Last week we announced that Killer Strangelets (Book 1 – The Arctic6 Adventure Series) by C.T. Furlong is our Kids Corner Book of the Week and the sponsor of our student reviews and of thousands of great bargains in the Kids Book category:
When a powerful scientist turns bad, the outcome can affect the entire planet. Katrina Kreng, a formerly brilliant scientist, is hell bent on revenge. Her plan is to destroy the universe by recreating the Big Bang explosion. When six kid detectives, known as the ARCTIC6, find out that their leader Iago’s father has been kidnapped to facilitate Kreng’s plan they face a race against time to save him and the rest of the world.
This adrenaline packed thriller will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last page.
And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:
Slowly, almost imperceptibly, a satellite twenty two thousand miles above the earth rotates. The technician at ground control enters a command into his computer.
He tries again.
Frustrated, he enters the command for the third time and bashes the return key.
Still no response!
Scratching his head, he consults his emergency manual.
After rifling through several pages, he flicks the book closed, takes off his glasses, and picks up his phone. His finger hovers over the number pad. He almost cannot believe what he is about to say.
After scratching his head a few more times, he finally accepts that he has no choice. He dials his boss’s number. ‘Um…sir…we’ve got a situation here. I’ve got a rotation and I…um…can’t seem to stop it.’
‘What do you mean, you can’t stop it?’ shouts the supervisor.
‘Well, we don’t seem to be in control of its movements, sir!’
‘Well, who the hell is then?’ barks his superior.
‘The signal…it seems to be coming from everywhere.’
‘That’s just not possible.’
‘I know, sir, but you should see it. It’s unbelievable!’
We’ve come so far that I just can’t believe we’re going to fail. But — the truth is, if you don’t help us, then we will fail. And honestly, if you listen to what I have to tell you, failure is just not an option. It’s not only my life that’s on the line here. And it isn’t yours either! This isn’t about just saving the planet. I know how absurd this is going to sound but…it’s actually the fate of the universe that I’m worried about.
Believe me, I can imagine what you’re thinking — how could I, Iago Johnson, a) know anything about the fate of the universe and, b) be in any kind of position to influence it.
Let me get some things straight first: I’m not a superhero. Nor am I a genius. I’m not even very good at science — although luckily for me, my cousin Renny is.
Anyway, here I am, stuck in this computer room. It could be anywhere; semi-dark, stuffy and filled with computer towers, their tiny lights flashing, sending trivial bits of information to another computer somewhere else on the planet. There are times though, when those tiny bits of information can change the world. And this is one of those times!
Oh, and it’s YOUR tiny bit of information that could change the world. You could make the difference. YOU could be the saviour of the universe.
You’d be right to think that no one person can make that much difference. One human being on their own cannot help me, but every one of you that does is a link in a chain, a mile on a road, a foot on a bridge. That’s why I don’t just need your help. I need you to pass this message on to your friends, your family — anyone you can really. It has to be the strongest bridge in the world. It’ll need to be if it’s to save all our lives.
I‘m in the computer room at CERN — the European Organisation for Nuclear Research centre in Switzerland. This place has been around for a long time. I don’t know much about what they do here, but here’s what I do know…they are working on recreating the birth of the universe. They’re not running at full power yet, but they say they’ve seen some mini Big Bangs. Who knows what might happen when they’re running at full steam — they might create a big Big Bang.
Here at CERN, they have built a 27 km circular tunnel, running under the Swiss mountains. It’s called the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).
In different circumstances I’d be telling you that it’s actually quite amazing when you see it up close. The biggest magnets you can imagine, connected together, all perfectly aligned so that protons can be whizzed around the tunnel in opposite directions, eventually crashing into each other and causing — you guessed it — a mini BIG BANG.
The problem is that a mini Big Bang is only one of the effects of smashing protons together. There are others, maybe not as spectacular and newsworthy, but they’re deadly, deadly dangerous. Let me tell you how I know! But first, I need to tell you how I came to know it…
It started out like any other Friday. Mum had already drifted in and out of our morning. Dad scurried down the stairs, on his phone as usual, waving goodbye as he closed the door with his foot. I grabbed my sports bag and Aretha picked up her violin case. As we raced out the door Dad was still in the driveway, fumbling in his jacket pocket for his keys.
‘Yeah, listen,’ he was saying to whoever was on the other end of the phone, ‘this deal gives you the best of everything. Online music is here to stay, and a small percentage of something is better than a big percentage of nothing at all.’ That deal made sense,even to me!
Dad works for a big music company. My sister is named after Aretha Franklin. And my mum runs a theatre company. You won’t be surprised to hear that I’m named after some villain from Shakespeare.
‘Bye Dad,’ said Aretha, hugging him before running to the car where Silke, our exchange student, was just starting the engine. I jumped in the passenger side and Silke drove off. She honked the horn twice as she passed Dad. I can still see his hair blowing and a slow smile on his lips as he waved and turned, slipping into his convertible.
‘Hold on tight,’ said Silke, grinning as she put her foot down. Aretha looked at me, a hint of fear in her eyes. Silke’s driving could be a bit scary.
Apart from her driving Silke’s great. Her dad is some mega-rich Swiss banker that Dad has known for years. To be honest, at first we were dreading meeting her. We thought that anyone that mega rich was bound to be a bit, well — stuck up. But we actually have a lot of fun together. The only thing she really has to do is drop us at school in the morning and take us round to Uncle Jonas and Aunt Meg’s after school. Uncle Jonas is Dad’s identical twin. But as far as personalities go, they couldn’t be more different!
We got to school more or less on time.
Slamming on the brakes at the last minute, Silke stopped just inches behind Uncle Jonas’s beaten up old Volvo estate. Henry, their huge golden retriever, woofed at us from the back.
His tail wagged like crazy; he was hoping that this was going to be a fun day out. Poor Henry! Wait ‘til he realised that he wasn’t coming with us. There’d be disappointed drool all over the boot!
My cousins spilled out of the car — Cam first, then Renny, and finally Tara. Uncle Jonas struggled with his seatbelt. For an incredibly clever man he could be a bit useless. I put my stuff down and went to help him.
‘Ah Iago, old boy! Thanks a million. I’m really all fingers and thumbs today. It’s so exciting, you see!’
‘See what, Uncle Jonas?’
‘Oh, I can’t say too much, your father would go mad.’
‘What would Dad possibly have to go mad about?’ I asked.
Uncle Jonas took my arm and pulled me alongside him as we walked away from the car and the others. ‘Well, you know the book I’ve been working on?’
‘Y-yes,’ I stammered. He had mentioned it to me several times, but for the life of me, I couldn’t remember what it was about. Something about the universe was all I could remember…at the time!
‘Well, I told your Dad about it and he said that, although it wasn’t his thing, he could pass it on to a few contacts he had in the publishing world.’
‘Wow, great news Uncle Jonas! Is someone going to publish your book?’
‘No!’ he replied, with a wink and a grin. ‘More incredible than that…someone wants to buy the movie rights!’
‘Pheeuuww!’ I whistled.
‘We’re having a meet today.’ He chuckled, pleased with being able to use Dad’s lingo.
‘So, where’s this meet going down?’ I teased.
He completely missed my joke. Touching his nose, he winked, replying, ‘Chez Fred, four o’clock. So I’ve got a bit of time to get ready. Your dad says I can’t go looking like this and I haven’t got anything else, so he lent me a suit.’ I looked down at his scruffy shorts and sandals and nodded my head.
‘I’d have to agree with him on that.’
I checked my watch.
‘You’re in good hands, Uncle Jonas,’ I said, then ran at full speed towards the school doors.
‘I know! I know!’ he shouted after me.
I just heard the squeal of his tyres before the school doors closed behind me. Uncle Jonas drove the way he dressed…badly!
School that day was fairly normal. You know — way too much maths for anyone with a life! I hung around the corridor with Cam and Charlie at break-time. My cousin can be a bit sulky, but Charlie…well, she’s just Charlie. She’s really clever but she’s also funny and cool! Charlie and Cam have been friends since as long as they can remember. Charlie loves running. We’re both on the athletics team and I’ve seen her run. She can fly!
‘So, do you two want to come with me to The BluePool later?’ she asked. Charlie loves tropical fish. ‘They’ve got this beautiful new sea horse. It’s yellow on the body with blue fins. It’s so lovely …’
Cam and I looked at each other and shuffled our feet a bit. Neither of us said a word. I focussed on rubbing imaginary specks of dirt from the side of one shoe with the other.
‘Oh, I suppose you two have got something way more interesting to do — like saving the planet or something?’
‘Just not that into sea horses Charl’,’ said Cam.
‘It’s OK, I understand,’ she said, turning her back to us. She began to walk away, slowly.
‘OK, I’ll come!’ I blurted out. She had only taken three steps but I couldn’t stop myself.
‘Great!’ she grinned, running back and hugging me. I felt a bit embarrassed and from her reaction so did she. She sort of jumped backwards, and picked at a speck of fluff on her sweatshirt.
‘I suppose I’ll come along too then,’ said Cam. He knew he didn’t really have a choice unless he wanted to hang around with Aretha and Tara.
Renny would be busy, down by the ditch at the edge of the playing field, checking up on his frog-breeding experiment. Apparently, in the spring, he had taken some dark green frogs from the pond in the woods at the back of their house. He had set them free in the ditch near school, where the frogs were a bit more yellow. He had been monitoring the frogspawn on a daily basis to see if he had created a new hybrid. Renny was definitely like his Dad — a massive nerd!
‘Where you going?’ called Aretha, spotting us as we headed for the main gate.
‘BluePool,’ I replied.
‘Can we come too?’
‘Don’t you and Tara want to hang around with your friends?’ I didn’t really want them tagging along.
‘We promise we’ll be really quiet,’ whispered Tara cheekily.
‘Like two tiny mice, scurrying along behind you,’ added Aretha.
‘Alright,’ said Cam, making the decision, ‘but one peep and you’re on your own!’
‘Yes, sir!’ said the two girls loudly, saluting Cam as they walked past.
‘Someone better tell Renny where we’re going then,’ I said.
‘I will,’ shouted Charlie over her shoulder, as she sprinted towards the ditch. I held out my phone and was about to say, ‘I’ll call him,’ but then I decided it was much more interesting to watch Charlie run …
‘So Renny, you decided to come along too!’ I was teasing.
‘Research purposes,’ he mumbled, looking shyly at Charlie. Charlie smiled and Renny blushed. Then he started babbling about genetic characteristics and dominant traits. Charlie didn’t seem to mind — she loves science too.
We arrived at The BluePool more or less together.
‘Oh wow!’ cooed Tara, when Charlie showed her the sea horse.
No matter how much I liked Charlie, I just couldn’t find sea horses interesting. I skulked up to the next tank. Renny went somewhere down the back of the shop to check out the ugly fish. Cam and I were soon bored and decided to go hang about outside the shop to wait for the others.
As we stood with our hands in our pockets, kicking at pebbles, a pretty ordinary looking silver saloon car sped past us and screeched to a halt outside a restaurant a bit further up the street.
‘Sounds like your dad’s driving that,’ I laughed.
‘Yeah — does!’ chuckled Cam.
‘Isn’t that Chez Fred?’ I said, almost to myself.
‘No idea,’ replied Cam. ‘Why?’
‘Your dad told me he had a meeting there today.’
Cam shrugged. I resumed my pebble kicking.
The sound of someone shouting came from the direction of the restaurant. I turned back to see three men jump out of the car. They raced forward, grabbed some guy who’d been sitting on the terrace outside the restaurant and dragged him away. The other people at the table stood up to protest, but something made them sit back down. Cam looked at me, a frown crossing his face. ‘Something’s not right here!’
‘Not much we can do though!’ I said. ‘Do you think we should call the police?’ I fumbled for my phone. For some reason my hand seemed to be moving in slow motion. I dialled the emergency number.
None of the diners moved a muscle as the men ran back to the car with their prisoner. The engine started up before the doors closed and the car came screeching back towards where we were standing. On instinct, Cam and I backed towards the shelter of The BluePool’s revolving door. Just before we slipped back inside, I caught a glimpse of the captive in the back seat. The man with the gun pressed against the side of his head looked very, very familiar.
I shook my head.
It couldn’t be.
Then Cam said, ‘Was that your dad?’
For some reason the air stopped getting to my lungs.
Cam thumped me on the back and I started breathing again. At first I just stood there, gasping, as if oxygen would make everything all right. Finally, once in control of my breathing, I lifted my head to face Cam.
‘You all right?’ he asked.
A procession of blurred images passed in front of my eyes.
‘I…I…don’t know,’ I said, wiping my eyes. Was the blurring caused by welling tears?
I felt rooted to the ground. I couldn’t imagine what I should do next. I couldn’t imagine doing anything at all, actually. I’m not sure if Cam sensed my paralysis, but he took the phone from my hand and asked for the police. Through a fog I heard him try to explain what had just happened. It sounded like a weird dream sequence. Maybe I would wake up eventually.
‘Come on,’ said Cam, leading me toward the scene of the crime.
As we reached the restaurant, I saw Uncle Jonas sit down heavily and bury his face in his hands.
Cam yelled, ‘Dad, what the hell just happened?’ Uncle Jonas sat slumped forward, elbows on the small metal table, shaking his head.
‘I…I…don’t know,’ he replied. ‘I just went to the car, to get some papers I’d forgotten and then …’ His head dropped on to the table.
‘Can someone tell us what just happened?’ I asked, the hazy dream evaporating. I looked around the table at the moviepeople.
‘Sit down son,’ said one of them gently. He held out his hand. ‘My name is Artie and I’ve known your dad for a long time. This must be some kind of mix-up. I’m sure this will all be sorted out in no time.’ He patted my arm, comfortingly. I wanted to scream at this patronising idiot, but Uncle Jonas stood up suddenly.
‘No it won’t!’ his voice quivered, as he tried to control some inner monster. Banging his fists on the table his face turned a livid red, deep white frown lines slicing across his forehead.
‘This is all my fault,’ he said. ‘I shouldn’t have dragged Greg into this. But…how was I to know that this was going to happen? I wish I’d never gotten involved in that project!’
‘What are you talking about, Dad?’ asked Cam, a bit calmer now.
Uncle Jonas looked up at him. The anger suddenly disappeared and he shook his head, mumbling, ‘… the project at CERN.’
‘You mean the LHC project?’ probed Cam, gently.
‘What’s the LHC?’ I asked.
The Large Hadron Collider,’ answered Cam, turning his face towards me, it’s…well…I think it’s better if Dad explains what it is.’
‘You remember the project I’ve been working on at CERN?’ Uncle Jonas began.
‘Wait, wait,’ I said, gripping my head in both hands. The thudding seemed quieter like this. ‘I know you’ve told me before but…well, I’m finding it hard to just breathe right now. Please remind me exactly what the Large Hadron Collider does. And more importantly, what on earth it has got to do with my dad being kidnapped?’
Uncle Jonas sat up straight and began, ‘The LHC is a giant particle accelerator.’
‘Stop, stop!’ I yelled. ‘What is a particle accelerator?’
‘It does what it says on the tin — it accelerates particles!’
I must have looked annoyed at his humour because he frowned apologetically.
‘OK,’ he continued, ‘a particle accelerator sends little pieces of matter, in this case protons, around a very long tunnel, at very high speeds.’
‘And, why would you want to do that?’ I asked, playing devil’s advocate.
‘Well, if you send protons spinning around it in opposite directions, you can cause them to crash.’ Here he smashed his fists together for effect. We all got the picture.
‘And, causing protons to crash is exciting because…?’ I said.
‘Because, that’s what happened at the birth of the universe.’
‘The birth of the universe?’
‘Yes — just moments after the Big Bang.’
‘Wait, let me just get this straight: this LHC can recreate the Big Bang?’
‘Well, not exactly,’ he replied, flustered. ‘Just a mini Big Bang.’
‘You mean — the birth of the universe, only smaller?’ I probed. ‘Isn’t that just a tiny bit dangerous?’
‘A tiny bit,’ he said, ‘But …’ He rubbed his eyes.
A chill ran down my spine.
‘There were always other potential dangerous side effects to crashing protons together, like microscopic black holes and matter-annihilating particles.’
‘What exactly are matter-annihilating particles?’ I asked.
Uncle Jonas looked around the table. The movie people nodded. It seemed like everyone wanted him to carry on.
Taking a deep breath, he said, ‘They destroy matter!’
He let it hang. And it did. Nobody moved, but nervous electricity smouldered in the air.
‘For real?’ asked a now sweating Artie.
‘For so long, everything was only theoretical. As I said, the collider has not been run at full power yet. I’ve always been a bit worried about what might happen if the power of the LHC were to fall into the wrong hands. So…I designed a fail-safe, a sort of emergency off-switch. My role in the LHC design was small, but important.’ He looked from one to the other of us, checking that we all understood.
‘Basically — my fail-safe can shut down the entire operation!’
He paused, deep furrows developing between his eyebrows. ‘You see, I didn’t trust all of my colleagues. You know how it is. We were all supposed to be working together, but scientists are very competitive. You don’t win a Nobel Prize for helping someone else to discover something great. No one remembers the name of the scientist who nearly discovered e=mc2. You have to be the first…the One!
When I started working at CERN, I wanted to take things more slowly than some of my colleagues. We were talking about recreating the birth of the universe — a mini Big Bang, amongst other things.’ Inhaling deeply he carried on, ‘I fought my corner for many years and eventually all of my colleagues, except one, agreed to slow down the timetable until we were sure of the theory. That’s what I’ve been working on for the last year or so — theoretical modelling of high-speed collisions.’
‘What does that mean, Uncle Jonas?’ I asked.
‘It’s kind of like a computer simulation. I do thousands and thousands of imaginary collisions inside my computer to see what will happen.
My colleagues have been working on the other anomalies we might encounter. Mini Big Bangs are the least of our concerns. And, if there is an instability…’
‘You mean…a black hole?’ I asked.
‘Yes, Iago. A black hole.’
‘Why don’t you just call it a black hole, then?’
‘Because, it makes people worried. Anyway, if we do see a black hole, it should be so small that it fades away, or collapses almost immediately.
The other possible side effects of the LHC could be more dangerous…in the wrong hands.’
‘How does all this lead to my dad being abducted?’ I asked, shaking my head.
He closed his eyes in frustration as he battled to control himself. ‘One of my colleagues, Katarina Kreng, couldn’t accept our terms and quit — promising revenge.’ He looked around at us, his expression changing.
‘We never heard anything more from her. After a while, we sort of forgot about her.’
He dropped his gaze and began shaking his head. ‘But after what happened this morning, and now this…I’m sure she’s up to something!’
‘What do you mean this morning?’ I snapped.
‘Iago, I’m sorry. I had no idea that I would drag your father into this. But I should have realised. How could I have missed the connection?’
Uncle Jonas was quiet for a few moments, deep in thought, his eyes darting back and forth. After a while, he took a deep breath.
‘It started with a strange phone call yesterday. It was from my old friend Bombay Bob. Bob and I go back a very long way. In fact, we met on the first day of term in the Chemistry Lab. Bob accidentally spilled hydrochloric acid on my shoe. We laughed as tiny holes began to appear in my new leather brogues. Then my foot started to feel a bit hot, so I quickly undid my shoe and shucked it off. You could see all the way through to the sole. Lucky I hadn’t worn my Converse that day, or we might not be such good friends. A pair of shoes can be replaced; a foot’s a bit trickier!’
He smiled wistfully. ‘Those were the days; me, Bob and Hali O’ Gorman did everything together. We even ended up working together!’ He looked off into the distance, reliving old memories.
‘And?’ I said, dragging him back to the present.
‘Well,’ he continued, ‘one of the reasons I thought the phone call was strange was because it was just that…it was a direct call to my landline. Who uses that method of communication these days? Apart from your grandmother, of course!’ He looked at both Cam and I.
‘Anyway, Bob said that something had gone wrong with the security systems and that there was a lockout at CERN. He’d been sent home — something to do with the security grid not accepting passes. Since it was Friday, most of them were happy to take the day off and enjoy a long weekend. He was going to take the train up the mountainside. He’d heard there was a beer brewed up there, which could only be drunk at that altitude. Apparently, if you take it back down the mountain, it goes flat.
He’d left everything behind, including his laptop, so he was calling from a payphone at a café. He seemed fine. He said the sun was shining and he was having fun.’
‘Dad, that all sounds normal to me. Why do you think that has anything to do with what happened to Uncle Greg?’ asked Cam.
‘On its own, a security lockout at CERN doesn’t really mean anything, but the combination of that and the email should have started some bells ringing.’
‘What email, Uncle Jonas?’
‘Well, this email,’ he replied, swivelling his laptop around so we could all see. The subject line read, ‘The Killer Strangelets need you!’
Uncle Jonas continued, ‘At first, I thought it was from one of my colleagues, just a silly joke mail. When I opened it I saw that it was just an invitation to a gig tonight in Geneva. The “Killer Strangelets” are some rock band! I thought it was a coincidence, that’s all.’
‘OK, I’m still not with you, Uncle Jonas. What does this have to do with your work or your colleagues…or my dad?’ I was starting to get a bit annoyed.
Uncle Jonas looked at me sadly. ‘I’m such a fool, Iago. Creating Killer Strangelets was the potential side effect of our experiments that Katarina Kreng had an unnatural fascination with. Killer Strangelets occur when the protons used in the experiment are separated into quarks and gluons. Some of these quarks can become “strange”. You don’t need to know how this all happens, but if these “strange quarks” become negatively charged they could, in theory, gobble up matter. It would be like a chain reaction. In the blink of an eye, the universe would disappear.’
I slumped down into a chair as the shock waves of what Uncle Jonas had explained went through my brain. How could tiny protons, being smashed together cause the universe and all life to disappear? I couldn’t get my head around it! I could see Cam squeezing his eyes shut, trying to work it out too. Cam was better at science than me, so I was glad to see him struggling.
‘OK,’ I began. ‘I think it’s going to take me a while to get my brain to understand all of this but I still have one question: why on earth did they take my dad?’
‘Just a stupid mistake,’ replied Uncle Jonas. ‘I had forgotten some papers and ran back to the car to get them. When I got here, they were driving off with Greg. They must have had a photo of me. If only Greg and I weren’t identical twins!’
‘But what does this Kreng woman want with you?’
‘I’m guessing that she just wants me out of the picture. I’m the only one who knows where the fail-safe is and how to arm it. The truth is, if I’m not around, she can potentially…well…end life as we know it!’
‘Um — hellooo! Iago! It’s me. Can you see me?’
Sorry, it’s Aretha. Just got to check on how they’re doing. Won’t take a minute …
‘Hey little sis’, how are you? Where’s Tara? I can’t see her.’
‘She’s OK. She’s just behind me. Why did we have to get the rubbish job, Iago?’
‘Don’t moan, Aretha. Remember what Charlie’s going through right now!’
‘OK, OK, I suppose I am feeling a bit sorry for myself. It’s just that we have been hanging around here forever. I don’t know if I can drink another milkshake, ever again.’
‘Aretha, if I could think of another way, I would. You have to wait until you get the go ahead from Renny. Your job might be boring, but it’s absolutely critical. If we can’t get the message out, then we fail! And failure’s not an option. There won’t be a second chance!’
‘Yes, I know. Aretha, over and out…Oh, wait. Tara wants to have a word.’
‘Tara — what is it? What did you want to say?’
‘Oh, um — any word from Cam recently?’
‘No, nor Renny. But I’m sure I’ll hear any minute now. I’ll let you know as soon as I do.’
‘Hope they’re both OK.’
‘Me too, Tar’…’
‘OK Iago, Talk to you later!’
‘Be patient and keep an eye on Aretha. She seems down.’
‘Will do, Cuz. Tara, over and out!’
‘So! Some rogue scientist, who may want to destroy the universe, has taken my dad?’ I stammered. A horrible feeling of terror swept over me. I wanted to scream, like a baby. I needed help, but the one person I could usually count on was not able to help me. It was him who needed the help.
‘Well,’ said Cam, ‘what are we going to do to get him back, Dad?’ He paced back and forth in front of his father.
Uncle Jonas frowned. ‘I don’t know what the right thing to do is. If I don’t give myself up, who knows what she’ll do to him. But if I do…’ He scratched his head.
‘The fail-safe override thing,’ said Cam, ‘she’ll get it out of you eventually.’
‘But if you don’t hand yourself over,’ I said, ‘she’ll torture Dad or use him to get to you.’
This was a no win situation. My pain was turning to anger now.
‘There’s no solution then,’ said Uncle Jonas, sagging.
I didn’t respond for a few seconds; an idea was ping-ponging around in my head.
‘Then we don’t play her game!’ I said.
‘What do we do then?’ asked Cam.
‘We come up with a plan of our own. We take it to her. We force her hand.’ I was feeling very brave now. I didn’t know how we were going to do it, but we were going to stop this woman and whoever was helping her and rescue my father.
Then my well-laid plans went awry! The police arrived.
‘You’ll need to come with us, Mr Johnson,’ said one of them to Uncle Jonas. His colleague looked around at the others. ‘We need to question you all at the station.’
‘Hey sonny, what the heck do you think you’re doing?’ said Artie. ‘Do you know who I am?’
‘It doesn’t really matter who you are, sir,’ the policeman replied calmly. ‘You’ve been witness to an abduction and we need to speak to all of you,…at the station and in private.’ Here he looked at me and Cam.
‘Please follow Officer Deakin,’ said the policeman.
‘Uncle Jonas…’ I half whispered. Then the lightning bolt struck my brain and terror froze my limbs. I realised that without Uncle Jonas there was no way on earth we would ever find my dad.
‘Hssssss…Not sure where…heading south…think!’
Hang on…I think that might be Cam!
‘Cam, Cam — Is that you? I can’t see anything. Just some blurred lines and a lot of out of focus objects.’
‘… hear something…talking…ask …’
‘Cam, are you running? Stop running, for heaven’s sake!’
‘Please try again, Cam…’
As the police led Uncle Jonas and the others to the police car, Renny came running towards us. Never surprised by anything, he coolly asked, ‘What’s going on with Dad then?’
‘Jeez Renny, show some emotion,’ said Cam. ‘Dad’s being taken away by the police for questioning about some scientist who’s trying to take control of the Large Hadron Collider and Uncle Greg’s been abducted!’
‘Hey, don’t take it out on me,’ said Renny.
‘He’s right Cam,’ I said, taking his elbow, ‘it’s not his fault.’
Then, totally out of character, Renny ran towards his father shouting, ‘Daaad — don’t let them take you too!’ Cam and I looked at each other, confused.
It was true that Renny and his dad shared some kind of scientific bond but, well, like I said, Renny didn’t show emotion. Not even when one of his pets died. And he had buried many. He said that he saw the ‘bigger picture’ of life and that you couldn’t feel sad about every creature that came to an untimely end.
Uncle Jonas turned back towards his son. Renny threw his arms around his father’s neck. Their heads were almost locked together with Uncle Jonas’s on the outside, away from the policeman who was by his side. I noticed that Uncle Jonas’s lips were moving. He was whispering something to Renny.
Finally, Renny unlocked his arms and the policeman led Uncle Jonas away. Tears were rolling down Renny’s face as he turned back towards us. My heart sank.
But, as soon as his back was to the policemen, he grinned and winked at Cam and I. It was all we could do to keep straight faces. Renny was such a ham actor.
He sidled up to us and mumbled casually, ‘Walk with me guys!’
We followed him back to The BluePool, where the girls were just coming out through the revolving doors. Charlie, who had been laughing, stopped suddenly, a frown crossing her brow as she saw the expression on my face. Her eyes searched mine.
‘What’s going on?’ Aretha’s voice was overly loud in the dead silence.
‘Just follow us,’ I hissed as I passed.
‘Iago, I don’t think I like your tone,’ she huffed.
I walked back and, taking her hand in mine, I looked down into her bright blue eyes.
‘Please Charlie,’ I whispered, ‘just follow me.’
‘What is it?’ she asked. Now she could see the fear and anger in my eyes. She knew I was serious.
‘Not in front of the others,’ I said, looking towards Aretha and Tara.
‘Come on ladies,’ she said and she smiled sweetly back over her shoulder at the girls.
Turning on her heel, she grabbed my arm, dragging me forward.
‘What’s going on?’ she whispered.
‘Dad’s been abducted and Uncle Jonas has been taken away by the police for questioning. That just sounds so ridiculous when I say it — I won’t blame you if you don’t believe me.’
‘Iago, you’re scaring me. You’re not making any sense.’ She took a step back and stared at me.
My head drooped and, I felt like a child. Charlie could do that to me. She could see through me. In her eyes, I could see the person I really was, not the person I was pretending to be. She just knew me somehow.
I don’t mean she knew what my favourite song was or how many times I hit snooze on my alarm clock in the morning (at least four FYI) but she knew me on the inside. Sometimes that scared me.
Cam interrupted, ‘For heaven’s sake, we’ll never get anywhere if you two keep staring into each other’s eyes.’
Cam could sometimes be like that — I knew it was because he had a crush on Charlie too.
‘Cam, you insensitive yeti!’ snapped Charlie. Her eyes flashed angrily and she turned her face away from him with a ‘Hmmmphhh!’
Renny started to speak quietly. At first, we almost didn’t pay attention to him. He tended to babble a bit and we were used to his ramblings. This time though, something was different. He just kept repeating the same series of colours: ‘Blue, green, blue, blue, green, orange, white, black, black, brown, red.’
‘Renny, are you all right?’ laughed Tara. Then she frowned as she watched her brother.
‘This is weird…even for Renny,’ she said, sighing. Although she didn’t know what was going on, she sensed the tension in the atmosphere. None of us were in the mood for one of Renny’s jokes.
Aretha walked up to Renny and began to stroke his arm tenderly. Aretha is such a sweet person. She’s always concerned about other people and her gentleness works on everyone, including Renny. ‘Rens,’ she started softly ‘are you upset? Is that why you keep repeating the colours? Does it comfort you?’
‘PEN,’ shouted Renny between ‘green’ and ‘orange’. He carried on repeating the colour sequence. Aretha jumped back, surprised. She fumbled in her bag and found her pen. It was luminous pink with feathers at the top.
‘Sorry, it’s all I’ve got,’ she apologised, passing it to him.
He raised his eyebrows crossly as he took the pen, still reciting his colour sequence like a mantra. Then he began to mime drawing movements in the air.
Aretha looked back confused. ‘Oh, paper …’ she said, as the penny dropped. She pulled out some paper and Renny grabbed it from her hand.
‘Renny!’ she cried, ‘there’s no need to be rude.’
‘Sorry Cuz,’ Renny smiled when he’d written down the last colour. Then he turned to look at us. We were all silent. Renny grinned. This was the first time ever in his life that he was totally in control. He had all our attention and he crossed his arms, savouring the moment. A little too long, as it happened!
Cam launched himself angrily towards Renny, growling. I held him back with one arm. Renny looked at his older brother. He knew how much he annoyed Cam. He knew his moment was over.
‘Alright, alright!’ he began. ‘The colour code is the key to Dad’s fail-safe mechanism.’
‘What on earth are we supposed to do with that information?’ asked Charlie, confused. I looked around at the faces of my cousins and my friend.
I stared at Cam. He nodded his head. I couldn’t bring myself to say it — it seemed ridiculous. No, I wasn’t going to even suggest it. Then I looked at Aretha. In her scared, confused eyes, I saw my dad. From somewhere down deep in my stomach, a seed of courage fought its way out.
‘We’re going to…help Dad!’ I said, sounding braver than I felt.
‘Whoo-hoo!’ shouted Renny, as he punched the air.
‘ARCTIC 6 — on a mission!’
None of us had any idea what Renny was on about, but then no one ever did!