Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Chapters 1-3 from Jack Strong and the Red Giant

Prologue

The boy pulled the bundle of furs close as the last of his fire rocks went out.
He couldn’t stop shivering. It was getting colder and colder every day now.
Outside he could hear the Nagwhals calling, their shrill whine bouncing off the ice falls, reaching deep into the cave.
He was so hungry. He hadn't eaten in days.
Beneath the pile of rotten fur he held onto his brother, now stiff with cold.
Down the tunnel he heard a long, piercing shriek and a loud splash. Moments later a big silver head followed by a long silver body squeezed itself out of the darkness and slid towards him, its huge, jagged teeth snapping at his rags.
A yell and a lunge and it was all over.
He let go of his brother as the Nagwhal tugged his stiff body back down the dark tunnel.
He was alone now - the last boy alive on a long dead planet.
The boy shivered, and waited for the Nagwhal to come again.


Chapter 1: School’s Out

Jack slammed the front door shut and quickly ran up the stairs. He went straight into the bathroom, locked the door, and looked into the small mirror by the sink.
It was worse than he feared.
There were swishes and squiggles of red, black, blue, green, and orange marker pen all over his face.
He panicked.
Not wanting to be seen like this by his mum and dad he turned on the taps and frantically began to scrub his face with a large, yellow sponge. It took almost twenty minutes of feverish scrubbing to remove every last mark.
After he finished dabbing himself with a towel, he walked across the landing, entered his small, sparsely decorated bedroom, and slouched down upon the bed.
He had lost another pen fight.
When it was other children fighting though, they didn’t seem to come away as badly as he did. It was supposed to be one against one, yet as soon as he said he wanted to fight there were five or six boys and girls holding him down, scribbling and scrawling all over his face. He kept shouting at them to stop, but they just laughed and giggled, their pens thrusting and jabbing.
Jack looked into the mirror one last time. Just for a moment he half-hoped that his birthmark had been washed away too, but it was still there: stretching all the way from his forehead to his chin like a big red smudge of tomato ketchup. Wiping his blue eyes dry, he put on his glasses, neatened his short brown hair, checked his face again for pen marks and left his bedroom.

The smell of food was now emanating from the kitchen and wafting up the steep flight of stairs.
Eager to see what was for dinner, he quickly rushed down the stairs, almost tripping over on the way and ran, much to the consternation of his Mum, through the living room into the kitchen.
He was so hungry.
His mind raced with the many possibilities: hamburgers, roast chicken, pepperoni pizza, sausages - anything so long as it was delicious, and what was more - lots of it!
His heart sank.
Upon the kitchen table was a pan of burnt pork chops, along with some equally burnt stringy onions as well as what looked like a big dish of rather lumpy mashed potatoes and a pile of heavily-buttered white bread. His dreams of coming home to a plate of crisp, chunky chips and a moist, oven-cooked pizza, or else a plate of yellow, creamy curry had vanished yet again. Why couldn't he get something better for a change?
But he was hungry, and so he sat down across from his mum and dad and said nothing. He then grabbed a knife and fork from a small pile on the table and began to eat. Though as the gravy lacked salt and the mashed potatoes well everything, his dinner mainly consisted of making some rather messy pork chop sandwiches. This was of course after he had spooned-off the black onions, given the pork chops a good helping of brown sauce, and pulled off some little bits of mold from the bread.
A few minutes later and it was time for dessert.
His mum, cheeks reddening, put on some ragged, grey oven gloves and brought out a hot, steaming dish of …gooseberry crumble!
He couldn’t believe it.
Not gooseberry crumble again!
Jack hated gooseberry crumble. As far as he was concerned, it was quite possibly the most disgusting thing on Earth, being nothing better than sour, green, slimy goo.
“Why can’t we have something else for a change?” he suddenly shouted out loud, anger rising in his chest. “I hate gooseberry crumble. It’s horrible!”
“Nonsense Jack,” replied his mum, in a soft, kind voice. “It’s good for you. It helps you grow into a big, strong lad.”
“No, it’s not!” he spat, getting angrier “I hate it, why can’t we have something different for a change?”
“Now Jack,” interrupted his dad in a stern voice “Be nice to your mum, she’s been cooking your dinner for a long time.”
“I don’t care! I’m sick of it. All we ever eat is gooseberry and rhubarb crumble. Why can’t we have some ice cream for a change?”
“It’s healthy,” his mum continued. “Besides we’ve loads of gooseberry bushes in the back garden. We can’t let them go to waste. You don’t know how lucky you are. People would love to have what we have!”
Jack made a face, grunted again, but thought better about answering back.
Besides, he was still hungry and there was a red hot jug of steaming yellow custard on the table. Still not wanting to eat the gooseberry though, he got hold of a large, wooden serving spoon and attempted to scoop off the top of the crumble from the green goo underneath.
Immediately his dad stopped him.
“Jack, what have we told you about taking all the crumble?” Leave some for us.”
“But daaaaaaad!” he whined.
“But nothing,” he said, his brown eyes almost poking through his glasses “Stop being selfish, and think about other people for a change.”
And that was the end of that. Sulking, Jack dejectedly put a small dollop of gooseberry crumble in a chipped dessert bowl, followed by a couple of large spoon-fulls of hot custard.
He ate it in silence, gulping it down, mouthful after mouthful. The quicker the better he thought. In order to avoid tasting it, he tried to surround as much of the disgusting gooseberry as possible with either the custard or the crumble. This didn’t work very well however and every now and again a big, slimy wedge of gooseberry goo would get stuck at the back of his throat or else at the top of his mouth, causing him to wince and grimace.
Once he had finished, he got up and tried to leave the table, eager to watch some T.V, only for his dad to stop him. “Jack, don’t forget it’s your turn to wash up today.” he said, irritated.
“Oh, come on dad,” he said. “Give me a break. I want to watch some TV.”
“No, it’s your turn. Your mum has cooked the tea, so now you must wash up after her. Besides, it's the summer holidays now; you’ll have plenty of time to watch TV in the coming weeks.”
“Okay, whatever.” Jack muttered under his breath.
“What did you say?” barked his dad.
“Nothing.”
Jack made his way to the kitchen sink and gripped the washing-up bottle tightly, squeezing out a green jet of washing-up liquid into the sink. He then turned on the hot water, and watched as a mountain of frothy, white bubbles arose like an island from the foaming sea.
“Jack,” his dad said again, “Don’t use too much washing-up liquid. It all costs money. You only need to use a little.”
“I knooooooooooow!” he bellowed back sarcastically.
Still his dad continued. “Well then, make sure you wash them properly this time. Last time you didn’t do a good job, and your mum had to wash them all again.”
With that they both left for the living room.
Still annoyed, Jack began to wash-up, flinging the cups, plates, pans, and cutlery into the sea of bubbles. Not wanting to think about the pen fight again he did the wiping and scrubbing as quickly as he could. He didn’t care about any correct order or way of doing things; he just wanted to get it all done, and to get out of the kitchen as quickly as possible. He just flung them in the drainer one by one, stacking them haphazardly on top of each other until eventually a Mount Everest of pots, plates and pans arose from out of the drainer at least a foot high.
As soon as he finished, he burst into the small living room, eager to watch some TV, where a man in a grey suit was talking on the news about the latest tourists to blast-off into space.
He was just about to plonk himself on the sofa when a sound like thunder came from the kitchen.
Craaaaaaaasssshhhhhhh!
Everybody sat up and turned around.
“JACK, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?” his mum and dad bellowed at once.
They all rushed into the kitchen like a herd of stampeding wildebeest. All over the sticky, yellow, lino floor were an assortment of broken cups and plates as well as several pans and a great many knives and forks.
“Oh, Jaaaaaack!” his mum whined, “How are we going to replace all these? We haven’t got the money.”
Even he for once was lost for words.
“B-b-b-but I didn’t mean it!” he finally stammered, embarrassed, feeling sorry both for himself and for them.
“Didn’t mean it?” His mum bellowed back, “I’ve told you before about not rushing the washing-up and stacking them properly. Why can’t you listen, you STUPID boy?”
“I’M NOT STUPID!” He yelled back, the anger now becoming a flood. “I was only trying my best!”
“TRYING YOUR BEST!” she spat. “You never try your best. All you do is please yourself and make excuses.”
“No, I don’t. I’m always helping out with the washing up and making cups of tea. Why can’t we have a dishwasher like everybody else?” He demanded.
“Because we can’t afford it. I’ve told you bef..”.
“RUBBISH!” He shouted. “I’m SICK of being poor! I’m SICK of living in this run down house! I’m SICK of these second-hand clothes! I’m SICK of not going abroad! I'm SICK of SCHOOL! I'm SICK of this FACE! But most of all I’m SICK of YOU!”
He didn’t mean to say this. It just slipped out. He couldn’t help it.
“That’s enough, Jack!” demanded his dad “Stop shouting at your mum. Apologise to her at once. She does a lot for you. Clean this mess up and then get to your room!”
“NOOOOOOOOO!” He roared suddenly, “I’m leaving and I’m not coming back!”
With that Jack stormed past them, knocking over a potted plant on the way, and left the house, slamming the front door behind him. They tried to follow, shouting and bellowing. But it was no use. Like a fox he ran away into the evening as fast as he could and didn’t look back.
He would never see his parents again.

Chapter 2: Blast-Off

Frustrated and angry, Jack ran as fast as he could down a narrow, winding country lane, which cut through a string of fields and woods. Eventually he arrived at his Cousin George’s house, which was on the sprawling Badgerton estate nearby. He grasped the shiny brass door-knocker on the white PVC door and rapped it three times. His auntie Margaret opened the door, her gold jewelry twinkling in the evening sunshine.
“Oh, you’ve turned up I see,” she said, her skin almost as golden as her bracelets. “Your mum’s rang and she says you’ve to go back home at once and clean up all the mess you’ve made.”
“But I-I-I-wanted to ask George,” he stammered “If he wanted to come out and p-p-play football with me?”
“No, he can’t,” she bellowed back, “He’s not allowed to play out with you tonight. He's got homework to do, and besides you’ve to go home and sort out that kitchen of yours.”
“Oh c-c-come on Auntie Margaret,” he begged. “Just for an hour, then I’ll go back home and clean it up, I promise.”
“No! Your mum says you’ve to go home now, and that’s the end of it.”
“O-o-okay, tell her I’m on my way,” he said, walking back down the drive.
“Oh no, you don't,” she said, “I'll drive you. I'll just go and fetch my keys.”
But Jack didn't want to go back with her. Not tonight. Not ever. So as soon as she went back inside he ran off towards the football pitch as fast as he could.

As Jack walked towards the side of the pitch he saw several boys playing football. As he'd been so eager to run away from his mum and dad he'd left his glasses behind, so he squinted his eyes in the bright evening sun and scanned their blurry faces, trying to work out who they were. He’d got to within a few feet of them when suddenly he realised that the boy in front of him was Gaz Finch, the biggest bully and self-proclaimed ‘cock’ of the school. One of the roughest boys in Rockingdale he was constantly being caught fighting, not just with other boys but also with some of the teachers too.
Thick-set, tall, and stocky, like a pit-bull terrier, he at once turned towards Jack, his whole, ugly face snarling.
“Hey, look who it is,” he shouted to his friends, through yellow, jagged teeth. “It’s Jack MONG!”
Immediately, his friends howled and shrieked with laughter.
“What d’you want Mongy?” He continued. “A new face and some new clothes ha ha ha!”
“I-I-I don’t want anything,” Jack stammered. “I-I-I just wanna play f-f-football.”
“NUTHIN? Don’t look like nuthin Mongy,” he yelled. “What do you want to play football for? Yer RUBBISH!”
“N-n-n-no, I’m not, I’m … I’m…” spluttered Jack.
“N-n-n-n-n-n-n-n!” Gaz mocked back, to yet more howls of laughter.
“G-G-Gaz …I-I-I.”
But Gaz interrupted him again, his voice even angrier. “YER WANNA FIGHT? YER STARTIN’? Think you can show YOUR BIG RED FACE around here do yer?”
Then he began to push Jack, inching closer and closer, spit spraying all over his face.
Jack was terrified; he didn’t know what to do.
He held out his hands to try and prevent Gaz from getting closer, but all he did was slap them away.
“N-n-n-no,” Jack begged again “I-I-I just wanna p-p-play f-f-football, honest. I don’t want to fight yer Gaz, please!”
But his pleas only seemed to make Gaz angrier, and his pushes and shoves and his barks and yells became more forceful and more violent, as he brushed and slapped away at his arms.
“YEAH YER ARE, YER STARTIN’! He yelled again. “Think you can take me do yer Mongy? I’LL SHOW YER!”
With that Gaz punched Jack just below his right eye.
Immediately, his skin stung and seared.
“Arrgghhh!” Jack screamed at the top of his voice. “It hurts! It hurts! Stop! Stop! Stop! Please!” he begged, absolutely terrified, trying to back away, his heart hammering like a pneumatic drill.
But Gaz didn’t listen. He just kept on hitting him, his stinging fists swinging like wooden mallets.
“COME ON! COME ON! LET’S FIGHT!” he yelled, punches landing all over his face. “COME ON! COME ON!”
Then Jack spat out some blood. Gaz had bust his bottom lip.
“Stop! Stop! Stop!” he kept shouting over and over again, his mouth stinging, blood dribbling down his bruised chin.
He didn’t know what to do. He was so scared. It didn’t seem real. He was trapped in a waking nightmare and he didn’t know how to get out.
Still Gaz's fists swung and clubbed away.
Finally, he did what he always did with the bullies.
He ran.
Gaz didn’t chase after him though. He didn’t need to. He’d got his fun for the evening. Today it was Jack. Yesterday it was a younger boy with ginger hair, glasses, and eczema. Tomorrow it would be someone different.
Jack ran from the football pitch across some fields, and through some bushes and trees, past flocks of startled sheep; leaping over mole hills and piles of cow dung, until eventually he came panting to Darnley reservoir.
There Jack sank down on one of its rough grassy banks and started to cry.
He felt weak, lonely, and pathetic.
He was still bleeding from his bottom lip, and his shoes and jeans were smeared with mud and cow dung. Thoughts whirred around his head. How was he going to explain his bloodied clothes to his mum and dad? Would he get black eyes? What would everybody say at school after the holidays? No doubt Gaz would tell the whole school that he’d beaten him up. Everybody was going to have a right good laugh at him.
He ran his fingers through his clammy hair, and then he started to cry again. He felt humiliated. He hadn’t even fought back …
He sat there for about twenty minutes feeling sorry for himself, until eventually the sobs subsided and the tears dried. He thought about his mum and dad too. He felt sorry for shouting at them and for breaking all those dishes. Though they were poor, he realised that they always did their best for him. His mum was always buying him t-shirts from the charity shops and his dad would often bring home bags of chocolate from the chocolate factory where he worked. The thought made him smile. He would go home and make it up to them, even if it did mean getting told-off and being grounded for a few weeks.
He wiped his bleeding lip with his hands and now bloodied t-shirt, and then he got up and trudged off towards home, spitting out a pink mixture of saliva and blood every few paces.
It was now approaching nine o’clock and it was beginning to get darker. The Moon had long since been visible overhead, resting on a bed of red and orange, and now poking through the increasingly dark sky were the first glimmers of a vast armada of stars.
It was at that moment that he saw out of the corner of his eye a small, bright, circular object moving across the horizon.
“It must be a plane,” he said out loud, but even so he continued to follow its course as it cut a path through the increasingly populous night sky.
His mind swirled with the possibilities: Could it be a satellite or a space station? Or perhaps it’s one of those new rockets taking tourists into space?
But just at that moment it suddenly turned around, changed course, and headed in his direction with incredible speed. He watched disbelievingly as it became an increasingly large, bright dot in the sky. In a matter of seconds this dot had then changed into a large, silver, elliptical-shaped object.
All the time it was getting closer and closer. Then suddenly in a matter of seconds it swooped down across the wide sprawling valley, close to where he was standing. He tried to run away, but it was no use. In no time at all it had whooshed over his head settling beside a dark, shadowy clump of trees about twenty feet in front of him.
It was absolutely massive, easily swamping the football pitch that he'd just run from. It was bright silver and shaped rather like a triangle, only more aerodynamic, being curved around the edges. It was absolutely silent and there were no windows, lights, panels, insignia, cockpits, engines, or mechanical instruments of any kind that he could see. It glimmered brilliantly in the cool moonlight; the moon, clouds and the stars reflecting off on its shiny, metallic surface.
Jack’s heart was beating wildly. For a few moments nothing happened - it just hung there suspended above the field, casting not even the slightest bit of shadow. Maybe it doesn't know I'm here? He thought.
He should have been terrified, he should have been panicking and running away in the opposite direction like he always did. But for some reason he didn't feel scared at all; if anything he felt calm and relaxed, welcome even.
He walked towards it, its size appearing all the more gigantic the closer he got, the battered image of the crescent moon glinting off its huge nose.
In no time at all, he was directly in front of it, the wavy image of the grassy field reflecting back at him. It had still not moved, and no landing ramp or steps of any kind had come down. It didn’t appear to know he was there.
Then for some unknown reason he had an idea to try and touch it. He stretched out his fingers, running them over its soft, fluid-like surface. And then, as if someone had pulled a lever or flicked a switch, he was inside, standing in a long tube-like corridor, his own awe-struck reflection staring back at him.
Jack Strong, the boy who had gotten an F for his latest science report, had just become the first boy inside an alien spaceship.

Chapter 3: First Contact

Jack looked down the corridor as it curved away into the distance.
It was bright and well-lit, and like the outside of the spaceship it was silver-looking, without any recognisable panels, buttons, or instruments of any kind. Indeed, he couldn’t even see where the light was coming from. There were no light bulbs, filaments, or even switches in the ceilings or walls. It seemed to come from everywhere at once.
The whole ship was absolutely silent. No engine purred and roared. No machinery whooshed and rattled. Not even his footsteps made a sound on the soft, shiny floor. All he could hear was the sound of his chest rapidly sucking in and out lungfuls of air.
Jack looked around frantically as he felt the fear rise in his chest. He reached out and touched one of the walls. Like the floor, it was hard and smooth, and yet it seemed softer than metal. When he ran his fingers over it, he could press the material down by about half an inch. The whole corridor seemed to be covered in this strange sponge-like material.
He stood there for a few minutes not knowing what to do. The whole ship seemed deserted. Not for the first time tonight he was alone and frightened. What had happened? How had he got inside? Would he ever be able to get out?
He turned around and tried desperately to find a way out - anything that he could open and escape through. He couldn't find anything. He attempted to grip the smooth silk-like walls, trying to prise open a non-existent door or hatch, but his hands just kept slipping off.
Then his fear and frustration began to boil over, his screwed-up fists pummeling the walls.
“WHO ARE YOU?” he shouted out to whoever might be listening “WHAT AM I DOING HERE? LET ME OUT! LET ME OUT! LET ME OUT!”
But there was no answer, only the echo of his own trembling voice.
Then suddenly, as if he'd pressed some hidden switch, a huge portion of the wall vanished.
Before him appeared a giant image of the Earth.
He jumped back, expecting to be sucked out into the vacuum of space at any moment. But nothing happened.
Then he reached out, his hands shaking. The image of the Earth rippled under his touch like a reflection on water. The wall was still there however, but it now seemed to be some kind of transparent window.
Looking down he was now high above Africa, with the pale yellow sands of the Sahara desert clearly visible next to the lush, green rainforests of Western and Central Africa. White and grey bands of clouds were drifting over South Africa and parts of Eurasia, and around all this was the bluest ocean Jack had ever seen.
When the spaceship had taken off he'd no idea. He hadn’t felt any acceleration, or heard the rush and boom of any rockets. It was like it had magically disappeared in one place and then re-appeared in another.
Not only was he the first boy to go on board an alien spaceship, but he had now become the first to fly into space too.
Then almost as quickly as the Earth appeared it dissolved into nothing, leaving Jack alone in the corridor once more.
Still too afraid to move, he sat in the corridor for a long time not knowing what to do.
After a while boredom and curiosity got the better of him and he decided to explore further down the corridor, turning around every now and again just to make sure he wasn’t being followed by some hairy, ugly space critter.
Where was everybody? Why weren't there any aliens or robots to greet him? That was what happened in the movies, right?
The corridor seemed endless. Every now and again he would pass some brightly-lit rooms that like the corridor were lit by a non-existent light source. On each of these there were no doors of any kind, nor no windows either. He could only guess as to what they were used for. He thought about going into some of them to explore, but thought better of it.
As far as he could make out there were no other levels to the ship. He saw no elevators, escalators, or stairs that led anywhere else. He saw no signs either. The only things he did see were some 3-D pictures of what looked like the Milky Way galaxy set against an even larger star. They seemed to be part of the wall itself. When Jack touched one it came alive, the shimmering stars revolving around the sun in the centre. He could even put his hand into the picture and feel the glow of the stars tingling on his fingertips.
He kept on walking for well over an hour, but he couldn’t find a way out.
Then he saw something brown on the floor in front of him. He bent over to have a look. It was dirt – his own. He'd gone round in a circle. He must have brought it onto the spaceship when he came aboard.
Not only was he on an alien spaceship thousands of miles above the Earth, with no way to get off, but he was also lost and without the faintest idea of where to go next.
Panicking, he began to run frantically around the spaceship; in the hope that he had missed something, or perhaps had taken a wrong turning. He hadn’t. About forty five minutes later he found himself back where he had started, next to several crumbs of dry mud and a few twisted blades of grass.
He slumped to the floor dejected, ran his hands through his clammy hair, and wondered what he was going to do next.
He was just about to go and explore one of the larger rooms when something large and heavy fell on top of him.
He crashed to his knees and fell over, his right cheek bouncing off the soft, spongy, floor.
Something was on top of him holding him down.
Whatever it was it was alive. He could feel its hot breath on the back of his neck and what felt like sharp claws or fingernails digging between his shoulder blades, ripping and tearing at his skin.
He managed to squeeze one of his arms out from under his body. He flapped and flailed at whatever was on top of him, grasping nothing but air. Eventually, he managed to grab what felt like tough dry leather, and wrenched-off whatever was holding him down.
Jack gasped. Facing him was a pair of big, round black eyes surrounded by a pale, milky head, and a mouthful of sharp, white teeth.
He barely had time to breathe but what the creature attacked him again, its sharp fingernails poking and jabbing at his eyes as its small nose twitched and prodded as it sucked in his scent. Within moments it was on top of him again, its gleaming teeth locked in an angry grimace as it tried to strangle him.
Then he heard the sound of laughter from the other end of the corridor. He turned around instantly.
Before him was what looked like a young teenage girl.
The first thing that he noticed was how red she was. She had bright red hair and eyes, crimson lips, light-red, pinkish skin, and she was even dressed in red, wearing a tight-fitting red suit that stretched all the way from her neck to her feet.
“Is that how you practice first contact on your planets?” she chuckled.
Jack laid there quietly not knowing what to say as the jawstrocity on top of him glared at her with its tar-like eyes.
Then suddenly it opened its mouth, snarling back at her, “No, of course not, I was just …I was just…”
It glared in the direction of Jack again, “I was just protecting myself. I thought that HE was going to attack ME!”
“No I wasn’t.” Jack yelled, still gripping its arms. “He attacked me, I did nothing to him, I swear.”
“I don't care, you can believe what you like,” it said, as it thrust him once more to the floor.
Then it got to its feet and walked quickly over to the red girl. “Where did you learn my language?” It demanded, the dark green veins in its skin almost popping out of its forehead.
“What do you mean? I was going to ask you the same thing. Where did you learn Rennish?”
“Very amusing,” it said, “Stop messing around and tell me where you learnt Asvari. Your accent is perfect.”
“Look,” she continued in a slightly arrogant tone “if you want to believe that I am speaking Asvari or Astar or whatever you want to call it then fine, but you might want to ask your friend over there how he can understand the both of us too!”
“He’s NOT my friend!” it spat, glaring at Jack who was still in a heap on the floor. “I ...”
Then it abruptly stopped. “What language are you speaking?” it demanded.
“What do you mean?” asked Jack, a little flustered.
“L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E!” It spelled out sarcastically. “What language are you speaking?”
“English, of course!” Jack replied, getting to his feet.
“See, I told you!” said the red girl triumphantly, her cheeks glowing.
“But how? It doesn’t make sense,” it said, looking confused.
Now it was her turn to spell it out, “We aren’t speaking each others' languages, but we are hearing them! That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. Somehow in this spaceship we are able to understand what other people say.”
“But that’s impossible!” said Jack. “How…”
“I don’t know how,” interrupted the red girl. “All I know is that it IS happening. Perhaps there’s something on board the spaceship that makes it possible. Maybe it’s the spaceship itself, or maybe our brains have been re-programmed in some way.”
Upon hearing that Jack immediately touched his head, worried that it might explode at any moment.
“Don't worry,” Vyleria continued, “I'm sure it's fine. By the look of it this spaceship is very advanced, so I'm sure it can handle a teeny-weeny bit of brain surgery. By the way what happened to your t-shirt? It looks like he's hurt you.”
“I didn't do anything to him!” protested the mouthful of teeth, its silver-grey spacesuit shimmering as his arms danced about in protest.
“No, it wasn't him,” Jack said, looking down at his blood-soaked t-shirt. “It was … it was … I fell.”
“You fell?” asked the red girl, not quite believing him.
“Yeah, I was playing football and I tripped and I fell and I hurt my lip.”
“And your cheeks and your nose and your forehead too?” she chuckled.
“Yeah, I guess so,” Jack replied, shuffling his feet and fidgeting.
“See, I told you!” barked the mouthful of teeth “What do you take me for – some kind of monster?”
“No, of course not what do you take me for some kind of narrow-minded speciesist?”
“How did you both get here?” Jack asked, seizing a chance to change the subject and to stop them from arguing. “I’ve been walking around this corridor for ages but I didn’t see either of you.”
“I..I..” started the creature with the milky, green face, but again the red girl interrupted him, “I’ve been exploring some of the other levels. There’s some amazing stuff down there, you should check it out. I got around by using one of the transportation rooms. I found it by accident actually.”
“What do you mean the transportation rooms?” Jack asked.
“You know the transportation rooms!”
Jack looked at her blankly.
“Oh,” she said, reading his expression “You mean you haven't found them yet? What have you been doing you two? Come on, I’ll show you,” she said, chuckling to herself.
They followed her down the corridor and into one of the rooms that Jack had passed before. It didn’t look like anything special - just white and empty.
“What do you do?” Jack asked, staring at it as a monkey might do a computer “How does it work?”
“Here, I’ll show you,” she said, confidently. “First, you step inside and then think of wherever you want to go on the space ship. Wherever you think of, it sends you there.”
Then with that she stepped inside, turned round, closed her eyes and promptly vanished.
Jack was searching the room for her when suddenly he heard a voice behind him.
“Hi there!” said the red girl, tapping him on the shoulder.
He jumped about a foot in the air.
“Where did you come from?” he asked, gasping for breath.
“I simply thought of the next room along this corridor and it sent me there. You should try it; I've been having so much fun!”
Jack stepped forward, only for the other creature to elbow him out of the way. Then it stepped inside the room, closed its eyes, and vanished, before re-appearing moments later.
When Jack stepped inside the room he found he couldn’t concentrate. His head was a whirl of thoughts and feelings. He thought of the room next door, then the long corridor, Gaz Finch, the football pitch, arguing with his parents, the pen fight, the spaceship, seeing Planet Earth, how to get out, and then and then …
He found himself close to the ceiling.
He fell down immediately, bouncing lightly off the soft floor.
Then he heard the sound of laughter.
“Stop laughing at me!” he shouted.
“Sorry Jack,” said the red girl. “I can’t help it. I never thought that you’d be so funny!”
“I did,” snarled the mouthful of teeth, its green veins almost poking out of its cheeks.
I’m not going to be laughed at here as well as school, Jack thought to himself, so picking himself up he went back into the transportation room, closed his eyes, thought of the room next door, and vanished again.
He opened his eyes on a large white room. “Yes, I’ve done it!” he shouted, but when he went out into the corridor he realised that instead of re-appearing next door he had in fact ended-up in an identical room more than a hundred feet away.
He trudged back to yet more howls of laughter. It WAS like school all over again!
It took Jack five more attempts to get it right. Each time he got closer and closer, though once he ended-up in a room so far away it took him almost thirty minutes to walk back.
Eventually he got it right, though they still sniggered at him.
“Where should we go to?” the other creature asked the red girl, ignoring Jack completely. “Where haven’t you been to on the ship?”
“I came on board several floors down so I’ve been making my way up ever since, trying to see if anyone else was here,” she said. “I’m not even sure how many levels there are, let alone how many remain up or down. We could always keep going up I suppose. Maybe we will find others too. By the way my name is Vyleria. Vyleria Romen.”
“I’m Jack … Jack Strong,” Jack stammered.
“Number six hundred and thirty four, Alpha wing, Andromeda sphere,” replied the other creature, matter-of-factly.
“That sounds more like a room in a space hotel than a name,” Vyleria chuckled. “What can we call you for short?”
“You can call me six hundred and thirty four, Alpha wing, Andromeda sphere,” it replied, glaring at them both with those big, black eyes. “That's my name!”
“Yes, you're right,” said Vyleria, with a hint of sarcasm in her voice. “I didn't mean to laugh at you. I just thought that if for example we are fleeing from an exploding supernova (Jack didn't like the thought of this) or are caught up in a solar hurricane (or this) for the sake of simplicity calling out Number Six Hundred and Thirty Four, Alpha Wing, Andromeda Sphere, might be a bit too long and complicated, and perhaps even a tad dangerous. Do you have a nickname (Jack thought of a few at this point); something that we can call you for short?
For a moment Jack didn't think it was going to work, but then after a few seconds the jawstrocity stopped glaring at them. “Call me Ros,” it said.
“Ros?” asked Vyleria.
“Yes, Ros.” it punched back. “There do you like it? Can we move on now?”
“Okay, Ros it is then,” said Vyleria, smiling “Let’s go up to the next level and see what we can find. Try to concentrate Jack; you don’t want to end up in outer space!”

With that they stepped into the transportation room, vanishing one by one. Vyleria first, then Ros, and then finally a worried-looking Jack.

If you want to read how Jack gets on in his adventures please check out the link below:



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