The very next afternoon when Lester, Jasmine, Eddy, and Yuwon were walking home from school they found Mr. Grandon standing on his porch waiting for them.
"I want to talk to you," he commanded. "All of you."
They all marched up the porch steps and followed Mr. Grandon into the house.
When they were all seated, Mr. Grandon said, "I know all of you except Lester." Then directly to Lester he said, "I knew your father. You do look like him."
"Thank you, Mr. Grandon," Lester said. "I'm glad to finally have a chance to meet you."
"Me too," Mr. Grandon said a little gruffly.
"Yuwon, I'm going to ask you all a favor, but especially you. I know what rootaba is, and I'm going to tell you what it is, but you are all going to have to keep it a secret."
He didn't ask them to promise or if they could keep a secret. It was obvious he just assumed they would. It might seem a small thing, but his obvious trust in them was important.
"Rootaba," is a medicine but also a narcotic drug that is forbidden and no longer available anywhere. The penalty for possessing or using rootaba is death.
"There is a parasitic organism that causes a disease called burbera that is not fatal, so long as the disease is controlled. There is only one drug that can control it. That drug is rootaba."
"The disease is very rare and it may no longer exist. It was only ever found in Lechakotet and Tuchakotet and since it is spread by an insect found only in the caves of those two continents and it is now forbidden to enter those caves the disease is not seen any more.
"Yuwon, your aunt ToyLin has burbera. She had it when I knew her in Lechakotet. When thessaline was forbidden, your uncle and I found a source for it on ChildIsle. It is almost impossible to get to that island, but we found a way. Now that your uncle is dead, there is no way for your aunt to get the drug. She is certainly dying, and the closer she comes to the end, the more pain there will be."
"Isn't there anything we can do?" Yuwon asked alarmed.
"There is, but I'll have to explain that later," Mr. Grandon said.
"How long will my aunt..., I mean, will she die soon?" Yuwon wanted know.
"I cannot say. I'd have to see your aunt to know."
"I could bring her here," Yuwon said. "I know she'd be glad to see you, since you knew her and my uncle."
"Yes, bring her here, but do not tell her who I am. Your Aunt will know me when she sees me. That's soon enough," Mr. Grandon said.
The next afternoon Yuwon and her aunt, ToyLin, were standing on Mr. Grandon's porch. ToyLin was doubtful about the whole thing. "Everybody says he's mean," she said to Yuwon.
"I say he's not," Yuwon said. "Who are you going to believe?"
ToyLin believed Yuwon and they waited for Mr. Grandon to answer the door. When he did, ToyLin shrieked, "PahPeet!" She hugged him and tears were rolling down her face. "I didn't know," she said.
"Mr. Grandon hugged her then held her away from him so he could look at her. "As beautiful as ever, ToyLin."
"Oh no. You're still a flirt."
"Not like those days, ToyLin, now only with those I already love. Please come inside."
Yuwon was about to leave, when Mr. Grandon said, "You too, Yuwon."
"I just thought you might like to talk without me," she said.
"Oh, we'll do that, but I want you hear part of it."
When they were seated, Grandon began very seriously, "ToyLin, I have to ask you something."
"Well you know you can ask me anything," ToyLin said.
"I want to know how bad the burbera is. When was the last time you had thessaline?"
For a minute she just looked at Mr. Grandon without speaking. Then, very softly she said, "Almost a year now." Then added, but the pain only comes once in a while and is not bad."
It was Mr. Grandon's turn to look at ToyLin without speaking, then, "That means the pain is coming at least twice a day and you are careful no one sees you when it comes. ToyLin, you cannot live without thessaline."
"I know that, but there is no point thinking about it. There is no rootaba, no thessaline. I do not like the pain, but I'm not afraid of dying. We all die. Harry's dead. You'll die too, some day, you know."
"Do you want to live, ToyLin? You can if you want to, and without the pain. But I have to know if that is what you want. It's not up to anyone else," Grandon said.
"Of course I want to live," ToyLin said, "but what I want does not determine what is."
"No, you're right," Mr. Grandon said. "But it determines what I'll do."
"What do you mean?" ToyLin said.
"ToyLin, I can get you thessaline, but only if you want it. I know the pain is nothing to you, but if you want to live, you can.
"I do want to live, Pahpeet. Can you really get me rootaba?"
"Yes," Mr. Grandon said. "At least I know how to get it. There is thessaline on ChildIsle and there is a way we could get it, but I cannot do it myself. I'm not a sailor anymore, but I know the underground," he said.
ToyLin seemed to know what he meant, but Yuwon had no idea what he was talking about.
"What is the, 'underground,' and where is this 'ChildIsle?' I've never heard of them," Youwon said.
"No you haven't," Mr. Grandon said. "But I'm going to tell you, but not now. Can you have Lester, Jasmine, and Eddy here with you in the morning?"
"It's a school day."
"I know it's a school day. Just tell me if you can do it, because if you cannot do that, you will not be able to help me."
"I can do it, I think," Yuwon said. "I really can't speak for the others, but I'm pretty sure they'd be glad to miss a day of school."
"Good. I'll expect you in the morning." Then sent Yuwon on her way.
When ToyLin came home about two hours later, Yuwon went to her room.
"Thank you, Yuwon, her aunt said. Thank you for taking me to him."
"There's no need to thank me. When I saw how happy you were it made me happy. Will you tell me something Aunt ToyLin?"
"Of course. What is it?"
What does 'Pahpeet' mean?"
Her Aunt laughed. "It means 'little imp,' or 'little trouble-maker.' It is usually applied to some bad little boy but it was always Harry's and my pet name of Marten."
"Marten?" Yuwon asked?
"Marten Grandon. Didn't you know?" ToyLin asked.
"No I didn't. I don't think anyone knows. I never heard anyone call him anything but Mr. Grandon."
"Well, you won't hear me call him that. I might call him Marten, but more likely it will be Pahpeet, or Darling, or Baby."
Yuwon just looked at her aunt whom she never heard call anyone anything like that.
"We're not going to school today," Yuwon announced when Lester had joined her and Eddy and Jasmine the next morning."
"Oh good. It's a lot of trouble, but I love playing hooky," Jasmine said.
"What are we going to do, Yuwon?" Eddy asked.
"We're going to Marten's," Yuwon said.
"Who's?" every one asked at once.
"Marten Grandon's," Yuwon answered casually.
"How'd you find out his name?" Lester asked.
"My Aunt told me. It's about my aunt Mr. Grandon wants to see us."
A few minutes later they were all seated in Marten Grandon's living room.
"When you were all here last Yuwon asked if there was anything you could do about her aunt. I told you there was, but I didn't tell you what it is. I'll tell you what it is in moment but before I do, I want you to know that it will be very dangerous. What you will be doing is forbidden and if you should be caught by the Forbidders it will be much worse... you could be killed.
"Yuwon has a very personal reason for doing this. It's to save her aunt's life if she can. There is no real reason for any others of you to risk your life. There is no reward and you will not be paid.
"Yuwon could try to do this by herself, and I believe she will if she has to. By herself she would probably not succeed, but Eddy would never let her do it by herself anyway. Jasmine would never let Eddy do it without her and Lester would never let her go without him."
Eddy and Yuwon looked at each other and grinned. Jasmine looked at Lester and Lester said to her, "you know I wouldn't let you go without me, but," turning to Mr. Grandon, he said, "how did you know, sir."
"It's the real reason I had you all come here the other day. I wanted to know what your relationships to each other are and whether you were the kind of children that could do the job. Now young man," he said directly to Lester, "if you don't want others to know how you feel about Jasmine you better stop looking at her, because when you do, it shows all over your face."
Lester said, "Oh," and Mr. Grandon chuckled.
"Are you going to tell us what the 'underground,' and 'ChildIsle' are?" Yuwon wanted to know.
"I am, and a lot more," Mr. Grandon said. But first I'd like some refreshment.
"Jasmine, would you please go to the kitchen and bring in the tray I left on the counter, and would you help her with the drinks Lester?"
They did and when they returned with the tray of snacks, cheese, crackers and drinks, Mr. Grandon continued to tell them what their mission would be if they chose to do it.