Part 77 – Wheels Within Wheels.

“So,” the Director sat back and exercised the full power of her shark’s smile, “how are we all?”

“Grounded,” Adelaide, Francis, Lee, Emma and Lydia chorused in unison. The Director pouted.

“Well that won’t do,” she murmured, “can’t have the five clever youngsters who secured me with a promotion getting grounded. I presume Price had to sneak you out of your respective houses.”

“Yeah. Wait a second though,” Adelaide frowned, “We… we got you a promotion?”

“Pretty much,” the Director nodded, “the powers that be have informed me that this Amadeus business was a resounding success. My Department has stopped a number of dangerous subversives looking to spread chaos and disrupt the government. I mean, granted, their plan was pretty much doomed to fail anyway, but I nipped it in the bud so efficiently that it means I can finally get out of this stupid job.”

“Right…” Adelaide nodded, “just so you know, this is a total moral mess and if I could figure out what it is that you actually managed to do here I’m pretty sure I’d be against it. You… manipulated Amadeus into starting a plot, right? I mean, I’m pretty much sure that’s wrong for a start.”

“Amadeus was a bomb waiting to go off,” the Director said, “pumped up on his father’s bizarre obsessions. Think of this as a controlled detonation. If it happens to have a little incidental benefit from me, so what? You’re not going to judge me, are you? Especially since my leaving means everyone’s favourite tentacle headed weirdo gets his chance to shine.”

“Seriously?” Lee’s eyes lit up.

“You better believe it, kid,” a voice bubbled and echoed in their minds. They turned in their seats. Julian walked in through the door. He had a large bandage wrapped around his midriff.

“You’re in my seat,” he said, gesturing to the Director.

“Not until the correct papers are signed off,” she didn’t bat an eyelid, “I pulled some serious strings to get you this job, Julian. Just remember that.”

He nodded. Smiling, the Director pointed to a chair and he went to sit, nearly tripping over Francis’ crutches, which had been leaned up against his chair, as he did so. Looking across at Emma he clasped his hands over one knee.

“How’s your girlfriend?” He asked.

“Fine,” Emma said, “none of our friends know yet. I think it might be a bit of a surprise for her when they do find out. I don’t think she really understands the full repercussions of this.”

“She’ll be fine,” Julian drummed his fingers on his knee, “I mean I’m not exactly much of a looker and I’ve only been attacked in the street, what, five times?”

“That fills me with confidence,” Emma said. Then she laughed and nodded. “Okay. Thanks.”

Leaning forward, Adelaide held up a hand.

“Wait a second,” she said, “how did the government even find out about this whole thing. You haven’t even allowed the papers to know anything about it.”

“News travels fast in certain circles,” the Director said, “the story itself won’t be getting to the press. Goodness, no. Can you imagine the public outrage? Super-human hate crime would spike. It would get pretty crazy. Julian’s job would suddenly become much harder.”

“But…” Lee said, “but… wasn’t that the whole point of our team? To show the public that super-humans and normals can work together for a common good? If no one knows about our one victory how can we change their beliefs?”

The Director shrugged apologetically.

“Sorry,” she said, “it’s got to remain secret.”

The entire team groaned, moaned and generally slumped in their seats. Julian’s tentacles seemed to lose their energy and floated forlornly around his head. Even Agent Price, who had been waiting quietly by the door, seemed deflated. He removed his dark glasses and polished them on his sleeve. His eyes, when they met the Director’s, where reproachful.

“Oh come on!” She folded her arms, “Kids these days. You’re so difficult to please, you know that? What do I have to do?”

“How’s Rachel?” Francis asked.

“Right, Rachel,” the Director, “actually, I’ve got some good news on that front. Price… could you?”

Price nodded and stepped out of the room. The door clicked behind him. The Director steepled her fingers in front of her on the desk and met Francis’ gaze.

“Rachel is one of the greatest mistakes this Department has ever made,” she said. Suddenly her voice was considerably less energetic. “In my defence, she was discovered when the I had just come to the job. I had a lot on my plate. So…”

“So you locked her in your basement and forgot about her.”

“Not fair,” the Director shook her head, “we treated her well enough. In the first couple of weeks her behaviour was pretty erratic. She was dangerous. I admit, we might have been a bit more careful with her once she’d calmed down a bit. So, that’s what we’re doing. Consider it my parting gift. I took you’re suggestions into account, Adelaide.”

There was the click of the door behind them opening and their heads turned. Price walked in, slowly and carefully. Holding his hand, unsteady on her legs and leaning heavily on the door, was Rachel.

She looked completely different. Her body was smaller, sleeker, of more human proportions. Her limbs were thinner and her hands ended in rounded fingers rather than claws. In place of a face, now she had a screen. The minute she stepped into the room a huge, pixilated smily face emoji flashed up on it.

“Hi!” She said. Her voice was different too. It was better modulated and actually sounded female.

“Rachel!” Francis nearly forgot that his leg was broken, “You’re okay!”

“Yes,” she replied, “I’m still a little unsteady on these legs. Getting used to a smaller body.”

“Still a little more work to do there,” the Director said.

“Hey,” Adelaide grinned, “wait a second… did you say I’m? Can you contract words now?”

“You noticed?” Rachel nodded, “yeah. I can also say yeah now. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.”

Standing up on his crutches, Francis hobbled over to Rachel. Lee joined him, quickly followed by Lydia, Adelaide and finally Emma.

“Can you…” Francis looked at Price. They did an awkward shuffling exchange so that Price was holding Francis’ crutches and Francis supporting Rachel. Reaching around Rachel hugged Francis. Then Lee hugged them both. Adelaide and Lydia joined in. Emma stared at them for a few seconds.

“Oh what the hell,” she said after a while and wrapped her arms around them all.

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