A Novel For Young Readers (8-14)
An ordinary boy is targeted at his primary school by evil war criminals from the future, who want to stop him becoming the first president of a world government run by children.
Sparks! Burning metal embers cascade from a white-hot control panel, reflecting on the stainless steel walls of a narrow corridor. Helmeted, armoured figures pile into each other as they reach a heavy steel airlock door punctuated by a small window of reinforced glass. Realising the door is locked, they settle into combat stance.
‘Unlock the Barrier!’ barks a young female voice from the rear of the corridor. The first armoured figure taps on the controls with no result, then tries to barge the door, only managing to injure his shoulder.
‘It’s jammed, ma’am.’
‘Protectors, stand down. White Knight, move in. MOVE IN!’
A slender woman in a black bodysuit weaves between the armoured figures as they stand to attention and turn to let her pass. From a black belt she retrieves a small disc-shaped object. She places it on the centre of the door. Tendrils of light fan out from the disc in branching geometric lines. The lines of light turn red as the steel of the door melts. The door collapses in a pile of acidic vapour. Beyond the door is a large room. The room is almost filled by a giant copper ring, half a metre thick, sitting just above the floor. As lightning discharges from the ring to the steel walls of the chamber, a black pod with circular windows is starting to spin inside the ring. It rotates faster, and the lightning discharges lick at the pod, causing it to glow.
‘All Protectors move in!’
The Protectors enter. Two are hit by lightning discharges and fall to the floor. The figure in black shields herself with her arm and peers towards the pod.
‘Gisler!’ she screams. ‘One of them is Gisler!’
Her screams are drowned by the deafening noise of the machine. The pod spins until it becomes a blur. It glows white and then winks out of existence.
‘Quick,’ says the female voice, which belongs to a young girl dressed in a white jumpsuit. ‘Get the readout. We need to know the destination’.
The White Knight runs over to a sphere in the corner of the chamber, and runs her hand over it. She closes her eyes and her eyelids flutter as she receives the information.
‘Timestamp 1507766400. In the 1500 million range, indicates late 2017. Geo is
33.9051° S, 151.1551° E. Oh my god.’
‘What? What is it? Where did they go?’
‘They’ve gone back. Back in time. The timeline’s in danger.’
The girl in white lowers her head.
‘That’s not all, Madame President,’ whispers the White Knight.
‘The time, the place. Late 2017, suburbs of what used to be Sydney, Australia.’
‘The Three. The Summit.’
‘Yes,’ confirms the White Knight.
‘We must pursue them.’
‘But the timeline – ‘
‘I know,’ interrupts the young President. ‘But the risk of losing the Three is greater. Think of what the world would be without them.’
‘I will go.’
‘I expected nothing less from the White Knight. You will need to leave immediately.’
‘We’ll need Congress approval to use the Torus. It could take days.’
‘No, we have to stop them now. I’ll create an Executive Order. ’
‘I’ll need help. Rhors is probably with him. I can’t handle both of them with my bare hands. I think we should talk to James.’
‘See him. But you need to be gone within thirty kilosecs.’
‘I won’t let you down, Madame President. I’ll stop them. I’ll find the children. I won’t return until I do.’
The President looks up and stares directly into the White Knight’s eyes.
‘If you don’t stop them, there won’t be anywhere to return to.’
The White Knight nods, sets her jaw and runs out of the chamber. For a while the President keeps staring at the empty space where the capsule was spinning just moments ago, then she turns and quietly steps back through the airlock door.
‘Jimmy! Jimmy Della Cuore! You know you are supposed to hold your recorder against your chin when you’re not playing. Now, let’s try Springtime In the Trees again’.
Jimmy sighed. He really liked music, but somehow Miss Noori managed to take all the fun out of it. She was deaf in one ear and always had lots of bangles on her arms and big earrings that made it look like her ears were going to drop off. The recorder lessons were dreaded by every student at Fingleton Primary School. It was more like being in the army than playing music. Jimmy had hoped that when he got to Year 5 they might move onto another instrument, something less – ordinary. He had been at Fingleton Primary School for five and a half years now, and he had just about had enough of ordinary. It wasn’t just the recorder lessons. Everything at Fingleton was a bit ordinary. The buildings were ordinary, the playground was ordinary, and the teachers were, well, ordinary.
Earlier today, the whole school had been sitting in the hall where the after-lunch assembly had been run by the Principal, Mr. Frankfurt. Mr. Frankfurt usually had a voice like a booming cannon – Jimmy could tell that he liked the fact that he didn’t have to use the microphone in the hall. He called it ‘projection.’ Today, however, Mr. Frankfurt had had a ‘lurgie’ in his throat and sounded more like a rasping zombie than a principal. As he had put down the microphone to cough into his fist, he had dropped the merit awards and the whole school had laughed at him. Jimmy thought that was unfair. Mr. Frankfurt was all right, just a bit boring like all the other teachers: Mrs. Clifford in Year One, who was the size of an elephant and snorted like one when she tried not to laugh at Mr. Frankfurt; Mr. Panopolous in Year Six, who wore his glasses on the end of his nose and said ‘true’ instead of ‘yes’ when you asked him a question; Miss Lilyfield in Kindy, who was a bit nervous and shy, and fidgeted and looked sideways every so often. Then there was Mr. Delacruz, the sports teacher, who missed the punchline to every joke and needed someone to explain them to him.
There was only one teacher that Jimmy really liked at Fingleton – Miss Veber. She had only arrived this year, and luckily she had become the new Year 5 teacher. The old Year 5 teacher, Mrs. Sham, had quit suddenly in Term 1. It was whispered amongst some of the parents that she had won the lottery and bought a huge house on the other side of the city. Jimmy was sure he had heard her mutter, ‘So long, suckers!’ on her way out the door on her last day.
Miss Veber was very different to Mrs Sham, and very different to all the other teachers at Fingleton. On the first day she walked into the Fingleton playground wearing a black leather jacket, a fitted skirt and smart boots. She was somehow glamorous, and all the students mouthed a silent ‘wow’. But Miss Veber wasn’t all looks. She met each student at lines one by one, looked them directly in the eye and shook their hand. She spoke softly, but firmly. Jimmy could tell instantly that Miss Veber was not too strict, but that she would not tolerate nonsense. The students of 5V soon learned that she had a wicked sense of humour, and she could hear a pin drop on the other side of the playground. She was exciting to be around. Everyone wanted to have her as their teacher.
In the first week of the year, Jimmy had been astounded by how organised Miss Veber was. She always planned her lessons ahead, and always knew what time it was down to the second. She was very talented in many areas. Unusually for a Fingleton teacher she could keep up with – and even beat – the fastest kids on the track; but unlike other talented people Jimmy knew, she didn’t have a big head. She was kind to the other teachers and to all the students, and never looked down on anyone. She knew lots and lots about foreign countries: geography was one of her favourite subjects. She always complained that school didn’t teach kids enough about the real world.
As the year progressed, Jimmy decided that Miss Veber was definitely his favourite teacher. He also began to suspect that he was one of Miss Veber’s favourite students. Whenever she asked the class a question like, ‘In which country would I find the Sphinx at Giza?’ or, ‘Which city do you think makes the best apple strudel in the world?’, Jimmy would go away and come back with the answer, and Miss Veber would beam at him.
If Jimmy were to be honest, he was a little worried about becoming the teacher’s pet. Most of the other kids in the class already thought he was a bit of a nerd. He couldn’t help it – he just loved learning, books and the Internet. He would sit up for hours after his mum thought he had gone to sleep looking up the history of Mozambique on Wikipedia, trying to understand what a Quantum computer was on the HowStuffWorks app, or trying to make a robot from the parts of an old microwave he had picked up from the side of the road.
Last month, the other kids in Jimmy’s class had kept their distance when he was explaining what protons were, and afterwards they teased him in the playground and called him ‘the little nerdy engineer’. But Miss Veber had stood up for Jimmy and declared she would not tolerate what she called ‘fits of jealousy’. Jimmy wasn’t entirely convinced that this helped the situation.
Jenny MacAvey was another person who usually defended Jimmy. Jimmy considered her to be his best friend. She was very clever too, but she was better at art and language than Jimmy. Jenny always came first in every spelling test, and Jimmy loved her paintings. Jenny could paint things that looked real, and also strange, mysterious images that didn’t look like anything. She lived down the road from Jimmy, so sometimes Jimmy’s Mum would let Jenny come over after school. Jenny made a face for Jimmy’s robot so it didn’t look so scary, and she helped him draw pretty maps of the countries he was reading about.
Miss Noori’s piercing Teacher Voice jolted Jimmy out of his daydreams.
‘Get your hand away from those tom-toms!’
Farouk grinned a cheeky grin and made a point of moving his hand two millimetres, daring Miss Noori to push the point. Miss Noori rolled her eyes and kept barking recorder instructions. Jimmy had to admit he was a little disappointed. Farouk vs. Teacher was always one of the more entertaining parts of the day. At last year’s athletics carnival, Farouk had brought a whoopee cushion and infuriated Miss Lilyfield by placing it under various unsuspecting Kindy kids. Miss Lilyfield had made the mistake of locking horns with Farouk, and he had taken her on a meandering journey through various reasons why he wasn’t responsible. He had only relented when Mister Panopolous had threatened to take him out of the relay. He was a very good runner, and he was into cars and engines and planes and anything that moved fast. Jimmy liked Farouk because interesting things always happened when he was around.
We could do with some interesting at the moment, thought Jimmy as he watched Keiran try for the fifth time to put his fingers on the right holes. Jimmy found himself wandering off again, imagining a palace he was going to include in his next creative writing story. The palace had towers, and turrets and battlements, with intricate and ornate domes painted white and gold. In his mind’s eye he could see the soldiers marching along the walls and white and gold flags waving in the breeze.
Next to Jimmy, Cara was sniffling.
‘What’s wrong?’ he whispered. Cara shook her head and turned away.
‘What’s wrong Cara?’ Jimmy pressed.
‘It’s – it’s – this song…’ she trailed off.
‘What about it?’
‘It reminds me – of – Mum,’ Cara released the words in between short sharp breaths. Tears were streaming down her cheeks.
Jimmy nodded. Cara’s mum has died of cancer earlier in the year, and Cara hadn’t been the same since. Jimmy thought about what it would be like too try to live without his mum. It was really hard to imagine life without her.
‘Miss Noori,’ Jimmy called out.
‘What is it Jimmy?’ Miss Noori replied absently, facing away from him as she wrote musical notes on the whiteboard.
‘It’s just that…I think I know Springtime in the Trees pretty well, but I was wondering if we could practise Downtown Boogie again – I don’t know the chorus properly yet.’
‘Please!!’ pined the class in unison. They all preferred Downtown Boogie anyway, which Jimmy had been counting on.
‘All right,’ Miss Noori relented. ‘We need to get it done for assembly anyway.’
Jimmy winked at Cara, who grinned widely as the recorders started trumpeting the lighter jazzy tune.
It might be apparent that Jimmy was a very special boy – but he was not so different to other children in any obvious way. He couldn’t do magic, he wasn’t rich, and although he was smarter than most children in some ways and had a great imagination, he wasn’t the smartest person in the world. But he did have one very rare, very special quality that set him apart from most other boys of his time and place: Jimmy had a heart of gold. And this heart would come in handy, very soon, when Jimmy would find himself caught up in the most fantastic of adventures and doing things most young boys only dream about.
It began with the fire.
’Jimmy!’ cried Farouk. ‘Wait! I need to pump up my tyres.’
Jimmy sighed. Yesterday, Farouk had told Jimmy about a cool factory site on the other side of the river, that everybody at school said was haunted. It was kind of on the way home from school, so this afternoon Jimmy had suggested taking a detour from their usual afternoon route. They had ridden over the iron bridge that made their bikes jitter as they skidded over the lattice, and down the rust-coloured dirt bike trail that ran alongside the river. Jimmy had been a little worried, especially as it began to get late and the sun began to set, but Farouk had boasted that nothing bad would happen while he was around. Now Jimmy was getting annoyed because it looked like the brave Farouk was stalling.
They rode up to the old petrol station and Farouk lifted the air pump nozzle from the hook.
‘Why do you keep stopping?’ complained Jimmy. ‘It’s going to be dark before we get there!’
‘Are you scared?’ Farouk baited as he clipped the nozzle onto the valve of his front bike tyre.
‘I’m not the one who keeps making excuses,’ countered Jimmy. ‘If we’re gonna go, let’s just go’.
‘I just want to – hey!’
Farouk looked up from his bike toward the automatic doors of the petrol station shop. Walking out in front of her mother, sucking on a big Slurpee, was a familiar girl in a bright yellow dress.
‘Hey Jenny!’ Farouk and Jimmy cried in unison.
‘Oh, hi!’ Jenny gulped down some Slurpee and waved at the boys. ‘Mum, it’s Jimmy and Farouk.’
Jenny’s mum rolled her eyes and looked at her watch. ‘Hi boys,’ she called over wearily. She looked like she’d had a long day. ‘What’re you two up to this time?’
‘Nothing,’ called Farouk and Jimmy together.
‘I’m sure,’ said Jenny’s mum.
‘We’re just going for a ride,’ said Jimmy.
‘I’m getting Jimmy away from the Xbox,’ joked Farouk, pulling Jimmy in to his shoulder.
‘Aha.’ Jenny’s mum was distracted, squinting at the receipt and looking back at the prices on the pump. Jenny ran over to the boys.
She slurped loudly. ‘So where are you going?’
‘To the factory,’ supplied Farouk, puffing his chest out as if he’d just told her he was going to wrestle a crocodile. ‘Girls aren’t allowed.’
‘The one Jago told us about? Cool!’
‘Why can’t she come?’ said Jimmy. ‘She’s tough.’
‘She’ll slow us down,’ groaned Farouk.
‘I will not.’ Jenny said matter-of-factly. She called out to her mum in her best whine.
‘Can I go with them, Mum?’
‘You don’t have a bike! How are you going to go with them?’
‘My bike’s at home, I could join up with them later.’
‘I don’t know Jenny, it’s getting a bit late.’
‘Pleeeease mum!’ Jenny gave the boys a wink.
Jenny’s mum stood and thought for a few seconds. ‘Well, I do need to do a lot of work tonight…maybe it would be better if you were out of the house for a while, and the exercise is good for you. You have to promise me you’ll be back before dinner, and take the mobile with you in case something happens.’
‘Okay. Sure.’ said Jenny.
‘All right, then, get in the car now, quick. I need to send an email by 6 o’clock.’
‘Jenny, meet us at the train station, ok?’
‘Ok, see you soon!’
Farouk’s bike kicked up dust as he raced Jimmy up the hill. Farouk had always been a bit faster and tougher than Jimmy. Jimmy could keep up with Farouk, but he could never beat him. The bike path reached the river and started to follow alongside it. As they rode upstream, the river became more like a creek, and then like a stormwater drain – a trough of sharp-edged concrete, with the water reducing to a trickle down the centre where the concrete slopes met. Jimmy loved riding this bike path, watching the birdlife and laughing at the professional cyclists who wore tight lycra and serious expressions.
They reached the crest of the hill, where Jimmy saw the familiar sight of the train station roof rising up to meet them. Jimmy glanced at his watch.
‘Ok, Jenny should be here by now’, he said. ‘It’s only a couple of minutes from her house to the station’.
‘Yeah but I can’t see her.’ Farouk squinted against the glare of the sunset as they coasted down the hill towards the station. When they had skidded to a stop, locked up their bikes and searched the station, they realised Farouk had been right – Jenny wasn’t there yet.
Farouk swore under his breath. ‘She’s always late.’
‘Lay off,’ retorted Jimmy. ‘She had to go home first.’
They waited for ten minutes.
‘That’s it,’ snapped Farouk. He jumped up and unlocked his bike.
‘I wonder what happened?’ Jimmy said.
‘I’m not waiting any more. She always slows us down. You coming?’
‘Yeah, I guess.’
‘She knows where we’re going. She can catch up later.’
They got back on the bikes and rode back to the path by the creek. Eventually there were less houses and flats on either side of the drain, and more warehouses and factories – Jimmy noticed that there were old factories made out of bricks with tall circular chimneys, and also newer factories, with walls of steel and giant numbers painted on them in a dull grey. The sun was just about to dip under the horizon, and it bathed everything in a golden-reddish light. The place was beginning to look eerie.
‘This is it!’ said Farouk. He skidded to a stop. Jimmy almost rode into him.
‘A little warning next time!?’ exclaimed Jimmy.
‘Sorry,’ Farouk apologized.
‘So what’s so scary about this?’ asked Jimmy in a confident, matter-of-fact tone. He wasn’t sure if he was asking Farouk or himself. ‘It seems pretty normal to me.’
‘It does.’ Farouk looked disappointed.
They were looking at a large vacant lot with high concrete walls, filled with old rusty car bodies, engine parts and metal barrels. The walls were covered in graffiti and rude pictures. It looked to Jimmy like the kind of place people would use to put things that were hard to get rid of. There was a large sign that read ‘DANGER – NO ENTRY’ in large red letters, but there was a small hole in the fence, which Farouk and Jimmy squeezed through with some effort. The air stank of engine oil and petrol. Although Jimmy thought the place looked like it had some interesting parts he might be able to use, it didn’t seem in any way ‘haunted’.
‘Jago was lying,’ said Farouk. ‘He swore there was a green light and ghost people’.
Jimmy laughed. ‘Do you believe in ghosts?’
‘I dunno.’ Farouk seemed more wistful than his usual self. ‘Mum said she saw Sitti‘s ghost once.’
‘Sitti – that’s your Nan, right?’
‘Yeah, in the old room where she used to live’.
‘Well, I don’t think we’re gonna find Sitti here,’ Jimmy joked. Farouk scowled at him.
‘Sorry,’ Jimmy apologised. ‘I didn’t mean it.’
”s ok,’ said Farouk.
Then they saw it.
Towards the back of the lot, the concrete walls ended and there was an alley surrounded by the brick walls of buildings on both sides. It looked kind of like a squash court to Jimmy, a narrow space that he couldn’t quite see into from where he was standing. Out of this alley a sickly green light began to pulse, growing stronger and fainter in a steady rhythm. Jimmy began to hear a humming sound.
‘Do you see that?!’ he hissed as he elbowed Farouk in the ribs. Farouk nodded, his eyes remaining fixed on the glowing alley.
Suddenly, a figure emerged from the alley. Jimmy thought it seemed somehow translucent, like it was a kind of computer trick, the way he had done at home with Photoshop. Jimmy shook his head and blinked, not believing what he was seeing. As Jimmy watched, it shimmered in a wave of iridescent colour and solidified into a human being – someone slender, wearing red. It was still dark in the alley, and although they were periodically lit by the strange green glow, Jimmy couldn’t see the person’s face.
‘What the-‘ Farouk began, but Jimmy put his hand over Farouk’s mouth.
‘We don’t know who they are,’ he whispered. ‘Don’t make a noise or they might hear us!’
As the boys watched, two more translucent figures shimmered into existence and solidified. Although he could only see silhouettes, Jimmy could tell that one was a very tall skinny man who held his head high. The other was short but big and heavy, and seemed to be wearing thick boots.
‘Ghosts!’ Whispered Farouk. ‘Jago was right!’
‘I don’t think they’re ghosts,’ Jimmy whispered back. ‘But it’s really weird. Let’s hide.’
Jimmy and Farouk found a spot behind an old steel barrel where they could still have a good view of the alley and crouched down.
At that moment the boys heard the sound of bike tyres on gravel. Jimmy jerked his head around sharply towards the source of the sound. To his horror he saw Jenny riding up the street, holding a large lily against her handlebars with a huge grin on her face.
‘Told you I’d catch up with you!’ she shouted. ‘Look what I found! Isn’t it pretty?’
‘Jenny no!’ called out Jimmy.
Jenny put on her brakes and leapt off the bike, holding the lily in one hand. She looked at Jimmy quizzically.
‘Jenny! Don’t come any closer!’ Jimmy warned, but it was too late.
The first person in black pulled something out of the inside of their jacket – a small black sphere. They threw it behind them, towards the source of the eerie glow. As it flew behind the three figures, two red lights appeared on it and then blinked off in quick succession. All three figures ran off – the second two in one direction, the first in another. Jimmy, Farouk and Jenny watched the sphere fly in an arc through the air and down into the alley.
There was a flash of light, followed by a deafening explosion. A column of flame shot up into the air from the alley, ballooning into a mushroom cloud, like a small version of the nuclear bomb tests Jimmy had seen on YouTube.
The three children stood and stared, in shock. The heat singed their hair and Jenny’s lily wilted in front of their eyes.
To Jimmy’s horror, the fire started to spread. Pools of grease and petrol lit up one by one.
‘On the bikes!’ Jimmy yelled. ‘GO!’
The three children leapt onto their bikes and pedalled for their life. Just as Jimmy thought they were getting far enough out of the way, the very steel petrol can that he and Farouk had been hiding behind exploded, sending searing jets of flame out in every direction. Jimmy’s school jumper caught on fire. He slammed on his brakes, wrested the jumper off and flung it behind him, before taking off again and catching up with Jenny and Farouk on the other side of the creek.
* * *
None of the children said anything on the way home. They pedalled slowly, and the creak of the bike chains and the drone of the tyres on the asphalt made an eerie soundtrack to their fearful thoughts.
At the turn-off for Farouk’s place, they all stopped. No one said anything, but Jimmy could tell by the look in the other children’s eyes that they were all thinking the same thing: ‘So what are we going to do?’
‘We should tell our parents, ‘ ventured Jenny, breaking the silence.
Farouk laughed. ‘Yeah, like they’d believe us.’
‘They might. They’ll be able to see that there was an explosion there.’
‘But what about the ghost people?’ said Jimmy. ‘I don’t believe in ghosts, but people don’t just appear out of thin air like that. If someone told me, I wouldn’t believe it.’
‘We believed Jago,’ said Jenny. ‘But yeah, adults would laugh if we said ‘ghosts’.’
‘Maybe we should talk to Jago again?’ ventured Jimmy. ‘Ask him what he saw exactly?’
‘He’s not exactly our best friend,’ said Farouk. ‘And he never saw an explosion. He would have bragged about it.’
‘We should call the police, then,’ Jenny volunteered.
‘But we weren’t supposed to be there,’ said Farouk. ‘I bet there’s nothing left to show the police about the ghost people. They might think that we caused the fire. We’d get into big trouble.’
‘Well, what’s your brilliant idea then?’ spat Jenny, annoyed.
‘Hey, stop it, you two,’ said Jimmy. ‘Farouk’s right, we might get into trouble.’
‘But we’re just kids.’
‘Yeah, but we were the last people there. And we left tracks.’
‘Maybe the ghost people did too….’ Jenny trailed off, looking desperate.
Farouk looked at Jenny, puzzled. Then his eyes lit up.
‘Yes!’ Farouk exclaimed excitedly. ‘So we go back tomorrow and look for footprints or wreckage or something. Then we show our parents or the police.’
‘Ok. Until then, we don’t tell anyone. Agreed?’
‘Pinky promise?’ said Jenny timidly. Farouk rolled his eyes.
‘It’s not a promise if it’s not a pinky promise,’ she insisted, holding out her little finger.
Jimmy, Farouk and Jenny all linked little fingers. Then Farouk rode off.
For more, contact John Galea about Small World