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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11. Part 3: The Far Side of the Galaxy. Chapter One

Daniel tasted salt.

His back was warm.

He turned his head, scraping his cheek against something rough.

His eyes felt gummy and gritty, as though he'd been asleep for days. When he finally managed to open them, everything looked blurry.

He was lying on what appeared to be a beach, face-down in the sand. He lifted his head. It was hard to be sure with his vision swimming, but it looked as though the sand stretched all the way to the horizon. He squeezed his eyes shut then opened them wide, trying to force things into focus.

He rolled onto his back and looked up at the sky. It seemed unusually bright. Daniel raised an arm to shield his eyes. He thought he could see two suns. He shook his head and rubbed his eyes but it didn't help – he still had double-vision.

Slowly, he pushed himself upright. For a moment he thought he might be sick, but the feeling quickly passed. Cautiously, Daniel looked around as the world started to come into focus.

Not that there was much to focus on. There was nothing but flat, even sand as far as he could see. He stood up and turned to look behind him, expecting to see a shoreline; there was nothing but more sand. He held his breath and listened, straining to hear the sounds of the sea, but he heard nothing. No waves, no gulls. He suddenly became very aware of the heat of the sun on his shoulders, and with it came the realisation that this was not a beach – this was a desert.

Daniel took a deep breath, telling himself not to panic. If there was a way to get here, he thought, then there would be a way to get back. All he had to do was find it.

He made a swift inventory of his provisions. In one pocket he had his mobile phone and his translator. He pulled out the phone and checked it. No bars. He wondered just how far he was from the nearest signal.

In his other pocket he had the mobile phone that Doctor Llewellyn had given him. That had no signal either. Not that he really expected it to; it was the device Llewellyn had used to contact Reboot, and he had said that it was no longer a phone. Daniel tried stabbing at a few of the buttons anyway, but nothing seemed to happen.

The only other thing he had was his watch. Daniel knew that it was possible to navigate using an analogue watch as a compass, though he had to think for a moment to remember how. That was it – by pointing the hour hand at the sun, due south could be found as the mid-point between the hour hand and twelve. Daniel didn't know if he wanted to go south, but at least this would give him a fixed point of reference and stop him walking in circles. Narrowing his eyes, he looked up at the sky.

He could still see two suns.

He looked at his watch. He held his hand out in front of his face. He looked out at the horizon. Everything looked normal. He no longer had double-vision. Which left only one explanation – he could see two suns because there were two suns.

Daniel knew what that meant. It confirmed what he had known since he opened his eyes, what the small voice at the back of his head had been saying all this time, the thing he had been wishing wasn't true but could no longer deny.

Daniel was not on Earth any more.

He checked his watch. Nearly eleven o'clock. That made it about three hours since he had been working in the Cage and fallen into the wormhole. That was assuming his watch hadn't been affected by the journey, that time still passed in the same way inside a wormhole and that it still meant something in this place. Three hours though – could the wormhole still be here?

It occurred to Daniel that his watch didn't indicate am or pm, which meant it could just as easily be fifteen hours later. Don't think like that, he told himself. He knew he had to stay positive and keep a clear head if he was going to find a way to get back home.

He looked around for any signs that the wormhole was nearby. There was nothing. No distortions, no holes, not even a breeze to disturb the sand.

Daniel looked up and saw a small, dark smudge in the clear, blue sky. As he watched, it grew fainter and smaller, before disappearing from view altogether. He wondered if that was the wormhole moving away, continuing on an orbit like the hole trapped at CERN used to do.

A bead of sweat ran down Daniel's spine, reminding him to that had to find some way out of the desert. He stared out at the horizon, concentrating hard, hoping to see some distant signs of civilisation. At the very least he hoped to find some sort of landmark that he could use as a guide. He drew a line in the sand with his foot to mark his starting position, then turned clockwise in a slow, methodical scan.

The landscape was flat and featureless, an unbroken plain of pale brown sand, and by the time Daniel had turned 180 degrees he had seen nothing. There weren't even any noticeable changes in the sand – no contours, no dunes.

Daniel turned another 90 degrees and still saw nothing. He slowed down even further, staring so intently he was almost examining each grain of sand. He was hot, he was thirsty and his eyes were starting to sting.

Something flashed in the distance, the sunlight catching a small fleck of white on the sand. Daniel squinted, trying to make it out. At that moment he'd have given anything for a pair of binoculars. He angled his head slightly and the light flashed again. It looked like something smooth, polished and white.

He took a step forward. Even though there was no reason to stay where he was and every reason to move, Daniel felt a strange reluctance to leave his spot until he was certain where he was heading. He took a few more steps, his eyes fixed firmly on the white speck. He wanted to look back at his footprints, to check that he was walking a straight line, but he didn't dare take his eyes off his target.

He walked some more and the shape grew larger. The speck became a blob, then began to take on form.

Daniel hardly dared hope...

He picked up his pace. The white shape became clearer still. Daniel could make out a body, the arms, legs and torso a highly-polished bright white.

“Reboot?”, he said. He started running, his feet scuffing through the soft, loose sand, covering the ground as quickly as he could.

He reached the white figure and fell to his knees. “Reboot!”, he said, delighted to see his friend. Daniel put a hand on Reboot's chest and peered into his face panel. There were no signs of life.

Suddenly Reboot jackknifed and sat upright. Daniel jumped back, startled. Reboot put a hand to his face and groaned. “Urgh – my head”, he moaned, then flopped back down again and lay still.

Daniel was stunned. “Reboot?”

Reboot didn't answer.

“Reboot, are you alright?”, Daniel tried again, but there was still no response. He patted Reboot's face before realising that was probably a pointless gesture. He shouted Reboot's name. Then he tried lifting his head, but could barely shift the heavy robot. Whatever caused that burst of activity was gone now. Reboot lay there, lifeless.

Daniel stood up and rubbed the back of his neck, trying to work out what to do next. He knew he shouldn't stay out in the suns for much longer – the skin across his shoulders felt burnt and tender – but he didn't want to leave Reboot. And it wasn't as if he had anywhere to go.

He had a quick look around but saw nothing that would provide shelter. His own footprints were the only thing that broke up the monotonous brown surface of the desert.

His hand moved from his neck to his head. He began scratching his scalp, knotting his fingers in his hair. Somewhere deep inside a small voice whispered: 'you're going - '

“No!”, Daniel shouted out loud. He was not going to give in. There must be something he could do. He had found his friend – he could find a way home. He looked again at the line of his footprints in the sand, stretching away from Reboot. Then he scanned the horizon once more.

'you're going to - ', the nagging voice hissed again, but Daniel ignored it, forcing himself to think of something else, to focus on finding a way out of the desert.

“If you can hear me, Reboot”, he said. “I'm going to find help. Just... stay here.”

Daniel began marching away, looking over his shoulder to check that he was following the line he started earlier. He stomped his feet down hard, trying to force his footprints as deep into the sand as he could. If he could just keep going in a straight line then surely he would come across something, eventually, and then be able to get back to Reboot.

Assuming they hadn't ended up on some sort of lifeless, desert moon.

'you're going to die out here', said the voice in his head. Despite the heat, Daniel shivered.

* * * * *

Daniel felt as though he had been walking for hours. He looked back at his footprints. The line was definitely getting wobbly now, and the marks were fainter too as the effort of stamping his feet into the sand became too much. Instead of small, defined, dark spots, Daniel's shuffling footsteps now seemed to leave only faint smudges in their wake.

Daniel felt his neck prickling. He tugged his t-shirt up over his head so that only his face was exposed. He felt the thick stitching of the collar rubbing against his chin, but he hoped that the material would provide some small amount of protection for his head and neck. His shoulders already felt better now that the sweat-soaked t-shirt had been lifted from them. Daniel wondered what would happen if he encountered any aliens out here – would they think that all humans looked like him, with arms that grew out of their heads?

He laughed at the thought, a dry throaty cackle that sounded more like a cough. He felt his lips tearing as he smiled, the hot air having dried them out long ago. The pain made Daniel wince, cutting off his laughter.

He turned once more to check his path, twisting his upper body to bring his shoulders round. The awkward movement put Daniel off-balance and he stumbled, his feet feeling clumsy in the soft sand. He pitched forward, landing face-down on the ground. Sand quickly found its way into the cracks in his lips making them sting. Daniel rolled onto his back and wiped his face, but only succeeded in grinding the sand into his skin. His eyes would have watered had he not been so dehydrated, so now they started to sting too.

Tired, sore and bleeding, Daniel was on the brink of despair. He drew a deep breath, trying to summon up the energy to get to his feet once more. The hot, dry air only warmed his lungs, making Daniel feel more exhausted.

I could just lie here for a minute, he thought. His eyelids felt heavy, tired from squinting against the suns' light. Just while I get my breath back. He draped an arm over his face and let his eyelids slide closed.

* * * * *

Daniel woke with a start. His eyes snapped open, then slammed shut again as the light hurt his eyes. The pink-green image of two suns floated on the inside of his eyelids, reminding him of exactly where he was.

He licked his lips. They felt cool and wet. Then he noticed a strange clicking, whirring noise. It was quiet, but it was the first sound Daniel had heard since arriving here.

He was about to lift his hand to shade his eyes when a shadow fell across his face. Daniel froze. The clicking sound grew louder, and was joined by a snuffling sound as though a creature of some kind was sniffing around him.

Daniel held his breath, even though he knew it was probably too late to play dead now. He opened his eyes, just a crack, peering through his lashes. He could make out three figures that looked like people wearing cloaks, standing beside him. A fourth was bent over, examining him closely, sniffing him like a dog and clicking at his companions. Then Daniel felt something poke him in his ribs, hard and blunt like a bony finger.

“Ow!”, he cried out, more in surprise than in pain. The figures started clicking and whirring excitedly. Daniel sat upright and opened his eyes to look at them properly.

The four figures were all about as tall as Daniel's father and they appeared to be male, but that was where the similarity ended. They wore plain, rust-coloured trousers that looked similar to the military fatigues the guards at CERN wore. They each had a thick equipment belt around their waist, but otherwise they were all bare-chested, revealing skin that was a deep, dark red. What Daniel had thought were cloaks were in fact large, leathery wings that sprouted from their backs.

The creature that had been sniffing him now prowled slowly around Daniel as though assessing whether the boy was a threat, his wings twitching open and closed as he paced. The others continued making clicking noises as though warning the prowler not to get too close. When they opened their mouths Daniel could see rows of small, sharp teeth. Their ears were large and pointed, emphasised by their uniformly hairless heads. It was as though the people on this world had evolved not from monkeys but from bats.

“Hello”, Daniel said. He had no idea whether these bat-people would understand him but he wanted to at least try to communicate with them – they must have given him water so, despite their fearsome appearance, these creatures must be intelligent and friendly.

The creatures seemed excited, their clicking becoming louder and faster. Then one of them – the tallest – waved a hand and the others fell silent. He looked directly at Daniel as he made a squeaking, chittering noise.

“I'm sorry”, Daniel said. “I don't understand.”

The creature made the noise again, louder this time and slower.

Daniel held his hand out to the side and shook his head. “I don't understand”, he said. Then he had an idea. He reached into his pocket and withdrew the translator. “Let's see just how 'universal' you are”, he muttered as he turned the device on and slipped it into his ear.

“I'm Daniel”, he said, pointing to himself. “Daniel.” Then he held his hands out, inviting the tall creature to speak again. “And you are...?”

The creature spoke once more, making the same high-pitched clicking. “....................................... gate.......................... gate?”, the device translated.

Daniel could hardly believe it – this might actually work! “Again, please”, he said, cycling his hands around to encourage the creature to speak some more.

“We... … … Guardians of the Gate. You... come through... gateway?”

“Gateway?”, Daniel asked. “What gateway?” Then he realised: “You mean the wormhole? Yes! I came through the wormhole!”

The Guardian spoke again, even louder and slower than before, making exaggerated gestures with his hands

“Did you. Come through. The Gate?” He pointed at Daniel and then held his hands up in a rough circle.

Daniel he couldn't help laughing at the sight of this terrifying, demonic creature trying to make himself understood by performing a mime routine. He looked like a British tourist on holiday abroad, trying to communicate with the locals despite not knowing the language.

One of the other Guardians stepped forward. He was smaller than the others, and seemed younger. “It's no good”, he said. “It doesn't understand. It's obviously not an evolved lifeform where it comes from.”

“What should we do with it?” asked another.

“Put it out of its misery I suppose.” The small Guardian reached behind his back and withdrew a short, metal pipe. He held it out in front of him and with a flick of his wrist the tube extended to become a two-metre-long spear, topped with three vicious looking barbs. The Guardian adjusted his grip on the staff, holding it over one shoulder like a javelin. The tips glinted in the light of the suns as he aimed them at Daniel's heart.

“No, wait!” Daniel shouted. This wasn't funny any more. “I do understand.” He realised that while he had Llewellyn's gadget to help him, these Guardians had no way of translating his words. Daniel's mind raced as he stared at the razor-sharp trident.

He tried copying the tall Guardian's mime, pointing to himself, then making a circle with his hands.

“Look Macrotus”, the big guy said. “It's trying to communicate.”

Macrotus shook his head, still holding the trident. “Parrot see, parrot do. It's just copying you, Volan.”

“No!” Daniel shook his head and dropped to his knees. He quickly drew a large circle in the sand with a small stick-figure of a person standing on it. He drew a second, smaller circle next to it, the outline deliberately rough, then made a third large circle next to that.

“See?”, he said. He pointed to the stick-figure. “That's me. I came through the Gate and ended up here.” Daniel traced a path from the first circle, through the smaller one, to the third. He quickly sketched four more stick-figures on the third circle and pointed to the Guardians.

“That must be us”, Volan said. He placed a hand on Macrotus' spear, gently lowering it. “It is intelligent. We can't just kill it. We should take it back to the aerie. They will know what to do.”

“Fine”, the small guy grunted. He jerked his weapon, indicating that he wanted Daniel to stand.

Daniel stayed where he was. “I have a friend. We need to help him.” The Guardians didn't respond. Daniel quickly sketched a second figure on his drawing of Earth, then stood and pointed back along the line of his footprints. “My friend.”

Volan looked along Daniel's path. He seemed to understand.

“Please.”

Macrotus scowled, but Volan ignored him. He unfurled his giant wings, crouched slightly, then sprang into the air.

Daniel could feel the air pushing down on him as Volan rose slowly, and on the very edge of his hearing he could just make out a faint clicking noise. He started to feel anxious, as though he'd forgotten something important, but he couldn't think what.

Volan sank gently back to the ground in front of Daniel. “His companion lies nearly five kilometres from here. It appears to be a mechanical. A heavy one. We will need to call for support.” He stared at Daniel, head cocked to one side, examining him. He reached out and lightly touched the translator, as though sensing its delicacy and its importance.

Daniel wasn't sure what to do. Volan, like all the Guardians, looked terrifying, but he had stopped Macrotus from skewering him and it seemed that he was going to help rescue Reboot.

Suddenly Volan grasped Daniel's head, clamping his hands over Daniel's ears. Daniel thrashed about, trying to break free, but Volan's grip was too strong. The big Guardian nodded to his companions and one of them stepped forward. He drew a deep breath, threw back his head and opened his mouth in an almighty roar.

Daniel couldn't hear anything, but he was suddenly gripped with terror. Volan was going to tear his head off and the Guardians would feast on his corpse. His legs crumpled as fear coursed through him, robbing him of his strength. His eyes darted wildly about and he saw the creatures circling him, staring hungrily at him, their mouths open, salivating and gnashing their sharp teeth. He was going to be ripped to pieces by these nightmarish beasts that had crawled out of the deepest, darkest parts of hell to torture his body and play with his bones.

That voice in his head had been right all along – he was going to die out here, horribly and painfully.

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