C. A TRICK


1

INTRODUCTION

When people read our mission reports, they sometimes ask,  “Do your parents know what you’re doing?”

The following story helps to answer that question.

It was Tony who heard it, and he has kindly let me include it.

2

TONY’S REPORT

I stuck my head round the kitchen door.  “Mum, I’m ready to go to Granny Harrison’s.”

She looked up from the papers, scattered over the table.  “Tony, do you really want to go?”

“Yeah.  They’ve got a job for me.”

“That’s what I mean.  Do you really enjoy that work?”

“Yeah.  It’s sky-high.”  From the secret Earth base of the Galactic Federation, in the cellars of Granny Harrison’s house, I go to my job as a Troubleshooter for the Federation.

She sighed, and put down her pen.  “All right.”

She didn’t speak again until we were in the car, on our way.  “Tony, if you gave up that job, you could live at home.  You could see your friends more often, and play football.”

“I’m sorry I can’t stay at home.  I do miss you all, but I love my work.  I’d hate to give it up.  Listen, Mum.  Why don’t you come with me?  I’ll show you the Federation headquarters on Yband 4.  It’s an incredible place.”

“I have seen Federation headquarters, Tony.”

“Have you?  When?”

“Your Uncle Richard and I started training to become agents of the Federation.”  (Uncle Richard is Mum’s brother, the Bean’s dad.)

“You never told me.  Why didn’t you become agents?”  I knew Grandpa Harrison was an agent, and my uncle Simon’s an agent.  I’d often wondered why my mum and Uncle Richard weren’t agents.

Mum said,  “I would rather forget all about it.”

For a while, Mum only spoke once, to make a nasty comment about a car parked in a stupid place.  I wondered why they’d given up.  Only thickos and troublemakers fail training.  Mum and Uncle Richard are not thick, and Mum is the second-fussiest person in the Galaxy.  The fussiest is Uncle Richard.  They would’ve made good Administrators.

At last, she said,  “I’ll tell you, Tony.  We have nothing to be ashamed of. Your Grandpa Harrison told Richard and me about the Federation, and invited us to train to be agents.  Richard was older than you – nearly 14 – and I had just turned 12.  We went to the college on Yband 4.  The first few days were rather dreary.  Lectures.”

“I know what you mean,”  I said.  “It hasn’t changed.”

“No doubt.  On the evening of our fourth day, I went to Richard’s cabin. One of the other boys in our class was pestering me.”

“What d’you mean?”

“He wouldn’t stop talking to me.  He claimed he loved me.”

I gasped,  “Loved you!”  before I could stop myself.

Mum gave a slight smile without turning round.  “Yes, Tony.  It surprised me too.  I suppose it was a compliment, but it became tiring.  I couldn’t go anywhere without Wellington….”

“Wellington!”  I exclaimed.

“Yes.  Do you know him?”

“Yes.  He’s now the Investigators’ commander.”

“What do you think of him?”

“I don’t know him very well.”  That wasn’t really true.  I know Wellington too well – well enough for us to dislike each other.  I went on,  “So, if Wellington had had his way, I might’ve been his son.  That’s a scary thought.”

“There was no risk of that.  I had gone to Richard for advice.  We were discussing the problem when a voice came from the computer terminal.”

“Victor,”  I said.  “That’s the name of the Federation computer.”

“Yes.  Snale was requesting direct communication with Richard.”

“Snale!”  I said.  “The Bean’s met him.  Wasn’t he the commander of all the agents in this sector?”

“That’s correct, so you will understand why Richard was surprised when Snale requested direct communication.  Of course, Richard agreed.  A thin voice came through the terminal.  It asked Richard to fetch me.  When Richard said I was already there, Snale was pleased, and asked if we would do him a favour.”

“A favour?”

“Yes,”  said Mum.  “Snale explained that he was meeting leaders from the planet Buncum 4 in the conference room.  He wanted two trainee agents to give the visitors a ceremonial greeting.  He had asked Ouzo….  Do you know Ouzo?  He was in charge of the training.”

“He still is,”  I said.

“He had asked Ouzo to recommend two trainee agents to do the greeting. Ouzo suggested Richard and me, saying that we were the best students in the class.

“Naturally, we were pleased to be chosen.  We agreed immediately to Snale’s request.

“Snale told us how to perform the greeting.  We had to go into the conference room and stand near Snale.  The Buncum 4 greeting was to lift both arms until they were horizontal, then bring them quickly down, to slap the sides of our legs, calling the traditional cry,  ‘Curruck!’  That should be done six times.”

“Did you…?”  I began.

“I know what you’re thinking, Tony,”  she interrupted.  “Remember that Richard and I were new in the Federation.”

“Yeah, but….”  I was going to say that nobody could be as glutinous as that, but I reckoned it was better to shut up.

Mum exclaimed,  “You little fool!”  Not to me.  To a boy on a bike, who shot across the road in front of us.  She muttered a bit, before she went on, “When we left Richard’s cabin, Wellington was hanging around in the corridor outside.  He attempted to speak to me.  I asked him not to bother me, because I was busy.

“He persisted, until Richard confronted him.”

“Good for Uncle Richard,”  I said.  He’s tall and skinny.  Wellington is tall and beefy.

Mum smiled.  “Richard ordered Wellington to leave me alone.  Wellington glared at Richard, but left.  Richard and I went to the conference room.  Do you know it?”

“Ouzo took us to see it during our training.  It’s a big room, with semi-circles of seats facing a desk, where one person can speak to the others.”

“That’s right.  The door is behind that desk.  When Richard and I entered, the seats were almost full.  A small, elf-like man was standing at the desk, speaking to them.”

“That’d be Snale,”  I said.

“Yes.  We were somewhat surprised, but we did as he had requested.  We stood beside Snale, flapped our arms, and called,  ‘Curruck!’  six times.”

“You didn’t!”  I said.  I couldn’t help it.

“We did.”  She paused, while a motorbike cut in front of us.  Then she went on,  “Someone had played a mean trick on us.  It had to be someone with enough scientific knowledge to copy Snale’s voice.  We suspected a boy in our class, called Columbus.”

“Columbus!”  I said.

“Do you know him too?”

“Yeah.  I’ve met him.  He’s a brilliant scientist, but not always honest.” To speak plainly, Columbus is a crook, but he’s good fun.  I can’t help liking him.

“He took care not to be caught,”  said Mum.  “Snale was polite.  When we tried to explain, we realised we’d been tricked.  We slunk out of that conference room, totally humiliated.

“Wellington was waiting in the corridor.  He pleaded with me to speak to him.  Richard, no doubt angry after the scene in the conference room, shouted at Wellington, demanding that he should stop annoying me.

Wellington replied that Richard should mind his own business, and leave me to make my own decisions.  Richard said….  No.  I won’t repeat it all, but it ended with Richard hitting Wellington.”

“He didn’t!”  I said.  “Good old Uncle Richard!”

“It is no cause for amusement, Tony.  Richard hit Wellington once.  Then Wellington hit Richard several times, knocking him down.  I tried to stop them but, in their anger, they ignored me.”  She sighed.  “Your Grandpa Harrison tried to persuade us to continue our training, but we had had enough.  After what had happened, we couldn’t face our classmates.  We came home to Edinburgh.”

“To here,”  she added, as she stopped at Granny’s gate.  “And that’s why your Uncle Richard and I never became Federation agents.”