Monday, 12 February 2007

Chapter 12: The Brotherhood

About ten miles outside the city limits, in several hundred acres of woodland, stands the majestic Hartley House. The magnificent stately home was built by a local farmer called Alexander Hartley when farming was the best way to make a million, long before Lotto and reality TV shows created new millionaires every week.

The farmer became incredibly rich through years and years of toil and ended his working life a satisfied and accomplished man. Unfortunately, on his day of retirement he realised that because he had worked so hard all his life, he had nothing to spend his money on. No wife, no children, no hobbies, nothing at all.

All he had was his house, so it became his life. He made the house his reason to get out of bed every morning. He kept building and expanding the mansion, adding more and more rooms until eventually it became one of the largest private residences in the world.

Many successful business people have owned and lived in Hartley House down the years until one of the owners became unexpectedly unsuccessful and had to hand it over to the government to pay off his tax bill. It then became a hotspot for schmoozing important persons of influence who were visiting the city.

On this day, it wasn’t being used for schmoozing. In fact, you wouldn’t have set foot in Hartley House in over a year unless you were a member of The Brotherhood.

In one of the many splendid-looking halls, two men in camouflage gear and masks were fighting each other with long silver swords.

One man was noticeably taller and wider than the other and obviously more skilful with the sword. His name was Captain Stein. His opponent was Private Brown. To be fair to Private Brown, he was holding his own. Captain Stein had beaten him into submission numerous times in the twelve months they had been posted at Hartley House. He had also beaten him numerous times when they were posted at the other end of the country for six months.

Before joining The Brotherhood, Private Brown had been working in a fast food restaurant after dropping out of school. He was a damn good burger flipper back then and was determined to be just as good with a samurai sword as he was with a spatula. He met Captain Stein on the night his parents were killed and signed up to The Brotherhood in a shot.

The sparring practice followed the same pattern as it usually did between Stein and Brown: Stein was permanently on the attack and Brown spent the whole practice session frantically defending. The only difference was that it took Stein longer than usual to knock the sword out of Brown’s hands. But knock the sword out of his hands he did, and then followed up with a kick to the knees that sent Brown tumbling to the floor.

They both removed their masks and Stein helped Brown to his feet. “Good effort, Brown,” said Stein in a strong, booming voice. “Now tell me what you did wrong.”

“Same as usual, Sir,” Brown replied. “All I did was defend. I didn’t get the chance to attack.”

“Wrong, Brown. You didn’t make the chance to attack,” said Stein as he tapped Brown on the head. “Your problem’s in there. You have the ability but you’re not channelling it. We’ll try again tomorrow.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Brown.

They saluted each other and Brown left the room. He passed Commander North in the doorway. Commander North was another big, burly man like Captain Stein, only with more experience written in the lines on his face.

“I know I don’t need to ask the result,” North said as the men saluted each other. “You have a good man there, Stein. Is there any news?”

“Yes sir. The lab was bombed last night. The doctors’ work was completely destroyed.”

“What happened to them?”

“They’ve both disappeared but we’ve got a team going out to find them today.”

“I want you to lead the team. You can find them. I have every confidence in you.”

“Thank you, sir. We will leave immediately.”

They saluted each other. On the way out of the room, Commander North left Stein with a parting shot. “Remember, if you don’t find the doctors, we’re all dead.”

“Yes, sir.”

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