The door stops opening to Milliways, and life moves on.
There are classes, of course, and plenty of them. He's keeping up with his Russian, and he's doing quite well. He takes his Maths GCSE, at the age of thirteen and one month, and he passes with an A*. The things that involve essays -- English, History, reports for Science -- go well enough most of the time, though he'll never win prizes for writing.
He even gets a girlfriend -- a proper girlfriend! Kerry Chang, who'd been quickly moving beyond "best friend" territory anyway. She's a good laugh, and she's pretty, and she's really smart. Plus, she's pretty great at snogging.
There are missions, too. The usual tests of security, a few involving gratuitous vandalism to cover up a computer hacking, one much less exciting recruitment mission where he spends two weeks in a children's home in Newcastle getting teased for his London accent. Still, got a smart nine-year-old girl fluent in Mandarin out of that one.
But the big missions-- the ones where stuff really happens--
There's Arizona, and at first James is happy to be back in America. He gets a few days of doughnuts and fried chicken before he and Dave -- Dave! the legend of campus! in the flesh! -- go to prison.
Not even two days have passed before Dave's out and in hospital.
But James sticks with it, and it's
(cherubs are tougher)
tough, but he gets the job done, doesn't he? Makes friends with Curtis Oxford and escapes and tracks down Curtis' mother. The mission's a success, in the end. He and Lauren get the job done.
He gets a medal to add to his shelf, too.
There's a routine mission (with Dave again; Dave, who has lost most of his mystery by now) which isn't so routine after James finds crucial information on an old computer.
But it goes as it goes, and that's fairly well, and life moves on again; his fourteenth birthday passes with a top grade in A-level Maths a few months later.
There's Australia -- that one's a hell of a ride. A close encounter of the brainwashing kind; a religious cult with terrorist links (and isn't it such a familiar link, the organisation he met on his very first mission?). A success, of course, particularly thanks to the eleven-year-old son of the cult's leader, Rat, who returns to CHERUB with them.
(There's a flash of resentment when Lauren earns her black shirt, but James quickly stifles it. He's proud of his sister. Third youngest black shirt in CHERUB, at age eleven! Yes, he's proud.)
Animal rights activists make absolutely no headway in converting James to vegetarianism (though they do quite well with his sister). But being unable to eat a burger becomes unimportant (well ... less important) when the mission gets hardcore: the activists kidnap celebrity chef Nick Cobb, and the boys can do nothing but stand by for hours while the man is force-fed his own brand of sink-cleaner live on the web.
They save him -- don't they always? -- but it's through Kyle's rather unorthodox methods (and hazardous driving); not only does the older boy have to knock out his own boyfriend during his escape, but he gets a reprimand for his trouble.
Summer brings another holiday in the Mediterranean, though James' own break is cut short when an experienced agent fluent in Russian is needed for a mission. It goes well at first -- he's mostly providing cover for two MI5 agents, posing as their nephew while teaching English to their target's son -- but of course everything is turned upside-down in the space of hours.
Information is not communicated as well as it should have been (the older agents have been irritated by James' presence from the start), and when the two adults assassinate the target only to be killed themselves seconds later, James is left alone. He fends for himself for a few days (vodka and rooftop pigeons make great meals), before stealing a phone ... and losing it just as quickly in a mugging, thanks to his bad accent and a dose of street gang xenophobia.
Things improve when a CIA agent gives up his cover to rescue James and get him passage home, but funnily enough, his troubles are just starting. He's suspended from missions -- it's his word against MI5's about what happened in Russia -- and though his fifteenth birthday party is a distraction, things get a whole lot less fun when it turns out Ewart has video evidence of the truth ... and appears to be stitching up James.
He and Dana, the girl from the Australian mission, break all the rules to investigate. Things don't look much better (although it's hard to care when a pretty older girl makes out with you), and it all comes to a head with a showdown in a parking lot between Ewart and a pair of attackers. James and Dana save their mission controller, still not sure they're doing the right thing (but, well, it's Ewart, and the chairwoman would be pissed if they let her husband get killed). But it turns out it wasn't James that Ewart was investigating at all -- it was corruption in MI5. Despite the mishaps, rule-breaking and slight duh feeling, the two cherubs are congratulated by Zara on their unofficial mission and receive their black shirts.
Plus dessert in the face from Kerry.
But it's nose to the grindstone time for a while after that -- James spent several months in Russia, after all, and has to catch up if he wants his A-level in Further Maths. (He sits the Russian exam, too, but this doesn't require quite the same amount of effort.) The future is a terribly abstract concept, but when he passes and is left with three A-levels at the age of fifteen, there's an idle part of his mind that thinks, Oxford.
More missions, more classes, more training ... he's forgotten all about the end of the universe by the time the door returns.
And once again, when it opens, it brings James Beckett of Luton: best friend of Junior Moore and part-time criminal extraordinaire.