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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8. - 3

 

Daniel raced back to the platform, skipped around the fallen monitor, and began searching through the remaining equipment. He found another computer station and tapped the screen to bring it to life.

“There must be some way to over-ride the lockdown”, he said. He tapped icons and entered commands, desperately hunting for a way into the system.

“Let me”, said Reboot, pushing Daniel gently to one side.

Seeing Reboot work at the computer triggered something in Daniel's memory. “Wait a minute”, he said. “Earlier, when we were outside, you said that you updated my records. Don't you have direct access or something?”

“Yes, normally. But the steel plates are disrupting my wireless interface.”

Daniel growled in frustration and kicked out at the fallen computer monitor, succeeding only in hurting his toe. With a roar of pain and anger he wedged his heel against the monitor and shoved it over the side of the platform. The noise of the fan was growing louder, the air rushing out of the room faster. He could feel his clothes flapping in the wind. Looking down he noticed small pieces of glass from the broken screen being sucked from the platform and tumbling down towards the floor...

The floor!

Daniel snapped his goggles back over his eyes. Protected against the glare once more, he peered through the plasma ball to the floor of the room. He crouched down and picked up a tiny chunk of the broken glass. Holding it in his fist, he lay himself out flat and wriggled over to the edge of the platform.

He held his fist over the side and slowly uncurled his fingers. The rushing air tugged at his arm. Light glittered through the glass bead making it sparkle. Then the wind caught it and yanked it away. Daniel traced the pin-prick of light as it arced away from him and fell towards the ground, before disappearing from view.

“Reboot”, he shouted as he leapt to his feet. “I think I've found a way out.”

Reboot stopped working at the computer and looked round.

“If the air's being sucked out of here, then the room can't be completely sealed. There must be a hole somewhere. I think it's on the floor. If it is, we might be able to get out through it. Do you have plans of the Cage?”

“One moment.” Reboot paused. “I do not have those details in my on-board memory. Perhaps I can access them through the terminal.” He turned back to the computer screen and began entering commands.

Daniel started to feel light-headed. His heart was racing, pumping adrenaline through his body, trying to fuel his muscles with oxygen. Oxygen from an air supply that was rapidly diminishing. He tried to calm himself and slow his breathing, but it was getting harder and harder with every second. He realised he was sweating.

“Is it getting warm in here?”

“The ambient temperature is stable”, replied Reboot. “Your body temperature increasing is a sign of hypoxia.”

Daniel tugged at his collar.

“Found it”, Reboot said at last. “You are correct, Danielarmstrong. There is a vent on the floor of the Cage, connected to the maintenance tunnel - “

“Great, let's go”, Daniel said, and began moving toward the edge of the platform.

“ - and there is also one on the roof, connected to the surface.”

Daniel looked up towards the ceiling, lost in shadows and invisible, over fifty metres above his head. His body suddenly felt very heavy.

“There is no way we can get up there”, Reboot said.

“Then we'll just have to go down.”

Daniel sat on the platform's edge, his legs dangling, the wind battering against his back. He shuffled forward, twisted round to grip the metalwork, then shoved himself off.

The wind caught him, dragging his legs out straight behind him. His arms at full stretch, Daniel clung on with his fingertips.

He felt a sharp tingling sensation in his foot and yelped. Risking a look down, he saw that his foot had brushed against the ball of plasma, the charge powerful enough to give him a shock even through the rubber soles of his trainers. He fought against the pull of the wind, tucking his legs back in, his thighs and stomach muscles tightening.

The platform suddenly sagged, easing the pressure on Daniel's body. He looked up again and saw that Reboot had joined him, the heavy robot hanging easily by one hand next to him. The jetstream of escaping air had no noticeable effect on Reboot's bulky frame, his weight hanging straight down.

“Take my hand”, he said, stretching his free arm out towards Daniel.

Daniel hesitated, trying to judge the distance, lack of oxygen and the electric shock making his head feel fuzzy. He was sweating even more now, his hands growing slick, his grip loosening.

He let go with one hand and snatched for Reboot.

His other hand slipped and he fell from the platform.

Reboot's hand clamped around his wrist.

Daniel felt himself continuing to fall for a moment, before arcing slowly forwards – Reboot using the momentum of Daniel's fall to swing him underneath the platform and out towards the edge of the room.

“Brace yourself”, Reboot shouted, then let go of Daniel's wrist.

Daniel flew gracefully towards the smooth steel surface...

… then slammed into it, feet first. His knees buckled and he rolled onto his back as he started sliding down the gently curved insides of the giant steel ball.

Maybe it was the lack of oxygen, but Daniel had the urge to giggle as he picked up speed. He brought his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them, as though he were cannonballing into a swimming pool. Creating less resistance this way, he quickly picked up speed.

A white blur flashed in front of him, as Reboot dropped from the platform. He landed with a loud clang and began striding away toward the centre of the room. He stopped at the edge of a small, round hole – the air vent.

Daniel zoomed towards him.

The curved steel walls levelled out as Daniel neared the base of the ball and his slide began to slow down. He could tell that he wasn't slowing enough though, and he was heading straight for Reboot. And the vent.

He let go of his knees, slapped his hands out to the side, suddenly desperate to create some friction and slow his descent. He put his feet out, trying to drag his heels on the metal. One of his rubber soles stuck to the plating, but his momentum was too great. Instead of stopping him, he pivoted around the spot and continued on his way, spinning like a frisbee.

“Reboot!”

The robot turned round and saw Daniel whirling, out-of-control towards him.

“Help!”

Reboot watched for a second, making lightning-fast calculations of speed, spin and friction. He took a small step forward and crouched down.

As Daniel drew close Reboot reached out and, with perfect timing, caught him by one flailing arm. Reboot corkscrewed upright, pirouetting on the spot, lifting and turning Daniel to absorb his momentum and set him down gently on his feet.

Daniel swayed, his vision still spinning. “I think I'm going to puke”, he moaned.

Reboot held him upright. “It will take longer than normal for your sense of balance to recover. You should sit for a moment.”

Daniel shook his head, instantly regretting it. “No time”, he insisted. He swallowed hard, fighting against the nausea. Then he pointed towards the small vent. “Let's get out of here.”

The air was rushing out now, buffeting Daniel as they approached the vent. More dust and debris whipped past him, disappearing like water down a plughole. Daniel clung on to Reboot for support and peered over the edge.

The vent seemed tiny, barely as wide as Daniel's shoulders. It dropped straight down, a perfectly round tube. About half-a-metre inside the tube, Daniel could see the blur of the fan that was sucking his precious air out of the room.

“Can we disable it?” Daniel had to shout to be heard over the roar of the wind.

Reboot leant over to examine the fan. “I cannot see the motor from here”, he said. “I do not think so.”

Daniel tried desperately to think of something. He bent over, his hands on his knees, struggling to fill his lungs with the thinning air. He wiped the sweat from his eyes as he looked around. The steel plates mocked him with their blandness, their uniformity, the smooth curves offering no suggestions, no tools.

Except...

He noticed a dark rectangle a few metres away. “The screen!”, he shouted. “It fell down here when I kicked it. Come on.”

He ran against the wind, over to where the broken monitor had come to rest. One of the corners was chipped but otherwise the sturdy plastic seemed intact.

“Maybe... we can wedge it... down the vent”, Daniel panted. “Jam the fan... with it?”

Reboot picked up the black slab with one hand and carried it back to the vent. He stood at the edge of the hole, legs spread wide to lower his centre of gravity. Then he held the monitor in front of him, angling it straight down at the vent, a knight in shiny white armour preparing to slay the dragon.

Daniel watched as he lined up the narrowest part of the screen with the widest part of the hole. Then, in a blur of movement, Reboot plunged the screen down towards the vent.

A chunk of plastic from the damaged corner of the screen pinged across the room. But the monitor was too wide. The broken corner allowed it to penetrate the vent by a few centimetres, but no more. Reboot took his hands away and the shiny, black slab stayed wedged in place, upright, like a dark tombstone.

Daniel sank to his knees.

Reboot yanked the screen back out of the vent, then let it fall flat. He stood, looking at Daniel, waiting for his next instruction.

Daniel was exhausted, struggling for breath and fighting against the despair that threatened to overwhelm him. He forced himself to his feet and staggered back to the vent.

“One... last... try...” He fell back to his knees and started pushing the monitor over the vent.

“It does not fit”, Reboot said.

Daniel shook his head. “Not in... Over.” He gave the monitor one last shove, covering the vent completely. The wind dropped instantly, the hurricane becoming a light breeze as the air was no longer able to rush out of the hole.

Daniel rolled onto his back, flopping down on top of the monitor. His added weight sealed the vent further and the breeze all but disappeared. He could hear the drone of the fan beneath him rise in pitch. The whining noise grew higher and louder until, with a thump, it cut out altogether.

Daniel began to laugh. He remembered being five years old, trying to tidy his bedroom by sucking up all his toys with a vacuum cleaner until it had become blocked, overheated and cut out. He could almost hear his mum's voice, telling him off for being careless while his dad struggled to poke a tennis ball out of the hose pipe with a knitting needle.

Daniel turned to grin at Reboot. “We did it!” he said.

The robot looked upwards. “No,” he said.

Daniel sat up. He realised that he could still feel a draught. “The fan in the roof.”

He rolled off the monitor and wedged his fingers under it. Daniel peered into the gap, hoping that the fan wouldn't start up again once it cooled down. He could smell burning. A wisp of smoke floated out of the vent.

Encouraged, Daniel eased the monitor to one side, uncovering most of the vent. More smoke drifted out. The fan didn't move.

“I think I broke it”, Daniel said with a grin. He looked past the fan. The vent dropped straight down for another couple of metres then bent sharply to one side. “I reckon we could get out this way.”

Reboot looked into the shaft. “You can”, he said. “The hole is not wide enough to accommodate me.”

Daniel looked at the robot's broad shoulders. “Couldn't you twist or something?” Even as he said it, he knew it was hopeless – Reboot was clearly too big.

Reboot's voice was steady as he answered simply “No.” He dropped to one knee and reached into the shaft, taking hold of one of the fan blades. He pulled. The blade twisted and bent, creaking and squealing in complaint, until Reboot wrenched it free. He hurled it out of the vent. It come to rest with a clang, unseen, somewhere in the distance.

Reboot looked back at Daniel, sizing him up, then tore out another blade.

“You will be able to fit through now”, he said.

“Not without you. There must be another way.”

“There is no other way out and there is not enough time to make one. The other fan is still operational and the air is almost gone from this room. You must leave. Now.”

Daniel protested. “But what about you?”

“I do not breath. I can survive in a vacuum.”

“The electricity though? Won't that...” Daniel searched for the right word. “...affect you?”

For the first time, Reboot hesitated before answering. “I... That is unknown, Danielarmstrong. I have a polycarbonate casing which will offer some protection, although the charge may still disrupt my functioning. What is certain is that you will die if you do not leave now.” He placed his hand on Daniel's back and started pushing him, gently but forcefully, towards the shaft. “I can be rebuilt.”

“So the Doc will be able to fix you up then?”

“Doctorllewellyn has maintained me until now. The evidence indicates that he will be able to repair me again.”

Daniel stopped and looked Reboot square in the face. “I hope so too, mate.”

Reboot took Daniel's hands in his. Daniel gave them a squeeze and stepped backwards into the shaft, Reboot taking his weight as he braced his legs against the shaft wall. He manoeuvred himself into position, lining himself up with the gap in the broken fan, then started a slow abseil into the shaft.

As his eyes drew level with the lip of the hole, he caught sight of the broken monitor. “Wait a minute”, he yelled. “That TV screen is plastic. We could stand on that. That would insulate us, right?”

Reboot continued lowering him into the shaft. “Not enough”, he said. “And you still need air.”

Daniel felt like kicking out and climbing back out of the hole. He was desperate not to leave his new friend behind. But he was scared too, and knew that Reboot was right – getting out was the safest option.

“Will you at least try it?”, he pleaded.

“I will.”

Daniel was now at full stretch, his feet dangling as Reboot took his full weight. It was a short drop to the base of the vent. “OK”, he said. Reboot let go of his hands.

Daniel landed easily and looked round. The vent stretched away to one side, a dark, narrow pipe that he would have to crawl through if he hoped to make it back to the maintenance tunnel. He looked up to see Reboot looking back down at him. He tried to smile. “Good luck mate”, he said.

“Fare well Danielarmstrong”, said Reboot. Then he pulled the monitor back over the hole, closing the shaft once more to seal in the air.

Powerless to do anything else, Daniel dropped to his knees and set off into the darkness.

* * * * *

Crawling along the pipe was slow and uncomfortable. The adrenaline that had sustained Daniel this far was gone, leaving him drained and weak. He tried not to think about Reboot, trapped in the Cage, not knowing whether he would make it out intact.

Suddenly, the air fizzed with energy. Daniel's scalp tingled and he felt goosebumps on his arms as his hair stood on end. He lay flat and covered his head with his hands. From somewhere behind him he heard a muffled thump.

Then, as quickly as it had appeared, the crackling energy vanished. Daniel guessed that it was something to do with the polarisation of the Cage plating. He held his breath, listening for any warnings of what might happen next.

There was nothing but silence.

Daniel lifted his head. It was still pitch black in the pipe and he couldn't tell how far he had come or see how far he had still to go. He wanted to turn back, to check on Reboot. But he had no idea whether it would be safe to re-enter the Cage. Frustrated, he realised that his only option was to press on.

* * * * *

After what seemed like hours of crawling, the vent started to get lighter. The metal pipework gave way to sandstone rock and Daniel could make out the walls of the vent as it stretched away into the distance, ending in a tiny patch of light. Encouraged, he quickened his pace, ignoring the pain in his hands and knees as he scrabbled along the gritty floor.

The end of the vent was covered with a grill. Peering out between the thin bars he could see the floor of the maintenance tunnel. A pair of black boots guarded the grill.

“Hello?”, Daniel shouted, hopefully.

The boots vanished, replaced by the upside-down face of a security guard. Anxious eyes stared at Daniel, then looked away.

“This is Golf-Nine-Seven”, the guard said. “I have located the bogey in Section Delta. Repeat: bogey located, Section Delta.”

Daniel pushed against the bars. They wobbled, but stayed in place. “Er... any chance I could have a hand here?”, he asked. G-9-7 didn't answer.

Daniel could hear the rhythm of heavy boots pounding towards him along the tunnel, then a scuffing, shuffling sound as they skidded to a halt. Several more pairs of dusty black boots and black-clad legs jostled into position around the vent entrance.

“Hello?”, Daniel tried once more. “Can someone please help me out?”.

There was no response.

He shoved at the bars again. They seemed to give a little more this time. Daniel twisted and turned awkwardly in the narrow vent until he could get his feet against the bars. He kicked out – once, twice. On his third attempt the grill flew away from the vent, skittering across the floor.

“Thanks for nothing”, Daniel muttered as he shuffled on his bottom out of the vent. He emerged feet first, squinting against the bright lights of the tunnel. Six security guards stood in a loose semi-circle around him. They were all dressed in black fatigues and armed with semi-automatic rifles. The weapons were all aimed at Daniel.

“Whoa!”, he shouted, and threw his hands up. “Don't shoot! I'm not armed.”

None of the guards moved a muscle.

From somewhere behind the ring of guards, a gruff American voice barked out an order: “Stand down!”. Footsteps crunched along the tunnel. The guards lowered their weapons and snapped to attention, the circle parted to allow someone through.

“Well, well”, the newcomer drawled, like a cowboy from a black-and-white movie. “Who do we have here?”

Daniel risked a glance up. Towering above him was a seventh uniformed officer. His legs were firmly planted shoulder-width apart. A giant pistol sat in a holster on the man's hip. His thick arms crossed over his broad chest, his hands nowhere near his weapon as though safe in the knowledge that he didn't need it to deal with this particular threat. The badge stitched over his chest pocket and the stripes on his shoulder told Daniel the man's name and rank: Sergeant Stone.

Stone's head was completely shaved, the tunnel lights shining on his polished scalp. It looked like a bullet perched on top of a wrecking ball. He scowled down at Daniel, one eyebrow arched, waiting for an answer to his question. He didn't look like he was used to being kept waiting.

“Armstrong”, said Daniel, hoping that his name carried some weight. “I'm Daniel Armstrong.”

One of the guards gasped. It wasn't quite the reaction Daniel had been expecting, but he was encouraged by it. He lowered his hands.

Stone whipped round and glared at the man, who hung his head in embarrassed apology. Then he turned the full force of his glare back on Daniel.

“Well, Mr. Armstrong – you have just been caught fleeing a restricted area on lockdown. Under Article 7 of the United Nations Convention on the Protection of Scientific Assets, I am authorised to apprehend you, with extreme prejudice if you fail to comply.

“In other words, Danny-boy, you're under arrest.” Stone's hand dropped to his gun. He smiled. “And I can shoot you if you resist.”

Daniel quickly put his hands up again. Stone pouted an exaggerated look of disappointment. Then his smug smile returned as he seized one of Daniel's arms and yanked him sharply to his feet.

“Take him back to CERN-Sec and put him in one of the holding cells.”

Four of the armed guards surrounded Daniel and began herding him down the tunnel.

“And remember”, Stone's voice followed them. “Shoot him if he tries to escape. I'll join you shortly. For interrogation.”

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