open window?"
"Kit, I bet you didn't try those breathing exercices I gave you huh?"
"Why s…should I? I know howta breathe"
"You *knew*, but not with a lung and a half"
"I'm sorry…I'll try them tonight" Another thought entered Kit's mind. If he had to take care how he breathed, was that going to affect…that would be awful "Doc, how am I supposed to cloudsurf with half a lung missing?"
"Let's try walking first and worry about cloudsurfing later. Besides, you can always take some oxygen with you"
"Oh no, my angel is tied back to the earth" Kit's mother was looking down at her son, hearing the conversation between him and his doctor. She had been able to increase his strength every night when he was asleep to speed up the revalidation, but she had forgotten about his lungs. The woman enjoyed seeing her son fly like a bird…it was almost like he didn't need the wings of an angel to fly by himself. Chris noticed the attention
"You know it was a bad move to go down there like you did yesterday…It's a lucky thing nobody else saw you or the chief had really blown a gasket"
"I don't care, I have to look after my boy. Now that I have you close to me, I can keep an eye on both at the same time. Now give your brother his lungs back!"
"That's not my decision…"
"Yeah, m'am, there's only one person that can authorise that…and he's pretty mad right now"
"You're his guardian! Give your brother his lungs back!"
"Mom, I think you're too personally involved. It's hard, but I've worked it out and he'll hardly notice it after a month or so"
"That's horrible! I'm going to complain to the boss! He'll understand"
"So, Li'l Britches, I bet you're all…packed…Kit?" Baloo walked into Kit's room, hoping to see a happy cub ready to go. Instead, he saw a snoozing kid, his room an awful mess. Kit was still a bit drowsy from the pills they had given him to substitute the shots and the warm afternoon sun shining in wasn't helping any.
"Wha…? Uhn…" Kit woke up, yawned and stretched "Ow, good morning Baloo"
"Good afternoon would be more like it…it's 6.30!" The grey bear tapped his watch and set out to cleaning the room and packing Kit's stuff. 'Packing' was a big word: he just took the sweaters and shirts and threw them into a sportbag
"Thanks for helping me pack Papa Bear…could you toss me my sweater?"
"Sure" Baloo simply picked up the sweater and threw it to Kit. He grabbed it out of the air and tried to put it on…he had been wearing his shirt for months, the wool felt strangely warm and confining. Baloo looked at the boy struggling "Ya can't put on a sweater lyin' down, lemme help ya there" the bear helped Kit sit up and practically put on the sweater for him. The cub felt helpless all of the sudden, now reminded of what he was and most likely would never be again. Lou walked in, right on time like every day
"Guess this is goodbye huh doc?"
"You'll be back in a few weeks for a checkup…they all come back sooner or later! BWAHAHAHA! Ahem…'scuse me"
Baloo shook his head and continued packing. His eye fell on something he had never seen before. That couldn't possibly be Kit's…could it?
"Hey kiddo, is this yours?" the bear held up a blue blanket with airplanes on it. Kit started blushing: he liked it, but it contradicted his usual tough attitude. Lou was reminded of a few things he had to discuss without Kit overhearing. He motioned Baloo to play along for a while
"Say, Kit, you look tired…maybe I should keep you here for another while"
"That's no problem doc, I can pick 'im up next week, no prob there"
"Good, so that's settled…unless he would go to sleep now for a few hours"
Kit got the hint, but was tired anyway. He didn't mind a couple more hours of sleep and lay back on his pillow. After the usual squirming to get truly comfortable, he dozed off again. The entire process had taken less than five minutes. Lou smiled and motioned Baloo to follow him. When they were both outside, he shut the soundproof door.
"A couple of things you should know before you march out of here: Kit's gonna be tired every day, so don't wear him out out of habit. Second, those pills are strong, very strong. Make sure he doesn't take more than three a day. If he takes more, you try to make him throw up and bring him to the nearest hospital, they'll know what to do. They'll have other effects than just keep the pain away and tire him out: dizzyness and hairloss should be expected too…he doesn't know about that, so now you'll know what to say when he asks. Third: there's a syringe with fourteen refills at the reception for you. You have to sign for it offcourse. If, for any reason, those pills don't work properly and he wakes up in the middle of the night, give him an injection. There are instructions on the lid of the box and if you use it on him everytime you don't need to change the needle. Fourth: strict rest the first four days. That means no travelling, no going out, no walking…if he has to go up the stairs to reach his room, you carry him up there and if he has to walk to reach the sink to brush his teeth, you brush them for him! Understand? Complete and utter rest! Fifth: I'm not giving you any crutches. He has to stay in his wheelchair as long as possible and if he walks, don't walk too far. He's too stubborn to listen, so keep an eye on him. Sixth, very important: Make sure he tries his breathing exercices every night and don't let him stay up too late. Seventh: if you take him on a trip after the required four day rest period, do so in a registered passenger plane with cabin crew that knows first aid. No pressurized planes, no converted cargo holds and absolutely no cloudsurfing! Put his legs up during takeoff to relieve the strain on his stomach. Eighth, and I'm almost at the bottom of my well-rehearsed speech: watch what he eats! He's on a diet and I don't want him to eat his breakfast at noon, capiche?"
Lou caught his breath, a nurse that happened to walk by silently applauded. He had rehearsed that for weeks but the result was magnificent. Baloo scratched his head and counted on his fingers to remember all the points. Lou reached in his pocket and handed him a little piece of paper. On it were the agreements in chronological order. "I've written them down to study…guess you'd be better off with them"
"I'll keep an eye on him doc, don't worry
"There's something else you oughta know I guess…There's a way to prevent Kit from going blind. I left eyedrops at the reception desk, but that's only half the cure. Sarah Dorington paid him a visit yesterday and…well, strange things started happening, like she set something in motion. We now assume the condition is psychological rather than medical. When you're taking him out on trips, ask him where he wants to go: there are either things he has to see, or things he has to know before his eyes heal. Don't get your hopes up please: it's merely a theory, but the only one we have. Is there something about his past that seems strange or 'unusual' to you?"
"Only the parts he told me about. I appreciate all the help, but we'll work it out from here"
Getting an appointment with the creator of all things is a hard thing to do. Kate didn't care: she was going to see him and that was final. Sadly, his agenda was booked full well into the next few centuries. Offcourse a mother always finds a way to get over that little problem. Like when his secretary isn't looking…
"I had been expecting you"
"Offcourse, you know everything"
"No, I *knew* everything, but that was a long time ago, even in my timecount. How can I help you?"
"Kit's health, that's how you can help me! I want you to fully restore him so he can have a normal life"
"A mother's preoccupation with her son…touching, one of the buildingstones of all things. But Kit will have a normal life, those lungs were calculated in. The blindness, however, I can live without…but I'm doing you a favor with that"
"How? How can making my son blind be of any help to me?"
"He doesn't even know who you are. *If* he finds out, no matter how -and I'm looking the other way again when you decide to interfere down there- I'll cure his eyes. He's happy, you're happy and frankly I'm happy. Deal?"
The once so active waters around the Higher for Hire dock were now wrinklefree. Not even the slightest wave moved the deepblue. Nothing was able to move it: no animal could make that kind of commotion, no wind could get past the protecting cliffs and no current could penetrate the recently developed sandbanks. So all was quiet until the big metal bird struck down on the peace to change it into chaos, yet needing it to rest in.
Rebecca hadn't gone home yet: the administration of her new cargo capacity proved more difficult than first thought. The consumables and priority shipments had barely made it on time, the leftovers were for the extra pilots tomorrow…Baloo and Jules would have to work serious overtime to get it all done. They weren't supposed to fly at night though.
The roar and splash, all so familiar, all so exciting. For once the Seaduck was carrying the most precious cargo yet: the navigator she considered her son. After a while, it seemed like an eternity, the big bear carried him in…the sleeping cub on his arm, his head on the bear's shoulder. It was a touching moment, a father-son moment. Baloo walked up to her desk, up to her.
"Becky, I have some stuff to unload…could you put him in his bed for me?" Baloo whispered and gave the cub to Rebecca. She took him like she had done with Molly so many times, but it felt strange somehow. Kit didn't even stir, breathing steadily
"I thought you wouldn't be home until three"
"I had some…friendly tailwinds helping me on the way. Oh yeah, lock this away where he can't find it" Baloo handed her something that looked a lot like a regular first-aid kit. Only the contents was different… She locked it away in the deskdrawer from which she alone had the key.
Baloo left and she started up the stairs, carefully so she wouldn't wake up the sleeping child on her arm. Jules had been kicked out of the bedroom…a father should be with his child when it needs him. It wasn't the homecoming she had expected, but there simply wasn't much to celebrate. In two weeks, Kit would never fly again, navigate again or get some kind of degree…his potential was wasted by a criminal that thought lives were cheap and made to be wasted. He was long gone now, but the wounds of his actions will take years to heal, provided they ever will.
Somehow this didn't feel right. She felt powerless, even when she gently tucked Kit in for a long sleep. This could never have been planned, it shouldn't have. Her mother had taught her to keep her faith in such times but why was fate hitting her so hard these past few years? One moment happyness smiles, the next a dark cloud blocks every sunshine. Behind that cloud was the sun, but why wouldn't the cloud dissolve? Most of her worries were now traced back to Kit, but old pains kept haunting her and seemed to replay for a decisive strike. Her brother and husband a few years ago in the same accident, then Chris and now Kit? How many more people she cared about were going to disappear? A strange thought entered her mind
"Stay back! I'm not joking, I'LL DO IT!"
"Kit, honey, please! Think about it"
"What's there to think about? I'll be blind in two days, tell me what I'm supposed to live for!"
Kit had tied his feet to his wheelchair and stood at the end of the pier, ready to roll over the edge. Rebecca was talking to him while Baloo steadily came closer, foot by foot. They were far away, and if he should fall in the water, rescue was virtually impossible
"…and uhmmm….Molly! Yeah, what about her? How am I going to tell her what you did huh? She'll never play cowgirl with you again and…"
"DAMMIT! SHE WON'T BE ABLE TO DO THAT ANYWAY! I CAN'T SEE, I CAN'T WALK…THIS IS IT, CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE. Miss Cunningham…" He turned his head, looking the woman in the eyes for a brief moment. Tears ran down his face, his eyes started glazing over. The cub took the two wheels in hand "…I'm sorry!"
Baloo ran for the wheelchair, missing it by an inch. The small form fell over the edge, hitting his head on the concrete. A bloodstain marked his resting place. Baloo wanted to dive in after him, but realised it wouldn't be of any use: the waters here were at least 300 feet deep, he wouldn't be able to untie Kit's feet until they hit the bottom and the cub was unconcious…there was no more hope. Falling to his knees, he broke down in tears and saw the airbubbles cease to surface while the cap drifted away into the ocean currents…
"That's awful! Why did you fill that woman's head with such a fictional thought?"
"It's not fictional…it's the longest Kit will live with his blindness"
"But he hasn't proven himself yet…"
"I guess that means I have two weeks"
"Mom? Is that you? I'm still your little fuzzybear mommy…"
Rebecca thought about responding, but she couldn't possibly pose as his mother again. Besides, he was most likely just babbling in his sleep. To give in to her mother feelings a little, she stroked his hair but stopped when he tried to grab her hand. Knowing better than to go throught this again, she walked to the door, switched off the light and left.
Kit was dreaming like every normal child his age. Not about some fantasy world, but about what interested him most besides flying. Jimmy was getting his place as team captain, that wasn't right! But would he still be able to beat him or even get admitted to the games? Weird thought…weird dream
The Seaduck buzzed through the air, graceful like always. Now that the pilot had his trusty navigator back he felt like celebrating. If he wasn't supposed to watch the g's he'd be pulling off stunts like crazy…but with Kit on board he had orders to takeoff, fly straight and level and land, nothing more. Manoeuvers in excess of three g's could easely hurt the kid's frail body now…he shouldn't even be flying, but Baloo couldn't stop him.
Like all previous flights, they passed the point of no return. At first it frightened Kit a little to think about never being able to go back, but after a while he thought of it as a festive occasion. Baloo could feel the eager eyes burn.
"So, we're almost there huh?"
"Yep…nice cumulus clouds there, right in our flightpath…would you mind if I go cloudsurfing?"
"Not at all" Kit jumped out of his chair and ran for the cargo hatch. His hand reached for his board…finding nothing this time "But I think you'll have to ask Jimmy first" Kit's eyes followed his usual path…the cargo hatch was open and a cub he knew all too well was enjoying himself on Kit's board
"Papa bear…how could you?" Kit was betrayed, or at least felt that way
"Well, it's not like ya was goin' to use that board any time soon and he's a lot better at it than you"
Kit stared out the hatch and saw Jimmy do backflips and loops without even losing his balance once. He could easely hold the rope with his foot, a move that scared even Kit a little. Jimmy pressed his left foot down and started in the usual turn to suddenly accelerate and start a barrel roll…a move Kit always deemed impossible. The world started turning, faster and faster like Jimmy's barrel roll. All of the sudden, he was no longer in the cargo hatch.
Tenthousand fans screamed at the top of their lungs to encourage the track runners preparing for the run of their lives. Something peculiar was going on though: all the fans looked like Baloo and only two tracks were ready to run on. Jimmy laughed at his competitor
"Admit it Cloudkicker, you're slow and useless now, let's see if you still think you're so superior"
"ON YOUR MARKS"
The gruffy starter shouted at the two kids…he looked like their coach…could it really be? He was always the one who stood by him and pushed him to his very best.
Both Kit and Jimmy got ready to decide who was the best. Maybe it was just his imagination, but the crowd almost seemed to shout Jimmy's name
The starter gun blasted smoke and fire. Both kids left at the same time, Kit built up a small lead…as usual. About halfway down the track the crowd started whistling and yelling. The cub slowed down involuntarely, his feet felt like lead. Jimmy caught up with him in no time
"Admit it Cloudkicker, you're useless! Useless!"
Trying his best, Kit got no further than the shuffle from the first revalidation session. His legs felt heavy, tired. When he looked down, he slowly saw them turrning to stone
"Say it Cloudkicker: 'I am useless'"
Puffing an trying his best to run, Kit managed to develop a normal walking speed. Jimmy laughed out loud and shoved him to the ground. The speaker system crackled
"CLOUDKICKER FORFAITS, WINNER OF THE FINAL RUN IS JIMMY LARSON!"
Baloo appeared out of nowhere and put a hand on Jimmy's shoulder "That's my boy! I think you more than earned this" the grey bear handed the cub a keyring, the Belgrum flag clearly visible
"The P40? You mean it dad?"
"You betcha I mean it…Li'l Britches"
All had been relatively quiet in Cape Suzette but the scream could be heard all the way up to the mountaintops. Not a scream of fear, but a scream of frustration. The coach eyed the chronometer, not believing the time indicated. How could anybody take twelve seconds to run the dash? Olympic minimum was 11.3, a time this runner barely made with sufficient back wind. Bad luck for the coach: this one was the best he had left. Jimmy noticed the frustration and stopped dead in his tracks
"Come on, it wasn't that bad!"
"12.3! That's one second too slow son" Coach Larson tried not to yell: he was getting enough bad publicity as it was. Jimmy was always late for class and his teachers started argueing that there was more to life than track and field.
"I know I'm no Cloudkicker but give me a chance allright? I hardly get any rest…"
"Rest is for the weak! I expect your times sharp enough to bring home that bright yellow medal. If you don't do it, who else will? We can't let that medal go to Thembria or Walla Walla…so remember son, you're not doing this for yourself or for me, but for this entire nation. Usland's honor depends on you: we gotta send a clear message that our youth aren't lazy and that there's an entire new generation ready to defend the country! Twenty laps and then drag your lazy bones to the showers. I don't want you late in class again!"
Deadtired at 9 AM…for Jimmy it had become routine. For the last few weeks, his dad would wake him up at 5 and take him to the schoolstadium for practice. By the time that was over he had to hurry to make it to class in time. His grades were going downhill so that he had to spend his rare free time with a tutor. Life was hell for Jimmy.
Like most days, he failed to reach class in time. Opening that classroom door was horror, time and again. The dirty looks, the threats of detention that were sure to follow…he couldn't stand them and he wasn't up for them, not today. To avoid them, or at least postpone them, he started off to the school nurse. Faking an injury wasn't the most noble way out of school but it was as good a way as any. At least this way he wouldn't get caught climbing out of a window or getting asked for his hallpass. Maybe he could have that knee checked out while he was at it…all that running was starting to take its toll.
The schoolnurse was a seasoned professional in sifting out fake complaints. When she first arrived, kids crowded her with all kinds of crazy diseases and injuries but nobody slipped by her now. One of the 'regulars' was Ernie. He came by every so often with a new disease…so often she recognised his footsteps by now. Much to her surprise it wasn't him visiting her this early. The boy limped in, but she had heard his walking from here so he was obviously faking. There was a reason for every fake so she might just as wel play along
"I don't belive I have ever seen you here" she knew how to comfort with few words and keep her voice under perfect control
"I haven't been here before…but my knee is killing me today"
"Sit down and put down your books. It doesn't seem like you're going to have to use them today" she deliberately noted on the form that she believed it was a fake, something she did to punish kids that wasted her time at the expense of more serious complaints. The parents always received a copy…She looked at the new case more closely now "Aren't you Coach Larson's kid? I thought he always treated the sport injuries"
"I haven't told him yet. I think the soft course and my sneakers cause too much stress on my knee"
"Could be, but only if you train every day on that same course with those same shoes. And from what I've heard it would be a nice way to explain your absences"
"I'm not always late"
"No, but if they would actively put you in detention you would be ready for retirement if you know what I mean…by the way, this knee is really swollen" the nurse pressed it softly to find out wether it was merely swollen or infected
"I know. Did you actually think I would fake something?" Jimmy was subconciously relieved to find out something was really wrong with him…it had been his idea to fake "I felt it a few days ago, my dad insists on training every day so I kept my yap shut. You should hear his lecture about 'the patriotic duty' and then try to tell him you feel like you can't do what he asks. And then to think he complains about my times. How long will I be able to hide it from him?"
"About a week longer…but that will be the point the ligaments snap and make sure you won't even be able to walk for a few weeks. I can give you a support bandage but unless you keep off your feet for a while it'll only get worse"
"Thanks for the advice, but I'll just ask for new sneakers that don't bounce as much"
Carefully the nurse tied a bandage as firm around his knee as was possible. It provided some support but it was merely a symptom…and like all symptoms the cause had to be dealt with
"Your sneakers were never the problem. How much did you train before you became captain of the track team?"
"About 3 hours a week…Kit did most of the training, we were just there as a backup"
"How much do you train now?"
"3 hours before school alone, every day. After school I run a few dozen laps and head home to meet my tutor"
"I bet you hardly have time left to have fun"
"I have fun running…well, I used to had fun running. Besides I'm no good at this fast stuff: I'm a distance runner but that team never got into the finals"
"You know you'll have to stop running or there's no telling what damage you can do to yourself. And I'm not talking short-term here. It's too bad a kid your age should go through life with a busted knee already"
"It's my problem, let me take care of it"
"It's your life, don't waste it"
"HELLO? GUYS?…COME ON, ANYBODY…HELLOOOOOO!" Kit was getting a sore throath from screaming. When he woke up this morning and saw the familiar scenery he forgot of what had happened and hopped out of bed as usual…well, tried to hop was more appropriate. His head had barely missed the nightstand and he found himself unable to get up again. Sure enough he could drag himself to the stairs, but he had no means of descending them.
He felt embarassed to have to ask for help to get up again. He had always been solitair and self-supporting but now he needed others. What did Chris say again?
'Learn to trust others or the future looks grim'
Heck, he was his guardian angel so he'd now. He could easely trust Baloo now, no doubt about it, but others were still a problem. Anyone could now pretend to help him and stab him in the back when he wasn't watching. In the periods of blindness he had nothing more to go on than that very same instinct of mistrust. It served him well for many years but maybe it was now time to give it up…his entire theory of life came crumbling down and his gearworks disintegrated day after day. In a time he had neither reason nor right to trust anyone, he did. Finally footsteps hurried up the stairs but ,as if taunting him, Kit's eyes refused again. Someone picked him up and he could feel them moving down the stairs. The figure sat him down in what felt like his wheelchair.
"Good thing I heard you up there kiddo" the voice was faintly familiar but the cub couldn't place it. If only his eyes hadn't given up yet "Couldn't have my own boy ly there helpless"
"*your* boy? Who are you?"
"I'm the one you took so long to find…Kit, I'm your father. Not Baloo, but your *real* father this time. And I'm not going away again"
"Huh? What's your name? Who are you?"
A stumble interrupted the semi-stranger. The door slammed open
"Listen, Baloo…this isn't what it seems. Be reasonable" the stranger defended himself with a slight tremble in his voice
"How can't it be what I think it is? I told you to stay away from *my* kid. Get out of the office and be glad I leave it like this"
"Okay man, I don't want any trouble. The court told me to stay away and I can live with that, but he was yelling for somebody upstairs…he fell…and besides I think this is one of his blind periods"
"Come on, no more fooling, where are my eyedrops?" Kit felt blindly around him in a desperate attempt to catch at least a glimpse of his father. A hand caught his chin and gently pushed it up.
"Open those li'l peekers of yours…and watch out eagle-eye, it might burn a little"
Baloo dropped a few drops in both of Kit's eyes. The boy blinked like crazy for a moment and was then able to see again. A bit blurry maybe, but vision none the less. Much to his disapppointment, Baloo was the only one with him in the room
"How ya feelin' today?" Baloo acted like nothing had happened and sounded casual as he wheeled Kit to the kitchen
"I'll laugh when I'm dancin' allright? Who was that guy in the office?"
Like the last question was never posed, the grey bear opened a cupboard
"Bacon or eggs?"
"Come on, don't try to avoid this. Answer the question"
"Yer right, cereal would be much better"
"KIT PLEASE" the bear spun around, dropped to his knees and stared Kit hard in the eyes…he looked sad somehow "does it matter? You have me so forget about it 'right?"
"I gotta know"
"That guy was a freelancer I ain't never seen before and he ignored the rules. Yer supposed ta be resting, not runnin' around so we try to keep those guys away from ya. Whatever he told ya, it wasn't fer real 'kay kiddo?"
"'kay…I guess. I'm glad he helped me though"
"Yeah, I'm sorry about that kid" Baloo went about his business making breakfast, relieved that this episode was over "I couldn't hear ya out there while the engines were testing. That surprise has ta be installed y'know"
11 AM. Normally kids were now faithfully in class, repeating lesson after lesson and basically boring themselves to death. Only two known exceptions: Kit and Jimmy. The first was at home, spotting incoming planes through binoculars (or at least trying to) and the second had fallen asleep in one of the beds at the nurse's post. Like all days, the phone rang there…the nurse already knew who was calling
"Hello Rebecca…yeah, I was expecting your call…uhuh…okay…no problem, but I'm afraid I have some unpleasant news from the direction…aha, he already contacted you…yes, I'm sure it's for the best…allright, see you then…bye!"
Whew. Rebecca had become a close friend, but she could nag your ears off over the phone. Maybe she oughta tell Jimmy or Ernie…no, it wasn't her decision to do that. But how long could she keep this news to herself? And Kit would call his friends no doubt. Too bad even the cub didn't know how little time he had left. Coach Larson would burst a bloodvessel if he heard it. Talking about the devil… Rapid steps resounded in the corridor, almost a run. Coach Larson skidded in, genuine panic in his eyes.
"You gotta…you gotta help me! Jimmy's teacher contacted me…he ain't in class and I haven't seen him during the break at ten. Please, if you see him, tell him I'm worried about him"
"Calm down, you'll wake my patient up!"
The nurse pointed to one of the beds. Coach Larson saw a sleeping form and lowered his voice
"Are you sure you haven't seen my boy yet?"
The nurse pointed again. Slowly the coach made his way to the sleeping boy. Recognising his son, the coach prepared to shake him awake. The nurse stopped him and gave him a stern look. She dragged him to her desk and pointed at a chair. The coach sat down…
"I gotta talk to you. If you're so worried, then tell me what you are worried about: your son or that game next summer?"
"'That game next summer' is the most important event in Jimmy's life! Now that Kit ain't here, he'll have to fill in for him"
"Something you may or may not have known about your own son is that his rightknee has infected from overexhaustion…and has been for at least a few weeks. Take him to a doctor and get a prescription for a supportive cast. Maybe there's something left to save"
Coach Larson stood up and slowly walked to his boy. Looking at the peaceful sleeping form breathing rhytmically and realising this was *his* son, he came to a decision and a heart-breaking realisation hit him
"Maybe I've been pushing him too hard y'know? Ever since his mother died…my Martha…I tried to give him a good education…but I don't know anything about that stuff. Psychology and all…I never went to college so that ain't my cup of tea and I figured it would be a lot like coaching a team. And now, four years later I made running his entire life. He's good at long distance so I figured he could easely run dash. Man was I wrong. His grades are no problem for me but even the thought that I could have marked him for life…I'm forfeiting the games, Tina, my son is worth more to me than that stupid gold medal"
"You know Reed…there's still hope for you"
She put an arm around him and they shared a close embrace
Chris smiled down. Jimmy didn't know it now, but he would have a new mother in some time. Gabriel yawned. The two had spend a lot of time together, enough to have Chris considered as a new archangel. And despite his good intentions, the boy was evolving and forgetting about his brother, faster and faster every day.
One thing he did manage to throw together was another dream…images of Kit's memory that left an impression on him and slowly changed him around. He was asleep now, knocked out by his medication, so it was the perfect time.
A dozing cub slowly opened an eye. His hair was a mess, never been cut in his life. His pyjamas kept him warm, hot even and he contently closed his eye again. After hugging his pillow closer with two arms and a soft yawn, he dozed off again: it wasn't time for his dinner yet.
Another cub of about nine years old raced through the corridors, a stomping and yelling supervisor after him. A nurse blocked his passage but he managed to slip by her. Once inside the dim room, he skidded to a halt. He saw a small figure move in the bed but before he could investigate the nurse grabbed him by his ear
"Gotcha Josh. I told you at least fifty times before you couldn't come here"
"I just wanted to see 'the boy nobody wants'"
The nurse let him go and looked him in the eyes
"That's a terrible thing to say and you know it. Okay, he came from Norville but that doesn't mean his parents didn't love him or wanted him"
Josh got closer and caught a glimpse of a sleeping face and a smacking tongue. Something was odd, but strangely cute too
"Ya know, I came here and expected this miniature barf-machine…but he's cute. Can't imagine ever being this small. What's his name?"
"They called him Kit, but I don't know his real name. It doesn't really matter: the supervisors will take over tomorrow anyway and he'll go to a regular room."
"Isn't his name on the tag attached to his teddybear? Mine sure was. Or maybe it's written on his blanket or on his other stuff"
"He doesn't have any stuff, not even a bear. Except for that piece of scrapmetal offcourse, but that's blank"
"Could you score him a room in my corridor? I could pay him a few more visits that way…"
Josh was lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling. The night and day had crept and somehow he had felt lonely. He never noticed it before, but his big room no longer made him happy and contributed to that nagging void in his heart. His parents passed away three years ago and he felt miserable ever since. Maybe seeing Kit made it all more obvious that kids should have parents instead of supervisors.
How he yearned for the little cub to live in the small room down the hall. At least that way he could feel whole again, knowing he now had a little brother to look out for. Even after that thought, it still took an eternity before the stumble began. Soft sobbing drifted down the hall, followed by a soothing voice. After relative silence, a cry disturbed the peace. Josh hopped off his bed and hurried to the new inhabitant of the orphanage. The youngest kid here was six until he came along…
"What's wrong?" Josh asked already before he was in the room. The supervisor tried to get this kid to sleep but somehow it wasn't working "What are you doing. You're choking him!"
"I just tucked him in"
"Too tight…kids hate that" Josh pulled the covers away and draped Kit first with a sheet until he was smiling. Then he put the blanket over him and made sure it fell loosely over him. The cub instinctively grabbed the blanket with his little hand and pulled it further over him. A soft yawn followed and within seconds, the boy was asleep…the supervisor looked at him with a strange eye
"Have you done this before?"
"I was his age once, contrary to popular belief. Don't you know how to take care of a toddler?"
"I wasn't hired to play nanny. If you think you can do it better, be my guest" the supervisor left. Why would he stay? His job was done. He couldn't help it that these things weren't in his training, so if anyone did it better, why should he bother to learn?
Josh stared. First at the supervisor doing half a job but then his attention was diverted to the small form breathing gently in the bed. He never had any brothers or sisters, maybe this was his second shot at it. It was no surprise to anyone that the next day a soft lullaby drifted down the long, cold hallway.
Time flies. Things evolved around the orphanage, kids got bigger and personnel got older. The door to the garden creaked more and more every day and radio's became less expensive. Day after day, the supervisors looked more tense, cursing when they thought nobody was around and blaming it all on something they called 'the depression'. After a while some went on strike and others left permanently.
Nothing really changed in the everyday life of the orphans except someone always turned off the radio when the financial news came on. More kids came in every day but the building of a new wing was delayed further. Pretty soon the children were forced to share rooms and were literally on eachother's heels. Suddenly a great number of orphans got sick and the food was rationed. Only because it was summer and incredibly hot, all kids got one icecube in their daily glass of water.
The now six years old cub drank his water eagerly, thirsty from playing in the garden. And although it is highly unlikely that someone should get sick in the summer, his best friend was upstairs with a high fever. But the cub had hatched a plan. He had smuggled a washcloth out of the bathroom and walked to the table of the big kids. After some silent discussion, one of them rubbed him over the head and put his icecube in the washcloth. Several others followed his lead. Smiling and giggling, the cub raced upstairs, holding on to his precious treasure.
Josh was in the room he shared with Kit, feeling downright miserable. How could he possible catch a serious cold during summer? His throath ached but what was truly killing him was his head. With nothing to cool him and no place to hide from the heat, his fever got worse. Quick footsteps entered the room, Josh opened his eyes
"Hiya Kit. Sorry little buddy but I don't think I'll be able to play with you today" his voice was rawer than usual, but that wasn't all due to his illness: he had turned 12 and his voice was changing
"I know. 't's'is for you" Kit rocked slightly on his heels as he handed Josh the dripping washcloth. The cub placed it on his forehead and experienced almost immediate relief from the heat
"Thanks a lot li'l bud, I owe ya one"
Kids tend to get better a lot sooner than expected. Josh was up and running in no time. Luckily it had turned out to be a cold and not polio like some feared. Thirteen orphans weren't as lucky as him and had to be taken to a hospital. They were never heard of again
But that was the way in the orphanage. Everybody knew everybody but nobody cared about anybody. It spared them a lot of grief. And although this statement was true for almost all kids, Kit faithfully attended Josh's soccer games. If the team won, Josh would put him on his shoulders and take him for a victory run around the field. And they won a lot…
Their connection got a lot closer on a winter day somewhere around december. The team was practicing outside, next to the kitchen. Josh thanked the stars for the woolen sweater they had given him when he turned twelve half a year ago. Kit still attended but had brought a blanket to keep himself warm. Josh looked at the cute scene by the sideline but slipped over a patch of fresh ice. As he tried to keep his balance, his foot shot out against the soccerball. It flew with a graceful arc over the field and shattered the kitchen window. The team dissolved and raced away: they knew they would be kicked out of the team if they broke anything. Josh shook his head and looked at the damage he had involuntarely done.
"Oh man…oh no, I'm gonna get it!" the ball had not only flown through the window but had landed in the kitchen, spilling soup and potatoes to the floor. The dinner from an entire orphanage had gone to waste "oh dammit, I'm done for"
"Ya know" Kit had snuck up on him and stood on his toes to look at the damage "even I could have made that shot"
Josh looked at him, Kit looked back with a strange twinkle in his eyes. His age and relatively clean record considered, he was less likely to get a severe punishment like Josh. Eventually, a supervisor stormed outside to find a guilty party.
"Allright, who did this?"
"I…" Josh started
"I did" Kit stepped forward, interrupting his best friend. Even the supervisor knew something fishy was going on here
"What did you want to say Josh?"
"I did it, not Kit"
"That's allright Josh, you don't have to lie for me. I wasn't even supposed to be on that field" Despite the truth and facts, Kit sounded more convincing because of his confession "I'm sorry…"
The supervisor paid no attention to the apology and dragged Kit away, holding him by his ear. And although it hurt, he signaled a 'thumbs up' to Josh. The cub was left bewildered…the direction never showed much pity for a vandal.
Nightfall. Josh hadn't heard from Kit since the incident and nobody could tell him what was going on. He had been waiting in their room for hours until the bell for dinner finally rang. On his way to the lunchroom, he encountered a few younger kids staring and pointing at the window. When he checked too, he saw Kit standing out in the cold, holding a cardboard sign that read 'I spoiled the warm dinner'.
Offcourse he couldn't just let that happen. Although he knew Kit would have to complete his punishment, nothing stopped him from offering a little help. Josh had more than enough sweaters, why wouldn't he give one away now? Kit always had his eye on that green one…
Kit was shivering from the cold. They hadn't shown any pity at all: he was treated as all would. That his record was squeaky clean or that he was only six didn't seem to bother anyone. Now he wasn't only losing the feeling in his fingers and toes, but he would never be able to talk to anyone again. Warm dinner was only served once a week since the rationing began and if everyone knew that he was the reason why they were missing out tonight… A familiar face opened the door.
"Hey buddy, studying to be a popsticle? C'mon, it's a lot warmer inside"
"Really? Then you better put on something warm" Josh showed Kit the green sweater. It wouldn't fit him, but it would at least keep him warm. He took over the sign for a few moments so Kit could put on the sweater. When the boy was done, he stood by his side, partially holding on to the sign
"I still owe you one Kit"
Standing in the cold half a day takes its toll on a six-year old. This time it was Kit's turn to be sick and just like Josh, no nurse came to help him: they were all on strike. The direction was still enforcing a rule that forced the orphans to eat downstairs and Josh found himself smuggling up food for his buddy. But something he couldn't smuggle anymore: water. With Kit's thirst, it began to be a serious problem.
At the table, Josh was going to try the same that Kit had done for him. While volunteering as dishwasher, he had managed to get a hold of an empty bottle and funnel. After he had finished his lunch and saved some for Kit, he started the round of the table. When he came back upstairs, he had half a bottle to offer a thirsty Kit.
A flash of white and Kit found himself in a different environment. He was in the orphanage a few moments ago and now he was staring at a beautiful ocean blue, stretching out as far as he could see. Whisps of cumulus clouds hung scattered and with no wind, this was the ideal cloudsurfing weather. A paradise even.
"Beautiful, isn't it?"
The voice came from a few feet away. Chris walked up to him and sat down in the warm sand, enjoying the scenery. He was now breaking every possible rule, but it was worth the risk of never getting his wings.
"I died, didn't I?" A sudden realisation hit Kit: there was no other explanation
"No, just froze time a little and transported you across the Great Divide… that's the one-way border between life and death. The tunnel ya know?"
"Thanks for the dream, I needed it. So why am I here?"
"It's about that dream, what did you learn from it?"
"Watch where you walk and don't interrupt a soccer game?"
Chris' face saddened "now look what you made me do!" Chris snapped his fingers and the scenery vanished.
A smell of varnished wood appeared. The ocean made way for an impressive hall. Several benches rose from the ground and a tall judges bench fell from the sky. Kit found himself cuffed and standing as the accused. His brother stood next to him as his acting attorney. The jury consisted out of nothing but ancient greeks and romans, masters of discussion and deduction. When Kit looked at the judge, he stood eye to eye with the creator himself.
"ORDER! This court is now in session, case 35 billion: Kit Cloudkicker versus the Devil" the judge's hammer slammed down and everyone took their seats. A rather peculiar figure stepped forward. "The accusation may now speak"
"uhuh…thanks you, your honor…ahuhhuh" the figure was either the Devil's lawyer or the Devil himself. Kit decided he didn't want to find out "The immortal souls of thousands are in my posession, as you all know, and all are serving their time in exile in my 'penal institution'…ahuhuhuh…but one soul, which clearly belongs to me, has eluded me for years. Now is the time to set things right, and return to me the soul that has escaped"
The jury started mumbling and nodding, taking notes and sides at the same time. The judge interfered
"ORDER PLEASE! I leave the word to the defense"
"Thanks judge" Chris hopped to his feet and stepped to the centre of the court. The Devil made way, amused and looking forward to the speech of a kid. "Although my esteemed colleague will claim that the soul of my client belongs to him, this is clearly not the case. Kit has done his best to live a worthy life and has paid for the mistakes of the past. So we cannot and should not return this 'escaped soul' since it was never the Devil's to begin with. I trust the good judgement of this court"
"Accusation, you may call your witnesses"
"I call to the stand, Christian Slate, currently serving time in The Hell penitentiary"
"Who the heck is Christian Slate?" Kit blurted it out, Chris motioned him to keep quiet…too late. Both the judge and the Devil looked at him
"Are you denying that you know Christian Slate?" the judge asked it calmly, but with a hint of anger in his voice "think long and hard boy, this will come on the records"
"I formally deny ever knowing anyone by the name of Christian Slate" Kit stood confident, his old bravado returning
A wicked smile crossed the Devil's face. The smell of sulfur filled the room for a brief moment and Fang appeared on the witness stand. Chris sighed: this wasn't helping his case at all
"THIS IS A SETUP! I DIDN'T EVEN KNOW HIS REAL NAME!"
"Let the accused be silent" the judge slammed his hammer down again and Kit's lips refused to move "let it be stated in the record that the accused tried to lie about Christian"
"Slate, tell me what exactly Kit did under your command"
"Well, he was a natural offcourse, showed my potential from day one. I fished him out of the bay and followed him all the way home. When I finally caught him in my webs thanks to my uncle, I started training him and sent him on a few milk runs. I'm tellin' ya: he was marvelous. Without him, I could never have gotten the plans to the CT-37's, let alone storm the PGHQ. I owe that to him."
"So, technically, without him, piracy would have ceased and several dozen of children wouldn't be orphans now?"
"I guess you could say that, yeah"
"I have no further questions. Chris, your witness"
"Fang, I'm going to get straight to the point: how many times have you tried to get Kit to kill?"
"Lemme see here…must have told him a hundred times. The damn coward was afraid to pull a trigger I guess"
"Is it not true that you have beaten him several times because he failed to live up to your expectations, because he didn't harm anyone?"
"I have my reasons"
"Answer the question" Chris seemed to have gotten a powerful ally: the judge.
"Allright, so I did kinda rough him up because he told me he wanted to quit. But how can anyone become a true criminal without ever having tasted the flavour of a kill?"
"Maybe because we're not all like you. Was my client aware of the grave consequences his actions would have in the described attacks?"
"Are you an idiot? Offcourse not! Did you honestly believe that I could tell him the truth and still have him go on a mission? Jeez, angels…"
"No further questions"
The cloud of sulfur came back and dragged Fang into the ground. The jury seemed impressed. But Chris wasn't through yet.
"To show that my client had no criminal intentions when he joined Slate's gang, I would like to present a collective memory as evidence"
Kit heard several voices in his head, one was unmistakebly Chris' but the others were new. As if he were a living broadcaster, the cub closed his eyes and automtically thought of the day he met Fang.
Yeah, back to the streets where he belonged, that's where he was going now. The smell, the look, he no longer gave a damn. He was an outcast, determined to break with society in every possible way. Stumbling and clumsily bumping into almost every obstacle he made his way to the end of the alley, out into the street. It must have been around four thirty but Kit didn't check his watch. Not that he could anyway: he hardly saw a thing
Strolling through a busy street without eyesight and looking like a local drunk is never a good idea for a streetkid. It didn't take him too long before someone grabbed him by the collar
"Hey kid, watch where you're going willya? I almost ran you over"
Only now did the cub notice the carhorns in the background and the asfalt under his feet. The one holding him was probably a motorist that almost ran him over…-didn't he just say that? Anyway, he'd better let me go fast or I'll…-
"HEY OFFICER, GIMME A HAND HERE"
-big mistake buddy, nobody calls the cops on Kit Cloudkicker-
With a swift move, Kit grabbed the wrist of his captor and sank his teeth in the flesh. The driver let out a loud holler and let go. For some reason Kit didn't run but turned around to face his victim. He looked into the cub's eyes, noticed the swollen face and infected eyes and took a step back
"Oh damn…you're…you're hideous, look at yourself before you bite anyone. Is that rabies you have? It's rabies, isn't it? Oh god no, oh no, you bit me…HELP ME! SOMEBODY HELP, A DOCTOR, A NURSE, ANYONE, HELP!!"
Such a fuss obviously never goes unnoticed. A crowd gathered around and a policeman appeared at the scene. Kit was swaying on his feet and decided to sit down. His victim stayed at least ten feet away from him at all times. The cop came to a quick deduction
"Did he bite you or anything?"
"Yeah, the damn kid bit me! Look at him! His face, his eyes, that ain't natural, he must have some kind of disease, maybe he's contagious…I've got to get to a hospital"
"Then you just go ahead and get that disinfected, come to the station later if you want to press any charges while I get him out of your face, allright?"
"Yeah, okay, but watch what you do, he's fast!"
The driver hurried in his vehicle and drove off, pale as a ghost. The cop laughed a little: calling the cops for a kid that bites, did he honestly think they didn't have better things to do? He turned to Kit
"Allright, show's over kiddo. Be glad I'm letting you go this time'
Kit felt his mouth fill and spit so he wouldn't gag. Unfortunately his spitwad hit the cop's shoes
"HEY KID! I'm not messing around here, BACK TO YOUR SEWER and hurry up!"
"Hold yer horses a moment copper, I'm on my damn way already"
"WHAT DID YOU CALL ME?!"
"Copper…you know: the jerks in blue, the opression from the chief, the monkeys in uniform, the urang-utangs with clubs…"
"I give you exactly three seconds to get up and crawl back in the corner you came from. I don't waste time on the filth of the good citizens. You're nothing but a pile of walking trash for me, now BEAT IT!"
"Buzz off blue monkey, I'm perfectly fine where I am"
The cop was infuriated and lifted his baton for a first strike. Somehow it felt good looking forward to a clobbering. As his hand shot up, another hand caught his.
"Whoa, officer, you wouldn't hit one of my patients would you?"
The new figure, a leopard kneeled next to Kit and almost received a bite. "Who the heck are you?" "Play along and I'll get you out of this one" The officer was still a tad insulted
"Do you have any idea what he called me? His language was truly inappropriate"
"Yeah? I never even heard him swear before, he must be a bit feverish" the leopard picked Kit up and carried him on his arm "don't worry kid, it's nothing uncie can't cure"
"What's up with his face?" the policeman still looked a bit disgusted by the sight
"A simple viral infection, nothing to be worried about. It's not even contagious. Thanks for the help, I appreciate it, but why don't you go back to the traffic?"
"Yes sir" the worst part of this small insult was that it was said by a respected citizen: he wasn't even allowed to write a ticket for it.
The leopard carried Kit away from the crowd and the busy streets alltogether. The cub occasionally let out a few sighs and gurgles, but other than that he never said a thing. Hawk figured it was up to him to break the silence
"You got yourself in a sticky spot there kiddo, wanna tell me how it started?"
"Allright, but at least tell me where you caught that nasty eye infection"
"Dunno, woke up with it"
"Do you sleep a lot in dumpsters? Or is that only when you got nowhere else to stay?"
"Not feeling well?"
"Allrighty: first stop, the grocery for a quarter of milk"
Kit woke up but could hardly tell. Not only did he feel tired to the core, but the bandage shielding his eyes robbed him of his vision. He felt tired, but not regularely tired…almost like his mind was tired too. And why did he snap at both that tried to help?
-Are you questioning your own mind now Cloudkicker? *no, but it's strange…I was never like this* this is who you are, I know it best *really?* trust me and don't trust anyone. Who is he to blind you anyway? *good point* exactly!-
"Slept well?" Hawk's voice startled the internal duo
"I suppose I should tell you from what time I have been up, but I can't seem to look at the clock"
"You'll have to wear that bandage for a few days, I'm sorry. How are you feeling?"
"Is it any of your business?"
"I'm just trying to help. Any complaints about the lodgings?"
"I haven't really seen them…is this bandage supposed to itch like that?"
"Listen, I'm not removing it. But if you really want I'll replace it with something that'll itch less"
"Yeah, sure thanks. Haven't you got a radio or something, I'm bored to death!"
"Coming right up. Pretty spoiled for a streetkid aren't ya?"
"If you strike it rich, you gotta live it up. By the way, what's your name?"
"Hawk, but once you're better you're outta here! Straight to my nephew Fang"
"Where did you get these names?"
"Long story kid"
The clip was over, but unlike a regular player, this one started to show emotion. A few tears rolled down Kit's cheeks when he thought back of the time he and Hawk met regularely…but the mind conditioning Fang had given him made him forget all about that. All he could think of was hate even though he didn't feel it in his heart. The voices left his head.
"So you see that my client did not intentionally join a criminal gang" Chris had just read his mind. Kit hoped they couldn't all do that, but nevertheless controlled his thoughts not to give the jury any reason to doubt him.
"You honor, I would like to use another one of the accused's memories to prove that he IS pure evil"
"You can't do that…you can't just go ahead and read my brother's mind! Anyone that doesn't know him can damage him permanently or call up a distorted memory" Chris pleaded to the judge but in vain
"I'll allow this to preserve the rights of the accusation"
The voices came back in Kit's head. Something probed his memories for something to use against him. Every time it came across something incriminating, Kit covered it up by linking a happy memory to it. Until suddenly his head started hurting, and images long forgotten surfaced. The cub had spent years forgetting about these, pushing them away day by day…until now. The hurting got worse and Kit held his head in his hands, Chris noticed it
"Your honor, the accusation will damage my client's memories if he goes any further"
"Accusation, did you find what you were looking for?"
"It's a bit distorted in there, I'll have to go a bit deeper"
A sharp whistling sound rang in Kit's ears as a memory he had banished to the depths of his mind was set loose. He almost went berserk, something that prompted a smile from the Devil
"I have what I was looking for"
It was dark, cold and there wasn't a living soul for miles around. The panther sighed, seeing the vapour of his breath take off. One more day, and this assignment was over. He took his empty gun and started his patrol route again. Passing the same bushes and trees as usual, a question popped in his mind: why am I guarding a factory that has never been attacked, one day before it becomes uninteresting for any trespassers? A twig snapped in the bushes, ending the guard's dream
There were no more animals around since this factory was build and the aeronautical tests scared the birds away so it had to be a trespasser. The sound came from one of the bushes near the wall. The panther switched on his flashlight and saw a small figure in a moving bush. With a swift move, he ripped the twigs apart and saw a young cub shivering, wet like he had just gone for a swim. When the boy looked at him with those big eyes of his, the guard felt a wave of compassion overtake him and wrapped his jacket around him.
"Where did you come from? Do you understand me? Hello kiddo?"
The panther picked the cub up and walked to a phoneline at the wall. It was a direct line to the direction and meant for immediate decisions about the fate of trespassers.
"Hello boss? Jones Gree at the gate here. I found a young cub near the wall…no, he didn't have a grappling hook or a drill of any kind…sir, don't hang up, this is serious. He's wet and frozen, must have been out for quite a while in this cold. Can I take him to the infirmery?…Yes, I know there are VIP's present, but he's hardly a danger…Come on! Maybe his parents abandoned him…thank you sir…yes, I know I'm responsible but I have never been wrong about anyone before…rest assured, I'll go back to my patrol once I dropped him off"
The panther hung up, fished a security card out of his pocket, pressed Kit closer to his chest and started for the main gate.
It was warm in the infirmery. Nobody asked any questions as long as Kit still looked frozen. And though most of it was a charade, some rest felt good. Actually it was getting a bit chilly out there, freezing almost. But the hard part was yet to come: coming up with a plausible story. It was good thing Fang had taken care of some 'evidence' like pouring him with water before he left and toppling his second jeep off the cliff. The doctor came back, clearly melting for the young boy. He looked cute, but his intentions here were less clean.
"A bit defrosted?" the doctor felt Kit's forehead while he asked
"Yeah…soft pillows you got here"
"Don't you have those at home? Maybe I oughta have a chat with your parents then. By the way, what's your home number?"
As only answer, Kit started crying softly. Two or three faked tears rolled down his cheeks but the doctor fell for it.
"Hey, I'm sorry…ow come on, please don't cry!" he draped his arm around Kit's shoulders and squeezed him closer "what's wrong? Do your parents beat you and you ran away?"
"They're….deahead" Kit now started crying like crazy. It was a little trick Fang had taught him to be a bit more convincing at his age. He taught him a lot: even that all emotions are obsolete unless they benefit you and that only suspicion mattered in this world
"Calm down, calm down. Let's forget about that subject for a while. How did you end up at the gate?"
"We…we were driving on the highway 15 to South Farango but they said there was a chance for ice on the radio and my dad wouldn't listen and my mom told me to keep quiet but we slipped and fell down the cliff and when I woke up we were upside down but my dad wasn't there…he was hanging in a tree and my mom was dead too and I walked and walked and walked but it was cold and I fell in a river and…" Kit rambled on until the doctor shooed him and rocked him in his arms
"Shh…it's allright, I understand sonny"
"I'm not feeling good…I think I'm gonna be sick"
"Hang on, I'll get you something"
The doctor left in a hurry, Kit could only wonder why all adults fell for his tricks. But there was no time to wonder about that. He quickly took a waterproof communication device out of his hidden pocket.
"Vulture to Eagle, Vulture to Eagle, come in Eagle"
Somewhere in the surrounding countryside, a jeep was parked with a temporary antenna on top. It was connected to a handheld radio that crackled static and had been doing so for the past hour. Something lighted up, a voice was carried across the wire. The leopard behind the entire installation cracked a small smile.
"Vulture, this is Eagle, sitrep"
Kit was actually relieved to hear Fang's voice. His hands gripped the small radio tighter as he concentrated for his detailed report
"Tango left room, no other contacts in the vicinity. Current location is on the second floor basement, infirmery. Numerous guards at the gate, main guardian goes by the name of Jones Gree, a sucker for pathethic faces. Security is tight, passed several checkpoints that require a security card. Please state mission objectives"
The radio went silent for a moment, luckily the doctor was still out of sight. The radio whistled static without responding a simple question…a question Kit's life depended on: if Fang now said 'operation terminated', he was on his own to make it back home. It was easy to blow a mission on first contact.
"Eagle to Vulture, mission objectives follow:
Primary objective one: do not let guards spot you in the corridors or in any restricted room. Failure to achieve this objective will result in immediate termination of contact
Primary objective two: secure design plans for CT-37
Primary objective three: replace plans with plans contained in your mission pack
Secondary objective one: secure basics for following missions
More info on resources follows: this is a fairly complicated mission and you'll have to find your way to the top level. In your mission pack is all the necessary. You'll find a level five security card, a small sidearm with limited ammunition…use to your discretion…and a syringe with ten units of powerful sedative. Four units will knock an adult out for at least fifteen hours, five will kill him"
"Wouldn't it just be easier to supply me with one that has twelve units in it? Now I'll have to waste two"
"The entire point is that you do 'waste' two"
"I mean two units"
"Oh…anyway, on to secondary objective one. I'm running out of medication for the stun gas. I'm gonna need some supplies from the infirmery there. Find out where they store the dangerous stuff and contact me when you know, Eagle out"
Well, that contact wasn't broken a second too soon. Just when Kit had hidden the radio and hopped back in bed, the doctor reappeared. He was carrying a bottle with a redish medicine in it. Kit cringed at the thought of another unpalletable spoon of goo. It was like the kind doctor could read his mind
"Oh, don't worry, this isn't one of those icky things" he screwed the top of the bottle and poured a spoon "now be a good lad and tell me how that tastes"
Kit swallowed it down, trying not to breathe through his nose. An unexpected delicious aroma filled his mouth
"Hehe, exactly. It's my new formula…hey, is that your backpack?"
The cub had forgotten all about hiding his mission supplies. The guard at the gate hadn't paid much attention and in the fuss accompanying his arrival, the doctor had missed it. Too bad it would sink his story now. Kit reached in his hidden pocket, only to sting himself to the needle of the syringe he carried. After a second try, he was able to take it in his palm and keep it concealed there. The doctor opened the backpack, suspicious as of how a cub that survived such an accident could walk away without wounds AND with a backpack. His eyes widened: inside was everything a spy needed to get in the factory
"Oh my god…"
"Surprised? Don't tell me you bought my charade" Kit got out of bed and slowly walked to the doctor who backed away
"At your age?! How old are you…you're not one of those small adults right? A midget…"
"No, I'm just bad to the bone I guess. Now, where do you keep your serious medication?"
"In my office, the cabinet at the wall"
"Toss me the key" Kit reached in his backpack and caught the key with his free hand "Thanks a lot old man, now die" in a swift move, he grabbed his weapon with silencer and pulled the trigger. A bullet soared away…
The Devil was concentrating on the memory, but suddenly all the spectators lost their concentration and were returned to the present. Kit was banging his head against the wood of the bench, the Devil smiled. The Judge of all things interfered and broke the connection. Kit calmed down, closed his eyes and passed out where he sat.
"Hey, you're violating my rights here!" The Devil protested and slammed his fist down
"Your honor, that was a corrupted memory, my client showed it clearly"
"Objection sustained. The accusation tried to fool the jury. They will not consider this memory in their decision" The judge looked at the exhausted boy "as it appears we won't be able to extract any more memories from the accused, this court will rest for today. Both accustation as defense will be able to call additional witnesses and have their final speech. The accused will spend the night at the location of his choice" The wooden hammer came down, the court disappeared in a ray of light while the devil sank in the ground with the smell of sulfur.
"Can I get some help here?" Chris stumbled in, supporting a half-sleeping Kit Cloudkicker. His mother came to his aid and picked the cub up. It had been a while since she had last been able to hold Kit this close.
"So, how did things turn out?"
"Like it could be expected. He's on my side, but the Devil can play some serious mindtricks. It's a good thing Kit is so hypersensitive about his past or the case would have been lost. Why did he claim now and not years ago? This is all so inconvenient…we have work to do and only two weeks to do it in!"
"I don't know what to think of this, but I suppose it's all for the best. Maybe he'll get to stay here when he's cleared from charges"
It was a possibility like another, Chris knew that very well. This trial could prove Kit worthy of a place in paradise, but that would mean he'd have to die on earth…and so many devoted their lives to preventing exactly that. He just hoped the second day would go better. Chris fell flat down in his bed and took his study material.
The second and final day of the trial. Kit still stood accused for the crime of posessing a dark soul, but less and less members of the jury were convinced he was guilty. The Greek delegation considered him innocent and with a few exceptions, so did the Roman delegation. The only problem was that the decision had to be unanimous or the Devil could rightfully lay claim on Kit's soul and taunt him from this day forward into eternity.
"…and so I come to the conclusion that this boy's soul is mine and always has been."
"Defense, have you prepared your final speech?"
"Yes your honor" Chris stood up, reviewed his notes and stepped forward. When he stood in front of the jury however, he changed is mind and folded his notes…he wasn't going to use them: they were to sterile. This speech had to come straight from the heart
"It is to say your honor, I had prepared a speech, but I can't in good conscience defend my own brother with this much at stake. I believe he deserves to defend himself"
Rumour amongst the jury, a worried look on the Devil's face. If Kit was really innocent, two words would be enough to plead him free…two words and a verb actually. Chris remembered and whispered something in Kit's ear. The cub shook his head and stood up
"I must warn you mr. Cloudkicker, we are aware of your skills as an actor and any faked emotion will seal your fate"
Kit stepped forward with a tired expression on his face. He was obviously still recovering from all the mindreading yesterday
"Trust me, I'm too tired to fake anything today. Jury, guys, I know what has been said about me wasn't a pretty picture, but it's one I have been living with my entire life. Day after day, I wake up with a weight on my shoulders because I made mistakes when I was younger. My life began without ever having chances to free myself of a dark path stretched out in front of me…a path I was forced to walk, but hated at the same time. When I saw a chance, most likely my only chance to redeem myself, I took it and have tried to the best of my ability to restore what had been damaged. I lived my life without knowing where I came from, or what I was supposed to do with it. A situation that lends itself to abuse by men like Christian Slate who saw me as nothing but a tool. I was kept dumb all my life of my heritage and future, was told that it didn't matter anyway because I was a criminal. But I never felt like that. Whoever my parents were, they could never have wanted me to be like that…I never wanted to be like that" Kit's eyes started to burn and the tears became to numerous to hold back "So why do I deserve all the bad that can come to one person because of a few mistakes I have made before I knew I was making them? I know it most likely isn't enough but…I'm sorry for what I've done. I never intended it to happen…oh god, I'm so sorry…please forgive me, I'm sorry" Kit cried like crazy and sunk to his knees, his hands in front of his face. It was about all the jury needed to come to a conclusion. Plato, spokesman of the assembled thinkers stood up and solemnly spoke
"After hearing both parties, considering the accused's youthful age and obvious regret of the transpired events, we find him…innocent of all charges. A sincere soul can never belong to the devil, nor can a remorseful one"
"Very well. After hearing the jury's decision and keeping in mind the blatant lies and tricks of the accusation, Kit Cloudkicker is cleared of all charges and may reside in paradise when his duty on earth is finished. Kit, I grant you the gift of an afterlife. The Devil can no longer lay claim on your soul"
In a matter of seconds the court was gone. Only Chris stayed behind for a minute and smiled at his brother.
With a flash, Kit came back to his senses. He was sitting in the afternoon sun, a pair of binoculars in his hand. A blanket was put over his legs, like someone had seen him sleeping and didn't want him to catch cold. He had no idea of how long he had been staring at the horizon, but for the first time it seemed like the clouds above the cliffs were finally dissolving and allowed a ray of warm light to shine on the now happy cub.
He'd been waiting for what seemed like an eternity. Being a coach of a bunch of grade school kids, he'd seen every waiting room and read every magazine at least twice. But now he was waiting for his son…
He had taken the nurse's advice and gone to a doctor. The doctor had just told them to see a specialist and once they got there, he had immediately driven them to the hospital. And though Coach Larson was a man of steel with nerves of iron, he couldn't stand the stress of waiting this time. Maybe Jimmy really hadn't been up to this, maybe he had never been really ready. But extra training wasn't going to solve it, not anymore.
What Jimmy needed was a father, all along.
Larson found himself regretting all the times he yelled at his wife for her 'overprotective upbringing'. Maybe she knew something he didn't, maybe something why she always protested about his running from day one. -damn fool, why didn't you trust her when you should have?-
Footsteps in the hall, he shot up. Out of the waiting room, he nearly bumped into Jimmy. The boy was slowly making his way down the hall with the aid of crutches, a clear white cast around his leg. He saw who was in front of him and looked at the floor.
The coach sat down on his knee and looked at his son intently "yeah son?"
"I don't think…" Jimmy looked at his father, feeling strangely comfortable around him for the first time "I don't think I'll be running again this season"
"It doesn't matter son, it doesn't matter"
Reed hugged Jimmy closer than he ever had before, regretting the lost time but also looking forward to the time that was yet to come.
"Psst, fuzzy, it's me" A voice startled Kit who was still sitting outside. The voice was familiar but the vocabulary made it unmistakable: his father was back yet again. Unfortunately he was hiding behind the corner, the shadow gave that away "I'm sorry I can't show myself yet, but I promised Baloo I wouldn't"
"Why not?" Kit wheeled closer, but the shadow moved away as he closed in
"Stay back, you can't see me…I shouldn't even be talking to you. I just wanted to say that seeing you again in this state really broke my heart son, but I could never take care of you even if I wanted to"
"Why not?" Kit repeated his question but stayed at a distance this time. If his legs had permitted it, he would have jumped around the corner like lightning.
"Jeez, kid, listen to me! If I come any closer or even hint what my real name is, Baloo will kill me. That's one ugly bear when you get on his wrong side… And I'm afraid this is goodbye my son. I'll be leaving shortly, can't tell you where I'm going. Take care my boy, and don't try to find me…I'll deny everything anyways"
"No, dad, please don't leave…not again. Why won't you tell me who you are?" Kit pleaded and steadily wheeled forward. The figure stepped back with every inch he gained, but Kit closed in faster
"Don't make this harder on me…damn" the figure made a quick move and when Kit finally went around the corner, only the front door into Higher for Hire was still moving. To make it easier on his adoptive father, and to spot his real one, the cub took the other door leading to the docks. His natural father had to be easy to spot between the familiar faces. With great expectation, Kit opened the door…
He had forgotten all about it. To celebrate her recent success, Rebecca had invited old business friends and some executives of Intertran for a drink. Through some weird twist of fate, a few of the freelancers were busy explaining their routes and planes to the obviously bored suits. With only Rebecca and Baloo in the room as familiar faces, this was going to be impossible. She spotted him, he wheeled forward to the desk
"Some crowd today. All customers?" Kit said it laconically to hide his disappointment
"No sweetie, just a couple of friends…business friends" she had a strange smile on her face. She was showing them who would never be succesfull "say, would you mind doing me a favor?"
"No problem, whatever!"
It hit him like a ton of bricks. Was she really asking him to leave because he didn't fit the image of the company anymore…or had Baloo asked her to send him away so there was no chance at all he'd meet his real father?
"I ehmm…I'm not gonna leave miss. Cunningham. There's someone here I gotta meet"
Baloo stood behind him, like a tower over its territory. He heard the weak protest and knew why Kit was staying…offcourse. He knew very well that one of the guests was his father and the grey bear was going to do everything in his power to make sure those two stayed as far away from eachother as possible
"Hey, kiddo, thought you'd be sleeping fer ever out there. Seen any new planes coming in today?"
The voice behind him stabbed him in the back. He hadn't expected Baloo to hear him or even remotely know why he had come in again. Kit would have to think fast if he wanted to get out of this without heartache on any side
"I ehmm…I saw my P40 coming in for a landing…Who did you rent it to?"
"Dunno, some guy that needed a plane badly. Got his name around here somewhere" Baloo rummaged through a pile of papers and found what he was looking for "ah, here we are…Mikos Kastopor..o..pa…damn, weird writing, can't even make out the letters. Anyway, he's a flight instructor"
"And he needed my plane for his students! It's insured, right?" He looked from Baloo to Rebecca and back again "Right?"
"Honey, we didn't really have the opportunity or the money to insure your plane. We didn't know he was going to use the P40 for his students"
"But now that you know, you can demand it back can't ya?"
"Technically…no. It's a six-months contract and unless I pay him his deposit back, I can't"
"He's gonna wreck my wings!" Kit pleaded with his surrogate parents but got no reply at all. They realised all too well that renting out his plane was something they didn't put much thought into, figuring he wouldn't need it for quite some time. "Those are my wings ya know! MY WINGS!"
Some of the crowd started to look in the direction of the argueing trio. Although a domestic argue didn't say much about a company, it did reveal books about a person's personality. Rebecca felt watched by her old friends and new partners
"Why didn't you ask me? Or tell it to my face at least! I had to hear it from Baloo, and only when I brought it up" Sweat pearled down Kit's forehead…Lou had warned him not to excite himself
"Be reasonable honey: you were in a coma, I couldn't have asked" Rebecca said it and waved at the staring crowd that everything was under control. Her statement, however, frowned a few faces
"Ow, so that's when it was decided! THAT WAS THREE FREAKING MONTHS AGO BECKY!" It was the first time Rebecca had seen the cub so angry, and even heard him swear on her behalf. He didn't seem himself though: the medication was having strange effects on him. Maybe those pills weren't as good as she was told.
"I had to come home for the business Kit, we needed the money"
"And what about me? I won't be in this wheelchair forever!" Comments were heard from the 'spectators' who were wondering how a coldhearted -and obviously bad- mother could lead a thrustworthy company "What were you thinking huh? What? Don't I have rights? Am I just another employee?!"
The comments became louder and some Intertran representatives simply left. Rebecca was starting to get annoyed at the yelling cub
"I RENTED IT OUT BECAUSE I THOUGHT A HALF-BLIND, CRIPPLE VEGETABLE WOULDN'T NEED IT OKAY?"
The blurt turned all heads and spawned a killing look from Baloo. She had just insulted his son and came hell or high water, that was intolerable. Kit stared, letting the words sink into his rockhard shell until it finally broke for the first time in a long while. His eyes flooded almost instantly while the first sobs escaped his chest.
Rebecca looked around the room for a few reassuring looks, but only caught the cold stare of another pilot. The businessmen were long gone now, but the freelancers didn't take kindly to someone insulting a child, and certainly not when that child was the mascot of the flying community. They stepped outside, some spit on the floor.
Kit was now crying like a little kid, insulted by the one he trusted most. Sure, he had been a strain on everyone lately, but none of that was his fault. He couldn't believe Rebecca just snapped at him. With some effort -his strength seemed gone with the sadness- he wheeled to the base of the stairs. When he stretched his arms out at Baloo, the grey bear picked him up and carried him upstairs.
The door slammed shut, an eery silence replaced the animated discussion
Rebecca was left downstairs, bewildered, mad at herself for blurting that out. But now it was too late: the truth was said. It seemed that she only worked for Kit's care these last few months and he thanked her by demanding an expensive and cost-ineffective plane back that he wouldn't be able to use anyway only because he thought something might happen to it. She screened the loaner carefully, Mikos could fly and he needed a plane.
Now Kit had even chased her connections away and possibly put the entire contract in danger. -Maybe he did get what was coming to him. That brat thinks he's the only one with problems on this planet- The thought entered her mind quickly and got through all defenses. Maybe her father put it best: 'In business you don't have friends, only temporary allies'. Kit clearly overstayed his welcome now. Selling his plane would set a nice example for the future…for all of her employees: Wildcat's houseboat that was illegally docked, Baloo's Seaduck that was aged too much to be effective…they'd all be afraid then. Just a matter of picking up the phone and closing the deal. Something inside her seemed to stop her however
-Rebecca, that boy needs you, why would you do a thing like this? * Business rule number one: do everything to make a profit! - He saw you as his mother and you know that had to be the truth * Heart is for the weak and unsuccesfull! - Would you do the same to Molly?!-
The final thought closed the argument. Rebecca was a mother, and though Molly had been complaining about never seeing her lately she had never snapped at her. And most certainly she wouldn't give away Lucy to make her obey. It was only now that she realised that she wasn't thinking as Rebecca Cunningham, the mother, but as Rebecca Juliette Cunningham, the coldhearted, spoiled daughter of a self-made millionair with a degree in Trade and Business management.
For the first time in years, two worlds collided and struggled to come to the surface.
It seemed like hours had passed before something moved upstairs. Baloo slowly descended, a vacant expression on his face. He took a deep breath and walked up to Rebecca's desk. Much to her surprise, he didn't shout but spoke more formally than she had ever heard
"My son is now in the employee's dormitory and got a pill that will ensure he stays up there for a few hours. In this time he shall not bother you or hinder the business in any way. Furthermore I want to apologise for his behaviour and take full responsibility for any financial damage he may have cost you"
"Listen, Baloo, I didn't mean to…"
The grey bear didn't let her finish
"I am aware that the property he demanded is yours and as of such it is your right do with it whatever you please. I am also aware that this episode may jeopardise the reputation of this company and I am willing to retire if my presence or my son's is no longer required or obstructing customer orders. In this event we will offcourse vacate the upstairs premises within two days of the notice"
"How long did you rehearse that?"
"Two hours an' it still sounds like a whole bunch of guavos"
"Baloo, I want to apologise to you and Kit. Everytime this business gets a little succesfull I get carried away and start thinking like Khan. I just can't seem to combine a family life with Higher for Hire"
"Don' sweat it! I know how hard t'is ta be a single parent wit' a job. Guess we both been under stress lately" Baloo walked around a bit, another question clearly on his lips. After five minutes of agonising wait for Rebecca, he finally dared to speak "Uhmm…Becky..I ehmm was wonderin' if ya…ya know"
"Man, this is embarassing…ehmm…Rebecca, do you…"
"What Baloo?" a strange twinkle appeared in her eyes. All men seemed so shy to ask this question but it was not like he'd be the first one to do it. She could imagine it now: white doves, a luxury car to pick them up from the church, a long dress, Baloo in his fanciest suit, Kit and Molly finally brother and sister…
"Do you know a good hairdresser?"
"Ah..ehmm..well uuhh…" She quickly tried to hide her disappointment but Baloo still caught a glimpse of it. He made a mental note -she will say yes!- It wasn't like the thought had never occured to him
"It ain't fer me, but fer Kit"
"Sure I know one. Molly always gets her hair cut at Tonio's. Actually, it's the first time I hear Kit ask"
"He kinda hadda ya know…Ya see, those pills…" Baloo opened his hand. Rebecca saw locks of brown hair, some long, some shorter "an' I tried to stroke his hair ta calm him but ehmm…I think he's kinda mad at me right now"
"Those pills huh?"
"Yep, them damn pills"
Kit stared at himself in a big mirror. Three faces looked with him, two peeking over his shoulder and one over his head. It had been the worst experience of his life…and possibly Tonio's. It was a struggle just to get him to sit down in the chair, not to mention when Tonio tried to wash his hair. It had been his first haircut since he was seven and the second in his entire life. The result wasn't half bad: his hair was a bit shorter, but the characteristic waving had been kept and, maybe more important, the bald spots were covered nicely.
"So, how do you like it?" Rebecca asked it with a big smile on her face
"I don't know…it's a little short, isn't it?"
"Do not worry little man, that will grow grow grow like corn" Tonio always came across as somewhat of an oddball, but he was good "Your hair is nice, nobody will make fun and the shampoo will keep it lice-free" Tonio made frantic arm movements, almost excited to see the result "Good deal, no little man?"
"I suppose it'll grow back. It only took me six years to grow it that long"
"Six years? Nonononononono! You will come back in three weeks!"
"In your dreams Tonio!"
Or maybe more accurately, in his nightmares. Rebecca watched amused as the 'artist's' face dropped and the expression of disappointment surfaced
The trio was now on its way back, Rebbecca more than a bit relieved this was over. Baloo pushed Kit's wheelchair and seemed to go faster with every step he took, resulting in a distance between him and Rebecca. When they had a respectable lead, the whispers started
"C'mon Li'l Britches, ya know she didn't mean it"
"Then why did she say it?"
"You've said things ya didn't mean too!"
"Yeah, but there were no spectators around!"
"The pirates, remember? Stone, Lucy, Molly…don't tell me ya fergot about that. Besides, ya weren't very polite yerself yesterday"
"She deserved it!"
"Ya know, I think she had the same thought. Besides, tomorrow you an' me are outta here. I'll snatch da keys to the Duck an' we're off for Benishore"
"Oh no, you're not taking the Duck on a trans-atlantic!" The new and louder voice silenced the two easely. Rebecca had caught up fast
"Listen here boss-lady…" Baloo stood and faced a surprised Rebecca Cunningham "I'm taking *my* son *anywhere* in *my* plane"
"No, *you* listen here employee-man!" Baloo backed up a few steps, afraid of losing his nose to this fierce creature "The Seaduck is *my* plane and without *my* advice Kit wouldn't be your son in the first place. The doctor gave you warnings and you're forgetting about them already! You're not taking your son to Benishore in the Seaduck, but you'll fly Hispanic Airways in a 314, I'm buying the tickets, and that's final! No argueing this time!"
"No M'am!" Baloo saluted with a grin "With sadness in my heart I will take your offer and fly in one night to Hispania in a plane with all luxury, rooms and beds instead of my beloved and planned three-day travel in a rusty oilcan" the grey bear acted like he was wiping away a tear "oh my, the sacrifices I have to make these days…It's horror…"
"That's quite enough of that mister!" Rebecca laughed at the performance
"Aww, Miss Cunningham, it's just his own, unique and somewhat weird way of saying 'thanks'."
The night reigned again, and silence filled its wake. It was a time for rest, a time for anticipation and a time to forget about what happened in the past. Baloo had packed a few sportbags with some light clothing…no need to take rainclothes or an umbrella to Hispania. He hated the thought of having to stick to airline times, but he gladly did it for Kit.
The boy was looking forward to his first vacation. If it wasn't for his pills he probably had stayed up all night to make sure he wouldn't oversleep. He didn't want to be asleep again like when Baloo picked him up in the Duck. The grey bear sat awake in dim light, looking at his son, watching over him. Everytime Kit's chest fell with a breath, he was afraid it wouldn't rise again. Rebecca had taught him some basic CPR and he was prepared to act within seconds.
Now that he was more certain of himself, Baloo had asked the box with injections back. He had locked it in his nightstand and made a mental note to hide it in one of the bags before they left. It was of vital importance that Kit didn't know he had it…and addict does strange things for a shot.
Trying to get his mind of all the worries, Baloo looked at the airline tickets again. Rebecca had certainly tried to make up for her outburst: Two seats first class on Hispanic's new 314. Breakfast, dinner and lunch included. She had even booked a nice hotel at 20 yards from the beaches. As far as Baloo knew, he couldn't afford this kind of trip and even Rebecca would have had to stretch the budget at least a little…so where did all this money come from? This trip cost as much as a new plane.
A strange feeling hit Baloo as he realised how much selling a P40 would make…
The early morning sun cast its rays over the Cape Suzette bay. The waters were already buzzing with activity, but for once it wasn't Khan's dock that did most of the loading. The Higher for Higher dock was a mess of parked planes and the office was even fuller.
It had been three days since Rebecca had posted job opportunities on Louie's wall, but the pilots seemed to increase in number every day. Where she had problems shipping the necessary cargo in one day before, now she easely made every deadline and was able to carry surplus crates to boot. The pilots ran in and out of the office, trying to ship as much as possible in one day.
It all seemed less important to Rebecca today. Her best pilot was leaving, the cub she considered a son and her second best pilot…all on the same day. It was a lucky thing she was able to get a hold of another ticket for Jules. The brown bear had already left for the airport when Baloo carried Kit downstairs and sat him in his wheelchair. The grey bear seemed a bit embarassed and shuffled towards the office desk.
"Allright, Baloo, the airline is expecting you two at ten AM on pier 5 near the airport and…" Rebecca was interrupted by Baloo's look
"Ehmm…Beckers…I mean, miz Rebecca…I uhm…just wanna say how much I appreciate yer gesture an' all.."
"That's allright, don't…"
"BUT…ehmm…is there any way to cancel this?"
"C…cancel?" Rebecca was a bit shocked by the request. She had really tried her best to book this flight "why? If this is something about pride, don't worry about the money…"
"Got nuthin' to do with pride Rebecca" Baloo bit his lip "The kid had a bad dream last night…real bad if ya know what I mean. He sez there's something he hasta say ta me y'know? But he wants ta go visit a certain Greta…don't ask" Baloo saw that Rebecca was about to ask a question he didn't knew the answer to, so he cut her off "he wants ta see the Norville orphanage, talk to whoever's in charge there and find out stuff about his past"
"He's going to look for 'him', isn't he?"
"Yep, and I can't stop him. Where is he anyways?"
"I don't think he'll be botherinng you any time soon, but when he notices…you'll have two days, three at most"
"I'm gonna need the Duck…kin I have the keys?"
"Did you pack everything? And I mean 'everything'…you know what I mean"
"Yep, I got it" Baloo tapped against a square bulge in his shirt
"You know the flightrules" Rebecca turned her chair, took the keys off the rack and threw them to the pilot "be careful okay? And remember that these airline tickets aren't dated. When you're done investigating, use them!"
Baloo walked to Kit and rolled him onto the dock. This sudden change in plans made Rebecca realise how little time she had left before her 'son' went blind…and how happy she was to have a normal, healthy child at home.
The grey bear opened the cargo hatch and tried to pull the wheels of the chair over the tiny step the open hatch formed with the dock. After a while, he had to give up.
"Great! Now I can't even get into the Duck. Let's hope that Greta's house is adapted to the physically handicapped"
"Hey, none of that pessisimistic stuff attitude L'il Britches: we'll still hang out with eachother, no matter what happens" Baloo carried him to the navigator chair and planted Kit's trusted cap on the boy's head "that ain't no way for no navigator to be actin'. Ya keep me on course remember? And how am I gonna have faith if you keep sayin' we ain't gonna reach our destination?"
"Ya can't…if that happens, ya better let go of the controls and let the plane slam into the ground. When a navigator says you're not going to make it, then you're not!"
"Exactly!" Baloo got to his knees and looked Kit in the eyes. His voice became softer and calmer "An' I ain't givin' up without no fight"
Jules was on his way back from the airport. In all the rush, he had forgotten about the tickets. He was looking forward to the vacation, especially now that he knew who was coming along. Walking along the docks, he saw the steady stream of planes starting to build beyond the cliffs. Yesterday there were 20 freelancers eager for a job at Higher for Hire, today he counted no less than 30 planes. Before he could reach homebase, fifteen of them had touched down in a chaotic mess. There was no more space for the others so they had to stay in a holding pattern.
The pilots of the fifteen first planes walked to the office door…and stopped. One of them entered as a spokesman, the others blocked the entrance.
"Miss Cunningham?" the badger pilot removed his cap, the bearess looked up from the pile of papers she was sorting
"Yes? Go on, I don't bite"
"The name is Will Telliam. I'm the spokesman for the Freelance Pilot Union"
"Ah, yes, the pilot with the Duck 250. Let me assure you that your plane has proven most valuable for this company. If this is about a bonus, I don't see any problems…"
The badger sighed, looked at the floor and back to the woman "It's not about that. It's not the money we're worried about but our safety. Yesterday, five planes were hijacked and their pilots injured in the struggle. The ones that did get away were denied access to Eporuan airspace. I myself was kept in a holding pattern until they granted me emergency access: I ran out of fuel. Again, over seven planes crashed during emergency landings, luckily without injury to pilots or crew"
Rebecca listened with growing disbelief: she was being boycotted and had a pretty good idea who was behind this
"This sounds like a political boycot to me. I wouldn't be too surprised if Khan was behind this. If this ever happens again, just go to Belgrum airspace. I'm pretty sure they'll allow Intertran flights"
"Yes, well, so far so good, but…it's deeper than that. You weren't raised in pilot circles so I understand if you don't know this but…the attacks on pilots look just like the Ghost Squadron myth"
"Ghost Squadron?" Rebecca indeed didn't know about the ancient pilot myth. Not even Baloo had talked about this
The badger sat down at the desk, a strange stare in his eyes "I never met them, thank god, but I'll tell you what another pilot told me just before he disappeared
When you're flying solo for the first time, mystical forces will come to haunt you. Somewhere in the sky, usually when you exit a big cloud, you have the chance to run into the Ghost Squadron. They'll show up out of nowhere, all guns blazing. But they won't impact: they just disable your plane without a single bullet-hole. You'll hear a thud on the roof and suddenly the mysterious figures in white will be in your cockpit. Their eyes show no emotion at all and their bodies are cold to the touch. Once they're in your plane, you'll have to pray to keep them from killing you and vow you'll take a navigator next time. If they're pleased, they'll start humming very loud and although your cargo is gone when they are, you'll be alive. If they're not pleased, you'll disappear forever with your plane. When you land after the encounter, a navigator looking for work will come up to you. You have to hire him on the spot or they will attack you again. And although some cargo will still go missing after every trip to pay them back for your life, they'll never attack you again"
"I'm sorry if I come across as sceptical, but was there ever any proof for this? Maybe a band of pirates is taking advantage of the myth"
"Pirates don't fly unmarked fighters. Even the most experienced of the attacked pilots didn't recognise the design"
"BWAHAHAHA, GHOST SQUADRON, HAHAHHAHAHHA" Jules had entered so silently, neither of the two had noticed him. He had heard the entire story and had to lean against a wall so he wouldn't fall down from laughing
"DO YOU THINK THIS IS FUNNY?" Will shot up, the chair he was sitting on toppled over and clattered on the floor. With a swift move, he was face to face with the laughing brown bear
"Oh, come on, grow up. These stories are meant to keep kids from flying. I have been a professional pilot for over 18 years and I have NEVER seen anyhting like you described or even heard that stupid fairytale"
The badger kept his cool and put his cap back on his head "They'll be coming for you Crane. Watch your six or have it shot off" he turned back to Rebecca "We'll fly today miss. Cunningham, but if it happens again we'll go on strike until you come up with some protection" This said, the badger ripped one of the assignments off the board and walked outside. The fourteen other pilots quickly came in for a job. After the usual fights about who got to ship what, they left and the other fifteen touched down. In the fuss, Jules remembered why he was here
"Rebec…ehmm I'm sorry…miss. Cunningham, I forgot my plane ticket and that 314 is about to takeoff"
"Oh, I'm sorry…how am I going to say this…Baloo and Kit didn't go and I accidentally cancelled all three reservations instead of two. How can I make this up to you?"
The brown bear got a strange expression in his eyes "maybe you can tell me where they went! I knew he'd try something like this!"
Now it was Rebecca's turn to get mad "First of all, Jules, where they went is none of your business and second, it was Kit's idea. They're on their way and I'm not telling you where they are going"
Another white flash…Kit should have known better than to fall asleep in his chair. Although the cub liked it when he go to see Chris, his borhter was going a bit far by bothering him everytime he wanted to sleep. One thing he did seem to be unpredictable in was the setting. Kit found himself sitting in a movietheater, staring at a blank screen. Chris sat next to him with a programme in hand. After all his experiences, Kit kept his cool
"So, what's on today?" he rested his feet on the seat in fron of him and looked around as if wondering where the popcorn vendor was
"To be honest: nothing. It depends on you what we're about to see. It's the alternative to mindreading"
"What do you want to know?"
"I'm worried they messed up your memories with that mindprobing. Do you remember what happened on that factory mission?"
"Yeah, I remember" Kit looked at the ceiling, noticing it wasn't there. Instead, he saw that beautiful sky again and remembered it didn't matter what he confessed up here: it would be forgiven "despite what the devil showed, I didn't kill anyone on that mission, but all that happened before was fairly accurate"
"Don't tell me, think!"
As Kit started to think about what happened again, the lights dimmed and the movieplayer in the back started rattling. The lightbeam projected images on the screen
Well, that contact wasn't broken a second too soon. Just when Kit had hidden the radio and hopped back in bed, the doctor reappeared. He was carrying a bottle with a redish medicine in it. Kit cringed at the thought of another unpalletable spoon of goo. It was like the kind doctor could read his mind
"Oh, don't worry, this isn't one of those icky things" he screwed the top of the bottle and poured a spoon "now be a good lad and tell me how that tastes"
Kit swallowed it down, trying not to breathe through his nose. An unexpected delicious aroma filled his mouth
"Hehe, exactly. It's my new formula…hey, is that your backpack?"
The cub had forgotten all about hiding his mission supplies. The guard at the gate hadn't paid much attention and in the fuss accompanying his arrival, the doctor had missed it. Too bad it would sink his story now. Kit reached in his hidden pocket, only to sting himself to the needle of the syringe he carried. After a second try, he was able to take it in his palm and keep it concealed there. The doctor opened the backpack, suspicious as of how a cub that survived such an accident could walk away without wounds AND with a backpack. His eyes widened: inside was everything a spy needed to get in the factory
"Oh my god…" the doctor backed away
"You're not going to kill me…right?"
"This is a lot bigger than you, don't worry" Kit quickly locked the door to the hallway "but I can't let you alarm anyone, do you understand?" Suddenly it was like the young cub was the doctor's superior
"Allright, I undertand. What do you suggest?"
"First of all you're going to show me where your sedatives are…Morfine, sodium-penthanol, whatever, the stronger the better" the doctor gave him a very strange look. Kit figured he might as well tell him "no, it's not for me, I'm not into that junk. My 'commander' can process it into something useful…WELL?"
"Well what?" once again the doctor backed away, hitting a wall this time
"Where are they?"
"In the cabinet on the wall…in my office"
"Let's check it out"
The cub now showed the syringe to the doctor and waved in the direction of the office door. The two walked in the office, Kit closely monitoring his prisoner. The doctor took a key with trembling hands and nervously tried to open the lock of the small white cabinet with a red cross on it. After a while, he finally managed and slowly opened the door. The cub pulled a chair underneath it so he could see. He was lost in a mess of bottles and pills
"Don't you know what you're looking for?" he had considered knocking the cub on the head or pulling the chair from underneath him…anything so he'd be dazed for a second, just long enough to give him a sedative and hand him over to the security. But where would he end up then? In juvenile? Or in a normal prison between the hardened thugs and brutes. What would become of him then? At least now he'd have another chance
"I know what I'm looking for" he rummaged through the different mixtures and scratched his head "but why don't you tell me? Just to be sure"
"The white labels with red striping"
"Thanks" Kit opened his backpack and filled it up with anything he could find that remotely looked like what he was looking for. When he was done, only one thing remained. He hopped back to the floor and gave the syringe to the doctor "four units, no more. I'd do it myself but you can probably do it better"
The doctor saw no choice but to comply. One thing he did notice was the little spot of blood on the needle and how Kit kept sucking on his finger, looking at it every so often
"Does it matter?"
"Depends on your weight. Not that a finger is a good place to take in injections…" the doctor injected himself with the four units
"What about, hypothetically spoken offcourse, the back of your neck?" Kit scratched a sore spot between the back of his head and his shoulders. He had been stupid enough to remove the safety cap from the needle so he could attack faster. Too bad the needle was pointed at him while he carried it in his sweater
"That's a good spot…lot 'o veins…" he pulled the needle out of his arm, unstrappped the belt he had tightened around his upper arm and tossed the syringe back to Kit "ya have for un's lft"
"Four? There were ten untis in there!"
"Nope, eight. I just hope yer a bit heavier than I think you are. Man, I'm tired" the doctor closed his eyes out of habit and was asleep a few moments later. Kit was left with a lot of questions like where the other two untis went…or how long it would take before he noticed the effect of such a small dose. Only one way to find out…
The leopard was still sitting behind the wheel of his jeep. The installation he used to keep in contact with 'his' spy had gone silent. All the 'commander' could hope for was that the other end hadn't been severed. He jumped when a voice crackled through his headset
"Vulture to Eagle, come in Eagle" the voice had a hint of nervousness in it. Fang knew the real value of the plans he was about to steal so he calmed his contact down
"This is Eagle, what's wrong Vulture?"
"It's about my mission supplies…If I should accidentally *not that I did, but still* IF…I accidentally injected two units of the special sedative in the back of my neck…how long would it take for that stuff to take effect?"
"Well, hypothtically spoken, you wouldn't make it to the exit awake…not that you did such a stupid thing"
"No, right" a small laugh was heard on the other side "ehmm…I couldn't help it, I'm sorry" Kit braced himself for the rant and lecture that were sure to follow his confession
"Stay with me and listen up: if this just happened, you have fifteen more minutes. I suggest you get moving"
"It didn't happen a minute ago, but at the gate"
"What have you done in that hour you had contact?"
"I looked for security, noted the position of the stairrs and elevators, marked an escape route…oh yeah, I slept for half an hour before contact"
"Good, so now it'll depend on how fit you are. Show me you're my boy and get these plans for me! I'll pick you up at the western gate"
"Thanks…ehmm, I'll meet you at the coordinates, Vulture out"
Fang smiled, his teeth glittering in the moonshine. He would get these plans one way or another, no matter how this turned out. Tonight was just more…profitable. The thought of losing his contact and spy didn't bother him the least.
A set of headlights appeared in his rearmirror. With a sudden realisation, the leopard checked his watch. The convoy was at least six hours early. Cursing softly and wondering to himself why the army decided to show up too soon for once, he reached for something on the passenger chair. His jeep bore the markings of an Usland corporal and his sleeves and helmet had the matching stripes on them. The convoy truck passed him without suspicion, figuring he was just another sentry. His eyes travelled from the radio-set to the leaving truck and back again. He remembered his promise to Kit, shrugged, started his jeep and drove off…in the direction of the city.
Kit opened the door, rubbing his eyes furiously to keep them open. The corridor was empty, but Kit knew that wouldn't last very long: shiftchange was coming up. Luckily it would take the convoy another six hours to get here or he would have been in real trouble. Fast as quicksilver, the boy ran into the corridor. He turned two corners without watching, spotted an unsealed opening and jumped in it. Today was rat-extermination day in the airvents so all the covers had been removed, making it easier for young spies to get around the complex.
He squinted to remember his route from this point on. Amazingly, the cub had hardly any problems finding his way in the maze of narrow vents. Suddenly he started counting his steps and stopped when he reached 'ten'. Carefully, he got on all fours and pressed on the top coverplate above him. It came loose quite easely. With his knees on the last section and one hand on the section in front of him, he pushed the coverplate completely away with his free hand. It slid off and fell…the impact didn't come. Kit now knew for sure he was where he thought he was: this was the elevator shaft. The airvents ran along the wall but weren't designed for anyone to be in them. The young cub knew he had only seconds before the stress his little weight caused on the vents would tear them off. He took his chances, veered up in the vent and jumped for the wall. His luck hadn't left him: the building was completely up to code concerning fire-safety. He quickly held on to the rungs of the emergency ladder while the air vent section fell in the dark depths beneath him. It wouldn't rest for at least 300 feet. Now for the exhausting part…
Kit looked above him, taking a small flashlight between his teeth to light the rungs. It was still a long way to the top floor. With good hope, the cub started climbing. Halfway to the top (20 floors!) his fingers went cold and numb. His hearth was pounding and he knew he couldn't make it topside without some rest. With some effort, he was able to take a leather belt out of his backpack, slip it on and tie the remaining end to the rungs. He could now lean back without falling and give his arms some rest. While he had the time, he took a pair of black gloves, custom made for him. Fang figured Kit couldn't make a decent burglar without proper gear and gave him the pair as a birthday present…two months too late.
Kit unbuckled his belt and resumed climbing, his fingers feeling much better inside the relatively warm gloves. A humm sounded from below him. He knew something was wrong: the elevator beneath him was for direction and officers only. If it was working, it meant that…The large dark body moving towards him confirmed his worst fears: the elevator was going to the top floor…the convoy had to be early. His escape route was now cut off and he had a serious problem. The reason why elevators didn't work during fires was because they'd crush anyone on the ladders. Kit waited for the elavator to come near and jumped to its roof. He shot up with incredible speed and saw the top floor approaching rapidly. Although he was rather gratefull he didn't have to climb this last stretch, the roof drew closer with every second. He pressed himself against the roof of the elevator and hoped for the best. When it stopped, he even had enough room left to crouch. He heard the doors opening below him and overheard parts of a conversation
"I COULDN'T HELP IT! YOU CAME TOO SOON!"
"FANTASTIC! Now we'll have to go back down"
The elevator started moving again, down this time. Kit could barely hold on to one of the rungs of the ladder. He climbed back to the top, forced the doors open and crawled to the floor. He had made it! From basement 2 to the 20th floor in only two legs. Thank god that elevator cooperated. He took off his gloves and searched his backpack for the security card. Another problem popped up: he had a security card level 5 and this door was locked with a level 6 electronic lock.
Kit looked around him. Besides the door, there was only one other, sealed tight. There was a lock, but the cub didn't bother sliding his card in the level 10. That had to be the security room, but how to use that to his advantage? The other thing in this small corridor was a personnel board. Several pictures were stapled under it for identification. One showed a father and his son…and although Kit felt disgusted with himself, that kid did look remotely like him. Now the name of the employee…'P. Hayesworth' -aw, great, what kid adresses his dad with his last name? Wait a sec, what's that on that cake?- The picture showed a birthday party and the cake had a name on it…-Phil…allright, off we go-
Kit was now rather confident. This plan was almost water-proof…almost. Now to hope the security guard wasn't too strict. The cub slid the card in the lock of the designer's room and jumped a bit when the alarm went off. It stopped after about a second, and the security poured out of the room next door. They had their guns drawn, ready to fire. Kit crouched down, protecting his head with his arms in a very childish way
"I'M SORRY…please don't shoot me…pleahease"
One security guard, a hyena, holstered his weapon and motioned the others to go back inside. He sat down on one knee and put his arm around Kit. The boy faked genuine fear, but eased up when the guard took him in the embrace
"Calm down, I'm not going to hurt you. Now let me look at you…" the hyena took a long look at Kit and his face eased up "Tim! Haha, ya little rascal, what are you doing here? You know you don't have anything to fear from *me*"
"Is…is my dad here? My mommy dropped me off at the gate and drove off. She said something about a 'separation' or something like that" Kit faked another few tears, the guard hugged him tighter, his coice becoming unsteady
"Oh god, I'm sorry. Does your dad now?"
"No…is he here? I think the lock is broken"
"The lock is fine…but we upgraded the security since last christmas so your old card isn't valid anymore"
Kit looked at the guard with big eyes, as if he didn't understand a word. The hyena just smiled and slid his own card in the lock. The door opened with a hiss
"Never mind, just run along, scamp. I'll call your daddy over his comm-system"
The cub heard the last phrase, but the door slammed shut behind him before he could act. No matter what he tried, it wouldn't open again. Appearantly, it was closed on the inside with the same lock. It was there to prevent intruders from exiting…people like him for example.
Kit looked around him, seeing nothing but designer tables with blueprints on them. He figured he might just as well switch the plans now and cross the Phil bridge when the time came. Fang wanted a specific plan… but what was that designation number again? His mind was fogged over, probably due to a lack of sleep: he had been on his feet since yesterday morning. -ah yes, the CT-37-
Kit ran into the room, rummaging through stacks of paper and plans. To his frustration, he found nothing, not even a note referring to the plans.
The hyena felt bad for the kid in the room. His face was set grim when he walked back into the security room. His colleagues didn't quite understand an dhe wasn't in a mood to explain either. He simply took a handheld radio, looked on a paper for the right frequency and started broadcasting. A steady beep assured him that he had a connection.
Phil Hayesworth was asleep, as most people at this unholy hour of the night. His job was a stressing one, one of deadlines, last minute alterations and more deadlines. He could imagine a poor sap working overtime, even this instant, to have the new project finished. A noise filled his house…a steady beep
"Aw, great, now what?"
Out of his mood like every morning, Phil stood up, yawned and walked downstairs. He took his radio from the kitchen table and answered with a sleepy voice
"Phil here, what's the rush?"
"Did I wake you up?" the voice on the other end seemed surprised
"Offcourse you woke me up…have you checked your watch recently?" the bear almost yelled
"Sorry that I called you this late…but your wife just left you"
"IS THIS SOME KIND OF JOKE?"
"No, I'm serious Phil"
"Oh, it's you, Jake! Listen pal, I can assure you that my wife is here, lying in our bed, next to me"
"No! Your son just told me that she dropped him off at the gate"
"So now Timmy is in to this too? Listen, I can appreciate a small practical joke, but you're out of line here"
"THEN CHECK HIS ROOM DAMMIT"
"Allright, if it will make you feel better" Phil knew Jake since day one at the factory. They bonded and became close friends. And one thing Phil knew about his friend was this: he never joked about these kind of things. He walked back up the stairs "I'm walking, I'm walking, I've got the doorknob to Timmy's room in my hand…I open the door…and there's my little Timmy, in his bed where he's supposed to be" The bear looked at his son: he would never let him get hurt
"Then…who did I just…Philip, are you positive?"
"Listen yourself!" a fumble, soft voices…suddenly a young and high voice sped over the airways "Hi uncie Jake!"
Jake was surprised but there was no need to alarm the child "Hey, little man. Remember that we've got a game tomorrow! I'll show you I can bat as good as Bear Ruth. Now go back to sleep and give the radio back to your daddy"
"'kay…G'night uncie Jake!"
Fumbling once again, a few footsteps and a door closing…that was what Jake heard before Phil's voice greeted him again "Convinced? Or should I give you a security clearance code?"
"Philip" the voice trembled "I'm afraid we have a security breach. There's a spy in the designer room" Jake said it in a monotonous voice that gave away his shock and fear "and I let him in myself"
"Calm down, what happened?"
"A kid, about Timmy's age…he looked just like him, Phil, I swear to god they were two drops of water…he knew your name, dissed up some sad story…and I let him in. DAMN, THAT WAS STUPID! And even worse: the manager is on his way up with the generals to inspect the final plans…I'm finished Phil, this is the end, I'm gonna get fired"
"You really think so?" Phil had hatched a plan again, as usual "I don't think a kid the age of Timmy would pose a significant treath to a security guard. So get off your chair, open that door and arrest the brat! Then you'll be the hero of the entire factory"
"What if he talks?"
"Either you hope they won't believe him…or you make sure he doesn't"
Nothing! Fifteen minutes of searching and still nothing. He had figured they wouldn't let the plans lying around, but this was ridiculous! This place was a fortress, dozens of guards and at least fifteen different checkpoints…he had avoided them all and now he couldn't even find the plans. What was going on here?
Kit stopped his frantic searching and started reasoning with himself -if I were a designer, where would I hide million dollar plans? *Easy one Cloudkicker: THE SAFE!* There isn't any safe around * Maybe he took them home * They're not his, they wouldn't let him * Maybe the plans aren't finished yet*
The thought hit him like a ton of bricks: what if the plans weren't finished? Then they would be on one of the designer tables or in aerodynamics. Aerodynamics was on the third floor, hardly guarded at all so it was unlikely that the plans should be there. He walked to one of the tables and was quite surprised to see the plans of his own airboard. For the very first time he was clued to what it could be. Without much delay, he rolled up the plans and put them in his backpack.
He tried the other table and sighed with relief. Before his eyes lay the plans he had been looking for all that time. They were sketchy but already revealed a beautiful plane. The cub unclamped the corners and rolled the blueprints up. He replaced them with the plans he had in his backpack. Since he was interested in aviation, Kit compared the plans for a second.
The originals showed a monowing design with oval wings that looked like a laminar flow design. The nose was long and slender with…triple liquid cooling and turbochargers? Was that possible? There was also a fuel line that had nothing to do with the fuel flow and instead went directly into the compressor. This plane was truly remarkable.
Fang made sure the real design would remain a secret though. The one he wanted to make public was ridiculous. A bi-wing design with air cooled engines. The fuel lines had no compression whatsoever and the floats were unusually large. This thing wouldn't survive the test flight, let alone a governement inspection. Kit hesitated for a second. Did he really have the right to stop such an important breakthrough in aviation and instead ridiculise an entire company? Suddenly his time to decide was over.
The door opened with an hydraulic hiss. The same security guard that let him in now stormed in. Kit ducked behind the designer tables that shielded him a bit from detection. As the guard started inspecting every square inch of the room, the cub moved around him, ducking behind every possible obstacle. A flashlight pointed in his direction, Kit's choices were now very limited.
"Come out kiddo" the guard slowly moved towards the position where he had seen movement "I'm not going to kill ya" his hand moved to the baton he carried "just gonna rough you up a little" he muttered it under his breath. Kit needed no more to decide. He hated to do this but…
"Keep away" the cub rose out of his hiding, pointing the small gun he had in the direction of the guard "Or eat lead" Fang had taught him that phrase to intimidate foes: nobody seemed to expect a young boy to talk like that
"Don't be stupid! You can't get out without my security card and nobody is going to buy your Timmy-act again"
"You don't look like an idiot but you bought it anyway. And it doesn't matter who uses that security card"
"If I don't check in in five minutes, the alarm will go off. And there's an entire platoon of soldiers at ground level. How do you plan to get out of here?"
Without showing it, Kit hesitated. He had no clue how to get to the western gate now. He had heard the conversation in the elevator so this guard wasn't fooling around. Suddenly he remembered something
"I'm not going to the ground level. Show me the way to the roof"
"The roof?" the guard's sudden fear was replaced with disbelief "What on earth are you gonna do up there?"
"THAT'S NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS" the cub, although not even ten years old, had complete control over the situation. But if he was to remain in control, he had to take certain precautions "Take your gun…"
The guard quickly grabbed his weapon but the cub responded with a muffled shot that send his baton flying to the other corner. Kit had barely missed the guard's leg and the hyena got the point "…slowly! I'm not going to repeat myself. Now take the butt of the gun with two fingers and two fingers only" The guard complied and took his old trusty sixshooter. Fang had taught Kit how to properly disarm an enemy. Since this wasn't an automatic weapon…."Push the chambers open with one finger of your other hand and let the bullets fall out" Once again, the guard did what he was told. What else could he do? He couldn't properly aim his weapon with two fingers, let alone pull the trigger. The gun was rather old, and the bullets were held in place with small patches of gunpowder and rust. When they finally fell to the floor, the alarm went off. Kit's five minute safety margin was over. The guard regained hope and looked at his captor…only to notice he was no longer there. When he looked around, he couldn't see a thing moving. Suddenly, the barrel with silencer was pressed against his head and a high voice hissed "This changes nothing so don't even tthink about it. Now get me up to the roof"
Slowly, threatened by the armed cub, the hyena walked to the exit. He slid the card into the lock…and was greated by twenty different metallic clicks when the door slid open. Before him stood a firing squad: six armed guards and fourteen soldiers with automatic weapons. Although they had itchy triggerfingers, not one dared to take the shot. Kit kept himself well behind the guard which wasn't hard do do: the guard was at least three times his age and height. They shuffled to the security room where the only elevattor to the roof was located. The guard and soldiers followed them in.
The manager was sweating like a horse. Not only had the army arrived six hours early to view plans that weren't finished yet, but now those same unfinished plans that held the future of his company were the object of a hostage situation. He could feel bankruptcy crawling closer. His only hope was now that they never recovered those plans. The elevator doors slid to a close, the manager sighed in relief.
Inside the elevator, Kit was still threathening the guard. His tough pose was slowly subsiding though: he felt like he was falling where he stood and had a hard time concentrating. Sweat dripped down his back while his fingers went cold. The hyena was trained to handle these kinds of situations and sensed the change in balance. Within a few moments he would have the uppeer hand and disarm the boy. After that he could hand him over to the authorities…or scare him so bad he wouldn't talk and then hand him over. For now he had to distract the cub. After all, how concentrated could a ten year old be?
"So, what were you looking for?"
"The plans, offcourse…y'know, for that plane…the CT-37 I think it was"
"Did you find them?"
"Wha?" Kit felt dazed. His mistake earlier was starting to cost him dearly
"The plans, did you find them?"
"Yeah, but you came in so I had to leave them" Kit lied, keeping his cool even now. Suddnely his vision went black for a second. From that point on, everything happened in a flash. The elevator stopped suddenly which threw Kit off balance. His gun fell to the floor while he leaned back against the wall, dizzy. The guard jumped at the gun, knowing full well that this was his only chance. Kit came to and noticed the hyena reaching for the weapon. Knowing that he couldn't stop the guard anymore, the cub dashed out of the elevator and noted the position of the stars. The hyena behind him watched amazed as the young boy headed straight for the side of the roof, instead of one of the emergency ladders. Kit jumped over the edge, the hyena guard didn't understand it at all. When he wanted to check wether the intruder was dead or not, the elevator doors closed again and he was transported down.
Kit prayed that the plans he found were for his board. For the first time in his life, he reached for it and frantically tried to open it. He was near the ground when his finger found the small button and the metal object revealed its full size. While he hung on to the big board for dear life, his descent was slowed dramatically and he felt like he was floating. The ground came suddenly and mercylessly. The cub stumbled head over heels and lay there for a second, dazed and disoriented. When he got to his feet, reality hit him. Kit couldn't supress a loud laugh and cry of joy when he saw what he had just survived. He picked up his board and stared at it for a while, thinking of the possibilities. When he was done fantasising, the boy put it away and started in a jog towards the western gate. He didn't expect problems at this point: that gate was always unguarded. They relied on the barbed wire to keep intruders out. Luckily Kit had brought some pliers.
The doors slid open again, the clicks sounded again. Two soldiers carefully approached the guard, inspected the elevator and holstered their weapons. The rest of the security force seemed to do the same. The manager ran towards the guard and pulled him into the elevator. He shut the doors for privacy.
"Tell me that he was looking for the CT-37 plans. Please tell me that he was looking for them" the lion broke in sweat
"Oh, thank god, hail mary and the other saints" the manager was a very religic fellow but kept wondering what took the miracle to happen
"But you'll be pleased to hear that because of my intervention he had to leave them behind. He never got the chance to steal them"
"He *didn't* steal them?"
"Nope" the hyena was pretty sure of his job now and revelled in his heroism
"YOU IDIOT! YOU'RE FIRED!" the lion snapped suddenly "you know full well that those plans weren't finished yet. If the army sees them like that we can forget about governement funding and half the factory loses his job, including me! Stolen plans were the most plausible explanation for the delay AND YOU RUINED IT! Didn't you wonder why security was so light tonight?"
"You wanted the plans stolen?"
"Yes! I asked some shady type to have them 'removed'. It would have saved us a lot of money"
The doors opened again, the army general stood in the passage. He spoke in a loud, threathening voice
"If you two are quite finished playing down here, I'd like to see your new superfighter"
The manager swallowed hard, let go of the guard's collar and led the way to the designer room. It was like he was walking for the last time, heading straight towards his execution. Maybe all wasn't lost and the army would like the new design without actually seeing the finished plans. The chance was slim, but it existed. Heck, not everything was lost. They had a great design, a breakthrough in aviation and they could always sell it to another country. As long as the plans were here, everything was still possible. With a slight touch of bravado, the manager showed the general the table that contained the blueprints. The rhino with three stars on his helmet took a long and close look…and started laughing. Not knowing what sparked this response, the lion pushed him aside and watched his million dollar plans. His eyes opened wide and the scream almost deafened everybody in the room
A pair of headlights came around the bend in the road again. In the car sat a leopard, driving around the area, looking for something. His nephew had come home earlier, drunk and without anyone else. When the leopard in the car asked where the young boy was, he only got slapped in the face as an answer. Sure enough his nephew was drunk, but that didn't explain why he came home alone.
In the powerful highbeams of his old car, the leopard found what he was looking for. A miserable wreck of a cub lay in the side of the road, between the scrub and bushes. Hawk hit the brakes, pulled up the handbrake and got out of the car, leaving his engine running. The boy didn't move as he approached and for a moment fear gripped his heart.
He felt the cub's neck and sensed a heartbeat. Only now did he notice the soft breathing. To his relief he realised that the boy wasn't dead but just sleeping. With great tenderness and care, the leopard picked the boy up and gently placed him on the backseat of his car. Sirens were flashing in the distance and the barking of dogs became louder every moment. Hawk quickly jumped in his old car and drove away, pedal to the metal. His fast driving and racemanouevres got the interest of the oncoming guards. But no matter how fast they ran, they were no match for his hardtuned car. The driver remembered his young passenger and looked over his shoulder. The boy was still soundly asleep, head resting on his folded arms. A small smile appeared on Hawk's face and he sped away into the night. His nephew would have a lot of explaining to do…
The door opened swiftly, opened by a boot, not a hand. The leopard came in, carrying a boy in his arms. His nephew looked up from his whiskybottle and viewed the scene apathically. Tension built in the older leopard's chest and he was about to unleash it when his former passenger softly moved. He remembered that the boy had to be exhausted and started for the little room. When he crossed his nephew, the first words were spoken…or better said: snarled
"Gimme his backpack"
"Ain't important now"
"Worth more than your life, so gimme the damn backpack"
"Five more minutes won't kill ya"
The older leopard disappeared through a door. Inside, he pulled back the bedcovers and set the cub on his improvised bed. He was now semi-awake and could sit up without much problems. Hawk took off his backpack and threw it in a corner. With great patience, he took off the boy's sweater and put him to bed in his shirt. When he was properly tucked in and sleeping, the leopard searched his backpack. Inside was the usual garbage his nephew gave his 'spies'. Hawk's eyes fell on a syringe. These things always contained highly dosed sedatives. There were only four units left in it…that mean this boy had either taken Fang's advice and killed somebody with an ovverdose of drugs or… The leopard quickly walked back to the sleeping boy and saw his suspicions confirmed. In the back of Kit's neck was a tiny wound. The rage he had felt earlier faded for a second, until he assured himself that this cub was actually breathing and still alive. He pulled the needle out of the syringe and poured the liquid away in the nearby sink. The rest of the bacpack was filled with medication of the worst kind and blueprints. Hawk figured that it was the plans Fang was after and took them, rolled them up and went back to the living room. His nephew turned around, standing in the middle of the room, drunk out of his mind.
"G'mme them there plans" a vicious look appeared in Fang's eyes and he bared his teeth while he threatened his own uncle. Hawk threw him the plans and they hit him smack in his face. Fang sobered in a minute and scrambled for the precious blueprints
"Now tell me why they were worth more to you than that boy's life! How much do these go on the black market?" Hawk threw his jacket on one of the couches and circled his nephew while he spat out his anger
"NOTHING! That's the beauty of it: there's no real market for these things. Their value can't be expressed in money. But I did something unique in the world of criminality: I pulled off a triple-cross"
"I double-crossed two 'customers' at the same time" Fang looked up to his now frowning uncle "Some idiot from the CT plant asked me to steal the plans so they wouldn't go bankrupt. During the same night, I sold the plans to some schmuck who calls himself Don Karnage. Only thing is: he has to go get them himself. The security will be light tonight so they won't have too many problems getting in. But the plans they'll find aren't those of the CT-37! I've got those right here" he showed the plans and unrolled them on the table. His eyes scanned the specs and aerodynamics results "Ain't this thing a beauty? The pirates will only find some ridiculous design I drew a few days ago. The plantmanager was stupid enough to pay me up front, so I've got his pay already. The pirates will soon find out that their air superiority fighter is nothing more than a hoax and I can sell them the real plans…double the price offcourse. So I actually did this for you uncle!"
"You mean that the profit from this operation…"
"Will go straight to the 'Free David fund'. You know how much we need to bust your son out of Alcalaz. I'm sorry I wasn't able to save Daniel, but that's life! Just think about why we are doing all of this. I'm sorry that I left that boy back there, but if they caught me, who would bust out your son? He's still my cousin you know!"
Hawk let his head hang and stared at the floor for a while. Fang put a hand on his shoulder to show whose side he was on. The older leopard smiled at his nephew, the one that promised to reunite him with his son…maybe he should do that assignment after all
The movie ended with the classic 'the end' screen and the credits started to roll. Chris was merrily chewing away on his popcorn. Where he had gotten it, Kit didn't know. One message on the screen got his attention though.
'Part of the celestial information film archives. Unauthorised copying, lending or viewing is strictly prohibited. For permission, write to G.J.A, office 1, cloud nine'
Even stranger was the final advertisement
'Celestial Films: we created the world!'
Several people started applauding in the back of the theater. Kti looked back and saw the backs of the people leaving…they all had white wings. Chris threw away his popcorn box an dwhistled to his brother. The boy was confused: he had heard stories of heaven and afterlife by many priests, but none came close to the real thing. The two walked to the exit, a walk that seemed to last an eternity. When they finally neared the back of the room, Chris casually looked to his left and greeted the technician. Kit did the same but saw a person he had hoped never to meet. The technician looked at the staring boy and spoke with a hollow voice
"What's the matter boy? Never seen a skeleton with a scythe before?"
Kit quickly ran after his brother, afraid of who he had just met. Chris seemed to notice his anxiety
"No need to worry bro, that was just Grim"
"The Reaper? So the flashback of your life when you die…"
"Yeah, that's him. It's also why he's the last person you see"
"And he judges where you end up? A movie technician?"
"Actually he's moonlighting as the delivery boy. The judging is always done up front Kit. One act, one statement, on simple thought can either liberate you or get you an eternity in Hell"
"Kinda harsh, isn't it? There must be a way out of there, right?"
"Most people don't want to leave…It's not like it's a prison, although most angels up here want it to. Hell is like a heaven for criminals. Up here, we have fun talking, having a few good laughs and things like that. Down there, they enjoy themselves with fighting, drinking and killing eachother. They can basically do what they want: there are no laws down there and everybody is immortal. Maybe it's time that I showed you the other side of afterlife"
Another flash of light. Instead of quickly being transported through time and space as usually, Kit now actually saw what was happening. Chris was in tremendous concentration, undoubtedly looking for a relatively safe spot to land. When the light dissolved and the two stood on the asphalt of a shot-up street, Kit saw what Chris had meant with 'a heaven for criminals'. Almost every building was on fire, most of them spraypainted with slogans like 'Hell is living'. Looters ran into the structures to rob them of their riches, not caring about their lives. Cars were the victims of blind violence while a group of joyriders sped by
All of the sudden, two gangs appeared out of nowhere on opposite sides of the street. They spotted eachother quickly and insults were exchanged at a rapid pace. One of the shouts sparked a response and one gang ran towards the other. They met and started a vicious fight to the death
Kit looked at his brother, and the white glowing boy looked back. Without words, Chriis pointed hhis brother in the direction of a barfight. The door crashed to the ground as one of the customers found himself forcefully removed. His companion followed quickly, shattering the window to bits. A powerful and familiar voice drifted through the street
"An' stay out. Who do you think you are, stealing my scotch?"
"I'll show ya who I am. Yer goin' down Christian!" the evicted customer ran back inside. His smarter friend scrambled to his feet and ran. There was no reasoning with the man inside. Kit watched in awe as the stubborn victim flew in a graceful arc away from the bar, only to land on a pile of garbage. A familiar leopard stepped outside, wiping the dust from his sleeves
"I see you've found your family. Now beat it and don't ever show your face in my part of town again!"
If the victim had been able to run, he would have. The only problem was that the raging leopard had beaten him an inch from his life. Chris crouched next to the man, whispered something and a white light encased him. He quickly found himself able to stand and decided to take his chances in the run. The leopard watched the scene with disgust. He whistled to his comrades
Within seconds, his gang formed around him. This was the Fang Kit remembered. It was no surprise to him that he would restart his criminal activities after his death. The cub recognised several gangmembers. They were killed on some missions described as easy by the leopard. Strangely enough they seemed loyal even after their death. They slowly started approaching in tight formation
"Well well, two goody-goods are trespassing on our turf. Undersized squirts to boot…why do they have a deathwish?" One of his stooges whispered something in his ear. Fang got a very tired expression on his face "I _know_ we're all dead already. But we can still hurt them a lot though. Kit, Chris, did you like that bullet you swallowed?" They once again approached, waving clubs and knives.
Offcourse it was never Chris' intention to have anyone hurt down here. He wasn't defenseless like he was on earth. His eyes turned away and replaced by two shining white orbs. A constant updraft around him tossed paper and litter all around while his glow intensified. Suddenly his voice changed dramatically
"STOP! Or the force of light will erase your existance" To emphasize his words, Chris pointed his glowing index finger to the group. The glowing got even worse. The group backed up, including Kit who was suddenly afraid of his own brother. Only Fang didn't cower away. One of his stooges found it necessary to warn him
"Slate, don't be stupid! That may have been one of your victims but he's a full angel now…these guys are dangerous"
"He don't frighten me no more. Let him take his best shot!"
"I represent universe's most fundamental powers. My powers were granted by the creator himself to use against demons of all kinds. Thou have been fairly warned to cease your evil ways and dissolve your band so neither is a threath to two representatives of the light. Thou shalt not have an afterlife if thou fails these objectives"
The language shift made both Kit and Fang realise that this was an official warning. There was definately rivalry between the two 'heavens'. All Kit could pray for was that demons like Fang weren't 'blessed' with the same power. The leopard grinned and stepped forward, swinging his club in the direction of Chris. It didn't contact but the boy lost his nerve. Without thought, he released a white ball from his hand. It flew for a while…and then dissolved before it hit Fang. Chis's eyes returned to normal and his glow disappeared. The boy looked at his hands, fear in his eyes
"I…I don't understand" Chris stammered while Fang got closer and this time he and Kit were forced to back up
"It's really quite simple and it works like this: I killed you, you come here and try to zap me. Maybe I provoked it, but it's still considered revenge. One of the powers of the underworld is revenge" Fang started glowing red while his eyes were replaced by fire. A strange mark appeared on his forehead. His voice began to sound hollow and threathening "So you cannot erase me…" he spread his arms and two jetblack wings ripped through his clothes "FOR I AM A BEING OF PURE EVIL. Darkness reigns this part of eternity. Thou shalt convert to the ways of the Master or see eternity in nothingness"
Chris found that it was time to bail and snapped his fingers. Much to the disappointment of Fang and his gang, the two cubs left in a flash of light. On the evil face of the leopard, a smile appeared. Laughter filled the surroundings and a fireball of rage erradicated the street.
"Kit? Li'l Britches? Time to wake up son, we're there"
Baloo gently stirred his son awake. Kit had gone to sleep shortly after takeoff and had no notion of time passing. When he sleepily opened an eye, the surroundings were vaguely familiar.
"The Skyhigh? Was I asleep that long?" The cub looked around the room of the Skyhigh hotel and realised it was the same room as usual. Baloo and him were regular patrons everytime they had to make a long run passing anywhere near San Flamingo. Kit also knew that it took a while to get a key to a room "I must have dozed off for a while"
"A while? Ya slept 24 hours straight" Baloo walked to the bed of his son and sat down on the edge. Kit sat up and felt the warm arm of his father embrace him "Why are we here kiddo?"
Kit looked through the window and watched the sun rise over the water. The rays warmed up the room quickly and somehow melted the cold feeling inside the cub. For now, he was happy to be with his new father but he came here for a purpose
"Baloo…" Kit spoke softly, but the grey bear listened carefully none the less "I came here to find my real parents. And in the four days I've got left, I'll find them or die trying"
The sun rose like everyday and though it would be a normal day for most, this day would be engraved in the minds of the two bears…forever.
END OF PART ONE