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The Transformat : Beginnings

© 2016 A.Y. Wogbe

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or

transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise,

without the prior permission of the copyright holder.

“THE TRANSFORMAT

Book one: Beginnings…

By A. Y. Wogbe.

I thank the Lord, for picking me up,

When I was down.

To Angie, for inspiring me…

Prologue…

The two men were sitting in a small office that was dimly lit. The one across the table took a sip of his drink.The other one on a turtle neck shirt just stared at him blankly yet skeptically.

“Show me,” he said at last, and the other man set his glass down and smiled. “Thought you would never ask.”

He put on his glasses and disappeared under his table, rummaging in the drawers. His guest did not move a muscle. He looked deeply incredulous.

After a minute, the other man came back up, clutching a small watch case in his hand. There was a small ember colored stone inside. The man took it with equal carefulness. Normally, it would have glowed, if it was around the boy, but now, naturally, it resembled just an insignificant piece of charcoal. But the man knew better.

He looked at his host. “This is it?”

A quiet nod. Silence hung in the air like a heavy mist after that.

The guest shook his head. “How? How can this possibly do what you said it would? And how does the boy fit into-“

“We have talked about this,” the host said calmly. “And you know the answer.”

Gravelly, the man stared down at the piece of stone. His mind doubted everything. But the man across him would never say anything unless he was absolutely sure.

Still, how could the fate of this world possibly lean on the shoulders of a mere boy?

Chapter One: Transformations

R-riiing R-riing! James Robin Winter’s alarm clock went, invading the sixteen year old boy’s sleep and waking him with a jolt. He sat up, his hair running on all directions. For a moment he had a wild look in his eyes, then suddenly he remembered, today was Saturday, no school.

Phew, he hadn’t missed the bus then. His head had barely touched his pillow when his mother shouted “James? James I know you’re awake so please come down here, I’ve got some news for you.”

James left his bed grudgingly and dragged himself downstairs, muttering something about the stupid settings on that clock

A delicious smell of bacon and eggs greeted him as he entered the kitchen.

‘Gudmorning mum’ James greeted his mother, Lucy Winter. She had the deep black eyes that James inherited and was skinny in structure. She had an apron strapped around her and had made her hair a into a neat pony tail behind her.

‘Morning James’ Lucy replied, she was doing many things as usual, from cooking stew to frying eggs to boiling water. Without looking at James she continued, ‘James we’re going on a trip today’

‘Today?’

‘Hmmm, we’re going to your Cousin Jones and Uncle Michel’s place’

‘Jones?’ James echoed, ‘ok, I’ll start parking, then’ he had just turned to climb back upstairs, ready to steal a few moments of sleep when Lucy added ‘oh, and we’ll be going with Leo and Seli, I spoke to their mum and she agreed you guys needed some “fresh air”’

‘Awesome!’ James whooped and punched the air, then he asked, ‘I mean you and Uncle Michel will be the only adults there right?’ the words had barely left his mouth before he realized it was a mistake. He knew what was coming now, a long lecture.

‘James, about that, his mother started on a more serious and strict tone, she even stopped cooking and put her hands on a waist.

Uh oh, that meant WAR!

‘You are not going to be misbehaving whilst we’re there, all right?’ James didn’t even bother to nod or do anything; she was going to go on anyway. If you guys especially you and Leo go there and cause any massacre, if I sense a stench of trouble, I would be very furious with you and there’s not going to be a next time, got it?’

James nodded this time and said, ‘Yes mum’

‘Good’, Lucy smiled and ruffled James’ cropped, black hair. ‘Now go pack and make yourself more presentable than you are now’

‘Yes mum’

He turned to leave. Phew, that was shorter than her recent ones, usually, she goes on and on and on.

James finished packing all his most wanted things including his clothes, well duh, his Mp3 player, also duh, cameras but not video games. Uncle Michel will have lots of those, not Jones, Jones was always the nerd. He picked up his luggage and turned to see a figure with blue eyes, wild hair and a wide grin.

‘Leo!’ he exclaimed and went to hug his friend. Leonardo and Selina Stardom had been his best friends ever since, well ever since he could remember. Then James saw Seli and went to hug her too.

She blushed.

They left the house after waving goodbye to Leo and Seli’s mother, Bridget, at about ten o’clock am and reached the airport in thirty minutes. There, they took a plane to Africa, to an area the bottom of the continent’s chin, South Africa. They reached the airport at 4:00pm. Dismounting the airplane, the sun smiled brightly at them which, made their skin nervous and tingly since they had just came out of the air condition in the plane.. Immediately James stepped out of the place, a heat wave hit him, instantly drying his skin and his eyes called for sunglasses.

He was instantly fascinated by everything, the people, their dressing, the food they were selling and even the bright multicolored birds flying high in the sky.

You won’t see much of the sky where he was from- Potca, a recently founded town in Australia.

He didn’t even hear his mother complaining about how they would find Michel among this mass of people and how they couldn’t call him, apparently her sim card didn’t work in this city. James was looking at a flock of orange birds when a helicopter interrupted the scene and the birds scattered. A man with a handsome face dressed in dark glasses and a neat goatee stood in the helicopter’s doorway.

‘Umm, excuse me people, he said into a microphone, I’m looking for a group of people with dark hair and dark eyes and might look a little lost, anyone?’ Michel’s eyes scanned the crowd.

‘Oh, there they are, thanks everyone, you’ve been really helpful’ ‘well, come in’ he added to James and co.

Immediately, James, Seli and Leo hurried through the crowd for the ladder rope Michel had just dropped out, Lucy however was complaining, ‘Oh for goodness sake, Michel, you’re going to get us in trouble. James climbed up first and helped the others into the helicopter.

When they were all in, he hugged his Uncle. ‘I missed you’

‘I missed you too’, his uncle replied.

‘Anyway, nice presentation’ James added,

‘Yeah, wanted to make you look special’ Michel said with a wink. ‘Gilbert, take us away!’ he said to the pilot,

‘You could have just brought a car, you know’ Lucy whined, sitting next to Michel in the front seat. A short policeman waved his fists at them angrily, muttering strange sounds that could have been the South African curses.

‘Nice to meet you too’ Michel said softly.

They helicopter finally landed in the clearing of some kind of miniature woods. The trees were thin and spaced out and the air smelt like fresh wood and a hint of rain. The atmosphere here felt warm a little. Waiting for them below was a black elegant car, whose driver was opening the back door respectfully for them.

‘This’ began Michel as he exited the helicopter and put an arm around the driver’s neck. ‘Is Nemo. As you’re here, if you want anything, just ask him.’ Michel waited a moment then said, ‘don’t ask him to cook for you though, unless you miss your Doctor.’

Nemo retorted, ‘just that one (he held a finger) time’ his voice was deep like Michel’s own but not as much as elegant and his voice had scratches in it, emanating a faint smell of alcohol.

They said hello to Nemo and entered the car. The car made its way almost soundlessly through a road strewn with dried leaves and twigs and stopped at in front of a house. It was just a two story building but it had the pride and marvel of a great mansion. It was painted a cream color and had two lovely flowers at either side of the steps that lead to a wide porch. In the porch also were flowers at every one of the four corners, seeming to illuminate the porch even though it was dark.

They made their inside, with Nemo carrying their bags for them, through the wooden doors and almost dropped their bags in amazement. Right. They weren’t carrying bags. The hall was very spacious, occupied by big couches and decorated with flowers and portraits. The wide screen Led TV was hanging off the wall. Beyond that room was the kitchen and dining table at the side.

‘All right lads’ came Michel’s voice from behind. ‘Get upstairs and choose any of the rooms you like, just remember the last two to the right are mine and Jones room’

‘Where is he?’

‘Jones? He’s gone to town to buy some stuff; Nemo’ll pick him up later’

When James, Seli and Leo had sorted themselves into their rooms, they came downstairs for supper Lucy had just prepared.

‘Fit yourselves in well?’ Michel asked as they entered the kitchen.

The three nodded

‘All right then, let the adventure begin!’

Chapter Two: Transformations

The weekend was fun! Today was Sunday and already they had visited almost all of the amazing and popular sites in the city. From zoos to cinemas to parks to stadiums and, Jones, who they had met a few minutes after their arrival, picked the most boring place ever; the History Museum, James felt like slapping his cousin there and then but Michel made up for it by taking them skydiving and today, they were going for mountain hiking.

Michel and Nemo had gone to get the apparatus they would need. In fact, they had kept too long, and James stated this to Lucy through mouthfuls of the delicious South African breakfast.

‘Don’t worry’ his mother assured him, ‘Patience is a virtue’

‘Probably a little traffic, too ‘Jones said uncertainly.

‘Jones, did you just make a funny?’ Leo said.

‘Huh? What?’ Jones frowned.

‘Oh, never mind’ Leo said and he, James and Seli snorted into their Breakfast, much to the disapproval of Lucy.

Then a car honked and they recognized the sound to belong to Michel’s car. James and his friends and cousin stormed out of the house to help Michel carry the hiking equipment. They picked one each of the four packages and cried out in unison ‘Mountain bikes!’

‘Yeah’, panted Michel, ‘You can use it to climb that mountain over there’ he finished, pointing at a plateau that loomed its head over the trees.

‘Where’s Nemo?’ Lucy asked suspiciously.

‘Ah’ Michel lowered his head sadly. ‘Well, apparently he was drunk and I didn’t know and he hit a cop’s car’

‘Oh, my!’ Lucy gasped. ‘Where’s he?’ she repeated again.

‘Hospital, I’ll pick him up later, after I get some breakfast’

‘You have to do something about him, Mickey’

‘Yeah, but I can’t just fire him, can I?’ ‘Nemo is special and-and close to me’

By “special” James knew what Michel meant, how many humans could operate electronic devices including computers, cars, and any other electronic doo hickeys like how Nemo did? He was sure the answer was none. But by close, he didn’t really understand.

James, Seli, Leo and Jones finished unpacking their bikes and sat on them, thanking Michel and slowly paddling towards the mountain.

‘Wait!’ Lucy shouted after them, ‘You haven’t finished your Breakfast!’

‘Whaaat? James asked, ‘We should have a good time? Don’t worry mum’

And smirking, the four made their way up the plateau.

The race was not going well for James-Leo was first, Seli second, he third and Jones obviously last; he wasn’t built for exercise.

James had to think fast. He couldn’t let Seli pass him, a girl? No way!

His eyes scanned the path in front of him and spotted a long, flat piece of wood, shaped like a diving board propped up against a huge rock, if he could ride jet speed on and over the wood, he could overtake the first two whilst airborne, landing in front of them at the top of the mountain, first.

He had to hurry now; they were almost on top of the mountain. James paddled with all the might his leg could muster, then he shot upwards like a bullet on the slope. He was airborne for a moment, smirking at the people beneath him until his hand accidentally pushed the brakes, and he was propelled off the bike, somersaulting in the air and going down fast. He thought he was going to land on the edge of the mountain but he found himself going over and down, over the mountain. He was still sinking in the air when his hand miraculously found the edge of a rock attached to the mountain’s side. He hung in the air for a moment, not safe, but sound.

A loud thud rented the air, followed by screeching and a girl’s scream, and Seli came falling over the mountain, like a dropping stone. ‘Seli!’ Leo screamed.

James looked up in time and held out his free harm to grab Seli’s own and fortunately, Seli held it quick enough. ‘Gotcha’ he said in relief, clutching Seli’s hand tightly and she was gracefully hanging below James. One slip and they were in death’s arms.

Seli’s bike came falling over the cliff seconds after, narrowly missing both their heads.

James felt something warm flow from his knee down his leg and looked down to see his knee, bloody and sporting a hole of a wound on the surface, it was probably jagged by a rock and James hadn’t felt it then, rescuing the Damsel in Distress and all… But he was feeling it now!

‘Ok’ Leo said, peering down at them cautiously, but clearly relieved that his sister and best friend weren’t scrambled goo. He stretched out an arm, couldn’t reach James, and then bit his lip in thought.

‘James, you could swing Selina to the top!’ Jones said.

‘Are you sure?’ the other three chorused.

‘No’ James interrupted. ‘Too dangerous, Seli, climb me’

Seli obeyed without hesitation and soon, James was holding Seli around the waist and she was clasping her arms around his neck. Leo held out an arm and Seli, pushed upwards by James grabbed it and soon she was safe.

The rock James was holding onto was getting impatient now, it slowly edged off as Leo held out an arm to help James. Leo missed, and James started to fall but Leo pulled in at the last second and managed to clasp a substantial part of James’ sinking hand, pulling him upwards and hurling him unto the dirt.

James felt a sharp pain course through his leg as he hit the ground and started coughing dirt.

‘You’re bleeding’ Seli registered, scanning James’ knee with her bright sea blue eyes, as if it will automatically heal him.

‘Here’ Leo said, tying his handkerchief around James’ knee.

‘Not enough’ Leo said after a few moments as he looked at the wound, now soaking the handkerchief and James heard fabric being torn as Leo ripped the hem of his shirt, tying it around James’ leg. ‘That should do the trick’ he sighed. ‘Until we get home’

James nodded his appreciation and got up to go to his bike. Another stone tripped him and he ate the dust again, falling on his injured knee ‘Cursed rocks!’ he cried.

‘It’s not a rock’ Leo said.

‘So’

Leo beckoned to the others to help him carry the thing, whatever it was, out of the ground. It was a heavy case. It was brown, a rusted brown and James guessed it might have been there for a while. They blew the dust of it and Leo opened it.

A white ball of light zoomed out of the lock in the case. It shot into the air and hovered in front of James face. James showed no fear, no emotion- advice from his instincts- and after a while, the ball of light burst with a silent thud into a green screen with the word PASSWORD written on it. Below the word was a blinking cursor where the password was supposed to be typed with a virtual keyboard that had just popped up.

‘Man!’ whistled Leo, ‘There must be some serious stuff inside this thing.’

‘Yeah, good luck with typing the password.’ Seli said grumpily but joined in guessing the password anyway as they took turns typing whatever came to mind, each time ending up with the words Access Denied popping up red on the screen.

‘James, we better get your leg to the house before it gets worse’ Seli said after a while in a deeply disappointed tone.

‘Yeah’ James admitted, disgusted with the case himself. The others went grumpily to their bikes, ready to go.

‘Coming James?’ Leo asked because James was still trying to figure out the password.

‘After one last try’ James called back and entered Winter into the password bar. It was stupid, he thought, how his last name could unlock the case; he was just trying it out of desperation.

He pressed enter and was ready to go when he glanced back and saw Access Granted.

‘Guys!’ he called to the others, ‘I did it, I unlocked it’ immediately the case opened with a click and the green screen crumpled into a ball of light again. It rose in the air once more but this time, it flew higher and higher, going north in a graceful arch until they could see it no more.

James opened the case when the others crouched beside him. It was wonderful how his last name had opened the case. No, he challenged himself; it could be a mere coincidence, maybe the password referred to the winter season.

‘How did you do it?’ Leo asked, impressed.

‘I used my last...’ but James could not speak anymore, his mouth- his whole body had gone paralyzed to allow his eyes to swallow in the glorious beauty that lay in the case. His heart seemed to have missed several beats and his brain had frozen.

Inside the case, lay four diamond shaped necklaces. They were glittering and bouncing the sun’s rays into the eager eyes watching. They glowed a soft red, attracting the people above to take it.

Leo recovered from the trance first and quickly put one of the necklaces on. Jones did the same and when James was about to copy, Seli shook her head warningly. ‘You dweebs are about to take something you found on a mountain we were supposed to climb?’

The boys gave her stunned, confused looks. Seli readjusted her statement. ‘Four necklaces, four of us, not too much of a coincidence?’

‘James, put the thing on’ Leo said. ‘Don’t mind her, she’s paranoid’

James shrugged and even before he put the necklace on, Seli shrugged and put one on her neck too and James knew that deep inside, Seli thought it was beautiful. He put his around his neck. The thing warmed his skin up. He guessed it must’ve been because it was stuck and a tightly sealed case underground. Then everything became blank and black.

James woke up with a bad case of headache and he was suddenly very hungry whilst feeling as if he wanted to throw up. What had happened? He looked around to see the others getting themselves up with groans. Seli got up quickly.

‘I’m going home’ she said firmly, ‘Had enough of this’ she had not gone very far when they heard her squeak a small ‘Oh’

The boys turned and saw that the world had gone mad. The bikes they brought were not the same bikes they were facing. The bikes were 10 feet now and gargantuan. They all stood back to back, properly addressing their surroundings for the first time since they blacked out. What should have once been pebbles or small rocks were now huge gigantic boulders, as tall as half of the Eiffel Tower and as wide as, er, yeah, that, imagine the vast wideness.

‘What the…’ Jones started but ended abruptly as a creature scuttled over the back of one of the boulders. What would have been a normal, small, squishy ant was a huge, dark brown ant. It eyes rested on the teenagers below and it seemed to smile. Its antennae and mandibles shook and clicked excitedly. It had found delicious prey.

‘Run!’ James screamed with all his might, as if he might scare off the ant but it run brutally towards them. The others needed no telling. They run down the mountain, slower than usual since they were small. The Army ant chased them wildly; it might not have eaten in a few days, James could tell from the way it was determined to get them.

The hill was too steep. It increased their momentum and their chances of slipping and falling. They dodged huge boulders and rocks and sometimes climbed over them. Jones was behind as usual and he was already panting and sweating severely. His pace was slowing gradually. And then James heard a ripping of fabric tear through the air and looked back to see the ant had torn off the hem of Jones’ trousers. One more snap like that and Jones would be history. James had to act fast.

He scanned the area with his eyes; how many ants were going to join the chase? Then he spotted a broad but flexible stick protruding out of the ground.

Wow, his eyesight seemed to have improved over the last few…seconds, maybe, it was almost like he could see every spot and speck around him, like he was a living telescope.

He hurried over to where the stick was and stood beside it. Then he timed the ant. It had changed target from Jones to James; sensing for a more foolish target. It broke into a fast run and jumped, ready to pounce upon James, but James pulled the stick backwards and released it just in time. The stick struck like a cowboy’s whip and lashed the ant squarely in the face. It was forced back, writhing and whimpering in pain.

James suddenly heard whoops and applause. The others had waited for him. Quite unnecessarily, he thought.

‘Run!’ James yelled. ‘It’s not dead, it’s just in pain’

They resumed their hasty escape. The ant was back on track now; the only difference was that they had a few feet of a start point than last and the ant sported a red angry slash across its face, souvenir of what James did to it. They made their way quickly down the mountain, the ant hot on their heels.

Finally, they reached the house and climbed the steps which now looked like the Great Wall of China. After a few seconds, they landed on the porch and James was tripped smartly down by the ant. Somewhere behind him, Seli gasped.

The ant approached James slowly. Guess he likes to play with his food, James thought. It had reached him now, its shadow engulfing him in partial darkness.

‘Easy, boy…or girl…is it too late for apologies, eh?’James smiled, trying to cover the fear hitting him from all sides.

The ant’s mandibles clicked wildly.

“So, no?”

It placed the sharp mandibles around James’ neck and lifted three feet in the air. The mandibles pierced James neck like a hot knife. It was pressing ever harder, ready to tear its prey apart and digest it. James struggled and held the mandibles at the sides, trying to pry them open but the ant only edged James head to its dark hole for a mouth. Then a squishing sound filled the air and a foam like substance dribbled out of the ant’s mouth. It released James slowly and fell to the ground, eyes opened. James looked up and saw Nemo absent-mindedly lifting his foot from the crushed ant and heading for door.

‘Oi! Nemo’ James screamed, jumping and waving frantically at the dazed man up there. He had to dive out of the way to avoid getting squished by Nemo too. He watched the already drunk man going inside the house. Nemo couldn’t hear him, or see him…nor would anyone else.

His vision was blocked by a tangle of sleek and shiny black hair and a beautiful face. Seli.

‘James, are you all right?’ she asked James. James nodded and Seli looked him in the eyes deeply, her expression soft. She was so beautiful James wanted to give her a peck there and then. Then Leo dragged Seli away from James. ‘Let him breathe, he’s alright, right?’

James smiled. Typical Leo for you pretends he doesn’t care much but he really does.

‘Yeah’ James said. ‘Yeah’ and Leo helped him to his feet.

They entered the house through the cat flap to meet Michel watching football, sitting at the edge of his seat and frequently yelling things at the deaf players. ‘Goal…NO that should have been a goal, what’s wrong this guy, phhhhh, purlease’

After many futile attempts to catch Michel’s attention, the four took refuge on the dining table, trying to figure out what to do.

‘Possibly, time has also “shrunk” with us’ Jones said thoughtfully and scientifically.

‘What?’ the other three asked in unison.

‘Haven’t you noticed why nobody is worried we haven’t come back?’ He replied as a matter of factly. ‘I think, for example, two hours of our time will be two hours of their (he pointed to Michel) time. I think we are in another dimension, another episode of time’

‘Ok,” James shaking his head to stop his brain from blowing up o Jones’s theory what we should know is that it starts and ends with this thing’ said James, pointing to the necklace. “You know I want it to be a watch, more manly,’ he added as an afterthought and touched the necklace at the center. Immediately, the necklace dissolved into fast blur and snaked around his body to his arm.

James could have cried out, thinking the thing was going to attack him but it swirled around his wrist like a tornado and settled, leaving a sparkling new watch in around James’ wrist.

‘Whoa’ the other three gasped in fascination and immediately copied James, saying their wishes and touching the center of their necklace. Glinting a little at the face of the watch, were small inscribed words; TRANSFORMAT, James guessed that was what the thing was called. Transformat. Why the heck was it called that? Leo changed his to a watch just like James, Jones, a pair of glasses but Seli decided to keep hers as it was, saying it was beautiful.

They retreated further the table and sat on some ripe bananas. They felt like cushion now. Nobody seemed like talking about anything now; they were all deeply involved in their own thoughts, accessing their situation.

Then James saw his mum coming downstairs, checking her watch and saying, ‘Haven’t they spent much time up there already?’

‘Let them have their fun’ Michel answered as Lucy grabbed the remote and changed it to a News channel. ‘They need it’

Fun. James thought, that’s exactly what they were doing right now, having fun.

Together they watched the “Searcher” news channel, where a lady reporter was talking to a scientist in a long, white, lab coat and white hair. Beneath the TV screen were the words, “A dangerous disease strikes”

‘So Doctor Conroe” the reporter addressed the scientist, ‘Can you make a brief, comprehensible understanding of this dangerous disease you and your team discovered’

‘Well, my instinctive answer should be “no”’ said Dr. Conroe in a light voice. ‘But that is not understandable enough, so all I have to say is that this disease is a dangerous combination of some…chemicals. When you contract it, hemorrhage or hemophilia begins and within hours you’re dead’

‘How many hours exactly?’ the reporter asked.

‘Less than twenty four hours for sure’ Dr. Conroe said with indifference.

‘And there is no cure?’

‘No cure and no way to stop it, well, as far as we know’

‘Thank you Doctor Conroe’ the reporter said, shuffling papers in her hands, ‘Hope to meet you again for updates.’

‘You are very welcome’

‘Wicked’ Jones murmured.

‘Hmmm…’ Leo said dreamily.

‘What’s up?’ James asked him.

‘Uh, oh’ Seli muttered. ‘Whenever he gets that look, it says, “trouble, here I come”

James looked at Leo and truly, his eyes were lit with mischief and he was beaming. He started walking backwards, his eyes set ahead of him at something James couldn’t see.

Leo looked back finally and, satisfied with the distance, he stopped. The he started counting down from five.

He started…

‘Five’…

He bent down and touched the ground.

‘Four’…

He positioned himself like he was about to race, kneeling down.

‘Three’…

He stretched his legs behind him as if ready to run, his position like that of a patient cheetah ready to leap on its prey.

‘Two’…

‘Leo, what are you doing?’Seli asked worriedly.

‘One’…

Leo ran like he had just received a hot rod to the bottom. He run past the fruit bowl, past his friends, across the table and when he reached the edge of the table, he jumped, so high.

Seli gasped, Jones hung his mouth, James was in shock, his friend had gone mental, ready to commit suicide.

But just as Leo started to sink in the air, in a fast motion blur, he was suddenly sitting on a fly. He looked startled at first, and then he recovered and shifted himself to a more comfortable sitting position. Then he held the fly by its antennae and started controlling the fly, turning it antennae left and right to show direction.

‘Wanna quit drooling and hop on?’ Leo the crazy jeered at his friends, patting the fly’s back behind him.

The boys, of course, didn’t waste no time, they jumped onto the back of the fly like it was just a cab. Seli, however, was seemingly reluctant but jumped on anyway, muttering something about how they should stick together and how she was surrounded by only boys.

The fly ride was fun; they were zooming into the air like a jet, on a fly! James felt its wings fluttering and buzzing wildly a million times a second, vibrating its whole body and the bodies of its passengers as well.

Air was ruffling their hair and forcing its way into James mouth and nostrils. James would have been careful to shut his mouth lest he swallow a fly but now he was on the fly!

Leo seemed to be a good pilot; like this was a thing normal people did every day. It was as if he had been training for this for all his life… as if.

They were hitting other flies or racing flies and sometimes making a run- or fly for it as the fly chased them, Yo! Tongue twister right there, aha.

Leo decided to have some fun with Michel and Lucy, buzzing in their ears and making them slap them until Michel threatened to go upstairs for the repellant; they veered going that direction again.

Every thought seemed to have seeped through James mind, gone with the wind, maybe.

Then, Leo spotted Nemo sneaking to the dining table for some alcohol and they decided to have some fun with him also. They did the same thing they did to Michel and Lucy, buzzing in and out of Nemo’s ear. But he, however, could hardly whisper or Michel and Lucy will catch him in his act.

It was fun at first, disturbing Nemo and watching him slap himself again and again. James was laughing hard, seeing Nemo’s face contorting with rage he must hide for the greater good of alcohol. Then James saw Nemo’s eyeballs slide quietly to the corners, watching them but seeing nothing but the fly, otherwise, he wouldn’t have done what he did.

James noticed something very wrong was going to happen, he called out Leo’s name, not taking his eyes away from the huge eyeballs.

‘Leo… Leo? Leo!

Even Seli had seen something was wrong and was trying to catch Leo’s attention too but Leo was laughing at Nemo so hard his attention could not bought be caught that easily. The fly too had seen it; James could see Nemo reflected in its many eyes. But it was hopelessly helpless, being controlled by Leo…

It was too late anyway, Nemo had slithered his hand behind him and reared it like a venomous cobra, ready to spit venom on its prey, and he smacked the fly senseless and unknown to him, the teenagers too.

The fly spiraled out of control and its passengers could not get a better grip as they were thrown into the air in all directions. The fly hit the dining table, shaking and jerking uncontrollably until it lay still and awkwardly rigid.

James was sinking into the air, no idea what or where he was going to fall until he plunged into something foul smelling and a little warm. He was knocked inside the liquid fully which was like a smelly large swimming pool. If he had not taken those swimming classes in school, he sure would have been a goner. He waited a few seconds then he swam up to the surface, gasping for air. What he thought was a swimming pool was white and bubbly and surrounding it, was a transparent glass.

Wait a moment; James put a finger into the liquid, reluctantly tasting it. This was no rotten pool; it was Nemo’s cup of alcohol.

James thought whilst spitting out the alcohol. This means that…

Something thrashed in the alcohol beside him. Jones. Drowning.

James dived into the water and swam quickly to Jones, half carrying, half pulling him to the surface; Jones broke the surface finally, gasping for air.

‘Do you know what this is…’ he asked, bewildered.

James nodded before Jones could go any further, a few feet from them, Leo and Seli were arguing with each other.

Just then the glass lifted in the air with a jerk and tilted down alarmingly, plunging them all into the alcohol again. Then it started to zoom towards a gaping, dark hole ahead of them. James need Jones’ screams to tell him what was happening.

They were all going to be swallowed by Nemo.

Chapter Three: The Inside World

He checked his watch, “11:43pm” it said. It was late, he needed sleep, but he was not quite yet done. He sighed inwardly and set his glasses on the table, rubbing his temples. He wiped his glasses using his shirt and put them on. Then he switched the lamplight off, put the files in his drawer and stared out to the dark night. The moon wasn’t up.

He put the files in his drawer and dragged his chair back and got up. He was about to turn and leave when he saw it; the ball of light.

He stopped abruptly in his tracks and watched the ball of light. It illuminated the darkness as it came zooming towards his office window. It did not even stop at the window’s glass, it slipped through naturally like the light it was, and stopped brusquely in front of his face. He showed no emotion as the ball of light hovered in front of his glasses, he just looked on wearily.

Then the ball of light burst with a small, quiet thud into a green screen, on it were the typed words; MISSON ACCOMPLISHED and a cursor was blinking at the end. He nodded and the green screen shrunk into a ball of light once more but this time, glowed three times red and then exploded with the same small thud into nothing, leaving only a shower of white sparks sinking into oblivion.

He looked at the invisible air where the ball of light had just burst and nodded to himself.

So the boy had received the Transformat. Excellent. Arrangements must be made to retrieve the boy from wherever he is, keep a tab on him, until he is ready… ready to save the world.

James hit the stone cold floor so hard his ears were ringing and black spots filled his eyes. He got up slowly and shook his head, trying to discard the specks of black and the persistent ringing in his ears. He looked around slowly. They were in a kind of cave, a modernized cave, and a little funky smelling, he wrinkled his nose. All around him stalactites and stalagmites hung from the red roof and protruded from the cold wrinkled floor. But these stalagc-things glowed a soft flickering white light from within like huge lamps, illuminating the whole cave. They were arranged in rows, not totally perfect rows, some were crooked and uneven. The light made the whole place seem so isolated and distant and quiet, you could hear your own breath in this piercing silence. James felt the last of the alcohol seep through his shoes and filter into the floor like red, hard ground, amazingly.

Groans all around him announced the wakefulness of the others.

Leo groaned beside him as he spoke. ‘What happened?’

‘Oh I’ll tell you what happened. Seli lashed out at Leo, and maybe James and Jones too. ‘Your stupid big headedness happened. Venturing out into stupid unnecessary tasks like you own the world’

‘Seli… calm down’ Leo said.

‘Shut up. I won’t calm down. I tried to tell you didn’t I? But apparently I was being paranoid’ Seli finished, staring butcher knives at Leo, and slipping some at James.

‘But you came along!’ Leo said impatiently.

‘BECAUSE I WANTED TO MAKE SURE THAT…’

‘Shhhh…’ James warned.

‘James Winter don’t you dare…’ Seli started threateningly but James pointed northeast and she shut up, thankfully.

A man was sitting there, beneath one of the stalactite light, reading a book with his leg crossed. James wanted to go and ask him for help but before he could move or think, a dark figure run past one of the stalagc-lights, disappearing from sight. The lights flickered and blinked and wavered more than usual in the shadow’s wake, making small electric hums and crackles.

The man, who was wearing a white long sleeved shirt and trousers with black boots and a black cap that was resting on his lap; James guessed him to be a cop, seemed not to notice, but James saw him slip a hand to his side quietly. The shadow reemerged a few feet from the cop and shot him with a pistol.

The cop was faster, though, in the next flicker of light he had jumped up, somersaulted in the air and landed on the floor so quickly he was almost a blur. The other guy’s bullet missed him by a wide gap and he instantaneously took out his own gun from its sheath and fired. It hit the attacker’s chest and the attacker was lifted off his feet and banged in the floor, some colorless liquid streaming out of the gun wound.

‘Germs’ the man muttered, shaking his head. ‘They never learn’ the cop slid his gun back into its holder. Big mistake.

In the next flicker of light, another man had appeared behind the cop and stabbed him in the back. The cop cried out and fell facedown to the floor, the knife’s handle sticking out of him, the same colorless liquid escaping through the knife’s side.

‘Guardians,’ the murderer said. ‘Always arrogant’

The man had pale, cold eyes that could make you believe he was lifeless if he played dead. He wore a dark jacket and black, thick trousers and gloves. He removed his knife from the cop and wiped it against the cop’s own shirt. Several figures appeared shadows in the next light falter and James held out his arms to the others to indicate they retreat backwards.

“Well done, Rozin, sir” a bulky man said to the murderer.

“Thank you” Rozin said and maybe he was really appreciative, but the coldness of his voice suggested he was talking to pathetic slaves. His eyebrows were arched and his hair was deep brown.

“Yes, now sir, with all due respect I suggest we retreat now” came a small voice, its owner belonged to a small man or even boy and he was having a real difficulty hiding the terror magnifying in his voice.

“No” Rozin said firmly. “We stay here”

“But sir, very soon Guardians will be coming and…”

“We stay here, Cane” Rozin repeated, staring into the small Cane’s eyes. ‘Those were Singar’s orders and unless you want to go contrary to them and betray him, I think we should stay here”

Cane seemed to want to hesitate but Rozin’s eyes pierced him and he succumbed. “Yes sir”

‘Good, now spread out and scan the area” Rozin instructed.

“Yes sir” Rozin’s men murmured and dispersed, each one going in different directions.

James, Jones, Leo and Seli, who had calmed down, exchanged looks. Rozin didn’t seem like he would want to have dinner with someone who spied on him.

Just then the air was filled with a “Psssst, Psssst, hey kids”

They turned to see a man in a corner, beckoning them wildly to come over to him. James raised his eyebrow at Leo.

“Well, that guy, (he pointed to Rozin) is certainly not friendly so I vote yes”

“Ok. C’mon then” James said since none of them wanted to vote otherwise.

They were halfway through the cave to the beckoning man when a strangled cry came out from behind James, who was leading the group. They turned to see Jones being strangled by one of Rozin’s men. Jones cried out and struggled, scratching any part of the man he could find and giving him weak blows.

The man sank a fist into Jones’ face with a loud crack and thud.

‘No’ James cried, abandoning all attempts at stealth. The man seemed to think he couldn’t handle James and the others alone so he dragged Jones back and pointed his gun at James. He shouted ‘Guys, Rozin! I got someone, some people, but I cannot take them alone.’

James heard footsteps but he didn’t care, he needed to get Jones, he was Michel’s treasure. He couldn’t bear to see the look on Michel’s face if James told him Jones was missing…or dead.

James prepared to lunge at the man and snatch Jones from him but a pair of hands grasped him and pulled him back. He looked around at the person who had done this; he guessed it was the beckoning man. He was in a long brown cloak and had a black hat propped on his head.

‘Listen, you can’t do anything for him’ the man said. “Can you possibly fight all those men by yourself? You don’t even know how to. Let’s go, the Germs aren’t going anywhere, we’ll get your friend back’”

James struggled pointlessly. He knew the man was right. But what was the part about “Germs” and “cells”. Ha he heard right? Or was the man cray cray? A bullet soared over their heads and James stopped struggling. The man was right; they had to go, before he James loses Seli and Leo too. A mass of Rozin’s men came charging at them, drowning Jones and his captor from view.

‘I’ll find you’ James whispered before Jones’ bleeding face was blocked from view. James started to run, following the man as bullets escaped the barrels of guns, making louder noises that echoed so loud, you’d think the place was gonna fall, due to the emptiness of the place. The man made a sharp turn and James had to narrowly avoid a wall to follow him. They were walking in some kind of tunnel now.

‘Who are they?’ a man shouted.

‘I don’t know. I can’t see their faces properly.’

The man made a hairpin bend again but this time, stopped in front of something. James couldn’t see what it was; his eyes were still trying to get attached to this eerie total darkness. Then the darkness shifted and he saw a black car which the man was trying to unlock. The darkness was attacking him also. Then a click of keys and thuds in the car was heard and they man beckoned them to sit in.

‘Hurry, sit at the back and keep your heads down!’

They did so and the man started the engines just as a bullet whizzed past the car, then several gunshots followed. The man stepped on the accelerator with all his might as if stepping on a particularly pestering, annoying insect. They car banged into movement and James, for some reason, rolled the window down and poked his head out of it. A bullet was shot straight at him, very well aimed to hit his head.

But he saw the bullet coming to him in slow motion, as if something had just kicked a soccer ball weakly at him. It was weird, bullets were supposed to be very, very fast but he could see it coming, spiraling slowly, making its way through the air. He dodged it just before it hit his head; the bullet hit the rearview mirror.

The man groaned. ‘Close the window’ he instructed. ‘Do you want to get yourself killed?’

James quietly rolled the window up and crouched down. Now, he felt as if he could dodge any bullet at all. Keep ‘em coming.

They drove in silence until the man turned at a place called Bone Marrow: Blazing Blossom according to a huge signboard that welcomed visitors into the estate. They drove on, the car tires crunching gravels and humming slightly. James tried to get a look at the estate but the man kept telling him to put his head down.

‘Why? It’s not like those people are following us now is it?’ James got no answer.

After a few minutes, the man, oh James needed to know his name, got down and walked around a bit, obviously scanning the area. After a few more seconds he opened the back seat and they got down from the car, James was already getting pins and needles in his thighs and legs. The man groaned and pushed them into the house, where he turned the key in the lock and ushered them inside.

He switched on the lights which emanated from a golden chandelier that hung above them. Directly in front of them was the sitting room, made up of seats and a TV, that’s all. And the dining table was in the kitchen which was beyond the sitting room, spookily like Michel’s house.

James, Seli and Leo slumped themselves into the seats, and the man sat opposite them, eyeing them.

James said nothing, so did his friends. Then the man started talking. ‘I suspect you want to know what happened tonight.’

‘Yes, because I’m pretty sure we were swallowed by Nemo,” Leo said and Seli nodded but James had more pressing matters to deal with. Firstly…

‘What is your name?’ James asked. He couldn’t stop himself.

The man smiled and said, ‘Most sensible question of the night, you kids keep talking nonsense, no manners.”

Leo frowned but James saw a searching look in the man’s face, as if he was looking for the answer, but that can’t be, looking for your own name? Nah. But James did not trust the man, despite the fact that he had saved James life.

‘My name is Rognard, S-ah, Lyan.’

‘Rognard S-ah Lyan?’ Leo asked.

‘Very funny’ Rognard said, not smiling at all, ‘It’s Rognard Lyan. It was just a slip of tongue.’

‘And what just happened back there? Who were those guys who took Jones?’ James said before any of them could utter any word.

‘They are Germs’ Rognard said indifferently.

James laughed and then abruptly stopped, seeing the serious look on Rognard’s face.

‘You can’t be serious’

‘I am serious.’ Humans only see Germs as some filthy wormy things through instruments they call microscopes.

‘I’m guessing you are not human’ Leo said.

‘Take it like that’ Rognard said nastily. James was about to retort but Leo interrupted hastily. ‘So what are you then? Huh?’

I am a… cell’ Rognard answered. ‘I think it is owing to that thing (he pointed at James’ Transformat) that you are now witnessing a world humans cannot see, a world partially seen through those microscope things.’

‘We are humans too’ James said in a for-your-information sort of way.

‘I know that, but if you keep blubbing out that to other cells you will get shot straight away” Rognard warned.

‘They’re that straightforward?’ Leo asked.

‘Yeah, it’s a cycle of life here’ ‘Cells kill Germs and other intruders without a second thought. There’s nothing like jail or court here, just direct justice.’

‘When do we get to meet them’ Seli asked, as if she hadn’t heard Rognard’s last sentence.

‘Tomorrow. That reminds me, you have to go to bed, I’ll show you around Nemo tomorrow’ And James, you will please stop bleeding on my carpet, hm?’

James looked down and saw that he was bleeding from his knee again; Nemo’s alcohol may have clotted the blood when he fell inside.

‘Er, do you have any spirit?’ James asked uncertainly, he didn’t know if cells had spirits or any human thing.

‘I got human alcohol and cell alcohol, your choice?’

‘Human- how exactly did you get that?’

‘There’s some in the cabinet in the kitchen and some cotton in the first aid box also in the cabinet.’ Rognard said, refusing to answer James’ question. “Good night, oh, select one of the rooms upstairs, each, hm.’

‘I don’t trust him’ James said darkly when they heard Rognard banging his door upstairs.

‘We’ll talk later okay, I need some sleep’ Leo said, making his way upstairs.

‘Goodnight James’ Seli said, ruffling James’ hair and following Leo upstairs. James felt something like water flow through him from the spot on his head Seli ruffled, he ignored it.

James knew they didn’t believe him, he didn’t even know why he didn’t like Rognard himself. He must be grateful that Rognard took them in when other cells would not even apprehend him but shoot him dead. But deep inside he knew something was just wrong…

Chapter Four: The Guardians

James woke up not by his own will but by the persistent and seemingly perpetual blaze of heat burning his wrist. At first, he thought it was a dream but as if to prove that it was not, the burn increased, sending jolts of heat through his veins and he woke up with a jerk. He sat up on his bed; at first his vision was blurry and sluggish from sleep.

His eyes lightened and saw the man from yesterday, what was his name again, oh Rognard, clutching his hand painfully and taking in deep sharp breaths.

‘What happened?’ James asked instead of ‘Good morning’. He really doubted if he and this man will be on “Good morning” terms ever.

‘Nothing’ Rognard said, ceasing to rub his hands. ‘I just came to wake you up, I’ll be sending you on a tour and I need to get to work also so…’

‘I get it’ James snapped. ‘I’ll hurry’

‘Good, the others are ready already.’

‘Fine’

Rognard left the room, wincing as he closed the door with his hands. What happened to them? And what happened to James’ own hand? James raised his arm and shifted the Transformat where the skin had burned to reveal nothing at all on his skin. Not even a brown burn mark or a scar, but the watch had burnt him badly.. He touched it gingerly and pain coursed through him immediately He let out a breath of half surprise and half pain.

He shifted the watch over the ugly burn mark. This Transformat had some secrets to unlock; unlocking the case back on the plateau was just the beginning.

He showered and dressed quickly and went downstairs to meet Seli and Leo already ready, sitting in the couches in the sitting room.

‘Oh good, Rognard is almost popping his head’ Seli breathed a sigh of relief.

They got into the car and Rognard embarked on the tour, moving through winding roads and highways that Rognard called veins and arteries. Seli and Jones seemed to be catching on to this cells thing pretty well but Leo and James were still convinced they were all going mad.

First, they went into a library where they roamed around, Seli promising the books that she would buy them. She then asked Rognard if cells had money so loudly that Rognard almost slapped her mouth.

‘Yes they do’ Rognard whispered, looking around like a child in mischief.

‘Oh, can I borrow some?’ Seli said sweetly. ‘Please’

‘No’

‘Pretty please with a cherry on top, hm?’ she coaxed and slightly coerced Rognard into promising he would give her money later.

They saw many sights that could be seen in the real human world. They went to the Liver, where they were told that the cells there produced sodas, beverages and juices with the help of a main, special ingredient called “nutrients” and supplied them to cells all around the city. And they got a lot of profit out of it. They also had several laboratories for the development of atomic weapons and nuclear bombs with metabolic energy sometimes. And they converted harmful substances in the human’s diet into useful materials and made bile for the Small Intestine.

‘We even supply the platelets with protein, you know,’ their hairy tour guide had said. ‘The Liver is a really productive Organ. You should get a job here.’

And the cells! They were nothing like that alien stuff, James had thought they would look like They didn’t have scales and tentacles and extra eyes and that stuff. They were just like humans, they wore clothes (imagine if they didn’t) and did all human things. James was simply awed. All those years he had looked in microscopes and seen some unintelligible uninteresting squirmy things on a plate, and here he was really witnessing their world in 3-D, another world entirely.

They however, turned down Rognard’s offer to show them the Kidney, which was like the garbage disposal company of the city, after he had said that the a tour with the Kidney required that they board the vessels( that’s what they called vehicles around here) that transported the urine(liquid, sometimes grinded waste) into the… you know where your pee goes, to observe the process.

So Rognard decided they would instead visit the Heart and the Brain, and then later on, the Lung, which supplied oxygen and carbon dioxide to the whole city, which they actually used to make food. Unbelievable. James had to taste some of the stuff.

At last, they reached they drove into a wonderful gold plated gate to a huge parking lot. James got down and the others followed. James looked up and saw wonders.

A towering building loomed above him and engulfed them in its shadow. It was so tall that James couldn’t see the roof from where he was standing. It bathed in the glory of the sunlight, Two guards where standing on either sides of a metal, yellow gate, carrying long guns.

‘This’ Rognard began as he stood by them. ‘Is the Heart, the most protected, most important and most wonderful building, or as you humans call it, organ in Nemo city, and any city at that…’

‘Whoa!’ James breathed. ‘So in there is some kind of machine that thumps and beats?’ he asked, thinking of how his heart beat, and thinking if cells had hearts themselves…

“No” Rognard answered. “Humans feel that thumping and thudding noise because there is a lot of activity going on in the Heart. And because the routes to the Hearts are very busy, thus, the pulses.”

The teenagers continued admiring the Heart. Rognard looked at them impatiently.

‘This reminds me, you have to get a job.’ He said it as if he had wanted to get on with it for some time.

‘Excuse me?’ James said blankly.

Rognard just roared with laughter.’ You can’t expect to live under my roof for me to feed you, can you?’

‘Work where?’ Leo asked.

Rognard began counting off his fingers. ‘Well there are the platelets, who repair damaged organs or buildings and stuff. More like your human firefighters, the Librarians, the Doctors… and even the vessel driver, or you could work as transport cells!’

‘Vessel drivers?’ James asked.

‘That’s bus driver to you’ Rognard answered.

‘The Heart…’ Seli said dreamily.

‘Uh…’ Rognard started but Seli cut in.

‘I’m working in the Heart’ she justified.

Rognard looked peculiarly grave. When Seli wanted to do something, she wanted to do it and won’t be stopped.

‘Me, too!’ James and Leo chorused.

‘No’ Rognard said. ‘You can work somewhere else. In the Brain, for example, it’s the second rated organ and it’s more boyish.

‘Plus, I need my space’ Seli batted her eyelashes at the boys.

‘Seli, you run over to the guards in front of the gate and tell them Rognard Lyan sent you to participate in the Test.’ Rognard instructed Seli. Seli jogged off happily to the gate.

‘Now you guys get in the car and let’s go’

The road to the Brain was heavily guarded with road stops and Guardians, that’s what the police men of this place where called, though, if you wanted to refer to all of them- firemen, guards and all, you called them Leukocytes. Rognard seemed to be a highly respected man in the cell world. Leukocytes saluted him and allowed him permit to pass whilst another man had to shove different colours of verification cards up the noses of two doubting Guardians.

‘But I work here every day!’ he said in exasperation.

‘Never seen you before’ one Guardian said and his partner shook his head agreeably.

Rognard entered some gates drove through a pair of huge, gates with half of a large symbol engraved coloufully on either side of the gates, so that when the gates where shut closed, the symbol completed to be a wavy, woozy, white brain with flaming red jets of fire circling it all around, like atoms and molecules. It was quite fascinating, especially when the flaming jets of fire seemed to be throbbing and burning with life.

Beyond the gates stood a huge building, half as smaller than the Heart, which meant, very huge building. On it s roof where the words; The Brain-The Daring To Protect. Underneath those words were brown words; Cerebrum One. MAIN HEADQUARTERS.

It was exactly like those pictures of brains James had seen in his science textbook back at school. It looked like a gigantic white baseball.

A guard tensed at the doors when Rognard was leading the boys through it, then he suddenly relaxed into uneasy and nervous manner and said. ‘Oh, Mr. Lyan. It’s really nice to, er, see you here, um… Miss Theodora is expecting you…’ he flushed when he realized he’d forgotten to salute and saluted with embarrassment.

Rognard ignored all of this. He checked his watched impatiently. ‘just take these two to the Test room and make sure they are tested, all right?’

‘Yes sir!’ the guard said and saluted. ‘C’mon now, kids,’

Rognard headed up some wooden stairs whilst the Guardian led James and Leo through a corridor.

‘Um, what’s the Test room?’ James asked as they passed a room called City Monitoring, where cells where typing on high-tech computers or passing files to each other or simply chatting and laughing. Immediately after that room was the Neuron Distress call Department.’

The guardian pointed to that room. ‘That’s where they get Neuron calls from damaged tissues or Organs and immediate Bacteria attacks. You might get a tour of the place later, when you’re done with your tests.’

“What is the test?”

The Guardian smiled.’ You’ll see.’

They approached a black huge door, where a Guardian asked for their names and scribbled the on a notepad. ‘Follow me, please.’ He said, and James and Leo entered a wide and spacious hall. Hundreds of cells where sitting on chairs in rows and columns, all of them fixed their eyes on a woman standing on a raised platform. James noticed she was leaning heavily on a crutch.

‘Sit down.’ The man told them. They found empty seats next to a girl in a black top and skirt.

‘Hi’ James said as he sat down by the girl and Leo sat by him on his right.

The girl turned and seemed to be caught up in some moment. She stared at James for what seemed like forty five minutes, the she shook her head vigorously. “Oh, hi. I’m sorry. My name is Cornie Belevard. New recruit.’ She held out her hand. James took it. ‘James Winter. New recruit too, I guess.’

‘Do you know what area you’ll be put in?’ Cornie asked.

James tried to make sense of the question, but all he got was like a static television screen. ‘Um, no.’

Cornie sighed. ‘I know. It’s very hard to just guess. The examiners are real unpredictable and they say the tests are as easy as chewing bile. What are you really good at?’

James thought, ‘I’m good at pretending to understand what you’re saying. But was saved the trouble of answering when there was a sudden burst of static, and the woman on the raised platform spoke.

‘Welcome. Young ladies and gentlemen. My name is miss Dome, and I am the lead trainer for the Guardians. You are all here to be tested and fitted into your various fields of expertise and my colleagues and I will do our very best to place you where you rightfully belong.’

James wondered why she placed so much emphasis on the word rightfully.

Miss Dome continued. ‘If you’re very smart, we could put you in the science and Research department. Tough and brave? We could make you a Guardian, where you’ll gradually-with much skill and effort, make your way to being a Macrophage or Commander.”

James thought he heard some of those names before in school. The phagocyte and lymphocyte and macroface or whatever where some kind of protectors of humans against diseases, or Germs.

‘Without further ado, you will now proceed to the waiting room, where you shall be tested accordingly in the Test room. Good luck.’

Another burst of static was followed by scraping chairs and shoes as cells walked to the waiting room.

Every body relaxed as they entered a small white room but immediately began to raise tension as they talked nervously about which kind of tests they would encounter. Then a man that James and Leo had seen at the door burst into the room. ‘Ok. Settle down. I have your names here so when I call you, you will make your way through this door to the Test room. Alright?’

‘Yes. Sir’ everyone murmured nervously.

‘Ok. First name is…Ben Diva.’ A pale faced, scrawny boy made his way uneasily around the others to follow the man into the unspeakable horror in the Test room.

After some minutes, James turned to Leo. ‘What do you think is going on?’ he asked his friend.

‘Tests, duh’Leo said.

‘What kind of tests?’

“Dunno. Don’t be scared James.’ Leo said, trying to sound brave.

“Yeah, right.’ James laughed. ‘You’re almost peeing in your pants!’

Several minutes later, the man’s head poked out of the door and said; Stardom Leonardo!

‘Good luck, bro.’ James said as Leo disappeared into the Test room.

Another several minutes later before the head said; Winter James! James walked to the door slowly. The man with the notepad smiled. ‘Don’t worry. It’s actually quite a brief and painful-less test. Quite fun, come to think of it.’

The Test room was dark and felt judging. Don’t examination halls feel like that? A blue light shone light from the ceiling and created a small blue circle on the floor. A young woman in a long white coat and black work skirt sat in a chair in front of a control panel littered with screens and buttons. She looked up when James approached.

‘Stand here, please.’ She said in a bored voice. She had probably said that a million times today.

James stood in the direction she was pointing at, in the blue lit circle. The man handed him a gun and showed him how to hold it. It was black and about seven millimeters long. James stared at it till the man said;’ it’s a dart gun.’

The woman jumped from her chair. 'Ok. She hit a green button on the panel, and a bulls -eye board appeared a good fifty yards away form where they were standing, also illuminated with blue light. ‘When I give you the signal, your task is to press the trigger and direct the dart exactly to the small red spot in the middle of the board. Your score will depend on how close you came to hitting the red spot.’

James nodded and pointed the gun at the red spot. When the woman said fire, the world consisted of only him and that red spot. The Transformat burned against his wrist and sent something coursing through his veins. He felt like he was controlling a shooting game character. Like something had taken over his mind. Maybe someone in his family was a soldier, and it had been passed down to him. The thing controlled him to press the trigger, and the dart came out slowly.

James saw the bullet in slow motion. Whether it was his imagination or the two cells beside him could also see it like that, he didn’t know. The bullet spiraled and twirled slowly, until it hit the bulls- eye board exactly on the red dot.

The man gaped gawked from the bulls-eye board, to the shooter, but the woman wasn’t impressed. ‘Beginners luck.’ She muttered and brought out more bulls eye boards. James hit all of them in one swift motion. When he finished, even the woman was on the verge of fainting. Even he was shocked at his spontaneous success. He had never held anything like a pistol in his life before. How the heck was he able to direct a dart into the very heart of a bulls- eye board fifty meters away? He remembered the way the Transformat had burned him when he was going to shoot. It had somehow helped him. He was turning to go when the examiners stopped him to look at his score on a screen. 10/10-Passed. It said.

The man nodded to him. ‘Congratulations boy. You’ve got a good thing going, keep it up.’ The woman nodded beside him vigorously.

He went to the waiting room to wait whatever they were going to do next when he met Cornie again.

‘Did you do well?’ she asked, biting her lip.

‘Yeah. Ten out of ten,’ James replied, craning his neck around Cornie to look for Leo.

‘Wow, you’re really good aren’t ya!’ Cornie exclaimed and punched James’ shoulder playfully.’I wouldn’t be surprised if you become a Guardian.’

‘What did you get?’ James asked, now looking at Cornie. She lowered her head. ‘Six.’

‘Well that’s good too!’ James smiled and tore away from Cornie’s beaming face as he saw Leo sitting near a big boy.

Leo had eight and was awed to hear that James got a clean ten, but frowned when James told him he suspected the Transformat had a thing to do with it.

‘Your girlfriend’s really cute though,’ Leo said to James, smirking annoyingly.

It took James a minute to realize Leo was talking about Cornie. ‘Quit it, Leo’

‘You were stuck to her like love glue.’

‘She was badgering me’.

‘I heard you telling her how good she was.’

‘I did that because she was all down that she didn’t do better-‘

‘Stardom! Winter!’ a male voice boomed from the door again. ‘You’re up!’

James and Leo exchanged confused looks. There was another test?

The examiner led them through yet another room and separated them. James to take the left corridor and Leo to take the right. As for the examiner, he stood far back and when James looked back, he said. ‘Good luck’.

James supposed he was meant to go into the corridor until he encountered something. The corridor was dark, lit blue at regular intervals. He approached a glass door and shifted it aside. Now, he was in a horizontally long but small room, like a small train station. Directly in front of him was a control panel with a screen and a virtual keyboard beneath it. He blinked at the panel, until the glass door shifted closed and a computerized female voice issued from the panel in a sing song voice. ‘Hello fellow recruit. This is the Mathematics Test of Admittance. The rules are easy; solve all of the math equations that will be displayed on this screen in the given amount of time correctly. If you type in a wrong answer, the robots at your either side will kick you and throw you out of the room. Same treatment will occur if your time ends before you complete all questions. Start.

James now noticed the white bald robots on either side of him, camouflaged with the white wall so well that James did not see them when he entered the room. They seemed static, like some statues, but as he began to answer questions on the screen and got one wrong, they both took two steps towards him, their hands stretched at him.

The math equations were outrageous. What the heck was 2x +12x =4(16) ok. He knew that but what the poop was 98lop+Xinscon=U(2)??

He just sighed and tapped in a bunch of impossible numbers. He barely had time to look at the robots before they clamped their cold metallic hands around both his arms and threw him out of the room all the way to the examiners feet.

When he recovered from the stars swimming around his face, he heard Leo crash onto the floor in the next corridor. ‘No fair! I had nine out of ten!’ he heard Leo yell angrily. But James could see he was smiling. He looked up at his own scoreboard which was on a screen on top of the corridor.

“Seven out ten!” he said and Leo punched the air in victory. “Told ya I’d beat you.”

They walked back to the waiting room where Cornie raced to James immediately with puppy eyes.

“What did you get?”

“Seven”

Cornie looked a little disappointed for a moment, but then as quickly as it came, the look shifted into a radiant beam. “I had eight out of ten. Anyway that’s the highest because the examiners put a very advanced equation at question nine and ten.”

“Really?” James thought for a moment. He refrained himself from blurting out loud: How the heck did Leo have nine out of ten if nine and ten had been almost impossible questions? Oh, and by the way, Leo wasn’t an exact whiz at math…

He walked over to Leo who was talking to a boy in brown, pajamas-like clothing. As soon as he was about to ask Leo how he passed the test, a new Guardian burst into the room holding a clipboard. He looked very authoritative with his bulging muscles and bald, shiny head. He did not say ‘silence’ but every Recruit was paralyzed like the man had just sprayed a tongue killing gas at them.

He looked around the room briefly, and then began to talk with a deep voice.

“All right, I trust you have all taken an exam and at least passed one of them. I am here to put you in the particular according to how well you did in an exam. I will take with me the new Guardians, that is, the new phagocytes and lymphocytes. When I call your name, stand by my side.”

“First name is Andrew Martholomew(I know, what a name),” a tall boy got to his feet strongly.

“Abigail Joshua”… and on and on until he reached the last two names. “Leonardo Stardom” and “James Winter,”.

There was an uncomfortable silence when he mentioned James’ name. The man even looked up curiously. James pretended he hadn’t seen a thing as he stood by Leo and, Cornie, who had been among one of the first names to be called.

The Guardian straightened. “Well, that’s all. The rest of you stay put whilst you, follow me.”

James and the other selected Guardians followed the man out of the room through some twisting corridors, past a shooting range where a couple of people where testing their shooting abilities on a bulls-eye board, and finally, entered into a small classroom. It didn’t seem like the classroom was in use for years- chairs and tables were scattered unceremoniously all over like two drunk cowboys had just had a brawl in here.

The man sat on the edge of the teacher’s table whilst the Recruits just stood in the middle of the room nervously.

After a moment, he smiled and said, “At ease lads. Grab some seats”

The tension in the air immediately evaporated, shining relief into the classroom. The Recruits sat on chairs (if they were not broken) and tables. Leo and James relaxed their butts on two clean tables. When, finally, everyone was seated and quiet, did the man speak again.

“You are the freshest Guardians of this fine city. Very soon, some of you might actually become Commanders and Army Trainers…hey, you could even become Macrophages.”

There was some hidden discomfort and uneasy eagerness at the mention of this positon.It was like everyone wanted to be a Macrophage but didn’t want the guy standing by them to know in fear of embarrassing themselves. James figured Macrophagism(THAT’S NOT A WORD, KIDS,) might be a rather high ranked position.

“ It’s possible,” Commander Josh said, also noticing the uneasiness. “If you put all your effort in it. That means tireless training and fearless risks! But today, however, we’re not gonna do any training. You all are either tired or a little scared or simply not ready, but tomorrow, we will start vigorous training with me as your personal trainer. So brush up on all your fighting moves, your shooting accuracy, and your un- ebbing bravery. We will meet in this same classroom tomorrow at six o’clock sharp.”

James couldn’t help but think, sheesh, that early?

“Class dismissed,” everyone almost run out of the room before Commander Josh could change his mind. When it was left with only James and Leo to get out of the room, they heard the man shout James’ name. “Come over here, Winter, got something to tell you. Now you run along, Star, Winter will be there in just a mo’.”

It took Leo almost a minute to realize Commander Josh meant him by ‘Star’. He nodded dumbly and walked out of the room.

“James Winter,” Commander Josh said James name with enormous satisfaction, like James was some giant burger. “I saw you shoot back in the exam hall, mister, there is a tinted glass around the ceiling of that hall where Commanders can spy on new Recruits, and I’ve got to say, you have got style and skill.

‘Uhh, thanks,’ James said casually.

‘What I’m trying to say is, if you do very well and pass all the training tests here, you could be promoted to maybe a Commander or phagocyte or whatever. Bottom line is, in these times, we need Guardians like you more than ever.’

James thought for a moment. Something Commander Josh had said had been tugging him. ‘In what times, sir?’

Commander Josh did not answer the question but switched to another topic entirely. ‘Oh, and give your friend, Star the message, too. Don’t know why I sent him away. Anyway, I’ll see you tomorrow Mr. Winter. We’ll be having both intellectual and combat training lessons.’

James nodded and said, ‘Yes, sir’ and turned to leave at a measured pace, wondering if he should have saluted as well. He would probably get lessons and tips from Seli. She’d be bursting with knowledge by now.

Rognard picked them up at exactly five o’clock pm; apparently that was the time of closure for Leukocytes in the Brain. Seli, however, was in the car already and, James was happy to see, she had piled books in all sorts of sizes on her lap, so that only her head greeted to he and James when they got into the vessel.

‘So, how was your day?’ Rognard asked as soon as the car begun to drive out of the Brain’s broad gates. He seemed to be unusually, uncharacteristedly cheery. James darkly wondered why.

‘Oh, you know, we didn’t do any tedious work. Just took the test, which we passed as Guardians, and were told to come back tomorrow at six sharp.’

‘I see,’ Rognard said a little absent mindedly, like he was really not listening to Leo.

‘So, who was your new leading trainer?’ he asked as he broke into a highway.

‘Oh, Miss Dome,’ Leo answered again.

‘What?!’ Rognard spluttered. Then he swerved the car so suddenly and abruptly that James and Leo were thrown off and crashed into the car door, whilst Seli’s books toppled over and smacked James in the neck, knocked Leo in the head.

James had opened his mouth to say something when another driver honked behind them and yelled something James couldn’t here but was sure it voiced his thoughts pretty well.

‘Umm, sorry,’ Rognard said as he descended the highway and rolled onto the flat road. ‘So, Miss Dome how is she?’ he asked again quietly.

‘She’s fine,’ James answered since Leo refused to answer anymore. ‘She’s leaning on a crutch but she seems okay.’

Rognard nodded. ‘I see. Miss Dome. Real stubborn.’

Chapter Five: Tests and Intruders.

Miss Dome sat in the middle of a dank, smelly room that had only one light source, which was a small bulb hanging from the ceiling directly above her, shining on her alone. She was captured from her house and brought to this place, bounded in ropes all around her, including her legs and her mouth, which had been sealed by a duct tape. So it was really uncomfortable. She twisted and writhed in the chair she was bound to, frequently making soft moaning sounds.

A few seconds later, she heard several footsteps thud on the semi-wet floor, and fell silent. Then, suddenly, a dark shape loomed in front of her. Even in the dark, she could see the Germ was smiling that evil smile.

‘I’m not afraid you!’ she shrieked shrilly. ‘Any of you filthy Germs. You hear me? I did what I must.’

The Germs around her laughed like tigers. Then the one in front of her said ‘Of course you’re not afraid of me, Miss Dome,’ the voice sounded very cold and dry. ‘But I know who you’ll be afraid of.’

Then the Germ stepped aside, and forth came another dark figure, and as soon as the light beam fell on his face, Miss Dome begun to cry. She sobbed and wept disgustingly, suddenly falling on her knees with her chair. ‘Oh, Singar, forgive me. I-I tried b-but he was surrounded. There was no opening. Please.’

‘I see,’ the voice said. ‘But now I know you’re lying. You made no effort whatsoever to do the job.’

‘No!’ Miss Dome yelled, digging her nose into her sleeve and rubbing phlegm in it. ‘W-why do you want to kill him, anyway? He’s just a-‘

‘Your loyalties have wavered, Miss Dome,’ Singar said sharply. ‘I no longer require your services.’

Miss Dome yelled some more, to the pleasure of the surrounding Bacteria. ‘No! Please. Give me a last chance!’

‘That was your last chance.’

‘One more!’ the poor woman wept.

‘Pathetic,’ Singar said with distaste. ‘Rozin, Kill her,’ he said as he turned away and vanished into the darkness.

The previous Germ reshuffled into Singar’s spot again. ‘Still not afraid of me, hm?’

And it wasn’t a minute before a bullet penetrated Miss Dome’s skull.

Agents swarmed the whole place. Helicopters zoomed in and out of the woods and scanned the area from the air, some were perched at the plateau they were said to have been, but they were not found anywhere. The agents were working very hard, but Jerry doubted if they would find anything.

He heard twigs and leaves crack and crunch as someone approached him from behind. Michel come and stood beside him, with his arms at his back.

‘Look, Jerry. Maybe they’re not missing at all. Maybe they just fancied a ride through town, exploring the land.’

Jerry glanced at Michel through his glasses. ‘Michel, they’re missing, and you know it.’

‘But-‘

‘I cannot find a single trace or wave of the energy signatures on the Transformat, which I’m sue they have taken. It’s just missing, popped out of existence.’

Michel listened to jerry, well, actually, his accent. It was rather charming and lovely. A mixture of British and Spanish, maybe. Then something clicked into his head.

‘You cannot find what?!’ he bellowed.

Jerry smiled apologetically. ‘Oh, I’m sorry. Seems I have not filled you in that particular detail.’

‘Jerry!’ Michel explained. He looked rather livid and angry. His tone changed completely. ‘I have warned you, Lucy has warned you- that you shouldn’t give the thing to the boy. It will open him into a very dangerous world. One that he is not yet ready to face.’

‘Now I promised his father-‘

Jerry interrupted. ‘That you would protect him. I know. I did, too. And I will. But trust me, he is fit for the Transformat and we would find him.’

Michel calmed down a little. ‘And you can’t find its signatures?’

‘Unfortunately and curiously. Unless he has not taken the Transformat.’

Michel breathed something unintelligible and walked away in long, angry strides.

A helicopter landed in front of Jerry and an agent stepped out and showed him the empty Transformat case.

Then the boy had taken the Transformat after all. He was probably working on his first adventure with it.

But he knew, he knew it as soon as that ball of light had come to his office that night.

James walked with Leo through the corridors of the Cerebrum quietly. He was scared in earnest, not only because he was a new comer, but because he hadn’t studied anything at all and their first lesson was an intellectual class.

Seli had given him some books to read, saying James and Leo didn’t want to go into their classes and just stare like dumb cows when a teacher asked them questions. Unfortunately, that was exactly how James was going to disgrace himself. Not that he hadn’t bothered to read the books, but as soon as he went to his room and lay on his bed, he’d slept.

Leo pushed the door of the classroom open and they stepped inside, James slowly. The classroom was already packed with about twenty students; each looked up with curious faces when Leo and James entered.

James slowly walked through the aisle to the last but one desk, where Leo also sat by him. Cornie smiled brightly at him a few seats away.

‘Ok,’ the female teacher declared in front of the classroom, picking up a blue marker, tossing it in the air, catching it and quickly sketching a few names on the small white board.

‘Today, we’re going to learn the names of a few Leukocyte positions and their functions. Now, who can give me one type of a Leukocyte?’ she looked around the room with her marker poised to ask somebody.

Cornie lifted an eager hand into the air. The teacher looked around for some seconds and seeing nobody, called her. ‘Yes, you?’

‘Well, there’s the Neutrophilis, who are our first line of defence before the other Guardians come,’ Cornie said.

‘Yes, well done,’ the teacher said and wrote Basophilis on the board.

‘Next?’ she turned around.

Cornie, raised her hand again, this time followed by a white haired boy who had a long nose. The boy was called.

‘The Lymphocytes,’ he said tentatively, ‘Who create weapons for the destruction of Germs.’

‘Good.’ The teacher said, and she mentioned a lot of names like the Monocytes and Eosophils.

For a moment, or an hour, James didn’t really see where the discussion was going until he felt Leo nudge him quickly and painfully. ‘Ow, what?’ he frowned, rubbing his ribs. Leo just nodded to the direction of the teacher.

‘Hello?’ the teacher chided. ‘I’m talking to you, boy.’

James got to his feet shakingly, his chair making unnecessary scraping noise behind him. For a minute, he stood there dumbly as he did not hear the question. The student stared. The teacher tutted, then she rolled her eyes.

‘I said,’ she began. ‘What was the name of the crisis that has greatly led to the shortage of Guardians in the Inside?’

The what?!

‘Umm, I-I don’t really know,’ James stammered.

The teacher shook her head. ‘Are you sure you’re supposed to be in this class?’ she asked.

James nodded. ‘Yes, ma’am.’

‘Then you should know, that Guardians do their very best to protect the Inside. They are always on top of their game, ready to save the world. As is our motto, “The Daring To Protect” so you are getting double homework boy, for not answering a question so easy as this.’

James nodded and sat down. The thought; dumb Cow, unrolled itself in his head.

‘It was called the 1956 Axar Crisis,’ another boy said.

‘Aww,’ James groaned quietly. ‘Did you know?’ he asked Leo.

‘Well, yeah,’ Leo whispered. ‘It’s on like the front, back and foreword page of every textbook here, including the ones Seli gave us. Didn’t you read it at all?’

James didn’t answer and didn’t speak again throughout the class. After about forty five minutes later, an alarm that sounded like a gigantic whales cry reverberated thrice in the classroom to mark snack time.

James was the first to get out of the class, closely followed by Leo. First day in Guardian school and he was having one blooper of a time.

‘Hey, James, don’t feel bad.’ Leo said. ‘I heard teachers are paid to humiliate their students like that. But did you not read the book Seli gave you?’

‘I dozed off,’ James said with finality as a group of girls in his class passed by and laughed quietly at him.

They didn’t have time to grab some snacks before another Guardian came to call them into the other classroom. Actually, it wasn’t a classroom; it was the back of the Brain, outside, a huge field with the greenest of grass that smelt so lovely, stretched into about four acres, and James couldn’t even see the end of it.

All around James, the cells breathed in the fresh smell of the grass, making deep inhalations and hollow exhalations.

‘Alright. Enough sniffing. Gather around, let’s do what we do best,’ the voice came from a yard away, belonging to Commander Josh. The students all ran to his side. In rows behind him were shooting target boards extending to about four feet tall, with colors painted in circles on their faces. The outer color was painted blue, the color in its circle, green, and yellow, and as a small dot, red in the middle.

‘Good morning, young Guardians,’ Commander Josh greeted. He looked very strict from when he and James had had a little chit chat. I heard teachers are paid to do that. James dismissed the thought, smiling a little.

‘Today, we’ll be practicing our shooting accuracy. As you should know, guns are a Guardian’s finest weapons… not that we don’t use our fists when things get tough. Ok. Now I want everyone to grab a gun,’ he pointed to a small crate beside him which was piling with black, long guns. Everyone quickly scrambled to the crate and hustled for a gun. After a few minutes of waggling fingers in the crate, they all had their fingers around black small weapons.

‘Now stand in front a target board, ten yards away. There’s a red line there to tell you.’

Soon, all of them, including James, were standing behind an oily red paint. Since they were twenty seven and there were only fifteen practice boards, eleven of them had to sit down on benches under a wooden shade.

Commander Josh stood in the center of those who were ready to shoot. He held his hand gun in front of him and directed it to one target board.

‘Now. When you see Guardians holding guns and shooting the nonsense out of some Germs, you might think, wow, so cool, and so easy. Well, it’s not. Before they learn how to hold a hand gun, they train and practice shooting every time. I know some Guardians who were sacked because they couldn’t carry a decent gun.

‘Hold the gun around the handle with only three of your fingers that is your middle finger, your little finger and your ring finger, keeping your thumb and index finger on both sides of the gun, away from the trigger. You rest your finger on the trigger only when you’re about to shoot. Now cup your other hand over your dominant hand around the handle and grip the gun tightly, until you really feel the gun’s handle in your palm. Then relax your hand only very slightly.’

He paused for a moment and looked around at the class. Students were sweating uncontrollably, their guns shaking dangerously in their palms.

‘Keep your thumb well away from the hammer, boy.’ Commander Josh suddenly burst out on a pale boy. ‘Trust me, if that thing clicks on your finger, you won’t hold a spoon for weeks. And stop jerking like a sissy.’

He dropped his gun stance and strode across the field to the boy and placed two firm hands around the boy’s waist. ‘Keep calm. Relax your grip on the gun. Just so you can channel your power through it. And keep your stance. Your left foot should be slightly placed in front of your right, with your knees just a tad bent.’

The boy closed his eyes and relaxed the grip on his gun and corrected his stance.

Commander Josh nodded. ‘That’s it. Feel your energy flowing from your legs to the gun, not from your gun to your legs. Good. Now breathe calmly and keep your gun aligned horizontally. Thaat’s it.’

He turned to the rest of the class, by that time which the boy had ceased to jerk hysterically, holding his gun like it was a two second timed bomb.

‘And who told all of you to drop your stances? Quick! Before I mistake someone!’

Everyone shuffled into the correct stance, copying what Commander Josh had shown the boy. Commander Josh walked around each of them, breathing down their necks. He stopped by James for a second or so and pushed his hand slightly upwards and made him flex his shoulders a little. Without a word, he moved on.

‘To aim accurately, you must perfectly align the front sight to the rear sight, or as some Guardians call it, the target hoop. Aim the hoops at the red point of the target board. You might find it quite helpful with one eye closed.’ Commander Josh brusquely stopped talking and stood being the line of a thin girl, pointing his gun at the target board. When he shot and the sound of the bullet echoing around the field, his gun had hit the red dot, slightly to the left.

‘I’ll start from the last end over there. When I come to you, give it your best shot. Until then, just keep on practicing focusing.’

James stared at the bulls eye point through the target hoops. Every two to three minutes, he would hear Commander Josh distinctly bellow Fire! And someone would shoot a resounding bullet, most of them missing the point so incredibly. Some of them managed to scrape a yellow, green or even a red but were knocked back by sheer force and crashed into the ground.

It seemed like it was no time at all before Commander Josh suddenly materialized in front of James. ‘Give me your best, Recruit Winter,’ he said firmly. James swallowed and rested his index finger on the trigger, but he wasn’t alone.

The Transformat suddenly burned his wrist brutally like hot oil, and he was doing his best not to cry out and drop the gun. He had disgraced himself in intellectual class. He was not going to do same here. Then suddenly, as if by command, the heat flowed through his veins and steeled his arms and fingers tightly. Then it travelled to his eyes, and he it was as if his eyes were made to focus on the red dot.

He could all of a sudden see every conspicuous move in the air, every hidden object no human was to spot so vividly and sharply. From the slightly overgrown grass to the small thumping pulses on each and every of his fellow mates. He could even see a housefly slowly perch on a boy’s gun two yards away. It would suffer a shock of it’s life if the boy clicked the trigger.

It was a scary feeling, but he somehow knew he was supposed to have that feeling.

When he clicked the trigger, the bullet made an unmistakable beeline for the bulls eye point and pierced it right in the middle.

For a few seconds, Commander Josh just stared at the red dot, now a gaping hole. Then he regained his posture, put his hands behind his back and said with indifference, ‘Good work,’

But in the slightest moment of a second, James saw the cell give him a small wink.

The shooting lesson went on like that till Ben Diva mistakenly put his thumb in the way of the slide when he shot and received an intense, agonizing pain. Commander Josh dismissed the class and took him to the nurse.

‘I told you painstakingly not to put your thumb in the way of the slide didn’t I?’

After that they went for lunch in the Cafeteria, which took James and Leo about forty five minutes to find. Apparently, the Brain was not only huge, but consisted of many corridors and twists and curves, almost like a maze, which made it hard to find your way from anything to anything if you were a newcomer.

But, after a bit of getting lost and ending up in the Neuron Distress Message department, they were now safely gulping down what tasted like orange juice that was actually part oxygen whilst eating something that looked like a cross of a doughnut and a sandwich.

Cornie was sitting with them, next to James, chattering away plenty whilst James only half- listened, but he couldn’t say the nay or oui for Leo. Then, her friend called her to sit with them for a discussion. She only went half heartedly.

‘What a cell,’ Leo said, watching Cornie go.

James nodded.

‘Hm. I wonder what Seli must be doing right now. Training, you think?’ Leo said again as he took a large bite from the snack.

‘Don’t know. Look, Leo. I reckon, or rather, I know something isn’t right with Rognard. You gotta believe me.’

Leo breathed heavily and set the juice on the table. He looked like suddenly tired and bored. A look he and his sister always gave James when he mentioned this topic.

‘James. I- I understand it’s because of the greave and anger of losing your cousin that’s why you don’t really fancy Rognard. But you must understand that he’s a good guy. Why would he want to-‘

‘He tried to take my Transformat last time. But, somehow, it burnt him and woke me up.’

Leo groaned quietly. ‘James, I-‘

Cornie interrupted them. ‘Leonardo, we’ve got a phagocyte meeting now. Commander Josh said James shouldn’t come, though, dunno why.’

Leo jumped up from his seat. ‘Be right back, James.’

‘We won’t be long,’ Cornie smiled at James.

It took two minutes before James realized why he was still seated and not following his friends.

‘Wait a minute. Why shouldn’t I come?’ but Leo and Cornie were long gone.

So he took to walking along the halls and corridors of the Brain, hoping he would get lost, then he would have an adventure trying to get out of the maze.

He had just passed the City monitoring Department when he bumped into someone big and solid.

‘Oh, sorry.’ He aid absent mindedly, before he looked up and saw the serious face of Commander Josh staring into him.

‘Oh, James! Great. You just saved me two trips. Now I have only one. Can you take this to my office?’

He handed James a big brown envelope sealed with the Brain’s symbol.

‘Sure,’ James said as he took it.

‘Thanks. Just climb the stairs behind me and head left. You’ll see my name on one of the doors. I’ll Be back in a mo’.’

He hurried down the corridor James had just come from and disappeared. James sighed and climbed the brown stairs.

He turned left and headed through a marble corridor, stopping at a door labeled, Commander Josh Office; Commander of the Brain’s Guardian Army, Head of Trainers,mr.

He turned the knob and stepped into Commander Josh’s office. The room looked like a domain of a very busy man, or cell.

On a broad desk, papers and documents and paper clips were thrown about clumsily and pens settled on them, as if waiting to be finished. James settled the brown envelope carefully on the table.

It looked very official, very important. Some news worth hearing. Temptation was overcoming him to slip his hand under the seal and just spy the topic of the sheet inside.

After a few minutes, he ignored the thought. It must be some adolescent ‘Kick-ins’.

He turned to the maps posted all over the wall, so that little of it was left. There were maps of the Heart, of the Brain, of the Liver, and of the whole of Nemo city. Stuff he was thought in class.

His eyes scanned the maps with interest until they rested on a black hole at the right bottom of the Heart. He frowned. The place wasn’t named, nor was it sensibly drawn. It was directly at the bottom of the last elevator in the Heart’s Main Hall, The Atrium.

The door opened behind him and he turned to see Commander Josh walk into the room.

‘Mind my mess,’ he said, closing the door with a snap. ‘It’s been a very busy week. Deaths and robbery and sights of Singar everywhere. That guy needs to be caught.’

‘Um, who exactly is Singar, Sir?’

‘I told you, it’s Josh when we’re alone,’ Commander Josh warned. ‘Anyway, Singar is a new risen Germ in Nemo city. Ever since his arrival, the city has been turned upside down. He’s like a shadow, vanishing as soon as any Guardian gets closer. He doesn’t bother to clean up after himself, though, and we’ve never gotten any footage of him.”

Commander Gosh held up the brown envelope. ‘See this envelope here? I’ve been asked to read it carefully and look for clues and evidences. Miss Dome, remember her? She has been killed days ago, and now we find her body in a subway station in the Spine. She has a bullet through her head. And it’s probably Singar’s doing. He controls like, all the Bacteria in Nemo city, and rumor has it that he’s operating in other cities, too.’

He threw the paper down on the table with frustration. Now, James had an idea of how Commander Josh’s papers lay scattered on his desk.

‘And, Josh, why wasn’t I allowed to go to training with the others?’

‘Well,’ the cell started, sitting on the edge of his desk, just a free spot from scattered papers. ‘You see, in times of crisis like these, we need as much skilled Guardians as possible, and you, boy, are very talented. When you shot yesterday, you hit a perfect bulls- eye, which I wasn’t able to do for weeks. So, I’ve promoted you to the More Advanced Levels, MALS.’

‘That’s where we do the real stuff. That’s where we go into fights and rescue people,’

He paused, as if expecting some reaction from James.

James smiled. ‘Awesome and Commander Josh laughed. ‘Just the sort of attitude I want in you boy!’

‘Would Leo be in, too?’

‘We’re testing him further, but I think he will. And, I must tell you, there will be a test coming up next two weeks. A general test that will go through everything about being a true Guardian. Pass that, James, and you’ll be rewarded.’

There was some silence for a moment, which James created deliberately so that he could ask his next question without sounding pushy or like a talkative.

‘What is that black spot doing there?’ he asked, pointing to the map of the Heart’s Atrium. ‘It doesn’t seem like it’s a real thing. Just like some spilled ink or something.

Commander Josh surveyed James for sometime. Then he seemed to come upon a decision. ‘It’s not only the Leukocytes that protect Nemo City, you know.’

‘What do you mean-‘

The telephone rang, and Commander Josh picked it up.

James pointed to the door and whispered, ‘I’ll be leaving.’

Commander Josh gave him a thumbs-up to show that he had understood.

James walked back to the stairs.

The offer did sound awesome. Saving people and beating bad Germs, just like some hero.

He would pass that test.

The rest of the days until the test were fun, if not tedious. But James strived to pass each session and learn everything about being a true Guardian. Each morning, Rognard had dropped them after dropping Seli at the Heart at five o’clock and picked them up at six thirty, also after picking Seli up at the Heart.

In training, first, the trainees were set up for shooting and combat practice. They were like the first tests they had performed, but a little more advanced. For the shooting practice, they set up a dozen fake flying birds for each student with red dots hidden at different places, like on the beaks, under the wings on the foot, and so on.

Then, those bulls eye boards appeared again, only, this time, the red dots kept vanishing and reappearing at different places`. Then the ground suddenly became dark and they were told to cross the grounds in stealth, avoiding the robots and switch on the lights at the other side, without the robots spotting them.

And James topped the whole class, each time.

At the end of the semester, the whole class was in awe of James. He couldn’t blame them, though, they had been training for their whole lives and this new kid just flicks his arm and BAM! He’s topped the whole class.

And at the end of each class, Commander Josh was smiling down upon James like a great sun.

Leo was also admitted into the MALS, so was Cornie and a bunch of other Recruits. Leo was doing pretty well in his Lymphocytes class, where they were basically like war engineers of the Inside. They made weapons and machines like ammo tanks, grenades and bombs, war planes or Distribution planes for the Erythrocytes to supply the whole City with oxygen. So far, Leo was the top Lymphocytes in his class, too and he had already designed a digital 3-D model of the next Generation battle suits for the Inside. He was a celeb in the Anti-body Department.

Cornie however, worked in the Guardian class with James.

Then the day of the test fell upon them like the sky.

The mood in the waiting room that morning was deadly. There was silence everywhere; everyone had shut up, locking their selves in the suspense of the test.

They hadn’t been briefed yet about what the test was going to be like. But every one hour or so, Commander Josh or one of his other colleagues will come into the waiting room and mention out a name from a list.

Cornie was called after a few minutes.

A few others followed, and then Leo was gone.

After a whole 8 hours or so, James was the only one in the room, so when a Guardian came into the room, he didn’t wait for his name to be called. He got up quickly and headed the Training Field.

The ‘sun’ was shining dully outside. Leo and the rest of the class were sitting on benches at the far side of the Field. Leo and Cornie waved, and James half waved back before Commander Josh pushed him in front of a closed door.

A Guardian handed him a gun and a dagger and explained the rules to him.

‘Here’s how it goes. As soon as you enter through the door, you will be challenge and faced with a lot of tough challenges. If you are able to beat the challenges without getting shot at, which will render you asleep, and score a lot of points regardless of how low your time was compared to the others, you’ve won. Good luck.’

Commander Josh nodded at him. James nodded back and turned to the door. He opened it and stepped inside.

As soon as he closed the door and turned, the whole place became exceedingly dark. He slid the dagger beside his jeans and held his gun ready. He waited for a minute for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. Then he took two steps forward.

Suddenly, he could hear scraping of metal and weird, sing-song voices. Then he saw red dots like eyes hovering around the vast room.

Right. He thought. He had to find the switch. And, usually, it was at the far side of the room fixed to a wall.

He crouched down and walked slowly behind what he thought was a pillar. Then he moved slowly to another one. On the way, his foot hit a metal object, making a loud clang, and a pair of red eyes stared in his direction.

He was already behind a pillar before that. He poked his head quickly around the pillar to see if it was safe to move. The robot was no longer staring. He made his way steadily until he saw a white light on a wall. He lightened up and stretched his arm to turn on the switch. It felt like a metallic face, and no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t find the switch. Then he felt the thing speak, vibrating his hand.

‘What the-‘he cried and yanked his arm away. It was a robot.

The robot brought its gun up to shoot James, but James caught the movement. He hit the gun away with his elbow and shot the robot through the head.

The other robots heard the commotion, and, as one, raised their guns up to shoot James. James dived out of the way as about a hundred bullets hit the wall. He saw a beam of light as a door opened. The white eyed robot was the switch!

He got up, running with all his might, and threw himself into the other room. It closed as he landed on the floor. Bullets clanked to it and made bulges in the metallic door.

‘Not today, guys.’ James shouted as he got up, panting. He looked away from the door to his new surroundings. He was on top of four sets of staircases and a tablet lay on a chair in front of him. He picked the tablet up.

Save the hostage and kill the robots,

James looked over the bar rail to the room below.

A ridiculous dummy was tied to a chair as two robots paced up and down the room, with dangerous looking stun guns in their arms James wondered why this was even a challenge. All he had to do was kill the robots right?

No. now he saw the true nature of the challenge. If he killed one robot, the other would immediately kill the hostage. He had to think of a way to kill them both at the same time. He had a sudden idea.

He picked up the chair and threw it with all his might at the first robot. The chair’s leg broke the robot’s head and it spun off, revealing cackling, torn wires. The other robot had just raised his gun to shoot when James emptied a bullet into its skull. It froze for a second and fell rigid to the floor. James hurried downstairs as he heard a door hiss open. He entered through the door and it shut behind him.

Lined up in front of him were rows and rows of robots, standing in front of red big cylinders that looked like petrol cans. As soon as they saw James, they opened fire and James had to dive behind small wall that looked like it had deliberately been set there, to evade the bullets.

He popped his head out and shot a robot, then another, and another, but the living metal just kept on coming, quickly replacing the ones that just fell. He popped his head out again to look at the surroundings. He was looking at tons of angry, armed robots, but was that all?

A Guardian had to look past what he saw sometimes. That was what Commander Josh had said once in class.

“Look beyond what your panic and first instincts will allow you. Relax yourself and be creative, and you will find salvation.”

He focused, shrinking behind the pillar and back again as a bullet came whizzing right above his nose. He sneaked a look at the spacious room again and calmed himself, taking measured breaths.

Bingo. There the answer lay, in thousands of petrol cans behind the robots. Just one shot and they would all be history, but, including James, too. Then his eyes fell on the water, and everything was decided for him. He breathed in and out and counted one to ten then he leaped out of his hiding place and shot one, determined bullet at a petrol can at the very back. Before the explosion erupted, sending sharp shrapnel and flames and robot parts everywhere, James had dived into the pool.

Millions of petrol cans and robots were blown sky high, and all James could feel was a little rippling and violence in the water from the vibrations. Occasionally, a piece of a robot’s head or arm or leg would fall in the water and cool down from the heat, sending bubbles to the surface of the water.

As he could feel his oxygen running low, he found himself allowing small amounts of water to enter his nostrils. He quickly swam to the surface of the water and drew in air, which made him recoil immediately as all he could smell was dangerous smoke and dust.

Feeling pleased with himself, James climbed out of the pool and dragged himself through yet another door. On his left, red boxing gloves hang on a rack for him to pick up. Then, straight forward, a robot walked towards him. But the robot soon made a funny noise and suddenly jerked to a stop, bending down a little.

Then a buff man stepped from behind the robot and waved a tangle of wires in different colours at James, smirking despicably.

James doubled over. “Are you part of the test?’ he asked the man skeptically.

“Oh, no. not at all,” he said. “But my master wants you very much. And I prefer to at least knock you out before sneaking you to him- coz I figure you won’t come quietly, eh?’

He advanced slowly towards James, rubbing his knuckles on him palm.

“Get away from me,” James shouted. “Help! Somebody hel-“

A fist crashed his mouth and blood rushed into his mouth. He swallowed it. Staggering a little, he regained position and stood erect, folding his fingers into a punch.

“That’s it, boyo’,” the man said, circling James like he was some prey, ready to be devoured quite easily.

James rushed toward s the man, throwing a fist at him, but the man dodged it pathetically, laughing, and crashed his foot on James’ chest. James was knocked off his feet, slamming his back into the wall behind him.

He suddenly felt a bit dizzy. In classes, they had been trained to fight hand-to-hand a few of the time, but not close to as much as they had been trained to carry and use a gun. So James thought he was going to die there and then, in the hands of this violence thirsty cell.

The cell slapped him with an elbow and James felt his jaws harden. Something rang in his ears. Whose phone was ringing? Wait, that was him dying.

The man held James’s neck and propped his head up just as the latter was about to slide unto the floor, weakness making his legs buckle over.

The cell raised a final blow, ready to give James the final punch. Still smiling that insane smile, he was just about to bring the fist crashing down when James slipped his dagger out of his back, only remembering it a second almost too late, and stabbed the cell’s knee. Colourles blood gushed out like a small fountain, and the man cried out in pain and let go off James neck, falling unto the ground with a manly scream.

James felt disgusted, even though cells didn’t have real, blood, the scene of his knife in the poor fellow’s knee was still gory to him.

He hung back for a few seconds. “Who sent you? And why? Answer me!” he yelled at the man.

The cell just looked up at James with filthy contempt and said, “Damn you.”

He reached for his knee and pulled the knife out of his wound, wanting to strike James with it, but when he and looked up, there was no boy.

Now he had to make a tough decision; he could either make a run for it and never tell or contact the master or he could face the music and maybe he’d be pardoned- otherwise they would kill him.

James emerged out of the last door, looking tired and winded out. He made sure he sucked the blood from his lips before he came out.

Rognard had warned them that if the cells found out he was human he’d be killed for sure, and red blood was a sure dead sign.

As soon everybody saw him out of the Test room, there was cheering, and a burst of a megaphone.

“Out comes our last contestant, James Winter! With a point of 10 out of 10, for conquering all levels with success, he is in tie with Ben Diva! But, with his time being two minutes shorter than our dear Diva’s, Ben takes the lead and wins the Test!”

There was more or less more or less cheering. Those supporting James were let down and stopped cheering and the ones vouching for Ben Diva applauded more loudly. Ben himself stood from the front bench and spread out his arms, acknowledging the cheers.

James felt the cold air tingle his skin as he thought about the injustice of all it all. Something had sabotaged his test, so it could have amounted to him being two minutes late than Ben Diva’s record.

Still, no one would believe him anyway, and the man would have passed where he did to get back in, out. A win was a win, and James wasn’t really fussed, it was just, he had let Commander Josh and his friends down…

Night had befallen them and the huge, tall lamplights were on all around the Field-like a great stadium.

James was still making his slow, steady progress to his friends when suddenly, the megaphone burst with the voice again. “Wait a minute, folks, something’s up…”

Suddenly, Guardians in black from head to toe swarmed around him, seizing him by the arms and pulling him from side to side. “What the-“James stammered. “What are you doing?”

“Come with us, Winter,” one of them said in an authoritative voice.

“Hey!’ some one screamed from the crowd of Guardians. James saw Josh shove his way in front of James. “What’s going on here?” he asked, standing between James and the authoritative guy.

“We have reason to believe that this boy here is involved in a Nemo Security Threatening matter. We just saw him fight his way out of the last test with a wanted Germ,” the Guardian said.

All around the stands, people had begun to crane their necks to have a better look at James and the Guardians, whispering between themselves.

The Guardian continued. “The cameras had been sabotaged in an attempt to keep us in the dark side, but there were smaller ones that captured the whole thing.”

“Well what do you want with James here?” Josh asked and James was uplifted to see he was trying to protect him.

“He would not be hurt,” the Guardian said. “We just want to ask him a few questions.”

“Alright. Let’s go, I’m going with you.”

“That would not be necessary…”

“As his leading trainer, I have to know what goes on with him in his time of service. To make a good report…”

The forceful hands let go off James, and the others formed a secure wall around him, like someone was going to snipe him dead at any instant. Josh walked by his side swiftly.

“You should go and see if he’s still there…sir,” James said to the lead Guardian. The Guardian stared at him for about two and ordered five of his men to “Break out of rank and search the whole Brain for the wanted Germ.” The others soon resumed their bodyguard position.

Then suddenly James was being husked into an office, empty except for a single table and chair.

He was offered the chair and the Guardian stood intimidatingly in front of the table.

“My name’s Bigley Benson, Head of the Inside investigation Authority for Nemo. And I want to know if you have or have had any dealings with any of Singar’s Germs or any other Germ operation ever?”

James frowned. “No I-“

His voice trailed off, remembering the Germs who had captured Jones. He considered telling Mr. Bigly for a second, then thought better of it. It could lead to a whole lot of other questions, and eventually uncover that he and his friends were human and they would get shot-killed.

‘I didn’t quite catch that, Mr. Winter…” Bigly Benson urged strictly.

“No,” James replied, maintaining eye contact with Bigly Benson. ‘No I haven’t, met any Germs. I dunno why that one tried to do me in either.”

Bigly Benson stared into James eyes, and the latter did not drop his gaze for one tiny second. People had always told James that they couldn’t stare at his and mother’s deep black eyes for long, because it either scared or intimidated them. He hoped this guy would be put off by his eyes ,too.

It seemed to work. Bigley Benson’s eyes wavered up to Josh and he nodded curtly.

“That’s it, we’re done here,” he said and Josh escorted James out of the room, back into the crowd at the Field.

“You okay?” Josh asked. “You look like bile.”

“I’m fine,” James said. “Just tired…”

“You look like you need some of that Part Oxygen Orange Juice,”

James shook his head. “Not that stuff,” he moaned without thinking and Josh laughed. “Yeah I don’t like it neither. Heard the Kidney makes a tone of money out of it, though.”

Josh stared at James for a while. “Why?” James said.

“Are you sure you haven’t had any recent dealings with Germs?”

James considered the answer he must give to Josh. He couldn’t lie to him, now. Especially not after he had stuck to James during this short, vital moment.

So, sighing heavily, he told Josh about how Jones had been kidnapped at the Teeth.

After about five minutes, the story ended. Josh nodded thoughtfully.

“And why the heck where you in the Teeth? It’s not the most interesting place in Nemo.”

See? Questions upon questions keep piling up, leading to new discoveries that could end up leaving James and the others dead.

He didn’t want to lie anymore. In fact, he didn’t want to talk anymore. “Look, Josh, if it’s okay, I’m very tired and my, er, caretaker should be waiting outside by now. So I’d like to go.”

Josh looked like he was shot. “But, James! I could help you to look for your cousin! Just-“

‘Josh, please, another time,” James pleaded, hitting his forehead comically.

“Ok, James,” Josh said, defeated. “Have a nice night.”

He left through the entrance door, which they had just arrived at. Leo passed by James.

“James, you kay, man?” he asked and James nodded. “Well, you can fill Seli and I in the car. Rognard’s here.”

James had just made to follow Leo when a girl’s voice called him from behind.

It was Cornie. She looked balefully into James’ eyes and said, “Um, James, I was wondering, um, me and my friends are going to the Rotwika Restaurant at six this evening, you know, to hold a party about us all scraping good marks out of the test, and um…”

She looked uneasy. She didn’t look James straight in the eye. James looked at her blankly. He stopped himself from saying, “Get on with it, I’m quite tired right now.

Cornie curled her hair and licked her lips. “I was wondering if you could come with us.”

Girls were officially weird in James’s book. That was what Cornie was almost pooping over? But then again, he had never asked a girl out ever in his life. Should be a piece of cake though, he thought.

“Cool, Cornie, I’ll be there,” he said.

Cornie brightened up, so that the pole lamps seemed dimmer. “Oh, you will? Um, it’s on the U1 Highway Vein leading form the Stomach (the busiest marketplace in the whole of Nemo). Uh, ok, will see you there. So, yeah…”

Talkative Cornie was back, James needed to get out of there before she exploded with endless conversations.

He smiled a little and turned away, following a smirking Leo out of the place.

James thought about what had happened. Why would some random Germ want to kill him? He was a new guy in town, he barely new anyone. And was he going to find Jones? Then how in heavens above were they going to get out of Nemo? Back into the real, human world.

The Transformat heated, and for a second, James felt elation and inspiration from nowhere.

Chapter Six: Zichorphenax

James lay in his bed, trying to absorb something from some of the books Seli had given them.

He flipped the cover page over, which had a picture of a man on with an offensive gun in his hand as he stood dramatically on a stone, staring out into the horizon. The man was called William Axar, as inscribed on the stone below him. He seemed to have been a great Guardian, but there was nothing on him in any of Seli’s books, just quick references here and there.

James flipped it to where he left off, Chapter Six, where Seli herself had scribbled in little notes on a paper and slipped it in.

He read:

The sky and atmosphere In Nemo city is dependent on Nemo’s character, if he’s happy or feeling jubilant, the sky would be clear and sometimes sunny. If he felt angry, maybe thunderstorms or tornadoes et cetera. And sad, rain or drought or something of those sorts.

What about drunk? James thought.

The cells call this world the Inside, and the human world the Outside. … the Heart and the Brain have been like opposing allies throughout the Inside’s history, both claiming to be the best Guardian Organ there is in the world-Inside world, of course. I personally think the Heart is the Greatest Organ.

James smiled and rolled his eyes. He, Leo and Seli had argued over this multiple of times. Leo and James said that the Brain was the most powerful Organ, especially when it came to Guardians, and Seli would always resist and say the Heart was actually the best and the Brain was just like, back-up cops. Sometimes they would even call Rognard to join in, and he would always shrug and not answer. Leo had once said the Stomach was the most important Organ. Food was important.

James went back to the notes.

This feud dates back to the late…

Date. Something in James memory paused at the word date. It sounded pretty important, whatever it was. James thought hard, but nothing came. He shrugged and continued.

In 1942, deep one night…

Night. Six. Stomach. Restaurant. It all came back to him now. Cornie had said he should meet her at Rotwika Restaurant at six. James checked the wall clock in his room. It was seven thirty.

He had to show up, even if he was like an hour and thirty minutes late. He scrambled up from the bed, put on some jeans, perfumed himself briefly, put on his sneakers and virtually run out of the room.

Seli was in the sitting room writing more about Nemo City and the Inside world. She seemed to deeply understand this Inside thing very well.

James sped past her. She looked up with a curious scowl. “James,” she called. “Where’re you going?”

But James barely stopped.

“Can’t talk,” he said. “Your notes are great, by the way, you should write a book.”

And he vanished into the streets.

If he would have cared to look, he would have noticed that Rognard’s car was absent from the parking lot.

James was out of breath by the time he got to that Rotwika restaurant. He had spent almost thirty minutes trying to find the highway itself on foot after dropping off a bus. Then he found it, and spent another fifteen minutes trying to simply maneuver himself out of the broad artery.

But finally, asking help from a couple of sisters, he managed to arrive in front of the Rotwika restaurant.

He caught his reflection in the large polished window that had Rotwika’s painted on it stylishly in red.

He was okay looking, but he had forgotten to comb his hair, and the usually close-cropping hair now looked unkempt and shaggy, but it was alright.

He opened the door, which hit a bell above it and entered. Disco lights filled the whole restaurant as people, especially teenagers danced about happily.

James eyes searched from table to table very carefully for Cornie. Was she dancing, too? Or had. she already left. James couldn’t even hear himself think properly through the loud music.

Finally, after squeezing his way in between a couple of dancers, he saw Cornie sitting at the last table next to the bar, sipping a bubbly drink out of a straw in a flower shaped glass.

James grabbed a chair and sat by her and her three friends, one of them, a dark girl who looked totally bored sittng next to her, boyfriend, probably.

“Hey, Cornie,”he greeted, shouting a little loudly over the noise and said hey to the other three, too.

Cornie lightened up. “James!” she yelled, but nobody would hear in this noisy place. “You came! I thought you wouldn’t-“

“Yeah well, I got little lost,” James said.

“Hm. I should have given you specific directions to this restaurant…”

“I would hardly call it a restaurant. It’s a dance hall!”

Cornie laughed. “Anyway, this is Weiler,” she pointed to the boy beside her. “That’s Timmy over there and he lady’s Josephine.”

“Yo man!” Weiler, a tall boy with even more unkempt and shaggy hair than James, and some cute-ish freckles that changed colours with every passing of a disco light, shouted.

“I’m going to get us some drinks- today’s special- the Triton Shots, man! I’ll be back, man. Hang in there, man.”

James smiled a little at all his ‘man talk’ as he disappeared into a group of dancers and vanished.

“It’s only like this in the night, you know,” Cornie said. “In the daytime it’s usually almost a classic restaurant.”

The girl and boy beside opposite her chatted away happily now. Then the girl turned to him and said, “Aren’t you the James Winter that fought a Germ all by himself?”

“Well, I did fight a Germ,” James said, “but it wasn’t anything rad.” The girl turned to the black boy and said something, after which both of them smiled. They looked back at James, as if they meant for him to hear whatever they were saying and smile, too, but he hadn’t caught it.

“They said you’re being modest,” Cornie said from beside James. “And Timmy thinks you should have won the Test competition.”

The Weiler guy came back again with two bubblier, whiter stuff. It looked like expired milk. “Drink up, man!” he urged as James took his glass. Weiler drained his glass, and licked his lips in relish. “The best you’ll ever get, man!”

James realized it shouldn’t be that bad if Weiler had drank his in a single swallow, so he upturned the stuff into his mouth, immediately spitting it back out with distaste. “What sort of muck is this?!” he bellowed. “It even smells bad.”

“Amino acid, with a hint of stabilized bile and glucose for taste,” Timmy said.

“That also means it has five percent alcohol,” Cornie added nonchalantly.

Weiler shrugged and Timmy and Josephine followed him into the dance floor to dance, with Timmy holding Josephine’s hand.

James looked around. This is the kind of place his mother would never let him go to. Too much noise and weird people and alcohol.

“Let’s get outta here, Cornie,” James said.

“You don’t want to dance?-“

“No.”

Cornie nodded and got up, following James’s lead. “Yeah. This is a stupid place, anyway,” she said, but James thought he caught a hint of disappointment.

James and Cornie felt a burst of cold air as they exited the noisy restaurant. He didn’t realize how hot the restaurant was.

Cornie led him through a route to her house when James had asked where she lived. They walked through the light night, with Cornie mostly chatting away breathlessly.

“I hope to go to the other Family Worlds, someday,” she said.

James was confused. “Family worlds?” he repeated. There was nothing like that in Seli’s notes.

“Yeah,” Cornie said. “You know like the Family of Nemo City.”

“Now James understood somewhat. Cells could travel from one person to another of the same Family. Sort of like a human travelling from one country to another of the same continent. Well, that’s what James deduced. Seli would make better sense of it.

After a few streets of walk, Cornie got tired and wrapped her arm around James.

Awkward. James thought as he hung his arm in the air, not knowing how to react with Cornie’s gesture. They walked on until, when they bent a curve, they saw the unmistakable fierce yellow hands of fire erupting out of the sky.

“What the-“James said as they run towards the flame. A house was burning rapidly in the wicked flames.

Cells stood a few safe years In front of the house, some of them crying, obviously inhabitants of the house.

One of them, a woman, was kneeling on the ground, crying her heart out as James stood by her.

“My baby!” she cried. “My poor baby!”

“Your baby is stuck in there?” James asked.

The woman seemed incapable of speech anymore. She swallowed deeply and just nodded her head.

“I’m going in,” James said. Already detaching himself from Cornie.

“What? No James!” Cornie shouted. Even the crying woman stared at James like he had gone mad.

“I will,” James said. He didn’t even know why he was doing it, but all the training and advice the Brain and commander Josh had given might have been kicking in, he felt an immediate urgency to save that baby. Wasn’t it his duty, even?

He was in the house before Cornie screamed, “But the Platelets will be here anytime!”

They won’t make it in time to save that baby, James thought.

He took a deep breath as he rushed into the burnt up doorway. Heat hit him from all sides as he run deeper into what might have been a sitting room. Black, ashened foams lay in huge lumps from what was once a couch.

A baby cried in the distance, maybe upstairs, and James rushed up the stairs. A gush of flame burst from the wall beside him, nearly impaling him had he not dived out of the way just in the nick of time.

He finally arrived at a half burnt door, and the baby’s cries seemed to be emanating from this room. He looked around and finally found a tall drawer in the hall way, and he threw a lamp off of it, yanked the draw up and crashed it at the door.

Flames roared as the door crumbled into ashes and sparks. He rushed into it and spotted a baby lying in the round circle of fire on the bed sheet. The fire was closing in, almost reaching the baby’s toes, wrapped in a blanket.

James walked towards the baby and was just about to pick him up when a huge lump f the ceiling suddenly fell inwards and crashed into him. He shouted, making the baby whinge even more.

The force knocked him backwards. He fell with a crash on his back. He thought nothing had happened to him, he was not on fire, but suddenly his wrist burst into flames.

“AARgh,” he shouted immediately scrambling to his feet and banging the fire on his sleeve with his hand. It didn’t work. The fire licked his wrist a little.

He yelped and banged his hand on his trousers, and the fire was snuffed out. He looked up, something was wrong. The baby wasn’t crying anymore.

A huge lump of fire was crowded on the spot just where the baby was.

“No. no. no. no,” he cried, digging the wood for the baby. She was dead, or he. He had failed, and he baby was burnt alive.

In frustration, James yanked a plank of unburnt (is that a word?) wood and discovered the baby hidden under it, yelling his\her tiny lungs out. The wood had probably fallen on her and shielded her from the fire. Thank goodness!

James grabbed her and run downstairs. A great hand of fire burst from the floor and consumed the whole room just as he left it with the baby.

He reached down stairs quickly, jumping off a lump off flames on the last step. He reached for the doorway; he could see the people staring at the house. He was almost there.

A little bit more…

He was just at the doorway, he could have made it. But suddenly, fire filled it, and he recoiled with the baby. Kneeling on the floor and arching his back on her, so that she would be shielded from the flames. He could tell it was a ‘she’ because she was in a baby shirt that said, Mommy and Daddy love you Girl!’

Maybe she would survive…

Fire converged around them, and James closed his eyes. He was going to die. The baby had stopped crying. Instead, she stared at James with a curious look, like she was thinking, “Why come in here if I’m still gonna die?

A heat wave crashed into James. Then suddenly, a foamy white substance burst into the room and extinguished all the fire, making ‘pffst’ sounds. Like when you put a burning match in water. Some of the stuff forced itself into James’ mouth and nostrils.

Hands suddenly wrapped themselves around James arm, and he was pulled up onto the ground.

Several men in white shirt jackets with: Nemo Platelet Department- strapped on their chests were standing in front of him. One of them hit him on the back.

“You done well, mate,” he said in a British accent. Cells had British accents? “But you gotta get ou’. Part of the building is still on fire. We’ll take it from ere.”

James nodded and walked towards the baby’s mother. She jumped up in great joy and received he baby from James’ hands. Her husband came to her and smiled greatly at his daughter and wife.

The mother beamed at James. Tears were still making their path across her face. “ Thank you, boy.” She said. Who are you, anyway?” she said.

“I’m James,” James replied. “And I’m a Guardian.” Man! It felt cool to say that.

“Yo, boys!” they heard a voice shout in the air. Bring in more fibrinogen!”

A tube erupted from the huge fire truck and burst with the white fibrinogen stuff. More fire was snuffed out immediately, though the house would not be livable for the moment, as the fibirinogen stuff hardened and dried itself thickly like glue.

“Good work, James!” Cornie said beside James. He smiled.

Being a Guardian was fun, James thought. He would not have thought that after what had happened the next day.

It was dark when Rozin entered the room. It had been a very busy day. He had to make preparations for the event that was to happen that same night. He had to position Germs well around the site for breaking in and provide them with the appropriate weapons, all without any Guardian Seeing. It was tough, but he had done it.

Singar was standing in the room. A Germ lay almost lifeless at his feet. It was the Germ he had sent to kill that James Winter in the Test the recruits had in the Brain. He had failed, but he had come back.

And, in Rozin’s opinion, that was stupid. Everybody knew Singar never forgave. If he sent you, you had to do it and do it good, or you would suffer the consequences. Maybe this guy thought he was so special. There was certainly nothing special about him now.

And to cap it all, instead of just knocking the boy out, he had chose to go a few rounds with the boy instead of just bringing him in. Mental.

Rozin approached Singar fearlessly. He had always been known as the only Germ who did not fear Singar.

“Singar?” he said. The Germ seemed not to hear him. “Excuse me, Singar?”

Singar kicked the Germ and looked around at Rozin.” Ah, Rozin, what is it?”

“I have finished with my work, Singar. We prepare for infiltration tonight.”

“Good, Rozin.”

“And Singar? I’ve just got feed that the Guardians’ ordered shipment will be here in less than Twenty- four hours.”

This news, Singar was wholly interested in. he ignored the helpless Germ completely, and paced up and down, stroking his chin thoughtfully.

Rozin watched his movement calmly with his cold eyes. Then he abruptly stopped in front of Rozin.

“Screw it up.”

The next day, they had been relieved of all classes because most of them had passed their examinations successfully. Ben Diva was appointed Captain of the Recruit Guardians, despite angry protests about how James would have made it were it not to be the Germ, who had escaped without a trace.

And they said that James had shown more capability as a Guardian than Diva, but whoever was the boss of the Brain, his mind couldn’t be changed. A few other people had been promoted to more or less important ranks, even Leo had been made head of the Recruit Lymphocytes, but most of them didn’t receive any attention. James was one of them, but he didn’t mind. In fact, the whole thing was way past his mind.

When they arrived in the morning after Seli explaining to him that fibrinogen was like a fire extinguisher that repaired body tissues and stuff, like the human’s own firemen. She said she had a pretty busy day going on in the Heart so she like to leave them dweebs in the Brain and start going.

James wondered what kind of busy day it was. He felt himself wishing to go visit the Heart one day.

James and his friends just practiced their shooting and a little combat moves and roamed around the Brain, discovering new stuff like the Number one library in the whole of Nemo, located right in the Brain itself, and then Commander Josh had asked them to help him sort some files in order.

It was in the late evening, around six, before they finished. The files had contained mostly information on Singar’s dead or severely injured victims. They tried t look fro clues as to where he might be or his next plans, but he cleaned up after himself every time, killing the victims at completely random places and never leaving even a fingerprint.

“How do killers live with themselves?” Leo said as he whistled at the heaping files of Singar’s dead victims only.

“I know,” James exhaled, looking at his own pile. “That Germ needs to be caught.”

“He will be,” Commander Josh said in front of James across his table. They were in his office.

“But I think you boys should get going now, don’t wanna keep you up all night.”

They nodded and handed Commander Josh the files, then said goodnight and left the room.

“I wonder why Rognard isn’t here,” Leo said. James didn’t answer. He didn’t want to answer any question about Rognard with Leo and Seli. He would just say something about not trusting him and they would ignore him completely and make him feel like the bad guy.

But it was quite peculiar. Rognard was here around five sharp everyday. Guess there’s a first time for everything, eh?

They met Cornie on the stairs leading to the bottom floor and hastily waved her goodbye. But she wasn’t in the mood for talking. She said he grandfather wanted her to pick up some things in the Stomach for him, so she left quite quickly.

James and Leo had just made up their mind to call Seli’s Neuron number in the Heart. That’s like phone number to you. And phones were called Neurons. James dialled the number when there was a commotion suddenly behind them.

They turned and saw Commander Josh running breathlessly down the stairs, jumping about five stairs at a time. Finally, shoving two angry cells out of the way, he reached James and Leo, resting his hands on his knees, breathing heavily. Muttering something like, “I’m so glad I found you. Oh thank Heavens. We need every man we can get.”

James exchanged looks with Leo. Finally, Josh straightened up and said. “Well, what are you waiting for? Come on! Follow me. Quick!”

Without explaining further, he ran back up on the stairs like he didn’t almost faint whilst running. James and Leo followed him, trying to keep up with his pace. They stopped in front of a room called Preparation Room. As it said on top of its door.

“Preparing for what?” James asked.

Commander Josh looked at James for a moment. “James, Star,” he said. “We’re going into a real fight,” and he shoved them inside, not coming in himself.

The room was filed with several Guardians, all of them suiting themselves with some white leather jackets with black at the front. A Guardian showed James and Leo to a pair of lockers, to also wear the white thick clothes.

In about five minutes, James and Leo and almost all of the people in the room had their bulletproof jackets and thick trousers with wellington boots on. Though a cell next to them told them that the jackets didn’t protect them completely from being shot. It just reduced the pain or effect of the bullets against their raw skins. James twisted the badge on his chest up so he could see what was written on it. It had he Brain’s symbol imprinted on it, and under the flaming jets of fire were the words: Nemo City Brain Guardian. And written under that, in much smaller words were: The Daring to Protect.

Next, to James’ half fright and half astonishment, they were handed real guns, well, Inside world guns, but thy looked a lot like real humans guns. They one in James hand was black, about thirty centimetres in length. He suddenly realized the severity of the situation. They were going to attack real Germs. This was not a drill.

A second Commander ordered them to follow him out of the room. They marched in two straight lines, clutching their guns in their arms. On the way, several cells who met them created way for them to pass and saluted them. The Commander led them outside into the cold night. It was probably around eight, the latest James and Leo had stayed in the Brain. Nemo must be asleep.

Several black mini vans that looked like SWAT trucks were stood in the compound, also with the Brain’s symbol painted at the sides. The back doors off the trucks were opened wide to allow the Guardians in.

Josh was standing n front of a truck, also suited in the Guardian vests. He was talking ti someone as the Commander led James and the others towards him.

Now James could see the figure well. It looked like a robot. A very shiny robot. Half of its body, dissecting from the middle of the head, was red, and the other half was black. He looked at them with blue, blank eyes, and seemed to jerk his head downwards for a nod of greeting.

“This,” Commander Josh said. “Is Zichorophenax. He is a Medicine sent from the Outside, he’s gonna help us in our mission…” and hen he explained the whole mission to them.

Germs had infiltrated ht Liver, probably sent by Singar, and they had captured many hostages and killed many Basophilis, who were like the first cops to attack Germs, the patrol cops. The Germs were to be stopped, before they find some nuclear weapons or something and blasted all cells to dust or destroyed the Liver and make Nemo city collapse.

“Before we go,” Commander Josh said, looking around. “I need an assistant Commander to myself. The post is kind of open now. Now let’s see…”

Everyone looked at Ben Diva, who smirked and pretended to be shy. Then a boy beside him, who must’ve been his friend, said. “Perhaps Ben Diva, Sir.”

Commander Josh nodded. “Perhaps. Or not… James Winter, you are my assistant commander. It took James a moment to realize he was the one chosen. He blinked dumbly as he whole squad looked at him. “Uhh, thanks, sir.”

“You are all to obey him if there’s no one else of higher authority in charge, alright?”

“Yes sir!” the whole team chorused. James felt shot. But the look on Ben Diva’s face was not entertaining at all. He looked like he would murder James at any given chance.

They packed themselves into the two trucks and immediately, it bounded across the Brain’s compound and vanished into the empty streets.

The truck stopped abruptly in beside a tall wall and its Guardian passengers jerked forwards. Commander Josh and the other one, Commander Fufi, silently ordered them out of the truck. The drivers remained in the trucks, though. Commander Josh, clutching a long gun that looked like an M-16, brought his hands sharply down, and they, having been taught about signal commands in training, crouched down low.

In the distance, James could see the Liver domed high ceiling rise out of the horizon. They were probably trekking this far from it so that the Germs don’t hear them coming.

Walking along the walls in he shadows, they approached the Liver warily, everyone looking for signs of Germs around. Guns were ready. Guts were being hardened. Commander Josh, who was in front leading them, suddenly brought a hand up towards them, and they stopped abruptly.

He poked his head out of the wall and peeked into the compound. The Liver’s main gate was badly crashed open. Half of the gate was merely hanging in its hinges. A slight breathe of air and it would have fallen.

There seemed to be no one there. Commander Josh turned his head towards the team and whispered. “Ok. Team Shield, led by follow Leonardo’s lead and secure the perimeter make sure no nosy journalist or citizen gets in, and kill any Gem trying to escape. Don’t let anyone in or out, understand?!”

“Yes Sir!” Leo, captain of his team, said with his team. And they ran across the grounds in the Liver, quickly disappearing behind the building. “Now, Zichorophenax, lead Team Black to the West Wing of the Liver, I’ll lead my Team Arrow to the East Wing to intercept the Germs from both sides and trap them. We meet back here when we’re done. In case of trouble, call us, alright?”

Zichorophenax nodded slowly and Josh took one sweeping look at James and led his team toward the East Entrance, crouching down, with his gun at the ready.”

Zichorophenax led his team, which included James and Ben Diva, towards the West Wing. He walked across the grounds quite calmly, like they had been ordered to get doughnuts. Maybe Medicines weren’t fearful, James thought.

There were signs of fire in this pat of the Liver, actually, the main Liver Organ itself was quite unscathed, but the building beside it, which James recognized as the Distribution Centre was blackened with flames that had burnt out maybe some thirty minutes ago. The buildings now looked like an old fashioned, decaying house. Zichorophenax still walked with some vim to who knows where.

The air was thick with smoke and fire, making the night even darker than it was supposed to be.

There had obviously been feats of violenc e in these parts. Several Guardians lay lifeless on blackened ground as pus oozed out of them. Some of them were even drying up. That must be how cells died- they dried up in a matter of minutes-

Silence fuelled the fear in James. Why was the place silent? Germs weren’t silent. He could hear shots that turned into popping noises with the distance. Either Commander Josh’s team or Leo’s team had encountered some Germs.

Suddenly, a loud shot was heard from close by, and the team stopped in alarm. Zichorophenax kept on walking though, and a bullet bounced of his shiny armour. Immediately, a hail of more bullets exploded on them, most ricocheting off Zichorophenax skin.

The team scattered, everybody diving for cover. James dived behind a bombed up but otherwise solid car. He heard bullets make ‘chink’ noises as they hit the rusted metal of the car.

Zichorophenax didn’t dive for cover. He stood on the same spot and suddenly raised his hand. A hatch opened on his wrist and let loose a rain of round bullets. Open contact with the Germs, who were at the distribution Centre, shooting through the windows, the round balls exploded with powerful fury of fire. It knocked half of the building down. Half of the building just crumbled away.

James thought he wouldn’t have to do anything- which would have been boring- he thought Zichorophenax would take care of everything. The battle would soon be over. And that might have been what the Germs thought, too, because they were relaxed hiding in their covers.

Then some Germs appeared out of nowhere behind Zichorophenax and strangled him. One wrapped his arms tightly around the Medicine’s neck. The second grabbed his legs and the last one held his arms, and together, they dragged him into the darkness. Dang! James thought.

He breathed in and out, and then calmed himself down, jus like he had been taught to shoot.

Then that feeling overwhelmed him again. His body suddenly acted without permission. Some kind of stimulant or power, seemed to flow from his watch to all parts of his body, and he stood up.

He could suddenly see everything in bright, 3-D. Every spot and everything around him. He could actually zoom in into the Germs- and he didn’t know how he was doing it.

He targeted a Germ standing near a window and shot. The bullet hit the Germ right where he wanted to.: right in the neck. The Germ collapsed into the room. The other Germs shot at him. He saw the bullets in slow motion. He was able to dodge them like water balloons. But they were too much, and he dived behind the car again.

The other Guardians had joined in the fight, too. They exchanged bullets with the other Germ army. Ne of them was shot in the head. He seemed to freeze where he stood, before he collapsed into the ground. His face was turned to James, so he saw the ‘O’ hole in his forehead as pus emptied out of it.

James looked away and jumped up. Someone threw a grenade to him from beside him, and he threw it immediately into one of the rooms. The Germ who was standing there didn’t know what to do. He widened his eyes and swallowed, then started climbing the window. But James’s grenade threw him fifty feet in the air as he had crossed his left leg over the window.

The force of his explosion was all that was needed for building to completely fall apart. James hoped it wasn’t an Organ vital to Nemo’s health. Several of the Germs were buried in the rubble.

James relaxed and tried to control his harsh, rugged breathing, and waited for someone to issue orders. And when no one did, he frowned, and then suddenly remembered he was just appointed Assistant Commander an hour ago. If Zichorophenax was not here, it meant he was in charge.

He looked around him. Yep. The other Guardians were waiting for his command. He got up, scanning the place. There was a glass entrance about a few ten yards from where they stood. He motioned for his Team to follow him, and they did, only Ben Diva showed any signs of reluctance, contempt, even.

He must be jealous, James thought. Now that he properly thought about it, Assistant Commander was probably a position higher than any of them got.

He halted at the turn to the entrance and peeked inside, just like Commander Josh had done. Through the glass, sliding doors he could see some people on their knees whilst others trained their guns on them.

Commander Josh was among one of them, the ones on their knees. A tall Germ trained a gun to his head. James scanned the lace fro Leo, but he wasn’t there.

“What’s wrong?” one of the Guardians named Piper asked. “We’re supposed to go in there!”

“Yes,” James said. “But look!”

He pointed Piper in the direction of the Guardian hostages. Piper poked his head around James and widened his eyes. The others looked, too.

“What do we do?” Piper asked James. Again, James was shocked at why they were asking him. Back in school, his teacher would have never put him in charge like this. But, surprisingly, he had an idea. Maybe they should give him a chance in school.

He quickly whispered his plan to the others.

The close door slid open slowly; the Germs heard it and turned. The one with the gun on Commander Josh’s head quickly spun around and pointed the gun at James. “It’s okay,” James said, raising his hands up in surrender. “I’m unarmed.”

The Germs gave him sceptical looks. The Germ in front of Josh lowered his gun a little. “Well come over ere’!” he said.

James walked very, very slowly towards him, and then he gave Commander Josh the tiniest of winks.

Josh quickly understood like it was a mental discussion. He got up and smacked the Germ’s chin in a strong uppercut. The Germ was lifted off is feet, his gun flying in the air. Josh caught it and shot the other Germ.

The rest of them became alert, they all raised their guns at Josh, ready to shoot, but then the James’s team’s Guardians, who had slipped inside when James had come and hid behind one of the pillars suddenly sprung out and Piper threw James gun at him, and in unison, they shot and killed all of the Germs.

Commander Josh ruffled James’s hair. “Splendid! Boy!” he said, and James saw Ben Diva look away in disgust.

“Now let’s move out boys!” he screamed, and they were all about to move away when a voice suddenly screamed, “Not yet!” Dozens of Germs suddenly charged and them and released hails shots. The Guardians did not expect it. Several of them fell like flies. Someone threw a smoke bomb near Commander Josh’s feet, but the person hadn’t banged the hard shell hard enough and it stayed passive like stone.

Commander Josh, James and the others answered with their own bullets, butt the enemy was winning. “Retreat!” Commander Josh shouted, and the Guardians needed no telling. They all run in the opposite direction, where they would find the front door.

Behind James, there was a sudden scream and a shot as someone shot a gun. He quickly spun around, and almost ended his life. A bullet had suddenly appeared from Ben Diva’s gun, heading for James’ face, but a Germ had also crept behind Ben Diva stabbed him in the back with his knife, producing a slicing sound that meant the stab must’ve been very painful. Poor Ben tumbled to the ground.

James, surprisingly, had seen all this in a split second. He just stood there dumbly as the bullet soared straight for his forehead. Some instinct was telling him to dive out of the way, and something told him he could do it, because he was seeing the bullet in a kind of slow motion, but panic got hold of him and rooted him to the spot.

Suddenly, someone bulky and solid run into him and shoved him into the ground with a scream. “Noo!”

James cleared the spots in his eyes and looked at the person who had pushed him. It was Commander Josh, and it seemed that he had saved James from a shot. James immediately stood up and emptied a bullet into the Germ’s head, wondering why in the Inside he had done this for Ben Diva, as the latter had tried to kill him.

He looked down at Comander Josh again. Why was he still on the ground? Was he-? James dismissed fearful thought.

He knelt down beside Commander Josh and looked into the man’s eyes. There was pain in them. He scanned his body and spotted a wound in the mans left chest, puss(the colorless blood all cells and Germs had, meandering out of it.

He pressed his palms to the wound, trying to stench it. But there was no point. Josh was going, probably already seeing the light.

Josh raised his hand and caressed James’ cheek. He smiled. “You are a great boy. Never give up hope,” he said slowly, like every word spoken was an excruciating effort. “And… tell-them Commander Josh told you….. in case….”

And Commander Josh’s eyes remained opened and lifeless until James closed it shut with two fingers. Tears welled in his eyes. More shots nearly missed him, and he awoke to his senses.

He spotted the failed attempt of a smoke bomb on the floor and picked it up. He crashed it to the floor with all his might he could muster.

Immediately, white smoke hissed out of and clouded the whole place. It was difficult to even see the Germs anymore, which meant the Germs couldn’t see him also.

He grabbed the body of Commander Josh and swung it onto his shoulder, then he turned and began running with all his might.

The Germs shot blind-fully at the James, and, though they didn’t know it, most of the bullets almost made it. He continued to run, not stopping or even glance back at a single instant.

He thought he had almost made it to the front door, though he couldn’t see it well in the smoke, he heard voices coming from somewhere ahead of him.

Commander Josh’s limp body slowed him down greatly.

He was running when he abruptly bumped into something heavy, metallic and awfully strong. He collision plus Josh’s weight bearing down n him made him fall backwards unto the ground, Josh’s body was thrown into the air and landed with such a crash, which was gonna leave a mark, even for a dead body.

James shook his head and looked up. Only a pair of scary red eyes stared into him from above. The smoke and darkness shifted a little and he saw the figure properly. It was Zichorophenax.

James was glad to see him. But wasn’t his eyes blue a few hours ago? Did Medicines’ eye colour change gradually over time, or was there something deeply wrong with him? Heck, what did he know about Medicine in the Inside world, in any world.

Zichorophenax held out the red half of his metallic arm silently to James. James frowned, looking from Zichorophenax to his hand.

“What?” he asked sceptically.

“Give him to me,” Zichorophenax ordered in a sing song robotic, deeply hoarse voice. “Give him to me.” He repeated and James gave a start. Zichorophenax had never spoken since he had seen him.

“Why?” James asked, getting to his feet and carrying Josh over his shoulder. “He’s dead. You can’t do anything for him now.”

“Just give him to me, now,” Zichorophenax insisted.

James hesitated, but then handed Josh’s body over. Maybe, someway, somehow, Zichorophenax had he ability to revive to resurrect Josh.

Zichorophenax closed a single hand only around Josh’s torso. James watched what he was going to do, then, right in front of James’s eyes, Zichorophenax tossed the body far away into he fog of smoke. James couldn’t see the body again.

“Hey,” James protested, what did you do that for?! What’s gotten into-“

Zichorophenax’s hand suddenly clutched his neck and raised him up steadily. James couldn’t breathe or talk anyway. He felt his face swell with blood as it trafficked around the metallic hand.

James squirmed and twisted in the strong hand, but Zichorophenax was trying to squeeze the life out of him, increasing his pressure every second or so.

James choked and tried to inhale air as Zichorophenax said, “James Winter.”

How did he know his name? “… you are a-“

James didn’t let him finish. He smacked his elbow against the Medicine’s rather hard face. The metal monster released James and staggered. James was glad Medicines felt pain. Or did they?

James tried to run around Phenax, but a hand suddenly held his collar back and threw him into the smoke, very hard. James didn’t know where he was flying to or what he was going to hit, he was just gathering speed when suddenly he hit a door.

The impact was so strong the door neatly off its door frame, making James skid all the way to into the room. His back ached madly: he had already had three crashes on it just a few minutes ago altogether.

He stood up and straightened himself. He heard a loud crack in his back as he did so. He was right. Something was deeply wrong with Phenax.

The Medicine came flying into the room, with the help of some small rocket boosters that were affixed to his underfoot and his back. He landed in front of James and stared at him curiously like a curious dog… almost mindlessly.

He didn’t do anything for moments, so James struck out a fist and crashed it against Phenax’s hard face again. Phenax staggered backwards a little. James thought he had broken his knuckles. He rubbed them, just as Phenax’s fist thwacked his navel. He moaned and felt himself thrown into the air, landing with a loud crash on a table behind him.

The table broke into two equal halves. Phenax sent two mini sized missiles flying at James, but the latter grabbed one half of the broken table and smacked the rockets away. They exploded in the wall and sent a portrait spiralling away out of the room.

James leaped about three feet in the air forwards and brought the table crashing down on Phenax’s head. The robot crashed into the wall behind him and sent cracks in the wall. When he got out of the wall, there was a big hole where he had just been.

Phenax hastily sent three rockets straight barrelling, whizzing through the air for James head.

James table had broken into pieces after crashing it on the robot’s hard head. But his Transformat did that thing to him again. He saw missiles coming to him in slow mo’ and he was able to dodge them.

He leaped gracefully over the first one, and it hit a wooden drawer and drowned it in flames instantaneously. He ducked the second one and somersaulted over the third one, but that one had a table flying in it’s wake.

James didn’t see it in time, and even if he did wouldn’t have reacted to it in time. It crashed into him, sending him through a hole in the wall the third missile had made into another room.

He fell to the floor, on his face this time- not that it was any prettier- his body ached from head to toe. He rolled over on his back and looked at the room. It was filled with several thousands of some glass vials which contained green murky frothy stuff arranged in shelves all around the room. As he was looking, the whole room shook, probably from another one of Phenax’s missiles. One of the vials tumbled and fell down unto the floor shattering immediately.

The Transformat suddenly burnt James wrist, like some kind of warning. James yelped. It had never shown this much sizzling hot burning before. He clutched his hand and even tried to blow cool air on it, but it wouldn’t stop. It was almost like it was trying to tell him something.

Another missile flew into the room and fell in the green liquid, and it burst into flames immediately. James guessed it was highly inflammable. And it couldn’t be bile, it was too thick. Commander Josh had shown them samples of stuff in the Inside, and bile was one of them, so James knew a little about its appearance.

More of the vials shattered and spilled their contents into the room, so that the whole room was full of flames introducing a blazing heat into the room, making James sweat instantly. Phenax walked calmly and slowly as ever into the room. He stood in the doorway and stared at James, who pretended not to have seen him.

“Phew!” he said, deliberately loudly enough for Phenax to hear. “I am so glad that that Medicine is out of missiles. Because that would have totally ended me…”

Phenax stood in the doorway and smiled as best as a mind controlled Medicine could. It ended up like a wide crack in glass. James pretended to have only seen him as Phenax raised his hand towards James. A small hatch opened on his wrist again, and he shot.

James sprung into action, getting to his feet. The missile barely left the Medicine’s wrist when he grabbed a vial and threw it. It crashed with the missile just inches from Phenax’s gun.

For a moment, the missile and the vial seemed to freeze in the air, mating with each other.

“Sucker,” James said, just as the missile and the green stuff let out an ear shocking explosion. James turned to run, but the explosion knocked him backwards. He slammed into a wall, face first.

Then the explosion affected the other vials, and a more ear splitting explosion erupted. The wall James was stuck to explode into dust, and James was suddenly thrown forwards outside. That room must’ve the last before the Liver’s compound.

James fell unto the hard ground of the Liver. He rolled over and stared into the smoky sky as a shower of debris rained on him and made him cough.

The head of Zichorophenax landed near him, smoking like barbeque. The hard, red eyes cooled down and became nothing but dark, lifeless, empty sockets.

James heard shots from somewhere close to him, but he couldn’t get up. After a moment, just lying there and waiting for what would happen Leo’s face suddenly obscured his vision.

They picked James up, wrapping his arm over his head to support him. “You Ok?” Leo asked. James looked at him. He himself was sporting an ugly red angry bruise on the side of his head, just above his eyebrow.

“Yeah. Yeah,” he said. “You don’t look too good either.”

Leo smiled. “Thanks. Now c’mon, a driver’s here to take us home. The fight’s over, we won. A lot of thanks to you, though. Knocked off half of Nemo’s Liver, you did. But you took out many of the Germs.”

“Hey, Nithel!” a Commander’s voice suddenly boomed across the ground. Fro a split second James thought it was Commander Josh’s voice. Then he put his head down in realization and disappointment, remembering what had happened to Commander Josh. “Help Stardom carry James to the ambulance!”

A handsome, unscathed boy run over to Leo and James and wrapped James’s other hand over his shoulder. James resisted the temptation to sleep whilst these two carried him. They walked across the grounds quite slowly, because James’s weight bore down upon them.

But they reached the gate, which had lost its colour to turn a nasty brown like the bombed car James had dived behind for cover. The whole place was quiet. The only sources of sound were the millions of sirens diffusing from all around them, growing louder as they approached closer. The press, the Platelets, and other Guardians were probably the ones coming.

Over head, helicopters whirred and circled he place like hawks waiting fro prey.

Outside, millions of ambulances were filled with dead or dying or injured Guardians that needed attention, like James, but it was not, to these ambulances that James went to but a black saloon car parked a little far off.

Rognard opened the car the back door for them to put James in, looking at James with a filthy strange expression, full of contempt.

Leo and Nithel slipped James into he seat, with Nithel objecting angrily. “But, the Commander said we should put him into the ambulance!” He cried. Leo patted his back. “Don’t worry,” He said. “He’s not that hurt.”

And he jumped into the front seat. Rognard immediately sped away, quite willingly, like the Liver had been cursed.

T he blood screeched to a stop right in front of Rognard’s porch. Its headlights died out- darkness had fallen upon hem only thirty minutes before. Leo and Rognard got down from the car first and tried to help James out, but James slapped their hands away.

“I can walk, “he said weakly. No need to fuss over him. He wasn’t dying. He made it to the front door like a boneless zombie.

Seli immediately jumped up from her sofa at the sight of James, her papers flying from her lap slowly to the floor. She came around the seats and clenched James’ face in her hands.

“Are you alright?” she asked softly, looking into James eyes with those bright blue adorable eyes of hers. James thought looking into his eyes was unbearable, but he couldn’t look into Seli’s so close.

He pushed her gently aside. “I’m fine,” he said, already making his way up the stairs to his room. “Just need some rest…”

He dragged himself into the room and locked the door, after, making his way lazily into the bathroom, which he also locked, though he didn’t know why. Nobody could pass through his front door, lest enter the bathroom. He just wasn’t thinking straight. His body was as weak as burning chewing gum( \ever tried that?)

He relaxed himself into the calm, warm water, which instantly pierced his sores, due to the salt content in it, but after a brief moment, it stopped. He found himself thinking about how the cells n his own body were coping, then he remembered Commander Josh .

He was dead. And what were those last words supposed to mean?

“You are a great boy. Never give up hope. And tell them Josh told you…. Just in case.”

Tell who Josh told him what now? And how the monster did Zichorophenax turn from mute, good medicine to hateful red eyed evil?

As James relaxed in the tub, wondering if he could muster enough strength to get out of it, he couldn’t help thinking with a sudden pang.

This fight… was far from over.

Chapter Seven: Behind the Masks.

Singar sat in his room, wearing matching blue pyjamas. He rested his elbow on his desk, clenching his fists so painfully. He wished James Winter’s neck was in them.

James Winter. The name tasted like rotten egg liquid in his mouth. The little boy had managed to ruin everything. Why not kill him like that! But no, he needed him. That boy was his insurance, his ticket out of here.

But he was going to die, anyway. They were all going to die.

In a fury of explosion. Tomorrow.

Bang.

BANG.

James didn’t realize he had climbed out of the bathroom into his bed, but he had. He didn’t even remember it.

There was a department in the Brain’s Cerebellum that monitored the human- Nemo- and watched him for any signs of danger. In situations like putting a finger in fire or stepping on a nail, the cells even found a way to control him, anything to get away from the danger or destruction of the Inside. It was quite a fascinating department, but the head Leukocyte had shooed James and Leo out of the room after they had shouted “AWESOME!” when the Leukocytes had pulled Nemo’s arm away from an electrical circuit that was electrocuting him as he was fixing it.

Apparently, shouting in that room would echo in Nemo’s head and make him think the word., and there was nothing awesome about 50 volts of power running down your spine. The Leukocytes in that room never spoke about their job. Nobody apart from specifically hired and trusted and really quiet Leukocytes was allowed to enter that room. No one else knew about the room. James and Leo finding it was just as a result of adventurous nosing around.

Anyway, James was wondering if his cells had controlled him into bed. Suddenly, he wondered if someone had carried him out of the bathroom, but that was impossible, both doors had been locked yester night.

James wondered how they knew, or what aspect of the battle they were judging on. He shrugged inwardly. Somewhere downstairs, he heard clanking of utensils. Leo and Seli must be up already. What time was it anyway?

Bang. Oh. That was what woke him up. Someone was knocking on the door.

He sat up slowly, expecting to feel pain shooting through his veins at any moment. But none of that came. Actually, he was feeling quite healthy and energetic. Eating breakfast would top the whole show.

He unlocked the door and saw Seli standing there, looking as pretty as ever. Suddenly, he was self-conscious about himself. He tended to look like a zombie when he woke up. Why couldn’t Seli have come after not before he had bathed? She was in an auburn top with blue jeans(the girl loved jeans)

“Oh, you’re awake,” she said.

“Yeah, just now,” James replied.

“Well, um, a representative from the Brain came here earlier and said you and Leo had the day off. He also said to congratulate you two.

“Oh? Thanks.” That was a major relief. James absolutely did not want to go to work. Or go to anywhere for that matter.

“And breakfast is ready downstairs, so you could get your lazy butt there.” Seli said more strictly.

James smiled. “Yes, mum.”

He showered, dressed and went downstairs .

He met Leo first, in the kitchen. He was whistling a tune James remembered from a cartoon they had both watched together, whilst shaking his butt. He poured himself a cup of chocolate stuff from the flask on the kitchen counter and spread some muffins on his small plate.

“What’s sup, bro?” he said, looking up at James with a bright smile. Maybe today was going to be a wonderful day for everybody.

“Okay.” James answered with an equal smile as he remembered how the cartoon creature had danced the same way. “Want some?” Leo asked, pointing to the flask with the drink. James said yes, and proceeded into the living room, seeking to watch some cell TV.

Seli was already in her favourite seat, looking small and tough but pretty in her blue jeans and auburn t-shirt. She was writing in a big notebook rapidly. She merely gave James a quick nod at the sight of him and continued.

“What are you writing all the time these days?” James asked as he slumped himself into a seat opposite her. “Surely it’s not Heart homework.”

Seli looked at James eagerly, like she itched to tell someone what she was doing for a long time.

“No it’s not,” She said. “I’m writing a book-“

“A book?” James repeated.

“Yeah. A book about my experiences in the Inside. It’s quite fascinanting, really-“ she looked out of breath, though she hadn’t said that much. She paused and stared at James, who was glad she wasn’t that near him like yester night. “and it’s all because of you.”

James was about to question her, but then he remembered himself telling Seli she would b a great book writer as he rushed out of the house for his date with Cornie. He had said it partly to evade her, but he had meant it also.

“Thank you, James,” Leo interrupted, handing James a cup full of chocolate drink. “Now she’s talking less, and writing more-“

“Oh shut up, Leo,” Seli chided. Leo grinned at her. Footsteps echoed on wooden stairs as Rognard climbed down with his black briefcase in his right hand. He was wearing a black shirt and trousers with highly polished shoes.

He paused n the kitchen and poured himself a cup of coffee, drinking it in one gulp, then he set it down and proceeded to the sitting room. He didn’t say good morning. He had stopped saying that weeks ago. He gave a small grunt with a tiny nod and continued walking to the front door.

“You’re going to work?” Leo asked incredulously.

“Yes,” Rognard replied after a minute. “I haven’t done anything brave to receive a leave.”

A nasty smirk at that and evil emphasis on the word brave. What was his problem?

James woudn’t look at him. He turned away in disgust and fixated his eyes on the TV screen. He must either be hallucinating or he needed glasses, because his name was written in bold white at the bottom of the screen on a blue banner.

A female reporter in a neat black coat was speaking rapidly into a microphone in front of the screen. Behind her, James could see the unmistakable semi ruins of the Liver.

Leo turned up the volume, saying, “you made it to cell TV, bro,”

Seli looked up and even Rognard paused at the door to watch.

“Last night,” the reporter was saying in a clear voice. “On the 25th of March, a devastating event occurred on the premises of the Organ, the Liver. “ Germs managed to break into the place, even with its Guardians guarding the place, and massacred everything. As to whether they were being their usual rotty self or they were looking for something, it is uncertain, but they managed to turn the place into a wreck.”

“A batch of Guardians from the Brain was sent here to take care of the problem. The battle was tough, and the Phagocytes seemed to be losing, according to witnesses. In fact, it seemed they were actually retreating from the Germs, which brings Singar in mind to be the master mind of the operation. Anyway, it was a young Phagocyte named James Winter who put an end to this apocalypse, authorities say. The Inside Investigation Authority for Nemo is yet to release the full footage on the case, as caught by the hidden cameras- some were not totally disengaged.”

“Anyway, this James Winter is said to be very brave, but he saved our lives by blowing up half of the Liver? That does not seem like a wise decision. Why not let the Germs destroy the Liver and collapse Nemo city if you’re going to blow it up yourself…”

“What!” Seli exclaimed. “That’s not fair. He didn’t blow it up!”

“The reporter’s a Germ!” Leo said.

“Juust perfect,” Rognard grunted. And what did that mean, James wanted to ask, but he wanted to finish hearing the news on him.

“ ... I think we should set our brave but ristaking James Winter’s priority straight. Oh! And that’s the name people are giving him now- the Risktaker! Genet Rebel, reporting from-“

The TV screen suddenly blackened, Leo had turned it off. “You’re a rebel, alright,” he was saying.

“Don’t mind them, James,” Seli said. That’s how reporters are; they say something good about you and then add in some spices of lies and false telling to keep the gossip trending.”

“Yeah,” Leo agreed. “You didn’t blow up that building. You just happened to be in it.”

James smiled thinly. He hadn’t told them about the fight between Zichorophenax and him. But no need to now. If the Leukocytes were going to release a footage of it, they’ just watch it from there.

“I’m off to work, then!” Rognard said with nonchalance, as if the whole thing was nonsense to him. Of course, it wouldn’t really matter to him, but James thought he saw a streak of anger on his face.

He paused and the door again, this time clutching the handle, and groped around his torso, like was trying to catch something moving around his ribs. “ I forgot my vest,” he said finally. “Nobody knows what would happen these days…” he gave James another despicable, ugly smile that James could have matched to evil Zichorophenax’s.

He left a sheet of paper in an empty chair, apparently absent minded, and strode off upstairs.

Seli, who was closest to the chair, craned her neck to read it, but it was upside down, so couldn’t really comprehend the words. She frowned at it after a few seconds and picked it up, not caring how much nosy she was being. James was shocked at her attitude. He didnt like Rognard, but Seli was crossing the privacy boundary.

Leo went to the kitchen to get another muffin. James stared at Seli. “Put it down, Seli,” he hissed, but the girl didn’t mind him.

She gasped almost suddenly, making James almost jump. Her eyes widened and her hands trembled a little.

“What-“ is that? James was about to say, but Rognard was coming back down. Seli quickly shoved the paper under her butt. James could see from the awkward way she was sitting that she didn’t rest her whole weight on it.

Rognard was now wearing his black, semi bulletproof vest. It made his torso bulge slightly larger than the rest of his body.

He frowned at the chair h had placed the sheet on. “What the heck.” He swore sharply. “I put the thing right here.

Seli pretended to be searching through her scripts, and James was watching the TV, not considering the fact that it was blank and black. His heart raced fro Seli. Why would she take Rognard’s sheet?”

Rognard searched the floor and even under the chair, then he straightened up and narrowed his eyes at James.

Great. Way to go, James thought. Seli is sitting right next to where you left the paper and instead you look at me? James stared coolly into his eyes.

After a few minutes he shrugged and looked away. “Must’ve put in the case,” he said and left without a word. Seli suddenly spring to her feet and opened the lovers a tad, so that she merely and almost barely saw through the window.

Roganrd’s car ignition sounded faintly. Then the crunching of gravels rose and died away almost immediately.

After a minute, Seli said, “He’s gone.”

“Oh no! What a tragedy,” Leo said sarcastically.

Seli ignored him and sat crossed legged, like she was meditating, beside James. She gave the paper to him as he asked what it was all about. “Read,” she said firmly.

“It’s a map of Nemo city, Seli,” James said. “I don’t understand why you stole the paper because of this. There are many in the Brain’s Library-“

Seli sighed impatiently. She tapped the bottom of the paper with her finger rapidly, as if she hoped to singe the page with it. “Read the bottom, where the signatures are…”

“Ok. Ok,” James said. “Keep your hair on!” he began to read the words out loud.

“Signature: Rognard,” he didn’t complete the name. Why should he read the foul man’s full name?

Seli slapped her face in exasperation, comically. “READ-THE-WHOLE-NAME,” she said, almost shouting.

“Fine. Rognard Lyan-“

The last name choked in James’ mouth, so Leo, who had always said he wanted to witness James and Seli have a fight, read it for him.

“Singar.”

James heart froze. He stared at the name for long, as if daring his eyes to say it was a mistake. His friends had also gone mute.

James simply didn’t understand. Why would Rognard take them in, care for them, even save them back at the Teeth, if he really was a filthy Germ? Why hadn’t he killed them? Instead, he had sent his henchman to kill James more than once.

James even guessed that Zichorophenax’s tragic change had something to do with him. He vividly remembered the way the Germs had grabbed him from behind and dragged him into the darkness. They must have drugged him or something. The irony-drugged a Medicine- classic.

There was only one answer- Singar needed something from James and his friends, and he still hadn’t got it. He was housing and rearing them like poultry, so that he could get eggs and discard them. Well, now those eggs had bombs in them.

Seli asked the same question of why Singar had kept them all this time and Leo answered the same way James would have.

“It also means one more thing,” James said, clenching his jaws. “Singar has got Jones.”

Seli gasped, realizing the prospect of the situation. She had probably forgotten that Jones was missing, or was just shocked about it.

Anyhow, James was reinvigorated with new strength, a determination for finding Jones no matter what. His kidnapper had been staring at James fro weeks now without him noticing it.

He tightened his grip on the sheet and straightened it out, now taking in really what the map contained.

Now that he looked closer, it was a sort of map of a portion of Nemo city. He noticed two lines lazily drawn from one the same source to different places. One green and the other red.

They both originated from a point marked BB in black. James assumed it to be their estate, Blazing Blossom. The green line shot from the house and crossed many roads and made many sharp turns until it stopped abruptly at a place labelled Heart.

The red one made a comparably short journey to Kidney. James stared at the two lines, and instantly, he had an idea.

“Here’s what we’ll do,” he begun. His friends looked attentively at him. “Seli, Leo, you follow the green line and make warn the Heart to look out for anything suspicious. Tell them to get ready for a Bacteria attack, at least. Alright?”

James didn’t look up to see if their friends agreed. He knew they wouldn’t like the plan, but it had to be done. Something terrible was going to happen today, and the only good guys who knew where in this room.

“Meanwhile, I’ll go to the Kidney and check what’s going on in there.”

“What?” Leo said incredulously. “You’re going there alone? No way, amigo. Singar is the most notorious Germ in The Inside, and you’re going to face him alone?”

“It won’t be dangerous,” James said. Why was he lying? It would be really Risk taking. “Besides, Singar will be more likely to go to the Heart, right?”

They didn’t answer.

“Ok,” Seli said after a few minutes. “Let’s just say we’ll allow you to go in there alone. You’re going there without any protection?”

James knew she was right. But where would they get guns?

He had barely begun thinking when an idea popped into his head and he rushed up the stairs. Leo and Seli followed him a little lately.

He walked on the aisle to Singar’s room and tried the knob. He wasn’t expecting it to be locked so he crashed into it painfully. It wouldn’t budge. But of course.

He went back a few paces and charged at the door, shoulder first. He could have testified that he heard a bone snap. The door still wouldn’t budge. He tried again and again. On the last attempt, just as Seli and Leo had found him, the door creaked.

He went for the coup de grace and brought his foot crashing down on it. It snapped into half like a piece of cardboard, accepting defeat,

Feeling sore and painful, he run into the room. Leo and Seli followed him.

“James?” He heard Seli call. “What are you looking for?”

“Guns. Armoury. Whatever we can get,” James said. If Singar was going to kill them sooner or later, he should have his tools, right?

Together, they upturned the neat, blue painted room. Drawers lay on the floor, their contents pooling around them, the beside table raised it’s legs in the air, the bed sheet was a dump, but still, they couldn’t find anything.

Leo even resorted to tapping the walls and putting his ears on them for a sign of hollowness or any concealed safe, and James checked the tiles to see if one of them housed something, to no avail.

James gave up, pacing around the room with his hands clenched. How could he save Jones without a gun? Or maybe he could borrow some from the Brain. They always collected the guns each time the Recruit Phagocytes left the Organ.

Then suddenly, he heard Seli call out from behind him. He spun around sharply, eager for any news.

Seli was in a crouching position next to the bed, and her hand was hidden under it. She pulled it back, clutching two black handguns.

“Excellent work, Seli!” James exclaimed, helping her up.

“And to think of how we massacred this place, while it was just under the bed,” Leo said, looking around the room at the mess. James was glad they had destroyed the room for nothing.

“Wait. Two guns?” Seli said. “There are three of us.”

“Ok. James will take one and Seli you take one, since I’m going with you,” Leo said wisely.

So they divided the guns, slipping them into their back pockets, and headed out of the house in search for a vessel.

The morning was clear bright, with only a few angry clouds sailing in the horizon. Nemo must be okay, then. Singar and his crooks had tried anything devastating… yet.

The Vessel Stop was a few blocks away. At any time now, the eight o’clock vessel would have collected the cells there and moved on. When they had checked the time, it was 7:54.

So they were running like the wind towards the vessel stop.

By the time, the trio had got there; beads of sweat had started to snake around James face.

He was in the lead, but his friends were speeding closely behind.

The huge red blood had started to make its way out of the blood stop. The last passenger had climbed aboard. James doubled his pace, if that was possible at his current speed.

He and his friends screamed.

“Hey! Stop! We’re here!”

“C’mon!”

A man looked out the back window and spotted them running. James thought they were saved. But instead of reporting to the driver, the man grinned and popped earpieces in his ears, turning away.

James wasn’t giving up. He put on a last effort of speed, as the bus too continued to pick up speed.

At the last moment James leaped in the air and grabbed the door handle of the bus, heaving himself into it. Seli and Leo were almost too late. It was like the road was an escalator, dragging them backwards even though they tried very hard.

Then the bus slowed down as the driver saw James on the door frame, and James was able to heave his friends into the bus, panting and heaving heavily.

Once in, the driver raised his eyebrows and chuckled happily. “Ya mus’ be in one ‘eck of an ‘urry, eh lads?” he said.

“Yeah,” James gave him a small smile in return. He and his friends walked down the aisle. The bus was packed very much this morning. James wanted to stick his tongue at the man who had ignored him back there, but there was no space, so he stood where he was, Seli and Leo in front of him.

James clutched the handles on the ceiling of the bus as it gained more speed again and swerved and jostled.

Everybody’s eyes were glued to the TV ahead of them on the dashboard of the bus. Suddenly, murmurs and whispers broke out. One man shouted. “Yo! Turn the volume up!”

The volume was turned to it’s maximum. James also turned to the TV to see what the fuss was all about.

In black, at the bottom of the small TV screen, were the words, THE RISKTAKER, sprawled across. Didn’t that Rebel reporter say something about people calling James that?

He watched a rather familiar scene, though he was not sure why it was familiar. He hardly ever watched cell TV.

The video was smoky and foggy, but he could distinctly make out the sharp outline of a bulky figure clutching a skinny boy by the neck. Then it hit him. This was the footage of him and Zichorophenax’s battle the IIA had promised to release.

There must’ve been an untouched camera somewhere. Good thing he didn’t have to watch the part where the Medicine took Commander Josh and chucked him away. Watching it in reality the first time was enough. He couldn’t relive it.

There was no sound, James realized, and then he saw small captioned words at the bottom of the risktaker banner.

Our sound detectors were broken due to the explosion; therefore you would not hear any sound feed. We’re sorry for the inconvenience.

He looked back on the screen and saw himself smack an elbow on the Medicine’s hard face. He could remember the pain he felt at that time. Virtual James Winter was thrown into the fog, and the screen froze for a moment with obtrusive lines of static.

Then the video came alive with CAM 7\21 written on the top left corner. And the action continued.

James watched himself doge and duck missiles and bullets and make a comeback of action himself a few times.

Then he was suddenly on the floor, speaking words to trick Phenax, though the cells wouldn’t hear it.

The missile met the green virus as fire circled James, and then there was an explosion of white. The screen froze again.

All around James, cells applauded loudly and whistled. Though they didn’t know James Winter was standing in the middle of them.

“And that, folks,” said a male reporter who had taken the screen now. “Is the footage of James Winter versus Zichorophenax who mysteriously went evil. The sound may be fried but…”

Seli turned to James with that bright loving smile that James found unbearable. “You were so brave,” she said softly. James smiled at her. They stared at each other for a while.

Then the driver suddenly called out. “Alrigh’ anyone goin’ to the Kidney?”

“And we need you to be brave right now, too,” Leo said, breaking James out of his reverie. He patted James back as the latter moved through to the door.

“Good luck,” they called back. James nodded and secured his gun tightly, just to make sure it was there. A group of women in long white lab coats stood up and headed for the door.

James had to act fast. Something sinister was going to happen in the Kidney, or was already happening. H couldn’t guarantee the lives of these cells. He couldn’t let them pass.

He quickly walked to the driver, who was nodding away to some music, with earpieces attached to his ear. James gently removed one of them.

“What the-“the driver began.

“Sorry,” James said quickly. “But this is urgent. Listen, you see those Kidney workers?” A nod. “They can’t be allowed to go into the Kidney. I think something bad is gonna happen there right now, and I’m on undercover to stop it. Please do not let them get out.”

The driver surveyed him. “Yeah? How do I know you are not going to do anything bad?”

James thought for a moment.

“Because I’m the Risk taker.”

The driver frowned, and then suddenly lightened like Christmas. “I knew I saw you tha’ night. But you were wearin’ the dark clothes and it was dark an’ all!”

He almost shouted, like he had seen some celebrity. He agreed not to let the Kidney workers off.

“Goodluck James Winter.”

James gave him one last smile and crossed the wide vein. The bus was gone by that time. He was now standing in front of a wide bronze gate, behind it, towered a yellow glistening Organ.

As he neared the gates, he saw a Guardian lying right in front of the gate, colorless blood oozing out of his side.

James swallowed fear and extracted his gun. Then he kicked the gates open, with his gun stretched before him.

The Transformat heated.

Seli and Leo had just stepped of the bus when the driver called them back, whispering. “Psst. I know your friend’s that James Winter dude. Practically told me ‘imself.”

He looked genuinely pleased with himself, like knowing James Winter meant being a billionaire.

“Uhh, good for you?” Leo said impatiently and pulled Seli away from the bus. The bus door hissed and drove away, with the driver waving with a huge smile.

“James has fans,” Leo said, sounding impressed.

“Yeah,” Seli agreed, though she sounded quite distant. “Well, we’ve got to hurry and warn the Heart. Germs might be here at any moment.”

They were standing in front of the magnificent Heart’s gates again, which was dubbed ‘The Ribs’. For Leo, it was his second time being here, so the glory of the Heart hit him unexpectedly.

The Ribs were broad, white barriers that protruded from the wide Gates like great metallic, skeleton wings and surrounded the looming Organ inside. It reached about five or eight meters into the sky, so that all that could be seen from of the Heart from outside would be just the apex of its roof, shining in the mid-morning sun.

It was quite unlike the Brain’s own Gates, the Skull which covered almost the entire area of the Brain some giant helmet, from the way Leo saw it. But you had to admit, the Heart was far more beautiful than the Brain, though Leo would never tell Seli that.

Two Guardians in thick white vests stood at either side of the Gates, clutching heavy looking long guns to their chests. They tensed a little when they saw Leo and Seli approach, but immediately relaxed when they recognized Seli.

“Hey, Selina,” a Guardian with red hair greeted, ignoring Leo completely.

“Hi there, Billy,” Seli replied.

The Guardian now took notice of Leo, surveying him sharply. “Is this your boyfriend?” he asked, like it was any of his business if Leo was.

“No. Actually, he’s my brother.”

The Guardian seemed to be relieved. “Oh, good, coz I didn’t want any competition.”

Seli smiled thinly. She pulled Leo through the Gates, which had a shield sprayed with glamorous gold embedded in the middle. The shield symbol broke into two when the Gates were opened by the other Guardian, like a broken heart, on either side of the Gates.

“James is in trouble…” Leo sand teasingly.

“Where he is now,” Seli said, ignoring Leo’s taunt completely. “I’d say you’re right.”

They entered the huge magnificent building that was the Heart. Before Leo entered the building, with Seli in the lead, he saw two small sized airplanes shoot out of the huge long towers on top of the building with extraordinary speed. They vanished into the horizon before you could clap.

“Those are the erythrocytes,” Seli explained. Leave it to seli to give you a lecture even in the midst of crisis. But Leo appreciated this lesson, at least. “They supply oxygen to all the cells in the Inside. The Liver gets their oxygen to make juices from the Erythrocytes. And since the Inside really needs oxygen for everything, they have to be very fast. They also collect oxygen from the Lun-

‘“Seli,” Leo said, now bored with Seli’s lecture. “We have a task at hand.”

Thankfully, Seli ceased talking. They entered the Heart’s Main Entrance, The Atrium, as a metallic sign said in the middle of the broad hall, hunging low from the tal ceiling.

This plase was busier than the Stomach. Cells walked about purposefully here and there, most clutching clipboards and documents in their armpits or to their bossoms. Another set of people stood in a long cue in front of the Reception Desk, where the woman at the desk was busy typing and writing and talking to the visitors.

The Main Entrance glass door slid slowly shut as Leo’s foot left the threshold. The floor was highly polished, Leo wondered why people weren’t slipping and falling. The wide windows that covered evry corner of the room allowed the atrium to be bathed in daylight..

The air was cold in here, probably due to the huge air conditioners that were affixed to the high ceiling, with a huge chandelier hunging in the middle. For the time being it wasnot on. The room was bright as it was.

“This here’s the Main Atrium,” Seli said with a slight air of impatience. Then she broke into a smile. “Bet you don’t have a Department as wonderful as this in the all-powerful Brain, huh?”

Leo immediately seized to marvel at the place, pretending as if the whole place was nonchalant, not attracting any significance. “Phhh, please. This place is not really a fuss…”

Seli murmured something about finding an elevator and dashed off towards one that was sandwiched between two spiral staircases, leaving Leo no choice but to sprint after her.

Bobbing and weaving between cells and Leukocytes, they were just a few steps away from the elevator as its doors started to break open, giving them a slit view of the cells inside, when Seli was stopped by a huge man.

He placed his hand on Seli’s chest, almost knocking her on to the floor, but he brought his other hand to support her back and steadied it. Leo stopped abruptly, almost skidding onto the floor.

“Whoa there, Seli!” the man barked. He had a large beefy face with bushy hairs growing under the chin and creating a forest of a moustache on his face. He had a huge curious smile on his lips.

“Didn’t I give you a leave, Seli, dear?” he asked.

Seli breathed a sigh of relief. “Oh, Mr Gorgon, I was looking for you. Well, yeah, you did give me a leave, but something’s come up. Well, something is gonna come up any moment from now-

“Yes, but introduce me to this fine young gentleman here, what do you say?” Mr Gorgon looked at Leo with curious twinkling eyes. He seemed to be a man who liked to know everything.

Seli groaned in quietly, just so that Leo was sure he was the only one who heard it. Then she began to rap words out.

“Leo, this is Mr. Gorgon-Mr Gorgon, this is Leo, my brother.”

“Ah!” Mr. Gorgon barked, stretching his hand to shake Leo’s quite vigorously. “Seli has told me mucho about you, you know, but not as much as she has talked of that James Winter boy I saw on TV today. Where is he anyway?”

Seli blushed a little, then stopped almost abruptly as if she remembered where James was and the danger he faced. “Well, that was what I wanted to tell you about-“

“Of course!” Mr. Gorgon said. Leo wondered if he was listening to anything Seli was saying. “But surely we should talk back up in my office, get something warm into our bodies, eh?”

So they went up the elevator, with Mr. Gorgon asking out of the nowhere questions like the names of their parents, what they did for a living and why the Brain controlled the Spine and not the Heart. According to him, it was unfair business.

They entered Mr. Gorgon’s small office. He poured each of them, including himself a cup of warm coffee, which they didn’t drink, and finally, offered to listen to their story.

Seli immediately took her chance and launched into a brief summarized story of the revelation of Rognard’s true identity to the marked map Seli had stolen from him, and then she ended at where James was right now.

Mr. Gorgon put his cup on the table quietly and stroked his bushy, but strangely kempt beard. For a moment, he looked wondrous, deep in thought, analyzing the situation and forming plans and making calculations. Leo thought that he looked like a scientist suddenly.

Then, instantly, Mr. Gorgon broke into a long wide laugh. He seemed unable to handle himself. “You don’t expect me to believe that, do you?”

James knocked on the glass door before him testily. “Hello?” he called. He heard his voice echo into the room. “Anybody here?”

No answer.

His heart made several thumps. The place was deserted. Did that mean everyone had been killed? Surely the Liver wouldn’t be this empty on any day. But then, where were the killers, if that was the case?

He tried the door. It was locked. Today was not a good door day for him. But luckily, this door was glass. He pounded the butt of his gun sharply against the glass. Once. Twice.

On the third time, the glass shattered and collapsed into smithereens on the bottom frame.

Looking left and right, he stepped over the pieces and entered.

The place was dark. Too dark despite the sun. He felt along the walls for the light switch, and almost passed over it when his fingers felt a lump in the wall. He flicked it on, and the light shot into his eyes and blinded him for a few seconds.

When he had regained complete sight, he realized he was in a long corridor that stretched forth and lost itself in a patch of darkness some yards away. On either side of the corridor were rooms- glass rooms. In each of the rooms he saw some scientific equipment, long tall tables with Bunsen burners fixed to them, rows of macro computers set at the side.

Millions of vials and bottles and tubes were arranged on shelves neatly with labels taped or glues to them with words James was too far to read.

He walked in the alley, his gun held at the ready. But the place seemed quiet, like no one had been here. But the dead Guardian outside had suggested otherwise.

Sooner or later, he was going to meet something.

He reached a door, peeped through the window and stopped dead. Inside the room, he saw the green murky frothy liquid he had seen when he was fighting with Zichorophenax back at the Kidney.

He wanted to know what that thing was. The Transformat didn’t like it. Already, it had started to burn warmly- a feeling James was always startled by- it was as if it was warning him of something. Telling him he was in the wrong place. Almost like a second conscience.

James decided he could take a few minutes to figure out what the thing was. He charged at the door, and almost fell inside the room. The door had been unlocked, and he hadn’t expected it.

He straightened himself and walked slowly towards the nearest shelf of the green liquid. The Transformat increased the heat on his wrist gradually. What was wrong with it? Was it broken?

His fingers were seconds away from one of the phials, and then the Transformat consumed him in a fury of heat.

The pressure on his hand could have fried a pound of iron. And yet, he was somehow surviving it. The pain shot into his head, and suddenly darkness engulfed him.

It was like he was stuck in the blind dark abyss of death, searing red and blue spots whizzed across his vision. His head pounded. It was like having a wild, terrible case of migraine. Before long, he found himself screaming.

James screamed until his throat as raw and sore. He couldn’t see anything, but the sudden cold that pressed on his knee told him he was in a kneeling position. What was happening? James’ whole body shivered, ached, burnt inside.

A vision played on his mind. He saw a man, bleeding and disoriented. He was on his back on the ground, it was night. Something about the man seemed to strike James as familiar. Then the man leaned to him with a shaky hand, tried to touch him, then everything was back into place.

James’s nightmare was suddenly over. He looked up. He was out of the room; somehow, he had managed to get out of the room. He again remembered again that cells could control the human when they needed to. That must’ve been a perfect clue for them to act. But he somehow knew that wasn’t the case.

The Transformat had controlled him, he knew it- he didn’t know how. He looked up into the room again. The green liquid was sitting innocently on the shelf. It had done something to him. The Transformat didn’t like the thing. It didn’t like it. James was referring to the Transformat like it had a mind of its own. Like it was a dog or something.

He stood up. He wasn’t hurt or tired or anything- amazingly- he was just a bit sweaty and shaken, the whole bizarreness of the whole thing eating into him.

He shook his head to clear his thoughts. Thinking about some mysterious connection between the Transformat and the liquid and even himself was going to lead him nowhere. He had to keep his head clear and ready.

Germs must be here in this building and he needed to find them and figure out what they were up to. He was suddenly angry with himself. He had wasted so much time already, whilst Nemo’s life was in danger.

Still, the Transformat had some secrets to unlock…

He reached an L corridor. One path led to his right and the other led straight ahead. He looked at his right. There was a wide metallic door situated there. It looked like a place Germs might do horrible stuff.

On the corridor that led straight, a sign on the wall said:

BILE MANUFACTURING INDUSTRY.

METABOLIC AND ATOMIC LABORATORY.

CITY WIDE FOOD DISTRIBUTION DEPARTMENT.

James’ instincts urged him strongly to follow the corridor to the right, and so he did, his heart beating in his mouth all the same. He neared the door slowly; he could hear his footsteps echo through the whole place.

The metallic door had been decorated with warning signs of all kinds. There was; SPECIAL STAFF ONLY!-VISITORS PROHIBITED-WARNING:EXPLOSIVE SUBSTANCES-DANGER! DANGER that ended with a skeleton skull with two bones forming an X under its chin.

“Danger my butt!” James said out loud, just to hear his voice-to cover up his fear. Commander Josh had once said fear was bad for a great Guardian. A Guardian should do anything without fear.

So he was going through that door.

But there was a problem. Beside the door was a small control panel that was glowing a soft green. It said: PRESS TO SCAN

Now James knew the game was up. If he put his thumb to the screen and it rejected him, an alarm will be sounded around the whole building and the James would know he was there. He might be killed. He will be killed if that happened.

For a moment, he stood there, chewing his lips in deep thought. A strong urge came over him to shoot the panel. That was what they did in movies, right? But he thought better of it, an alarm will still be blared if he did so.

Suddenly, he heard several footsteps and voices escape into his ear. He spun around.

“There’s someone there,” one of them said. The footsteps grew louder.

James looked left and right, hoping for a place to hide, but on either side of him were solid walls. There was no escape. He was trapped.

“Maybe it’s one of us…” someone said.

“Just shut up and go check—but get ready. It could be a Guardian-“

A Germ almost passed the corridor and headed straight. James wished he had, but the Germ stopped abruptly and turned around. He looked at James, who returned the look coolly.

“I-I got him!”He yelled, stretching his gun at James. James did the same.

Suddenly about six more Germs run and halted beside their partner, who looked scared for some reason. James remembered him- his name was Cane- he had been at the Mouth when James and his friends had first gotten here.

The Germs smiled nastily. “Look what we have here.” The Germ with a ponytail and long face said. “James Winter. A.K.A the Risktaker. Guess this risk was too risky for you, huh?”

The Germs snickered. James felt hatred for them. Cane, however, did not laugh. In fact, he looked as if he had been forced to do this. He kept on wiping beads of sweat from his face, and his grip on the gun shook terribly.

“Shut up,” James said. “Shut up or I’ll kill all of you.”

“I don’t think you’re in any position to kill, loser,” the ponytail man said again. James thought he looked like a rat. “You see, there are (he pretended to count his fellows) seven of us, and oh dear, one of you. Bad luck for you, huh? Now just put your gun down on the floor nicely and –“

“You know why they call me the risk taker?” James said suddenly, interrupting the Germ. He balled his fist into his pocket. “Some say I’m mad, I dunno, but I’ve got a bomb here in my pocket and it spreads up to, um, about five miles.”

The Germs looked taken aback. James was glad at the effect he created. At first he thought it was a stupid idea, but these guys were actually buying it. They looked at each other in fear, and the ponytail Germ shook his head, staring at James like he could read his mind.

“He’s lying,” he said, the others eyeing James pocket.

“Oh yeah?” James bluffed on. “Put your guns down on the floor nicely and back away- and don’t MOVE! Or we’re blown skyhigh.”

Cane had already dropped his gun. He even raised his hands in the air in surrender. A Germ next to him slapped his head. “Stupid.”

“I think you guys better copy old Cane here coz I am getting impatie-“

James felt something sharp and heavy collide with his head from behind him. He saw the Germs laugh, all except Cane, and then he saw nothing at all.

Seli was flummoxed. How on Earth did Mr. Gorgon not believe them? Suddenly she was thrice as scared for James. If Mr. Gorgon won’t believe him, James might get into serious trouble. She looked at Leo, ready to accept any suggestion from him, but her brother was suddenly angry at Mr. Gorgon. A scowl attacked his face.

“Excuse me, Mr. Gorgon,” He said. “But what part of what we said didn’t you understand?”

Mr. Gorgon stroked his beard. “Well, the part about Rognard being a Germ, no less Singar. I know Mr. Lyan, and he’s a well respected guardian. If there’s anyone who is wholly anti-Germ, it’s him-“

“Yeah. That’s what he wants you to think-“Leo flared.

“Mr. Stardom. Please calm down. It’s either this is a sick prank or you’re on a very wild goose chase.”

Leo was at the edge of his seat now, ready to scream things at Mr. Gorgon, but Seli held him back, shaking her head. The last thing they wanted now was for them to have enemies with the Guardians.

“Okay, Mr. Gorgon,” she said softly. “Where is Rognard now?”

Seli thought Mr. Gorgon looked slightly taken back. But he said, “It’s none of my business to know the whereabouts of Mr. Lyan. However, I would take your word for it and assign Guardians to protect the building, since, it’s clearly stated in the Inside Constitution that we Guardians should respond to a distress call no matter the absurdity of it all.”

There was silence, in which Mr. Gorgon took another sip of his drink, licking in lips in relish, wetting his moustache.

Seli fumbled in her pocket and extracted something- a small folded piece of paper. She unfolded it and held it out to Mr. Gorgon, who took it with a scowl.

It was the map Seli had stolen from Singar, that had led to all this.

Mr. Gorgon’s eyes scanned the paper quickly, suddenly turning into a professor. Leo thought that they had got he man, no. Surely he would change his mind after reading?

Mr. Gorgon looked up with a smile. “You made that up real good.”

And Seli could not comprehend how a cell could be so ignorant and naive.

James woke up from the darkness only because he had been slapped. Hard. The Transformat burned his wrist powerfully, but not with as much pain as it had done when he had tried to touch the virus.

Another slap. James could feel his senses coming alive slowly. The slap had been very painful. Whoever was doing it better stop.

His vision cleared, slowly. First it was a blur, then it came into sharp focus. Though there wasn’t very much to see in this place. He was in a dark room, and the only light that illuminated a wide circle around him hung low directly above his head.

Where the light stopped, darkness began. He had no hint of how big the room was or what it contained. The place smelt musty and dank. Time ticked by slowly, during which he realized he was in a kneeling position.

Someone appeared next to him, scrutinizing James’s face quickly. It was the ponytail Germ. “He’s awake!” he shouted into the darkness, then turned and smirked a no good smile at James.

“That was a rather stupid and lame bluff you played out there,” He said. They had probably searched James’s pocket and found out there was no bomb.

“Yeah?” James said, surprised his voice came out in a croak. “Guess who was stupid enough to believe it, filthy?”

Anger flashed across Ponytail’s face, and he raised his hand for one more slap, but a cool voice suddenly called out from the darkness and warned him. “That is enough, Yetu!”

Suddenly, from all around him, James could see several Germs materializing out of he darkness, each of them with despicable smiled across their faces. they surrounded James, but kept their distance, also forming wider circle around him.

Then, directly in front of him, a figure suddenly appeared out of the gloom. He walked slowly, casually, and the Germs all looked at him with respect.

It was Rognard-sorry-Singar.

James was suddenly filled with anger. He tried to free his hands to get up and give this guy serious punches. At least he would land a few blows before the other Germs defended their master. But he found he couldn’t move his hands. He looked back and discovered his hands had been bound tightly by a rope that looked so worn out and tattered you would think it had tied people up for decades, which, probably, it might have.

His legs were also tied together. He looked back at Singar, who was smiling thinly. Like James secretly amused him.

“Hello, Rognard, or should i say, Singar the filthy traitor.” James spat. For now, he had to use words as his punches.

Singar smiled. “Hello, James, or should I say, the Risk taker.”

There were scattered snickers.

“It seems you have caught up with me,” Singar admitted. “In fact, you were almost in time to interfere with my plans. I must say, I’m impressed.”

Almost. The thought made James shiver inwardly. Had Singar done something already? Was he too late? Did he just put Leo and Seli in danger?

“And here was I thinking you were stupid,” Singar interfered his thoughts.

“He is…” Yetu said, scoffing. No one laughed, and Singar gave him a hard stare. Yetu melted. He cleared his throat, said sheepishly, “Sorry-“

James couldn’t held but stick his tongue out at the Germ. Yetu’s jaws tightened with veins when he did.

Then James turned to Singar. “But why?” he asked. “Why would you save us from the Mouth in the first place- from your own people- why did you send us to your home, offer us jobs, let us live with you. What is the purpose? Why didn’t you kill us before?”

“Kill you?” Singar threw his head back and laughed. This time, his Germs didn’t copy him. They looked baffled and angry at what James had said. They probably didn’t know that Sinagr was the one who saved them from the Mouth, and kept them under his roof.

But Singar looked anything far from scared or apologetic. He kept on laughing like James was the dumbest person in the world. “I Couldnt just kill you, James. No. No. That would do no good if I’m to get out o here.”

Where was here?

“You see, I had to test you like lab rats, or rather test that weapon of yours-“Now Singar looked deadly. The Transformat burned.

James was glad it was still strapped to his wrist. If anything, it assured him that he wasn’t alone. But if Singar wanted the Transformat so badly, why didn’t he just remove it? And why did he want the Transformat so badly?

“Then why did you send some of your minions after me, eh? Including that Medicine.”

“Oh, I was just making sure you didn’t make too much a name for yourself. I didn’t want you to pass the Test, otherwise you would get the reward and be promoted, and I didn’t wan you to be the one who saved the Liver- you see I was just making sure that if I were to kill you at the last moment, nobody would notice and fuss about it. But you thwarted me, didn’t you?”

“No problem, though. I would destroy this city, including it’s stupid in habitants…soon. You will all die in one piece. And I will make it out of here.”

Here. Where was that?

James was about to ask so, already opening his mouth to speak, but then with a pang of emotions, he remembered a question he should have asked immediately he awoke. He felt shameful he hadn’t.

“Where is Jones?” the question came in a whisper, as if James dreaded the answer.

A huge smile spread across Singar’s face. “Ah! I almost forgot.” He clapped swiftly, as if calling for a waitress at a restaurant.

Bring me the boy,” he ordered.

A second later, Singar stepped aside as a Germ walked past him and dropped a figure right in front of James.

Jones.

The boy was like a dead goat. He was beaten and battered. Angry red swells scattered all around his body. His hair was askew, like he had just been electrocuted. His clothes, which James recognized way back from the encounter at the Mouth, were torn and dirty, like filthy rags.

His eyes were vacant and unseeing, staring at the dark roof, almost lifeless.

And the green liquid was pouring out from the corners of his mouth.

Seli stood in between Mr. Gorgon and Leo, staring out through the clean, shiny windows in the Atrium.

Mr. Gorgon had agreed somewhat to help them and had assigned Guardians to protect the perimeter of the Heart and report for any disturbances. The security cameras were being closely watched in the Control Room. If any thing was spotted, the Leukocytes there would just need to alert Leo, Mr. Gorgon and Seli through the earpieces attaché to their ears.

They had been here for thirty minutes exactly, which the huge wall clock in the Hall insisted on reminding them of.

Mr. Gorgon grew more and more impatient and changed from shifting his weight here and there in huge exaggerated humps of breath to tutting and taping his legs on the floor annoyingly. Seli learned to ignore it, but her brother wasn’t going to take it.

“Stop that!” Leo said exasperatingly. “If you want to go, go already! The situation’s bad enough without you breathing down our necks like a vulture.”

Mr. Gorgon eyed Leo angrily. Leo did not even bother to look at the man. His respect for Mr. Gorgon had reduced drastically ever since the man had refused to believe their story about Rognard. But Seli couldn’t blame him, though she couldn’t blame Mr. Gorgon either. You couldn’t just accuse a highly ranked person and just expect authorities to follow you like bees and honey.

“First of all,” Mr. Gorgon began. “There is and there will be absolutely no ‘situation’ at all here. And I will not go, because I’m waiting for your punishment.”

“Punishment?” Seli repeated blankly. At first, she wasn’t really listening to their conversation, but these words woke her up. Maybe she was just used to James and Leo arguing every time over sports and boxers and stuff. Yeah, boxers. They were that weird.

“Yes, punishment. If in the next thirty minutes, no Germ or Singar appears, I’m going to punish you both for wasting my time and also for framing a highly ranked official.

“But I don’t even work here!” Leo protested. Mr. Gorgon looked at him darkly.

“My powers go beyond the boundaries you’re thinking of, Mr. Stardom.”

Leo looked beaten, but Seli didnt care. She knew that something would happen here. Because she trusted James- and it was also because she had a feeling. It was unlike any other feeling she’d gotten before. It seemed alien, but yet it seemed part of her. Strange. Nowadays , that’s what happened to her every time. She would get certain feelings of things about to happen. Danger, someone about to spill milk on her, one of the Erythrocytes stuck in the bathroom- anything at all.

The shocking thing was, it always happened. It was almost as if she could tell the future. Almost. Else she would know what would happen right now, which she didn’t. Then why was that feeling overwhelming her again. Why was she so sure something was about to happen?

With her thoughts adding pressure to her frustration, she pressed an index finger on the earpiece and said softly, “Anything?”

A female voice answered. “Nothing yet.”

She groaned and continued to stare out the window. Mr. Gorgon would get unbearably impatient by now and give up.

As she watched, a man walked through the Gates slowly, walking majestically, heading for the front door. He was wearing a heavy looking brown leather coat, which was blown backwards by the wind.

Billy suddenly rushed in to the compound, with his gun held ever so tightly. He stopped in front of the man, stretching his hands and saying something Seli couldn’t hear. But she was sure he was asking for his identification card. He hadn’t asked Seli because he knew her and liked her, as a friend, of course. He was just joking about that boyfriend thing.

The man smiled like he thought Billy was making a big mistake by asking. He fumbled in his pockets, searching for something desperately- or pretending to. The Guardians patrolling around the compound stopped and looked at him suspiciously.

Billy relaxed, thinking the man was about to bring out his card and everything would be alright.

Seli spotted the bulge in the man’s pockets before he extracted the thing. She screamed for Billy to watch out, but the windows muffled the sound. Her words never reached Billy.s

The Germ whipped his gun from his pocket and quickly shot Billy squarely in the chest. Billy gasped and fell. Puss wet the hole in his chest. Suddenly a team of Guardians had their guns trained on the Germ. But Seli thought that was foolish. Surely the Germ didn’t come in alone. His friends must be-

The Gate burst open, and about two dozen Germs charged in, immediately opening fire on them. The Guardians were taken by surprise; many of them fell to the floor with last screams and shouts. The rest backed away, hiding behind vessels and pillars.

Bullets shattered glass everywhere. People in the hall screamed and run around. An alarm was sounded somewhere, a voice was saying : EVA-CU-ATE THE HEART. CODE RED! ESCAPE THROUGH THE VENA CAVA.

Leukocytes started off towards elevators and stairs, shoving and pushing others out of the way.

Shots were heard as the Guardians and the Germs began to exchange fire. Mr. Gorgon turned quickly to Leo and Seli, opening his mouth to say something.

But the next second, all that came out was a choking sound. Mr. Gorgon fell to the floor like a dead tree. And Seli saw the hole that was in his neck.

She fell to the floor too for cover as a hail of bullets came their direction again, shattering glass and destroying the things in the Main Hall.

Seli crawled to Mr. Gorgon’s side. She didn’t know what to do. She felt helpless. There was nothing to be done, anyway. Mr. Gorgon would die in a matter of seconds.

Leo crawled beside her, looking down at Mr. Gorgon’s pain etched face. “I’m sorry,” the big man said.

“It’s okay,” Seli replied softly.

“Yeah and I’m sorry for being rude to you,” Leo said.

Mr. Gorgon managed a smile at that, though it seemed the effort was hurting him. “But, if a few handful Germs are here,” he said, trying desperately to get the words out before he went on. He sounded like a toad trying unsuccessfully to talk. “Then it means your friend James Winter is in deep trouble… you better go-for-him.”

The bald Guardian’s sight started to close down slowly, Seli had the sudden urge to stop them, but she knew the dead belonged anywhere but here.

“He’s right,” Leo said after a few minutes. “James really is in big trouble. I can’t believe he talked us into letting him go by himself.”

Seli nodded slowly, wondering whether she should escape through the Vena Cava and try and find James. The Erythrocytes might give her a lift there.

Leo suddenly whipped out his gun, clicking bullets into it. “I’m going in,” he said, already half crouching, half walking to the other Guardians’ side.

“Be careful-“Seli shouted after him, but if he had heard, he didn’t acknowledge it. Seli knew how he hated it when people cared about him too much.

She winced a Guardian was shot in the knee. He fell on the ground like someone had swept him off his legs. She was just about to get up and head for the elevator to the Vena Cava when she saw a figure climb through one of the broken windows a distance away from the ongoing battle.

The Germ was in black leather outfit from head to toe, he wore a brown duffel backpack at his back. His hair brown and scattered, but he was still strikingly handsome. He leaped off the window sill gracefully and quietly and run to the elevator.

“Leo!” Seli called impatiently, but Leo was nowhere to be found. He had probably taken cover behind one of the desks or couches like some of the others had done. The battle looked like the Guardians had it under control, so Seli decided to handle this guy herself.

The Germ had reached the elevator. He pressed the buttons impatiently and stepped inside once it was open. He turned and looked coolly into Seli’s eyes. His face gave nothing away. Not fear that he had been caught or urge to run away.

Seli stared back, though his pale eyes struck fear in her herself. She slapped herself inwardly. She was tough. She wasn’t afraid of this guy.

The elevator doors jerked close slowly, like Mr. Gorgon’s eyelids had done, and it swallowed Seli’s view of the Germ.

Seli took one glance at the fire exchange. Seeing it was safe to do so, she run for the stairs. The elevators would be to slow. She might not catch the guy in time.

Fifteen minutes later, Seli’s legs were starting to give way. She must’ve been on the twenty or floors to check whether Rozin, as she recognized him from the encounter at the Buccal Cavity, would get out of the elevator, but he didn’t, and the elevator shot still upwards.

Almost on the last floor, she had lost Rozin completely. She spun around in frustration, glancing here and there. She almost missed him, but at the last moment, she stopped and watched as he entered a room with his heavy brown bag.

Filled with new vim, she run towards the room, which he had left open.

She stopped right in front of the room and slipped her gun out of her pocket. She stretched it far in front of her and proceeded into the room, slowly.

She took a quick glance at the room- there was no one there. Her eyebrows went up as she raised an exasperated sigh.

Subconsciously, slowly, Seli was beginning to let her hands drop. A bang suddenly rang out throughout the room from behind her. She gasped and looked back sharply.

“Hello, darling,”

Rozin was right behind her, pointing his pistol at her with a small wicked smile on his face. “you were foolish, dear, to come here alone.”

“What do you want, Rozin?” Seli said with menace.

“To end the likes of you!” Rozin spat. “ Arrogant, self-centred Guardians like you!”

Seli rolled her eyes. “Yes, I know that, but how?”

Rozin relaxed a little, Seli could tell by the way his gun was slowly dropping down and the way his shoulders seemed to shrink and relax.

“Well, you see…”

Seli took her chance. She kicked Rozin’s gun out of his hand with a single leap, and landed gracefully on the ground.

She looked back sharply. Too late. Rozin grabbed her and threw her back with all of his might. She crashed into a computer workstation, upsetting and breaking quite a lot of computers.

Seli got to her feet slowly. Rozin was standing in front of her staring like a vulture, sensing a weakening prey.

As if.

Seli had lost her gun in the crash. It was probably hidden underneath the mess of computers behind her. So she balled her hands into fists and stared back at Rozin.

Rozin smiled and did the same, the two of them looking like boxers, bouncing on their feet. “I’m going to enjoy finishing you, darling.”

Rozin struck first with his fist. Seli ducked it and whacked his chin with an uppercut. He stumbled backwards, shaking his head as if dizzy.

He charged again and threw his leg towards Seli’s gut, but again, she held it and threw him just like he had done to her.

In his flight though, Rozin twisted and slammed Seli’s face with his foot. Seli stumbled backwards, almost tripping over the fallen computers.

She felt a dam break in her nose as blood rushed out of it. She reached up and wiped it. In those few moments, Rozin sunk his fist into her gut. She moaned, but Rozin seemed to only take that as entertainment.

He twisted Seli’s arm hoisted her over his shoulder,. She fell onto the floor. She thought she heard some of her bones break with sickening crunches.

She scrambled to her feet, blinking away the spots and the darkness as she did so.

In those few blinks, Rozin had grabbed her waist, and, piercing his shoulders into her stomach, slammed her into a wall.

The air was knocked out of Seli, but she didn’t quit. She dug her elbow into his back and hit him in the face with her knee. He fell onto the ground, kneeling on the ground as he clutched his face. He was probably bleeding.

Good, Seli thought. At least she had given him a painful souvenir also.

Rozin looked up, ready to strike again, but he did not see Seli. And then suddenly, as if she fell down from the roof, Seli’s feet hit him from above. She landed on her feet as Rozin collapsed, blood splattering on the tiles from the bruises on his face.

“And that,” Seli said as she went and picked Rozin’s gun. She came back and pointed it at his face. “Teaches you not to underestimate girls.”

She spotted the brown backpack Rozin was crying and searched inside. Immediately, the smirk on her face was erased, replaced by fear.

Rozin smiled, his cheek still kissing the floor. “That’s right, darling, bombs. And I’ve planted many of them at random places in the Organ. Didn’t you notice I was a little late on some floors?

Refuse to release me now, and we will burn along with the Heart!”

James stared at Jones’ deformed body.

“W-what have you done to him?” he stammered.

“Tested him, duh,” Rognard answered, as if explaining the obvious.

“I thought you said you wanted the Transformat only, why did you give him the virus?!”

Rognard, sorry, Singar looked nonchalant. He sighed deeply. “Yes, it’s true I wanted only the Transformat, and I did take it from him, but, you see, the Transformat doesn’t work for Jones as well as it does for you.”

“What?”James said. How would Rognard know anything about the Transformat, especially how well or not it worked for James.

“You see, I can touch Jones’ Transformat, feel it, and even wear it, though I haven’t tried yet. But I can’t touch yours. It almost burnt my fingers off that morning I was trying to get it off. This leads to the conclusion that you have the main Transformat. You are the key of it.”

Was this guy speaking English?

“Well, then why did you test him with the virus?” James asked. He was almost screaming.

Singar shrugged. “I was just checking what would happen should I use it on him whilst he wore the Transformat. But-“He looked at Singar disgustedly, like he wasn’t the one who did this to him. “Well, Jones here yielded unsatisfying results. I’m betting, that it would work cleverly n you, with, ah, interesting results.”

Singar clapped again, and this time, a Germ presented him with a syringe. A green liquid tossed around in it. With a pang, James realized it was the virus. Singar wasn’t bluffing. He really was going to test him.

“Oh, you’re in trouble,” Yetu sang teasingly, digging the point of his gun so deep into James’ neck, as if he thought he could strike gold.

“Ow!” James yelped. “That hurts, filthy, or is your ponytail tailed too tight?” By the way, filthy was the universal insult for Germs n the Inside. Everybody used it for every Germ, every time.

Singar approached James slowly, letting the tip of the needle catch the light and glint menacingly. “Don’t stick that thing in me.” James warned. But Singar was probably not terrified of some teenager tied up on the ground alone.

Yetu hugged James from behind tightly. James squirmed and tried to break free, but, as filthy and stupid as Yetu was, he was strong.

Singar was now so close. The needle of the syringe was poised over James’ neck. Don’t-stick-it-in-me.” James said through gritted teeth. But Singar emptied the green stuff into his neck.

He stepped back quickly, looking at James curiously, like a scientist waiting for his pet fish to sprout legs.

At first, nothing happened. Even James was curious, anxious about what was going to happen.

The Germ began whispering amongst themselves.

Then the thing exploded.

Something hurt James from the inside. Something was present in his blood, flowing through his veins. And it wasn’t supposed to be there.

Then pain came, increasing itself a thousand fold every second. The Transformat began to heat up, to the extent that it began to glow an eerie red. The pain spread to James’ head, and for a moment, the world went black, James could only see Jones, lying helplessly on the ground, stay starry eyed at the ceiling. That image seemed to trigger the thing in James.

Then it really exploded.

It was a kind of force, an invisible force. It erupted from James-no. It seemed to erupt from his Transformat.

Suddenly, the Germs were lifted off their feet, crashing into the walls around the room or falling bone-crushingly on the ground. All around James, layers of years of sedimented dust rose like water vapour. The light bulb above him flickered.

James realized he was screaming, so hard.

Yetu got a very terrible amount of the force, since he was closest to James. He now lay flat and unmoving a few centimetres from James’ leg. He was quite dead.

Every Germ that James could see had been hit. The hot pressure on the Transformat died down, and James’ pain was fading, so was his scream. His head ached and throbbed, his breathe was hot and his body shivering.

James expected Singar to be dead, since he was as equally close to him as Yetu was when the force of power began. But he saw Singar rise a few feet from him and dash towards the exit, a small briefcase in his hands. A second later, he disappeared.

James wished he could summon the same power he had released and knock Singar down, but he couldn’t tap into it again. He had no idea how it had come to him or how he had done it. But had he done anything at all? Maybe it was the reaction of the Virus with the Transformat that had done that.

Now he felt silly thinking it was him who did it. What was he, some superhero? No.

He wriggled his hands in the ropes. They fell off his wrists. He gasped, staring at his hands like they had spoken. The thing that had happened earlier had probably loosened the ropes off.

Jones moaned, snapping James into reality. He quickly undid the ropes around his legs and knelt beside Jones.

“Oh, Jones,” He said, staring at his cousin’s lifeless eyes as he clenched his face. “I’m so sorry for this. I’ll get you home, I promise.”

He scooped Jones up onto his shoulder and headed in the general direction of the door, where he had seen Singar pass.

He passed his hands over the wall until he felt a bulge. He twisted it and opened the door. The light in the hallway wasn’t much, but because he had been in darkness for too long, it stung his eyes. He felt like a vampire.

Jones moaned again, as if the light disturbed him, too. With a pang, James realized Jones had been in total darkness fro, what? At least five days. It was all he could do not to start screaming and tearing his flesh in the light.

He was in back in the hallway of the Liver’s Laboratory again. This time, however, he could hear sirens all around the Organ. The Guardians had arrived, and if they saw James with Jones, there would be a long list of questions, which will eventually lead to Jones being taken to the hospital, and then the doctors will realize he was human, then busted.

So James had to trek carefully. He needed to avoid the Guardians and get Jones to a safe place, then rendezvous with Leo and Seli and get the ‘ell outta Nemo’s body.

How he was going to d that, he didn’t know.

He decided to search for a back door. He had just turned a corner when he bumped into someone. He tensed, his heart rate grew quicker. He was just contemplating whether he should knock the person out or run when his vision cleared a little more and he saw Cornie standing in front of him, looking just as psyched, with her hand instinctively on her gun’s butt in its holster.

“Cornie!” James hissed, relieved.

“James?” she whispered back. “What are you doing here? I went to your place but no one was home and”

“ Cornie, I really- wait- how did you know my place, I didn’t tell you.”

“You live with Mr. Rognard, right? Everybody knows his house.”

“Oh. Right.” Maybe that was another reason why Singar hadn’t tried to kill James himself. If he was that well known and highly respected in Nemo City, then a three teenagers mysteriously vanishing under his care would have led to some raised eyebrows and chin scratching. But if the teenagers died in a mistake with some Germs or some homicidal Medicine, well, no investigation there…

“Cornie, what’s going on, how did the Guardians know there was anything happening here?”

“Well, first, a certain vessel driver called the Brain and told us ‘James Winter’ had just gotten off his vessel to ‘save the Kidney’ then we got a distress call from some Kidney workers telling us a crazy vessel driver had refused to let them off the vessel because there was trouble there-“ Her eyes shifted to Jones’ limp body. James tried to get her mind off him. He didn’t feel like explaining anything at this point.

“I see, “ he said. “And you haven’t seen Singar leave this Organ?”

“Singar? No.” Cornie relied. “James, who is that?”

Guess he had to explain after all.

“Uh, my cousin. Singar held him hostage and-“

Cornie suddenly froze. Her mouth fell open and her eyes widened with horror as she stared at Jones.

James didn’t understand why a first. Sure, Jones looked very hurt and beaten. But he dint look that bad.

He frowned and looked at Jones once again, and he understood the panic.

He had completely forgotten that Jones was bleeding. Real, red human blood.

He knew Cornie was going to scream, so he immediately clamped his hand over her mouth. He felt the hot air as Cornie’s scream was muffled, but he looked around anyway to make sure no on had heard.

“Cornie, calm down, “He whispered. Please do not scream, okay. I know this must look weird and out of place, but you’ve got to trust me and please don’t scream.”

Slowly, Cornie nodded. James removed his hand.

“He’s human,” she registered. James could see she was struggling not to turn and run. And he understood. What if you’re there with your friend and discover he’s a god? That is what it must’ve looked like to Cornie.

“And he’s your cousin, so it means… you’re human, too?”

She was smart. James nodded. He didn’t see any point in lying now. “Yes, we are, but we won’t hurt you. So, please, just listen to me.”

Cornie looked stricken, horrified beyond measure, but she nodded, anyway.

“ Good, Cornie,” James said, knowing it must take every bit of her power to be still standing here. “Now, do you have any means of transportation- a helicopter, vessel, anything?

Cornie nodded again, her eyes still glued to Jones’ body. “A Guardian vessel,” she croaked. “You go and hide at the door side. I’ll move it and wait there, then you get in and I’ll take you wherever you want to go.”

She seemed to have caught on to the plan quickly than James formulated it. In fact, she had completed the plan for him. James was glad he had her on his side.

“Ok.” James agreed, and Cornie spun around and sprinted back from where she came. James followed more quietly, and hoped Cornie wouldn’t rat him out.

He hid himself between the wall and the door and waited for Cornie, resisting the tempting urge to drop Jones for a while. The dude was way too heavy for James. But he did not. Anything might happen in these few minutes, and he had to be ready to run or to, er, well, there wrent many options apart from running.

James risked a peek out the glass door. He saw several Guardian vessels(that’s a police car to you) parked clumsily all around the Kidney’s compound. Several Guardians were scattered about, talking urgently amongst themselves whilst media cew members took shots of them and he Organ, though nothing interesting had happened… yet.

A few feet away from James, a Commander was barking orders at a group of Guardians in their black battle suits with long, offensive guns. James recognized some of them from the Brain. And this was bad. These guys were from the MAL groups. They were hard core.

The Guardians quickly shuffled themselves into a long cue, and on the Commander’s orders, begun to march towards the door, guns held at the ready, with the Commander at the lead.

James slinked out of sight. Where the heck was Cornie?

He was just about contemplating Plan B when a vessel’s engine roared into life. James took another peek.

A black Guardian vessel was bounding across the Kidney’ s compound towards the assembled Guardians. The poor Guardians had to jump out of the way as the car broke into their line, stopping g abruptly before the door.

The window was rolled down. Cornie’s serious face glared at James. “Get in, NOW,” She warned, but James had already taken the hint.

He run out of the Organ as best as he could with an elephant weighted human on his shoulder. He opened the back door and practically threw Jones inside in his haste and quickly jumped the bonnet of the car and sat in the front seat.

“Go.”

Cornie’s hand had just closed around the car gear when a crackled voice issued from her Guard-Cell (kind of like a walkie-talkie for only Guardians o communicate).

James looked into the rear-view mirror, and saw the Commander speaking into his own Guard-Cell. On either side of him, Guardians had their guns trained on the vessel, ready for a command to shoot.

“Cornie,: the voice called out through the Guard-Cell. “Cornie, don’t b stupid. You do not even know whether this guy is a criminal or not, yet you’re about to accompany him out of our custody? Don’t let him get in your head.”

The voice paused. Cornie didn’t reply nor did she move her hand, which had frozen on the gear.

“Cornie, I trust and like you, but if you do not hand over James Winter to me, I will hunt both of you down and I will strip you of your badge and your honour, and I’ll brand you a Germ!”

That was the short cut of saying, you’re dead.

The Commander had spat the words so forcefully, James wouldn’t have been surprised if specks of spit flew out of Cornie’s Guard-Cell.

He glanced at Cornie. Fear had replaced the loving warmth in her eyes she usually had. James understood. Being a Guardian meant everything to Cornie, mean life itself. And if she was called a Germ now, that meant that next time she saw a Guardian, she was going to die. Her decision was going to affect either James or her. If she surrendered James over, it was the end for him. If she refused, she was a refugee and Wanted Criminal No. 1

James caught her eyes, and it was as if a silent conversation had been made. Cornie looked away from James, and she pulled the gear.

Cornie did something smart. James didn’t know how she did it, but the tyres rotated on one spot for about a minute, throwing clouds of dust into the air and into the eyes of the Guardians. They coughed and yelped and fell back.

Soon, a huge fog of dust had swallowed James’ vision of the Guardians. Cornie changed the gear again, and they drove off with a sudden burst of speed that was pilling up in the tyres during her trick.

The Guardians shot, but James knew they were shooting blindly. None of them could really see what they were shooting at. They just hoped they would get a direct hit. They wished.

James was confused. Cornie was heading straight when they should be heading back towards the gate. But the vessel sped on, and the wall opposite them was hurtling into view.

“Uh, Cornie-“ James wanted to say “Have you lost your mind?” but suddenly, Cornie drifted right sharply, creating a C in the sand, then she shot forwards again and crashed open another gate. Of course! The Kidney had a back gate!

They tore into the streets. The Kidney slowly receded from view.

The Commander kept on shouting unintelligible words through the Guard-Cell, until Cornie rolled the window down and chucked it outside. She must’ve done it either because she was tired of the Commander screaming like a bad tempered coach, or because she also knew hey could track them down with the Guard-Cell at the Brain.

Anyhow, Cornie was the hero of the day, James felt like giving her a great kiss.

He glanced at her, quite sure she was gonna break down and cry, but strangely, Cornie was keeping the tear dam locked.

“Where to?” She asked.

“Uh, the Heart. Gotta meet Seli and Leo.”

“Humans, too, I guess”

“Hm-m”

“look, Conie, thank you for this. I owe you one.”

“T’was nothing, James. Besides, I know whatever you’re going to do, it’s to save the city, so no one would me a Germ after they see i did what i did for a good reason.”

James was glad she hadn’t added, Right?

He relaxed in his seat and allowed his eyes to try and catch he whizzing sights.

“So how did you become, you know, a smaller version of a human?” Cornie asked. There was hesitation in her voice, like part of her didn’t really want to know.

James told her. She deserved an explanation. He held up his Transformat on his wrist. “It’s this thing-called a Transformat. I don’t know what it does really, but I’m sure it’s responsible for us being cell size.”

Cornie nodded, sparing a curious glance at the Transformat. She fear James had seen in her eyes a while back was slowly washing away.

But the job wasn’t done. What was Singar up to now?

Chapter Eight: Backfire

They arrived at the Ribs, the broad golden gates of the Heart. About seven guards stopped them and begun approaching them slowly. The Ribs were unusually heavily guarded today.

James panicked. “Cornie, Jones. What do we do with him?”

“Jones should be alright,” Cornie said. “The back windows are tinted; no one would spot him,hopefully. But would do we do with you.

She was right. By now, the Commander back at the Kidney would have sent a Distress Neuron Call to all the Guardians in the City. Everyone would be looking for James Winter.

But there was nothing to be done now. Two Guardians had arrived at the car. One of them at James’ side and the other at Cornie’s. James let his head drop. He really wished he had worn a hooded jacket today or perhaps some glances.

It was only a minute or so no before he had a un trained at his head.

“Evening, lady, what can we do for you?” the Guardian at Cornie’s side said. His eyes flitted over Cornie’s badge (James was glad she hadn’t thrown that away). “Well, we’re here for um, Guardian business….”

James hoped there really was such a thing as Guardian business.

But the Commander totally bought it. Of course. Park here, please. Inside’s a little bit crowdy.

And James couldn’t believe his luck. Did the Guardians really not recognize him, or did they have short term memory, or had they not yet received any warning of the alleged Germs?

The last bit was probably the case. James exchanged an equally surprised look with Cornie as they parked.

He glanced back at Jones, who was still as weak as before. Now, however, he had started to mumble thing like Winter or winter and Michel and bunnies and virus and cousin James.

“You go ahead,” Cornie said. “ There’s a First-Aid kit at the boot. I’ll try to patch him up quickly. Catch up with you soon.”

James was relieved. The idea of leaving Jones alone here in this state was absolutely threatening. And he had promised to get him back home alive.

He got down and went to meet the other Guardian. “On his left, muscle stricken chest was a badge that read in gold letters; M. Hark and underneath it read. Guardian- Heart Department.

James was shocked. The M there stood fro Macrophage, the toughest form of Guardians there were. They were made fro the big tasks, like protecting especially high ranked members like the presidents and getting rid of serious Bacteria such as Malaria and Cholera. These two might sound like a joke to you, but in here, they were a big deal, like Hitler and World War big deal.

In short, if a Macrophage was here, something dirty had happened here. James thoughts immediately went to Seli and Leo. Were they alright? He hoped so.

The big man shook James ‘hand steadily. He had quite a grip. “James Winter, I guess?” James nodded.

“I’m Captain Hark.” He looked sternly at James, as if he dared James to question his name, which James was about to. Where did the ‘Captain’ come from? But one look from this guy said James wouldn’t win the argument.

“Captain Hark,” He repeated.

“Good.”

They began walking towards the Heart’s gates. “Where’s your bud?” Captain Hark asked.

“ Oh, she’s just taking care of something- Oh my-“James let out a gasp.

They had just passed through he Heart’s Ribs, and the sight on the compound wasn’t pleasant. A battle had obviously been fought here. Several Germs as well as a handful of Guardians lay dead on the floor. Puss was everywhere like it had actually rained the stuff. Guns were littered all over the ground. The few cars that were parked in here were riddled with bullet; James doubted if they’ll ever drive again.

“What happened here?” James asked in horror.

“Oh, they didn’t brief you? Some Germs waltzed into this place and open fire on the whole Heart. It took quite an army to get rid of them.

James spotted Leo sitting in a couch in the Atrium and excused himself.

“James!” Leo exclaimed as he saw James step through the shattered glass door. He stood up and punched James in the shoulder; their most formal way of greeting.

“We were so worried about you. We wanted to come over there but, well, you’ll see when we go upstairs.”

“Where’s Seli?” James asked.

“Upstairs. Now, tell me everything that happened, did you meet Rog-Singar?”

Met him? James wanted to say, I threw him off his feet with my mind. But all he said was “I’ll tell you and Seli together. Now let’s go.”

Singar pressed his foot on the pedal so hard it touched the floor of the car. His environment

They stopped at a door marked CONTROL ROOM and Leo led the way inside. James followed. The room was mess. Computers lay scattered and broken across the floor, two tables were upturned and half broken. Brown envelopes and files were lying across the floor; they were probably once situated on the table.

And in one corner of the room, sat a beaten and disgruntle Rozin. He was clutching his side as if he had run several kilometres. Seli stood in front of him, asking him something.

Seli looked back, and when she saw James, her face lit with so much relief, James found it hard to stare into her eyes again. He had to work on that.

“You’re safe,” She said.

“Yeah,”James answered. “Fill you in the details later.” He hoped itt wasn’t obvious that he was postponing the time to tell his side of the story. What had happened in there was just incredulous. It made him feel guilty and what if his friends were scared of him afterwards. Dang, he felt like a witch, hated by what he could do- or what the Transformat could do.

“What happened to him?” he asked, gesturing at Rozin. Leo told him he had come to met the Germ beaten up y Seli, and also discovered hat he had planted bombs all over the Heart, set to go off any minute from now.

“But he wont talk,” Leo finished, shooting the beaten u figure by the wall. “he wont tell us how to disarm it or even where the darn bombs are.”

James walked slowly to Rozin, his friends following him closely.

“Deactivate the bombs,” He said firmly at Rozin, who just laughed shrilly in return.

“I thought the girl made it clear, I’m not talking.”

Leo sighed in exasperation. “If he’s not going to talk sooner or later we have to use other more cruel means. And we don’t have later.”

“Wait a minute,” James said remembering something. “Let me see the bombs. He has a few in the bag, right?”

Seli searched in Rozin’s bag and handed him a long cylindrical bomb. And inside the thing was the virus. Just as he expected. He looked up at hi friends’ puzzled faces. “If this is what he’s talking about, then he’s mislead us. The Heart wont detonate with fire, it’s gonna spew this green stuff called the virus.”

“And what’s it going to do,” said Leo.

“I don’t know, but, knowing Sinagr, it aint gonna be pretty.”

A memory flashed in James eyes. For a moment, Sinagr had pierced him with the virus containing syringe. The power welled up in him, and he screamed.

Leo screamed at Rozin to tell them how to disarm the bombs, and when the latter didn’t answer , he threw his gun. It hit Rozin squarely in the chest, making him cough out, specks of pus flying out of his mouth.

“Genius, Leo?” Seli scolded. “Give the bad guy a gun.” She bent down the pick it up, and then when Rozin made a sudden movement, James quickly snapped his gun and pointed it at teh Germ’s face. But Rozin had simply raised his hand to wipe blood off his nose, or that was what he made it seem.

Seli didn’t stand up. She crouched down next to Rozin and spoke with amazing softness that would have made James sill his inner secrets. “Rozin, why are you doing this?”

“We’re asking for our rights!” he shouted as loud as he could. “Yeah, that’s right,” he continued as the three of them looked surprised, taken aback.

What a ridiculous thing to ask for, James thought. Germs having rights. Brrr.

“Germs also have rights! We don’t deserve t be shot down on the shot, without any fair rail, when we’re doing something as normal as buying foodstuffs.”

“Singar’s brainwashed you, “James said. Though something in his gut was tugging him.

“And that’s not how to ask for your rights, “Seli said. The calmness and sweetness in her voice somehow agitated James.

“Allright, that’s enough,” he said angrily, pointing his gun at the Germ. “Tell us where Rozin is now or so help me, you’ll be my first murder.” He deliberately tightened his finger around the trigger, to add more effect, hoping Rozin would buy it.

He totally did. Maybe it was that look in his eyes that people were always talking about, or maybe he had acted more threatengly than he thought, but the corky, smug look on Rozin’s face melted into fear.

“ He- he has another bag of the virus that he’s going to sneak into the Brain to detonate it there. Gradually, with the downfall of the Brain, he’s going to take over the world.”

James noted he didn’t say take over the world like most villains would- with pride and gusto. He let his hand drop.

Seli sighed and was about to get up when her hand brushed against Rozin’s bare leg. She winced and brought her hand back sharply, as if electrocuted.

“Seli?” Leo said uncertainly.

Seli didn’t reply. She stared dumb foundedly at Rozin and gingerly touyched his leg again, jerking it back again. She looked into Rozin’s eyes.

“he’s lying.” She said. Her voice shook a little.

James and Leo exchanged looks of disbelief. “Uh, Seli.” Leo said slowly. “I don’t think he’s lying. I mean he was threatened at gun point by James. I think he’s spilled all his bea-“

“He’s lying ok?” Seli’s voice rose. “I don’t know how i know but i do know he’s lying. I somehow felt it in his touch.” Her eyes strayed to James, searching for backup.

Amazingly, James did have backup. “I believe her,” he said, and Leo gave him one of those, of course you believe your pretty Seli looks. “I’m serious. Leo, think. How are you such a whiz at computers and mathematical equations suddenly when in the Outside you had a mark close to zero in your mock test?”

Leo looked sheepish, but James ploughed on. “ And how com e i’m such an eagle eye now. I couldn’t miss if it depended on my life- and i’ve never held anything like a pistol before. I think the Transformat grants us some kind of abilities.”

“Superpowers,” Leo teased. “But i believe you now. I have been feeling a little different and stronger now.”

For a moment it seemed they had forgotten about their liitle hostage, who was slowly crawling to his fallen gun unseen.

Before anyone could utter another word, the door burst open, and Guardians in black uniforms run into the room, long guns pointed at them, hands poised over the triggers.

They formed a semi-circle around james and his friends.

“Freeze!” one of theem shouted through his visor. “Drop your weapons and put your hands in the air!”

Leo almost scoffed. “What is this?” he said, looking curiously at the Guardians.

“Oh,” James said casually. “I forgot to say, I’m a criminal now.”

“Drop your guns!” someone screamed again. The Guardian shot the wall next to Seli’s head to prove his point.

“Ok! Ok!” James said, dropping his gun. Seli and Leo copied him but none of them put their hands in the air.

“You lied to me, Commander Winter,” came a familiar voice. Mr. Hark emerged from the line of assembled guardians and stood right in front of James. For a moment James thought it was a mistake that they had called him Commander, then it hit him like water from the Arctic Ocean. Commander Josh was dead, and he had been his assistant, which meant, technically, he had resumed his place.

Not that it mattered now…

“I trusted you,” M. Hark continued.

“Then you’ve got to trust me now,” said James., stepping aside so M. Hark could see Rozin. Something out of hand happened.

M. Hark screwed his face like someone had farted in his nose. A Guardian behind him screamed an order and M. Hark dived out of the way. Immediately, a bullet whipped through the air where M. Hark had just stood and sank into Rozin’s wrist, which was clutching a gun.

Rozin screamed and dropped his gun, but not before a stray bullet flew out of his gun and scraped James’ shoulder. James winced. He touched the wound gently. It seared like heck.

“What are you doing with this dangerous Germ?!” M. Hark scramed angrily, as two Guardians seized Rozin by the arms and pulled him to his feet.

“That is what we’ve been meaning to tell you, Hark.” James said, doing his best to ignore his pain. “I went inot the Kidney to stop Singar, whom we realized was Rognard Lyan, our temporary guardian all along. He escaped though, but we have Rozin here and we can get information.”

“Well, what are you waiting for! Set him on a hot seat and see if he wont tell us what his mother fed him on his first day!”

M. Hark’s rage was comical. Like an adorable, grumpy old man’s. But there would be time to laugh later, say if Nemo City wasn’t a pile of maggots.

“First things first, Hark. We just found out that he’s planted bombs all around the heart, but it could be disabled by electrical means-“

“Which I could do remotely from one of these computers,” Leo interrupted.

M. hark grunted and scrutinized the thee of them quickly. “You better not disappoint me,” he growled and ordered his men to set some computers, if they could find one, from the pillage.

In five minutes, they had a computer up and running. After Hark had sank a solid fist into Rozin’s stomach, he told them they had about ten minutes before the bombs released their charge.

Leo sat down and cracked his knuckles. He looked behind for a second and said, “I want absolutely no interruption and no noise as I do my thing.”

Everyone nodded. The fate or Nemo City and thousands of lives hung around Leo’s neck.

Leo began, his fingers flying from key to key in nano-seconds. It was blur, nobody, except James could see those fingers, but even through his superhuman vision, Leo’s hands were fast.

Windows were launched minimized or close. Codes zipped across a black canvas and several buttons beeped.

The temperature in the room had become static. The only thing moving was Leo’s fingers. Everybody held their breath.

Leo paused as a green bar crawled across the screen quite slowly. But when it was done, the desktop screen was filled with seven separate live feeds. They were images of the various bombs Rozin had connected to sockets by long red wires. The images were fed into the computer by curtsey of the CCTV security cameras.

Leo took his time during this period. This was a crucial moment. It was either he shut down the power in that section of the Heart or he could simply override their systems. He took the second option. A sudden power cut could agitate the bombs.

He typed a code across the screen and hit enter.

Slowly, a list of words flowed down the screen. The last one was; Detonators-1-2-3-4-5 terminated.

Everyone whooped and hugged his neighbour, a certain euphoria had swept over their brains. Several Guardians, including Macrophage Hark himself, cheered and clapped him on the back, but, as attention seeking as James knew his best friend could be a little, Leo did not acknowledge his achievement. He closed the bombs’ images and manipulated the computer briefly.

James saw him type a familiar number into the computer. It took five seconds before he realized it was Rognard’s number. Leo was trying to track him, assuming he wasn’t too smart to throw the phone or chip away.

He wasn’t. A live feed digital map of Nemo City swallowed the screen, and a red pulsing dot was tearing through the blue lines that were the streets.

Leo pointed at the dot. “That’s Singar,” he said to Hark. “He’s moving steadily through the Pulmonary Artery.”

Everybody was all businesslike again. Hark was issuing commands like they were his last, and everybody was carrying it like their lives depended on it, which they did. The Guardians were out of the room before you could say snap!

Hark paused at the door. “Leo, send the traitor’s coordinates to our cars’ GPS.” He looked at James and Seli. “Well? You’re coming or not?!” he tossed their guns to them.

Cornie’s car zipped through the streets at a hundred and twenty kilometres per hour, following the other two black cars, also packed with Guardians. Night had fallen, but a multitude of cells still walked about, going round their daily-nightly businesses.

James glanced at Jones at the back of the car. The boy looked tired and dangerously weak, with plasters taped all over his skin, concealing the human blood beneath. Cornie had done well with that one. Leo had an arm around him, which, frankly, seemed to hurt him more, but he didn’t show it.

As they had returned to the car, James had assured, promised him that he would get them all back to Uncle Michel. He was so confident then, but now it seemed like the promise was blank.

They still hadn’t reached anywhere near Singar, thanks to the darn GPS that couldn’t get a hold of Singar’s specific location. The red dot would flicker, vanish and appear on another vein or artery. In fact, it dodged them so much and made them encounter narrow curves and peaks that they switched on the sirens, which was strictly against Guardian Constitution, unless it was an emergency, as was the case.

Things were getting boring and James’ eyes had just shut down to close when an urgent voice broke in to the car from the radio.

“We got him!” came Macrophage Hark’s voice. “we got the stinking xzgx*gzx(he said some unprintable words.)” he seems to be heading for the oh Great Axar, the Lungs!”

The cars in front of them suddenly bolted forwards, and James could see the unmistakable brown vessel that belonged to Singar, weaving in and out of curves on the road as the Guardians gave chase.

Cornie did her best to keep up, but her car wasn’t made for car chases so they missed most of the action.

They could, however hear gunshots emanating from both the Guardians’ vessel and Singar himself. Tires screeched, vessels honked as angry drivers were forced to flee from the road or abandon their vessels as the vessel chase went wild. Pedestrians screamed and dived out of the way.

Singar made an unprecedented turn that they all hadn’t seen until they realized, when they broke a wide glass entrance door, that they were in a fully packed mall. Singar was mad.

He stepped on the gas and sped through the mall. Not everybody had time to run out of the way or even comprehend what was happening until Singar threw them over the roof of his car or trampled them under. It was a disgusting, unnerving, sick sight.

“Singar’s looking at full time imprisonment if we catch him,” Hark fumed over the Intercom.

But Singar was not to be caught.

They had to stop, in fear of hurting more people. After quickly telling an utterly flabbergasted security guard to call the Platelets and the Erythrocytes, they reversed and took a rather long route around the mall.

At least the GPS were working now. James frowned at the red dot. He blinked, refusing to believe what he was seeing.

“The dot-Singar has stopped!” He screamed into the intercom, unable to believe their luck. Singar had probably had an accident with all that speeding and reckless driving he was doing.

James was about to know that these things are never that easy.

Hark’s anxiety could be felt through the intercom as the Guardian vessels neared the static but pulsing red dot.

The Guardian vessels drifted to a stop expertly around Singar’s vessel. Immediately, they hurried out of the car, circling the brown vessel as they trained their guns on it.

James’ feet hit crunchy gravel as he jumped down from the vessel.

“Singar!” Commander Hark shouted. He wasn’t using any microphone to enhance his voice, but his words rang out loud and clear through the night. “As Chief Macrophage of the Heart’s Leukocytes, I order you to step out from the vessel slowly. Any move of hostility will be immediately acted upon.”

Silence. There was no way Singar was not hearing the voice. Hark counted down from ten, but even before he reached three, he made hand signals to his Guardians to extract Singar from the vessel manually.

The ordered Guardian crept quietly to the vessel. There was no one on the driver’s seat, but he could just as easily be hiding at the back seat.

More Guardians neared the brown vessel slowly, careful not to crunch the gravels too much. The Guardian had reached the vessel. He used the gun’s light to search in the vessel.

He opened the door. As soon as the knob clicked, the vessel burst in a green explosion. The virus.

It flew all about in thick amounts like an avalanche. As soon as it settled on the Guardians’ skin, it started burning like acid, and soon, the Guardians who were too close to the explosion were dead or screaming to their death.

The rest dived behind the Guardian vessels for cover. Macrophage was screaming Inside curse words at Singar that James was glad he didn’t hear.

James, Seli, Cornie and Leo were also behind their vessels, but the humans knew whatever the virus was, it wouldn’t affect them, well, most of them, anyway. For some reason, James’ system went crazy when they even came too close to the explosion.

When the commotion had died somewhat James got up, and his mouth dried. Half of the Guardians lay frozen dead on the gravels, with the green virus all over them. A few passer-bys also got a wicked dose of the stuff and now lay immovable on the ground. The air itself smelt rancid and too thick to breathe in.

Anger welled up in James, and he tapped into his Transformat to give him superhuman vision.

His eyes transformed into a sharp telescope. He could see every detail for a mile or so into vividly. His power seemed hotter, stronger, his vision sharper, as the Transformat were fuelled by his anger.

There. He spotted Singar a few yards away running helter skelter towards a giant building that had a twin building divided by a tunnel, probably a subway tunnel that sunk into the ground.

Must be the Lungs, James thought, and the tunnel must be the Bronchus Subway Station. He had seen a picture of it back at the Brain.

James looked around him. There was no one available to help. Hark was busy with the Platelets and Erythrocytes that gathered around him, asking him questions.

Everyone else was busy attending to their wounds or getting civilians off the site.

That blasted Singar, James thought. He had tricked them. He knew all along that his phone was the snitch which had led the Guardians to him. Of course! He must’ve been the one who was rigging the GPS signal, then he’d left the phone in the car.

James decided it was up to him. Singar would not get away with this punishable offence like he thought.

He gave chase, began running after Singar’s slowly vanishing figure. He wished the Transformat had the power of super speed too. No such luck.

A few voiced called after him. “Commander Winter!”

“James!”

“Where the heck are you going!?”

James did not stop or even turn back. any slight mistake might lose Singar from him.

Singar run down a pavement sandwiched between two bushes that could have been a perfectly mowed garden once. Now the grass was dying and there were bald patches of dirt in places.

Singar must have heard footsteps. He looked back sharply and James caught a scared surprised look o spread on his face like hot butter on bread. He extracted a gun and shot at James.

The bullet should have collided with James, but the Transformat was not about to let him down. The bullet came to him in slow motion, and he side stepped it. It whizzed past his grazed shoulder.

He quickly returned two shots. One of them flew well past Singar’s head, but the other pierced his calf.

Singar stumbled, but did not fall. He kept on running, with a slight limp and more slower, but James noticed his calf, and almost fell down himself.

Red human blood gushed out of Singar’s calf.

Chapter Nine: Mysteries.

James’ breathing almost seized. Singar was human? But that made no sense. How did he come into the Inside. Did he also have a Transformat. Doubtful, seeing as he wanted James’ Transformat so badly.

Maybe he wanted to go home too, that’s why he had tested James and Jones’s Transformat, to see if they could help him get to the Outside. Then why didn’t he just tell them.

James realized he was standing in front of the Organ, and Singar was lost in sight. The Right Lung stretched to about fifty feet tall, mirroring its brother at the other side of the Bronchus. The Ribs, the Gates which guarded the Lungs, also secured the perimeter of the Lungs too. James could see them in the far distance, covering the Lungs like the wings of an angel.

The Organ itself was disappointing. It looked like it hadn’t been painted, or if it had, the paint had worn off eons ago. Dust coagulated on most of the windows. In fact, to say the truth, which James did not want to admit, the Lungs were on the verge of collapse. It looked just a breath away from tumbling. James hoped for the sake of Nemo it wouldn’t.

He decided to enter the Lungs through its tainted main doors, and was shocked to see dozens of workers walking up and down the wide hall, doing their best to keep the Lung alive.

It was rather sad, James thought, that high priority was given only to the Heart and the Brain when important Organs like the Lungs were being unfed and retarded.

From the ceiling hung huge screens that had colourful words written on them like the stocks of businesses. But instead of stocks, they had things like:

[* Alveoli Sac 1- Status – Full {prepare to discharge} *]

[* Alveoli Sac 2- Status – Damaged{prepare for fix} *]

———————————————————————————————————-

Oxygen from Pulmonary Artery – Status – Choked{Insufficient}: 23%

Oxygen from Pulmonary Vein – Status – Sufficient :75%

Breathing: [Not Steady] Consider; Launching sneeze; Yawn; Increase Gaseous Surface Area(Gas); Emergency Release of Alveoli Sacs.

James tried not to look at the screens any more. What he’d seen was proof enough that Nemo was so not okay.

He sighed heavily. Before he had time to spin around in search of Singar, a shot exploded behind him. A bullet narrowly missed him. Instead it soared over his head and punctured a control panel. Electricity and sparks hissed out of it.

Immediately, the lights dimmed, and James saw that the oxygen levels on the screens were dropping dramatically. Workers screamed and dropped their clipboards, running in different directions for exits.

James whirled around in the direction he had heard the shot from and involuntarily let out a shot from his own pistol. It hit the figure squarely in the chest and it fell down in an undignified heap.

The lighting was bad, but James could tell the figure was not Singar, maybe one of his crooks. He knew better than to assume it was Singar. He had learned not to assume anything in his new line of work. Just be crystal sure or dead wrong.

Someone grabbed him from behind. Whoever it was slid his hands under James arms and locked his head. James’ gun dropped to the ground.

James was in a submission mode. He had to break out of it, and soon, before Singar went ahead to snap his neck like a goat.

Let’s look at things from the Inside. When a city’s oxygen supply is depleted or dangerously insufficient, the Lung undergoes automatic dispatch or release of oxygen from the Alveoli Sacs into the Blood Stream, the Erythrocytes then pick it up and supply it to the Organs which most need the oxygen. Like the Heart, the Brain of course and some others. The Brain, however, slows down activity and puts the body down on a temporal blackout or lockdown. It uses less energy. The Leukocytes at the Heart also slow the Heart’s pulse or activity so less energy is used.

Nemo was in a state very close to coma, but the cells were managing basic functions that would ensure he stay alive and just.

As the Alveoli were releasing oxygen in a rush, it caused a temporal earth or body-quake that shook the Right Lung. James and Singar stumbled backward, and that was just the right opportunity for James to take hold of their momentum and smack Singar into a wall.

It worked. Singar yelped and let go off James, who turned to face the man with his fight face on.

But Singar was not a weak opponent. With lightning speed, he zipped towards James, spun around and crashed his foot on James’ face. James neck turned an unnatural angle, and his vision spun.

He raised his head to meet another punch from Singar. Blood tumbled down his lips.

James tumbled to the ground. Singar towered him with the most evil expression James had never seen.

“You have destroyed years of my work, Winter!” he spat. James actually felt specks of spit settle unceremoniously on his face.

“What work?” James said, staring bravely into the man’s wicked eyes.

“What work! “ Singar laughed. “James, I was going to take over Nemo City James, then gradually the two worlds, both Inside and Outside, and oh, if I ever get out of here, my revenge will be great upon the Winter family.”

“What, why?” James said bewildered. He didn’t like people threatening his family.

“It was Nemo, James. He was the one who was supposed to be the one I experimented on, but he tricked me. Tricked his so called BEST FRIEND. And he lied so calmly and honestly that I believed him. I went into the Lab, and they turned me into a cell sized human, they promised me help, but help never came. Then Nemo drunk the water I had fallen in-“

Vividly familiar.

“And entered this stupid place. But I had the virus with me, and I am yet to realize its full potential, though I have an idea of what it could do. That was what your family’s Organization wanted to discover. They had evil plans set for it.”

“My family? What organization?. I live with my mother and the only close relation I have ever had is with my Uncle Michel and my cousin… Jones.” James injected as much venom as he could in his cousin’s name, to show Singar that he had not forgotten what he had done to his cousin.

“Oh, play dumb, kid. It doesn’t fit you. Anyway, I’m going to complete their work, without their help. It already does interesting things to Nemo when I slip some in his blood stream.” He smiled smugly, and James was filled with tremor.

He jumped to his feet and attempted a punch. It connected, though quite feebly. Singar had not been expecting it.

James went ahead and planted his foot in Singar’s chest. Singar was thrown backwards.

“This is not the way to go, Singar,” James said. He had gained the upper hand now. “We could get home together. As for Nemo, I’m sure he feels a great deal of remorse and wishes upon all things you could get back to him. We-my friends, you and I could think of a way to get out of-“

The Lung’s main doors blasted open, and several Guardians in black suits and helmets stormed into the hall. They circled the room and pointed their guns at Singar, who looked utterly terrified and shocked to see so many Guardians gathered together at one place to detain him alone.

This time, there was nowhere to run, no Germ to run behind. It was him and them alone. Panic seized him by its cold fingers.

In a quick move that even James hadn’t seen, he was behind James with a small pocket knife at his throat. James didn’t even have time to yelp before the cold metal pressed against his Adam’s apple, which had been growing bigger over the months.

“Nobody move!” Singar warned, twisting James’ body around so that every Guardian could see the knife on James’ neck. “Make a move I don’t like and I will slit his throat. Even if you shoot me I would kill him before I fall!”

The Lung was dead quiet. James caught the disbelief and hatred in Leo, Seli and Cornie’s eyes. They were also pointing their pistols at Rozin. But their hands were falling slowly.

The rest of the Guardians were unsure of what to do. They looked at Macrophage Hark for an order. Any order, James knew, they would carry without a moment’s hesitation. It was the way of life here. Every Guardian would do the unthinkable to save the City from Germs. Even if it meant sacrificing one of their own kind.

James begun to fear for his survival. Of course they would shoot. What was one boy’s life ot an entire City’s?

But to his utmost shock, Hark shook his head grumpily.

James’ spirits were lifted. How the heck was he not getting shot at, and how did Singar know this tactic would work.

The Guardians, a little reluctantly, lowered their weapons.

James could feel Singar’s relieved breath on the back of his neck. “What do you want, Singar?” Hark said, taking care to invoke every expression of disgust and hatred in his eyes.

“Clear out the way,” Singar, moving his head in a sweeping motion. “Move from the door- oh and you-“

He pointed at Cornie with his other hand only briefly before placing it back firmly on James’ chest, so James had no chance of grabbing the arm and hoisting the man over him, or twisting it and throwing him onto the ground.

“Back away slowly, out the door.”

Cornie did as she was told, backing out of the room slowly with her hands in the air.

Singar followed slowly, tightening his grip on the knife.

Leo made a sudden movement when Singar’s back had been turned to him, but Singar heard the gun crack and spun around. Just to prove his superiority in the situation, he moved the knife a little. Drops of blood appeared on James’ neck.

Leo’s eyes widened, and he dropped his gun. Singar used his finger to wipe the drops of blood from James’ neck. James thought he knew why. If the Guardians saw the human blood flow down James’ neck, they would take him as a threat and shoot him without thinking twice, even once. And then Singar’s one hope for freedom would be lost.

Singar and backed out of the room.

The night was cold. Chilly, in fact, and James instantly remembered that Nemo was in a half coma state. He was slowly dying.

Singar ordered Cornie to open the back door of the nearest vessel. Cornie did crystal slowly. James saw her quietly slip something dark into the back seat whilst she whispered or mumbled something to herself very inconspicuously. She straightened and James scowled at her. She replied with an it’s-going-to-be-okay look.

The Guardians followed them out into the night, their weapons still lowered. Singar backed towards the vessel, preparing to lower James into the back seat.

Then suddenly, a fist shot out of the vessel, clutching a pistol-probably the thing James had seen Cornie drop into the vessel. The butt of the pistol connected with the back of Singar’s head and he yelled in fright and shock.

The next few minutes were fatal and vital moments. Singar had been dazed, but he was not dead. He grasped the pocket knife harder and attempted to slit James’ throat. It was a shocking moment. James could see the knife coming back sharply, ready to gain contact with his throat.

But suddenly M. Hark was there, and in a swift motion, he pulled the hand that held the knife and punched Singar’s face. The impact was so close to James’ own face that he felt air ripple his cheeks.

Singar moaned as his head hit the roof of the vessel and he fell to the ground. James gasped for air severely, like he had just woken from a coma, which he might have gone into had that torture continued. He had been afraid to breathe or swallow lest his throat bulge and force the blade to puncture his skin.

Singar wasn’t done. He regained a sliver of consciousness and dived for his knife, which he had abandoned on the ground during the punch. He attempted to get up when Hark clicked a gun and pressed it to his head.

“Make a move, traitor and I will be forced to do more than slit your throat.”

Singar stayed where he was, in a kneeling position, and dropped the knife.

“That’s a good lad,” M. Hark said. James knew Singar was in no luck. The Guardians would shoot him eventually when they were done interrogating him to reveal Germ hideouts and all their wicked schemes.

Cornie, who was behind James, closed her hand around his wrist and pulled him away. She was running. James had to keep up, but he felt as if all the energy in him were being frozen. Oxygen, he thought. Nemo’s lack of oxygen was beginning to affect him.

He had barely managed to say “What is going on?” before Cornie stopped, a few meters from the Lung. Right on a hill that was probably the Diaphragm. Leo, Seli and Jones were there, too, with equally puzzled looks on their faces that told James they also didn’t know why Cornie had dragged them up here.

Cornie extracted her gun, aimed and screamed. “Everybody move out of the way.” And immediately she fired about five shots until the vessel Singar was kneeling beside exploded in flames.

James didn’t know how his super vision had turned on, but he had an unceremonious slow motion view of the flames eating and disintegrating Singar’s flesh.

He turned away, simultaneously powering down his Transformat.

The Guardians around the vessel yelled and dived out of the way. Soon there was dark smoke rising towards the skies like a great bonfire.

James and the others stared at Cornie in disbelief. From the looks of her face, even she couldn’t believe what she had just done.

“What did you do that for?” James yelled incredulously.

Cornie wiped a tear from her cheek. “I had to, James. I know Singar was human. I saw the blood flowing out of his calf. And you’re all bleeding quite profusely. What would the other Guardians have done if they had realized that their most dangerous Germ was a human, and you three, too? It would break the foundations of the Inside, James. The Inside world would be in peril, confusion, denial, if they realized that humans were finding ways to come to the Inside. And what’s more, they would murder you on the spot. They would think of you guys as invaders-Bacteria.

“We get it, Cornie,” Leo said, then shot James a funny look. “I don’t like the fact that James told you we are human, but you have just saved our lives with that information.”

“So what are we going to do now?” Seli said. She was becoming pale with the lack of oxygen.

“Now,” Cornie said, smiling for the first time in hours. “Now I get you guys home.

Chapter Ten: Beginnings.

The Ear. That’s how they were going to get out of Nemo City and back into the Outside. Apparently, the Ear was a basic transportation system for cells in and out of the various cities, but getting a visa there was pretty hectic and you really had have a candid reason for travelling to another City or the authorities there would not allow you.

Fortunately, Cornie had a cousin in the Ear who had made some ‘connections’ and got Cornie four good visas out of Nemo City.

So that was where they were now, the waiting room of the Ear, huddled together on one bench as they waited for Cornie to get them their ‘traveling kit’. She said that, them being human, they probably didn’t need it but they had to throw any suspicion off themselves. Apparently, something bad happened to cells who flew out of the Ear’s Transportation System without wearing their kit. Cornie didn’t know what exactly, but she knew it was bad enough to pay heed to.

She returned with an elder gray bearded man who carried in his arms several yellow costumes that looked like space suits, complete with helmets the thickness of tungsten. The man helped each of them to wear their suits (they were difficult to wear as it turned out) and politely led them out of the room to the Departure Room.

Cornie held James back and hugged him tightly. James returned the hug. After a few seconds, they broke apart, with Cornie looking like she was holding gallons of tears back.

“You;ve been a beacon of hope to the City, James. That’s why Macrophage Hark didn’t shoot you down back in the Lung. Everyone trusts you and believes in you now, including me.”

“You’re flattering me, Cornie,-“James said.

Cornie only laughed and continued. “And you’ve been a really great friend and partner…” She hugged James even tighter this time, well, as tightly as she could with those moon suits bulging from James’ body.

The elderly cell poked his head round the door and impatiently told them that the others were about to depart.

“I hope you’ll visit again!” Cornie called after him as he turned to follow the man.

“I will!” he shouted back, though he knew there was next to zero possibility that he would ever see Cornie again. H pushed it out of his mind.

They passed the Ear Drum, a great round board which’s surface was made of something like plastic film or aluminum foil or a thin stretch of water. The film rippled slightly like a drop in water as sounds from Nemo’s surroundings were picked up by his ears. The red bulb on the top of the Ear Drum beeped and flashed with each ripple, sending sound waves to the Brain to be processed into meaningful information through the audio nerves.

After the Ear Drum, they entered a large vast room. There were stairs all over the circular wall where many workers stood manning and controlling dials, levers and computers.

Leo, Seli and Jones were standing in front of a gigantic metal chute with green bulbs all over it.

There was a fat woman lecturing them on their Departure 101.

“Now, if this is the first time you’re travelling through here, which I suspect, know that it’s nothing to fear, and that the more you panic, the more you are likely to be crushed by the pressure that would threaten you as soon as you jump over this chute. Oh and there might be some vomiting and nausea. Nothing major to worry about, though.”

She clicked her fat fingers upwards and a worker pulled a lever down all the way. The green lights around the chutes blinked and flashed rapidly as the metal gate broke into two, one part going up and the other down.

The woman hurried out of the way. She probably did not want to sucked out of the room like a giant sucking on an empty bottle.

Three minutes later, the gates were fully opened. Wind roared inside the room and carried the four teenagers as the woman held on to a metal handle attached to a wall to keep herself from unwillingly following the travelers.

The woman was right. As soon as they had been let out of the chute, pressure increased in James’ lungs and reduced the volume of oxygen entering. Fresh air at last, he thought. He was breathing fresh Outside air in a long time.

Leo screamed something with all his might. James didn’t hear it since the rushing wind snatched the words away, but he thought he could guess the question.

Now what?!

It seemed as if he had known the answer and the solution all along. He concentrated, and he felt the Transformat heat wildly. It connected to the other’s Transformats.

James laughed, and the wind punished his insolence by choking him.

He could fell himself growing bigger already.

Michel’s Mansion; the next morning.

James sat beside Jones on the latter’s big king-sized bed with his arm around his cousin. Seli and Leo stood in front of them, frantically helping to discuss what they would tell James’ mother and Uncle Michel.

Last night, they had transformed into full sized humans and fallen, quite noisily and clumsily, on the carpet in the sitting room of Michel’s Mansion. Fortunately, Nemo had been fast asleep by then and did not even move a muscle to the noise. Of course, the man was almost dead. The cells in his body must’ve been doing everything they could to help him regain strength and energy, if they were not dying already.

The place was eerie and quiet, so they had all sneaked into their individual rooms and slept, right after showering, of course.

Now, at five thirty in the morning, Seli had quietly gathered them in Jones’ room so they could prepare before revealing themselves to Nemo and the others, who must be utterly distraught by now. Time went super slow in the Inside in relative to the Outside, but James felt sure they had been in the Inside too long enough for anybody not to notice.

They heard footsteps hit the stairs, coming closer. It was now or never.

You’d think that they had to lie, right? Because no one would believe it if they told them the true story, huh? Seli came up with a better idea.

The door opened slowly, like the person coming was hesitant to come into the room. It open ed wider.

It was James’ mum. James’ heart melted at the sight of her. He couldn’t believe how much he had missed his sometimes annoying but most of the time sweet mother. Now he was starting to comprehend the intense pain that she must have been going through following the loss of her only son. James felt guilty.

Lucy seemed to be looking at something in the hallway. As soon as she turned and raised her head, her face froze, her eyes widened and she dropped her phone, which she had been holding.

She carefully but quickly scanned the teenagers, as if to make sure she wasn’t having hallucinations again or seeing ghosts. Then, when she was satisfied that these were no mirages, she let out an infinite scream that ricocheted off everything in the house.

Was it just James’ imagination or did he really hear a glass explode downstairs?

“Hi, mum,” she said and his mother’s scream broke into heavy sobs. She hugged her son tighter than fifteen Cornies (and one Cornie was difficult). James was delighted to smell that distinct perfume on her mother that seemed to have stuck with her as long as James remembered. It smelt something close to lavender.

James inhaled it like it was his life. Lucy brought the others into a tight hug, too. It was a warm feeling that James didn’t know he would ever want.

Nemo burst into the room carrying a heavy spanner with grease all over it. He glanced around frantically, tremor in his eyes, clutching the spanner with the readiness to knock someone’s sense out.

“What happening?” He growled. “Why did you scream-“His eyes fell on James and the others and he scowled. He looked like he wanted to scream, too, but he held it in.

“Where the heck have you guys been?” he said, lowering the spanner, which made wet grease stain Jones’ carpet.

“Yes,” Lucy urged, wiping tears from her cheeks. “Explain.”

“Um,”Seli looked at the others for backup, but they were dry. “Well, on that morning of the bike ride, we got a little lost…”

The others nodded rapidly.

James joined in. “Yeah, it was like we just shrank into another world and suddenly could see things that no ordinary human being can see. It was extremely frustrating at first.”

“Yeah,” Leo said, catching on. “But we had help from some tiny friends. They helped us find our way back home. We landed last night.”

Nemo and Lucy exchanged worried glances.

“And why are you so hurt?” Nemo jerked his head at Jones, who still had a million plasters taped to his face and arms. In fact, ever since they had gotten out of the Inside, he was looking way better than he had been, which led to the conclusion that materializing in or out of the Inside made wounds heal faster.

Jones looked at the wounds on his arms. James could see he was desperately trying to find something to say that wasn’t a lie but that would confuse Nemo and Lucy. “Well, I was uh, beaten by some Germs, but it was nothing major.”

Nemo and Lucy looked alarmed now. Lucy scratched her neck, the way she did when she was nervous.

“They probably haven’t had anything to eat in some days now, that’s why their talking gibberish. Let’s make some heavy breakfast for them.”

Nemo and Lucy turned and went, and James smiled back at his friends. They were geniuses.

The Johannesburg airport… the next morning.

The Johannesburg airport was too packed for eleven in the morning. Lots of people in smocks and other delightful African wears dragged their suitcases through the sweltering heat and into the air conditioned room to grab their tickets.

Two stray dogs hid in the shade of the airport dustbins, watching the doves show off in the bright sky. A security guard was having serious trouble trying to conduct the cars and people in an orderly manner.

After half an hour’s waiting in a long queue to get to the security checkpoint, Lucy, Seli, Leo and James were standing in front of their plane, saying their last words of farewell to Uncle Michel, Jones and Nemo. James hugged Jones as the latter had been pecked by Lucy.

“Keep our little secret, bro,” He said as he patted his cousin on the back.

“No problem. Until our next dangerous and fun adventure that you seem to be attracted to?”

James laughed and broke the hug. “You know it.”

He fist bumped Nemo, who was looking quite pale but definitely infinitely better. The cells in his body must’ve gotten rid of the rest of Singar’s cronies and repaired the Right Lung. Hopefully, they now realized that the Lungs were as important as the Heart and Brain. Well, one of them anyway, since James had read only last night that a human could live without one Lung, though he wouldn’t be as fit and energetic as a human with two lungs since not a lot of oxygen will be burnt to release energy. Still, the two Lungs were equally important and worth guarding.

James seemed to have developed a peculiar interest in science, especially medicine and fields relating to the cells and organs in the body. He appeared to be attracted to the huge science books in his uncle’s office that he previously considered boring and unworthy to read. That trip to the Inside was really paying off. Maybe it meant better grades in science this term in school.

Uncle pulled James aside as he pulled back from a hug with Lucy.

He looked on edge and nervous, as he’d become ever since James and the others had escaped from the Inside. On several occasions yester night, James caught him staring at his and the other’s Transformats as if they had insulted his mother. He always looked as if he wanted to say something, only to shut his mouth and growl silently or groan, just as he had done just that morning, when Lucy had served them with a peculiar West-African food that was made of round white balls and a slimy green stew. Apparently, it was called ‘Banku and the stew, okra sauce.’ Never mind the name, it had tasted excellent.

Anyway, it seemed as though Uncle Michel was hiding something. It had to do with the Transformat and James. He knew something about it, but how could James ask him.

James remembered what Singar had said on the last night in the Inside. He had mentioned something about the Winters owning an evil organization that had actually created the virus and ditched him in the Inside.

Suddenly, James did not trust his Uncle, or his mother. Where they hiding something evil, and if so, what? How could he find out? He realized, if all this was true, he was in the middle of a dangerous evil family scheme that he would find really hard to escape. What was he talking about, Singar was an expert deceiver. He just wanted to get into James’ head. Right?…

“James,” begun Uncle Michel. “As you’re going, I want you to know I love you, and I’ll always be there for you, anytime you need me. But you should focus on your studies. Become the man you want to become.

“I don’t want you to worry yourself and certainly not worry your mother. Don’t get into any fights or suspicious situations. Steer clear out of trouble. And don’t go into any one of your risky adventures any more. Got it?”

What is he talking about, James thought. He had never been involved in any fights. Okay there was that one time that James had punched the school bully, Thompson, in the face, but nobody heard of that, surely. No. Uncle Michel was talking about something else. He was probably being eaten by guilt of this evil Winter organization he owned.

There we go again, James. He really needed to wipe that thought from his mind. But he could not wipe the image of Nemo clutching his spanner that morning. He looked as though he had expected an intruder to infiltrate their house.

“But,” James protested, but Uncle Michel shushed him. “Promise.” He said firmly.

James groaned but said, “I promise.”

Uncle Michel clapped him on the shoulder. “Good. Now go, the others have gone. But be in touch frequently. And James, er, nothing is your fault. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.”

James naturally was going to ask what that meant, but Michel shushed him away.

Defeated, he climbed aboard the airplane small flight of stairs, thinking rapidly.

Whatever the Transformat was, wherever it had come from, it was not meant to be used as a toy by a teenage boy. It was destined for great things, and the wearer was in for the ride. Things would change from now on, James knew.

He was in the middle of something wicked, quietly rolling its way towards him. He and his friends had entered a new world of trouble and misery, and war.

The Transformat glowed and heated.


The Transformat : Beginnings

James Winter is an ordinary boy on a vacation trip with his best friends and cousin-Then he discovers a device on top of a mountain- and dares to put it on… Now, he soon learns that there is a war raging on in another world so close to ours- and its consequences could be devastatingly fatal to the humans.The worst part is, somehow, he is caught right in the mess of it all...

  • ISBN: 9781310587658
  • Author: Arnold Wogbe
  • Published: 2016-03-21 23:50:13
  • Words: 52427
The Transformat : Beginnings The Transformat : Beginnings