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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3. - 8

 

Deep down, Daniel knew there were hundreds of red cars that could have caused the damage to Mr. Smith's motorbike. Miss Gibson wasn't the only person that drove a red car. She wasn't even the only teacher that drove one; there were plenty of clapped-out red bangers in the school car park. And maybe Mr. Smith wasn't the only rider of that particular bike. No, the damaged motorbike was circumstantial evidence at best.

But still...

When Lucas had joined them and examined the bike for himself, he convinced Daniel that there was more to this than coincidence. Daniel texted his mother to say he'd be going to the library with Lucas after school. Lucas sent the same message to his own parents, and the two boys set off to find out more from the only witness they knew about: Miss Gibson herself.

 

Half-an-hour and two short bus rides later, Daniel and Lucas arrived at the city hospital. A cloud-burst heralded their arrival and they dodged their way between patients and puddles towards the entrance. As they neared the automatic doors, Lucas took his hand from his pocket and flicked it from side to side, as though batting a small fly away from his pocket.

“What was that?”, Daniel asked, curious.

Lucas blushed. “Ahh... nothing... just... err...”, he said, racking his brain for a suitable excuse. Not finding one, he decided to confess. “Sometimes... I like to pretend that I'm a Jedi. You know; like I can will the doors to open.”

Daniel grinned. He knew that Lucas had been named after his father's favourite film director and Mr. McLeod had passed on a love of B-movies, comic books and all things science-fiction to his son. Daniel had spent many a weekend round at Lucas' house sitting through Star Wars or Star Trek movie marathons, playing space-battle-simulator video games, and having the latest issues of Batman or Spider-man thrust into his hands to read. Actually, he quite liked a lot of it, but he didn't come anywhere close to having Lucas' encyclopaedic knowledge of the genre. Lucas was a geek and proud of it.

“I don't suppose your superpowers can tell us where to find Miss Gibson, can they?”, Daniel asked as they entered the hospital.

“Funny”, said Lucas, sarcastically. Then; “Does Gibbo have any kids?”

“Don't know. Maybe.”

Lucas let out a deep breath, slumping his shoulders down as he did so. He seemed to shrink several centimetres. He ran his fingers through his damp hair, tidying it up, then walked hesitantly over to a reception desk. With this new, page-boy hairdo, and the way he now carried himself, Lucas looked at least three or four years younger than he really was. “Excuse me”, he said in a small, wavering voice. “I'm here to see my mum. She was brought in earlier today. She had a car accident. I don't know where she is”.

He looked up at the receptionist with big, wet eyes. Daniel had to suppress a laugh – if he didn't know better he'd be worried that his friend was actually on the verge of tears.

The receptionist smiled kindly at Lucas. “What's her name, sweetie?”

“Gibson”, Lucas replied.

“And what's her first name?”, she asked as she tapped on her computer keyboard.

Lucas didn't know. He tried desperately to think of what her first name might be, but could think of nothing.

Luckily the receptionist must have seen the panic on his face and assumed it to be concern for 'his mum'. “Never mind, dear. There's only been one patient brought in after an RTA today. She's on Ward 3-17.”

Daniel couldn't believe it. He'd been sure Lucas was going to get caught out.

“That's a good sign”, the receptionist continued. “3-17 is only for people that are a little bit poorly, so I'm sure your mummy is just fine.” She smiled again and nodded towards the lifts on the far wall. “Take the lift to the third floor”, she continued, “then turn left and follow the signs. Would you like me to get a nurse to show you the way?”

“No thank you”, Lucas replied. He didn't want to push his luck. “My friend and I will be fine. Thank you very much.” He smiled sweetly at her and turned to Daniel. His smile turned to an mischievous grin and he raised an eyebrow archly. The two boys headed over to the lifts.

“What was all that about?” Daniel whispered.

“On TV they only ever let family see the patients”, Lucas whispered back. He shrugged. “I figured it was worth a shot. Lucky I'm a good actor”

“Lucky you're a jammy git.”

The receptionist watched as the lift doors pinged open and the friends entered. Daniel pressed the button for the third floor and the boys turned to face the doors. Lucas saw the receptionist looking over and gave her another angelic smile and a friendly wave. She waved back. Such sweet boys she thought, and went back to work with a smile on her face.

 

As directed, the boys turned left as they exited the lift. Daniel took point, leading the way down the corridor, while Lucas covered the rear. They scanned the walls for signs leading to their objective and quickly found their way to Ward 3-17. Daniel spotted a nurse guarding the entrance to the ward and raised a clenched fist to halt their advance. Lucas bumped into his back. Daniel looked round to see Lucas, hands out to his side, a bemused look on his face.

“Sorry”, said Daniel. “Force of habit. Guess I slipped into game mode for a minute there.”

“And you think I'm a geek”, Lucas joked. “Never mind. Let's just go and find mum”.

“That's starting to get creepy now. Stop it. And do something about your hair, will you?”

Lucas shook his head like an excited wet dog, restoring his hair to its usual style. The boys entered the ward, sauntering past the nurse's station as though they owned the place. The nurse was busy concentrating on her paperwork and barely looked at them. They scanned the room, but couldn't see Miss Gibson. A few beds at the end of the room had curtains pulled round them. Daniel scanned the names on a whiteboard mounted on the wall near to the door and saw that a 'P. Gibson' was in the last bed on the right. That had to be her.

Daniel and Lucas walked to the end of the room, stopping at the curtains around P . Gibson's bed. They listened, but could hear nothing.

They waited.

They looked at each other.

They waited some more.

Eventually, Daniel said “Excuse me? Miss Gibson?”

“Hello?” a familiar voice called out softly.

“It's Daniel and Lucas.” Daniel lowered his voice. “From school”, he whispered. He could hear the sound of starched sheets rustling. “Can we come in?”, he asked.

“Er... yes. OK.”

Daniel parted the curtains and the two boys slipped through. Miss Gibson was sitting upright in the bed, the sheets pulled up and tucked in tight under her armpits. She had a thick foam collar around her neck and a small, neat row of stitches over her eyebrow. Despite clearly being in some discomfort she managed a small smile for her visitors.

“Hello boys”, she said. “What are you doing here?”

Daniel and Lucas shuffled awkwardly. They hadn't really thought about the fact that Miss Gibson would be in her bed clothes, and they felt weird seeing their teacher like this. Lucas tried to sound casual: “We, er... were in the neighbourhood”, he began.

Daniel elbowed his friend to shut him up, and gave him a quick frown. In the neighbourhood? “We wanted to see how you are.” Daniel said.

“Well, that's really sweet of you.” Her smile grew wider and warmer. “That's very kind. I'm actually not too bad. This -”, she indicated her collar, “ - looks a lot worse than it is. It's just a precaution really.”

“So you're going to be OK then?”, Lucas asked.

“Yes, thank you. I should be going home tomorrow.”

“What happened?”, Daniel asked. “We heard you had a car crash.”

“Not a crash, as such. More of a slight bump.” Miss Gibson looked embarrassed. “I lost control of the car a bit and skidded off the road.”

She stopped. A moment passed. “Mr. Batm... Bateman... said there was a motorbike involved”, Daniel prompted.

Miss Gibson glanced away as she tried to remember. A small frown began to cross her brow and was halted by the stitches.

“Yes”, she said at last. “There was a motorcycle. Dark; maybe black. He was on the wrong side of the road. Overtaking someone? I guess I swerved out of his way...?”

“Did the motorbike... did you... hit each other?” Daniel asked. He could tell that Miss Gibson was struggling to remember the accident and was trying hard not to put words in her mouth. But he was desperate to know the truth, to know whether his teacher had been deliberately run off the road.

And whether it could have been Mr. Smith that did it.

“I'm sorry. I don't really remember. I think we might have clipped each other.” Miss Gibson started to get upset. “Oh, I hope I didn't hit him. People are so vulnerable on those things, aren't they? Oh no.” Her hand fluttered to her mouth. “Oh no. I could have really hurt him. I could have killed him!”

Daniel reached out a hand and patted her arm. “No, you didn't.” He turned to Lucas. “Remember what the receptionist said?”

“Oh yes!”, Lucas said. “She told us that you were the only person to have been brought in after a traffic accident today. So you can't have hurt anyone else.”

“You're sure?”

“Definitely. She said there's only been one patient brought in after an RTA today. That's how we managed to find you.”

“See?”, said Daniel. “You know what a good memory Luc has. That's what they told us when we got here. So even if you did hit the bike, you didn't hurt the rider.”

“Oh that is good.” Miss Gibson let out a sigh of relief. “I couldn't have lived with myself if I'd hurt anyone.”

She seemed to relax again, and the boys felt better too. The last thing they wanted to do was get Miss Gibson upset, especially while she was recovering from her injuries. They exchanged a quick glance, agreeing without speaking to drop the subject of the accident. Instead, they started chatting about school. Lucas relayed the highlights of the headmaster's morning assembly, which didn't take long, but his impression of the head made Miss Gibson laugh. She asked them who was filling in for her and was surprised to learn of Mr. Smith. She seemed quite interested in the substitute teacher and wanted to know what he'd been teaching and what the boys thought of him. There wasn't much to tell – they'd only had one lesson with him after all – but she was particularly interested to know what Mr. Smith had given Daniel to do.

“Smith said he knew all about me”, Daniel said. “That you'd made some notes on our lessons. But all he gave me to do was some silly puzzle thing.”

The stitches on Miss Gibson's brow twitched. “What puzzle?”, she asked.

“I don't know what it's called. It's like a sort of logic puzzle. A formula, but one that's not quite right. I think the idea is to solve the formula. Make it work more...” Daniel waved his hands around as he tried to think of the right word. “Efficiently”, he said at last

“I see”, said Miss Gibson. Her frown was in full force, threatening to tear her stitches. “And did you solve it?”

“No”, Daniel admitted. “Do you know what it is, then?”

“No”, Miss Gibson said quickly. “No idea. Doesn't mean anything to me.” Her hand lifted to her forehead and she stroked gently at the line of stitches. Her face began to relax again. “Probably best to ignore it. You know how addictive these puzzles can be.” She forced a small laugh. “If I were you I'd just work through that text book I lent you.”

The way she said it sounded to Daniel more like an instruction than a suggestion. “OK. I will”, he said.

She slumped back again her pillows and yawned. “You look tired”, Lucas said. “We should go.”

Daniel nodded.

“OK”, Miss Gibson agreed. “But it was lovely to see you. So kind of you to come.”

The boys said their goodbyes, parted the curtains and left.

* * * * *

Daniel arrived home with his mind churning over the events of the day. Far from clarifying things, his visit to the hospital had only complicated them further. Miss Gibson thought that there had been a motorcycle involved in the accident, and it could have hit her car. But she wasn't certain, so that didn't rule Mr. Smith in or out. Surely if a car hit a bike then the bike rider would have fared far worse than the car driver? Smith's bike looked pretty sturdy though. Daniel decided that he needed to do some research into motorbike design.

He planned to go straight to his room and on to the internet, but as he opened the front door he was greeted by a familiar smell. Chicken risotto – Dad's speciality. Actually, it was the only meal his father could cook. He hadn't made it in a long time – Daniel could barely remember the last time he'd seen his father in the kitchen at all, never mind cooking – but it was a meal that Daniel had always loved. The smell triggered an instinctive reaction in Daniel and almost without thinking he veered away from the stairs and into the kitchen.

His father was indeed stood at the cooker, slowly adding stock to a large pan that was billowing fragrant steam out into the house. Thomas looked up as he heard Daniel enter.

“Hello son”, he said cheerily. “Raining, is it?”

Daniel realised that rain was dripping from his coat onto the floor. He ran a hand through his hair and it came back soaking wet. “A bit”, he answered.

Thomas chuckled. “Well go and get dried off quickly. This is almost ready”, Thomas continued. “Take a seat and I'll bring it through.”

Daniel walked back out of the kitchen, hung up his coat and bag by the door and went through to the dining room. His mother was already sat at the table, taking the cork from a bottle of wine. She seemed happy, and looked at Daniel with a smile and a shrug, as if to say I don't know why he's making dinner, but I'm not complaining!

Daniel likewise shook his head – he was surprised by this too – as he took his seat opposite his mother.

The door opened and Thomas walked in carrying two plates piled high with steaming rice. He placed one in front of Mary and one in front of Daniel. “Careful”, he said. “It's hot”. He headed back out of the room, returned a moment later with a plate for himself and took his seat between the others. He picked up his fork and held it loosely in his hand for a moment, looking down at his plate. He seemed to be gathering his thoughts. Daniel wondered if he was saying grace in his head. Then he spoke.

“I owe you an apology”, he said quietly. “Both of you. I've been... distracted... lately. Caught up in work. More than usual. There are some things I need to tell you about; things we need to discuss, as a family.” He reached out with his free hand and and took Mary's hand in his, then put down his fork to take Daniel's hand. “But we'll do that after dinner”, he continued. “For now, I just want to say: I love you both and I'm very, very sorry.” One at a time, he looked deeply into their eyes.

Daniel could see that look again, the one Thomas had the night before. Just briefly, it looked as though something was making Thomas afraid.

Mary didn't appear to notice. She just seemed happy to have her family all together for dinner. She squeezed Thomas' hand, then let go and picked up her fork. “If this tastes as good as it smells”, she said, “then you're forgiven.”

Thomas laughed. “Tuck in then.”

They all did, and the meal did taste good. It was even better than Daniel remembered – so good that he burned his tongue twice as he couldn't bring himself to wait for it to cool down. Within minutes his plate was empty.

“There's plenty more in the pot”, said Thomas, who had barely touched his own portion. Daniel went through to the kitchen and helped himself to another full portion of the leftovers.

The rest of the meal passed pleasantly. Mary chatted about her day of shopping and painting and Thomas shared some jokes that he'd been e-mailed. They weren't that funny, and Daniel didn't even get all of them, but he laughed along just the same.

Before long Daniel had finished his second helping. He was just deciding whether he could squeeze in a third when he noticed that his father's plate was still more than half full. His mother's plate also had plenty left. Despite the laughter, something was upsetting them both.

“Come on then Dad”, Daniel said. “What are these things we need to discuss?”

Slowly, Thomas put down his fork.

He pushed his chair back from the table and stood up.

“Come with me”, he said. “Both of you.”

He turned and led his family out of the dining room, up the stairs and into his study, where he shut and locked the door.

“Thomas?”, Mary asked. “What's going on?”

“This is the safest part of the house”, Thomas replied quietly. He leaned back against the door, his eyes cast downwards. “The things I'm about to say... they must not leave this room. You can't tell anybody what I'm about to tell you.” He looked up. His eyes locked with Daniel's. “Not your friends, not your teachers. Not anybody.”

Daniel nodded.

Thomas looked at his wife. “You too Mary. You cannot repeat a word of this.”

“What do you mean? What are you talking about?”

“Please, Mary. Just promise me you won't tell anyone.”

“OK. I promise. Now just tell us.”

Thomas drew a deep breath. “It's my work -”, he began.

“Oh god, you're being made redundant”, Mary interrupted.

Thomas humphed a humourless laugh. “I wish”, he said. “No. It's much more important than that. And much worse. Something has happened; something that has put the whole world in danger.

“And I need Daniel's help to fix it.”

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