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Two years before the farewell party in Latoona, Mitch enjoyed his new computer programming fortune under the financial mentorship of his already wealthy foster family. At sixteen, he learned how to balance and invest a sizeable cash flow. The Jaacks never considered using any of Mitch’s wealth for their own benefit and were excited for the boy’s success.
“You’ll have nothing to worry about when you turn eighteen.” Jaack sat on the veranda with Mitch, watching the sunset. “Not many foster kids start adulthood like you will. Remember them, and don’t forget your beginnings and blessings.”
“I never knew anyone to be so lucky. Why me?”
“Don’t question a blessing. There is always only one thing to do with it.”
“I know. You pass it on.” Mitch smiled as he repeated, yet another philosophy that was drilled into him these last seven years.
Jaack began to look awkward, so Mitch knew he was about to get personal.
“What is it?” Mitch broke through Jaack’s discomfort.
“Ah. I thought you might like to know why we never adopted you.”
Shrugging off the nagging insecurity, Mitch flatly commented,
“I figured you had enough kids.”
“Well, yeah, that’s right, but… I wanted you to never begin relying on the money we already had for your future. Although we will always be there if you need anything.”
“I don’t expect any more from you. You’ve given me enough already.”
Jaack jumped off the veranda edge and turned to look Mitch right in the eye.
“You should expect a lot more from us. We’re your family. You belong to us and we love you.”
He turned his back and continued,
“I wanted to teach you how to take your life and make it your own; not hide in us.”
“Like your sons?”
“They’ve all made their own choices and are traveling their own journeys. That’s not for you to question. But I will say they have all achieved their own dreams without hiding anywhere.”
“Sorry. I just never saw why anyone would want to stay home, or even in one place, all his life.”
Mitch considered revealing his latest plan.
“It’s good for some, not for others,” agreed Jaack. “I have a feeling you will be one of the others. There’s been travel in your life already, and it’s a hard bug to get rid of.”
“I was thinking of taking a trip to see my Gamma in Brazil.”
“You’ve got it all planned out, haven’t you? Down to the last date and meal ticket, I guess?”
Mitch’s stomach lurched. How did Jaack always know what he was doing?
“Aw, kid.” Jaack wrapped his viselike arm around the boy’s head and rubbed his hair with his knuckles. “Seven years is a long time to get to know someone.” Jaack bent over in a wrestler’s challenge. “And I’ve enjoyed every minute.”
The challenge was accepted, and the two laughed through the whole match.
Unfortunately, as coincidence would have it, when a grey van pulled into the yard, both males were dusty and grass stained. Mitch also had acquired a bloody nose from banging his face accidentally on Jaack’s head.
Miss Taylor was not impressed.
“Miss Taylor?” Jaack wiped himself up and Mitch tried to stop his nose from gushing blood everywhere. “We weren’t expecting you till next week.”
“Obviously not.” She stalked past Jaack and went to Mitch’s aid.
“That looks awful, you poor thing. Don’t worry; I’ll take care of this for you.”
“Ids nodd’n, ids append before. Ids wad I ged for wrestling de big guy.” Mitch was not yet aware of the precarious situation.
“Let me take you inside and get you cleaned up.”
Even when she tried really hard, Miss Taylor’s nurturing spirit was dead cold.
Inside, the blood was all washed away and Miss Taylor began her planned interrogation, encouraged by the bloody nose.
“It has come to our attention that these arrangements may not be in the best interest of the boy.”
“What?” Mitch sputtered.
Mum Jaack calmed Mitch when she whispered,
“We expected this.”
Miss Taylor continued steadily.
“The Children’s Welfare intends, now that the boy is receiving a private income, to ensure that his money is being applied in the right places and not into your family pocket.”
“I assure you, Miss Taylor,” Jaack said as he offered her a chair, “Mitch’s money is completely his and completely accounted for, down to the penny.”
“I’m sure it is, Mr. Jaack.” She sat rigid at the big country table. “But the child is still under the protection of the Australian Children’s Welfare system, and as such, we are the ones who need to guide the child in his finances.”
“The ‘child’s’ name is Mitch, and I’m not a child.” Mitch leaned over the table but maintained his control.
“I had intended to inform you that Wattle-Gum…”
“It’s MITCH!” the forenamed enforced.
She smiled, sort of.
“Master Mitchell needs to return with me to the orphanage at the end of the week.”
Gasps and shouts arose from the usually calm family. Miss Taylor spoke loudly over their objections.
“However, after what I have seen tonight… is your nose okay, Mitch? Perhaps I should take him now.”
Mum Jaack quieted everyone.
“That won’t be necessary. We will take care of him. I am sure that after all the visits you’ve had with us before, you know he is safe here.”
Mitch, over everyone’s head, silently nodded outside to Miss Taylor. It had the desired effect.
“You’re right, Mrs. Jaack. I will see you in one week.”
She stepped outside, but instead of heading to the van, she slipped over to the barn.
The family was trying to make sense of the surprise announcement, but Mitch stood quietly.
“Go on, don’t stop talking.” He winked. “I have a ‘secret’ appointment in the barn.”
“Watch yourself, son,” Jaack warned him.
“It’s okay. I don’t intend on spending tomorrow shifting hay bales and feed sacks all day.”
In the barn, Miss Taylor tried to begin, but Mitch interrupted and took control of the conversation.
“Miss Taylor, I thank you for your concern. You and I both know that this is just some ruse to get money from me to fill your own pockets. I will reward your stupidity by making my usual donation to the orphanage, for the benefit of the kids.”
She tried to interrupt again.
“You will not find me here next week. You will not find me here tomorrow. The only thing you have achieved here is a shorter good bye to my family.” He nodded and turned away.
“You won’t get away from me.” She stood her ground
Mitch slowly walked back to her and stood very, very close.
“But, Miss Taylor, remember, I am a troubled foster child.” With one hand he closed the barn door. It quietly creaked closed.
“Perhaps I won’t let you get away from me?”
She faltered a little.
“I could have you tried as an adult if you even touch me.”
“An adult? Then I shouldn’t need the Australian Children’s Welfare assistance.”
She tripped backward. “If this is what they teach you here, I’ll have you back in the orphanage tomorrow.”
“I learned discipline and compassion here. You are the one who taught me to be troubled at your precious orphanage. Thanks for reminding me.”
Miss Taylor sneered and stalked back to her van rather quickly.
The Dijex family—Hal, Salla, Tanya, and Holly—lay in bed early the night before they left for Rio, yet none of them were able to sleep.
In the morning, they would join the caravan of travelers to Rio de Janeiro and then, to the Trevel port town of Under Janeiro. There the girls were going to register and shop in preparation for the voyage to high school at the Atlantis National Academy.
TSNS Atlantis (Trevel Strategic Naval Service) was the ship that would take them to school, and school was to be their home for the most part of the next six years. There was a lot of shopping to be done.
Sunrise pushed its way through the jungle trees and over the crater. The girls were at the bottom already with hydro lights and their old tea set.
“The teapot hasn’t been washed since the last time we had it here.”
Tanya sniffed the sunflower clay.
“I didn’t want to get any more tears in case we slept too long.”
“I suppose the well water will pull the tears off the sides?” Holly poured the heavy mineral water into the pot and Tanya swirled it around.
“They said her name was Colonah.”
Holly nodded looking into the red sky. “I can’t tell if that’s a warning sunrise or Colonah wishing us well.”
Tanya gazed upward too,
“Shall we say goodbye, then?”
“A dragon tear for you;
A dragon tear for me,
We’ve come to say, ‘goodbye,’
With our dragon tea.
Our song will rise above
To a song from long ago,
That we may see a dragon come
Before we have to go.”
They sang again, and again.
All was quiet, but for a soft echo. Holly saw it first and hit Tanya’s arm.
A section of the crater wall sort of wiggled as if it were holding something invisible. The wiggly bit wound around the crater and circled them completely. The sunrise sky became a deep, deep red directly above, and water splashed down upon them from an unseen cloud.
When the sisters entered the house, Salla looked up from the breakfast table she was setting.
“Gracious! Did you swim in the river fully clothed?”
“Something like that.” The girls sloshed up to their rooms to dry and change their clothes.
Forty-four days at sea on a cargo ship had shown Mitch the entire southern and western coasts of Australia. Now he was looking into the harbor of Hong Kong.
The night of Miss Taylor’s visit, Mitch’s already-laid plans were put into early action: switching the dates was easy.
All had gone smoothly after the not-so-social worker left. Everyone was prepared for the goodbye, sad though it was, and within an hour, everything was packed—food, clothes, and the laptop.
Mitch had already spread his money out in various bank accounts all over the world and could move it around without his location being discovered too quickly. In fact, he was already supporting his Gamma in Brazil with a steady, more-than-comfortable income. That was where he headed.
He chose cargo steam ship transport because it was the least likely to be watched for his escape. That and, for a sixteen-year-old, it was also the most exciting route.
Leaving the mountain was fairly easy. A friend who owned a helicopter was recruited to “search for the missing boy” by air. He picked Mitch up from a high mountain ridge and flew him off to a distant bus station.
Oddly enough, Children’s Welfare never did find out that Mitch disappeared despite the wide search orchestrated by Miss Taylor.
The orphanage did not record the search at all. They were delighted with the generous support offered by the young Wattle-Gum and believed all was well with Master Mitchell.
His first month on board the SS Binay was rough. Mitch was tired by the trip that took him from the Snowy Mountains to the city of Melbourne, Victoria. But then, he had to find his sea legs.
Storms took him all the way to Adelaide, in South Australia, and then a horrid summer heat wave saw him to Perth on the very western tip of Australia. The weather was supposedly nice from there, but waves were still new to the mountain boy. He ate very little and threw up most of that.
Sailing up across the north coast of Australia and on through to Hong Kong was hot and rainy. But now, Mitch spent most of his time at the prow of the great ship, watching dolphins play in the surf before the boat and breathing gallons of fresh salt air.
The spirit that was once crushed and contained, then renewed and disciplined, was now set free. The wild boy spirit that had threatened Miss Taylor was intoxicating and as the sailors on board encouraged open expression, the discipline learned at the Jaack’s was laid aside. The basic understanding of morals still ruled, but there is little a sixteen-year-old can do to maintain “good manners” when there was so much fun to be had.
Hong Kong was spectacular! Mitch discovered the power of money, and most importantly, the power of anonymity. The men of the Binay were pleased to show Mitch where all the fun was, though he stayed away from the more desperate passions they delved into. As long as the boy paid, though, everyone was a friend.
On the second day in port, they took on a passenger, another gentleman of youth and wealth, called Hui. He also carried a laptop, and from their ship’s cabin, the two teens hacked into all the ship’s logs in the harbor just to find out what they were carrying, diverting the occasional package to themselves.
Mitch still rehearsed his martial arts exercises and surprised his shipmates with his determination to not drink too much alcohol or smoke anything. Mitch told them,
“In a world where no one knows you, your physical abilities are all you have. I won’t trade any strength or focus for artificial thrills.”
After two weeks, he said goodbye to Hui and changed ships to leave Hong Kong on the Ville de Blanc, headed for open sea.
As they crossed the Pacific, one of the sailors who loved marlin fishing showed Mitch how to respect the ocean creatures, using them only for necessary food, and how to get a live one on board without losing an arm. The fish supplied good meals for three days. Thus, it was a quiet cruise until they were a day off the Panama coast and Mitch had the need to exercise his computer networking skills.
Generally, students from Latoona made their own way from Upland Latoona (located in the Amazon Jungle) to Under Atlantis (located beneath eastern Indonesia). But a surprise package arrived at Chancellor Stonewall’s, from an anonymous donor. It included free hotel reservations in Rio de Janeiro for all the students and their families. Everyone was more than excited about using their saved money to shop in the bigger city.
All the vehicles slithered out of the village in a full-color parade. Waterworks exploded everywhere, leaving brilliant trails of red, green, and orange shimmering and dripping in the air.
The Dijex family van was first in line and followed the motor skis carefully as they wove through the trees that bowed out of the way. The family, all smiles and laughter, were not taking their first trip to Janeiro, but this was definitely the biggest farewell they’d had.
“Look back, girls,” said Hal. “You won’t see that village for a long time.”
A number of small, soft objects were tossed at him.
“Hush, Dad. I’m not thinking about that yet.”
Tanya watched the glorious jungle plants wave to and fro, moving around the cars, then magically returning to their previous planting spots unharmed.
“It really is something to be able to bend so much foliage at once.” Tanya swayed with the rhythm. “How long does it take to become a jungle guide?”
“Ask your sister,” said Salla. “How long would it take you to be able to bend that much plant energy at once, Holly?”
Holly watched the guides on their bikes ahead of them. The riders steered the single-seat jungle skis, or motorbikes, with their feet and waved their arms carefully in time to the organic rhythm and wind.
Each tree, bush, and flower—and even the dead plants—wavered, slid, or walked out of the way so that the caravan procession could drive by unhindered.
“I guess it would only take a couple of months’ simple focus to build the mental memories needed to do that much on demand.”
Tanya stared at her sister.
“So you can do that now?”
“Uhh…” Holly suddenly realized that once again, her simple gifts, as she saw them, were not that simple.
An old coast guard ship approached the Ville de Blanc and fired a warning flare over the prow. The captain of the cargo ship, noting the lack of radio salutation, avoided it.
Mitch joined the captain at the helm as the pirates made efforts to board. Some gunshots were fired, and armed men clambered onto the Blanc.
Mitch studied the aerials on the pirate ship and began working with the communications systems. The captain watched him.
“I hope you can attack them with a keyboard.”
“Okay,” affirmed Mitch.
The crew was silent as his fingers tap-tapped on.
Hitting the “enter” key smartly, Mitch turned to his shipmates and said,
“That ship just received an order from a British submarine demanding they stand down because they are committing an act of war.”
“Committing an act of war? Where’d you get that one, kid?”
“I’ve been reading spy novels. There now, see?”
Stepping up to the window, they saw another flare fly, and the pirates already on board dropped what they were stealing: a couple of boxes from one specific crate they had targeted. One of them tried to carry a box back over, but it weighed down his jump and he landed in the water.
The phony coast guard ship sailed hastily away, leaving the man behind in the waves.
The captain laughed a little and spoke into the microphone.
Turning to walk down onto the deck, he continued,
“Let’s see what they wanted so badly.”
Dinner that evening was silent. No one looked at anyone, and Mitch noticed how agitated the crew was.
The captain spoke in casual tones,
“I suspect the people receiving that crate know exactly how many diamonds to expect?”
No one said a word.
He munched on his steak and continued,
“I think I should take them all into safe storage, now that everyone knows they are there. That way, if any of the diamonds fell out and were found by any of us, we can return them all without any complicated questions once we reach dock.”
“I reckon you’re right, Captain,” said Mitch with a sigh. “I bet those diamond smugglers know exactly how many pieces are in the shipment. I’ll keep an eye out in case any were dropped.”
“That’s it, son,” confirmed the Captain. “We don’t want any trouble.”
Random diamonds were returned throughout the rest of the day, so all was well received when they reached the port at the Panama Canal.
Mitch spent much of his time with the Captain, learning about sailing. By the time they reached the Everglades in Florida, he was given a certificate of achievement for passing a couple levels of seamanship.
The goodbyes were brief, and Mitch left the Blanc feeling lonely. He stayed in a hotel overnight, then rented a car (with a forged license) and drove across the peninsula to Miami.
There he took some down time and rested on solid ground for a week. He found Miami Beach quite a trip. When he finally boarded his new home on the cargo ship, MV Mical, Mitch had been hit on by someone of every type of population in the world. He was quite flattered.
“I’m very excited, your Highness.” Gash rushed around his lab in the Blue Castle, dabbling in various pots and beakers. “The properties of their tears are amazing, but their blood is what will earn the most money.”
“I think I would prefer ‘My Lord’ to ‘Your Highness.’” Prince Hadigan watched the birds and small jungle creatures jitter about in the garden under the river.
To them, the blue water above was their sky and the hydro lights in the Skyling were their sun. It truly was a marvel to see the castle cut into the rock in elaborate balconies, windows, and arches. The bright Skyling imitated the sun perfectly as it followed the course of daylight above, cutting through the river water ceiling, flaring across the open courtyard, and edging every carving in a blue shimmer.
“I think ‘Highness’ sounds… soft.”
“But, about the blood, My Lord?”
“Now, that, I like.” Prince Hadigan smiled and turned his attention to the scientist. “What is this disgusting goop you’re playing in?”
The prince glared at him.
“I-I mean, My Lord.”
The prince smiled and nodded.
“As I was saying,” continued a confident and passionate Gash, “it’s the dragon blood, or you can think of it as red cash.”
The prince sniffed it.
“Pungent, but sweet. How did you get it?”
“They will respect you quite obligingly if you respect them.”
Hadigan turned and stared, surprised.
“I am learning to speak their language, slowly. It’s quite difficult, yet simple. I know that sounds off, but… I managed to tell them I was a chemist looking for substances with healing properties. As soon as I said that, this little orange one, like an oversized dog, cut her arm with her claw and dripped out a beaker for me.”
“I’d like to meet your dragons.”
“Ah, well, I haven’t seen any since. But I did manage to pull out the DNA and I’m working on duplicating it. Synthetic dragon blood, not nearly as potent, but enough to make you as wealthy as you want.” Gash finished all puffed up and proud of his plan.
“That’s all I need to hear.” The prince casually studied the carvings on the ceiling. “What do you know of the Dijex sisters from Latoona?”
“I’ve seen them. They are what inspired me to extensively study dragon elements. Pretty little girls, scary in their own ability to truly use their power. But, they’ll be off to school soon, I guess.”
“What do these girls like?” the prince inquired.
“One of them loves boys. The other, well she is the special one. I think you should keep an eye on her.”
“And her name would be?”
“Holly. Caught my eye in a freaky way; she is, after all, only twelve.”
“Thank you, Gash. I won’t be in touch for a while. Just keep my traders supplied and we’ll be fine.”
As he left, the prince ran his fingers along the walls,
“I think I’m ready for a quiet institutional life.”