The Far Side Of The Galaxy - Parts 1 and 2

Daniel Armstrong is a teenage boy - slightly smarter than average, likes maths and science, but is otherwise just a regular kid. He likes playing online games with his mates, and is pretty good at it too.

Then, one night, Daniel is messing around in his father's study when he finds a strange mathematical formula on his computer. Something draws Daniel to it, and he starts tinkering with the code. And that's when strange thing start happening. Later that night he receives an unusual message from the makers of his online game; men in dark suits start following him and his family; his maths teacher has car accident and there's something suspicious about her replacement.

When Daniel starts digging into these events he discovers that the greatest mystery involves his father, a top-secret research project... and the greatest adventure of his life

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The detention block was one of the few permanent buildings used by CERN Security. The single-storey building was surrounded by camouflage tents of various shapes and sizes. From the inside it looked like it had been hastily converted from an open-plan office – steel bars divided the one half of the large room into small cages like a row of traps at the greyhound races, but the filtered strip-lighting and carpet tiles hinted at the room's original use.

Daniel was the only prisoner yet two of the guards that had escorted him to his cell stayed in the room, their hands on their rifles and nervous looks on their faces. He leaned against the cold metal bars and tried to ignore them. On the way over he had tried asking the guards if they knew whether Reboot had made it out of the Cage, but either they didn't know or weren't allowed to say – whatever the reason, no-one had spoken to him since Sergeant Stone.

Daniel hated himself for leaving Reboot behind. It had all seemed like such an adventure at first – travelling to CERN, riding in a limousine, meeting Llewellyn and his hi-tech creation. Seeing the wormhole itself had been more fantastic than anything he could have imagined and the image was burned deep into Daniel's mind. He'd felt like a master of the universe, invincible and untouchable.

Looking back, he realised how reckless he had been. He just dived straight in and started fiddling with the system without taking time to check it out first and come up with a plan of action. He wouldn't have tackled a Wetworks mission so carelessly and that was just an online game. This was real life where the consequences of his actions mattered, and Reboot had been the one to pay the price.

Guilt and shame flooded through Daniel. He felt it like a physical force, his insides turning heavy, a weight in his chest and his stomach making him feel sick. He tried to take his mind off the situation by thinking about what his friends would be up to. It was the last week of school so they'd be swapping stories about their plans: holidays to foreign countries, visits to theme parks, the blockbuster movies that were coming out. Lucas would be looking forward to six weeks of uninterrupted gameplay, planning to help Rogue Company snag that elusive top-spot on the Wetworks leaderboard.

Lucas.

Daniel missed his oldest friend now more than ever. He needed Lucas' cheery optimism. He felt bad that he hadn't told him about CERN and the wormhole. Out of all his friends Daniel knew that he could trust Lucas, and after his father's revelations in the study, he'd been desperate to talk to someone. He knew that Lucas could keep a secret, and that Lucas would be just as excited as he was about CERN. Daniel had tried pointing out to his father that going missing for a whole summer without explanation would only make his best friend all the more curious.

But Thomas had been adamant that Daniel had to keep this quiet from everyone – including Lucas – and had made Daniel promise not to tell a soul. They'd set off so quickly that Daniel had barely had time to pack, never mind talk to his mates. He wondered what Jack would make of his sudden disappearance. No doubt he'd have come up with some outlandish conspiracy theory by now, probably involving motorcycle hitmen and shadowy government agencies. Although this time he wouldn't be all that far from the truth.

Suddenly the door to the cell block slammed open and Sergeant Stone marched into the room. “Good evening, Mr. Armstrong”, Stone said. “My apologies for keeping you waiting. I hope you weren't too uncomfortable?” He stared hard at Daniel and arched one eyebrow as he asked the question, as though he expected an answer but didn't really care what it was.

“I'm fine”, Daniel replied.

“Good. Private - “, Stone addressed one of the guards. “Let Mr. Armstrong out of the cell.”

“Yes, Sarge.” The guard quickly obeyed the order, producing a bunch of keys from his pocket and unlocking Daniel's cell door in one swift movement. He swung the door open. Daniel stepped cautiously out of the cell.

Stone clapped a meaty paw on Daniel's shoulder and smiled, flashing big, white teeth that made Daniel think of a shark.

“That's better”, Stone said. “Now, let's you and me go somewhere a bit more civilised.” He kept his hand on Daniel's shoulder as he turned him round and steered him away from the cells. With Stone's arm now across his back, Daniel had no choice but to go along. “We have a lot to talk about.”

Stone steered Daniel away from the cells, down a short corridor, and into a small, square room, with a plain table and two plastic chairs bolted to the floor in the centre. A folder stuffed full of papers sat on the table. There were no windows except for the one in the door and no furnishings other than a single coat hook screwed to the wall. Daniel knew what this was – an interrogation room.

“At ease”, Stone growled to the guards as he entered the interrogation room, then shut and locked the door behind him. He closed the blinds over the window. The only light in the room was now the single spotlight recessed into the ceiling directly over the table. Daniel couldn't see out of the room. No-one could see in.

Stone's hands dropped to the weapons on his thick, leather belt. The huge pistol and ammunition clips hung on one side, a large knife on the other next to a radio and several small pouches.

Daniel felt his heartbeat quicken.

Then Stone unclipped his belt and hung it on the coat hook. He stood back, eyes closed, stretched his back and rotated his hips.

“That's better”, he said. “Man, those things are heavy!” His voice was gentle now, all traces of gravel gone. He opened his eyes and looked at Daniel. His gaze was softer too, his eyes friendly.

“I'm sorry about the whole 'bad cop' routine”, he continued with a smile. “The guys expect it – they like a tough leader – and a reputation for being mean can be surprisingly helpful in these kind of situations. To be honest though, it's a bit difficult to switch it off.”

Daniel didn't say anything. He didn't trust this sudden change in the sergeant's personality.

“I can understand your caution”, Stone continued. “I'd be the same in your shoes. But I promise you, I'm on your side. Look – take a seat. I'll bring you up to speed and then I'll answer any questions you've got.”

Stone sat in the chair facing the door and indicated to Daniel to take the other. Daniel slowly perched himself on the edge of the other seat, his muscles tensed to jump up at any time.

“You've been in the Cage”, Stone said, opening the folder and spreading small stacks of papers over the desk. “So I can assume you know about the real research that goes on in this place. You don't appear to appreciate the security concerns surrounding that research, though I'm guessing the last couple of hours have given you some insight into how seriously we take that around here?”

Stone frowned at Daniel, who nodded sheepishly.

“Good. This is not just an exercise for us. There are very real threats to the security of the LHC and the safety of the people who work here. I need to be sure that you understand that.”

“I do.”

Stone scrutinised Daniel for a long moment.

“What I'm about to tell you is strictly on a need-to-know basis”, he said at last. “I'm placing a great deal of trust in you by discussing this. I'm hoping this goes some way to earning your trust in return.

“For a while now we have been monitoring the activities of a group known only as 'The Consortium'. We believe that these people want to take control of CERN and its research. Our analysts have been generating and testing scenarios to assess possible plans of attack.”

Stone picked up a small sheaf of papers. “Infiltration”, he said. Then he picked up another bundle. “Subversion.” Another set of papers. “Even an all-out assault.” Finally, he picked up the thickest pile of papers. “They have determined that the Consortium's most likely approach is the taking of human collateral to use as leverage over a senior researcher.”

“I don't know what that means”, Daniel said.

“Sorry. Using military jargon becomes a habit”, Stone said. “We think they were planning to kidnap someone – someone close to one of the scientists here – in order to force the scientist to work for the Consortium.”

“Why are you telling me this?” Daniel asked.

“Once we determined the kidnap scenario as being the Consortium's most likely course of action, we carried out risk assessments on everyone who works here. You were designated Target Alpha – top of our list of potential abductees.

“Two days ago, we learned that your school had been infiltrated by enemy agents. Their intention was to effect an extraction from the premises. Had you not been brought into protective custody, there's a high probability that you would have been taken this week.”

Daniel slumped back into his chair. He had been through a whole range of emotions in the last few hours. He felt tired, wrung out, and now he was having to deal with the thought that he could have been kidnapped – it was all starting to be too much for him. Too real.

But he had to know...

“When you say that my school was infiltrated – ”, he prompted.

“We don't know who exactly”, Stone confessed. “But we learned that someone insinuated themselves into your school with the intention of establishing a rapport and - “

“In English”, Daniel interrupted. “Please.”

“I'm doing it again, aren't I?” Stone said gently. He took a deep breath and started again.

“We have been keeping tabs on your family for a while now – your father's involvement with the LHC project is critical, yet his insistence on being at home with you made you all vulnerable. He alerted us when your computer system was hacked, and that allowed us to hack back into the Consortium's network. We recovered text messages and emails between several members of the group – encrypted of course, but our analysts managed to decipher some of them and began to piece together their intentions.

“It was clear that we'd got it right – they were planning an abduction and you were their primary target. Someone was posing as a teacher in order to get close to you. Their plan was to earn your trust, and work out your routines and habits so that they could take you without being seen and arousing too much suspicion. They were trying to identify a time when you could go missing for a few hours, or maybe even a day or two, before anybody raised the alarm.

“We haven't yet worked out much more than that. We don't know how long the mission had been running. We don't know exactly when they were planning to strike. We don't even know who the infiltrator was. Have you seen any new faces at your school recently? Any new teachers?”

“Mr. Smith”, Daniel replied instantly, his mind conjuring up an image of the substitute teacher with a scar on his cheek. “Our maths teacher was in a car crash and Smith replaced her.”

“Okay”, Stone said, making a note of the name in his folder. “Anyone else?”

“No. Our woodwork teacher's a bit strange, but he's been there for years. Smith's the only new guy, and he was pretty creepy.”

Stone frowned. “You're sure there's no-one else? It's just that our analysts thought it would be a woman – something to do with the language used in the emails.”

Daniel shook his head. Mr. Smith had to be the would-be kidnapper.

“Fair enough.” Stone shrugged. “Linguistic analysis isn't an exact science I suppose. Anyhow, we relayed all this to Doctor Armstrong and recommended that you be brought here for your own safety. We did not recommend that you be given the run of this place though, and we were not informed that you had arrived on site or that you had access to the LHC – hence our aggressive response to the incursion.”

“Wait a minute”, Daniel said. “You told my Dad to bring me here?”

Before Stone could answer there was a knock at the door. “Come”, he barked.

One of the guards opened the door. “Sorry to butt in, Sarge, but there's a Doctor Armstrong here demanding to see you. Says he's the prisoner's father.”

The door flew wide open and Thomas burst in. “Prisoner? You're keeping my son a prisoner? I don't think so.” He strode up to where Daniel was sitting, and glared over to table at Stone. “Come on son”, he said quietly, speaking to Daniel but without breaking eye contact with the sergeant.

Stone stood up slowly, unfolding his massive frame out of the chair. Then he leaned over the table, bringing his face to within centimetres of Thomas'. Even bent over like this, Stone towered over Thomas.

“Your son was found in a restricted area. Without clearance.”

“Of course he has clearance. He wouldn't have been able to get in if he wasn't in the system.”

“I am in charge of security at this facility. Your son was not cleared – by me – to be anywhere near the LHC. No matter what it says in the system.” Stone looked away from Thomas to glare at Daniel. “And I will be investigating how that protocol was breached”, he said firmly.

Daniel decided that it was time to retreat before the situation got any worse, and rose from his seat. “I'd like to go now Dad”, he said, and ushered Thomas ahead of him. The two of them left of the room.

“You've been playing fast and loose with your family's safety for too long, Doctor Armstrong”, Stone called after them. “You need to start acting more responsibly, for their sake.”

Thomas turned to reply, but Daniel just closed the door behind him. “Leave it Dad,” he said quietly. “Let's just go.”

* * * * *

They emerged into a dark, cloudless night. The moon shone full and bright in the sky, the first natural light Daniel had seen for hours. Quietly, Thomas began leading the way to their accommodation block.

“What happened tonight?”, he asked eventually.

Is it true what Stone said?”, Daniel asked in reply, ignoring his father's question. “Target Alpha, he called me. Did you know about that? Have you known all this time?”

Thomas looked up at the stars.

He sighed.

Then he looked at Daniel.

“Yes”, he said.

Daniel snorted derisively. “Pah!” Then he realised he didn't know what else to say. He didn't know what to feel. On top of everything else – now he didn't even know if he could trust his own father. How much of what he'd told him was the truth?

“Why did you bring me here, Dad? Tell me honestly – is it to work on the wormhole formula?”

“Yes”, Thomas replied. Then he looked away. “Partly”, he confessed quietly.

Daniel glared at his father, hurt and angry. He had been so proud when he thought that his father valued his help, but now that all seemed like a lie. He felt as though his father was treating him like a child, patronising him by giving his work false praise.

“This is the safest place for you right now”, Thomas said.

Daniel didn't want to hear it. He barged past his father and stormed into the building.

“Daniel – wait”, Thomas called after him, but Daniel just kept going.

A man stood up from behind a reception desk. “Good evening”, he said with a friendly smile. “You must be Daniel.”

“Where's my room?” Daniel snapped.

The man frowned and held out a key. “Room 17. Straight down the corridor and it's on your left, near the end.”

“Thanks.” Daniel snatched the key and set off in the direction indicated. He quickly found the room and entered. He didn't look around, didn't take in any of the details of the room – he jut saw the bed. Daniel locked the door behind him and flung himself onto the bed.

He lay there for a moment, the thoughts and emotions of the day churning inside him. Powerless to do anything else, he did the only thing he could do, something that he hadn't done for years – he buried his face in his pillow, and cried himself to sleep.

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