CHERUB: Mad Dogs - Robert Muchamore

CHERUB: Mad Dogs - Robert Muchamore


Even by aircraft standards the toilet inside a C5 transport plane is cramped. James Adams had a shoulder touching the plastic wall on either side of him as he leaned over the steel bowl, looking at flecks of his lunch in the disinfectant-blue water.

His girlfriend Dana Smith yelled from outside. ‘Are you OK?’

James had pressed the flush and didn’t hear her voice over the roaring turboprop engines as his puke got sucked away. He stood up and turned to face himself in the mirror. He’d spent the last eight days camped out in the Malaysian jungle and despite regular applications of sun block, his skin was peeling.

‘James,’ Dana repeated, this time banging the door to make sure she got his attention.

‘I’ll be out in a sec.’

There were no paper cups in the dispenser, so James washed the bitter taste from his mouth by dribbling water into the palm of his hand and sucking it dry.

‘Did I just hear you throwing up?’

He gargled and spat out the water before answering. ‘Must have been those nasty hotdogs we had at lunchtime …’

But it had nothing to do with lunch and Dana knew it. ‘You’ll do OK, James,’ she said soothingly.

James dried his hands by wiping them on his camouflage trousers and had to duck under the door frame as he stepped out into the cavernous interior of the aircraft. His hands were trembling and he couldn’t help thinking he’d be visiting the toilet again soon.

‘I never realised you were scared of heights,’ Dana grinned, as she put a grubby hand on the back of his neck and kissed him on the cheek.

‘I’m not,’ James said defensively. ‘Heights I can handle, but jumping out of an aeroplane is slightly different.’

‘I’m surprised you’ve been a cherub for so long without doing a jump. I did one in basic training. Come to think of it, I did a couple before then; when I was a red-shirt.’

‘I don’t think I can do this,’ James said warily, as they set off on an unsteady walk through the giant cargo bay. The turbulence did his stomach no favours as they clanked across the corrugated metal floor, heading away from the cockpit.

The Hercules C5 is a dual-role aircraft. For cargo operations the interior can be loaded with anything from United Nations food parcels to Challenger tanks. When the Parachute Regiment comes to town, rows of seats are bolted to the floor and the side doors can deploy a company of paratroops in ninety seconds.

This mission wouldn’t stretch the aircraft’s capacity: only twelve bodies would make the jump. Eight were ten-to twelve-year-olds nearing the end of CHERUB’s 100-day basic training course. James and Dana were senior CHERUB agents and the final jumpers were adult instructors.

Mr Pike was the head training instructor. He was tough but fair and James respected him a great deal. He wasn’t so sure about Mr Kazakov who’d been appointed less than a month earlier. He was a bully who James had got to know rather too well after sharing his tent for the past seven nights.

Like all CHERUB instructors, Kazakov was physically imposing. He was Ukrainian by birth with a dusting of cropped grey hair and a facial scar worthy of an action figure. After serving with the Spetznatz – the Russian special forces – and seeing combat during the invasion of Afghanistan, Kazakov had spent ten years training SAS soldiers in guerrilla combat techniques, before making the move to CHERUB.

‘What are you lovebirds playing at?’ Mr Pike roared, giving James and Dana the evil eye as he pointed at the drop clock. This bright LED display hung over the door at one side of the aircraft and indicated that there were only one hundred and eighty-six seconds until they were over the landing zone.

‘He’s crapping himself,’ Dana explained.

Mr Pike shook his head. ‘I can’t believe you’ve never made a drop.’

‘Don’t you start …’ James said, feeling even more anxious as he realised that trainees half his size already had parachutes on their backs and equipment packs strapped to their chests. Some of them were so small that they could barely see over the bed rolls on top of their packs.

Mr Kazakov was inspecting each trainee in turn: checking helmets, tightening harnesses and screaming abuse when they got something wrong. Right now he was dealing with ten-year-old Kevin Sumner. Ironically, James had helped Kevin get over his fear of heights a few months earlier.

‘What’s this, Sumner?’ Kazakov spat, as he noticed