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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10. T-1

 

Daniel woke the next morning, still dressed in his clothes from the day before. For a moment he didn't know where he was. He sat up and looked round at the strange room, at his clothes and his bed sheets that were covered in sand. His hands and knees felt sore and when he looked at his palms they were grazed and gritty. He remembered crawling... and then everything flooded back.

He was hungry, so he washed and changed, and headed out to the canteen.

Daniel thought he would remember the way to the canteen, but in the end he just needed to follow everybody. It seemed as though everyone who worked at CERN was heading in the same direction. As he joined the flow of people he scanned the faces of the people he passed, hoping to see Doctor Llewellyn.

Hoping not to see his father.

 

The canteen was a large room with dozens of tables in long, neat rows. A serving counter ran along one wall with people helping themselves to breakfast. The kitchens at CERN seemed to cater for all tastes – Daniel had never seen such a wide variety of food. He chose a simple bowl of cereal with milk then looked for somewhere to sit.

Researchers and scientists in their pristine white lab-coats congregated around the tables at one end of the room, while security officers in their grubby, black fatigues had commandeered the tables at the opposite end. The tables in between were left for everyone else. Daniel guessed that these were the cleaners, engineers and technicians, secretaries and administrative staff, and various other people who each helped CERN run smoothly, but weren't so clearly identified by the clothes they worked in.

Daniel took his breakfast to a small, empty table in the middle of the room and sat down to eat. Maybe it was his imagination, but the room seemed to get quieter when he entered. He felt as though everyone was looking at him.

He glanced over at the scientists' tables. Several people were indeed staring at him, but they all quickly looked away to avoid eye-contact. News of what had happened in the Cage must have spread, Daniel thought. He felt himself blush and turned his face down, concentrating on his bowl.

Gradually the noise built up again as people resumed their conversations. Daniel still felt like he was being watched but he risked another look around the room. One of the security officers caught his eye and nodded a greeting. Daniel recognised him as the guard who unlocked his cell the night before and he nodded back.

Someone behind Daniel cleared their throat. He looked round to find his father standing there, holding a bowl and looking anxious.

“Can I join you?”, Thomas asked.

Daniel shrugged. “I guess.”

Thomas sat. He twirled a spoon around in his bowl for a minute or two. Daniel found he'd lost his appetite and sat watching his cereal go soggy.

“I came to speak to you last night”, Thomas said at last.

Daniel shrugged again. “I was asleep.”

Thomas gave a grunt and a nod, as though accepting what he thought was a lie. Daniel didn't care whether his father believed him or not.

“Yesterday must have been pretty stressful. How are you?”

“Fine.” Daniel wasn't in the mood for talking.

“Look, I know you're upset. But you have to believe me – I only want what's best for you, and for you to be safe.”

“So why didn't you just tell me? When we were in your study and you were telling us about CERN, about Doctor Bradley and the wormhole – why didn't you tell us everything?”

Thomas fiddled with his spoon some more. “I didn't want to upset you. Or your mum. I didn't want it to be true. I feel terrible that I put you in danger. So most of all, I guess I was ashamed.”

“But why tell me you want my help with your work? You could have just said I was in trouble and brought me here. Why lie like that?”

“Because I really do want your help with my work. I wasn't lying about that. You have a gift for maths that I'll never have. Plus, I hoped you'd think this place was pretty cool. I wanted you to enjoy it, to be excited about being here. Not to have it spoiled by being scared.”

Daniel chewed his lip as he considered. “So you really want my help?” he asked.

“Absolutely.”

“Alright then.” Daniel looked his father square in the eyes. “But from now on you have to be honest and tell me everything.”

“Deal.” Thomas put his had out and smiled as Daniel shook it, sealing the deal in the way they always had.

“Dad – is Reboot okay?” Daniel asked.

The smile slipped from Thomas' face. “Not really son, no.”

 

Thomas told Daniel everything about the previous night. He had been catching up with Doctor Llewellyn when the lockdown alarm sounded. The two men guessed that it was Daniel and Reboot who had triggered it and they rushed to the nearest monitoring station to see what was happening. When Thomas saw the change to the Cage formula he knew that only Daniel could have made it.

Doctor Llewellyn tried to override the lockdown protocol while Thomas checked all the video surveillance, hoping to confirm that the boys had got out. When he saw the extractor fan fail due to over-heating, he knew that Daniel was still in there fighting for his life.

They tried to make their way down to the Cage, but had been stopped by armed security guards. Sergeant Stone had given orders not to let anyone in or out of the access tunnels. Then word reached the surface that a boy had been apprehended and taken for questioning – but there had been no news of Reboot.

Doctor Llewellyn insisted that Thomas went to see Daniel. Thomas didn't want to leave his friend alone, but he was worried about Daniel so he went to the detention block to get him released. Then, after Daniel stormed off, Thomas went back to check in with Llewellyn. Together they managed to persuade CERN-Sec to let them into the cage room to ensure that the wormhole was secure.

That's when they found Reboot.

He was standing on the back of a large computer screen that covered the vent hole on the floor of the cage room. Llewellyn had worked through the night trying to reactivate him, but couldn't. The plastic monitor casing had offered a small amount of protection against the electric charge that polarised the Cage plating, but not enough. Without it, all of Reboot's circuits would have been fried; as it was, Llewellyn found more than half his circuits were intact. For that, he was grateful to Daniel. But he was still broken-hearted at Reboot's condition, and he blamed Daniel for putting him in danger.

“Can I see him?” Daniel asked. “I want to explain. To apologise.”

“I wouldn't do that just yet”, Thomas said. “He'll get over it. In time. And I'm sure he'll be able to fix Reboot. But right now he's hurt and upset. Give him some space.”

Daniel felt awful, but he accepted his father's advice. He hoped that Doctor Llewellyn would be able to forgive him. He wondered if he would ever forgive himself. “What happens now?”, he asked.

“Well, the cage room is off-limits for the time being”, Thomas explained. “They need to carry out repairs to the fan and re-set the lockdown system. Once that's done they'll send in a team to get Reboot out of there and then we can do some proper tests of the power feedback functions.”

“How long will that take?”

“About three or four days, maybe. No more than a week.”

Daniel was surprised. “We didn't do that much damage, did we? Why so long?”

“Everything in there is bespoke – built from scratch specifically for the Cage. It's not like we can just pop down to the nearest DIY shop for a 'build-your-own Lewis-Henry Cage kit'. The motor you burnt out can be fixed easily enough, but the fan that Reboot dismantled needs to be completely re-made. That's going to take a few days.”

Daniel smiled sadly at the memory of Reboot tearing the fan blades out, knowing that he couldn't escape himself but determined to help Daniel get to safety.

Thomas reached across the table and put a reassuring hand on Daniel's shoulder. “Reboot must be pretty tough, eh? Ripping the fan to pieces like that.”

“He saved my life”, Daniel stated simply.

Thomas acknowledged this with a nod. “And we'll help save his”, he replied. “As soon as we can get back into the cage room. In the meantime, we can continue working on simulations in my office.”

Daniel pushed his chair back from the table, knowing that he wasn't going to get his appetite back any time soon. “Come on then. Let's get to work.”

* * * * *

The next few days dragged by slower than the last week of school before summer. As much as Daniel was excited to be at CERN and working with his father, he was itching to get back into the cage room. He wanted to see the real results of his work, and he was anxious to rescue Reboot; despite the advanced equipment in his father's office, he could do neither of those things from there.

Daniel tried to lose himself in the work, spending long hours tinkering with the equation. His instinctive grasp of the relationship between the numbers served him well, and within a couple of days he was sure he had it perfect. The formula described the complex interactions between the electrical potential that powered the plasma ball containing the wormhole, and the energy that poured back out of the wormhole threatening to break free.

Daniel and his father ran dozens of simulations until they agreed that they had found the optimum solution. No amount of tinkering would make it any better. All that was left was to put it into practice.

Finally, after a long week of hard work, the Cage was declared safe. The engineer in charge signed off on the repair work at midnight and the news spread throughout the campus like a virus. Within half-an-hour everybody knew and was making plans to get back into the room. Doctor Llewellyn and his team were given priority, but after that it was a free-for-all.

Daniel and his father made plans to get there before breakfast the next morning. “Physicists are like teenagers”, Thomas explained. “They stay up late and they get up late. If we get there at dawn we'll beat the rush.”

Daniel didn't like the idea of getting up early either, but he still sprang out of bed when his alarm went off and was dressed and out of his room within minutes. His father was also up and ready when Daniel knocked on his door and the two of them set off at an excited pace.

As they reached the main door, Thomas paused and sniffed the air. He frowned and inhaled deeply.

“What is it Dad?”, Daniel asked. He looked up at the clear, blue sky. He knew that his father had a strange talent for knowing when rain was on its way, no matter what the current conditions were. Thomas' nose was a far more reliable indicator than the weather forecast, but as they were planning to spend the day underground Daniel didn't think it would make any difference. “Is it going to rain?”

“No.” Thomas said. He breathed in once more. “Something's coming”, he muttered, thinking out-loud. “A storm maybe...?”

He shrugged. “Probably nothing.” He smiled at Daniel and led the way out of the building.

Despite his relaxed tones, Daniel noticed his father's eyes darted about as they walked as though on the lookout for danger. His brow twitched, pulling fleetingly into small frowns. Daniel almost had to jog to keep up with his father's determined strides; he seemed anxious to get underground, as though the deep tunnels offered protection.

Daniel tried taking a few sniffs, to see if he could tell what had his father so rattled, but all he could smell was the fresh alpine air.

They quickly arrived at the access lift. Thomas opened the door and ushered Daniel inside. He took a last look round before entering and closing the door.

“We're safe now”, Daniel said brightly.

“Mmm”, Thomas grunted. He pressed the button and they began the slow descent down to the LHC.

* * * * *

Daniel felt a buzz of excitement as he slipped on a pair of protective goggles and entered the Cage once more. His skin prickled and the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. He realised there must still be some residual static charge in the atmosphere.

Despite Thomas' assertion that physicists don't get up early, the giant cavern was bustling with activity. Doctor Llewellyn had already brought his team down to retrieve Reboot, and dozens of technicians in high-vis jackets and thick goggles were checking, repairing and replacing equipment. Daniel watched as three men wrestled a large crane into position on one of the large platforms. He walked onto the platform and peered over the edge.

Down below, on the curved rock floor of the cavern, stood Reboot. Daniel waved without thinking, then remembered that he would get no response.

A ladder gave access from the platform to the cavern floor, and thick cables ran from the crane, down the ladder and across to Reboot. Doctor Llewellyn was down there too, supervising a pair of technicians that were carefully fixing thick padded straps around the large white robot. Llewellyn fussed around them double-checking everything they did, snapping out instructions and explaining everything that was happening. He seemed to be talking to Reboot as much as to the technicians.

Daniel felt a hand on his shoulder. “Come on”, his father said gently. “Let's get to work.”

They walked back to one of the repaired computer stations. Thomas tapped the screen and entered a password. “I've registered this session”, he explained. “So we can make changes to the equations without triggering another lockdown.”

The now-familiar screen opened up showing the simulated wormhole trapped inside a pulsating cloud, and the formula that controlled it scrolling beneath. Daniel looked back over his shoulder, comparing the image on the screen with the glowing ball behind him. It was a pretty good likeness but it did nothing to capture the scale and grandeur of the real thing. The simulation was eye-catching and hypnotic; the wormhole itself was beautiful and terrifying. Even from this casual glance Daniel could feel that strange gravity, the mysterious pull drawing him towards the Nothing at the heart of the hole.

He forced his attention back to the computer screen. His father had opened up the formula ready to start making changes. Thomas looked at Daniel, eyebrows raised.

“Ready?” he asked. Daniel nodded.

Thomas beamed enthusiastically. “OK. That should be a 3, right?” He pointed to one of the numbers. Daniel looked and confirmed the change.

“And that needs to be... 100.”

They continued like this, Thomas pointing out the bits that needed changing, checking that Daniel agreed with every change before making it. With each adjustment the simulation of the Cage updated, becoming clearer and brighter.

Eventually Daniel noticed that the room itself seemed to be growing brighter. He looked back at the wormhole and saw that the changes they were making to the model were being replicated in real life. The feedback loop was working as planned – the wormhole was starting to provide energy to the Cage, powering its own containment field.

Thomas made another adjustment and Daniel watched as the Cage grew brighter still. Many of the technicians had also stopped what they were doing and were watching the Cage or admiring the Armstrongs at work. Doctor Llewellyn and his team were among them, having climbed back up from the cavern floor.

Llewellyn glanced across at the Armstrongs. Daniel gave him a hesitant smile and was pleased to get a smile in return. Maybe he's starting to forgive me, he thought. The scientist turned his attention to the crane, giving the cables a tug. Daniel wondered whether he should go over. He could offer to help. He wanted to apologise, to explain that Reboot had saved his life. He desperately wanted to know whether Reboot would be okay.

“That r-value should be squared”, Thomas said, checking the next part of the formula.

“Mmm-hmm”, Daniel acknowledged without really listening. It was now or never; he was going to go and speak to Doctor Llewellyn –

“No, hang-on!” he shouted, his father's last words finally reaching his conscious mind. “It should be cubed, shouldn't it?”

Thomas snatched his hands away from the computer as though it had suddenly grown hot. “I thought it was squared that was better”, he said.

“No, I'm sure we tried both but the power of three made the phase-shift smoother.”

“How sure?”

Daniel shrugged. “Fairly sure”, he said.

“We need to be more than just fairly sure before we change anything.”

“Pretty sure”, Daniel offered.

His father laughed. Then he grabbed the nearest technician. “Are we connected to the network?” he asked.

“Not yet”, replied the man in the bright yellow vest. “All the terminals were fried by the power surge. We're still replacing them. Could be a while.”

Thomas thanked him, then thought for a moment. “One of us will just have to go back up to get our notes”, he said.

“I really think it was r-cubed”, Daniel said.

“Better to be sure. I'll head back. You want to come? Get some fresh air?”

Daniel looked over at Doctor Llewellyn once more. “I'll stay here thanks Dad.”

Thomas followed his son's gaze. He patted Daniel's shoulder. “Good luck son”, he said, then he turned and left.

Daniel drew a deep breath and stepped up to the platform's edge. Doctor Llewellyn was bent over at the side of the crane, struggling to turn a thick steering wheel. The wheel stuttered round, winding up the cable that snaked down to the straps around Reboot.

Daniel cleared his throat. “Doctor Llewellyn?”

The scientist pulled a lever, locking the wheel in position, then straightened up. “Hello Daniel”, he said, his tone formal but soft.

Daniel looked him in the eyes. “Doctor, I...”, he began, but the words caught in his throat. He looked away, over the edge of the platform, down to where Reboot stood.

“I'm so sorry”, he said. “I should never have left him.”

“No,” Llewellyn corrected him sternly. “What you shouldn't have done is come down here in the first place. It was entering the Cage unsupervised that put you and Reboot in danger. That's why we do the majority of our work from the surface.

“And as for messing with the formula without authorisation – what were you thinking?”

Daniel hung his head. He didn't have an answer.

“But”, Llewellyn continued, his tone softening. “Your father and I knew you wouldn't be able to resist. We knew you'd try to get down here. I'm actually quite impressed that you convinced Reboot so quickly.

“And when the Cage went into lockdown, you impressed me again. You were brave, you stayed calm – and you did the right thing by leaving. If you'd stayed, you'd be dead now.”

Daniel looked up at the old man in surprise.

“Don't get me wrong”, Llewellyn said. “I wish Reboot had been able to make it out as well. But I can fix him. You, I can't.”

“Reboot was brave too”, Daniel said. “He knew he was too big to get out through the vent, but he helped me escape anyway.”

Llewellyn looked down at his creation and smiled, a mixture of pride and sorrow on his face. “I can fix him”, he repeated.

“I'll help”, said Daniel. He bent over and took hold of the wheel. Doctor Llewellyn released the lock and gripped the other side. The wheel turned much easier with two of them and they built up a good rhythm, winding in the cable. They only began to slow once they had taken up all the slack and the cables grew tight and heavy as they pulled against Reboot.

Daniel pulled with both hands, using his own weight to help shift the wheel. He felt his muscles straining and could see Doctor Llewellyn struggling to keep a grip.

Finally, Reboot lurched free of the floor. The crane arm sagged as it took the full weight of the robot. Llewellyn yanked the lever to lock the wheel in place and sat down heavily, panting for breath.

Daniel looked over the side of the platform. Reboot was swinging gently at the end of the cable.

“Wouldn't this be easier with a motorised crane?”, he asked, rubbing his aching arms.

“Yes”, Llewellyn agreed. “I wish we had one.”

Suddenly, Daniel heard a horribly familiar sound – the lockdown alert.

He looked around in horror. His computer terminal hadn't been touched since his father left the Cage. What had triggered the alert this time?

The technicians all dropped what they were doing and began streaming for the exits. One of them grabbed Doctor Llewellyn by the arm and yanked him to his feet. “We have to get out of here!” he screamed.

“Not without Reboot!”

Llewellyn tried to shake himself loose, but the technician held firm and began dragging the scientist along with him.

“I'll get him”, yelled Daniel, sprinting back to the crane. He heaved on the wheel, taking the strain, then kicked the locking lever free. He pulled down with all his strength and the wheel moved a quarter turn. But when he tried to shift his grip to pull again, the wheel slipped back.

Daniel kicked out to lock the wheel once more.

Then he tried again. He released the wheel, turned it, locked it. He shifted his grip, release... turn... lock.

Inch-by-inch Daniel wound up the cable – release... turn... lock.

Reboot's head appeared above the platform's edge – release... turn... lock. Then his shoulders.

It was taking too long. Daniel locked the wheel and looked around. He knew he needed help. Most of the technicians had already fled or were at the exits, too far away to help. Only one remained on this platform, working at a computer terminal with his back to Daniel.

“Hey!”, Daniel shouted. “Could you give me a hand over here?”

The technician didn't respond.

Daniel tried French. “Monsieur – m'aidez?”

The technician glanced up, looking briefly over his shoulder.

“Please!” Daniel shouted. He took a step forward, encouraged. “Er... s'il vous plais?” Another step. “Can you help me... “ He stopped as he noticed something about the technician.

The man had a scar on his left cheek.

Daniel quickly backed up again, bumping against the crane. It can't be, he thought. Questions began racing through his head. Why would he be here? What is he doing? How could he have got into the Cage?

The technician made a final keystroke then faced Daniel. His goggles obscured his eyes, but Daniel was sure he recognised the scar.

Suddenly, the bright blue glow of the plasma ball dimmed. The technician removed his goggles and looked up at the wormhole.

“Smith”, Daniel gasped.

As he stared up at the Nothing, a strange expression crossed Mr. Smith's face – an odd mix of fascination and terror. He seemed to be as transfixed by the wormhole as Daniel had been on his first visit.

Daniel removed his own goggles. The plasma ball that contained the wormhole seemed to be growing dimmer, the sparks of energy moving more slowly across its surface. Worse still, the Nothing at the heart of the ball seemed to be expanding. Daniel realised with horror what was happening – the delicate balance of power had shifted in favour of the wormhole and instead of the hole fuelling the Cage, the Cage was now feeding the wormhole. The emptiness seemed to be growing as it devoured more and more of the power that surrounded it.

Daniel felt the dark gravity of the Nothing pulling on him again. The hole filled his vision and he was drawn towards it. He slipped forwards and fell heavily against the crane.

Hitting the solid metal snapped him back to reality. Reboot was dangling like a fish on a line, perilously close to the expanding edge of the wormhole. Daniel grabbed the crane wheel, kicked the lock free and pulled. Panic sent fresh waves of adrenaline coursing through him, powering his muscles, and he hauled the wheel round without locking it. Reboot was lifted higher and higher, his waist becoming visible, then his legs, then his feet were level with the platform.

Daniel locked the wheel for the final time, then swung the crane arm round, bringing Reboot onto the platform. The robot scraped to safety, his white feet scuffing and denting the metal floor. Daniel grabbed a flat-bed trolley and shoved it into position behind Reboot. He tore at the thick leather belts that secured Reboot to the crane cable, frantically undoing the buckles. Released, Reboot crashed onto the trolley.

The noise seemed to bring Mr. Smith out of his trance. He looked over to where Daniel was straining to move the heavy trolley.

“Please...”, Daniel grunted. “Help... us.”

Mr. Smith turned and ran for the exit.

Daniel hurled abuse after him, trying to fuel his muscles with his anger and frustration. The trolley wheels began to turn. Slowly, agonisingly slowly, it began to move forward.

“Come on!”, Daniel roared. “Come on! Come ON!”

His throat felt as torn as his muscles. The trolley rolled on, beginning to build momentum.

Daniel glanced up to see how far the exit was. Too far.

Smith reached the doorway. He looked back at the wormhole, the plasma ball now almost invisible.

The wormhole continued to expand, growing larger and larger as it feasted on energy.

Daniel felt the pull of the wormhole as if the Nothing was reaching out to him. He focused on the way out, determined to keep moving.

Smith tore his attention away from the hole and looked at Daniel. Their eyes met.

Daniel snarled, forcing himself onwards. He glared at Mr. Smith, using him as a target. Then he saw something – an expression flashed across Smith's face – and in that instant Daniel knew why the man seemed so familiar.

“No way!”, he said.

Suddenly, the cavern was plunged into darkness as the wormhole absorbed the last of the energy from the Cage.

Surprised and disorientated, Daniel slowed and the trolley came to a stop. He swore, tried to get it going again, pushing and straining.

But it was no good. He was exhausted.

He felt the pull inside him again. Too weak to fight it now, he turned and looked into the wormhole, into the heart of the Nothing. He felt as though it was somehow looking back at him. The Nothing grew, faster and wider and deeper until Daniel couldn't see where it ended. It seemed to move towards him and around him. He became light, the aches and pains in his limbs easing as he became weightlessness, the wormhole surrounding him, lifting him, swallowing him, as it had the Cage.

Then he was gone, falling through empty space, turning and tumbling. The last thing Daniel saw before the darkness engulfed him completely was the bright, white shape of Reboot spinning, beside him through the Nothing.

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