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


6. - 5


Doctor Llewellyn led Daniel and his father out of the tent and through to the main CERN campus. At first glance there was nothing special about the site. It looked like a collection of warehouses, offices and small factories such as Daniel had seen at any number of out-of-town business parks back home. As the group weaved their way through the jumble of nondescript buildings, Daniel couldn't help but be a little disappointed at how ordinary it all was.

Eventually Llewellyn led them to the entrance of one of the buildings. He pressed his cheek against a glowing red ovoid that was fixed into the door frame at head height. A thin beam of red light swept across Llewellyn's eye.

“Retinal scanner”, Thomas explained.

The device recognised the doctor, the scanner changing from angry red to a gentle sky blue, and the door popped opened with a quiet hiss of air. Now that's more like it, Daniel thought. Proper hi-tech.

Llewellyn turned to the Armstrongs, smiling broadly. “Come in, come in”, he invited them and skipped through the doorway. He led the way down a short corridor and stopped at a door that bore his name. Another scanner protected the entrance to the doctor's office, but Llewellyn ignored it. A miniature piano keyboard, two octaves long, was set into the wall at waist height. The old man played a short melody that Daniel recognised as the opening bars of the James Bond theme, the tune unlocking the door.

Walking into Doctor Llewellyn's office was like stepping back in time. A large, battered, brown-leather armchair sat in one corner next to a small wooden table piled high with books and papers. A pair of half-moon reading glasses rested on one arm of the chair and a china teacup and saucer balanced precariously on the other. Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves of ancient, yellowed wood lined two of the walls, each shelf overflowing with more books and papers. Yet more piles of paper were scattered about the floor like landmines. The room smelled like a library, the scents of glue and ink and dusty paper mingled with furniture polish and Earl Grey tea.

A massive screen dominated the third wall, looking ridiculously anachronistic in this office that time forgot. The white-haired scientist clearly thought the screen was out-of-place too – it was covered with dust and post-it notes and looked like it had only ever been used as a noticeboard.

Llewellyn twirled along a well-worn route through his office towards a door in the far corner. Daniel and Thomas followed, picking their way carefully between the paperwork obstacles.

The doorway led to Llewellyn's laboratory, which was just as untidy as the office. A large worktable stood in the centre of the room, stacked high with assorted pieces of metal and plastic, circuit boards and chips, wires, cables and clips, screwdrivers and soldering irons. It looked like several computers had exploded in there.

Llewellyn picked his way over to the table. “Now then...”, he said quietly as he began rummaging around the tabletop and pulling open drawers, looking for something.

“A-ha!”, he shouted suddenly, standing upright and holding up one end of a rubber tube like it was some sort of mythical sword. The tube was attached to a small metal box, the size and shape of a shoebox, with a couple of buttons and a small display screen on top. Llewellyn began hunting through the drawers once more, eventually extracting a thin, white envelope the length of a school ruler.

“Come here”, the scientist said, beckoning for Daniel to join him. “Hold this.” He handed Daniel the rubber tube.

Daniel took the tube. A piece of firm plastic pipe, about ten centimetres in length, was attached to the free end and sealed with a round cap. A measuring scale marked the length of the tube so that it looked like a test-tube. Or a medical syringe, only without the...


Realisation suddenly dawned on Daniel. His eyes darted from his hands to Doctor Llewellyn's. Sure enough, the doctor was tearing into the white envelope – it was a sterile wrapper for a needle. A needle the length of a school ruler.

Daniel's throat closed, his heart began pounding, his chest heaved as he struggled for breath. He had always hated needles.

Calmly, Llewellyn extracted the needle from the packaging and took the tube back from Daniel. He flipped the cap off the end of the pipe, which gave a slight pop as the vacuum seal was broken. Humming softly, he screwed the needle onto the tube, then took hold of Daniel's wrist.

“You'll feel a slight sting”, he warned, then quickly pricked the tip of Daniel's index finger with the needle.

“Ow!” Daniel flinched back and looked at his finger where a small red dot had appeared. He stuck the finger in his mouth and sucked angrily at it, glaring at Doctor Llewellyn.

The doctor examined the end of the needle. Satisfied, he flicked a switch on the metal shoe box, which started whirring loudly. The tiny spot of blood disappeared from the needle tip as it was sucked into the box. Symbols flashed across the display screen, then were replaced by the message: DNA sequencing complete.

“Excellent”, said Llewellyn. “That's your DNA recorded. Now we just need to scan your retina and you can pretty much access anywhere in CERN.”

“Seriously?” Daniel asked, extracting his finger from his mouth. His breathing was slowing, his heart rate returning to normal. He looked again at the pinprick where Llewellyn had taken the blood sample. “You couldn't have used a smaller needle?”

“These are the only ones that fit the pump”, Llewellyn answered. “I built the DNA sequencer myself you know. It didn't hurt too much, did it?”

Daniel answered with a grumpy humph.

Llewellyn looked crestfallen.

“It's really very clever”, Thomas said to placate his friend. He turned to Daniel and continued. “That's the great thing about this place; all the most brilliant minds in modern physics have worked here, researching, inventing and building things. The Internet was created here. Half the electronic gadgets in our house were designed by scientists working at CERN.”

“That's right”, Llewellyn chipped in, his face brightening. “Fifty years ago the scientific developments of the space race resulted not only in putting a man that shared your surname onto the moon, but in a whole host of discoveries and inventions that then made their way directly into our homes. From the water filter in your kitchen to the cordless tools in your shed; from the smoke detector on your ceiling to the mobile phone in your pocket and the running shoes on your feet. Things we all take for granted now were once a product of mankind's greatest scientific endeavour.

“What NASA was in the sixties, CERN is today. It's the place where the most cutting-edge science, research and development is taking place, and I'll bet that many of the technological leaps forward that we'll take in the future will be a direct result of the work going on here right now. Turbulence control on aeroplanes; spintronics in your television set; quantum dots keeping you healthy; quantum computing bringing you information at the speed of thought; all powered by clean, efficient energy that utilises quantum entanglement to draw energy from the sun. The world of the future will be cleaner, quicker, smarter, cheaper. Better.

“And you, young man, are about to become a part of that.”

Doctor Llewellyn's enthusiasm was infectious, and Daniel couldn't help but smile. “That's a great speech”, he said honestly.

“Thank you. I've been working on it for quite a while - “

“He gave me a version of it on my first day here”, whispered Daniel's father.

“- and I think I've got it into a pretty decent shape now. Good to get your feedback though. You see – research and development, even with speeches. Research and development.”

Llewellyn turned his attention to the worktop once more. He picked up a short, metal tube, about the size of a toilet roll, with a glass lens at one end. He asked Daniel to look into the lens. “Retinal scan”, he explained. “Definitely won't hurt a bit.”

A soft red light swept across Daniel's eyeball.

“Right – that's it. We have everything we need from you”, Llewellyn said. “Now for the things that you need from us.” He picked up a small box and handed it to Daniel.

Inside was a small, curved lump of plastic, the size of Daniel's little finger. Attached to it by a short lead was a finger-nail sized disc, like an earphone for a music player. It reminded Daniel of his grandmother's hearing aid, or an old-fashioned hands-free kit for a mobile phone.

“Try it on”, urged Llewellyn.

Daniel lifted the device from the box. It felt light and delicate. Daniel cautiously inserted the earphone and tucked the plastic lump behind his ear. Once in place he could hardly feel it.

Llewellyn carefully corrected its position and turned it on. Then he took a small step back and to his right. “Hello”, he said. His voice had a slight tinny quality to it. “Hello.”

Something else didn't seem quite right. There was a strange echo, as though somehow Doctor Llewellyn was saying two different things at once. Daniel stared hard at the doctor, concentrating on his lips.

“Hello”, Llewellyn said for the third time. At least, that's what Daniel heard through the earphone. The sounds didn't match the shapes made by the doctor's mouth. It was like watching a foreign language film, dubbed into English.

Llewellyn stepped up to Daniel and turned the device back off. “It's called a rosetta”, he explained. “After the famous stone. It's a kind of universal translator. I just greeted you in German, French and Spanish.”

“It takes a little bit of getting used to”, Thomas said. “You have to learn to tune out what you hear directly and focus on the translation. But once you get the hang of it it's really very good.”

Daniel took the rosetta out of his ear and looked closely at it. “It's brilliant”, he said. “How does it work? How many languages does it translate?”

“That's the real beauty of it”, Llewellyn explained. “It's not programmed with a limited number of languages to do direct translations. We started with devices like that, but found that they were too limited, especially when it came to technical and scientific phrases. And homonyms; the devices could never tell the difference between things like 'whether' and 'weather', or 'there', 'their' and 'they're'.

“Then one of my assistants came up with this device, based on an algorithm that can analyse the component sounds of a word or phrase – the tone, the syllables and stresses – and recognise the characteristic components of what's being said to determine the speaker's true meaning. When I greeted you in German I said 'guten morgen', which literally translates as 'good morning'. Then in French, 'bonjour' means 'good day'. Same with the Spanish 'buenos dias'. Is that what you heard?”

“No”, Daniel replied. “I heard 'hello' every time.”

“You see? The rosetta recognised that my tone was informal and provided the more casual greeting, which is what I intended.

“By translating in this way the device isn't limited to any pre-programmed set of languages. As long as you're listening to a language that follows basic rules of syntax and grammar, the translator will work.”

“Just don't wear it in the canteen”, said Thomas.

“Why not?”

“It's incredibly sensitive and has a range of several metres. When everyone goes for lunch there can be dozens of people speaking within range and the rosetta will pick them all up at once. Hearing all those over-lapping voices will give you a headache.”

Daniel tried to imagine what it would be like to be able to listen in on all those scientists' conversations. All the things he could learn.

“That's really cool”, he said as he slipped the device into his pocket.

Llewellyn beamed. “You think that's cool”, he said. “Wait until you see what else I have for you.”

He fished an old mobile phone out of his pocket, pressed a quick combination of keys and handed the phone to Daniel.

Daniel hesitated. “Erm... I have seen a mobile phone before”, he said.

“It's not a phone”, the doctor said, looking expectantly towards the door. “Not any more.”

Daniel looked more closely at the device. It definitely looked like a phone. He turned it over in his hand, examining it from all angles. It still looked like a phone.

“What - ?“, Daniel started to ask, but was silenced as Llewellyn held up a finger. He cocked his head to one side, listening.

In the distance, Daniel heard a familiar tune – the first few notes of the James Bond theme. Then he heard the click of Doctor Llewellyn's office door opening.

The old man was practically dancing with excitement.

Daniel heard loud, slow footsteps from the adjacent room. Someone was approaching the lab. Someone big. Someone heavy.

Daniel, his father and Llewellyn watched the doorway.

A white figure, slightly taller than Daniel, loomed into view.

Daniel leaned towards his father. “A man in a robot costume?”, he whispered.

“Not a robot costume,” Llewellyn answered. “A robot.”

Daniel looked again at the new arrival. It had large, angular feet that looked like white ski boots, thick legs and arms, a sturdy body and a perfectly spherical head. In contrast to everything else, its hands seemed slender and delicate, near-perfect replicas of human hands with four long fingers and an opposable thumb. Everything was made from smooth, shiny, white plastic except for two darkened glass panels – a small panel on its chest and a larger one on the front of its head. Daniel slowly leaned forward and peered closely at the larger panel – he couldn't help thinking of it as a face – and could just make out a collection of mechanical shapes inside the head.

A quiet whirring sound came from behind the glass, and two small discs at eye-level suddenly twitched in Daniel's direction. Startled, Daniel flinched backwards. The robot straightened up, and Daniel realised that it too had been leaning in as if to examine him.

“Daniel, this is Reboot”, Doctor Llewellyn introduced the robot. “Reboot – this is the boy I was telling you about: Daniel Armstrong.”

The robot tilted its head slightly to one side as it continued to appraise Daniel.

“Say hello”, Llewellyn said.

Daniel wasn't sure whether the instruction was being given to him or the robot. He raised his hand and gave a hesitant wave. “Hi”, he said.

The robot did nothing.

Llewellyn leaned in to Daniel. “He's a bit shy”, he whispered.

Slowly, the robot lifted its own hand, fingers rigid, and tilted it from side to side in an awkward parody of Daniel's own mini-wave. Then it held its arm out toward Daniel. A little ripple passed along its fingers.

“I think he wants to shake hands”, Thomas said.

Daniel carefully took robot's hand in his own. Reboot's fingers curled around Daniel's, tightening into a firm but comfortable grip. Daniel could sense the power in that grip, could tell that the robot could crush his fingers into pulp if it chose to.

The robot's arm pumped gently up and down, shaking Daniel's hand in an oddly formal way, before releasing him.

It was only when Daniel gave a sigh of relief that he realised he had been holding his breath.

“Hello Danielarmstrong,” said the robot. Its voice was clear, crisp, and as gentle as his grip. And Welsh.

Daniel couldn't help it – he laughed.

“Hello Danielarmstrong”, Reboot repeated. Daniel laughed again. Then his father joined in. Doctor Llewellyn looked at them, bemused.

“What's wrong?”, he asked. His deadpan expression just made the Armstrongs laugh all the harder.

Eventually, Thomas composed himself. “Are you telling me you've built a state-of-the-art robot”, he said. “Then made him Welsh?”

“Yes.” Llewellyn glared defiantly at his old friend. “Why not? I'm Welsh. Who says all robots have to speak the Queen's English? What are you – some kind of racist?”

“It's a good point Dad”, Daniel said.

“You're right. I'm sorry.”

“It's not me you need to apologise to”, Llewellyn said.

“Hello Danielarmstrong”, said Reboot.

“Hello Reboot”, Daniel replied. “I'm very sorry for laughing. It's nice to meet you.”

“Thank you. It is nice to meet you too, Danielarmstrong.”

“So this is what you were so excited to show us?”, Thomas asked Llewellyn.

“Yes, he is”, the scientist replied, emphasising the 'he'. He turned to Daniel. “I realise that CERN is a big place. This is just one of several monitoring and research stations within the circumference of the LHC. Bits and pieces have been added through the years, with buildings getting thrown up left, right and centre. Lots of them look the same, and most of them are just plain boxes like this one.

“To help people new recruits find their way around we used to print maps. But they were pretty much out-of-date by the time they were printed. Then someone developed a mobile phone app, but the phone signals kept interfering with radio-detection equipment. Reboot is the obvious next step.”

“Obviously”, Daniel said.

Llewellyn either didn't notice the sarcasm in his voice, or chose to ignore it. “Reboot knows the layout of every inch of CERN property”, he continued. “He has direct access to all our internal systems so that he stays up-to-date with everything – new projects, the latest results, changes in staff. He can also access the internet, including the deep web, and – if you have proper authorisation – can access the databases of any research facility, government office or military installation on the planet.

“His brain is a second-generation bio-quantum computer, so he can assist with all your calculations and research needs. You'll never need to use a computer keyboard again.

“And he's becoming quite an accomplished pianist”, Llewellyn finished, proudly.

“Thank you Doctorllewellyn.”

“Impressive”, said Thomas.

“Yeah”, agreed Daniel. “But it kind of makes me wonder – what do you even need me for?”

“Well he...”, Llewellyn began to answer, but stopped. He looked sideways at Reboot then he led Daniel over to the window, turned his back on the robot and lowered his voice.

“I don't like to mention it in front of him”, he whispered. “But there are limits to what Reboot can do. He can carry out the most complex calculations in a heartbeat. He can learn everything there is to know about a subject by the time you've finished asking him to do so. And if you want to know which way to tackle a problem, Reboot can calculate the odds and tell you the one with the best chance of success.

“But he can't solve even the most basic problem if it requires coming up with a completely new solution. That type of creative intelligence is something that seems to be uniquely organic; it's certainly proving to be very difficult to program into an artificial intelligence.”

Llewellyn looked back over at his creation. “Too difficult for me anyway”, he said softly.

The scientist smiled a small, sad smile at the robot, who stood immobile and impassive. Then Daniel heard that faint whirring sound again and Reboot's face slowly tilted down, as though he were ashamed to look on the face of his maker.

Daniel looked toward his own father, who smiled warmly back. He gave Llewellyn a gentle pat on the arm, then walked back over to Reboot. “So, can you show me around this place then?”, he asked the robot.

Reboot looked up at Daniel, then turned his face toward Llewellyn as though silently seeking permission.

“Yes, good idea”, Llewellyn said. “You have full access to everything now that I've recorded your biometrics. Just ask Reboot what you want to know and what you want to see and he'll tell you.” He waved his hand toward the door. “Your father and I have a lot to catch up on anyway.”

Thomas nodded his approval. “Have fun.”

“We will”, Daniel grinned. He patted Reboot on the shoulder. “Come on, mate; let's see what trouble we can get into.”

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