The early morning light was burning off the last few wisps of mist, giving the day a washed-clean look. Overhead, the light edged what few clouds there were, turning them into fluffy cotton wool balls. It was going to be a glorious day.
There was little traffic on the road and, with Agent India at the wheel, they were making good time. So good in fact that, upon hearing India's stomach growling, Agent Mercury had allowed a brief stop to pick up coffee and muffins for them both.
Needless to say, they didn't offer any to Harold, which the latter thought was a bit mean since he hadn't eaten anything since the previous afternoon. Maintaining a physical vessel here in the world of men took energy, surely they knew that? Oh, well, if they weren't going to give him proper food, he'd have to improvise. He reached into his rucksack and pulled out one of his paperbacks. It was better than nothing, he supposed. He tore out a page from Murder at the Blood Drive, screwed it up and popped it into his mouth.
Agent Mercury caught the movement in the rearview mirror.
"What are you doing?" he demanded. Harold chewed quickly and swallowed, so as to be able to speak.
"Having breakfast," he said, tearing out another page. He glanced at it briefly, "Oh, what do you know. Looks like the janitor did it." He screwed up the denouement and ate it. It tasted like wet leaves, but it was an energy source of sorts. Agent Mercury shook his head in disgust and turned back to face the front once more.
Up ahead, there was a car parked on the shoulder with its hood up. A sandy-haired man stood looking into the engine compartment, scratching his head, clearly baffled. On the grassy verge at the roadside, a young woman with a swaddled baby in her arms looked on anxiously. As the van drew near, the couple waved frantically at them to stop.
"Shall I stop" asked India.
Mercury sighed, another delay! Still, all they might need to do is phone for a tow-truck or something, he couldn't in all conscience just pass by without helping.
"Yeah, pull over," he said, and India did so.
As the van stopped, the woman ran up to the nearside, a look of relief and gratitude on her face. Mercury wound down the window.
"Oh, thank goodness!" the woman cried, "I thought no-one was ever going to stop!"
"That's alright ma'am," replied Mercury, "what seems to be the trouble?"
"The engine just cut out on us. Please, could you take a look? Ray's not really very good with cars and I'm sure it's something simple. Please?"
"Well, OK," said Mercury, "But I'm no expert either. Mechanics is a bit of a dark art to me." He turned to India, "I'll just be a minute." then to Harold, "You stay put and don't try anything."
Harold shrugged and carried on eating.
As Mercury was walking towards the other car, Ray turned towards him. He had something in his hand, a tool of some kind, Mercury thought. As the object came into full view, however, Mercury realised it was actually a gun.
Agent India was surprised when the woman suddenly let her "baby" fall to the ground, revealing a gun of her own, pointed straight at her.
"Everyone out of the vehicle!" shouted Ray, his gun levelled squarely at Mercury's chest.
Moving slowly, India complied. No matter how much they train you, she thought, there are always things they don't prepare you for.
Harold reached for the door handle but immediately felt the warning prickle of Mercury's Binding. Stay put, he had said. That was pretty unequivocal, and to disobey would be painful. The thing was, if he stayed put, Ray might react badly and start shooting. Harold had no affection for these two humans after the way they had treated him, but he didn't particularly want them to die either. He stalled in indecision, feeling like Pinnochio with his strings cut.
Mercury, seeing that Harold hadn't moved, called to him to do as the man said, which he did.
"You must be the one who did the Binding," said Ray. "You have until a count of three to release my Lord."
Now Mercury realised what these two were.
"No chance, Black Sheep" he snarled. The man laughed.
"Your bravery is admirable, my friend," he said, "but, pray tell me, are you willing to let your lady friend die because of your stubbornness?" He called out to his wife. "Nicole, shoot the girl"
"No!" cried Mercury and Harold both together. "No shooting!" added Harold. If he was their Lord, they should obey him, right?
"Sorry, my Lord," said Nicole, "we have orders not to do anything you say until you're released."
"Whose orders?" asked Harold.
"Why, mine, of course, old sock, whose do you think?"
Harold looked down in astonishment to where the voice was coming from. Teatime shook off the baby blankets and climbed nimbly up to his usual place on Harold's shoulder.
"You didn't think I'd abandoned you, did you?" he said, grinning.