Authors: Rob Stevens
For Clare, Dylan and Charlie again – always
Thank you to all the members of the squadron at RAF Wittering for kindly allowing me to fly their Harrier simulator. The experience left me in no doubt about the skill required
to hover a jet aircraft, and full of admiration for the pilots who do it in the line of fire. I have had the pleasure of working with some top agents over the years and would like to thank them all
for the back-up they provided, especially Julia, Becky, Zoe and of course Maddie and Clare. I am immensely grateful to my parents, my sister Amanda and brother Andrew for their tactical support and
for always watching my six. Secret operatives Atkinson, Cook, Purcell, Redding and Schomberg provided invaluable intel on highly classified subjects, while Trisha and Keith offered crucial feedback
on preliminary documents. Finally thank you to my editor, Emma Young, without whom this book would have been twice as long and half as good.
Helen Highwater gazed across the Thames from her office in MI6 headquarters, swivelling her leather chair from side to side as she considered how to conduct her imminent
meeting. Standing beside her, dressed in his customary tweed suit with his spidery arms crossed, was her Tech Branch Specialist, Holden Grey.
‘I don’t know what you’re worried about,’ he said, stroking his white, pencil-thin moustache with thumb and forefinger. ‘You’ve been dealing with field
operatives for years.’
were adults,’ Highwater countered, tapping a silver pen against her teeth. ‘Need I remind you that Agent X-ray is only fourteen years old?’
say we play it cool,’ said Grey. ‘Hip, even.’ He unfastened the top button of his shirt and loosened his knitted tie.
‘I’m not sure that’s a wise—’ Highwater was interrupted by a knock at the door. Her sharply bobbed hair kicked outward as she spun her chair round. ‘Come
in,’ she commanded.
Holden Grey quickly ruffled a hand through his hair and pushed up the sleeves of his jacket. ‘Trust me,’ he murmured, partly untucking his shirt. ‘I think it’s time to
show Agent X-ray we’re not too old to be down on the kids.’ The door opened and the teenager approached the smoked-glass desk.
‘Good afternoon, X-ray,’ said Highwater.
‘What’s up, partner?’ added Grey, holding up a fist as a salute.
’ the young agent sneered. ‘What is this, like, the wild west or something?’ Noticing Grey’s dishevelled appearance, X-ray added, ‘OMG, Mr
Grey, have you been mugged or something?’
‘No, no, nothing like that.’ The old man affected a dismissive laugh. ‘This is just me – being my casual,
‘Groovy?’ Agent X-ray repeated dubiously, as if reading some obscure Shakespearean text.
‘Sit down, X-ray,’ Highwater said sternly.
‘Yeah,’ Grey added. ‘Like, just chill off for a while.’
‘Er, I think you mean chill
,’ mumbled the agent, dropping into the leather chair positioned opposite the desk.
‘Oh, well.’ Grey cleared his throat. ‘I say tomato . . .’
Highwater glared at her colleague.
The clock on the desk ticked.
Agent X-ray looked absently round the office, taking in the plush black carpet, angular leather sofa and sleek grey walls adorned with colour-coordinated abstract paintings. The room was
tastefully dressed with an assortment of vases in highly polished ceramic, and metallic vertical blinds were drawn back to reveal a stunning view of London.
‘We have our first mission,’ announced Highwater at last, persevering with her authoritative approach. ‘There’s been a disappearance. A young man in Norway has gone
missing from his own bed. Local police are treating him as a runaway but we have information suggesting he was kidnapped.’
Agent X-ray’s eyes narrowed. ‘Is there any connection with—?’
It’s too soon to tell,’ interrupted Highwater.
‘For real,’ Grey agreed, ‘but we’ve got the green light on the go-ahead to investigate.’
‘Do we have any leads?’ asked X-ray
‘Affirmative,’ stated Highwater.
Holden Grey grabbed a chair and straddled it backwards, trembling slightly as he lowered his ageing frame into the seat. ‘We’ve just cracked a coded message on the Internet that
foretold this latest kidnapping before it happened . . . obviously. It seems our mysterious kidnapper thought we wouldn’t be smart enough to decipher his clue. Well, how wrong he
‘I’m not being funny,’ X-ray sneered, ‘but solving the riddle after the crime has taken place is about as useful as party poppers at a funeral.’
Highwater nodded as though she appreciated Agent X-ray’s input but she was really thinking how much she missed working with grown-ups. At least adults
to respect her,
unlike these kids who said exactly what they thought.
‘In some ways you’re right.’ She frowned thoughtfully. ‘The point we’re making is that the Internet is so vast that identifying a code is usually much trickier than
deciphering it. To be honest, the code itself is so simple even a child could solve it . . . no offence.’
Agent X-ray shrugged.
Highwater removed her rectangular spectacles and thought for a moment. ‘Look, X-ray, this is serious,’ she said grimly. ‘I don’t know what his intentions are but my
instincts tell me we might have an EMU on our hands.’
‘Yes, Emu.’ Highwater pressed her palms on to her desk and, leaning forward purposefully, whispered, ‘Evil Mastermind Uprising.’
‘So what’s the plan then?’ said Agent X-ray. ‘Do we go and stake out his house or whatever?’
Holden Grey grimaced. ‘The exact location of his precise . . . er . . . location is, presently at this moment in time, unknown to myselves – I mean ourself. That means we must
monitor and filter the suspect website twenty-four-seven. Seven days a week. And that means round the clock.’
‘Yeah, I know what twenty-four-seven means.’
Grey continued, ‘Next time our Evil Mastermind brags about his impending crime we’ll be one step ahead and stay right on his tail. Although, when I say “we”, I do of
course mean you, X-ray.’
Agent X-ray nodded.
‘Naturally you’ll need a partner,’ said Highwater.
‘What about Agent Hotel?’
Highwater shook her head. ‘Unfortunately Agent Hotel will be spending the next six weeks in plaster following an injury sustained in the field.’
‘The field?’ Agent X-ray frowned. ‘But this is our first mission!’
‘Not that sort of field,’ said Highwater wearily. ‘The playing field. The silly boy broke his ankle playing football yesterday lunchtime. And Agent Kilo won’t be
available to us for months unless he’s released from house arrest for exceptionally good behaviour.’
‘House arrest?’ Agent X-ray was horrified, imagining some sort of military coup in far-off lands.
‘Yes, he’s been grounded indefinitely for crashing his father’s new BMW while showing off to his friends.’
‘I didn’t even know Agent Kilo had a licence.’
‘He doesn’t,’ said Highwater with a snort of disapproval. ‘In fact, with Agent Alpha suffering from chickenpox and Agent Uniform having her tonsils out we don’t
have a single existing agent who’s eligible for this assignment.’
‘I’ll handle it then,’ said Agent X-ray.
‘Don’t be foolish,’ said Highwater. ‘You know agency protocol forbids underage operatives engaging in field ops alone. We will simply have to recruit a fresh
Helen Highwater stood, picked up two pieces of A4 paper and walked round her desk until she was opposite Agent X-ray Handing over one sheet, she perched on the edge of the glass desktop and
folded her arms. ‘We ran SPADE again,’ she said.
SPADE stood for Secret Potential Agent Data Evaluator – a computer program used by MI6 to identify people who possess the right skills and aptitude to make good future agents. The school
records, SATS test results and sporting achievements of every child in the country were recorded alongside their medical records and genetic make-up. All the data was fed into SPADE, which analysed
and quantified it before allocating each child a score from one to a hundred depending on their potential suitability for field ops.
‘Ninety-eight,’ said Agent X-ray, casually scanning the SPADE printout. ‘Could do better.’
‘Not much,’ Highwater retorted.
At the top of the page was a photograph of a young boy with a lean oval face framed by a messy thatch of mousy hair. His shy smile revealed two front teeth with a slight overbite and his eager
brown eyes peered keenly from behind small spectacles.
‘He looks like a bookworm to me,’ sneered Agent X-ray.
‘Don’t judge a bookworm by its cover,’ laughed Grey.
‘So why does SPADE rate him so highly?’
Highwater slid her glasses on and peered at her own copy of the printout. ‘He has an impeccable school record and his SATS are exemplary. He is highly intelligent with a particular flair
for lateral thinking, languages and verbal reasoning and he is potentially an expert at hand-to-hand combat, which might come in very handy if your cover gets blown.’
It doesn’t say anything here about any martial-arts training,’ Agent X-ray interjected. ‘I’m not being funny, but watching
The Karate Kid
doesn’t make him a
‘We have reason to believe that he is genetically predisposed to be able to look after himself,’ stated Highwater. ‘Besides which his father was a military test pilot and we
know that he has inherited his piloting skills too. In fact my only reservation is based on his age.’
‘I hate to break the bad news but all your agents are teenagers, you know,’ said Agent X-ray.
‘Exactly,’ Highwater agreed. ‘This one isn’t. He’s twelve.’
X-ray started to laugh but, realising that Highwater was serious, protested instead. ‘That’s crazy. You can’t catch evil masterminds with babies.’