After New York, Paris. N'buli knew his Dad would help, but there was someone else. He needed to speak to Mr Moon.
His mind was still churning on the plane. He took another commercial flight and took business class this time, so he could stretch out his feet, but he wasn’t enjoying the comfort. Because it didn’t make any sense.
LOVE wouldn’t exist without the Goodsons. They funded the organisation and were so charming and likable. What did they benefit if they were up to no good?
They might have nothing to do with anything – N'buli was purely powered by the suspicion that Goodfun had something to do with Goodson, but he knew there was something there. N'buli had been exposed to a lot of insane shit in the 119 years he had been alive, and he was good at spotting the suspicious.
So he needed to speak to Mr Moon, the leader of LOVE.
The organisation was cell-orientated, and had no real leadership, with all the organisation’s major decisions made by democratic vote. Ultimately, there still needed to be somebody who would cast the deciding vote and for the past 500 years, that had been Mr Moon.
In those five centuries, Mr Moon had only needed to make three decisions, but each had been impeccably justified and righteous. The next time a truly important decision was tied up, Mr Moon was ready to step in and everybody trusted him.
But that wasn’t even Mr Moon’s ultimate ability – he also had a superhuman level of sociability and could share a drink and a meal with anybody on the planet. He was ridiculously charming, relentlessly funny and one of the four great drinkers on the planet. He could arrange a dinner between the rulers of Israel and Palestine with half an hour’s notice and had done so a dozen times in the past decade.
Nobody turned down Mr Moon’s hospitality and his table was a sanctified independent zone, anywhere in the world. Everybody liked him too much to make a scene in front of him.
These qualities meant many LOVE Agents considered him their undisputed leader, and while he was faintly embarrassed by the idea, he accepted the post humbly.
He had been doing it for centuries and was so corpulent and full of life that it was impossible to tell where Mr Moon had come from. N'buli guessed he was some kind of Eskimo, but Val was convinced he had once been a Mongolian.
Mongolia. He wondered if he should ask Mr Moon about HATE and the man in the Mongolian compound and honestly didn’t know. Mr Moon had a habit of extracting crucial information with a smile, so N'buli didn’t know if it would come up or not.
His plane landed half an hour late, so Nbuli had another free cocktail before the plane touched down. LOVE Agents were waiting for him in the foyer of the Paris international airport, which was faintly alarming, because he hadn’t told anybody he was coming.
He took their offer of a ride to Paris HQ, which was located in a building that looked like a tiny and expensive antique shop on a quiet corner of the Avenue des Champs-Elysees, but actually had 16 floors of invisible office space above it, hidden by genuine Martian technology that even ensured no birds accidentally ran into it.
It was a typical Paris Thursday and the roads were choked. The Agents who were sent to pick him up were a Caucasian Agent Black and an African-American Agent White – which just reinforced N'buli’s long-held theory that Agents were paired up according to how funny their names were.
The Agents didn’t know anything. They had just been sent out to pick him up. Ten minutes into the drive, N'buli got a text from Jaded, telling him that he had arranged the ride and N'buli relaxed. He wasn’t sure he could trust, but if he couldn’t trust somebody like Jaded, he was in big trouble.
Agent White kept his eye on the road as he drove the small Nissan through the streets of Paris. N'buli had made a joke about the car when he had first seen it, but it was unfeasibly comfortable and perfect for driving these roads. White told him he had first driven a Ford Mustang around France when he had first arrived in the country, but he just felt like a dickhead who was showing off.
Agent Black was visibly nervous and N'buli finally got the truth out of him. Black was a fan. He had a blog and everything, detailing all of N'buli’s adventures. Almost all of his readers thought it was fiction, but those who didn’t knew everything it said was all true.
'How do you keep up?' asked N'buli, genuinely curious. 'I can barely keep track.'
'I’m a fast typer,' said Black.
'Typist, fool,' said White.
'Whatever,' said Black. 'The PR department tell me most of it anyway, with their releases.'
'I didn’t know we had a PR department.'
Black giggled. 'Of course we do. It’s run by Mr Goodwin.'
That shut N'buli up. He sat out the rest of the journey in silence.
They dropped him off out front of the office – this was Paris and their car park was six blocks away. N'buli couldn’t help looking for the invisible floors, but it looked like just another three-storey Paris building.
He walked through the antique store and went through the secret door behind the grandfather clock. He was waved through the lobby and Mr Moon was waiting for him by the elevator. He surged forward and gripped N'buli in a mighty bear hug.
'N'buli, my friend! I have not seen you in weeks!'
N'buli struggled for breath until Mr Moon let him down, and then he slapped his boss on the shoulder. 'You know how it is, Mr Moon. Time just gets away from you.'
'Not from me,' said Mr Moon, waving a stern finger. 'Time and I have had a unique understanding for centuries now, and we don’t get in each other’s way.'
He led N'buli into the elevator and they travelled further up into the building.
Mr Moon’s smile never faltered, but his eyes narrowed a millimetre, so N'buli knew he was being serious. 'So what is this about, N'buli? Is it to do with what happened to our boys out there in Sydney?'
'It’s everything,' said N'buli. 'Or it could be nothing. It’s a mess, Mr Moon. I could use your help.'
'Well,' said Mr Moon. 'You are fortunate, because we have a guest tonight who may be able to help you. It’s quite a coincidence, with all three of us in the same place.'
'Three of us?'
'Yes! That does not happen often, unless Mrs Goodson is cooking her roast duck.'
N'buli felt that buzz in the back of his head and just kept on smiling as the elevator door into the main operations centre of French LOVE opened and Mr Goodson turned to welcome him.
'Hello, Nbuli. Good to see you again so soon.'
'Mr Goodson? What are you doing here?'
Mr Goodson walked N'buli into the centre of the room, still flashing that charming smile at everybody. 'I know, I know, I don’t usually come down here into the nerve centre. You guys are all perfectly capable of doing your jobs without some dickhead leaning over your shoulder and telling you how to do it.'
He was wearing that dark red jacket that N'buli always liked and fashionably cut jeans. His hair was looking good and he had the room in the palm of his hand. He moved around, joking with the technicians and listening to Gerald the ops manager describe the situation in Pakistan.
N'buli felt sick. The room was too hot and he could barely breathe. There was some sort of heat radiating off Mr Goodson, but nobody else seemed to notice it. To N'buli, it felt like he was burning like a sun.
He started inching backwards towards the elevator, only to bump into Mr Moon. Mr Goodson turned and waved him over. 'N'buli! You were in Pakistan last week, weren’t you? Where are we at with that?'
N'buli tried to speak, but couldn’t. He also couldn’t stop Mr Moon from gently pushing him over to Gerald and Mr Goodson, his arms hanging rigidly at his sides.
'That’s right,' said Gerald, slapping N'buli lightly on the shoulder. 'It was a tough insertion, but he got in and out with minimal impact.'
'That’s excellent,' said Mr Goodson. His aura was overpowering and there was the faintest scent of dying roses. N'buli backed off a step, covering his eyes.
'MacGregor?' said Gerald. 'Are you okay?'
A technician walked up to the ops manager, but he waved her away.
'Maybe you need to lie down,' said Mr Goodson. N'buli heard it as a loud, booming echo and had to shrug off the feeling that maybe Mr Goodson was right.
He had to get out. He had to get out now. He knew if he didn't go now, he'd never get away again.
'Damn it!' screamed N'buli. He picked up the nearest computer keyboard and hurled it at the nearest window. The glass cracked, but didn’t break.
'N'buli!' yelled Mr Moon. It was the first time N'buli had ever heard him raise his voice. 'What are you doing, man?'
He could also see the other operatives in the room look at him in shock, but he didn’t stop. He jumped over a desk and went boot first through the window, the invisible glass giving way beneath his momentum. A hole appeared in the sky as he tumbled out.
The office was 13 floors up, but N'buli had his inflatable grappling gun inside his jacket. He had it out before he had fallen two stories, took another second to unwrap enough flexible cord, fired it at the nearest invisible ledge by the time he was halfway down, and drifted slowly past the mezzanine as it caught on to something he hadn’t even seen.
He hit the ground running.