Eight year old Kevin's new Christmas present is his pride and joy, and he can't wait to show it off to his friends when he goes back to school. But he is perhaps not the only child in his class to have received a Jed Dolphus toy for Christmas.
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Kevin tucked his shorts into his PE bag, hiding its precious cargo, in case Mum saw that it contained more than his kit. He knew as sure as he knew today was Monday that she would be furious if she knew he was taking it to school at all. But just one day wouldn't hurt. There was no way he was going to let it out of his sight, though he might let Andrew play with it. The other kids would be bringing presents to school today. He'd been going to St Bede's since he was four. By the time you got to year 3 you knew it was practically The Law to bring at least one of your Christmas presents to school on the first day back.
He'd had lots of other presents, of course: books, board games and new games for his Playstation, and a hand-knitted sweater in beige and purple stripes from Auntie Madge that he'd had to put on straight away because she was there, and which had given him a scratchy rash on his neck by lunchtime. But his brand new Jed Dolphus Interactive Action Figure had been the one he'd craved for months, from the moment he'd seen the film. His mum had said they were as rare as hens' teeth, so it might be difficult for Father Christmas to get hold of one. But he had one and it had not left his side since the moment he'd torn off the wrapping paper; had even sat on the laundry bin when he'd been in the bath. He knew he wasn't really supposed to take it to school, and he'd leave it at home after today, but surely just once would be all right. And he had to show it to Andrew.
They arrived at the school gates at the same time as Andrew and his mum and his little sister Amy, and Kevin ran over to Andrew, who hissed in his ear that he had something to show him at play time.
'Me too. Did you get a... JD?' He looked over his shoulder, in case Mum was eavesdropping, but she was deep in conversation with Andrew's mum.
Andrew's eyebrows shot up almost as far as his hairline, and his mouth made a huge O. 'No. Did you?'
Kevin put a hand over his best friend's mouth. 'Shhhh! Yeah.' He grinned. 'What did you get, then?'
'Only a Matt Pollius. It's really good... I suppose. My mum said she'll try and get me a Jed Dolphus when they're back in stock. They might have some by my birthday.'
'Well, that's good then. and anyway, we can still use the messaging thingy, can't we?' he whispered.
'Yeah, but an MP hasn't got as many features as a JD. All those games. And you can take photos and stuff with yours, can't you, and dress the photos up in StarTroop uniforms?' Andrew looked up. 'Bye, Mum. Kev, your mum's waving.'
Kevin turned and waved to his mother then went back into his huddle with Andrew. 'Yeah, i took a photo of granddad and put him in an Admiral's uniform. He looked well funny!'
These StarTroop Interactive Action Figures were the must-have Christmas presents by the end of last year, with people paying over-inflated prices to get hold of them on the internet. Especially for Captain Jed Dolphus, the intrepid hero of the StarTrooper movie. His Lieutenant, Matt Pollius was easier to find, but even he was hard to track down come November. Most people had to settle for third-best: the Plutonian Navigator, Ensign Gromid Kakadian, which had a light-up Laser-Lance like the other two, but very few interactive features apart from that.
At first break, the boys followed their classmates into the playground, each clutching their PE bags. They hurried over to the walled garden and sat under the willow tree. Kevin undid the drawstring on his bag and pulled out his Jed Dolphus, clad in red and gold, while Andrew produced the blue and silver Lt. Matt Pollius figure.
They each flicked a tiny switch on the right foot of their StarTroop figures, and the Laser Lances glowed gold and silver respectively. The boys grinned at each other and peered at the LED screens on the chests of their StarTroopers.
'He's detected your Matt Pollius. Hang on...' Kevin dug with a fingernail and slid the plastic cover of a panel under the screen, revealing a tiny QWERTY keyboard. He tapped the keys, and his friend's action figure gave a tinny beep.
'Hey! My first message,' He tapped a reply, and Kevin's toy beeped.
'Mine too. This is so cool. Shame we can't bring them to school every day. Has yours got a search feature?'
Andrew shook his head, tapping away at a second message for Kevin. 'What's it search for, then?'
Kevin thrust his toy under Andrew's nose and pressed a green button next to the screen. 'Other StarTroopers. Look.' Andrew looked at the screen.
Searching... Searching... StarTroop Personnel detected... Lt. Matt Pollius... 1...2... 3... 4...5 detected.
'Wow! More MPs,' Kevin said. 'Wait, it's finding Gromids too. One, two... lots of them.'
'Ensign Gromid Kakadian, twelve detected!' Andrew laughed. 'Still searching. Wonder if there's any more JDs. I doubt it, though...'
'No, look! There is one--' Kevin brought the screen closer.
Capt. Jed Dolphus... 1... 1 detected.
'Isn't that this one, though?'
'No, it doesn't detect itself,' Kevin said, in a tone that implied it should be obvious. 'When I've searched before it just comes up with zero. For all of them.' He looked around the playground. There were little huddles of kids, in groups. 'I wonder who else has a JD.'
'Can you send it a message?'
Kevin slapped his forehead. 'D'oh. Course I can.' He used the arrow keys to scroll up the screen until the other Jed Dolphus was highlighted, and hit a blue button, then started to tap in a message.
Hello, Jed Dolphus One to Jed Dolphus Two. Pls respond.
The boys watched the screen. Awaiting Response... Awaiting Response... Awaiting Response...
The bell rang, signalling the end of play time. 'Lets try again at lunch,' Kevin said, switching his action figure off and stuffing it back in his PE bag. Andrew put his Matt Pollius away and the boys stood, then swivelled round at the sound of a rustling from behind another bush, and a figure ran past them and out of the walled garden.
'Who the---' Andrew looked at Kevin. 'That wasn't---'
'Billy Watson?' I think so. You don't think he was the other JD, do you?'
Andrew giggled. 'Hardly! Billy, with a StarTrooper?' But Kevin wondered, all the same.