CHERUB: The Sleepwalker - Robert Muchamore

CHERUB: The Sleepwalker - Robert Muchamore


Bethany Parker had been away on a mission for eight months, which was long enough for plenty to change on CHERUB campus. There was a line of freshly planted saplings along the path that led to the main entrance, new floor tiles in the main building and an enormous satellite dish in the gravel outside the mission preparation building.

But it was the other cherubs that really made Bethany feel like she’d missed out: girls had different hairstyles and cute boys had succumbed to acne; there were qualified agents she’d never even seen and new red shirts who seemed impossibly tiny.

As she stepped out of the lift on the ground floor, Bethany spotted the handler Meryl Spencer. The athletically built Kenyan broke into a warm smile.

‘Nice tan, Bethany. We’ve been hearing good things about you.’

Bethany was slightly embarrassed by the compliment. ‘Thanks Miss … I’m looking for Lauren, have you seen her around?’

‘She’s probably over by the vehicle shop. There’s supposed to be some kind of race, or something. I expect your brother Jake will be up there too.’

Bethany felt guilty as she realised she’d prioritised finding her best friend over her kid brother. After jogging down a short corridor, she stepped through the back doors of campus’ main building and ran down the path between the all-weather tennis courts. Her combat trousers and boots felt clumsy after eight months in parts of Brazil and the United States where she’d rarely worn anything heavier than shorts and sandals.

The sun was dropping below the horizon as she crossed the deserted playing fields. Orange light pierced the trees and made her squint, but being back on campus felt good. The cool evening air was a change from humidity and she deliberately ran through the muddiest part of a goalmouth because she felt more at home with a bit of CHERUB campus stuck to her brand-new boots: after a struggle she’d discovered that her old pair didn’t fit.

‘Lauren,’ Bethany shouted, as she came over the brow of a slight hill. Down below, a crowd of thirty kids were gathered in a car park. They mostly faced towards a squat workshop with aluminium sides. The three sets of hangar-style doors along the front were open. Inside were brightly lit workstations covered with tools and four cars in various states of disassembly.

All vehicles in the CHERUB fleet got upgraded in this workshop: stiffer suspension, satellite tracking, performance-tuned engine, plus tinted glass and subtly altered controls to make life easier for under-aged drivers. To ensure the highest standards of reliability, routine servicing and repair work was also done on campus, along with occasional special jobs such as fitting a car with a hidden compartment, or installing listening devices.

Quite a few people turned to see who was shouting. Lauren Adams gasped as she recognised her best friend. She backed out of the crowd and charged up the hill to give Bethany a hug.

‘My god,’ Lauren screamed happily, as the two girls pulled each other tight. ‘I didn’t even know you were back. Why didn’t you text me?’

Bethany smiled and made a little squealing sound. ‘I wanted it to be a surprise.’

‘When did you get back from Brazil?’

Bethany looked at her watch. ‘Our jet landed at the RAF base down the road five hours ago, but I had to go straight into an emergency debriefing with Maureen Evans and then I had to see the chairwoman.’

Lauren looked at her friend’s navy CHERUB T-shirt. ‘Promotion too. Well done!’

‘Zara told me I deserved black,’ Bethany said. ‘But you only get that for outstanding performance on more than one mission, no matter how long you’re away.’

Lauren nodded sympathetically, though she was secretly pleased that she still outranked her friend. ‘So how was the mission?’

‘Hard work, but we took care of business in the end. How about you, are you still suspended?’

Lauren shrugged. ‘I spent a few days doing security tests on RAF bases, and I helped a pair of new agents settle into a mission over in Northern Ireland, but I’m still banned from going on any big missions of my own for another month.’

‘I brought you back a present, but I thought I’d save it for your birthday next week,’ Bethany said, before stopping to give a curious look at a small girl dashing up the hill towards them.

‘This is Coral,’ Lauren explained, as the six-year-old sidled up to her. ‘When I got punished I had to go and help out in the junior block. You