20. TONY: What do you do when you’re not on missions?


I’m often away on missions, but you can’t tell: sometimes I’ll have four or five jobs, one after the other, then nothing for a while.

I try to go home – home to my parents on Earth – regularly, but it’s not easy. In the Federation, I’m based on the planet Yband 4, whose day is about 45 minutes longer than an Earth day. So the Yband 4 day is often out of step with the Scottish one: when it’s daytime on Yband 4, it’s night-time in Scotland.

I can have the ultimate jet lag – a day on Yband 4 followed by a day at home (knackering), or a night on Yband 4 followed by a night at home (boring). The days are in step every 32 days or so, so the Bean and I try to go home at these times.

I do love my parents, and I like to see them, but my visits home are awkward. Since Earth is not a member of the Galactic Federation, people on Earth mustn’t learn about the Federation. Of course my parents know what I do. We’re not supposed to mention it on Earth, but I sometimes tell them about an interesting planet I’ve seen. But I mustn’t say a word to my little sister, or to my mates at school. They’ve been told I’m on a hush-hush project for the Government.

So, when I’m at home during school terms, I don’t have much to do. I lie around, watching the telly, playing computer games, and keeping out of Mum’s way so that she won’t tell me to go for a walk or tidy my room or work in the garden.

During school holidays and at weekends and in the evenings, I sometimes meet my mates from school – for a game of footy or just hanging out. They always start by quizzing me about my job. When I don’t answer, they go on to talk about things that happened at school – a new teacher; or an accident in Science; or a fight in English; or the latest poison at the school dinners. I won’t say it’s not interesting, but I’m not part of that world now.

My parents warned me about that: if I took the Federation job, I would drift away from my life on Earth. In a way, it makes me sad. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not sorry I decided to become a Federation agent, but that does make my visits home to Earth more difficult.

When Dad and Mum agreed that I could become an agent, they made the condition that I would continue my education. So when I’m living in my cabin in the local headquarters on Yband 4, I’m expected to do school-type work. I do try, and Martin, my boss, ‘reminds’ me. But a lot of Earth subjects are a waste of time in the Federation. History (of Earth). Geography (of Earth). And who would learn languages – of Earth or anywhere else – when you can easily speak to other people by using a wrist unit?

I do Sciences. Chemistry and Physics are the same throughout the Galaxy. I do a little Astronomy. And Biology, studying animals and plants from every known planet.

I do some Geography. Mountains and rivers; glaciers and volcanoes; clouds and rain; they’re the same on all planets.

English – not reading Shakespeare, but learning how to write – and report – clearly.

The History of the Federation. Blackett, our teacher during our training, made it sound dull. I still find it dull – most of it – so I do as little of it as I can.

How do I learn these things? Since I might be called away on a mission at any time, I can’t go to a regular school on any planet. Victor, the Federation computer, teaches me. I sit in my cabin on Yband 4, or in an office anywhere, and he gives me a lesson: he shows me pictures, gives me information and asks me questions – loads of questions. Victor doesn’t get distracted, or tell jokes like an Earth teacher, but he’s had lots of practice, so he makes (most) things interesting.

Each lesson lasts 5%, Federation time – about 1¼ hours, Earth time. Most of them are so interesting that I don’t notice the time passing. On a good day, I can do three lessons in the morning and two in the afternoon, no problem.

I like Maths. Sorry if that doesn’t sound cool, but my dad’s a Maths teacher. When I lived at home, he gave me Maths-type challenges. Now he tells me what I should ask Victor to teach me. Then, when I come home, he asks me about it. He says I’m already two years ahead of my mates at school. That’s good, because he’s told Mum. She was doubtful about letting me become an agent because she was sure I wouldn’t get a proper education.

There’s a kind-of university on Yband 4. The Scientists there don’t teach but they do research. And it’s also their job to help students – like me – to do experiments in Science. Claudius, my Physics tutor, is good at doing experiments, but dull, so I have to concentrate on what he says.

I’ve never found out what planet Rever, my Chemistry tutor, comes from, but it’s not Earth. His body is cylindrical with four stumpy legs round the bottom and four long, bendy arms round the top. His mouth is in the middle of his top, his ears are in his armpits, and his eyes are spaced round the edge of his top, between the arms. We have to use wrist units to talk, but I like him: he’s interesting and helpful.

My Biology tutor is Fuchsia, a loud woman whose ancestors came from Earth. We’re not allowed to cut up animals or plants, but Fuchsia has machines that let us look inside them. I’ve watched my own heart beating, and seen the muscles and bones move when I bend my finger.

Fuchsia also takes us to different planets to see weird plants and animals that live there. I say ‘us’ because she won’t take just one. The Bean is also doing Biology, so we go together, sometimes with others – students like us or older Scientists who want to study the animals.

Victor teaches me Astronomy. If I want to look at the stars, I can visit four observatories in this part of the Galaxy. Two are on space stations, one’s on an asteroid, and one’s on a planet – Dancer 61. I like the astronomer there, Alliugroveda – a woman in a robot wheelchair called Loire. The Bean told me about them. (TI: A Trip to Dancer 61)

What else? Well, I’m supposed to go to the gym regularly when I’m not away on missions. But it’s too much like hard work, and my coach, Demsel, is a bit of a slave-driver. I trundle along when I can’t put it off any longer, or when Martin starts to get stroppy.

So you see, Jukie, although I’m not at school on Earth, I do learn quite a lot.

Then there’s free time. In the Federation, they don’t have special days, like weekends on Earth, when most people are off work. Agents work when there’s work to do, and take time off when they can.

But we do have a working day on Yband 4, and most agents are free in the evenings. Then, if I’ve had a busy day, I might lounge in my cabin with ice cream, watching a movie. Victor can show over a million movies from about a thousand planets, including Earth.

But I like to go out with my Federation mates – to the swimming pool; to the stadium for a show or the scooter racing; for a game of footy in one of the gyms or parks.

My best mates in the Federation are the guys we’ve met during our missions. I hang out a lot with Ed, who’s now training to be an agent. We met him on our mission to Arc 89, but I won’t say more in case you haven’t read my report on that mission. (T35: Trouble in Arc 89)

From Earth (T12: Trouble on Sol 3), we brought an orphan boy called Vosh. I hung out with him for a while, to keep him company since he didn’t know anybody in the Federation, but he’s more than a year younger than me and, now that he’s started training, he’s made friends in his class, so I don’t see him so much.

I sometimes meet Kikibi, the son of a ruler on Etke 12. He’s keen on muhunting, so I go with him on hunts – either as a team of two, or separately on solo hunts. (TB: Muhunting).

I often see Thirti and Forti, the twin daughter and son of the ruler of Didia. We met them when a tyrant took over their planet (T26: Trouble on Didia) then again when they were kidnapped (T27: Trouble on Gyit 22). The Bean and I sometimes visit them on Didia, but there’s not a lot to do there, so the four of us, sometimes with Ed, go exploring other planets. We just go to one at random, and see what it’s like. If it’s cold or wet, our visit is short!

The five of us sometimes visit an island on the planet Junic 6 because it has a beautiful tropical beach, sky-high for swimming. It’s private, but we’re welcome there because we helped the young leader. (T44: Trouble for Sitsit)

Sorry, Jukie. I hope this hasn’t been too long and boring for you: I didn’t realise how much I was going to say. But at least you now know I have lots to do when I’m not away on missions.