Sebastian Reckless is about... Well, why should I have to explain? That's what the prologue of book number one is for! And here it is:
prodigy \ PROD-uh-jee \ noun : a brilliant or stunning
accomplishment : a child with extraordinary talents
At the end of the street where I used to live was a very bizarre sort of house. It was no bigger than my house or any of the houses around it, but it seemed like a mansion to me, or perhaps like a miniature cathedral. It was built entirely of red brick with stained glass windows on every side. Enormous, strange-looking trees hung out over the front walk, and the yard was crowded with statues and exotic plants from any place on the globe you can name.
In this odd, brick house lived a boy my age. I never went to visit him and we never played together, but this wasn't because we didnt like each other. We'd pass on the street now and then, smile and say, "What's happening?" and "Nothing much." He was friendly enough, but he didn't have the time to play with anyone on our block. Neither my friends nor I ever dropped by his place for a visit, because he was far too busy with the people who did drop by to see him.
Every other day, long, black limousines would roll into the driveway of that old, brick house. Army generals, navy admirals, world-famous scientists, and foreign ambassadors hurried to his place, looking for advice or help. Everyone from the local police to kings from distant countries would be desperate to meet with that ten-year-old kid at the end of our block. Even the president came down our street a couple of times bringing with him mobs of reporters, television crews, and Secret Service agents. We all thought it was exciting, but my father would shake his head and say, "If the president is on our street, then the world must be in big trouble."
Dad was right. That kid in the brick house only got people out of the worst kinds of danger.
Danger was what that kid handled best. So it wasn't just the governments of the world that kept dropping by. Ordinary people with extraordinary problems would knock on his door at all hours of the day and night. And, if their problems were extraordinary enough, he'd pull his helmet onto his head, buckle his ray-gun to his hip, and bolt off instantly to remedy the situation.
To tackle these problems, he had designed and built vehicles for every emergency: A supersonic airplane he called The Firebird, a submarine (The Sargasso Ray), a jungle-tracker (The Caliban), a tank that tunneled through solid rock (The Magma), and many more sleek (and probably indestructible) machines. My friends and I would spend hours searching through newspapers and magazines for pictures of these vehicles in action, then clip them out and cover our bedroom walls with them.
But of all those vehicles, I think the thing that made his life a ten-year-old kid's dream was his small spaceship called The Procyon. My friends and I had seen it launching out of his backyard a couple of times. It didn't blast off with any rumble of rocket engines or billowing fire and smoke. Whenever it sped him away on his astral travels, it would just rise silently into the air and vanish quickly into the distance.
Normally, of course, its not legal for a ten-year-old kid to drive a car or pilot an airplane, submarine or spaceship — or to go about town with a real, live ray-gun on his hip, for that matter! But, since he helped the government every time the nation was in a tight squeeze, no one seemed to mind that he didn't have a driver's license (or a laser-pistol license, if there is such a thing).
How did he have time for all these adventures, you wonder? Well, it wasn't just a driver's license that he did without. For there was yet another unbelievable wonder within his mysterious house. Hanging in a frame on his living room wall was an item more precious than gold or diamonds; a priceless object that made his life more of a ten-year-old kid's dream than even his submarine or spaceship:
This most prized possession was a note signed by the president of the United States that said he was legally allowed to skip school for the rest of his life!
Not only could he design and build supersonic vehicles, but he knew every language on Earth, wrote operas and orchestral symphonies, and could play any musical instrument you put in his hands. There was even a weird rumor going around that history class would have been useless for him because he could travel through time and he had already seen everything. So, when you get right down to it, there's no fifth-grade teacher that would have wanted him as a student, sitting there at his desk with a bored look on his face, raising his hand every five seconds and saying, "Actually, thats not exactly the way it was back in ancient Rome."
All he had to do to earn his presidential "Get out of school forever" note was to promise that he'd save civilization whenever a crisis was beyond the abilities of the armies and navies of the world.
"He can't be happy," my mother always said. "I think he's very lonely in that house."
I just laughed. What makes mothers think of such crazy things? He had his own submarine and spaceship, and he never had to go to school. What more could a ten-year-old want out of life?
But still, every time she said that I wondered, what does he do when hes not saving the world? What goes on in that house while I'm stuck at school with everyone else my age? What secrets did he keep hidden behind all those stained glass windows?
Were we jealous, my friends and I? Perhaps just a bit. But we didn't hate him. All the boys thought he was the coolest guy on the planet, and all the girls wanted to marry him. Of course, no ten-year-old can get married, but then, of course, no ten-year-old can design, build, and fly a spaceship either. So, if one ever did get married it would've been that kid at the end of our street.
Our parents were worried for us. They thought we must have felt stupid because we had a famous boy-genius for a neighbor. A few of my friends were even dragged to a therapist by their parents so they could learn to deal with the hatred they should've felt for that brilliant ten-year-old. But all my friends had to say to the therapist was "He's the coolest guy on the planet!" or "I want to marry him!" It was always the parents who broke down and wept in front of the therapist, shrieking things like "I hate him! Why doesn't he have to go to school? I did when I was ten! It's not fair!"
So, yes, it was easy to feel jealous when we were standing on the curb, waiting for our school bus and he would race past us in his adventuring van, The Paladin. And, yes, it was depressing when we were pulling weeds in our flowerbeds and his airship, The Pegasus went sailing over our rooftops, headed off for some distant point on the globe. But it was impossible to despise him like our parents thought we must.
We might have disliked him if he had ever whined about his life; if he had ever groaned, "Oh, no! Not another dangerous emergency!" But this was never the case. He went charging into each new perilous journey with a mile-wide grin, fully appreciating the gift of his situation. He was no ordinary kid and he delighted in this fact, never once dressing in the commonplace t-shirt, jeans and sneakers of a normal American child. His everyday attire was an ideal super-adventurers uniform: a jumpsuit with his famous emblem on the chest — a huge black-and-white compass rose. With tall, rugged boots strapped snugly on his legs, a military-styled equipment belt and his perfectly polished helmet, he was prepared at all times to explore, to rescue, to fight crime, to follow every whim that flies through the mind of a completely free ten-year-old.
Sometimes that costume of his was all blue, sometimes orange, sometimes purple. It depended on what vehicle he was driving at the time. If he was piloting his yellow submarine, he was all in yellow; if it was his bright red airplane, then he wore bright red to match; if it was that green jungle-truck of his, he would be head-to-toe in the same green. He didn't just dive headlong into the impossible; he did so with style, and every child on Earth idolized him for this.
When our parents feared that we were resentful of his existence, they couldn't have been further off-the-mark.
And what about his parents? Strangely enough, they were incredibly normal people. In fact, they were so normal they were downright boring. Whenever they were interviewed by the TV news they would just sit there on their couch and say the same thing: "We're pretty proud of our boy, alright," and that was all.
They never got off that couch of theirs. Day or night, all they ever did was sit there next to the telephone (just in case the president called for their son), always keeping their television set on (just in case a special news bulletin announced some earthshaking danger that their little boy should know about). And while waiting for the phone and watching the TV, they spent their time opening their son's mail. He got hundreds of letters each day — letters asking for public appearances, autographs, or help. The requests for help were the only ones he answered.
So, what with sorting those heaps and mounds of mail, neither his mother nor father had time for a job. They had no money worries though, as their adventurer son had uncountable millions of dollars. No one, not even the government, knew where he had gotten his fortune, but it was definitely uncountable millions of dollars.
He owned a vast collection of ancient artifacts that he had acquired on his travels. Some of these he kept; others he gave to museums, never asking for a penny in return. All the money he made from writing operas and symphonies he donated to charities. He never sold any of his inventions, choosing to keep them for his own personal use. The source of his uncountable millions of dollars would forever be a mystery.
My grandfather (who never trusted that famous kid one bit) always shouted over the dinner table, "He probably robs banks in the dark of night, while decent people are sleeping!"
But my friend, Kenny (who would've been the coolest kid on my street if not for the boy-genius) said, "It's all pirate treasure."
Kenny may have been right. What worthwhile adventurer hasn't found sunken treasure at least once?
Not a day went by that we didn't talk about that strange and wonderful neighbor of ours. We hoped, prayed, dreamed and wished that someday we could jump in The Firebird with him and jet off to the scene of some unspeakable peril. I don't think there was a ten-year-old anywhere on Earth that didn't want to undertake some dangerous expedition with the coolest guy on the planet that all the girls wanted to marry.
His name (and he claimed it was his real name) was Sebastian Reckless.
Late October, 1973
Shortly after midnight
sthenic \ STHEN-ik \ adjective : continually in motion
The cold rain was driven sideways by a ferocious October wind that changed direction every other second. A small traveller trudged her way through the dark of night, looking over both shoulders for some approaching doom. Following a storm-swept boulevard, she made her way towards the curious, redbrick house at the end of the block.
When she was finally closing in on that house, she burst into as much of a run as her frozen feet could manage. Her rain-soaked clothes seemed as heavy as cement, making every step a struggle. However, she thought if she were one ounce lighter the howling winds would hoist her up and carry her away into the starless sky.
She hurried up the tree-lined front walk and banged the bronze doorknocker again and again.
"Is anybody home?" she cried out urgently in a posh English accent. And, just in case her cry hadnt sounded urgent enough, she added, "Someone's trying to kill me!"
The door swung open and, before she could be properly invited, she rushed inside, slamming that door behind her. She found herself in an entry hall as black and gloomy as the world outside. The door must have opened mechanically, for she was alone in the shadowy hall.
"Hello?" she gasped through chattering teeth.
"We're in the living room, dear," replied a woman's voice from somewhere in the house. "The big doors straight ahead of you."
She stretched out her arms to find her way through the dark, and a flash of lightning blinked outside, showing her the way to two huge doors before her.
Opening those doors, she found a warm and bright living room where a middle-aged couple sat on a sofa in front of a television set. Having seen them in newspapers, she recognized them as the parents of Sebastian Reckless. They were surrounded by massive mountains of letters and postcards; mountains that covered the floor and reached up to their knees; mountains which they were sorting into neat stacks. It was obviously mail for their world-famous adventurer son.
Mr. Reckless was a round, little man with a friendly (but somewhat boring) expression on his face. Though he was mostly bald, he did have enough hair for it to be messy in a "math professor" sort of way — a look that went well with his thick glasses and red bowtie. His rumpled cardigan of olive drab was one of those articles of clothing that a person gets far too attached to and never seems to take off. That well-worn sweater looked as if he'd had it on for the last twenty years. Though it could be called "broken-in" or "comfy," it could just as easily be regarded as "shabby."
Tearing open one envelope after another in a terrible hurry, Mr. Reckless sped his eyes over every word so fast that it was hard to believe he could understand a word he was reading. Then he would either toss the letter into a massive pile of rejects or fold it neatly and place it on the small stack of messages to save. When the telephone on the coffee table rang, he picked it up on its first jingle, saying, "Hello? President Nixon. Yes, Sebastian's already aware of the UFO problem. Goodbye." Then he hung up and without so much as a "Gosh! I just spoke to the president of the United States!", he went back to his frenzy of opening the mail.
Mrs. Reckless was a woman with a pleasant smile who hummed happily while she busied herself with her half of the mail. Her short, curly hairdo was marked only slightly by touches of gray, and she seemed a fastidious sort — very straight of posture. The perfect white of her frilly lace collar and the clean bright-yellow of her sweater told that she was rather the opposite of her rumpled husband.
Not only was Mrs. Reckless speed-reading and speed-sorting the mail, but she also had the task of switching the channels on the television every few seconds. She kept the little TV set close at hand (for this was long ago, in the days before everyone had a remote control), and she would change the station with a "clunk, clunk, clunk" of the big, round dial. Then she'd open a letter, change to a different channel, read the letter she had opened, change the channel, sort the letter and so on and so on.
Shivering from both cold and fear, the Recklesses' little visitor stood waiting for them to take a break from their chore, but they never let up on that frantic pace of opening, reading, sorting, opening, reading, sorting.
That bewildered girl was quite astonishingly pretty — by anyone's idea of "pretty" — but at the moment she was an unfortunate wreck. Her long, blonde hair had found some frightful mistreatment in the storm outside, and though her clothes might have been rather smart at one time, they were only a disaster now. Her cozy pullover sweater didnt seem all that cozy at the moment, what with being sopping wet, and its cute pink-and-white pattern of hearts was splattered with mud. Likewise, her blue bellbottom jeans and white sneakers could hardly be called "blue" or "white," as they were muddied-up to such an appalling degree.
This poor tempest-tossed waif (who appeared to be no more than ten years old) had clearly been slogging through a wretched experience, and she hadn't been at all prepared to do so.
But the Recklesses weren't the least bit curious what their muddy, dripping, freezing guest had been through.
"Th-thank you f-f-for l-letting me in," stammered the poor storm-soaked girl.
Though she spoke with that distinct English accent, it didn't seem to interest Mr. or Mrs. Reckless one bit. Nor did they care that she was leaving rainwater and mud all over their carpet. They were ripping through the mail with such determination that they never said a word to their guest. It was just open, read, sort, open, read, sort, and a few random clicks of the TV knob.
After a long silence and a horrendous sneeze, the girl continued: "Some murderers are after me! Is Sebastian home?"
"Nope," answered Mr. Reckless without looking up. "He's out in a jungle somewhere."
"But I'm in terrible danger!" she pleaded. "The whole world is in terrible danger!"
The pair on that sofa didnt even blink. The Recklesses didnt seem interested in anything the girl had to say. Open, read, sort, open, read, sort.
Mrs. Reckless kept right on humming and switching TV channels.
The phone rang again, and Mr. Reckless picked it up with a "Hello! Yes, admiral, give me the longitude and latitude of the fleet, and I'll tell Sebastian that you want to see him." He scribbled down a note, said, "Got it," hung up the phone, and got right back to the mail.
"When will he be back?" the girl asked after another long pause and horrendous sneeze.
"Hard to say," Mr. Reckless replied. "You can come back tomorrow, or you can wait there."
Then there was another clumsy silence. (And several more sneezes.)
"Is the weather always like this in Seattle?" she asked, trying to strike up a conversation. "I've heard that it rains a lot here, but this is insane! That storm out there is hideous!"
And again silence. Open, read, sort, open, read, sort.
The girl wandered in a little circle, trying to heat herself up by rubbing her upper arms vigorously. Sadly, she was frozen to the soul, and another sneeze told her that a rub on the arms was going to do nothing.
Curious about the little stack of mail that Mr. and Mrs. Reckless were gathering on the coffee table, the girl reached down to pick up one of those letters. Before her hand was even near that stack, Mrs. Reckless told her gently but firmly, "Don't touch the danger mail, dear."
"I'm dreadfully sorry!" the girl declared, her English accent sounding even more proper than before. "That was most forward of me! I suppose I've just been so long without sleep; I'm not thinking." She wandered around a little bit more in the next long patch of silence, then asked, "The danger mail? Is that Sebastians upcoming missions?" As they didnt answer, the girl just mumbled to herself, "Yes, that's most likely what danger mail would be."
Silence. Sneeze. Silence.
"I've been most frightfully rude!" the girl exclaimed in a sudden fluster. "My name's Tessa Tessa Dumont."
Open, read, sort, open, read, sort.
Tessa asked comically, "Did I mention that someone's trying to kill me?"
Open, read, sort, open, read, sort.
"I thought so," she said to herself (as if they had answered). "Just checking."
Polite as she was, Tessa didn't want to ruin her hosts' furniture by sitting in it while she was so drenched and filthy. So she stood rooted to the same spot with an ever-growing puddle of rainwater at her feet.
"Sebastian's off in a jungle somewhere?" she thought. "Am I going to stand here for a week?"
Tessa had been days without food or sleep, and now that she was somewhere dry and warm, her weariness was rapidly catching up with her. Before she realized it was happening, her senses faded to blackness, and she collapsed in a cold heap, right in the puddle that had been dripping off of her.
How long she lay there asleep she had no idea, but some time later she was awakened by a series of odd noises below the floor. There was whirring and humming of machinery in the basement, followed by someone singing in Italian.
"Don Giovanni, a cenar teco..."
Mrs. Reckless took a break from her mail sorting — only long enough to shout, "Sebastian! There's a girl up here waiting to see you!"
The singing stopped, and a pair of feet pounded up the basement stairs. Tessa was only just getting her eyes to open when Sebastian Reckless burst into the room. He was dressed in a helmet, jumpsuit, heavy jacket, boots and gloves all in shades of green. On his chest was his famous symbol: a black and white compass rose. His hands and face were smudged with dirt, and vines were twined about his limbs, as if he had come tearing through a jungle only seconds ago. He looked every bit the hero and explorer she had read about so often.
Sebastian's whole face lit up with a bright-eyed smile the moment he saw Tessa. One quick look at her and he seemed stunned, but he recovered a moment later to give a boisterous shout:
"Che bella regazza!" (That's Italian for "What a beautiful girl!" though Tessa had no idea.) Next, he muttered breathlessly, "It's her! The very girl I've waited nearly a century to behold!"
She heard this mumbled yet overblown remark as she was slowly and weakly getting up on her knees, but before she could respond, the young explorer continued.
"You are without a doubt the most staggeringly beautiful girl ever to enter my home!" He quickly changed his mind, saying, "No! Correct that! Ever to enter my eyesight!"
Startled by this compliment (and still not fully awake), she could think of nothing to say in return. She certainly didn't feel staggeringly beautiful with her long hair in a storm-blown tangle and the evening's rain still rolling down her nose and chin.
He took a bow, like a great stage actor. "I am Sebastian Reckless!" Then, locking his steel-gray eyes right into her ocean-blue ones, he asked, "And you, my lovely lady?"
"Tessa Dumont," she said with a sniffle and a sneeze.
"Tessa!" he screamed with exaggerated joy. "There it is! The name I've wanted to hear for what seems an eternity! O, speak again, bright angel! For thou art as glorious to this night—"
Not at all understanding his chatter, she interrupted him by blurting out, "Someone's trying to kill me! I'm in awful danger!"
"Not any longer, fair one!" he sprang from the floor and stood high on the back of a tall leather chair, where he declared, "None are in danger in my house! For here I stand, at the ready!" The chair finally tipped over, dropping him to the floor where he somersaulted and bounced up onto his feet again. "Name your problem; give me a task! I'll undertake any risk for the beauty of the ages that stands before me now!" Clutching his chest, he knelt at her feet. "Can't you see what I'm trying to say? I love you! I adore you! I'm mad about you!"
She stared blankly at him, as though he had lost his mind — which she feared he had. Glancing at his parents, she asked, "Does he always behave this way?"
Of course, they had nothing to say. Open, read, sort, open, read, sort.
Sebastian whipped off one of his dirt-spattered gloves, revealing a hand every bit as dirty as the glove he had just removed. Taking Tessa's hand, he discovered that it was like a chunk of ice.
"My lady has felt far too much of the storming, lashing arrows of the rain!" he said with deep concern as he graciously helped her up to her feet. "We must heat you up and dry you off immediately!"
Having been offered nothing so far but a place to stand, drip and shiver, she sighed with relief. "I'd appreciate that very much." Then a different thought hit her. "Wait! Don't you want to know what I've been through first?"
"My razor-sharp detective skills have already figured it out!" he replied with far too much self-assurance. "You have an English accent, and you're soaking wet. Putting those clues together, I'd say you swam here from England. And Seattle's quite a long swim from England! Bravo!"
"You're completely incorrect." (She hoped he was joking.)
"Am I? Seattle and England are not a long swim apart? I'll have to check my maps later. I suppose it all depends on how skilled you are as a swimmer. I know I wouldn't be able to swim that far."
"Listen," she insisted, "I didn't swim here from—"
He suddenly changed the subject. "Did you know that I'm a master chef, Miss Dumont? I'd be flattered if you would join me for dinner."
Though she was woozy from lack of food, she still said the proper thing: "Oh, you needn't go to all that trouble."
Sebastian chuckled and shook his head. "You swam all the way here from England because somebody's trying to kill you. The moment I set out to help you, they'll be trying to kill me, and you think dinner is a fuss!"
She thought for a moment. "Quite right. That is silly. Let's eat! And, for the last time, I didn't swim here from England!"
He gave her a suspicious glare. "So now you're changing your story!"
"It was never my— Oh, I give up."
"You're probably just confused and delirious from cold and hunger. So let's, first of all, get you into a hot shower."
Without a "hello" to his parents, or a "thank you" for all their hard work, he picked up the stack of danger mail they had sorted in front of them and walked away with it. Tessa thought this was a little discourteous, considering the feverish pace at which his folks continually worked.
Not a single word had been exchanged between Mr. and Mrs. Reckless and their son since he had entered the room — and he had just returned from some wild adventure in a faraway jungle! Neither of those parents appeared the least bit interested in where their boy had been travelling, what perils he had narrowly escaped, what close shaves he had survived, or why he was covered with dirt and vines. Any normal American father would have asked, "What've you been up to, sport?" if his ten-year-old son had returned from riding his bicycle around the block, let alone returning from an expedition to the heart of darkest Africa. Any normal American mother would have taken one look at that filthy boy-explorer and shouted, "Dont you dare drag the whole Congo across my living room rug, young man!" Any normal American boy would have proudly trumpeted his day's escapades if he had been fighting for his life in a jungle halfway across the globe. It was eerily unnatural, this family silence, but none of them were at all uncomfortable with it.
They were a very strange clan, these Recklesses.
The boy-hero took Tessa by her icy hand and led her down the hallways of his wondrous home. Every wall, every shelf and every corner was crowded with mementos from his many voyages.
"This was given to me by the Emperor of China," he said, taking a wooden flute off the wall. "It's over seven-hundred years old, and —" He stopped, changed his expression to one of panic, and shouted, "I don't have time to go into it! Youre in danger! What was I thinking?"
An instant later, he picked up a dagger. "This once belonged to Isabel of Buchan — But I'll tell you about it some other time! We have serious work to do!"
Again and again he would stop, pick up an artifact, and begin some weird tale: "This Spanish sword is three centuries old" or "I got this Roman helmet at the scene of the Battle of Troy." Then he'd suddenly burst out with "Later! Were in a state of emergency here!" and pull her along by the hand.
Stranger still, he actually told Tessa, "You know, you have a terrible habit of getting sidetracked!" (And he said it so forcefully that poor, puzzled Tessa couldn't decide if he was joking or not.)
Sebastian was the complete opposite of the two
people sitting quietly on the living room couch. He talked at light-speed, sometimes in Polish or Chinese, sometimes quoting ancient books or plays. Tessa got the feeling that there might be several different people inside that boy's skull, and she didn't think any of them were sane.
After Sebastian's flurry of nonsensical interruptions, he finally brought his befuddled guest to a wildly decorated bathroom that was like something out of a French palace. It was cluttered with a dizzying collection of gold and marble statues of angels.
"I've done this bathroom in sort of an eighteenth century theme," said Sebastian, once again totally off the subject of danger. "Don't you just love the cherubim?"
"The cherubim: the fat, little baby angels." He patted one of the statues on the head. "I got them in Prague." (That place, if youve never heard of it, is pronounced "prog.")
"Yes, they're beautiful." (Tessa wasn't really sure she knew where Prague was.)
There was a pause while she waited for him to leave.
Finally, she said, "Your whole house is beautiful," and she said it in a strained way that told him he was hanging around a bit too long.
"Yes, yes, yes!" he snapped, once more in a frantic tone, as if she were delaying him and not the other way around. "Get in the shower! We haven't a second to lose!"
He ran out and slammed the door behind him.
"What a complete lunatic," she muttered to herself.
There came a gentle knock at the door.
"Yes?" she replied.
Sebastian stuck his head in. "Take your time," he said soothingly. "You've had a rough journey. I'll get some dinner ready. You just relax."
With that, he quietly shut the door, then ran down the hall screaming, "Red alert! Red alert!" at the top of his lungs.
Copyright 2005, Lee Rushton Howard