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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5. Part 2: CERN. T-6

 

Daniel and his father set off for the airport early the next morning, only to spend the best part of the day waiting in the departure lounge for a plane that was delayed. Daniel was desperate to talk about CERN, the wormhole and the work they'd be doing, but Thomas refused, saying that it wasn't safe to discuss these things in public.

Night was falling when they finally boarded their flight. Thomas pulled out a tiny inflatable pillow and went straight to sleep. Daniel tried to watch the in-flight movie – a comedy starring someone that used to be a wrestler or a rapper or something. Whatever it was, he wasn't an actor. After half-an-hour without so much as a smile, Daniel gave up watching and tried to get some sleep like his father, but the economy-class seats were too uncomfortable. He couldn't stretch his legs out in front of him and the stewards kept bashing his elbow with their trolley every time they passed through the cabin selling their shrink-wrapped sandwiches and styrofoam cups of tea. By the time the plane began to descend into Geneva, Daniel was tired and miserable. He had cramp in his legs, a bruise on his elbow and was starving hungry.

Once they landed, things couldn't have been more different.

Daniel stepped out of the aeroplane onto the steps and saw a large, black limousine parked on the tarmac. Several passengers were hanging around, trying to peer through the tinted windows to see who was inside. Daniel assumed there had been someone famous on the flight with them and tried to see back into the first-class section. As he did so, his father squeezed past him, inhaled deeply through his nose, and began skipping down the steps.

The moment Thomas reached the ground, the limousine door opened and a tall, young man stepped out, wearing a smart suit and peaked hat. “Evening, Dr. Armstrong”, he said as he glided to the rear door and opened it with a flourish. “I hope you had a nice flight sir.”

Daniel nearly fell down the steps. Thomas turned at the sound of metallic clattering, and chuckled with delight at the look of surprise on his son's face. He held his arm out to guide Daniel toward the passenger section of the elongated car.

“Good evening, Johan”, he said to the driver. “Nice to see you again. I'd like you to meet my son – Daniel.”

“It's a pleasure to meet you, Master Armstrong”, said Johan, his English lightly accented. He touched his hat in a small salute, then stepped away from the door to allow Daniel to enter the car. “Your father speaks of you often. Welcome to Switzerland.”

“Er... thanks... Hi...”, Daniel just about managed to say, and raised his own hand in a small, awkward wave. The scents of leather, polish and that special new-car-smell wafted from the limo. It smelled of luxury. Daniel had never been in a car like this before. He looked back at his father, unsure whether this was all a mistake, or some sort of strange joke.

“Go on, get in”, Thomas said. He winked at Johan. “You couldn't bring the nice car tonight then?”

“It's being washed sir”, Johan played along with the joke. “Sorry about that. I hope you'll be able to squeeze in here.”

Thomas sighed. “I suppose we'll make do.” He ushered Daniel into the limo then climbed in behind him.

Johan closed the door gently then walked over to the aeroplane. A member of ground crew wearing an orange jacket and ear-defenders wrestled the Armstrongs' suitcases from the hold and passed them to Johan. Effortlessly, the chauffeur lifted the luggage into the limousine's boot before slipping back into the driver's seat. He started the car and drove smoothly away.

Daniel perched on the edge of the soft, leather seat that stretched across the back of the car. It seemed almost as big as the sofa at home, and was even more comfortable. There were several other seats between him and the driver's cabin, which was separated from the passengers by a darkened-glass privacy screen. On the floor to Daniel's right was a small cabinet, radiating a gentle heat that warmed his toes. As he stretched out his legs for the first time in several hours, he tried to shake the feeling that this was all a big mistake and that he was going to get kicked out when someone realised. He eased back into the seat and started to get comfortable.

Thomas had taken one of the seats opposite Daniel and had already made himself at home in it, as though he did this every day. He lounged back, legs splayed out in front of him, arms draped over the back of the chair. His smile grew wider and deeper as he watched his son settling in.

“Do you like it?”, he asked.

“Yeah!”, Daniel confirmed enthusiastically. “Do you always get picked up in a limo?”

“Not always. Only when I have a V.I.P. with me.”

The privacy screen dropped with a soft whirr. “If you'll pardon the interruption sirs”, Johan said. “I thought you might be hungry after your flight, so I took the liberty of bringing along some refreshments. Cold drinks are in the fridge on the left; hot food in the warmer to the right.”

“Thanks Johan”, Thomas answered. Johan nodded and closed the screen again.

Daniel opened the cabinet that had been warming his toes and found two china plates, each loaded with steaming chips and a giant cheeseburger. Thomas opened the fridge and took out a can of cola and a bottle of beer, both ice cold and dripping with condensation. He passed the cola to Daniel, who passed back one of the plates of food in return.

Thomas popped the cap off his drink. “Cheers”, he said, and took a deep swig.

Daniel returned the toast. The cola was sweet and perfectly chilled. Then he took a bite from the burger. It was thick and juicy, topped with a spicy relish that was unlike anything he'd ever tasted before. He tried the chips – they were lightly salted, crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside. Just the way he liked them.

The food and drink were delicious; eating them in a limousine on his way to CERN with his father made it one of the best meals he'd ever had.

* * * * *

All too soon the car began to slow. Looking out of the window for the first time since the airport, Daniel could see that they were heading towards a cluster of large, functional buildings that looked like a small industrial estate. There was nothing else for miles around – this had to be their destination.

Daniel's father joined him on the back seat as the limousine turned off the main road and stopped at a gatehouse. A security guard dressed in dark military fatigues squeezed his way out of the small hut. A large rifle was held across his chest, secured by a strap slung over his broad shoulders. His finger rested near the trigger as he approached the vehicle. Daniel could feel his father tense in the seat next to him.

Johan rolled down his window and leaned out to speak to the guard. The screen between the driver and passengers was still in place, cutting off all sound from outside. Thomas reached for the switch to lower the rear window, his eyes fixed on the two men.

Johan said something to the guard, who lowered his weapon and left it hanging by its strap as he stepped toward the rear of the car.

“Bonjour Monsieur”, said the guard, then corrected himself. “Good evening, Dr Armstrong.”

“Bonjour”, replied Thomas. “How are you tonight?”

“Very well, thank you. It is mild for the time of year – very pleasant to be working outside.” The guard glanced over at Daniel. “This is your son?”

“Yes, this is Daniel. He's coming to work with me over the summer holiday.”

“I heard this. Welcome to CERN, Master Armstrong. I hope you will have a pleasant stay.”

“Thanks”, Daniel replied. “Merci”, he added, trying out his French.

The guard smiled and nodded graciously at Daniel, acknowledging his efforts. Then he looked back at Thomas, his smile vanishing as he became all-business again.

“The situation has changed since you were here last. I have to ask you to complete some extra security checks before being permitted to enter the site. Your son also will need to be vetted and cleared. Dr. Llewellyn will meet you at CERN Security and take you through the process.”

“Of course”, Thomas said. “But – what's happened?”

“Dr. Llewellyn will meet you at CERN-Sec”, the guard repeated sternly. “He will tell you what you need to know.” With that the guard stepped back and signalled to Johan to proceed.

The big car started up once more. Daniel watched his father sit back in his seat, a look of concern spreading over his face, then turned to look out of the window. As the car passed through the gate Daniel could see more guards patrolling the grounds. Some were leading fierce-looking dogs. All of the guards were armed. If he didn't know better, he would have thought this was a military base.

The car cruised toward a large, plain building that looked like an aircraft hangar. As they drew closer, Daniel could see that in fact it was a massive tent, the walls and roof made of canvas with one large flap rolled up to allow access in and out. More armed guards lined the road, guiding the limousine toward the entrance.

When they were within a couple of metres of the tent a guard stepped into their path, his hand up telling them to stop. Johan parked the car and the guard signalled to his colleagues. A second guard jogged over from the tent, pushing a low trolley ahead of him. It looked like an over-sized skateboard with a mirror on top and a long handle. Daniel watched as the guard wheeled it underneath the car.

“He's checking that there's nothing attached to the car that shouldn't be”, his father explained.

Daniel was reassured; obviously this was routine procedure. “Like what?”, he asked.

“Explosives.”

“Oh.” That didn't sound good. But if Dad knew what was going on, Daniel reasoned to himself, it must be a normal safety check.

“This is most unusual”, Thomas muttered, his face grim. “Something must have happened if they've started doing Level-1 checks.”

Daniel wasn't reassured any more.

The guard slowly examined the full length of the limousine. Then, his checks complete, he withdrew his mirror-trolley and waved them onwards.

Johan parked the car in the tent, then got out and opened the door for Daniel and Thomas. The tent bustled with activity. Directly in front of the limo were more guards in dark fatigues, checking over metal racks of military hardware. Further into the tent a handful of scientists in white lab coats were poring over tables stacked with electrical wires and printed circuit boards, and peering anxiously at computer screens.

Suddenly a loud, Welsh voice boomed out from the far end of the tent: “Tommy!”

Daniel looked up to see a small, elderly gentleman in a coat as white as his hair making his way towards them, bobbing and weaving between the other scientists, nimble as a man half his age. With his excited skipping and tufty white beard, he reminded Daniel of a mountain goat.

“Des”, Thomas greeted the avuncular scientist warmly. “Good to see you again.”

“You too, my friend.” He turned to Daniel. “And you must be Daniel. I'm Dr. Llewellyn. Welcome to CERN.”

“Thanks”, said Daniel. “It's good to be here. Although it's not quite what I was expecting.”

“No”, agreed Dr. Llewellyn sadly. “I'm sorry that our welcoming committee isn't quite as – well, welcoming – as it used to be. But you'll meet your research team in the morning and they'll be much more friendly, you'll see. In the meantime, come with me and we'll get you kitted out with everything you'll need to make your way around here.”

Dr. Llewellyn suddenly brightened again, beaming at Daniel. “And I have a little something extra”, he continued. “Something I've been working on, just for you. I think you'll really like him.” He clapped his hands then spun on his heels and scooted off back the way he had come.

“Come on then!”, he called back over his shoulder.

Daniel looked at his father. “Him?”, he asked. Thomas shrugged in response, just as confused by his old friend's comments.

“Well then”, said Daniel. “I guess we'd better go and find out.”

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