The Winds of Power - The Sleeper Prophecy

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On Trial

~ Chapter 11 ~

‘On Trial’

Reluctantly the boys dragged themselves out of bed and headed for the recreation room.

“The ice queen is melting,” said Cosmo. “I think she’s falling for me.”

“You wish!”

Doctor Hudson burst into the room, brimming with energy. “They have it!” he announced. “They have a cure for the common cold! We shall have a celebration tonight. This is a real breakthrough!”

“You’re a legend, Doctor Hudson!” said Cosmo. “Perhaps this winter I won’t have to walk around with soggy tissues in my pocket and one stuck up my nose.”

Sarah-Jane frowned and stepped away from Cosmo. “That’s great news! I guess you’ll be on the front page of all the medical journals.”

“Not me, I’m afraid,” he chuckled. “It will be credited to one of the government’s research laboratories.”

“Will it cure the flu?” asked Amber.

“No, but I’m sure they’ll have a cure for that as well. We just need to find it... Must send news of this back now,” he muttered as he left, still beaming.

They flopped onto the couches, still tired from Dreng, and recounted what they had done to elude the sniffers. Sarah-Jane had also brought a perfumed bag for the burden. “It would’ve worked too,” she explained, “but Bajool told us the scent of the burden was on our hands and clothes.”

“Bajool was right about illusions,” said Cosmo. “I created a wall of flames and they just bounded through it.”

“I’ve been thinking,” said Amber. “It doesn’t make sense – Ogmore trying to kill us. He could easily have snapped our necks on Dreng – why leave it to chance with the sniffers?”

“When they reached us,” said Cosmo, “There was no question of chance. We didn’t have the energy left between us to fight off an ant. If ours had been sabotaged we would’ve been dog meat!”

“But yours wasn’t, only ours,” Amber pointed out. “Perhaps it was a test.” She stared at Aiden. “Perhaps they were testing you!”

“Strange test,” said Aiden. “We could’ve died.”

“But we didn’t, you saved us. You drew more energy than the rest of us combined. You even saved Orka’s life... We survived because of you.”

“A true hero!” said Cosmo, nudging Aiden in the arm.

“Yeah, ta,” said Aiden.

A new Buwah guard, Feng, stood in the training room. Before training commenced, Doctor Peasley congratulated them on their efforts on Dreng. Not only had they endured the perils of Dreng, they had also worked with the Oken. She gave Cosmo a disapproving stare, and he reluctantly removed his silver eyebrow stud.

Bajool also praised their performances. “It was never expected you would complete the course. Teams rarely do. However, it tested you to your physical and mental limits and no one gave up.

We have not found Ogmore,” he continued, “and Kayeed is questioning the remaining Buwah to confirm their loyalty to the Alliance. Kydra will now take you through your morning exercises.”

Matong strode up to Aiden. “Come with me!” he hissed.

Aiden turned to Bajool.

“You may go,” said Bajool. “We need to determine what other acts of sabotage Ogmore performed. Matong will take you to the medical bay.”

Doctor Hudson stepped forward. “I’ll come with you, lad.”

Aiden was confused. How could he possibly help find out what else Ogmore had done?

“Come!” commanded Matong, as he brushed past Aiden with his shimmering purple cloak flowing majestically behind him.

“How can I help?” Aiden asked, running to catch up, with Doctor Hudson lumbering behind.

“You are to meet with Goolee, one of the Genoa. They are the ones that make prophecies,” he said mockingly.

“Isn’t Goolma the prophet we’re going to meet on Sanctuary?”

“She is. Goolma is the Genoa’s most revered prophet. Goolee is one of their lesser prophets.”

Goolee turned out to be a most curious creature, about Aiden’s height but with a long thick neck and a dome-shaped head with a ring of small bumps around the circumference. Pebbly textured skin covered his pear shaped body and he wore no clothes. He had a yellowish bill like a duck and stubby arms and legs that made him look like a badly drawn cartoon character. Aiden forced himself not to laugh. He remembered the Genoan physiology from the charts in the recreation room. It was, however, another thing altogether to see such an odd-looking creature up close.

Two Buwah stood inside the door of the medical bay. Matong offered no introductions and paced the room.

Aiden sat down on one of the malleable beds. Through cloudy brown eyes, Goolee inspected him.

“Goolee,” asked Doctor Hudson. “Why is Aiden here?”

“Oh, sorry,” said Goolee in a squeaky voice, stepping away from Aiden, “Silly I. I sometimes tune out... Do you have any seeing gift, Aiden?”

Goolee intrigued Aiden. He seemed scatterbrained and almost quacked when he spoke.

“Not really,” Aiden replied.

Matong banged his fist on a table. Aiden and Doctor Hudson jumped in alarm.

Goolee did not appear to notice Matong’s interruption. “Hmm... Sarah-Jane shows a rare gift, but you have none – ah well... that’s right – the imprinting rings! Ogmore has created quite a fuss. I guess I should have seen it coming being the ship’s seer, but I have been busy. Ah, yes... Koodra believes Ogmore may have tampered with your imprinting ring. Seems unlikely, they are such complicated things. I am not sure why Eulo wants me here. I can’t read minds.”

With a thunderous bang on the table, Matong manoeuvred himself so his nose was almost touching Goolee’s bill. Goolee recoiled in alarm.

“Look into his future, fool! Does he position himself against the Alliance?” snapped Matong, and just as quickly, withdrew.

Aiden went numb. Position himself against the Alliance! Why would they think that?

“Yes, that might work...” flustered Goolee. “I guess we should start.”

Goolee picked up the remote control and after initially tipping Aiden onto the floor, for which he apologised, he repositioned the bed into a chair. Aiden couldn’t see how Sarah-Jane coped with having seer tutoring from Goolee. She was a perfectionist who liked order, and he seemed incapable of coherent thought.

Matong strode up to the Buwah. “Has he eaten?” he said, his eyes darting in Goolee’s direction.

“Not today,” growled one of the Buwah.

Eulo and Gibber arrived and the Buwah promptly bowed. Matong gave the slightest of nods and Eulo bowed gracefully in return.

“Good morning,” said Eulo. “You gave a good account of yourself on Dreng, Aiden. This examination should not take long. Goolee, have you eaten today?”

Goolee blinked. “Eulo, you commanded me not to. I would never disobey you.”

“Thank you Goolee... If you are agreeable, I wish to see what you see.”

“Your observance would honour me.”

Eulo placed his hand on Goolee’s shoulder and Goolee placed a hand on Aiden’s forehead, accidentally jabbing him in the eye. Aiden did not have a good feeling about this. What did they expect to find?

Goolee’s eyes rolled back into his head and his body started to shudder. It sounded as if he was going to vomit. Shortly the shuddering stopped and Goolee’s eyes reappeared. Aiden looked into the depths of the now clear eyes above him. Colour flooded back into Goolee’s eyes. With a painful screech, he pushed himself away from Aiden, falling backwards with a thud onto his large bottom. Aiden peered down. Goolee’s face contorted as if he had seen his worst nightmare. He looked at Aiden with revulsion.

“What is it?” said Doctor Hudson in alarm.

Goolee scrambled backwards, distancing himself from Aiden as if he had a contagious disease. The Buwah guards stepped menacingly forward. Matong wrapped his long black scaly fingers tightly around Goolee’s arm and yanked him up with surprising strength. “What is it?” he demanded.

Goolee tried to speak, but couldn’t.

Eulo waved Matong away and placed his hand on Goolee’s shoulder. “Tell them what we saw.”

Goolee spoke with his voice shaking. “I have never seen... such atrocities,” he said, refusing to look at Aiden. Then in a whimper and cowering behind Eulo, “He will destroy Toora. The whole planet... I heard their screams... millions of screams!”

Aiden sank into the chair. How could Goolee suspect him capable of that?

“There must be a mistake,” Doctor Hudson interrupted. “Aiden could not...”

“Eulo!” interjected Matong. “You know what must be done!”

“Thank you, Matong.”

“He must be killed!” Matong demanded. “We must do it now, before it is too late!”

Aiden looked helplessly to Eulo. Doctor Hudson stood by Aiden’s side and drew himself up to his full height and puffed out his chest. Under normal circumstances this would have been intimidating, but with the room full of towering Buwah and powerful magwans, it was a gesture Aiden appreciated, but little more.

“No, Matong,” Eulo replied. “We have time. Aiden has no such intentions at this time, and the cues to trigger this are unlikely to be present yet.” He looked at Aiden with compassion. “I am sorry we have not protected you from the evil which threatens the Alliance.”

“What about the others?” Aiden spluttered.

“We have checked the imprinting rings. Your ring is the only one missing. The other rings have been located and tested – they are fine.”

Aiden sat behind bars in a small cell down from the landing bay. He had not slept. It was a bleak cell with no one in sight. The walls, floors and bars were made of the same energy-absorbing material as the games room. It was a power cell built to hold magwans.

Aiden agonised over his predicament. Why had they chosen his ring to sabotage; why not one of the others? Was it bad luck or had he been targeted? Did they think him easier to manipulate or powerful enough to do what they wanted? And who were they? This was the second of Sarah-Jane’s predictions to come true. First his arm, and now locked behind bars. The only one left was his impending death – lucky number three.

Surge sat on the floor next to Aiden. “Surge, am I really capable of being tricked into such a thing?”

Surge gazed into his eyes. Aiden could not move. Surge’s presence entered every corner of his mind and every part of his body.

Surge released him. “You do not have such intentions, but yes, you could be tricked.”

Aiden was stunned. Would the others would believe he was some kind of monster? None had sent him any messages of support, not even Amber, and he could not think of anything he could possibly say to them anyway.

“Could Goolee be mistaken?” asked Aiden. “He didn’t seem to be inspiring.”

“I suspect we can rely on his prediction. What we need to do is ensure it does not eventuate.”

“Don’t worry,” said Aiden. “If Matong has his way, I will be executed...” Aiden recalled his falling-into-nothingness dream. “Do you think they’ll push me out into space?”

“It does not help to dwell on such things. In times such as these, you must control what you can. You should attend your training.”

“Have you missed something, Surge? I’m in a cell!”

“This?” Surge gestured, waving his long thin arms around dramatically. “This cannot hold you.”

Aiden astral travelled to the training room. Sure enough, there were the Oken and his friends with Matong and Bajool. His friends moved slowly and didn’t speak. Doctor Peasley’s hair had stray strands straggling here and there. Both Doctors looked pale and had bags under their eyes. Aiden stood next to his friends. He tried unsuccessfully to send them a mental image of him in the room with them.

Depressed as he was, he stood in awe as he watched Bajool float off the ground. “For short periods of time it is possible to send light, sustained flows of energy through your hands to the ground. It has the effect of lifting you.”

“So there is a way to fly,” said Cosmo.

Bajool gently settled back. “It is not so much flying as hovering. It requires considerable energy. The secret is to avoid pulsing. Release a slow, steady stream evenly from both hands.”

If Aiden had not been in the predicament he was, he would have found the next session hysterical. His friends wobbled, turned uncontrollably, waved their arms around and kicked their legs wildly as they attempted to balance knee high off the ground. All three came crashing down. However, after a few unplanned somersaults they could all hover for almost a minute before their energy ran out.

After a short break, Bajool called for their attention. “We will now move onto powers that link two minds. Truth Telling is when two or more beings remove all barriers to the access of their minds to one another. It is a mental agreement. When you are engaged in Truth Telling, any hidden intention or feeling will surface. When two parties wish to negotiate on sensitive issues they commonly use Truth Telling.

“Before you enter into a Truth Telling agreement, it is advisable to outline the boundaries of the questions. It is an unforgivable betrayal of trust to ask someone a question on a matter not previously agreed. During Truth Telling, you do not have time to filter your responses. Nor can you decide you will not answer a particular question; your mind will have already answered the question before you can end the session.”

Amber’s face lit up. “Could you use Truth Telling on Aiden?”

Bajool’s body hunched. “Truth Telling cannot help Aiden. It is not an intention he is aware of, even in his subconscious.”

Amber sighed.

Aiden smiled. Thanks for trying, Amber.

Not able to join in the exercises, he visited Drew and found him awake with tubes in place, propped up with pillows so he could eat from the bedside table. A nurse was replacing an empty bag of fluid and chatting with Drew as he wolfed down his lunch in four mouthfuls before reaching for a bunch of grapes.

At least he can eat, Aiden thought to himself. Drew polished off the grapes in no time, then pulled out a Football Fever magazine. Aiden returned to his cell feeling trapped and alone. He briefly tried hovering. It was not the ultimate feeling of freedom he had imagined. He slumped to the floor and wondered when they would decide his fate and, more importantly, what his fate would be. He thought justice was likely to be swift and merciless in the Alliance. If he was sent home, then he could try to heal Drew. He lay on the floor of his cell. He was sure he was doomed never to be happy again. Images of Drew and his parents filled his mind. I will not give up! Drew needs me, he told himself.

The doctors and Gibber brought him food bars, and news that completely extinguished any appetite he had. The meeting to decide his fate was to take place tomorrow. Aiden felt like a criminal, and considering he was a rule follower and had never even been in trouble at school, he found the situation like a bad dream. The doctors tried to console and reassure him common sense would prevail, that he would be released or at worst sent home. Try as he might, Aiden could not sense what was going to happen. Just like his parents - they didn’t see their own end either.

Gibber was the most helpful. “Eulo is the greatest magwan of our time,” he reminded Aiden. “He will do what is right.”

Seeing Gibber lifted Aiden’s spirits, but not for long. When they were gone, the realisation hit him that he would rather die than be set free and end up killing millions.

He woke to the sound of his parents singing ‘Happy Birthday’. They were not great singers, and their voices startled him. It took a few moments before he realised they were on his Personal Digital Companion. His heart sank, and then rose as he watched them sing it a second time. This birthday was his second worst ever!

He visited Drew and found him asleep and muttering, as he did. Aunt Del was talking at the end of the room with two doctors. As Aiden approached, she burst into tears. One of the doctors stroked her arm soothingly.

“New donors come onto the register every day,” said the doctor. “A new drug is being trialled with promising results. We have managed to list Drew in its second trial. We’re not beaten yet.”

Unable to bear any more misery Aiden returned to his cell. He paced up and down, cursing birthdays. Why me? he thought, kicking the bars of the cell.

Surge appeared. “How was training?”

“Fine!” Aiden snapped. “Drew is getting worse and I’m stuck in here.”

“Why not heal him?”

Aiden stopped pacing. “Can I?”

“Yes. These bars cannot hold you.”

Aiden turned and kicked the bars again. “I can’t heal when I astral travel!”

“Not when you astral travel, but you can if you project your presence.”

“Project my presence?”

“You can project yourself to any place you have been to and can visualise. When you project your presence to another physical location, your newly created self is a shadow of your true form. It should be enough to allow you to exercise your powers, just not to their full extent.”

“So I can be in two places at once?”

“Yes, but only your new form will be able to function. Your consciousness can only be in one place at a time. The form you leave here will be in a resting state with your senses unable to register anything.”

“Bajool hasn’t told us about projection.”

“He probably does not know it is possible. Not many beings have access to the power necessary to perform such an act. It would kill most who attempt it.”

“Let’s do it!” said Aiden, happy to have something positive to do.

After absorbing as much energy as he safely could, Aiden lay down. Following Surge’s instructions, he visualised the hospital ward and projected himself there. He fought through light-headedness and a twisting wrench of his stomach. He materialised in the hospital ward, light headed, with the ache gone. Surge appeared by his side.

It was the middle of the day. Three beds in the ward had patients. Drew and the other two children slept. There were no nurses in sight. Aiden touched the curtain. He could feel it. He drew the curtain closed around the bed. Drew stirred but did not wake. Aiden caught a glimpse of his reflection in a small mirror behind the flowers on the bedside table. He looked grainy, like a bad photograph. Surge’s reflection did not appear in the mirror, but he looked as he always did with his pointy carrot nose and pumpkinish head.

“You should start healing,” Surge urged. “Your body is burning tremendous energy to maintain two forms, and it cannot draw in any more power while you are in this state.”

“How long have I got?”

“Not long enough to be asking questions!”

Pulling the sheets from Drew, Aiden raised his grainy hands above him. This was his chance to redeem himself, partly at least. He was amazed at how easily he managed to access his energy. With Drew bathed in yellow light Aiden commenced healing. Progress was slow. He injected more of his life force than he was sure was safe. Finally, he breathed a sigh of relief. Drew muttered something that sounded like ‘more pancakes’. It was done.

“We should go,” advised Surge.

“Aiden, I knew you would come,” said Aunt Del, soothingly from behind him.

Aiden spun around. “Aunt Del, I can’t stay. I have to return... I think Drew is okay now.”

“Can you heal the other boys?”

Surge shrugged his shoulders. “Be quick!”

Aiden healed the other two sleeping children, who were even weaker than Drew. With tears welling, Aunt Del gave him a gentle hug. “I knew this trip was the right thing.”

Aiden didn’t want to leave. He wanted to tell Aunt Del he was locked up for a crime he hadn’t yet committed or could ever imagine committing. That his mind had been implanted with intentions that were not his. That his life hung in the balance. But he could see the pride and joy in her eyes. He knew he did not have time to explain, and even if he did, he could not bring himself to burden her with this.

“I have to go,” he spluttered.

Aunt Del reluctantly released him. “I’ll tell Drew you came.”

He merged back into one being and lay motionless on the cell floor, sapped of energy, with a tremendous grin on his face. No matter what happened, he had healed Drew. He could not bring his parents back, but he had righted at least one of his wrongs - he had healed Drew.

Surge stood over him, “You should not tell anyone about your ability to project yourself. If healers are feared, imagine how they will react if they learn you can go anywhere and use such powers.”

Aiden agreed. This was one power he was sure would seal his fate if they knew it existed.

With replenished energy levels, Aiden astral travelled to his friends. Their spirits were low. Tonight they were supposed to be celebrating the discovery of a cure for the common cold. But given Aiden’s position, the party had been cancelled. Now they were debating whether to have the birthday party. Aiden had forgotten all about it. He watched like an outsider as his friends agreed to continue the preparations.

Cosmo told the girls he had managed to obtain popcorn and a bottle of wine.

“Popcorn?” said Amber.

“You didn’t steal a bottle from Doctor Hudson?” berated Sarah-Jane.

“I borrowed a bottle from Huddo, and yes, popcorn. I brought a couple of bags. I’m sure we can use our energy to pop them.”

Aiden chuckled. Popcorn, trust Cosmo to pack popcorn. It also seemed Cosmo had not yet realised that Aiden had returned the bottle of wine to the medical bay. He did not look forward to explaining that to him.

Sarah-Jane’s lips tightened and she screwed up her face.

“It’s not a biggy, Sare,” said Amber. “We are turning sixteen! We’ll just have to wait until Aiden’s out and have a private celebration.”

Sarah-Jane’s face softened a little. “The popcorn sounds good.”

Aiden spent most of the night talking to Surge. He found it difficult to follow the others around, listening but unable to join in. Try as he could, he could not send messages to them. It occurred to him that the cell was probably blocking messages in and out.

Surge was in an even more philosophical mood than usual, explaining to Aiden that those with powers had a life mission that they must discover and then fulfil. Aiden was not in the mood. Surge ploughed on anyway.

“I guess mine is to heal,” said Aiden dully.

“Life missions are more specific. Your life mission may not reveal itself to you for many years, but everything you do prepares you, and leads you towards it. When it comes, your test will be to recognise and accept it. It will be the reason for your being. Rarely do powerful beings ever achieve their life missions. Most get caught up in their powers and self interest.”

Aiden woke in the morning to Gibber passing him his breakfast bars and a jug of vitalise. Gibber was most apologetic for Aiden’s accommodation.

“It is not right,” wailed Gibber. “You have done nothing wrong.”

Aiden consoled him. “It’s okay. Eulo will do what is best.”

“Eulo, yes Eulo will,” Gibber agreed through sobs. “We are orbiting Sanctuary,” he added, “and Goolma will be boarding soon.”

Aiden was not sure Goolma’s arrival was a good thing. Goolma was to join the others to decide his fate. Gibber’s news that the Horde were still advancing towards Sanctuary was also disturbing. Gibber left to prepare for Goolma’s arrival, his tail swishing slowly from side to side, leaving a trail of tears on the ground.

Not wanting to stay in his cell, and now being a seasoned astral traveller, Aiden relaxed and travelled to the training room.

“Mind Delving,” began Bajool, “is when you enter into a being’s mind touching their memories. Minds are complex. The memories that are most easily found are the most emotional and significant ones. Mind Delving is very dangerous. It is easy to activate a person’s most significant memories, invoking the emotions that filled them at the time. As in Truth Telling, you should form a mental agreement before you start.”

They broke into pairs to perform Mind Delving.

Surge appeared beside Aiden. “You have a visitor.”

In an instant Aiden was back, opening his eyes to see Matong glaring at him through the bars.

“Enjoying your rest?” he hissed.

“Not really,” Aiden said, standing up and returning Matong’s icy stare. He was in no mood for Matong’s attitude.

Matong gave a long low hiss. “Magwans are rare, and the worthy embrace their powers and use them as they are intended to be used. You are unworthy! Your fate will be decided soon.”

“Is that why you’re here?” Aiden challenged. “To tell me I’m unworthy?” He felt anger mounting inside him. “It’s not my fault the imprinting ring was sabotaged!”

“A stronger magwan would override any commands that may have been implanted. You act without thinking. You are unworthy of your powers!” Matong turned, and with a swish of his cloak, was gone.

Aiden’s loathing of Matong reached new heights. But with a sinking feeling, he saw some truth in what Matong had said. If he could be tricked into using his powers to destroy a planet, he was unworthy of having them.

His judges appeared before him: Eulo, Matong, Bajool, Kydra, Kayeed, Goolee and Goolma. His hands were clammy and he felt very small. The two doctors stood by his side nervously. Surge strolled around the room observing everyone with keen interest. Five Buwah stood against the walls. It was very crowded. Goolma was similar to Goolee, only a little plumper, older and shorter with softer facial features. Goolee was hiding behind Kayeed, and avoided any eye contact with Aiden.

It was not the formal court atmosphere Aiden had expected. In fact, from what he could see, there was no structure to the process at all. Goolma waddled over to Aiden and, with no appreciation of personal space, placed her bill a hair’s width from Aiden’s chin and gazed deeply into his eyes. Aiden tried not to blink. As the time ticked by, this became increasingly difficult.

“Is he the Sleeper?” snapped Matong.

“No idea,” Goolma croaked, pulling away from Aiden. “Curious creatures, these humans.”

“This is useless,” Matong hissed. “Why do we tolerate these prophets!”

“What are we debating?” growled Kayeed. “If we trust what Goolee has seen, the path is clear.”

Eulo, supported by his staff, took a step forward. “I was in observance. Goolee has seen in Aiden’s future his intention to destroy, and the ultimate destruction of, the planet Toora. These are not Aiden’s intentions, but the intentions of others imprinted into his mind.”

“It does not change the result,” Matong hissed.

Goolma raised her hand. “Toora’s destruction must be prevented, but Aiden is not the one. If Toora is destroyed it will be by another.”

“Goolma!” gasped Goolee, alarmed and peering from behind Kayeed. “I saw...”

“You did see, but you perceived incorrectly,” murmured Goolma.

“What nonsense is this?” spat Matong. “Either they see or they do not – which is it?”

“It goes well,” Surge whispered to Aiden.

“They see, and they interpret differently,” replied Eulo. “If Goolma says Aiden will not destroy Toora then Aiden is not the one we seek. Goolma, what can be done to protect Toora?”

“While the Horde is moving towards Sanctuary, another force is approaching Toora,” explained Goolma. “We have started evacuating Toora, but we need more ships. I do not know what can be done.”

“You have seen this?” asked Kayeed.

“No,” said Goolma. “I have been told a large force has been reported moving towards Toora.”

“So Aiden is free?” asked Doctor Hudson tentatively.

“Yes,” said Eulo. “Aiden may return to his training. Please forgive us, Aiden, for putting you through this.” He turned to the others. “I can have part of the Alliance fleet diverted to protect Sanctuary. We must adjourn to level five and discuss what we can do for Toora.”

Matong stormed off.

Aiden could hardly believe it. He was cleared, and he was not going to destroy a planet and kill millions! Elated, he returned to level two with the doctors.

There were shrieks of delight as Aiden entered the training room. Amber almost bowled him over as she and the others ran to him. They broke early for lunch in celebration of his release.

Doctor Hudson entered the recreation room, bouncing with happiness. “Anna and I thought we would celebrate Aiden’s release, and of course your birthdays, with a little wine tonight. I have some with a reduced alcohol content and a delightful fruity taste.”

They muttered their thanks and tried to look enthused. Sarah-Jane shot Cosmo a sharp glance, and Cosmo’s face reddened.

“Don’t go decorating this room,” continued Doctor Hudson. “Anna and I have another room ready for tonight.”

“What room?” asked Amber.

“You will have to wait and see, young lady.”

The afternoon’s session flew by. Cosmo was stunned when Aiden told him he had returned the bottle of wine. Aiden pointed out that Sarah-Jane disapproved and Old Parsley was bound to find out. Cosmo grumbled but accepted that it probably hadn’t been one of his best ideas.

Aiden searched through his clothes to find his best collared T-shirt to wear with his jeans, and his second-best T-shirt for Cosmo, who had failed to pack anything appropriate. They both felt underdressed when they saw the girls, stunning in long flowing dresses, high heels, and make up. Their hair shone. Even their teeth sparkled. Aiden could not believe the transformation the girls had achieved. He looked closely around Amber for any trace of a shimmer. There was none.

The doctors and Gibber escorted the four of them to a room on level one.

“Now, before we go in,” began Doctor Hudson, bouncing on the balls of his feet, “we know you have been missing home – running water, green grass, trees and fresh fruit - well... Happy Birthday!”

The door slid open revealing the Garden of Eden.

Not sure if someone had conjured up the best illusion ever, they ran into the room. The boys rolled onto the soft green grass and sniffed it. Cosmo even chewed some blades of grass. Water cascaded down a rock face into a crystal clear pool at one of the room, and a small stream wound its way from there through bushes and trees, disappearing into the ground at the other end. The ceiling towered way above them, sky blue with white misty clouds floating across it.

“How did you do it?” asked Amber, spinning around on the grass, shoes off and her arms out.

“Anna is the architect,” said Doctor Hudson beaming.

Doctor Peasley gave Doctor Hudson an affectionate smile. “Gibbergunah and the Buwah have worked tirelessly preparing this.”

Laid out on the grass were a picnic rug, a basket, birthday cake, glasses and bottles of wine.

“There are strawberries over here!” Cosmo yelled, tossing one to Sarah-Jane.

They ran over and picked large juicy strawberries. Sarah-Jane proclaimed them the best strawberries ever. They searched through the bushes for other fruit treasures as the doctors and Gibber retired to a wooden bench.

“Mangos!” Aiden cheered.

“Pineapples!” squealed Amber with glee.

“Apples and plums,” exclaimed Sarah-Jane.

“Chocolates!” yelled Cosmo. They all rushed over, calling “Where?”

“Just kidding,” said Cosmo grinning.

Aiden threw an apple core at his head. Amber splashed him with water from the stream. Cosmo, unrepentant, ran off laughing.

They sat on the picnic rug sipping wine and enjoying the fruit as they listened to the running water. Aiden couldn’t believe it – one moment he was in the depths of despair, expecting to be executed, then hours later he was having the time of his life. He didn’t like these extremes.

And one thing was for sure: he knew he would never again feel truly safe on-board.

To hysterical laughter from the girls, he lurched forward waving wildly at his nose and spilling his drink over himself.

“I was just thinking flies and mosquitoes were the only things missing,” he said, giving Cosmo a shove, “and then you go and put a mozzie on my nose!” He swore revenge on Cosmo for the illusion.

Doctor Hudson lit the candles on the cake. They sang a few verses of Happy Birthday, accompanied by music from Aiden’s PDC. Gibber twirled around chirping, “Hurrah! Hurrah!” The breeze from his first twirl extinguished the candles, and his tail slapped into the cake on the second twirl, covering them all with chocolate mud cake.

“Umm,” said Cosmo, licking some off his chin.

Gibber was mortified, but Doctor Hudson and the boys threw handfuls of cake at him, and everyone laughed, and he relaxed.

“Hey,” objected Cosmo turning the wine bottle around. “Slightly reduced! This says alcohol free.”

Doctor Peasley only roused on Cosmo once during the evening, when he attempted to pop the popcorn with a pulse of energy, putting a sizable hole in the grass.

Lying on the grass with a handful of popcorn, watching the clouds drift across the ceiling, Aiden decided this was actually his best birthday ever.

* * *

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