35. TROUBLE IN ARC 89*

How could Cirrus’s mum vanish from a shuttle in Arc 89?
Despite Simon’s warning, Tony and Bea go to investigate.

They discover that Cirrus’s mother was not the first to disappear, but the ninety-eighth.  They decide that the disappearances happen on the trip from Veli Veli 2 to Stata 7. When they find no clues on Veli Veli 2, Tony persuades Bea to go to Stata 7.  He assures her that they won’t be the next ones to go. He’s wrong….

Length : 31 000 words.

This story follows 19, but doesn’t depend on it.

 

1

“WHERE?”

 

You go into the lift in the hall of Granny Harrison’s house in Edinburgh. Press button 2; you go to the upstairs hall. Press 3; you go up to a little landing at the attics. Press 1 then 3: you go down to the secret Earth base of the Galactic Federation.

A few months ago, my cousin and I accidentally found the base. We trained to become agents of the Federation, and we’re now Troubleshooters. We investigate problems on planets in this part of the Galaxy.

On Naxi 17, I hit big trouble – not really my fault. I was lucky to escape.

No: not lucky. Bea, my cousin, saved me. She’s 11¾, more than a year younger than me, and she’s one of the brainiest agents of the Federation, although she would never say that.

After that mission, we changed from our Troubleshooters uniforms to our Earth gear, and took the lift up to Granny Harrison’s house. In the living room, Granny switched off the telly, and stood up, smiling. “Home again?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Just for one night. We’re going away tomorrow morning. Our friend’s mum’s missing. We promised to look for her.”

“Oh? Where?”

“Somewhere near the edge of the explored part of the Galaxy. A place called Arc 89.”

“Arc 89!” Granny’s face went white, as if she’d seen a ghost. “No! You mustn’t go to Arc 89!”

 

2

“DISAPPEARING?”

 

Granny was so wild-eyed and wobbly that I thought she was going to faint. I helped her to a chair. “What’s wrong, Granny?”

“Tony, you… you mustn’t go to Arc 89.”

“But – Cirrus’s mum’s disappeared. We promised we’d look for her.”

“Tony, please say you won’t go to Arc 89.”

“Why not?”

“It’s… oh, dear!” I thought she was going to cry, but the Bean sat beside her, and put an arm over her shoulders. “What’s wrong, Granny?” But Granny wouldn’t tell us: she just kept begging us not to go to Arc 89.

When the Bean reminded her we weren’t going that day, she became calmer, and we phoned our parents to collect us. While we were waiting, I hoped I might go down to the base to ask Victor, the Federation computer, about Arc 89, but when I signalled towards the lift door, the Bean frowned, and shook her head. I suppose she was right: that would’ve worried Granny even more.

During that night, I had a chance to think. Granny Harrison isn’t one of those old women who worry over nothing. She must’ve had a good reason for warning us not to go to Arc 89.

Next morning, when I rang her doorbell, and opened her front door, she came out of the kitchen into the hall. She wasn’t so pale, but she still looked anxious. I asked, “How are you this morning, Granny?”

“Better, Tony, thank you. Beatrice is downstairs. Do you still intend to go to Arc 89?”

“I… I don’t know. We did promise Cirrus. Why don’t you want us to go?”

“I would rather not tell you, Tony. Why don’t you go down to the base?”

“Yeah. See you.” Puzzled, I pressed the button to open the lift door.

“Tony, please take care.” As the lift door shut, her face had a weird, sad expression.

Simon, our uncle, is commander of the Earth base, but he was away at an important conference. His assistant is a man called Cavine. It was his wife, Fiona, who had disappeared. Cavine had asked their daughter, Cirrus, to look after the base while he went to look for Fiona. Cirrus is about a year older than me. The Bean and I know her because she was in our class at the Federation college.

As I expected, the Bean and Cirrus were in the control room of the base, but they had company. “Simon! I thought you were away at a conference.”

He smiled. “I was. But your granny asked Cirrus to send me the message that you wanted to go to Arc 89. I had to speak to you about it.”

“Why? What’s the mystery about Arc 89?”

“Sit down, and I’ll tell you.” We sat on the U of seats facing Victor’s screen. Simon asked, “What do you know about shuttles?”

“Shuttles? Not much. They’re used for travelling between planets that are far apart.” A shuttle is like a little cabin, with two bunks, one above the other. You lie on a bunk, tell the shuttle where you want to go, and call, “Operate.”

“Do you know how they work?”

“Not really. Victor said they go through the fifth dimension, but he couldn’t explain what that meant.”

The Bean said, “They hop from planet to planet along the route, don’t they? That’s why they put you to sleep.” Every hop jars your guts, so the shuttle puts you to sleep for the trip, and for an hour after, to recover.

“Yes,” said Simon. “Victor, list the planets along the main Arc 89 shuttle line.”

The names came up on the screen:
Welto 4
Delta Simton 11
Og 23
Pappa Glori 7
a long name that began with Bric…
Coulter 4-2
Natrat 4
Veli Veli 2
Stata 7
Squit 11
Ramos 8
Stule-Zelta-Goring 13

Simon explained, “That part of the galaxy has only been explored in the last sixty years. The shuttle line has been operating for about half that time. About twenty years ago, travellers started disappearing from it.”

“Disappearing?” I said. “What d’you mean – disappearing?”

He smiled. “I mean that someone would go into a shuttle at the start of a trip across Arc 89. When the shuttle arrived at its destination, their luggage was in it, but they weren’t. They were never seen again.”

The Bean said, “Do you mean to say that travellers vanish during their trip through the fifth dimension?”

“So it seems. It doesn’t happen often. Hundreds of thousands of people have used that line, but Fiona was only the ninety-eighth to disappear.” He quickly added, “I’m sorry, Cirrus. I don’t mean to suggest it’s not important.”

Cirrus smiled with her mouth but not her eyes. “Don’t worry, Simon. I can’t expect Bea and Tony to go looking for Mum without knowing the details.”

The Bean asked, “Haven’t you any clues?”

“Not really,” said Simon. “We suspect that the people disappear between Veli Veli 2 and Stata 7. No one has vanished from trips that don’t include that part.”

I asked, “Could somebody vanish into the fifth dimension, and not come back?”

“No one knows. The scientists say it shouldn’t happen, but they don’t know enough about the fifth dimension. But these people have disappeared. Ninety-eight of them. And do you know who was the first to go?”

The Bean frowned at him for a moment, then asked in a quiet voice, “Grandpa Harrison?”