The Bluffs, Windenburg, 2027
Henry entered the wormhole onto The Bluffs. It was a secret passage that few knew about. Alex told him about it last year. The wormhole was convenient when you wanted to ensure no one was following you. He rubbed his arms. It was getting cold. And it's not even winter yet, he thought.
He looked straight ahead and squinted. There were his friends, all in a circle around a bonfire. Honestly, they are always lighting bonfires in the daytime. Why are Evil Geniuses so weird?
He hurried towards them, startling them.
"Oh, Henry, you came out of nowhere," cried Anita.
"Ah sorry guys," said Henry. Adrian was furious, but not about Henry's sudden appearance.
"Henry, what time do you call this?" she snapped.
Henry looked at his phone.
"4:20," he read aloud. "Oh come on, only six minutes late."
"What do you think 'sharp' means, Henry? Lenient? No! It means 'on the dot' - perfect!"
"It can also mean 'cutting' and I was 'cutting' it rather fine there."
"Don't get funny with me, Henry. Don't be late again! Got it? There's a reason why we have rules and there's a reason why they're strict...
"Do you have any idea how much we risked in letting you join us? I planned this meeting very carefully. The timing, the day - even how I was going to deliver the message to you."
Henry's eyes went wide.
"Oh, yes, I hacked the teacher's computer and saw her lesson plans and worksheets, so I knew what the class was going to study and could prepare my answer with the message so you would understand. And guess what? EVERYTHING went according to plan, everything I planned was working, everyone was doing the right thing, but you! You just had to not listen in maths, meaning I had to risk our cover being blown by writing my perfectly crafted message on paper for you. If ANY word gets out that we have been communicating - I don't know about your parents, but my mum would surely lock me up for the REST. OF. MY. LIFE. So, when I say, 'be on time,' you BE. ON. TIME. Got it?"
Henry nodded, shamefacedly.
"Finished letting off steam?" said Anita from the other side of the bonfire. She was standing next to her boyfriend, Luka.
"Anita," said Adrian, "just because you're going out with an Evil Genius does not mean you have a fraction of an inkling of what it's like to belong in a family like ours."
"That's quite harsh, Adrian," said Quintin, beside her, but Adrian was on a role.
"Henry, before your aunts, Lauren and Edith, murdered our king and queen..."
"Lauren actually had nothing to do with it..."
"The point is, Henry," said Adrian, dismissing his last comment, "things were much easier before. We could sneak out, with less of a risk of our parents finding out. You, Henry, could misinterpret my secret messages as much as you liked, because our parents were only 'slightly' at each other's throats. Let me explain, neither party, the Evil Geniuses nor the Sweglords had killed each other for forty or so years - we killed your Granddad, as payback for burning the base of His Evil Services, killing almost everyone inside. The only survivors were my Great-Grandmother Talula Green, the secretary Eva Fowl and her husband Tyron Fowl, and a baby..."
"Would you like to name the baby too?" said Henry. Honestly, why were Evil Geniuses so hung up on names?
"Why is this important? Because everyone's been waiting forty years to see who makes the next move. But us Evil Geniuses have started to let our guard down. So have the families belonging to His Evil Services. You, Henry, had Casandra Fowl in your home class in first grade. Not allowed to talk to her, but you still had her in your home class, something that would not have been allowed even ten years earlier. Then, one of you Sweglords decides to make the next move by killing the king and queen. Genius - because you knew it would catch us off guard, but now we Evil Geniuses are awake and my parents are keeping an insufferably close eye on me, in case I, the descendant of Talula Green, am next."
A long silence followed Adrian's speech.
"Should have brought my chessboard. Could have had a few rounds, yeah?" said Luka breaking the silence.
"Aww man, why didn't you?" cried Quintin, delighted that the topic had moved onto something positive.
Adrian sniffed. "So you can beat us all with the strategy skills you get from your father?"
"Quit complaining," sighed Luka. "You almost beat me last time at the park."
"Not the same, Luka, which is why I prefer Cluedo because I always beat you."
A rush of sadness washed over Henry as Luka mentioned, 'the park.' He had longed to play chess there with his friends. He was not bad at chess, himself. He even beat his father, Caleb, once when he was seven.
Okay, that's nothing to be smug about, thought Henry.
The problem with parks was that they were public places. Anyone could be watching Henry, the Sweglord, play with his friends, the Evil Geniuses, and both parties had their spies everywhere.
"Adrian, a word with you, please." Anita's voice cut through Henry's thoughts.
"Alright," said Adrian, and the two girls marched off to the bushes.
Henry watched them suspiciously as they became dots in the distance. That's odd, he thought. Maybe Anita is telling Adrian to stop picking on me. Yeah that's probably it, but like always, Henry really wanted to know exactly what was being said, if it was about him. So, like always, he waited for an opportunity to sneak away from the rest of his friends to listen in on the secret gossipers behind the bushes.
He really wanted the remainder of his friends to continue chatting, but no one felt like talking. So, Henry initiated a debate - something his father was good at, since he was the negotiator in the gang.
The topic Henry came up with was whether Windenburg needed a monarchy, which started a different discussion from what he had intended.
Instead of discussing the advantages and disadvantages of the monarchy, the discussion centred on which members of the group believed in the monarchy, including Henry.
Henry listened to their theories about his beliefs. Why don't they just ask me what I think? And, for the record, I don't really care if there's a monarchy or not, but I do care about Alex, because he's our friend.
Anita and Adrian were having a heated conversation in hisses.
"We don't use our friends!" hissed Adrian crossly.
"No, you're right. Not normally, but these are desperate times and, you have to admit he'd be rather useful."
"You want him to spy on his own family?"
Anita sighed. "Think about it, Caleb is the go-between for Lauren, Edith and Paris. He's the Sweglord who will have the biggest picture of what's going on. He is also their organiser of events. Goodness knows how he didn't get arrested too. I wouldn't suggest making Henry our spy if we weren't in desperate times, but the Hellewells have started killing again, and they are going to finish what they started."
Finish what? thought Henry. It was that phrase he heard his father say on the phone the other day. So they know about this unfinished business too. How come I don't know about it?
"Alex is not going to like this," spat Adrian.
"Adrian, we haven't seen Alex for weeks. For all we know, he may hate Henry's guts - which could be likely given the circumstances - you know - dead parents, thanks to Henry's family."
Henry backed away from the bushes.
Could Alex hate me? Could they all hate me? Am I just, at the end of the day, a Sweglord to them? A vicious driven Hellewell Sweglord, out to make their Evil Genius lives miserable.
BUMP! Henry cried in shock as he smacked into something solid. He was so lost in his thoughts, he had not realised he had been back-stepping away from the girls.
"Henry?" said an unexpected male voice from behind. Henry swung around to face the last person he had imagined would be here, although he had immediately recognised the voice.