‘Jade, we need to decide what we’re going to do.’ She nodded, but said nothing. The ship had attended to Johnny’s injury, but since then he had become like a man possessed.
‘Cheryl warned me that this may happen, and the Captain of the sub as good as admitted that they were looking for us,’ he continued.
‘What do you suggest, Johnny?’ she asked. Johnny frowned as he considered their options.
‘Jade, we need to find others of our kind,’ he replied. ‘I want to know who I am and where I came from.’
‘Okay,’ said Jade quietly. ‘Where do we start?’
‘Well, Jade, Cheryl and Scott tracked us down to your village from the other side of the world, and I’m buggered if I know how they did it! I suppose that’s as good a place as any to start. Maybe they can tell us a little bit more about what’s going on,’ he said.
Jade studied him gravely. She really didn’t want any interaction with the outside world, not if she could help it. The emotional scars were still too fresh, and her brief introduction to the civilised world hadn’t given her much faith in the soup of human kindness. But she knew it was important – inevitable, actually – so she agreed.
‘How are we going to find them, Johnny?’ she asked.
‘Let me check with the ship,’ he replied. Getting up, he strode over to the controls and, closing his eyes, he placed his hands on the handprints.
‘Greetings Master,’ the ship said.
‘Ship, I need your help.’
‘Of course Master.’
‘Do you recall the two people I spoke to in the village before we left?’ he asked.
‘I need to locate the female; Cheryl.’
‘How do you plan on doing that, Master?’ the ship responded.
‘Well I was kind of hoping you could help,’ he replied lamely. The ship stayed silent for a moment before replying.
‘I don’t see how that would be possible, Master. I have no knowledge of this woman.’
Johnny opened his eyes and sat back in the chair. He hadn’t considered that. How indeed would the ship be able to track down a virtually anonymous woman who could be literally anywhere on the planet?
‘Okay Jade,’ he said, standing up and walking back to where she sat, ‘change of plan.’ She waited expectantly for him to elaborate. ‘You’re going to meet my father,’ he said.
‘Oh Johnny, that’s wonderful!’ she cried.
‘Not really, Jade. My father is an asshole!’ he said. Jade blushed scarlet as this mental image appeared in her mind. Her people didn’t use this kind of imagery in their language, and Johnny often shocked her with his colourful descriptions and earthy phrases.
He smiled affectionately at her. ‘Don’t worry, my heart, if he gets difficult, we have a big stick. A very big stick!’
He walked back to the controls and within moments, they were airborne. Jade walked over to the viewing pane, which they always left open, and watched the waves slip by beneath them as they took to the air. The ship climbed into the heavens with unnatural speed, and she struggled, as usual, to comprehend the reality of the situation.
Extreme heights tend to have that effect on a person. One can suffer vertigo at the top of a stepladder, or a tall building, and yet have no sense of height when airborne. Jade looked down at the wisps of cloud, and the outline of continents, with the blackness of space already becoming visible, and yet she felt as if she was looking at a picture in a book.
Johnny sent the ship streaking towards Africa, and as he flew, eyes open, he described his home to Jade.
‘Africa is a continent that in many ways is as wild as yours,’ he said. ‘It has resisted almost all attempts at taming it, and large areas are still wild and undeveloped.’ Jade stared out the window as the brown continent raced towards them.
‘The people are in many ways as wild and untameable as the land,’ he continued. ‘Even in the cities, their hearts are never far from the land of their ancestors. They maintain their traditions, their way of life, and never quite succumb to the lifestyle of the white man.’
Jade looked at him. ‘Is the way of the white man to be emulated?’ she asked innocently, completely naïve. ‘Is it the correct way to behave?’
‘No, Jade. No, I suppose our ways are not to be emulated,’ he replied. ‘I guess it is right for them to remember the old ways. We don’t have any traditions that tie us to the land – not that deeply anyways. We gave them alcohol, prostitution, slavery and Father Christmas, and I suppose it’s only to be expected that they don’t take them as seriously as we do.’
Jade said nothing, but continued looking out the window as the ground got closer.
‘See there, Jade? Up ahead – you see the skyline?’ Johnny asked. Jade looked to the horizon and immediately saw what Johnny was pointing at. The sun was low in the sky, and jagged, erratic shapes that made no sense to her broke the flat skyline.
‘Are those mountains?’ she asked.
‘No Jade, that is the city of Johannesburg you’re seeing. Those shapes are buildings, mine dumps and the headgear of the goldmines.’
Jade couldn’t believe the scale of what she was seeing. She couldn’t believe that humans were capable of such feats; capable of changing the very face of the earth. Already the lights of the city and surrounding suburbs twinkled in the twilight, and Jade could see the long, snakelike lines of the highways and byways alive with the headlights of the traffic as people made their way home after a long day shut in an office, or factory.
‘Hang on, Jade, I’m going to see if I can find my house,’ said Johnny. He closed his eyes and sent his senses out as he tried to recognise landmarks. The ship moved slowly and silently, invisible to those on the ground, as Johnny made his painstaking way towards the home that he had never thought he would return to.
He found it just as the sun disappeared and night fell, and he halted the ship above the tiny house, identical to its neighbours, sitting in a quiet street, bathed in the weak glow of the streetlamps.
He turned to Jade. ‘My flower, this is where I grew up. These are the streets I played in as a child, and this is the home I left to find you.’
Jade looked at this lifeless scene, and for the first time understood what Johnny had meant when he had told her:
‘Jade, I come from a place that you would not want to visit. It is grey, colourless and dreary.’
A dog barked somewhere in the distance, and from just beyond view, she could hear the rumble of a distant train. A small gust of wind picked up an empty beer can and sent it spinning across the road.
‘It doesn’t look like my father is home yet,’ said Johnny, ‘so we have a few more minutes to get ready. Jade, I think it would be wise for us to put the armour on.’
Seeing the look on her face, he went on quickly. ‘You have nothing to worry about, my angel, I want it more for impression than protection. I can take my dad unarmed, but a good impression goes a long way,’ he said.
They both donned the ship’s armour, but Johnny felt that the helmets would be unnecessary, so they left them in the armoury. Returning to the window, Johnny and Jade both looked down at his old home. There was an old, banged-up pick-up in the driveway that wasn’t there ten minutes before.
‘Looks like Daddy’s home,’ said Johnny. To their surprise, the door of the car opened and a large, dark haired man climbed out.
‘Perfect timing,’ whispered Johnny, running to the controls. ‘Jade, come stand here with me. I don’t want you to be there when he arrives.’ Jade stood behind Johnny and placed a hand on his shoulder as he closed his eyes and engaged the ship.
Hendrik ‘Robbie’ Roberts was just busy locking his car when an invisible force seized him and lifted him off the ground. The bottle of brandy he had just bought at the bottle store smashed on the ground as he disappeared into the night. Johnny and Jade watched impassively as he appeared in the area between the controls and the window, bereft of speech. His eyes were wide, and he struggled mightily against his invisible bonds.
‘Relax Dad. It’s me.’
Robbie’s jaw dropped and he stopped struggling immediately.
‘Johnny …?’ he looked around frantically.
‘Yes Dad, it’s me. Are you cool?’
‘What? Yes! Yes, I’m cool. Where are you? I can’t see you.’
Johnny stepped out from behind the controls, and his father cried out in delight.
‘Johnny! I thought I would never see you again!’
‘Relax Dad. I’m not coming home, and I think it’s very likely that when I leave, you won’t see me again,’ Johnny replied.
‘Let me loose, Johnny,’ his father said eagerly, straining at his bonds again. Johnny didn’t move.
‘I don’t think so, Dad. Remember how we left each other?’ he asked.
‘Oh Johnny, my boy, that was just the brandy talking,’ Robbie said, unable to keep the pleasure from his voice. ‘I’ve missed you so much these last few months. You don’t know how lonely I’ve been.’ Johnny wasn’t impressed.
‘Funny, I always avoided you like the plague when you got home from work. You saw so little of me that I may not even have existed,’ he said.
‘No, my boy. Never. Even when you were out with your friends, I always knew you were near, and would come home at some point. Sitting at home, all alone, night after night, knowing you weren’t gonna come home … you don’t know what it’s been like,’ said Robbie, feeling the first twinges of guilt.
‘I didn’t have any friends,’ said Johnny, looking his father in the eye.
Robbie fell silent, pain and grief etched onto his face. The mistakes he had made in his life, which had led to even more mistakes, were staring at him with clear, blue eyes. He had dimly become aware of it since Johnny’s disappearance, but now confronted with his adopted son, Robbie realized for the first time what a dick he had really been. Johnny was, if not flesh and blood, then certainly the closest thing he would ever have. Johnny bore his surname, and would carry on the name, if not the line. There was a void in Robbie’s life now that he had not realized that Johnny had filled, and now he was desperate to have his son back.
‘Johnny … I miss you,’ he whispered. Johnny felt nothing. Even in his sorrow and apparent guilt, his father was, true to form, thinking of only himself again. Typical.
‘Dad, I didn’t come here for a family reunion,’ he said coldly. ‘I need to find someone, and I think you can help.’
‘What do you mean; you didn’t come home for your family? I’m all you have! We are all we have in this screwed up world!’ Robbie shouted.
‘No, we’re not,’ said Johnny. ‘I’ve met someone.’
Robbie looked on uncomprehendingly as Jade moved into the light.
‘I have all the family I will ever need. Jade is my soul mate and I will treat her like the precious gem she is, regardless of the appalling example you have given me,’ said Johnny, putting his arm around her waist.
Robbie saw the two of them standing side by side. They could have been brother and sister, so similar were they. Both were strikingly good looking, and both exuded a subtle strength that Robbie had never noticed in Johnny before. He struggled for the right words.
‘Johnny, my boy, you seem to have done well for yourself,’ he said, ‘you can’t leave me here in this craphole! Take me with you! I’ll behave … I’ll let you take charge! Just don’t make me go back to this dead end life with a dead end job and then dead in the end!’
‘And what about the brandy?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘There is no booze here, Dad. Nothing to drink – ever!’
Robbie felt a surge of craving flow through his veins for the bottle that lay in pieces in his driveway. Without meaning to, he calculated his chances of making it back to the bottle store before they closed, and felt a cold stab of dismay as he realized that even if Johnny let him go now, he probably wouldn’t make it, and the concept of going to bed sober was incomprehensible.
‘I can see it in your face, Dad.’ Shame and humiliation flooded Robbie as he realized that his addiction to escapism had overwhelmed his need for his son.
‘Where is Cheryl?’
‘Cheryl, the woman that tracked me down in South America.’
‘You were in South America?’ Robbie still hadn’t grasped the scale of the power that Johnny had inherited.
‘That’s not the point! She would have spoken to you. Where is she?’
‘Cheryl, the CIA agent?’
‘Yes Dad, Cheryl. I need to find her. It’s very important.’
‘Uhm … yes, I think she left a card with me,’ he replied.
‘I need to find her, Dad. She’s the only person that can help us.’
‘I can help …’ said Robbie pathetically.
‘No, you can’t,’ said Johnny without feeling. ‘Cheryl knows things, and I need to speak to her.’
‘Well,’ said Robbie, ‘the card’s in the house, and so is the telephone. You want to speak to her, you’re gonna have to come downstairs.’
Johnny looked at Jade. ‘I’m afraid he’s right, Jade,’ he said. ‘I’m going to have to go down with him and make a call.’ Jade, in her usual way, looked at Johnny with bright blue eyes that said, as always; I trust you.
‘Right Dad, this is how it’s going to work,’ he said. ‘I’m going to release the bonds that hold you, and we’re going to go to the house. Please, please don’t make the mistake of thinking that once we’re alone you can have your way with me. Jade here will squish you into jelly before you can even think about it.’
Robbie was offended. ‘Johnny, I know I’m a twat, but I’m only a twat when I drink; and I’m sober now. Don’t worry, it’s all good.’ Johnny wasn’t convinced.
‘Jade, get the ship to transport us both to the ground. Watch my signal while I’m away. At the slightest sign of anything out of place, do what you need to.’ She looked at him with eyes that spoke volumes, and replied.
‘Johnny, my lord, you hold my heart in your hands. Should you perish, my body will die for the lack a heart. I trust that you will be alert and thus save me from certain death.’
Johnny smiled at her and said, ‘My angel, the light of my life, if you have to save me yet again, it would be the third time, and we both know what that means?’ Jade could already see the tease coming, but was powerless to prevent it.
‘What does it mean?’ she asked softly.
‘It means I will have to marry you, make you my wife, and give you thirteen children!’ he said. Jade smiled and lowered her head, thinking how much thirteen children would please her. If Johnny could have read her thoughts, he would have been utterly dismayed.
Johnny entered the house with his father in the lead. Nothing had changed; still a mess, still the stale smell of alcohol. With a pang, he noticed an old schoolbook still lying where he had last left it.
‘Where is the card?’ he asked.
His father rummaged around the mess on the coffee table, and then finally emerged with a card in his hand.
‘Give it to me,’ said Johnny, not forgetting that up until only a few months ago his father had been the most dominant, violent force in his life. Having an invisible UFO hovering overhead helped, but he was still alone on the ground.
‘Here, Johnny, use the phone.’ His father seemed eager to please, and to his surprise, Johnny found that he preferred the old, violent, aggressive version to the cowering, spineless father he saw now. This pathetic person wasn’t the man that Johnny had tried to emulate and impress his whole life, and it occurred to him that being a drunken loudmouth didn’t make you a man. Strength makes the man, and his father was weak.
‘Give it here,’ he said. Taking the card in his hand, he lifted the phone and dialled the number.
‘Scott speaking,’ replied the voice on the other end.
‘Hello Scott? This is Johnny – Johnny Roberts.’ There was a pause, and then Scott said, ‘Johnny? Are you sure?’
‘Pretty damn,’ he replied.
‘Oh my God! Cheryl! I have Johnny on the line!’ he shouted. Johnny heard a female shriek in the background and he waited expectantly.
‘Johnny? Is that really you?’ asked Cheryl as she came on the line.
‘Yes it is,’ he replied.
‘Why? How?’ She seemed at a loss for words.
‘Cheryl, your government attacked us and we are now fugitives,’ he said.
‘Yes Johnny, I heard about that,’ she replied.
‘’We need to meet, Cheryl,’ he said.
‘Of course, Johnny,’ she replied, ‘we’re in Cape Town.’
They chatted a few more minutes and agreed on a time and place for the rendezvous. Johnny put the phone down and turned to his father.
‘Well, Dad; that’s it. I have what I need, and it’s time to go.’ Robbie looked on the verge of tears as self-pity overwhelmed him.
‘Is … is there no way?’ he asked.
‘Nope. I’m outta here,’ said Johnny, turning towards the door.
‘Johnny! Wait!’ his father pleaded as he lunged for him. Johnny sidestepped as his father caught his foot on the rug and fell to the floor, his head hanging.
‘Bye Dad … sort your shit out,’ said Johnny sadly before walking through the door.
Outside, he signalled Jade, and appeared on-board within moments. She saw the look on his face. Saying nothing, she walked over to him and wrapped her arms around his waist.
He held her tight.
‘I love you, Jade,’ he whispered into her hair.
‘I know, my heart. You are a good man, and I am well pleased,’ she said quietly.
He kept the old shotgun stored at the very top of his cupboard, wrapped in an old blanket. It had been his father’s, and his father’s before that, and he had always suspected that one day it would be put to good use protecting himself and his family from die swart gevaar, ‘the Black Threat’ so bandied about in the old days.
Visions of imagined heroism flitted through his mind as he brought it down from its hiding place and unwrapped it with care. Surprisingly perhaps, those days of racial uprising and fighting to the death had never materialized, and the transition from white regime to black government had progressed so smoothly that many had felt a sense of anti-climax.
He handled the gun for the first time in twenty years, wondering at the final use he would now put it to. No last, bloody stand, covered in glory – a hero of his people, but a cowards death.
He used the brown shoelace from an old army boot, tied to the bedstead and connected to the trigger, as his arms were too short for the job at hand.
Ironically, his final thought was not of Johnny, but of the broken bottle lying outside.
‘Such a waste …’
Published Titles in the Johnny Roberts Series:
Book Two: Johnny Roberts and the Gods of Eden
Andrew Noble © 2013
Cover artwork: John Killin © 2013
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© 2013 Andrew Noble All Rights Reserved