Next

The rich man watched the small boy eat the bacon that Alfred had prepared. No doubt about it, he was… enjoying it. Once, the small boy had chewed it down without thought, feeling or taste; now he appeared to savour it. Once the small boy had simply swallowed and readied for the mission ahead; now he licked his lips. The small boy’s eyes betrayed flavour, and within his inefficient chewing was a desire to eat, rather than simply to refuel. The rich man has seen this before.

Emotions were going to mushroom in the small boy’s brain. His once dead eyes, focused eyes, would wander to flowers and clouds, far from the wounds and the fingerprints. Soon the questions would start: ‘Why we fight?’, ‘Why wear monster mask?’, ‘Am we nightmare?’ and so forth, the rich man had heard them all before.

The mission would suffer. Toys would begin to litter the cave and crayon scribbles would plaster the fridge, childhood blossoming like weeds here and there, the boy would smile, laugh, cry, all the while mocking him of his own childhood robbed. The rich man hadn’t needed a childhood! He hadn’t needn’t parents! He was a billionaire, dammit, he thought, sipping 23 millilitres of water and pulling fourteen hairs from his forearm, hairs that he didn’t need! The mission would suffer.

Childhood, he raged. The very arrogance of it!

He signalled Alfred to his side. With a cold flicker of his eye, he pointed Alfred towards the small boy. He went to continue his breakfast, but Alfred had not yet left.

“Will there be a problem?” the rich man asked, in his deepest, most threatening, voice. Alfred regarded him for a moment, then something disappeared from behind his eyes, he turned and left, taking with him a pair of plastic goggles and a pair of plastic gloves, both slightly speckled.

The rich man began to plan the rest of his morning. After he had finished refuelling, he would scrub the platter with eight efficient circular motions, rehydrate, then descend to the cave. He would monitor the crime computer, analyse the acid samples retrieved the evening previous, then pick another small boy from the orphanage. Combat training would begin in moments and, as night fell, the mission would begin.

A small judder broke his concentration; the tell-tale sign of Alfred starting up the wood-chipper outside. It was a service for which Alfred was paid, to which he no longer made any real resistance. Meanwhile, the small boy was looking up at him from his breakfast.

“I love you” he mumbled through mouthfuls of wasted nourishment. The rich man looked back at him, seeing a different child, of a different time. A child who knew that families die and who had the courage to not let a family happen to him again.

“I know you do.” he said.

The rich man returned to his breakfast as Alfred came to take the boy away.

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