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?”

After our mission on the planet Naxi 17, the Bean and I came back to the Earth base of the Galactic Federation. 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.”

Granny looked horrified. “Cirrus’s mum?”

“Yeah. What’s wrong?”

“No! You mustn’t go looking for Cirrus’s mum!”

2

“DISAPPEARING?”

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

“Tony, you… you mustn’t go near that place where Cirrus’s mum disappeared.”

“But – we promised Cirrus we’d look for her.”

“Tony, please say you won’t go.”

“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.

When the Bean reminded her we weren’t going that day, she became calmer, and we phoned our parents to collect us.

As we waited, I whispered to the Bean, “Don’t tell your mum and dad where we’re going. We don’t want to worry them.”

She frowned. “You mean you don’t want them to order us not to go.” She paused for long enough to worry me, but said, “All right. I do want to help Cirrus. But I’m not going until we find out what’s upsetting Granny.”

“Fair enough.” But it certainly gave me something to think about.

*

Next morning, when I rang Granny’s 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 look for Cirrus’s mum?”

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

“I can’t 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.

The Bean and I are agents of the Galactic Federation – Troubleshooters. Our uncle, Simon, also an agent, is Commander of the secret Earth base of the Federation, under Granny’s house. While he was away at an important conference, Cavine, the assistant commander, should’ve been on duty, but it was his wife, Fiona, who had disappeared. He had gone to look for her, leaving their daughter, Cirrus, to look after the base. Cirrus is fourteen – 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 at a conference.”

“I was. But your granny asked Cirrus to send me the message that you wanted to go looking for Cirrus’s mum. But she disappeared in Arc 89. I had to speak to you about it.”

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

“Sit down, and I’ll tell you.” We sat on the U of seats facing the terminal of Victor, the Federation computer. Simon asked, “Tony, 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 room 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?”

“I thought nobody did. Our teacher told us they go through the fifth dimension, but nobody really knows what that means.”

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.

“That’s right,” said Simon. “Victor, list the planets on the shuttle line through Arc 89.”

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-Kiki-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?”

“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 often happen. Hundreds of thousands of people have used that line, but Fiona was only the ninety-seventh 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, “Aren’t there 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?”

“The scientists say it shouldn’t happen, but they don’t know enough about the fifth dimension. But these people have disappeared. Ninety-seven 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?”