Toss… water gushes over the weir. Turn… fast and furious. Dad hates me. The sight of the water raises my adrenalin. Everyone hates me. Fidget.. I stand on the guard rail of the bridge... Why am I doing this – it's a long way down? Twitch… spread my arms. There's a screech. One, two, three and leap…
“Shh, Gorse. Angus.”
… My quilt's talking to me, that's weird… I'm flying down the Lang River…
“Angus, get up.”
I'm falling… I don't want to die. Where'd my wings go?
“Get your coat on?”
“Huh?” There's a thud and my school great coat lands on my bed.
A massive dark shape is highlighted by the moonlight.
Did I leave the curtains open? I can't remember. Wait... “Who?” I'm on my feet with my fists raised. “What you doing in my bedroom?”
The figure is huge. Doubt I can take him, but I'm mot being kidnapped without a fight. Who are you kidding, Angus? You couldn't take a fly. “Lights on.” At least if I can see them I'll know who murdered me in my bed – well standing next to it in my pyjamas.
“Lights off.” The deepest voice I've ever heard responds. If he'd been in a choir and singing he'd be a contrabass. And my room obeys him. I've been hacked.
“My dad will pay the ransom. I'm not worth killing nobody cares about me anyway. Read the papers.”
“Young man do as your brother says.”
“Huh?” I wipe my eyes and look round. Another shape. This one has a cloak and Gorse on his shoulder. “Soc?”
“Dad sent me to get you. Get your coat on we have to leave the palace – Now.”
Seeing Soc reassures me a little, but I'm not convinced the hulking man with the deep voice is real. I'm still dreaming. I must be. I put my school uniform great coat on and cross to my desk.
“Angus, we don't have time.”
“I'm not leaving without the copper.” I scrabble around in the drawer for its waterproof carrying pouch as it looks like I won't be allowed my rucksack. I find a sweet – seaberry and cat hair flavoured I spit what is virtually an entire fur ball out.
Mr Deep Voice opens the doors to the balcony. “Out here. My powers are stronger in the wild.”
“Sir.” Soc salutes him. Gorse is still on his shoulder.
“What's… I mean where? No maybe I mean who?” I'm still practically asleep and formulating words is taking time. “What the hell is going on?”
Still very much in control of the situation and to a certain extent myself, Mr Deep Voice interrupts me, “We have to get down to the beach, Nathaniel should be waiting for us. Have to get yourself and Socrates out of the country.” Whoever he is he is wearing a cloak and a wide brimmed hat. Looks even more like someone out of a cartoon book than Soc and Dad do in their regalia. He's a superhero. Wonder if his superhero name is Deep Voice.
I'm following him despite a desire to run away. Soc could have been kidnapped and be… no nobody could force Soc to do anything. Even our mad and bad grandfather was scared of him.
The big hulking man gets up on the guard rail in a moment reminiscent of my dream – that's it I'm dreaming. “Join me.”
Soc obeys without any question. “Angus, just do as your bloody well told. The palace is crawling with Cycloneican soldiers.”
“Don't know. He wanted you safe. Now get up next to Big Mac.”
I stare at Soc. Dad… soldiers. I remind myself it's only a dream and allow the man he has called Big Mac to help me up next to him. When I start to wobble he places the biggest arm I've ever seen round me. He smells warm, of woodsmoke, kelpy and fresh air – safe… he whispers in my ear, “Step off the balcony with me and keep walking. If you don't trust me then trust your brother.” His gigantic, dark face nods at Soc. “Ready, Socrates?”
Dad stops near the doors to my balcony. “I need air.” He types his override into the digital panel next to it. When he turns the handle the door doesn't move. His fist smashes into the wooden bit between the doors. “Why won't my overrides work?”
“The digital security in the palace is shocking. Just for my room, I demoted you to a normal user and made myself the only administrator. I’d like to see the secret service get in here.” I fold my arms again and smile a little. With my feet on the pedestal I rock the chair back and forth. “Seriously your system architect should be shot. I could be murdered in my bed. There's also a honey pot and a firewall."
“The thought of murdering you in your bed is tempting right now. Open the damn doors.”
“Can't. You confiscated my copper and General Luis broke my other one.” I spread my arms and spin a little so I can indicate the bits on the desk. “This one's not even close to being ready.”
He sighs and takes the original copper from his pocket. “Here. Once you've opened the damn doors I want it back.”
I shake my head innocently. “But then how can I lock it again. My room cannot be controlled without it.”
“Very well, you can keep it until tomorrow morning when my technical team will be in here fixing the mess you've made.”
“Good luck,” I mutter. Satisfied, I've won the point I take it off him and enter the pass code.
There is a shush and he pushes open the doors. The breaths he takes are exaggerated. Although I’d never admit it, I welcome the cool sea and blossom scented breeze and it calms me a little.
Galileo walks out onto the balcony with his tail stuck in the air. He has never liked arguments.
“Right, young man, you are under house arrest until after the talks. My best warriors will be stationed outside your door and down below the balcony. You're a security risk.”
“I'm a security risk because I tried to help Lady Aya Luis?”
“You're a security risk because you consistently refuse to see the bigger picture and how dangerous things are.” He winces and holds his side. “Just do as you're told for three weeks. Nate will continue to act as your tutor. You will not be going to school.”
“Sir.” He doesn’t deserve to be called Dad right now. All I did was help a sick guest at the banquet.
His face is going whiter and more drawn by the minute.
“Dad, are you OK?”
I type...Dad. Help. Angus… into the copper and send the message to Gil.
When Dad accepts my help and leans on my shoulder, I know he's feeling rough. “Just leave them. I'll get them in the morning.” He indicates the sword and cloak. “Too… heavy.”
With my help he limps to the door.
“No you’re not, Dad.”
“Just… need more painkillers,” his voice is strangled in pain.
Sir Gilbert enters my room without knocking. “Loren.” He takes Dad from me with the ease of a seasoned nurse and within seconds he has escorted Dad out the room.
For security, I close my balcony doors and lock them with the copper.
I look around, lost, wondering, pondering but finding no answers to the questions I don’t know how to ask.
There's no way I can sleep with the sword so close.
Images of grandfather… no I can't.
Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe the old man out. He does not deserve a place in my life.
I wrap up the sword in Dad’s cloak and stow them both in the massive, thick armoire plated wardrobe. The bad joke – one of Dad's back when he still had a sense of humour – makes me laugh a little. When Grandfather was on one of his rampages, Dad would make a bed for me in the bottom of the wardrobe and say not to worry. He’d then lock the door. With that in mind, I lock the door and pray the sword cannot escape.
I use the copper to secure the room and turn on my music player. The Skuas, a group my dad hates, blast out. Face down on my bed, Gorse curls into my neck and Galileo climbs on the small of my back. The cat’s purring soothes me.
Robbie Albatross’ raspy baritone and the bass carry me out of my misery to a world far, far away from Litae.
Before Dad sees, I slip the new copper into my desk drawer.
Dad stands right in front of me. He’s still in his full regalia and his hands are clasped in front of him like one of those players from the dull ball games my grandfather liked; I wonder if he expects me to kick him in the royal jewels.
Soc stands behind Dad with a smug look on his face. They're waiting for an explanation but I'm not willing to supply them with one. They threw me out of the banquet without attempting to stand up for me.
“I did nothing wrong.” On this occasion I don't deserve censure and I’m not backing down nor am I willing to accept their discipline.
Dad says nothing. We often play chess together, and whilst I don't enjoy boredom I am capable of being patient when there are points to score. Tonight, it feels like my honour is on the line. The clock ticks and none of us say anything. Galileo is no longer purring. I cross my arms and stare back at him, determined not to even blink first. Although I am aware of Soc and Nate, this is between Dad and me.
He breaks the silence first. “Well?”
I’ve won and I permit myself a little smile.
“Angus, there is no humour in this.”
“Do you see me laughing?” My hand circles my face as I ask him. And although I am satisfied with winning the first point, I agree with him. There’s nothing funny about being at the bottom of the pile when it comes to his priorities.
“I want an explanation?”
“About what? About the fact I tried to help a woman that you just abandoned to her slimy bastard of a husband?” I cross my arms and glare at him.
“Angus! I want to know what you thought you were doing?” His temper is rising and his face is bright red. He runs his hand through his salt-and-pepper hair, making it stick up in a variety of directions. If he didn’t keep it so short it would be curly like mine.
I shrug and bite my lip rather than respond with the rude, swear laden speech brewing in my mind.
"Dad, I think you should listen to him..." Soc steps forward and attempts to stand up for me. "I mean we know what a nasty... well General Luis can be unreasonable."
“Soc, Nate. Leave us.”
“Dad?” This time Soc touches him on his shoulder.
“Socrates!” Dad’s anger is escalating and he points at my bedroom door. “I said leave.”
Soc bows and leaves the room.
Nate lingers. “Loren, Sir… it really wasn't Angus's fault. He was trying to help Lady Aya.”
“Nathaniel! Leave us! For all that is good on Litae what do you think I plan to do to him?”
“Sir.” Nate bows and follows Soc out. They leave me alone with a father more angry than I have ever known him.
Dad removes his cloak; he throws it on my quilt, unbuckles his sword and throws that awful thing on top of the cloak. He sits down on the edge of the bed, uncomfortably close to me. “Well?”
“I tried to help Lady Aya Luis. She collapsed.” I make eye contact and I’m determined not to be the first to break it.
“But when her husband... well he told you to back off and you didn't."
“I tried to get her proper medical help – yes. So tie me to the post and flog me.” I continue to look right at him. “Might as well. It's easier to deal with than being betrayed by my father in front of a room full of people.”
“Angus, don't be ridiculous.” He sounds old. Somehow his hair is more grey and his eyes are more sunken. “I did not betray you. General Luis is an important man. He's close to Evelyn and her husband. We can’t afford to offend him.” His gaze shifts away from me.
I’ve won another point. He broke eye contact first.
“Yeah, I know. He like every other person on this island is more important than me. I get it, Dad. I get it.” I swing round to the desk and play around with the motherboard and wires. They're incompatible with each other but Dad doesn't know that. I'm hoping he will think he disturbed me in the process of putting the new copper together, so he won’t look for the new one I’ve built.
My chair spins round. Again, my father shows his superior strength and skills as I can't get my feet down fast enough to stop the momentum. “You do not get out of this that easily. We have a duty to this country. We have to serve the people. We have to do this.”
“Why? Can't I just leave?” I would stand up but he's stood with an arm either side of me, his hands resting on the desk behind me. I'm pinned in place. He's eaten strong spicy food at the banquet and his breath is turning my stomach. Had I been someone important, a delegate or even General Luis he'd have bothered to brush his teeth first.
I turn my head to the side…
“Where would you go?”
I look down at my hands and try not to think about my small blackmailer and Ursula. There's no way I'd survive. Dad knows that. I know that. The whole country knows that.
“Angus, the people of the island rely on us. Thanks to these people we have a comfortable way of life many here cannot afford. We owe them.”
Because of my forays into town I know that's true but today the lid of the jar just keeps tightening and I feel like I'm running out of air.
The box of electrical detritus clatters about when I dump it on the ancient desk; centuries woth of past princes have slept in this room, sat in the wooden swivel chair and worked at the desk. They couldn't even have dreamt of the contents of my treasure chest. I often give them a thought when I'm working on my PC POCKET. It’s incongruous with the old ugly palace and my old fashioned uniform. From the box I take out my soldering iron and goggles. Tears run down my cheeks and I wipe them away with my sleeve. My face is a mess. At least with swollen eyes and snot smeared on my cheek my father won't make me return to the banquet. I plug in the iron.
Nate is moving about in the bathroom. He was too upset to speak and said he needed to lick his own wounds before he could tend to mine. He's been in there for about half an hour. I rake through the box first locating a couple of screens and trying a couple options until I find a compatible motherboard and case. The smell of melting solder indicates the iron is ready.
I sit down on the chair, my feet on the foot of the pedestal so if I want to I can twist it back and forth as regularly as a metronome, and I turn on the light of my magnifying glass. Using tweezers, I fit the motherboard to the screen and solder it in place.
“What are you doing?” Whilst in my bathroom Nate has changed into a pair of my pyjamas. He's had to roll up the arms and legs -- unusually for the dapper Nate he looks ridiculous. I can't guarantee their cleanliness. Hope he sniffed them first.
“Making myself a new copper.”
“Copper?” He raises an eyebrow and grins.
“PC POCKET. The first edition I help Prof with was full of copper wire. We called it the copper for a couple of years.”
“Your dad's not going to like that.”
“Don't care.” I shrug and turn my attention back to sealing the case in place. “He doesn’t care about me. Twenty million people take priority. Like they do they do with you and Soc.”
“He loves you you know.” His hand rests on the back of my chair and he's getting in my light but I'm not ready to lash out at the only ally I have left.
“Yeah and Soc loves you.”
“Point taken. Wish my foster dad could see this. He's into making things like this.” He leans even further over. “He built my boat.” There's a pause.
My hand shakes and I still can't see properly.
“I'm getting in your light aren't I? Dad would have decked me by now.”
I finish the phone and plug it in to charge. “Would you like one?” Stretching my arms turns my chair round in a fluid movement – almost elegant for me. “A PC POCKET?”
“Dunno.” He's lying on my bed, playing with Gorse. Galileo, dad's cat, is sat on the bedside table, in that manner cats have that resembles an owl, watching them both with disdain. “I have a phone.”
“This one's special.” I hold up my arm and tap where the chip is located. “In here is the memory, the hard-drive so the only way they can destroy my copper is by chopping off my arm.”
“Is that wise?”
“Well it's a good job my grandfather isn't around he'd have removed it. Probably taken off my arm with that damn sword that dad is wearing.”
There's a knock at the door and the door handle turns. It's locked and unlike the electronic panel the ancient iron key can't be hacked. Beeps. The attempts to override my pass code don't work. I've created a firewall and a honey pot. I swing back to my desk and prepare for invasion; from the box I take some wires, a case and a screen, and scatter them on the desk.
“Nate, let me in. Why won't my overrides work?” My father yells. “Now.”
He shrugs swings his legs round to the disgust of both Gorse and Galileo. “Sorry, Titch. Not worth my job.”
I shrug, reach over and unplug the copper it has enough charge for me to touch it against the chip in my arm. It asks for my pass code.
Nate turns the key and lets my father in.
The soup is served, starting with my dad and my brother. Light orange in colour and delicious but it's far from filling and I'm starving. I haven't eaten since last night.
“Food so pretty its forgotten its main purpose is to fill our stomachs, hey Twitch?” Nate is grinning at me. “I'm going to accept that Soc needs to do this and pretend he isn't flirting with a man with no morals. Heard you had a pretty rotten day?”
I’m relieved to have Nate back from whatever miserable hell he was in. “It was kind of OK in places. Just wish I hadn't got Dad shot.” My hunger is replaced by a queasy feeling. “I'm such a selfish bastard.”
“Nah. You're sixteen with the world watching you.” It was good to have at least one person understand where I’m coming from.
There's a crash. I get to my feet. Lady Aya has her face in her soup. I check her pulse and with Nate's help I lower her to the floor and take out my PC POCKET.
“Thought that was confiscated,” Nate has his eyebrow raised and sounds amused.
“It was. I… I… well let’s just say as long as I've got the right bits I know how to build myself one.” I dial 666. “Ambulance.”
There's a whiff of the most rancid BO as my PC POCKET is grabbed from my hand. “There's no need. Cancel it.” The fat man who was sitting next to my sister is behind me. His chins wobble as he speaks into the phone. “No it’s a false alarm. Dumb kid with a prank call.” He drops the phone on the floor and stands on it, breaking it into tiny pieces.
“Hey. There's only three of them in the world.” There's no need to tell him I can make my own from electrical detritus. “Hope you're planning on paying for it.” I look round the room. “This lady needs a doctor.”
Nate is moving her into the recovery position.
General Obnoxious prods Lady Aya with his foot. “She does this all the time. She's just trying to embarrass me. Get up...”
Her eyes don't open. He clicks his stubby fingers. “Men. Take Lady Aya to our quarters to recover. I'll deal with this later.” The way his tongue licks his lips disturbs me. His eyes remind me of toad eyes and he looks at her with disdain. Wow his halitosis is ripe! How can my sister even think about flirting with him? The thought turns my stomach. Mind you he’s about what she deserves.
Dad comes up behind General Obnoxious. “What is going on here?” There is no hint of the King Mouse the media portray him as.
“These young men are out of control. They touched my wife.” His finger is jammed right into my chest. It hurts. “Men do not touch married women where I am from. They should be disciplined.”
“I assure you they will be. Warriors.” Dad waves over two Soaring Warriors. “Take Prince Angus and Sir Nathaniel to His Highness’s bedroom. Both are to be held under heavy guard until I am able to deal with the situation. Please remember Sir Nathaniel’s abilities.” He addresses the banquet, “Please continue the matter is under control.”
Dad, if I’m not mistaken, looks back and winks at Nate; he does a military turn and goes back to his seat, leaving his warriors to escort Nate and I out of the banqueting hall.
Nate places his hand on my back and whispers in my ear, “Just go with it, Titch. Trust me.”
“You're not going to even listen to my side are you?” I yell at my dad. If he hadn’t been shot earlier I’d have shouted it before we left the banqueting hall.
A night of blood, mayhem and magic thrust Prince Angus, the youngest son of the king, onto the throne of Covesea Island. He's never wanted to be king. Social media calls King Angus a clown. His subjects don't rate his ability to lead them in the trade negotiations with one of the planet's superpowers.