Chapter 16

Surprise Visitors

The DöhmCorp media guys had been standing around chatting with the Breaker kids. They seemed to be getting along well.

Jason came over to me. “Echo, you were great. Errol tried to call you but your communicator was switched off, so he called me. He wanted to offer his congratulations. He also said to tell you that Yoso is in awe of you now.”

I laughed. “I think Yoso was already in awe of me, but I’m equally in awe of him.” That gave me an idea. “Do you know who Yoso is?”

“No, I don’t think I do, but Errol seemed to assume that I would know.”

“Yoso substituted as Lucien Döhm for the ten years I was missing. He is an amazing artist and musician. Give him a paintbrush or a piano and he’ll blow you away. DöhmCorp is sponsoring him to the Imperial College of Arts. Do you reckon you could make a short film about him? If nothing else it could record his progress.”

“Hmm, that might be something for the unit to get their creative teeth into. They get a bit bored with doing corporate stuff all the time.”

“Okay, I’ll talk to Errol and see what he thinks. He is Yoso’s guardian.”

I told Jason I would let him know, and he and his crew departed, leaving me with my Breaker friends. I was told I was staying for dinner, whether I liked it or not. I was reluctant, because my IG escort had already been cooling their heels for several hours. “They’re invited, too,” Masoko said.

The guard were happy to stay, so I called Darm to let him know I would be late getting back.

After the meal we were relaxing, chatting amiably, when an alarm sounded.

“There is someone outside the building!” Kashuba exclaimed. We rushed to the control room. One of the motion sensors had tripped the alarm.

Rey sat down at the desk and switched on the sound.

The outside cameras showed two figures approaching the portico. They looked weary and made no attempt to be furtive. They simply walked up the steps to the door.

“There’s no name or anything, but this must be the place,” one of them said. It was a male teenager’s voice.

“Yeah, but what now?” the other, a young girl, asked.

“I guess we wait until morning,” the boy replied. “We don’t even know if there’s anyone here at night.” He sat down on the top step.

The girl sat beside him and leaned into him. “Jake, I’m scared.”

The boy put his arm around her. “It’ll be all right, Anna. You’ll see.”

“But what’ll we do if they won’t help us?”

“Anna, you saw that kid on the news. He wants to help people like us. I’m sure they will help.” He hugged the girl tighter. “At least we can ask.”

In the control room we all looked at each other, astonished.

“What do you want to do?” Roberto, the senior guard of my escort, asked.

“I think we should let them in and see what they want,” Kashuba said. He looked at me.

“I agree,” I said. “At least we can find out who they are and why they came here.”

“Right,” Roberto said. He turned to two of the escort. “You guys go out the emergency exit and take up positions where you can watch them, in case they make a run for it. I’ll monitor the cameras from here. Don’t do anything until you hear from me, but let me know when you’re in position.”

The two guards left quickly. Haza went with them to lock the emergency door after them. A couple of minutes later they reported in.

“Right, I’ll go and let the kids in,” Roberto said.

“Take them to the living area,” Kashuba said, “and we will meet you there.”

The guard nodded that he had heard, then left, taking his remaining colleague with him.

The rest of us watched the monitors. The two kids, their backs to the door, were startled when it opened, but made no attempt to leave. We heard Roberto invite them in. They stood and turned towards the door. “Is there anyone else with you?” the guard asked.

“No, just us,” the boy answered.

Roberto called the other two IG guys in and they all disappeared from our view as they entered the building. When we heard the door close we headed for the living area.

A couple of minutes later the guards arrived with two bedraggled kids.

I held out my hand to the older one. “Hi, Jake, I’m Echo.” He shook my hand but looked taken aback. “Hi, Anna,” I said, shaking hands with the girl. She looked a bit frightened.

“How do you know our names?” Jake asked. “And… isn’t your name Lucien?”

I explained that we had heard their brief conversation, and apologised if I had frightened them. “I am Lucien, but most people call me Echo. I guess it was me you saw on the news?”


I introduced the Breaker kids, who all tried to make the two feel welcome. Before I could say anything else Masoko asked if they would like something to eat. They accepted gratefully because they hadn’t eaten since the evening before. Masoko and Tyras went to the kitchen and the other Breaker kids drifted off, satisfied that everything was under control. The guards stayed close by but tried to be inconspicuous.

I looked from Jake to Anna and back again. “Are you guys brother and sister?” I asked.

“Yes,” Jake replied.

“How old are you?”

“I’m thirteen and Anna is eleven.”

Masoko handed each of the kids a plate of food and and Tyras gave them cutlery and set glasses of water on a coffee table. Conversation with the brother and sister stopped as we allowed them to eat. I wondered what their story was. It seemed that they had been brought up well because they displayed good manners as they ate, even though they had to balance their plates on their knees. When they finished their meal Masoko asked if they would like to have a shower and change their clothes.

“We would love to shower, but we don’t have any other clothes,” Jake said.

“Well, I’m sure we can find some for you,” Masoko said. She turned to the young girl. “We don’t have any girl clothes in your size, though, Anna. Would you mind wearing boys’ stuff?”

“I guess,” Anna said, so quietly that I could hardly hear her. The poor kid seemed worried and scared.

“Come with me, then,” Masoko said, gently. She put her arm around Anna’s shoulders. “Let’s see what we can find for you to wear.” Anna looked to her brother.

“You go with her, Jake,” Kashuba said. “We do not want her to feel threatened. I will rustle up some clothes for you.”

Tyras and I were left on our own, with only the IG guys in the room with us. I apologised to the guards; I always seemed to end up doing something that meant they had to hang around with nothing to do.

They laughed. “Hey, life with you isn’t dull,” one of them said.

Kashuba and Masoko returned after a few minutes. “We left them in the bathroom,” Masoko said. “I’ll go and check on them soon, but I think they will be right.”

“Anna seems jumpy, and Jake does not say much,” Kashuba said. “I think something bad has happened to her, or both of them.”

“Yeah, she seems to cling to him,” I said. “Are you guys willing to let them stay here tonight?”

“Sure,” Masoko said, as she stood, “but let’s hear their story before we make any long-term commitment.” She went off to see how Jake and Anna were faring. She returned almost immediately with two beautiful kids.

“Hey, you look like you should be in a model magazine!” I exclaimed.

Anna burst into tears and grabbed her brother, who shot me an angry look as he wrapped his arms around her.

“Oh, no, I’m sorry!” Me and my impulsiveness. The emperor might see my being natural as a refreshing change, but I’d obviously stepped right in something this time. “Oh, man. Jake and Anna, please forgive me. Sometimes I just blurt out the first thing that comes into my head.”

Masoko stepped over to the kids and hugged them. “He’s right,” she said, “he does, and we love him for it. But he touched a raw nerve, didn’t he?”

Jake nodded.

“We would like to help you guys, but we need to hear what happened to you. Will you trust us enough to tell us why you came here?” Masoko spoke quietly; she had a way with kids who were hurting. Having been one herself I guess she had some idea of where they were coming from. Life in the orphanage wasn’t a bed of roses, but my life didn’t come close to the experiences most of the Breaker kids had endured.

“Perhaps I should go,” I said, “and you can fill me in tomorrow.”

Jake shook his head. “No. Stay.”

“Would you rather get to bed and then tell us all about it tomorrow?” Kashuba asked.

Jake looked to Anna. She spoke firmly. “No we need to tell someone. Then we might sleep better.”

So, we all sat in one of the living area’s comfortable conversation pits and the brother and sister told us the sad tale of their previous year.

Jake and Anna had lived with their parents on a farm outside the city. They attended different schools—Anna the local primary school, and Jake the high school in a nearby town. Jake arrived home from school one day to find Anna overwrought. Their parents were lying dead on the kitchen floor. Jake called the emergency number and peacekeepers and an ambulance responded. “Mum and Dad had been stabbed, and had bled to death,” Jake told us. “Dad’s hands were cut to pieces, as if he had tried to fight off the person who had the knife. The peacekeepers thought Mum had been attacked first and that Dad had heard something and had come to see what was wrong. They couldn’t find the knife, and there was no sign of the attacker, but there was stuff missing from the house. The fridge and the pantry had been just about cleaned out, and Dad’s and Mum’s wallets were both gone.”

The kids were too young to stay on their own so they were taken to a shelter for the first night. The following day they were put into foster care. The couple they were first placed with were loving and caring, and the kids were as happy there as they could be in the circumstances. Then, four or five months later, their care worker was replaced with one who seemed to take an instant dislike to the children and their foster parents. Jake and Anna were moved to the city and placed with a couple who encouraged them to work for a modelling agency. The work was easy at first and they enjoyed it, and they liked earning their own money, although they were only paid a small amount. Jake suspected that the foster parents were keeping most of it.

As the months passed, however, the photoshoots became more and more sexual, and Jake and Anna became increasingly uncomfortable. When they said they wanted to stop modelling, their foster parents threatened them and forced them to continue to work.

The agency had a driver who picked up the kids before their shoots, and returned them afterwards. One day when he came for them he took one look at them and asked, “Why the long faces?”

The driver had always been nice to the siblings, so they told him what had been happening. During the previous shoot Jake had been forced to have sex with another boy, and feared that Anna would soon be forced into having sex as well. The driver reacted angrily. “I suspected they were up to something, but I didn’t think they would have stooped that low!”

In his anger he became distracted and missed a sharp turn in the road. The commuter car slammed into a tree. Apart from a few bumps the kids were uninjured, but the driver was hurt and trapped. Jake and Anna wanted to stay to help him, but he yelled at them to get out and run. “Quickly! Before another car comes along.”

They hesitated, not wanting to abandon him.

“GO!” he shouted. “Find somewhere safe, away from these people!”

So, they ran. That had happened about ten days earlier. They headed away from the suburb where the agency was located, and didn’t dare return to their foster parents. Jake had his wallet with his bank card, so they had some money. They lived on takeaways until their money ran out, and slept wherever they could find shelter. By chance they had gone into a fast food restaurant that evening to use the toilets and clean up a bit. My interview was playing on a screen so they stayed and watched it. They made a spur-of-the-moment decision to find Breaker One and seek help. They had no idea where to go, so they stopped people and asked. The first few weren’t able to help, but then they found a man who been walking his dog and a short time earlier had seen the News Network van parked in the street. The crew had been packing up and he got chatting with them. They told him they had been filming the interview. He told Jake and Anna how to get to that street, and they did the rest themselves.

“I can see three issues here,” Kashuba said. “First, what happened to your farm? Second, there is something rotten in the foster care system. Three, there is a modelling agency producing child pornography.”

“And how can we best help you?” I asked.

Jake and Anna looked at each other. “Well, uh, most of all we need a safe place to stay,” Jake began. “I don’t trust those foster parents, and the agency might be looking for us.”

“You can stay here as long as you need to,” Masoko said. “You will be safe here. I will get you clothes tomorrow.”

The relief on the two kids’ faces was obvious. Anna grabbed Masoko in a hug. “Thank you!” she said.

Roberto spoke. “May I say something, Echo?”


“I would suggest that it would be best to notify the imperial guard about the modelling agency and the foster carers. They have the means to investigate clandestinely, and they are above corruption. It’s possible local peacekeepers are on the agency’s payroll, and any investigation via that avenue might be hampered by vested interests.”

“Thanks, Roberto.” I looked at Kashuba and he nodded. “We will do that, then,” I said. “I’m sure the emperor would be keen to know about the foster parents’ involvement in this. He’s dead against any form of mistreatment of kids. I will let him know when I get back tonight.” I turned to Jake. “Before I leave I will need to get from you the details of the foster parents, the case worker, and the agency, if you know them.”

“That is sorted, then,” said Kashuba. “Jake, what do you know about your farm?”

“It’s been in our family for several generations. Our father and his father both grew up there.” He fought back a sob. “I guess it’s ours now, but we don’t know what happened to it after we went to live with our first foster parents.” He paused to take a deep breath. “For the first few months I was too upset about losing Mum and Dad, and too busy trying to look after Anna, to worry about the farm.” He took a deep breath. “And then, after the first few weeks in the city, things went bad and I had to concentrate on keeping us safe.” Jake slumped in his chair. The poor kid looked defeated.

“I can get our legal team to find out about the farm,” I said, “would that be okay?”

“Oh, yes!” he and Anna both replied.

I glanced up at the living room clock. “Oh, man, it’s getting late. I should get home; I have school in the morning.” I wrote down all the details Jake and Anna were able to give me, including what they knew about the farm. The guard detail and I returned to the palace.

The emperor just about exploded when I told him about the foster parents and the modelling agency. He immediately called in the duty head of i2, which had virtually completed the work it had been set up to do, and ordered him to begin an investigation immediately. He also ordered a temporary round-the-clock IG presence at Breaker One. “I don’t want to take any chances,” he told me. “Porn brokers tend to protect their empires using violence. I’m sure they will be looking for those kids.”

I called Kashuba to let him know about the extra security, and asked him to ensure that Jake and Anna stayed out of sight. I crawled into bed and was out like a light.

Abi and Ben

After breakfast the next morning I contacted HI’s legal team. I shared Jake and Anna’s story, and asked the team to find out what had happened to the farm. It would be their first real HI case. I spent the rest of the morning in the palace library doing schoolwork, although I did check with Kashuba to see how Jake and Anna were doing.

Just before lunch DöhmCorp passed on a message from Amy King, asking me to get in touch with her. She had some news that got me excited. A man claiming to be Abi and Ben’s adoptive father had called News Network. I asked Amy if she could take the man to meet me at Breaker One. She agreed and we settled on a time later that day.

I arrived early and went looking for Tyras. He was sitting on his bed with a piece of paper in his hand. “Hey, Tyras. What’s up?”

He looked up at me. He had been crying. I understood why when he handed me the piece of paper. It was a poem titled ‘Gone’.

I read it through, silently. I had never liked poetry, and I could never get the hang of reading it properly, but with this poem that didn’t matter. It was obviously a cry from Tyras’s heart.

Life seemed to stop when Mum and Dad died
and Abi and Ben were gone from my side.
It hurts so much that they’re no longer there
and my heart is filled with the ache of despair.

I long to go back to that earlier time
With family at home and everything fine.
But now it’s all gone and there’s nothing but fear;
All I have left is fate’s laughing sneer.

I sat beside Tyras and wrapped my arms around him. He burst into tears. I let him cry on my shoulder until he was spent. “Did you just write this?” I asked.

He sniffled. “No, I wrote it ages ago, but I got it out just now to read again. I miss them so much, Echo.”

“I know you do. Tyras, I came to ask you something. Do you have any pictures of Abi and Ben? If you do that might help us find them.”

He reached over to his bedside table and opened one of the drawers. Lifting out a tattered envelope, he pulled some photos out of it. “This is Abi,” he said, “and this is Ben. And this is all of us together. They were taken a few months before Mum and Dad died.”

I looked at the photos, which looked like they had been printed from electronic images. The family resemblance was striking. “May I borrow them, please? For a little while? I’ll take good care of them.”

“Sure,” he replied.

I put the photos in my pocket. After making sure that Tyras had no plans to leave the building, I left him and found Masoko. I told her about the call from Amy King, and about Tyras and the poem. She said she would go and sit with him. “He’s like my little bro,” she said. I thanked her, and went to Kashuba’s office. I explained what was happening and apologised for not letting him know earlier.

Amy arrived with a neatly-dressed man with a pleasant face and friendly manner. His name was Kurt Friedman. I liked him immediately. Kashuba offered drinks and snacks and we all sat in easy chairs.

I thanked Kurt for coming, and asked him to explain why he had contacted Amy.

“We were watching the interview last night. When the young boy began to tell about losing his sister and brother we all paid much better attention. You see, my kids are adopted, and they had an older brother, but they were split up after their parents died and we don’t know what happened to him. We found out that he had been placed in a home but he had run away and no one knew anything after that. When the camera zoomed in on the boy, my daughter, Abi, shrieked. When we tried to find out what was wrong she couldn’t talk for a few moments. Eventually she managed to say, ‘That’s my brother!’ Ben doesn’t remember Tyras so well but we had to agree that the boy on the screen certainly looked a lot like Ben and Abi. The kids have missed their brother terribly. It was fortunate that the adoption agency let us take both of them because I don’t know whether they would have survived had they been separated. I think the agency saw how close they were, and allowed them to stay together. They don’t normally do that because the demand for adoptions far exceeds the number of children available. We would love our kids to have contact with their brother if that could be arranged. They would like that, and from what he said last night he would, too. My wife and I think it would be good for all of them.

“So, that is why I called News Network.”

“Kurt, I don’t suppose you brought any pictures of Abi and Ben with you?”

“As a matter of fact, I did,” he replied, reaching into his coat pocket. He handed me photos of the two children together and alone, and there was one of them with him and his wife.

I set the photos out on Kashuba’s desk. Taking those Tyras had given me I set them out as well. Kurt’s pictures were obviously more recent and the children were older, but they were definitely the same kids.

The others had been watching me intently.

“Wow!” Kurt said, looking at the older photos, “that’s Abi and Ben!” He looked more closely. “Is that Tyras with them in this one?”

“Yes,” I replied, “Tyras gave me these a few minutes ago.”

I stopped to think, wondering what to do next. “May I borrow these for a few minutes?” I asked Kurt, eventually, pointing to his photos.


“Thank you, I’ll be back shortly.”

I gathered all the photos up and went looking for Masoko and Tyras. They were having a snack in the kitchen. “Tyras, I have something to show you.” I laid his pictures out on the table, and then set out those Kurt had given me.

Tyras gasped. “Where did you get these?”

“From a man who watched the interview last night. These are his adopted children.” I wrapped my arm around his shoulders. “Do you think that’s Abi and Ben?” I asked, gently.

“Oh, yes! I’m sure.” He looked up at me. “Where are they? Can I see them?”

“Well, I guess they’re at home. But their father is here. Would you like to meet him?”

Tyras nodded. He was on the verge of tears again. I took him and Masoko to Kashuba’s office. When we walked in there was a sharp intake of breath.

“Holy cow!” Kurt said. “Oh my word! You have to be Tyras. You’re exactly like your brother; just an older version of him.”

Tyras wasn’t willing to muck around. “Can I see Abi and Ben?” he blurted out, then added, contritely, “please?”

Kurt looked at me, then Kashuba and Masoko.

I said, “I think that would be a great idea. Kurt, when would it be convenient for you? And should Tyras go to your home, or would you like to meet somewhere else?”

“I think the sooner the better,” Kurt replied. “Abi and Ben wanted to come with me. Abi was absolutely certain that the boy she saw on the news last night was her brother. It took a lot of persuasion to get her to stay at home. At our place is fine with me, if that’s all right with you guys.”

I didn’t want Tyras going somewhere unknown without support. After all, we didn’t know anything about Kurt. Fortunately he understood and was happy for me, along with my escort, to make the visit with Tyras. He invited Kashuba and Masoko, too, and they rearranged other commitments so they could go. I had a quiet word with Amy and received an assurance that she would not broadcast anything without consulting Kurt and his wife, and Kashuba. I could hardly veto any mention of the reunion since she had been instrumental in bringing it about.

Since Amy had picked Kurt up to meet with me, she took him in her commuter car, and the rest of us went with my escort in their IG troopship. Tyras had never been flying before, so the pilot let him sit up front. Excited, he took in everything inside the craft and the different view of the city from the air. Amy let us know she was held up in traffic, so we waited at a park near Kurt’s house.

When Amy pulled up outside the house the front door flew open and two kids ran out to their dad. He took them inside, and that was our cue. We walked up to the door and Tyras knocked. Kurt opened it almost immediately, and took Tyras into the living room. Abi looked up and shrieked (Kurt’s word was accurate), “Tyras!” She ran into his outstretched arms, almost knocking him over. The rest of us stood back as Ben jumped up and joined the hug.

While they were talking nineteen to the dozen, Kurt introduced Kashuba, Masoko and me to his wife, Erika.

“Thank you,” she said, simply, gesturing to towards the three siblings.

“I didn’t do much,” I said. “It was Ms King, really.” I looked over to Amy but she was busy filming the happy reunion.

Allowing the siblings space, Kurt and Erika invited us to afternoon tea. I left the guard to watch over the kids, and we went out to the kitchen. Erika got us cups of tea and we sat around their table.

I looked around at Kurt and Erika, Kashuba and Masoko. “Where do we go from here?” I asked no one in particular.

Kurt was a step ahead of me. “I guess you want to know our intentions regarding Tyras,” he said.

“Well, I don’t think I am in any position to say what should happen, but perhaps we could at least discuss what you think, and Kashuba and Masoko can talk to Tyras and find out what he wants.”

Erika spoke. “We don’t want to preempt anything, and we can’t speak for Tyras, anyway, but I know that Abi and Ben would love to have the three of them together again. Ben doesn’t remember Tyras as well as Abi does, but there have been times when he’s really missed his big brother. Apparently the two boys used to do a lot together.”

I told them about the poem Tyras had written, and how he had never talked much about his siblings because it was so painful for him. “I knew he had a brother and sister, but I didn’t know their names until last night. I think he would like them to be together, too, but there might be a lot of stuff to work through before that could happen.”

Kashuba spoke up. “How about we allow Tyras to make his own decision? He has been on his own now for two years, and has done a lot of growing up in that time. I believe he thinks of the Breaker gang as his family, but that is a good bit different from being part of a normal family. It might be that it would be too hard for Tyras to go back to that.”

Everyone agreed on that approach, although the Friedmans made it clear that Tyras was welcome to live with them if he wished to do so.

Amy compiled a brief report, including a few seconds of video, about the reunion. True to her word she waited until she had approval from Kurt and Erika as well as Kashuba and Tyras before it was broadcast on the next evening’s news.

Kashuba and Masoko talked with Tyras over the following days. While he was ecstatic that he had found his sister and brother he had mixed feelings about moving in with the family. Although he liked Kurt and Erika, he wasn’t sure that he wanted to live with them. He was reluctant to leave Breaker, and, like Kashuba had surmised, felt that he might have trouble fitting in with a conventional family after being more or less independent for so long.

For a brief time it seemed that a heavy-handed children’s services director was going to scupper not only Tyras’s happiness but HI’s whole concept of self-determination for the scallies groups.

The director had watched The Interview (as it became known around DöhmCorp and HI) and was livid. As far as he was concerned Tyras was a runaway. He demanded that we return Tyras to the home. As for HI, his view was that because most of the Breaker and Ferals kids were under sixteen years of age they should be in the care of children’s services. (There was no issue for the older kids because they were deemed to be independent.) Where was he, we all wondered, when the kids had to fend for themselves? It seemed to us that he simply didn’t want anyone else trespassing on what he saw as his territory. While the scallies packs were anonymous and invisible no one had cared. Now that they were being helped by an independent, privately run organisation they were suddenly in danger.

When we pointed out that we had applied for registration as a child care agency and orphanage the director called us ‘a bunch of amateur do-gooders’ and declared that our application would never be approved. He tried to undermine the process but the body dealing with our application, while part of the same federal department, was independent and its assessment of our suitability did not require any input from children’s services. In fact the director’s interference caused them to fast-track our application and it was approved quickly. They actually commended HI’s approach, calling it ‘innovative’ and ‘forward-looking’. That left the director without a leg to stand on and we never heard any more from him.

In the end Tyras, Abi and Ben decided on a compromise. For the near future Tyras would stay some weekends with Abi and Ben at their home, and they would spend occasional weekends at Breaker One. Everybody concerned was happy with that arrangement. The important thing was that the siblings had been reunited. They now had the opportunity to restore their relationship. There was plenty of time to make decisions about the future.