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FREE BOOK - Kurt frenier, The Studytrain - Reunion of The Untouchables (FREE DOWNLOAD)
 

FREE BOOK - Kurt frenier, The Studytrain - Reunion of The Untouchables (FREE DOWNLOAD)

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Sixteen-year-old Ethan is a lonely and beaten-up teenager, living in a small village inSwitzerland. He is disconnected from his parents, hates his life, and escapes in his hidden dream world – the ...

Sixteen-year-old Ethan is a lonely and beaten-up teenager, living in a small village inSwitzerland. He is disconnected from his parents, hates his life, and escapes in his hidden dream world – the old ruins. One day, he gets a mysterious invitation to join what seems to be an educational train built to create ‘new world leaders’. Ethan reluctantly accepts.

From the moment he steps on the StudyTrain, something happens to him. He meets people he admired and likes, and that like him! Lord Althulos, guardian of the train and headmaster of the school, is the father figure Ethan never had. All seems peacefully and quietly going his way, as if the odds have turned.

Pretty soon, Ethan discovers the wonders of the 500-year old train. The Delivery Room in particular, where all the knowledge of the world and of all the previous students-now-world-leaders is saved, opens Ethan’s eyes.

He gradually transforms into a strong, knowledgeable but rather egocentric individual.

Krixit, rival of Lord Althulos and member of The Untouchables, helps him go through that transition, offering him power, energy and tricks he would never be exposed to otherwise.

Pivotal point in the story is the recognition of Ethan as the long awaited leader of The Untouchables by Krixit. He get the symbol of that leadership, The Knights’ Grand Token, together with a difficult task: to fly the train to Shanghai –where Althulos’ powers are weakest – where The Untouchables want to reclaim the StudyTrain and reinstate their powers and status.

Read the book to see how the story ends! (book available in US stores, online at Amazon and Barnes&Nobles and other quality online retailers around the world)


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    FREE BOOK - Kurt frenier, The Studytrain - Reunion of The Untouchables (FREE DOWNLOAD) FREE BOOK - Kurt frenier, The Studytrain - Reunion of The Untouchables (FREE DOWNLOAD) Document Transcript

    • The StudyTrain Volume 1Reunion of the Untouchables by Kurt Frenier
    • About five hundred years ago, Master Magician Mikhail Pilkington III created amagical train, the StudyTrain. His vision: to take average teens on board, showthem the world, and turn them into world leaders.Today, Ethan gets invited on this train, escaping his miserable life in Switzerland.Soon, he discovers that this train is all but ordinary. It is filled with magic, peoplewith interesting histories, secrets, and more. The train flies through the skiesvisiting all major cities in the world.Ethan’s intrigue and hunger for knowledge and power catch the attention of ahidden, ancient alliance called the Untouchables. Soon Ethan learns all their secrets,magic, and sorcery. He stands out and gets recognized as their long-awaited leader.But his dark side, The Dark Fire Inside, grows and becomes much stronger thananyone thought it would.Ethan gets sucked into a web of ancient conflicts and feuds while battling his owninner feelings.Will he go for power or turn to good?
    • 1. The InvitationEthan stared out the window. He’d woken up ten minutes earlier. He still felt sleepyand yawned like a lion in a field full of lionesses.The view from his room was amazing. Right in front of the house were the highmountains covered with a thick layer of snow on the top. Through the white plaid,one could see the tall green pine trees waving in the winter breeze. He looked at theanimal tracks close to the house, giving away the path that the deer, the rabbits, andthe fox had taken through the night. He smiled. From the way the tracks weregoing, there had been a chase. Again. That happened a lot lately. The rabbit lost thefight—there were spills of blood at the end of the road they took and bits of brown-like fur a rabbit would have. The usual story—the rabbit always lost.It seemed a day like any other. Little did Ethan know that this would be the day thatwould change his entire life.As on any other average morning, Ethan had a sore feeling deep down in hisstomach. He knew that in about an hour, he would have to go to school, and heabsolutely hated it! With every vein in his body. He was the weakest link in hisentire class, holding all his fellow students back. He was on the receiving end of all
    • the remarks, the jokes, the mockery, and misery—all day long. His friends, if hecould call them that, picked on him, shouted at him, laughed at him. It had been likethis since the day he started going to school. He just wasn’t as smart as the rest ofthem, however hard he tried.Unfortunately, his parents didnt have the money to get him a private tutor and havehim study at home. They’d considered that awhile ago, when it was clear that hisgrades would never surpass the minimum level required to go to school at all. Hewas way behind, and he had zero motivation. His physique was weak, and he wasrather slow.His father, an ex car salesman, now temporarily unemployed, as he called it,typically called Ethan a bum; and his mother, a hardworking Swiss seamstress, wasnever around. She worked double shifts: in the mornings at a men’s tailor, and fromtwo in the afternoon until late at night in a diner a couple of blocks away, doing thedishes. The only time Ethan saw his mother was on the weekend. But they hardlyspoke to each other. He didn’t really know her. His father was the only steady factorin his life. Not the very best one, but he was there—basically taking care of the foodand the house. For all the rest, Ethan was on his own. Never in his life, as far as hecould remember, did his parents read him a book, play with him, or teach him newthings. He was a loner.
    • “Ethan! Are you ready yet?” his father shouted from the bottom of the stairs. Thesound went through the thin walls as a bulldozer hitting the house.Ethan had to get moving. Making his father angry would make this day even worse.In a hurry, he took some clothes from the closet, put them on, and rusheddownstairs. His father was waiting in the door opening from the living room, hishands at his sides, an angry grimace on his face.“Why do I have to wait for you every single day?” his father asked, emphasizingevery word.“But you dont!” Ethan yelled back. “Look,” he continued, pointing at his watch.“It’s only five till eight—I still have ten to fifteen minutes before I really have togo.”“Don’t argue with me, son,” his father barked at him. “You are late as usual! Ifthere is even the tiniest bit of wind, you will not make it up the hills.” There was noway Ethan would ever win an argument with his dad, so he let it go, turned his headin the other direction, and bit his lips.Ethan jumped on his bike and rode as quickly as he could to school. It was a realworkout, riding in the mountains. Even though he was trained and his muscles were
    • hard from riding the bicycle every day, it still was tough. On top of that, he hadn’teaten anything, which also was no surprise. Not that they had no breakfast at home,his father simply didn’t care. And his mother was still asleep.After the twenty-minute ride, he arrived at the school gate. He parked his bicycle inthe indoor garage and walked straight to the canteen. He desperately neededsomething in his stomach. And he definitely needed energy to face the challenges ofthe day.Ethan chose a sandwich with cheese and a Snickers bar. It was gone in a heartbeat.Not the healthiest breakfast, but at least it was a good shot of energy to start the day.It was going to be a tough day. They had a lot of difficult courses: algebra,mathematics, history, and sports, none of which was Ethan’s favorite. If he hadfavorites, he would count dreaming, staring out the window, writing songs in hishead, acting (Shakespeare’s King Lear was his favorite play), and sleeping with hiseyes open. For him, school was torture, pure torture. He went, yes—not to learn, butbecause he’d rather be bullied around at school than at home. He took theaggravation of the teachers with dignity, accepting their every insult.
    • He counted the hours and then, at the end of the day, rushed out like a rabbit out ofhis hole after facing the hunter. Then he rode to the one place that could give himsome peace of mind—the old ruins at the end of the village.The old ruins were all that were left of an old castle. Once a beautiful and affluentplace, it had been conquered and half burned down almost three centuries ago; itwas left unattended ever since. Deserted. It was a special place. Mystical andmagical. It even smelled extraordinary; old and wise. A place where Ethan couldwander around and play without anybody bugging him. He dreamed he was the lordof the castle, ruling over his servants, and being adored by his friends. He readbooks, had an imaginary stage where he acted out his favorite plays, and jumped theold rocks—just for the fun of it.As soon as he arrived, he went to the ballroom. At least, that’s what Ethan called it.It was a large room. A perfect rectangle, with a fireplace on one end and a marblewall on the other, made from one single piece of marble. The rest of the walls weresmooth and painted with war scenes. They had almost all faded, and wereblackened from the many fires, but he could still see bits and pieces of horses, men,and weapons. The ceiling was burgundy and still very much intact. Ethan liked thisroom a lot. It was the one room that was still breathing medieval grandeur. Herushed to the fireplace, lay on his back looking into the shaft, and took out thetreasure he’d hidden away: his crown! Carefully but steadily, he put the long,
    • papier-mâché crown on his head. It was tube-shaped and colored gold. And it madeEthan a couple of centimeters taller than what he really was. He loved it!For an hour or so, as he did every day, he stayed in the castle, running through thevarious rooms and acting his role. He stood on the elevated stone podium andnarrated the day’s events, as if he was telling stories to his subordinates.“I, the king of this mighty place, order Mister Jones, history teacher and asshole, tobeatings with the wooden stick! You there, bring him hither.” Ethan waved hishands in a royal movement, signaling an imaginary servant. In his mind, everythingthat he wanted really happened.At that moment, a beeping sound came from his mobile phone. He’d set his alarm.It was time to go. His father would have dinner ready at 6:00 PM, and he’d better beon time.It was a half hour ride home. In heavy rain, Ethan gave it all he had. But the waterand the wind slowed him down dramatically. He looked at his watch. The hands oftime were almost in perfectly straight alignment. Six o’clock. He would be three tofive minutes late. Damn.
    • His father was having his dinner already. “No food for you, my friend,” he saidwhen Ethan entered the kitchen, without looking at him. “You know the rules of thehouse: if you want to eat, you have to respect the cook and come in time. You cango upstairs, do your homework, and then go straight to bed. That’ll teach you!”Ethan wanted to cry or shout out, but he didn’t. Instead, he closed the door with aloud bang and ran up the stairs, putting his feet down on every step as heavily andloudly as he could. The paintings on the wall shook as he flashed passed them.In his room, he threw his briefcase down and opened the drawer of his desk, takingout a tin box with butter cookies inside—a stack he always kept apart for occasionslike these. He ate a couple of cookies, staring out the window again. A couple ofwhite sheep-shaped clouds were hanging round the top of the mountains. In thedistance, he could see a rainbow being shaped in one of the valleys. A beautifulsight. He kept looking at it, in the hope it would turn into a complete rainbow, but itstayed low.All of a sudden, his eye caught something remarkable. Ethan pushed his noseagainst the window and looked closely. He could have sworn that an envelope wasflying in front of the house. Then it flew right into the window, knocking Ethan offhis feet. He fell on his back but quickly recovered and rushed to the window again.
    • The wind was still blowing strong, pushing the envelope against the glass faster andharder.Ethan turned the knob and in a rush opened the window. With a gentle and almostplanned movement, the pastel green envelope landed on his bed, facing front up.Ethan got closer and read the smooth handwriting. The dark black ink said:To the young Master Ethan,Bergstrasse 21,Villars,Switzerland.Ethan could not believe his eyes. He’d never received any mail in his life. Ever.Who on earth would even write to him? He had no friends, wasn’t aware of anyrelatives, and hardly interacted with anyone. It was not an official letter from anygovernment because this was hand-written. It wasn’t a computer-generated address.Someone clearly put some effort in writing his name and address on the envelope.
    • He jumped on the bed, slid to the back, and took the thin envelope. The paper feltsoft, and when he opened it, he heard light classical music emerge from the inside.The paper inside was white rice paper. On it was the same beautiful handwriting hehad found on the outside. His heartbeat nearly stopped as he read the text.Young Master EthanThis is your personal invitation to the StudyTrain. The train is your ticket to the restof your life. You will study in a way you have never studied before.Receiving this invitation is unique and a once-in-lifetime opportunity. If you refuse,it will never come again. If you accept, you will live on the train for the next eightyears. We will provide everything for you, from clothes to books. The otherpassengers on the train will be your family for the entire time you are on theStudyTrain, until the day of your graduation.One thing I can guarantee you: should you accept the invitation, from the momentyou step off the train, great things will happen to you!Graciously,Grandmaster Althulos,
    • The StudyTrainPS—This letter will magically disappear when you no longer need it. If you acceptthe invitation, just start packing whatever you want to take with you. We will knowwhen you’re done and will then come and get you.It was signed, and there was a wax seal on it with a flying train.Ethan sat there, stupefied. The area around him felt as if it was spinning. He staredinto the room while the sun was setting. For more than an hour, he sat there. Hishead was empty.
    • 2. Saying Good-byeWhat to think of all this? Was someone trying to pull a joke on Ethan with thisenvelope? His classmates? His professor? His father? None of the people he knewseemed like possible candidates to go through so much effort to make him feel theway he felt now. Why should they? He was already the eternal joker anyhow, whywould they possibly want to take it any further. No, that couldn’t be it.But if that wasn’t it, was this for real?The letter said that he would get an education. Why would anyone think that wouldmotivate him to even set one single step on this train? No way. He was sick andtired of school already. Why spend more time getting an education?He still couldn’t believe it and went through every possible scenario once more. Hecouldn’t find the answer.And then there was this notion of an eight-year journey. That, for sure, must be ajoke. He did not know of a train that traveled for longer than eight hours, let aloneeight years.
    • He felt sick. This was probably the one thing he never expected. It had to be a sickjoke or a bizarre truth. His head was whirling. His hands felt sweaty and hot, andhis heart was going at two hundred miles an hour.Ethan went back to the window and looked outside. Did he see anyone runningaway? No. Anyone sitting behind a tree? No. For no less that ten minutes he staredinto the darkness of the night, covering every inch of the garden, of the street, of thewhole view in sight. He didn’t see anything or anyone. It was all quiet. Just aregular night.Then he went to the door of his room, put his ear against it, and listened. Did hehear his father laugh? No.It dawned on him: this letter was for real. He went back to the bed, sat down, tookthe piece of paper again, and started reading. He absorbed every single word, nowrealizing that this might be the most important piece of information he’d ever laidhis hands on!Now, it felt almost like a treasure. His eyesight became clearer, his mind was sharpas a razor blade, and his pulse was high—the adrenaline rushed through his body.
    • Ethan jumped off the bed.“I’ll do it!” he shouted as loud as he could, hoping that whoever wrote the notewould hear it.“Shut up and go back to sleep,” his father shouted from downstairs. That actuallymotivated Ethan even more. It was not the free education or the dream of successand glory that motivated him to accept the offer, it was the hope of escaping hisdaily humiliations, both at school and at home. He was done, over, finito!“Come and get me, guys! The sooner, the better,” he shouted again.“Shut up, I told you,” his father sounded from downstairs.Ethan smiled.So, now, the question was, what to pack? What do you take with you on an eight-year journey? Clothes? Books? Toothbrush? He decided not to pack any of thepractical things. He took a small suitcase and packed a couple of very personalitems: his iPod, his favorite book (Shakespeares bundle of work), his favorite T-shirt, a picture of his dog (which, until he died a couple of years ago, had been hisbest and only friend), his flute, and that was it.
    • The minute he closed his suitcase, he heard a terrible noise outside his window. Hehurried there to look and found nothing but a huge, wooden train hovering in frontof his window. It was as if lightning struck!“It is not a dream!” Ethan shouted, and he danced around in his room.His window burst open. From the front of the train came a short, grey, old man. Hewore a hat, a crystal-clear white shirt, black trousers, a black jacket, and a flashy redscarf. That item caught all the attention. He had a big smile on his face, and evenhis eyes were twinkling. In his jacket, a white handkerchief was folded in the left-hand top pocket. He looked like he was going to a party of some sort; a weddingmaybe.“Hello there, young Master Ethan,” he said. “What are you waiting for?”Ethan looked at him with big, questioning eyes.“Come on, lad. We havent got all day!” he said, a bit louder this time. Ethanclosely watched him: he had a very wise, accessible face. For some reason or other,it felt as if Ethan had known him already for a long time. But in reality, he hadnever seen him before.
    • Totally unexpected, Ethan’s father barged in and stood tall in the middle of theroom, waving his fists. His eyes shot fire; his lips were all tense, whichcommunicated to Ethan that his blood was boiling inside. Boiling with anger.“What the … is going on here?” he shouted, looking in disbelief at the train outsideand to Ethan holding his suitcase, ready to leave. “Where do you think you’regoing? Put that suitcase down. Now!”His words were like a chainsaw going through Ethan’s heart. It was useless. Ethanhad made his decision and was fully ready to go. He had no intention to obey hisfather. He never had, and he certainly wasn’t going to start now.“I’m going, Dad. I’m no use to you. And you’re no use to me, for that matter.”“What? You little ungrateful insect, you,” his father replied. “Get your ass overhere, so I can give you the beating you deserve.”“Bye, Dad.”Ethan reached out his hand to the old man, who took it. And off they went.
    • 3. Mister Parker“Welcome home, Master Ethan,” the old man said as they stepped into the train.“My name is Althulos. I’ll be your train conductor, your guide, your instructor, yourteacher, your father and mother, and everything else you want me to be here in thistrain. You’ll see me around more than you want.” He wanted to sound tough, buthis voice was soft and gentle and very fatherly. His grey hairs were waving as hewalked to the end of the train compartment with Ethan following at a distance.“Don’t mind him!”Ethan turned around to see where the voice was coming from. Behind him stood atall, slim, and handsome boy, older than he was—Ethan guessed seventeen oreighteen maybe. His posture was impressive: he stood firm and looked confidentlyin their direction. His clothes were of fine Italian fabric, nicely fitted and verycolorful—marine blue and pastel green combined. His hair was combed back veryslick, like a sixties mobster Ethan knew from the movies. He wore brand newburgundy-brown shoes and what must be a very expensive watch. He looked unlikeany boy that Ethan had met. Hence, Ethan just stood there, astonished and in fulladmiration of this boy.
    • The boy came closer, reached out his hand, and said in a nice and friendly voice:“Leonardo Parker. Roma—Italia. Call me Parker—everyone does. Pleased to meetyou, Ethan.”“Hi … hi,” Ethan stuttered. He was uncontrollably blushing. His heart was beatinglike crazy. His full attention went to his hand that was being crushed by Parker’spowerful grip.“Oh—sorry,” Parker said, realizing that he was holding Ethan’s hand longer thanneeded, and squeezing it hard like he always did. “Force of habit. It’s all theworking out in the gym, you know,” he added, a wide smile on his face.Ethan had to take a step back to be able to see Parker fully. “Nice to meet you too,”he said now, pulling himself together.“I know, the first moments in this train here are quite impressive, aren’t they?”Parker said, while pointing at one of the train seats. He sat down, and Ethan went tothe opposite side and sat down as well.
    • Lord Althulos stood at head of the table. “Right. So much for introductions,” hesaid. “You’ll meet the others later on, but Parker always seems to be the first aroundwhenever new passengers get on the train. He’s my fixed welcoming committee.”“That’s because you need it,” Parker said. “You intimidate. I make newcomers feelat home.”“Of course,” Althulos said in contempt.“Now, Master Ethan, you must have a lot of questions, no?”Ethan was still flabbergasted. He just sat there, observing the two men. Meanwhile,in the corner of his eye, he saw the train moving through the village. It was flying,quietly as a summer breeze. Ethan couldn’t believe his eyes.“I know,” Lord Althulos said, as if he could read his mind. “If you’re going to waituntil someone pinches you to see whether you are sleeping, you will be waiting fora long, long time. It doesn’t get more real than this.”“Let me give you the basic introduction speech. I’m sure you’ll get more interestingnotions from your fellow students later,” he continued, sitting down next to Parker.Althulos folded his hands on the table and started to speak, slowly and steadily.
    • Clearly he’d given this speech a hundred times or more already. “You are aboardthe most remarkable train in the universe, created 540 years ago by MasterMagician Mikhail Pilkington III. He was a truly exceptional person with greatmagical powers, and wanted to make sure they were used for the good of the world.He built this train with hardwood from his village in Ireland, piece by piece, fornearly ten years, and then, motivated to get rid of misery in the world, put a spell onit. With that it could fly, be invisible, indestructible, and didn’t need any sort ofengine to power it. And so, this train has been flying and driving the world for acouple of centuries now.“Master Pilkington had a vision,” he continued. “On how to help the world becomea better place: select two youngsters a year from anywhere in the world, and turnthem into men and women who can change the planet. Not just any young kid in theworld, at random. There is a system—I’ll explain that later. The Chosen Ones haveto stay on the train to work through a fixed program of travel across the world whilestudying cultures, people, and economies. The program typically lasts for eightyears. So, at any given time, we have between fourteen and twenty students onboard, not more. You’ll meet them all later on. You’ll be one of the youngest.”“This guy here knows everyone who’s ever boarded this train,” Parker whispered,his hands half covering his mouth to muffle the sound. The contour of his eyesnarrowed and he winked, as if he was talking to Ethan as a long lost friend. Ethan
    • winked back to give him the same feeling, and let him know that he got themessage, although he was not quite sure what to think of it.“Master P, as we call him,” Althulos continued, referring to the Grandmaster;clearly not intimidated by the short interruption by Parker, “had a plan that is stilleffective today. It is in fact a simple truth: if you visit the major countries in theworld, and have friends from different backgrounds traveling with you for severalyears, and (he paused to emphasize the ‘and’) you study hard, then you will becomea leader of the world once you step off this train. Leaders are not born, you know,they are shaped, like a diamond from its rough shape to the precious stone everyonewants. This is what we’re trying to achieve here.”He stopped talking to make sure the words resonated with Ethan. And they did.Although it sounded like a fairy tale more than a story about some sort of school, itall made a lot of sense to Ethan.“I feel very privileged being here, Lord Althulos,” Ethan said, truly humbled by thesheer presence of this man. “Are you really five hundred years old, then?” he askedimmediately after. The words came out of his mouth before he realized it. He didn’twant to sound stupid, although he had the impression he was.
    • “Five hundred seventy-five, actually,” Althulos replied cheerfully. “I was twenty-five when Master P hired me and made me immortal. Comes with the territory, youknow. I carry with me his vision, his dream, and I work to realize it every day. Withremarkable results so far, I have to say.”Ethan sat there, again thinking that he was dreaming. Immortality—that’s a thingyou see in movies, he thought to himself. This was all becoming a bit weird.Althulos continued with the story about the train, and the journey it had taken overand over again in the last couple of centuries. It was incredible. He and his group ofstudents visited the major cites in the world. In each of these, he talked about theirrole in history, about significant events that had happened there, about the habitsand the beliefs of the people who lived there, and about the differences with otherparts of the world. A lot of the cities he’d visited many times changed names, grew,or disappeared or got destroyed and rebuilt. With each journey came comparisons tocurrent events in the world that he got from the newspapers. He told about the manydiscussions he had with his students and how great it felt to discover new thingsabout each of the sites he visited, even after five hundred-odd years. “You’re nevertoo old to learn new things,” Althulos said wisely. “I learn as much from mystudents as they learn from me.”
    • “Bullshit,” Parker interrupted again, rather brutally. “How could you, someone whohas more than centuries of wisdom under his belt, ever learn from us?”“Thank you for your kind recognition of my knowledge, Master Parker,” Althulosreplied. “But, believe me: I have learned a lot from you already.”He then continued. “Where was I? Ah, yes, let me cite a couple of the famouspeople that have been on this train. I’m sure the names will ring a bell. Where tostart? I’ll name the ones that pop up in my head now. You’ll find the full list in yourroom once you get there. Well, there’s Thomas Edison, Martin Luther King Jr.,Cassius Clay—not sure you know him under this name—he changed it toMuhammad Ali later on—of course we had Alexander the Great way back,Desmond Tutu, Winston Churchill, Marilyn Monroe, and Bill Clinton recently,Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, oh—and Elvis Presley and Yoko Ono.”Ethan couldn’t believe what he heard. These were all famous and infamous peoplewho indeed had written history. He was still going over the list in total disbelief.These were people that he could never ever measure up to, however hard he’d tryand study.“Unbelievable, isn’t it?” Althulos asked.
    • “Have they really all been on this train?” Ethan asked, almost whispering.“Each and every one of them. I can tell you great stories about them that nobodyknows.”“But why haven’t they talked about this train and what they learned here?”“Very good question! Not a lot of people asked this one so early on. I like it. You’rea smart kid. Well, the answer is simple: you have to make a pledge not to ever talkabout your journey here. If not, the whole system breaks down, and the StudyTrainwould cease to exist. You’ll have to sign in blood, and if you break your promise, Ican tell you that very unpleasant things will happen to you. We’ve had a couple ofincidences like that in the past too; but I’d rather not talk about them. But hey, don’tbe afraid—I’m sure you’ll happily do it. Think of all the great things you get inreturn: experience, knowledge, free travel, friendships!”It did sound great, however scary and absurd it sounded.“That was more or less the end of my little introductory speech. You’ll get to knowmuch more in the coming weeks and months. But for now, any burning questions?”Althulos asked.
    • Ethan had a gazillion questions, but didn’t know where to start. So he went straightto the million-dollar one: “Why me?” When he thought of all the great men andwomen that had left this train and had done spectacular things, he felt he hadnothing in common with any of them. Nothing at all.Lord Althulos saw the questions going through Ethan’s mind, got closer to him, andwhispered in his ear in a deep and dark voice. “Destiny!” Ethan’s heart pounded.Destiny? How so? Why? Was he really a special person? Why was he chosen?What do the gods or whoever brought him there have in mind for him? Too manyquestions to handle.Parker jumped in and gave him part of the answers. “Master P has given Althulos aspecial gift: foresight. Once a year, Althulos has a dream, almost a nightmare. Itshows him the faces and the names of the chosen ones. In the weeks and monthsthat follow, we have to put all our efforts together to find out exactly who they are,deliver the invitation, and hope they will accept. Up till now, only one rejected: O.J.Simpson. A couple of things went wrong with that one.” He laughed loudly. Ethanlaughed as well, but didn’t exactly know why.
    • Then, they were suddenly interrupted. A bunch of young teens barged in.Lord Althulos jumped up, as if to protect Ethan. He raised his arm, and the crowdstopped running, blindly following his command.“Kids,” he said, “behold our new passenger: Master Ethan! From beautifulSwitzerland. Well, not any longer.”Everyone moved closer, smiling. They put out their hands and greeted Ethancheerfully. “Leonardo—Sri Lanka.”“Lana—Bombay.”“Jolie—Paris.”“Solome—Zimbabwe.”“Bob—United States.”“Elenka—Ukraine.”
    • “Jooris—Belgium.”“Ahmed—Saudi Arabia.”“Jesus—Chile.”They all shook his hand and hugged him as if he was an old friend they hadn’t seenin years. It felt good.“This is part of the team on board here. The others are probably still studying,sleeping, playing, or God knows what. These guys and girls here will be yourfamily for the next couple of years,” Lord Althulos said. “Don’t worry about alltheir names right now; I know it’s a bit much. You’ll have plenty of time to get toknow them.”Fair enough, Ethan thought. It all went too fast. The only names he had rememberedwhere those of Lana and Jolie—two good-looking girls. Lana—blonde, and Jolie—brown-haired. Gorgeous girls—unlike the ones who usually hung out with Ethan.They were still staring at him, and it gave him an unfamiliar feeling. Warm andsweet. He started sweating again, and he was sure his cheeks were red as tomatoesin boiling water.
    • “I think that’ll do for now,” Althulos continued. “Who wants to show Master Ethanhis room?” Parker jumped up, raising his finger, but Lord Althulos held him backand said, “Not you, Parker. I need to have a word with you.”“I’ll show him,” Lana said, stepping forward and taking Ethan by the hand. Herhands were soft as silk and slightly warm. When Ethan looked into her dark browneyes, he literally felt his heart melt. He smiled in a grotesque, embarrassing way.She smiled back, genuinely interested in him. She nodded at his suitcase. Ethanlifted it up and followed Lana. As they passed the others, they patted him on theback and whispered welcomes. They left the compartment they were in, opened adoor to another compartment of the train, and went through that one as well.As they were walking through the train, Ethan looked closely around him. What hesaw was amazing: the vehicle was still flying through the air. They must have leftSwitzerland by now. Must have been flying for over an hour now. What directionthey were heading in was a mystery, however. They flew rather low, not like aplane or so, but rather like a helicopter. And not very smooth, either. The trainwiggled left and right, up and down, and then left and right again, throughmountain peaks and trees, and past roofs of houses. It was hard to look outside. Itmade Ethan dizzy. Strangely enough, he didn’t feel any of the movements inside thetrain.
    • “Funny, isn’t it?” Lana said. “I had to get used to this train as well. You’d thinkwe’d be vomiting because of the brusque movements it makes, but that’s not thecase at all. Just avoid looking through the windows when we are in flight. It’s betterto do that when we are stationary. Then it’s OK. Anyhow, you’ll figure it outyourself.”“Thanks,” Ethan answered. He had the feeling that Lana was confiding in himalready, and liked that idea very much.“I’ll show you where your dormitory is. This is quite a luxury train, you know. Youhave your own room, and believe me, it’s bigger than you can imagine. Just followme.”They passed a couple of compartments that were seating areas. It was a bit like anormal train, with the typical seats that trains have, all very nicely made. The seatswere made of fine leather and they had a rather loungy look. The whole interior wasvery modern, hip even. It didn’t feel like an educational environment at all. Onvarious tables stood computers or flat screen TVs; some of them had game consolesand others had magazines laying around. The colors were deep red and straight andshiny black. Ethan had the impression that some parts of it looked like adiscotheque but without the backlights. He liked it.
    • “Feels nice, doesn’t it?” Lana asked.“Euh … yeah,” Ethan answered.“You’ll love it here. I had a home situation very much like yours. A dad who wasnever around, a mom who couldn’t care less what I was up to. No friends. A lot ofmockery in class.”“How do you know that’s what my life is all about?” Ethan quickly jumped in,astonished by how detailed she could describe the misery that was his life.“We all have to search for the ‘chosen ones.’ So we analyze whoever fits theprofile. And then when we come close to knowing who exactly it is, we need toknow everything about the person’s life. It needs to match the dream that LordAlthulos had, you know. We cannot afford to take someone on board who doesn’tbelong here.”“Wow. So you guys know all about me, but I don’t know anything about you.That’s not really fair is it?” Ethan responded.
    • “Guess you’re right. But, hey, believe me, we are all open books. You’ll get toknow more details about us than you care to know. Don’t forget, we’ll be spending24/7 together for the next couple of years. So don’t worry. It’ll be all right.”Lana’s voice was warm and sexy, and Ethan couldn’t wait to hear her talk somemore.“Just one thing you need to know,” she said, lowering her voice, and coming closerto him. She even took his free hand, as if to make him listen more carefully. “Don’ttrust Parker!”“Why? I don’t understand. He seems like such a nice guy. Was waiting for me as Icame on board, and he talked pleasantly and all. Why shouldn’t I trust him?”“You’ll figure it out soon enough. But trust me, he’s a sleaze ball. He’s nothing likehe pretends to be.”Ethan could not grasp this. He had the feeling he could be friends with Parker. Whynot? He was charming, friendly, made a great impression. He was actually lookingforward to staying close to that guy, just to have a chance to copy whatever he wasdoing.
    • If only I could be like Parker, he thought.
    • 4. The Plea“Here we are!” Lana said as they entered a new compartment through one of thedividing glass doors. It was basically one big corridor. On the right- and left-handsides were all doors that led to separate rooms.They entered one of the rooms, and once more Ethan was taken by surprise. He hadexpected a room slightly bigger than a bed. What he found, however, was a roombigger than the whole of the downstairs floor of his old house in Switzerland.“Yep, it is real,” Lana said, taking away all his disbelief. “Mine is even bigger, youknow. And that’s just because girls get a bit more room for makeup, clothes, andbelieve it or not, books. But hey, this is big enough for you, isn’t it?”“Are you kidding me?” Ethan said, louder than intended. “This is awesome. Fivetimes the size of my bedroom back home! And look at all this stuff. It’s great. It’sall so modern.” Ethan felt tears well up in his eyes. This was the best thing that everhappened to him. Even if it was just a dream, it would be great.On the right-hand side of his room stood a bed, bigger than any bed he had everseen. It was covered with nice, soft linen in brown and yellowish stripes. Oppositethe bed, on the other end of the room stood a big desk. Quite a large one fully made
    • of glass. You could see inside the drawer. On the desk lay an iMac, and somethingthat looked like a futuristic stereo. There was a big flat screen in his room, andseveral closets. A bathroom was on the other side of a thick wooden wall. Hewalked over to it to see what was behind the wall and saw a self-standing bath, ashower cabin with a rain shower, and a washing table. Everything he needed wasalready there: shower gel, shampoo, a razor, and a comb. And lovely towels. Thickand probably extremely soft.Ethan ran over to the bed and jumped on it. Lana walked over to the bed as well,and sat on the bedside, gently smiling.“This is … I really have no words for it. Is it a dream, Lana?” Ethan asked.“No, Ethan. You are special, whether you want to believe it or not. But don’t gettoo hung up on it. Just go with the flow; let everything sink in, little by little. Andjust enjoy. That’s what we all do. Once you are relaxed, everything comes by itself:all the answers, and all the knowledge. This is really the best school you will everexperience. I love it here, and so do the others. We are a fun group of people whoare very fond of each other. A couple of exceptions on the side, of course,” shegiggled.
    • Then, out of nowhere, Lord Althulos stood in the door opening. “Well, what do youthink?” he asked. “Not bad, huh? Like your new room?”There were a few minutes of silence.“Thanks,” was the only thing that Ethan could say.“Don’t thank me,” Lord Althulos said. “In the end, it all boils down to what MasterP made possible. Thank him. Best way to do that is to make his dream and hisvision come true; work hard, study, learn from your new friends on this train, andbecome a great world leader one day. That’s the way to pay back for everything thatyou will be getting here.”“I will,” Ethan said, and he meant it with all his heart.“OK. I will leave you to it then. There is an important message on your desk overthere,” he said, pointing at the study desk on the other side. “We need you to give itthe necessary attention. Whenever you feel like it of course. Enjoy the room. Meetme back in the compartment where we first sat in about an hour. We’ll all have amidnight snack then, OK?”Ethan nodded.
    • Both Lana and Althulos left the room, leaving Ethan to himself. He dropped backon the bed and closed his eyes for a second.Millions of things went through his head. He just let it happen. He savored themoment. He’d never felt so invigorated in his life. It was a great feeling.After a while, he stood up and wandered around in the room. The bath was veryappealing. It had been ages since he had taken a bath. They didn’t have one athome.His bed felt like a pile of rose petals, that’s how soft it was. In deep contrast to thehard rock he was sleeping on in Switzerland. Even the study desk looked tempting.Although he didn’t like studying, something resonated in his head: if he would havethe opportunity to stick around and see some of the world like Althulos had said,then he’d work as hard as he could to make him proud. Of that he was convinced.He walked over to the study, and saw an envelope lying on top of the desk. It wasthe same style as the one he’d gotten at home; same handwriting, same color.He pulled up the chair and looked at it.
    • To the young Master Ethan,StudyTrain,Room 30#confidential#The “confidential” was triggering. Why?He quickly tore open the envelope and found inside the same kind of rice paper thathe’d found in his invitation letter. The text was short and powerful:Dear Master Ethan,The sheer fact of finding you on this train means that you have accepted thechallenge. I’m glad to see that. You must understand, however, that by doing so,you are signing up for the journey of your life. You’ll get a lot of things from usfrom this point on: anything and everything you need to live, the best educationpossible, a lot of travel—all over the world, and hopefully a bunch of good friends.It’s all free.
    • In order to be able to keep doing this in the future however, no one on this planetmust know of the existence of the StudyTrain. It is a secret society of people. It is abond with the gods. If this ever came out in the open it would all be over.I need your commitment to keep the secret.Sign this letter using your blood and the pen enclosed. We call it the plea, and weall live by it. Over the course of the journey, you’ll learn more about what this pleais all about, and why we want it exactly this way.I thank you.Cordially,M. Pilkington IIIOn the bottom of the paper was a dotted line with the words “I graciously accept”written underneath.Without a shred of doubt, Ethan took the little needle and the pen that came with theenvelope. He put the needle in his index finger, had some blood drip over the point
    • of the pen, and put his name and signature down on the dotted line. He waited asecond until the blood dried up and then folded the paper away.The remainder of the hour Ethan spent unpacking his suitcase. The few things he’dtaken along for the trip, he put in various places in the room so as to mark the wholeterritory as his own. But he was sure he wasn’t ever going to use them. He hadeverything he wanted right here.Lana was the one who came to get him.
    • 5. The Delivery RoomLana and Ethan were walking side by side through the train silently. Ethan didn’tknow what to say to her. And anyway, he was too busy looking at the inside of thetrain. Every single piece of this train was unique in its own way. The compartmentsall had their specific theme—either a country, or a color, or an activity. Ethan lovedit. It was refreshing. Inspiring. He was dreaming of wandering around the train andjust absorbing everything that was around there. He’d love it.“Here we are,” Lana said while she opened the door to some sort of ballroom.Lana took Ethan’s hand and dragged him to the middle of the room. It was a hugeplace. Unlike any other typical ballroom; there were no heavy decorations, nobombastic tables and chairs, no fancy wine glasses or anything of that kind. Therewas a modern, relaxing atmosphere in the room. Everyone was sitting on a sort ofbeanbag, with a stylish metal ultra-thin light standing next to them. They wereeither reading or chatting or having a snack. As he looked around, they stoppeddoing whatever they were doing and stared at him.“For those who didn’t meet him earlier on, this is Master Ethan.” The voice camefrom the back end of the room and sounded unfamiliar. An overweight, short, baldguy stepped off the podium and walked up to Ethan.
    • “First, let me introduce myself. I am Master Kundoo. Double ‘O’, mind you. SouthAfrica. I am the fixer on this train, and Lord Althulos’s right hand. Anything youneed, I can get. Anything you need to know, go to Lord Althulos.” He laughedloudly and heartily, causing his belly to move up and down. His face was round likea balloon, and his head bald as a bowling ball. He had an extremely small mouththat, even when he laughed, covered only one third of his face. What a strange guythis is, Ethan thought.“Now, Master Ethan. Your turn. Everyone is dying to know who you are. Besidesyour name that is. Tell us a bit about yourself.”This was Ethan’s worst nightmare come true. There must have been at least thirtypeople in the room, all looking in his direction. He was terrible at speaking inpublic. Even saying something in a group as little as five people was horrible. Heusually blacked out, or started stuttering, or just became paralyzed. All of whichhappened right now as well.“Hi everyone.”Pause
    • “I am Ethan.”Pause“I’m fifteen.”Pause“Bit scared, actually.”Pause“Don’t know what to say.”Pause“Don’t let yourself be pressured too much,” a voice sounded from within the crowd.Lord Althulos, who was sitting on one of the beanbags himself, stood up andwalked up to Ethan. He put his arm around him and looked around the room.“Ethan is our youngest traveler right now. Give him some slack. You’ll all get toknow him pretty soon. Most of you even know quite a lot about him already.”
    • He looked at Ethan and said, “You were a tough one to find, you know?”“Me?” Ethan asked. That completely surprised him. No one was more average thanhe, so he must have been easy to find.“This is where we sit and talk. I call it the Bag Room; you can imagine why. Thereis one beanbag empty, and that’s yours. So go and take a seat.”In the next half hour, Lord Althulos took the word. He started by saying thanks toeveryone for all the efforts they put into finding Ethan. Then he switched to whatapparently was a subject of the day or of the week: the impact of wars on thebalance of the world population. He was giving his perspective on things based onsome news events, and invited students to participate and share their thoughts aswell. Ethan sat completely on the sideline, observing what happened. It wasinteresting, but clearly above his level. Half the time he didn’t understand what wasbeing said.After the discussion time was over, Ethan was approached by several people that hemet earlier.Solome, the boy from Zimbabwe, was the first to come over. He pulled over one ofthe beanbags and talked to him for a few minutes. They chatted about simple
    • things—where they were born, what their interests were, and so on and so forth.Ethan found it very pleasant to talk to Solome. He came across as a friendly guy;charming and very open.Ahmed, the Saudi guy wasn’t as friendly. He stood half behind Ethan andwhispered in his ear. “Lana fancies you. I’ve seen it. And I’ve seen you look at heras well. Let me tell you, it isn’t going to happen! Don’t even think of it. She ismine. Am I getting through to you?” Ethan tensed and even tried to explain that hehadn’t the slightest intention of starting anything with Lana. But Ahmed didn’t wantto hear about it and took Ethan’s arm and twisted it until it hurt so much that Ethanhad to scream in pain. It was Kundoo who had picked this up and pushed Ahmedaway with a fierce comment. “Don’t you start, Ahmedus,” he said, showing a lot ofcontempt “This guy is special. So leave him be!”And then there was Elenka. She was sweet as peaches. After Ahmed had left, shecame over and introduced herself. “I’m the Ukrainian girl, remember?” She toldEthan not to let Ahmed bother him. She’d apparently had a lot of trouble with him,as with many others on the train. That surprised Ethan. Why would people who getsuch a chance in their lives be so difficult toward each other? He didn’t get that.“You’ll see why—it takes some time,” was Elenka’s answer. “I’d like to be yourfriend,” she said. “I am in desperate need of friends.” Ethan was glad to hear that.He was actually in the same situation. Every friend he made now would be a one
    • hundred percent increase in the number of friends he had up till now. For the sakeof argument, he counted Lana, Parker, Elenka, and Solome as friends—and LordAlthulos and Kundoo as allies. Not bad, after only one day on the train.Elenka’s and Ethan’s conversation was interrupted. Lord Althulos stood up andraised his voice. “Gentlemen and ladies, it is time I introduced Master Ethan to theDelivery Room. If you’d excuse us.” He signaled Ethan to follow him.
    • Althulos and Ethan walked to a compartment close to the Bag Room that wasparticularly dark. There was only one door at the back end of it. It looked like oneof those armored metal rooms you see in movies of bank robberies. Lord Althulosgave Ethan a key—or at least something that looked like it. “This is yours,” he said.“Every student on the train has access to the Delivery Room.”The key was a USB stick that was inserted in the small USB slot in the door. Ethancould hear some very quiet mechanical action inside the door, and then it opened.The room he discovered on the inside must have been the smallest room in thewhole train. The walls were extremely close to one another. He could literally reachthem side to side just stretching him arms.“That’s it?” he asked, surprised.“One hundred percent of it,” Lord Althulos answered, smiling widely.Ethan took another look in the room, just to make sure he didn’t miss out onanything. Everything on this train was a bit weird, so maybe there was a hiddendoor that opened the way to a whole new room that was ten times this size. But, no,he couldn’t find a thing.
    • “I’ll put you out of your misery,” Althulos said. He pushed Ethan a bit on the side,and stepped into the room himself.“Power on,” he shouted into nowhere. Instantly, lights went on and the walls of theroom lit up. Tiny little pictures of men and women showed all over the walls, as ifthey were part of the wallpaper.Althulos turned to Ethan and looked him in the eyes. He spoke to him in a low,deep voice. “This is a very special room, Ethan. In it, you’ll find the whole historyof this train. In a unique way, all these pictures are actually photos of the passengersof this train, hundreds of them. The wallpaper is interactive. You can touch it andmanipulate it. Let me show you.”He walked up to one of the walls, put his finger against one of the pictures, andclicked it. It grew to the size of a big portrait. On the sides of it, little icons wereprojected. He touched one of them, and a biography of that person appeared next tothe picture.“We have catalogued everything we can find about our passengers, so that we canlearn from them. We want to know everything about them. Because it is interactive,you can easily look up information. There are pictures, newspaper articles, videoclips, personal notes and comments, links to Internet sites, and much, much more. It
    • is everything these people have ‘delivered’ to the world, as part of theircommitment to give back for everything they have received here on the train. Sonow you’ll understand why we call it the Delivery Room.”“Yeah, but …” Ethan tried to interrupt.Lord Althulos was quicker than he, and said, “I know—the term delivery roomseems a bit odd. Remember that a couple of years ago when I started working onthis room, the word delivery room didn’t even exist yet. Oh well, I like it—so I justkeep it like this,” he smiled.Ethan took another good look around. “Wow! Quite high tech, this is.”“It used to be printed pictures and pieces of papers and newspapers hanging next toit, awhile back,” Althulos added.“This is so cool. So I can hang around here whenever I want?” he asked.“There’s a bit more to it than just hanging around. You will be managing the roomfor half a year.”“Managing?”
    • “Yep. We need to keep this room up-to-date. Therefore, someone gets the honor oftaking care of this. We typically leave this up to newcomers. It is the perfectinduction to the StudyTrain.“See that little button over there?” Althulos asked, pointing at a small black item.“The one in the middle of that wall?” Ethan asked in turn.Lord Althulos instructed him to walk over to it. When Ethan pushed the button, partof the wall slid to one side, and a small desk with a computer on it came out. It wasnot just any kind of computer; it was a small one, with a keyboard that had only acouple of keys on it.“This computer is designed for the work in this room. When it’s on, it immediatelystarts searching all the satellites and all the Internet sites in the world against all thenames of the people on these walls. Whenever a piece of information pops up, itwill highlight on the screen. And the person’s photograph will enlarge so you canfind it easily. The only thing you have to do is touch the screen, search for thecorresponding photograph, and touch that. This information will immediately beadded to the file of that person, in the right format, linked to the rest of the existinginformation. That’s all.”
    • “Seems easy to me,” Ethan said.“Some days it is, some days it’s not. The big advantage of working in this room isthat you will learn a lot about a whole lot of things. There are very interesting, evenhidden stories in here. I urge you to take full advantage of being here to learn athing or two.”“I will.”“That said, I’ll leave you to it for now. When you’re done, just shout ‘power off’and close the door behind you.”Ethan stood there, alone in the middle of the room. Hundreds of faces were staringat him. Some friendly, some frightening, even scary. He went closer to a couple ofthem, touched them, and looked at some of the information.After twenty minutes, he gave up. It was all too overwhelming. He’d have plenty oftime to dwell on each one of the ex-passengers.When he entered his room, his bed looked very appealing. He wanted just onething: sleep!
    • 6. A Barcelona Night OutThe following Sunday, the train landed in Barcelona, Spain. Everyone was veryexcited to be here. It was a bright, sunny day, and all the passengers were lookingforward to getting outside. They’d made a few stops earlier in the week, but nothingremarkable, and mostly during the night. Now they were promised a tour of the cityand some free hours to explore the city by themselves.Ethan had already been working daily in the Delivery Room. He had planned adaily routine for himself: wake up, take a shower, have breakfast, go to the DeliveryRoom, have lunch, study (they had daily study hour and topical discussion), goback to the Delivery Room, and then play (mostly computer games—he was gettingquite good at some of the PS4 games), then swim (to his great astonishment, thetrain also had a swimming pool), have dinner after when he had long chats with hisnewly acquired friends, and then sleep. The days were flying by.He quite enjoyed his time in the Delivery Room. Being a loner, it was the perfectretreat. His objective was to try to learn something about every picture, hence everyperson, in that room. That proved to be an enormous task, knowing there were overfour hundred pictures already displayed. And not only that, most of them had a vastcollection of information available. He tried to read snapshots of the newspaperarticles and looked at extracts from videos. Meanwhile, he was doing what he was
    • asked to do: update the information. He ran the computer a couple of times a day.Most of the time there was not a lot coming out, but on some occasions he spent acouple of hours dragging the relevant information to the right picture.There was another advantage of the Delivery Room: since it was freely available foreveryone on the train, occasionally people dropped in to look something up. SoEthan got to know his fellow students fairly well. And they were all interested ingetting help from him on whatever he was looking for. He’d made himself so wellacquainted with the information in the Delivery Room that he knew more abouthow to quickly look up people and information than most of the guys and girls thathad been on board for a while.The train touched down. Everyone was hanging out the windows. Next to Ethanwas Solome, his new best friend.“Look, there. The statue of Christopher Columbus. I read about it in my travelguide. That means we are close to the Ramblas. We should go on the Ramblastogether, Ethan. Check out the girls.”Ethan nodded. Solome proved to be a womanizer. A soft, gentlemanly guy on theoutside but a burning fire on the inside. They had a blast together teasing the girlson the train. A couple of days ago, they had taken some superglue to the door of
    • Marta, a Spanish girl, so it couldn’t open anymore. She missed dinner because ofthat. Took her hours to fiddle with a knife in the door opening so all the glue wasremoved. They’d laughed hard and loud about it. Solome was the one who took allthe heat the morning after, covering Ethan’s ass.“You know what we should do? Go sit on the beach. I’ve never had sand betweenmy toes,” Ethan said.“Boring,” was the answer.“Hey, lots of girls in bikinis on the beach, Solome,” the voice came from thewindow on the other side. It was Robin. Robin was a Canadian guy with a healthysense of humor. He could tell jokes like there was no tomorrow. He and Solomewere close friends. They’d gotten on board in the same recruiting year, and thatgave them a special bond.“Damn. You’re right,” Solome replied. “Let’s go to the beach during our free time.”“Agreed.”“Agreed,” Ethan seconded.
    • When they stepped out of the train, which had parked near the World Trade Centerbuilding, Ethan was again surprised by the ingenuity of Master P. The train was notthere anymore. It was invisible indeed, just as Lord Althulos had said on day one.Althulos must have seen the surprise in his eyes and said to Ethan as he wasassembling everyone, “Imagine parking a train in the middle of Barcelona. Wouldbe some spectacle, don’t you think? That would be a good way to get rid of oursecrecy.” Ethan was impressed.They took a tour through the historical center of Barcelona. Althulos was theirguide. He spoke as if he had personally built the cathedral, The Sagrada Familia, orParc Guell. It seemed as if Althulos had watched the houses being built and hadwitnessed the city expand. Everyone listened to his every word. He spoke with somuch passion that everything was sinking in. Ethan was sure that he could repeatthe story Lord Althulos had told them word for word. That’s what it was, a story. Itwasn’t a boring lesson or a speech. Althulos told it as if he was reading a fairy tale,gesticulating profoundly to emphasize the most important words. Ethan loved it.That afternoon, Solome, Ethan, and Robin left the group and went to the beach.Most students were going shopping, or at least window-shopping, alongside theRamblas and the Passeig de Gracia where most of the nice shops were situated.
    • The beach was warm and relaxing. It was very crowded, being a Sunday and all. Alot of local people were hanging out there, as well as some tourists. Solome didn’tknow where to look first; so many gorgeous girls and women were lying on theirbeach towels reading or listening to music. But although he had a big mouth whenhe was together with the guys, he didn’t have the guts to approach a girl and start aconversation. That would have been difficult all together, since he did not speakSpanish.They started playing beach volleyball. The sun was high up in the sky. After awhile,Ethan had to leave and sit on his towel. His feet were sunburned. The sand was sohot that he couldn’t stand on it anymore. And he’d forgotten his flip-flops.A Spanish guy approached him. “Tienes fuego?” he asked.“Sorry, don’t speak Spanish.”“Oh, no problem—do you have a light?” he asked, pointing at his cigarette.“No, I don’t.”“Oh, all right. I’m Rodriguez. Where you from?” the boy asked in broken English.
    • “Switzerland,” Ethan replied.“On holiday here?” Rodriguez asked himEthan hesitated for a moment. He’d never thought of what the story would be if hewere to meet people outside of the train.He answered that he was here on a study tour with his classmates from Switzerland,that they were all part of an international school and therefore all had differentnationalities. He left out the part about traveling in a flying, invisible train with aprofessor who was a couple of centuries old. But he thought he had a convincingstory. And apparently Rodriguez bought into it.They chatted for a while. Rodriguez told Ethan about how great a place Barcelonawas to live, about school—he was sixteen himself—about his interest in footballand about Barca being the biggest and best club in the entire world, and aboutSpanish girls. They certainly had a lot of common interests. Ethan was veryinterested in learning more about the Barcelona football team, and made a note tolook up their most important games on the Internet once they were back on thetrain.
    • “Why don’t you come with us tonight?” Rodriguez asked after awhile. “We’regoing to a nice club called BCBG, down by the beach. Bring your friends as well.”That sounded very tempting, but Lord Althulos had asked them to be back fordinner at 7:30 PM. Dinner would be on the train. He had no idea whether they wouldleave Barcelona after that. He shouted at Solome, who was running back to theplace where Ethan was sitting.“Whazzup?” Solome asked.After the introductions, Ethan told about the proposal that Rodriguez had made.“A club? My kind of guy!” Solome said, patting Rodriguez on the shoulder as ifthey were old friends. He whispered into Ethan’s ear that the train would mostprobably stay here for the night, trying not to be overheard by Rodriguez.“We’ll be there!” Ethan said, not sure about how to pull that off.“Fantastico!” Rodriguez said. “Ten o’clock at BCBG. I’ll draw you a map.”Dinner that night was special. Everyone had loads of stories about Barcelona. Theshopping had been fruitful; some people had met new friends; there were stories
    • about tapas and sangria, and beautiful places and museums. Everybody had anincredible time. It was a day to remember. And so it was for Ethan and his friends.And a lot more was to come.After dinner, Solome, Robin, and Ethan got together in Ethan’s room. Ethan wasextremely nervous. This was actually the very first time in his life he would “goout,” and for sure the first time he would set foot in a disco.The thought of interacting with girls raised his body temperature by five degreesand brought his heartbeat to above 150. On the other hand, he found the adrenalinerush quite interesting. It gave him courage. It made him bigger than he was. As aresult, he was playing the tough guy of the gang, making jokes about all the thingshe would do, all the drinks he would have until he dropped, and all the girls hewould seduce. He was bouncing around the room like a maniac.They all changed their clothes several times, checking to see if they looked good inthe mirror, trying on several items, accessorizing with ties, belts, scarves, andseveral watches. Robin was a master at it. He had a whole arsenal of things thatcould complement his wardrobe. Ethan borrowed a watch and a hip striped scarf.He looked at himself in the mirror, and for the first time in his life, felt pretty goodabout what he saw.
    • “Looking sharp, my friend,” Solome said.“Ditto,” Ethan replied.They were ready to conquer the world.Around 9:20 it became quiet in Ethan’s room. They were sitting on his bed, staringin front of themselves, dreaming about the time to come, and all as nervous asthey’ve ever been.The rest of the train was still very noisy. The other students were running in thehallways, still exchanging their stories about the past day. That made it even worse.They were afraid that someone would check out all the rooms to see that all wentquiet later that evening. But they had to leave in order to make it in time to the placeRodriguez had mentioned.They left the train through the window of Ethan’s room. It was an easy escape.They had to jump half a meter and that was it.It was a beautiful night. Temperatures were still average—about eighteen degreesCelsius. Perfect weather to party, they told each other.
    • The walk from the World Trade Center to the BCBG club was only twenty minutes.The little drawing that Rodriguez had made was crystal clear. They found it in onego.There they stood, in front of a concrete tower with the letters BCBG on it. The clubwas underground, because there was nothing to see. And it was all quiet. Since theywere a couple of minutes early, they decided to wait. So they sat on the sides of thecornice, staring at the young night.Rodriguez arrived with a party of eight at ten past ten. They were all dressed to kill.Four girls and four boys. It looked as if they had already been drinking—theystepped out of two taxis, singing and dancing and shouting to Ethan and friends.“You made it!” Rodriguez screamed. “Now, let’s party!”The inside of the club was rather quiet at that time of night. People were hanging inthe lounge chairs and on the beds and were having drinks and food. There was soft,jazzy music playing in the background. They ordered a couple of drinks. Theytalked about the weather, the beach, the clubs in Barcelona, and school. Ethan wasthe youngest of them, but fit in perfectly. He was dressed as an eighteen-year-old,and with a couple of vodkas in his body, felt quite powerful. He told stories ofthings that were all completely made up—of places he’d seen and girls he’d kissed,
    • and jokes that he once heard and now told as if he had invented himself. They allhad a blast.A couple of hours later, the club changed. Chairs and tables were put aside, themusic got turned up, and more people came in. The average age must have beentwenty-five or even thirty, but they didn’t mind about that.They stayed at the bar and watched the crowd. Solome saw a girl he fancied, andwas talking so loudly about her that she walked to the other side of the room so hecouldn’t see her anymore.Frustrated, Solome switched from vodka to beer, and an hour later fell flat on thefloor, completely wasted. Ethan dragged him onto one of the lounge beds and lefthim there. He went back to the group. He was feeling miserable himself, with morethan five vodka-Red Bulls in his body, but didn’t want the night to end.Ethan got to talk to a beautiful girl from Madrid—Carolina—who was visitingBarcelona as well. In broken English they exchanged some stories, and at the end oftheir chat also exchanged e-mail addresses. Shortly after that, she announced thatshe had a curfew and was about to go.
    • Ethan felt sorry Carolina had to leave. He would have loved to spend some moretime with her. He put the little paper with her e-mail address in his wallet andintended to write her the next day.Parker, who’d stayed at the background for a long time, started dancing afterawhile. He drank all night long, one beer after the other. “I feel alive!” he shouted,so loudly that all heads turned. As of that moment, he was made into the laughingstock of the evening. But he didn’t mind. They all had their laughs, and that wasthat.Before they knew it, it was 4:00 AM, so they decided to head back to the train.Solome had woken up, but had a bad headache. Ethan felt his head splitting in twoas well, but kept his posture.They walked silently next to one another through the empty city. The slightestnoises, from taxis and birds, were too much.When they got close to the World Trade Center, they were in for a shock. The trainhad gone!“Oh my God!” Robin said, “They left us behind!”
    • “Of course they did,” Ethan replied. “Our plan worked. They didn’t even notice wewere gone.”“So, what now?” Salome asked..“Let’s stay calm,” Ethan said. “We stay put. They’ll figure out we’re not theresooner or later and will come to get us. With all the effort getting us on that train inthe first place, I cannot imagine them leaving us behind for the rest of the trip.”That made sense to everyone, so they got comfortable on the WTC stairs and fellasleep.The sound of trams and taxis woke them up early in the morning. Ethan looked athis watch. It was 6:27 AM. His head exploded with every little noise he picked up.His stomach felt as if there was a knife sticking into it.The StudyTrain came back. It landed right in front of them at a little after seven inthe morning. One of the doors opened, and Lord Althulos was standing in thedoorway. His face was red with anger. His grey hairs were all spiky. Clearly he’dwoken up early in the morning, and while doing his regular tour through the train,must have noticed that they weren’t around.
    • Lord Althulos called them to his private room. They’d gotten a chance to take ashower first, freshen up, put some clean clothes on, and try to look as innocent aspossible. That didn’t work out too well at all.“Gentlemen, what am I to think of you?” Lord Althulos asked, harsh and cold. Onecould hear the disappointment in his voice. He looked at each of them, with his eyesburning in theirs, trying to read their minds.Ethan took all his courage and said, “Lord Althulos, isn’t it part of your plan tohave us experience the true side of the cities we visit?”It was as if a bomb exploded. Althulos raised his voice and shouted, “Youungrateful boy! How dare you? Don’t you realize what could have happened? Youhave jeopardized the entire journey.”“Why?” Ethan whispered.“Why? I’ll tell you why!” was Althulos’s reply. He then gave a speech about howthey could have been taken by the police, with no papers proving who they were,with no way to prove where they lived.
    • “I’m sure you would have come to our rescue!” Solome argued boldly, not realizinghow stupid he sounded, especially because he exhaled a cloud of alcohol as hespoke.They were all grounded for the next two weeks—not allowed to go outside. Inaddition to that, they got extra chores, like cleaning the kitchen and running thelibrary.As they left the room, there was only deadly silence.“Ethan! Get over here,” Ethan heard when he was in compartment five. It wasParker standing at the door of his room. He asked Ethan in. Although hesitant atfirst, Ethan stepped into the room.When he walked through the door, he saw a whole bunch of people waiting for him;must have been at least half the students. They were all standing there looking atParker and him and waiting for something to happen. Some were standing, somewere sitting, and some were even lying on the floor. They had drinks in their hands,as if they’d been there for a while.Parker took the stage. “Fellow students and passengers, let me introduce ournewcomer, Ethan. Hero of the day. Bold and brave as a bull. It’s been quite awhile
    • since anyone attempted a breakout from the train, and it has been … uh … sinceforever since anyone was left behind. Three cheers for our hero: Master Ethanhimself.”Everyone in the whole room shouted and cheered, as if Ethan was a war hero whohad single-handedly solved the war of the worlds. They smiled and laughed at him,putting their hands up, showing high fives and thumbs up.Ethan didn’t know what hit him.“For you, my friend,” Parker whispered in his ear. “You deserve it. It’s time we hadsome brave men on board.”“Thanks,” was about the only thing that Ethan could say. He was completely takenoff guard.They all had a couple of drinks—water this time—when Ethan narrated the story ofthat night and then left Parker’s room. On his way out, almost everyone slammedhim on the back. He still couldn’t believe it. At first, he didn’t understand why. Butafter hearing Parker summarize the story of their nightly escape and how great itwas, he realized he’d impressed them all. By taking the lead, by ordering thealcohol, by talking to a sexy girl in the club and coming back with her e-mail
    • address, and by standing up to the “king of the train” as he was being called: LordAlthulos.Ethan felt pretty good about all this. And he was grateful to Parker for organizingthis small party to recognize what they had done. What a guy, Ethan thought. Heknows exactly what to do. He is the one who turned Ethan into a hero. He wouldcertainly try hard to be a better friend to Parker.The chores were easy and well worth it. A very small inconvenience for beingcalled a hero.
    • 7. The Second RecruitWant to continue reading?Order The Studytrain on: on:http://www.amazon.com/Study-Train-Reunion-Untouchables/product-reviews/1609118847/ref=dp_top_cm_cr_acr_txt?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=1http://search.barnesandnoble.com/The-Study-Train/Kurt-Frenier/e/9781609118846?itm=1&USRI=frenier#TABShttp://www.kalahari.co.ke/books/The-Study-Train/954/38269196.aspxhttp://www.bookdepository.com/book/9781609118846/?a_aid=onebookshyhttp://www.whsmith.co.uk/CatalogAndSearch/ProductDetails.aspx?productID=9781609118846 CHECK OUT http://kurtfrenier.webs.com/thestudytrain.htm