Alex Rider is awoken at three in the morning. His instincts that being awoken in the middle night rarely augurs well for the immediate future are validated when the police officers at the door inform him that his uncle Ian, who is also his raising the young man, has been killed in an accident. Fourteen-year-old Alex is suddenly thrust into the world of international intrigue in Anthony Horowitz’s graphic novel Stormbreaker. Alex’s efforts at investigating the true cause of his uncle’s – his uncle, as it turns out, was a British spy -- death leads him to a conspiracy by an enormously wealthy businessman, Herod Sayle, to launch a massive biological weapons attack throughout Britain’s schools. Initially, Alex believes that the plot involves the release of a computer virus through computers Sayle has donated to the schools. Further observation, however, reveals that the attack will not involve a computer virus, but the release of smallpox microbes throughout classrooms. As Alex describes his discovery in an exchange with Sayle:
“When my uncle was here, he became interested in viruses. . . I thought he was talking about computer viruses. . . But I was wrong. I saw what you were doing, last night. I heard them talking on the speaker system. Decontamination and bio-containment zones. They were talking about biological warfare.”
Following an escape from the clutches of Sayle’s henchman, Mr. Grin, and a terrifying parachute descent from an aircraft, Alex manages to get to the Science Museum just in time for the story’s climactic passage. Sayle is at the dedication of the donation of the Stormbreaker computers, which are to be activated soon after Sayle’s speech and the smallpox spores released into the air. Horowitz builds the tension in a deliberate manner, as Sayle’s delivers his televised speech:
“On either side television towers had been constructed with cameras focusing in as Sayle spoke. The speech was being broadcast live to schools throughout the country and it would also be shown on the evening news. The hall was packed with another two or three hundred people . . . Never before had a private individual made so generous a gift to the nation. This was an event. History was in the making.”
Herod Sayle has plotted revenge against the prime minister of Great Britain in retaliation for perceived slights decades before. His plan will kill millions of innocent people, and the story’s climax occurs in the Science Museum. His speech continues as Alex drifts from his parachute towards the building in which the event is occurring. Assuming the intruding parachutist is a criminal or terrorist, security guards respond to the loud disruption and the young man dangling from the ceiling by the parachute harness. As Alex fires his pistol around the cavernous room to scatter the audience, fearful but expectant of the bullets from the guards’ guns certain to target him, only to have his life spared by the quick response of the Mrs. Jones, the deputy to the head of British Intelligence, Alan Blunt, who is also in attendance.
While Sayle escaped the chaotic scene at the Science Museum, and would confront Alex once more, the scene at the museum represented the climax of Stormbreaker.