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Authors: Pam Harvey

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Chapter 11
Teasdale: Saturday morning

No one living in Teasdale could have missed the publicity for the state
Whatever, Wherever
finals. Two days before the event, fliers landed in every letterbox and were given to everyone at school. The day before the event, a television crew arrived from the city. They took over the one motel in town, parking their cars along the street.

Gabby was woken on the morning of the finals by the sounds of a helicopter slowly making its way towards Explore! Gabby pulled her pillow over her head but it wasn’t enough to block out the
thwump-thwump
noise of helicopter rotors. She threw the pillow away and looked at her clock.

Six a.m. Normally, she’d be up and in the pool by now but it was getting harder to do.
She’d increased her training so much that by the end of every day she was exhausted. Gabby glanced at her table with its pile of undone homework. She’d been too tired to do any for weeks now and her teachers were beginning to show real concern.

‘Gabriella,’ Ms Guildford, her French teacher, had called the day before as Gabby had been walking out of class. ‘A word, please.’

Gabby’s friends had left her to it and she stood silently in the empty classroom.

Ms Guildford perched on her table. ‘Is everything alright, Gabriella? In the last few weeks I’ve noticed that you haven’t been yourself. And I haven’t seen your essay about the Louvre that was due last week.’

Gabby looked Ms Guildford in the eye. She was a great teacher but she expected every student to be as enthusiastic about French as she was. ‘I’m okay, Mademoiselle. I’ve just been really busy with my swimming.’

‘You have an important competition coming up, have you not?’ Ms Guildford smiled. ‘I believe you’re very good at your swimming.’

Gabby nodded but didn’t say anything. She doubted that her teacher would understand how she felt.

‘You know, when I was your age, I was very good at sprints. Running, that is,’ added Ms Guildford, seeing Gabby’s look. ‘But there was one girl I could never beat. Eventually I learned that as long as I ran my best, I was always the winner. Do you see what I mean?’

Gabby nodded again, trying not to look impatient. She’d heard it all before—it was what Pat was always saying.

Ms Guildford leaned forward and tapped Gabby on the forearm. ‘But even though I knew that, I still wanted to be the very best. So I know exactly how you feel.’

Gabby lay in bed remembering the conversation. I’ll try to do Ms Guildford’s essay today, she thought, even if it’s the only homework I get done. But after the
Whatever, Wherever
finals.

She pulled herself out of bed and stood up, rubbing her arms. Her muscles felt strong under her skin, and it was easy to see that the extra training had made a difference. She was now swimming even faster than she had at the event where Andrea had won. Apart from the tiredness, Gabby could feel that she was as fit as she’d ever been. But was it enough?

A coloured blob in the sky caught her attention. She went over to the window and
looked out. A bright yellow blimp was quietly sailing over the town.
Whatever, Wherever
blazed from its side in massive purple letters.

Gabby turned and grabbed a pair of bathers from a pile of clothes on her dresser. At least I’ll have something to listen to when I’m training this morning, she thought as the helicopter thudded over the house.

The helicopter had woken Hannah too, but she was pretending to be asleep. Sean had crept into her room at the noise and was sitting on the end of her bed, looking out the window. Every time something went by, Hannah could feel him nudge her foot but she didn’t want to wake up yet. Not today. Not when it was her that should be competing at today’s finals and not David Kelly.

Sean caught sight of the blimp and squeezed Hannah’s foot so hard she couldn’t ignore it.

‘Sean! Go back to your room. It’s too early to get up.’

‘But look, Han! It’s one of those Hindenburg things. It might blow up.’

Hannah opened her eyes to see what he was talking about and saw the blimp. ‘They don’t blow up any more. They use helium and not
hydrogen these days. Now go away.’ She pulled the doona back over her head.

Sean didn’t budge. A minute later, she felt him lie down next to her. ‘I’m cold, Han.’

‘Oh come on then.’ She pushed at the doona until her brother could crawl under it as well.

‘Are you going down to watch the
Whatever, Wherever
competition?’ he said in her ear.

Hannah didn’t answer for a while. She’d been wondering that herself all night. Finally, she said, ‘Yes. I suppose so. What else is there to do?’

Angus was at the racetrack when the helicopter flew overhead. His father had been very careful over the last two days, only taking the young horses out if he’d been absolutely certain that no helicopter was going to land. Angus was riding one of the older geldings but the horse still shook its head and tried to fight at the strange loud noises. Angus kept urging him forwards and he slowly began to settle. Glancing up at the sky Angus saw the blimp as well. This must be a really big deal, he thought. We’d better go and watch.

E.D. didn’t hear the helicopter and he was fast asleep as the blimp went overhead. Music blared
from his radio but that didn’t wake him either. He’d gone to sleep with it on. When he finally woke up, he glanced at the clock.

‘Gotta go,’ he muttered to himself. ‘Ten minutes to show time.’

The crowd at Explore! was even bigger than the one on opening night. Media vans and cars were parked outside the building and there was a buzz of excitement in the air.

Hannah stared at the crowd. It looked like most of the school was there. She recognised Dave Kelly’s parents and his brothers being led through to the entrance of Explore! but she couldn’t see Dave himself. Probably in there already, she thought.

‘Going to try and get inside?’

Hannah turned to find Angus and Gabby standing behind her. ‘Do you think we can?’

‘Of course,’ said another voice, and E.D. started to push his way through the crowd towards the door.

Hannah looked at Angus who shrugged. ‘Follow him, I guess.’

The four of them wheedled their way past other students and teachers and members of the general public until they got to the door. Inside,
Explore! had been decked out with a temporary stage that was lit up like a Christmas tree, and at the front was a long table. Three serious-looking adults—two men and a woman—were seated at it, consulting each other. Microphones and television cameras hung around the stage, and men in headphones called out to each other across the room.

‘Over here.’

Hannah felt herself pulled by Gabby across the floor to where rows of seats had been set up. Most seats were taken, but E.D. had found three empty ones.

‘I’ll share with you,’ Gabby said to Hannah, as E.D. patted his seat to show that there was plenty of room for two people. Hannah slid in with her and looked at the stage.

At the back were ten tables, with a brightly coloured dome on each. Buzzers, thought Hannah. They’re going to have to answer questions against the clock. As she watched, a line of kids started to file on stage, each one taking a seat. Hannah saw Dave walk on and sit at a table near the middle.

‘There’s Dave Kelly,’ hissed Gabby. ‘His picture’s in the paper this morning.’

‘I know what he looks like,’ Hannah said.

‘Well, I didn’t.’ Gabby wriggled on her seat. ‘So that’s the kid who got the highest score in the district. He even beat our school winner. It’s only the best scores from each region that are here, you realise.’

‘How do you know that?’

Gabby sat up straighter. ‘I do read, you know. It was in the paper.’

‘Sorry, Gab.’

‘Forget it,’ said Gabby, poking her friend in the ribs. ‘Hey, look! There’s Glitzy Ritzy!’

Glitzy Ritzy was a television game show host called Peter Ritts. He stepped up on stage and smiled, his dazzling teeth glinting in the overhead lights.

‘Welcome, everyone! Welcome to the inaugural state finals of the
Whatever, Wherever
competition. The winner of this competition will be our state entrant into the national
Whatever, Wherever
competition to be held later this month. And aren’t we all pleased to be here?’

The crowd cheered noisily but Hannah noticed that the ten contestants were sitting very still. They all looked a bit sick.

‘Today’s competition will consist of three main parts—mathematics, problem-solving and vocabulary…’

‘Just like the one I did,’ whispered Hannah to Gabby.

‘…with an additional section of general knowledge questions. A correct answer is worth fifty points. Now, who’s ready to witness the battle of the wits?’ Glitzy Ritzy beamed at the crowd and they cheered loudly.

A huge screen lit up behind the contestants, flashing the
Whatever, Wherever
logo of two intertwined question marks.

‘As our contestants work through the first section, the questions will be placed on the screen behind them.’ Glitzy Ritzy waved his hand towards the back of the stage. ‘You can answer the questions along with the children. But if you’re thinking of giving them a helping hand, well you’d better think twice. We’ve got eight cameras and plenty of security personnel keeping an eye on things.’ He turned to face the ten chosen ones and looked at them sternly. ‘As soon as you’ve worked out an answer, type it on the touch pad in front of you then press your buzzer. You have one minute only to answer each question. Each of you will score points for a correct response and I’ll be selecting one of you to tell us your answer after the buzzer sounds. Ready to start?’

No one on the stage nodded but Glitzy Ritzy smiled.

‘Remember, you have one minute for this first question. And your time begins…now.’

Numbers flashed up on the big screen as the question was read aloud.

‘What number comes next in each of the sequences below?’

a) 2, 5, 14, 41

b) 84, 80, 72, 60

c) 39, 50, 63, 78

The contestants put their heads down to work it out.

‘What is he talking about?’ hissed E.D. ‘That’s not a question—it’s a lottery entry.’

Hannah frowned in concentration. ‘A is 122, B is 44 and C is 95.’

E.D. sat back and shook his head.

Angus looked at Hannah. ‘Wow. Are you sure about those?’

But Hannah didn’t get a chance to reply. A few seconds later a buzzer went and Glitzy Ritzy said, ‘Yes, David?’

‘122, 44 and 95.’

The judges nodded.

‘That is correct!’ Glitzy Ritzy smiled at the crowd and started reading question two.

‘Dave got it right,’ muttered Angus. ‘How did he do that?’

‘He’s cheating,’ said E.D.

Angus shook his head. ‘He couldn’t be. Look at this place.’

As well as camera crews, a large crowd of spectators and the judges, a series of security guards walked around looking like they’d throttle anyone who even thought of cheating.

‘You’re right. This place is like a prison.’ E.D. slunk down in his seat.

‘Shhh,’ said Hannah. ‘He just got another one right.’

The competition sped onwards. Dave scored 250 points in the first section, 300 in the next and 200 in the last section. The closest contestant to him was a girl sitting on the end of the row who finished the third section 150 points behind.

‘General knowledge now,’ said Glitzy Ritzy, still smiling. ‘Let’s see how fast you can answer these. We have sixty seconds.’ He cleared his throat and began.

‘Which flora is the state emblem of Western Australia?

‘How many zeros follow 1 in a quadrillion?

‘What word is used for R in the NATO phonetic alphabet?

‘Who wrote
The Lord of the Rings
?’

Buzzers went and answers flew around, some right, some wrong. The scoreboard below each contestant flashed red, going up and down with the answer. Gabby found it hard to keep up. At the end of sixty seconds, a loud siren went. ‘Who won?’ she said to Hannah.

Hannah didn’t answer for a moment. She had her fists clenched in her lap and her elbows were digging into Gabby.

‘Hannah?’

Hannah’s face was mottled red and white. She looked like she was going to cry. ‘Dave won,’ said Hannah finally. ‘He’s the smartest one there.’

Chapter 12
Teasdale Technology Centre: Thursday evening

E.D. had fixed the muffler especially for the reconnaissance job he’d been given on Dave Kelly. So far his shadowing had been restricted to Teasdale Secondary, and after ten minutes of skulking around the library—not E.D.’s all-time favourite place in the school—he’d decided to mend the motocross for some serious spy work.

The poultry farm, where Dave’s family lived, had its benefits. E.D. could work the dusty back roads of Teasdale that he knew like the back of his hand. There was plenty of cover too.

Nothing much happened during the first afternoon of surveillance, and E.D. left for home just before seven o’clock, cold and hungry. But the following night was very different.

At a quarter to seven, Dave and his mum climbed into their truck and sped out of the driveway. E.D. ducked his head as they drove past, pretending to be totally engrossed in the state of his back wheel. He was sure he hadn’t been spotted, concealed as he was behind a large gum tree.

E.D. sprang into action. In a flash he was on his bike and speeding away after the truck. Dave’s mum made a left turn and immediately turned right. E.D. watched from a safe distance, then crossed the intersection. They weren’t heading into town. When Dave’s mum took another right, E.D. suddenly knew where they were heading.

‘Explore!’ He sighed. ‘I might have guessed.’

Instead of risking being caught on a main road, E.D. took a right-hand turn into Coves Lane—an old dirt road that swung wide of the showgrounds, coming in behind Explore! If his hunch was wrong, then he’d lost them. But Hannah, Angus and Gabby had decided that Explore! was the common element in all the weird things going on.

E.D. smiled as he slowly made his way up Raymond Terrace. The Kellys’ truck was in the car park, Dave and his mum walking briskly towards the door marked KHS.

Now what? E.D. wondered, switching the engine off and walking the motocross. A dog barked. E.D. grinned, patting his pocket. He hid the bike behind a wall near the back of the building and crept towards the German shepherd.

‘Cabana!’ he called. ‘Excellent name for a dog.’

The barking got louder as E.D. approached, then stopped suddenly. E.D. stopped too. Had someone called out? E.D. waited a few moments then crept forward slowly. The dog spotted him and started growling again.

E.D. whipped out a cabana stick and had just poked it through the wire fence when a door opened.

‘What do you think you’re doing?’ a man called.

E.D. looked up. A man in a security uniform stood at the door, glaring at him.

‘Hi.’ E.D. tried to look relaxed. ‘I was just seeing if he liked cabana,’ he said cheerfully. The dog had taken the piece and was chewing happily. ‘See?’

‘Hmph,’ the man grunted, stepping forward. ‘Amazing. I had my doubts about Nozza but I didn’t think he was that bad.’

E.D. grinned again. ‘Yeah, well last time—’ E.D. froze. Idiot! He looked up at the security guard. But he appeared more interested in Nozza, licking the last of the cabana off his lips. The dog trotted over to E.D. and pushed his nose through the fence.

‘Give him some more, bless him,’ the guard said. E.D. pulled out another stick, unaware of the security guard quietly opening the wire gate. Suddenly E.D. felt a firm grasp on his arm. ‘Now, come along. I think there’s someone who’d like to meet you,’ the guard said, his voice harder. E.D. tried to shrug his arm away, but the guard’s grip was like a vice.

‘Hey, man, you’re hurting me,’ E.D. said, wincing.

‘I don’t like smart-alec kids messing with my animals. Now get in here and we’ll see what the principal has to say.’

‘The principal?’ E.D. said, suddenly panicking. ‘
The
principal?’

Ignoring him, the guard shoved E.D. into an office. Before he could talk himself out of it, E.D. hauled his arm away, momentarily surprising the guard. It was enough. As his grip slackened, E.D. barged straight past the uniformed man. But the security guard was quick. In no time he had
recovered, positioning himself between E.D. and the door they’d just come through. E.D. glanced to his left, desperately searching for another way out. A black door with the word MAINTENANCE written on it was his only option. He didn’t remember it from his last visit.

‘Be my guest,’ he thought he heard the guard say, as he sped across the room and flung open the door. A moment later there was a click—he’d just been locked in.

Slowly E.D.’s eyes adjusted to the gloom.

‘The black tube,’ he sighed, finally making out the dim shape of the tube to his right. There was nothing else in the room. ‘Here we go again,’ he muttered, climbing two small steps and opening a sliding panel.

The tube was narrow and dark—pitch black.

‘At least you could turn the lights on!’ he shouted. No one replied. With one hand in front of his face, E.D. slowly made his way forward. Somewhere behind him the guard was speaking, but E.D. couldn’t make out what he was saying.

Nothing happened for a few minutes as E.D. inched forward, feeling with his right hand for a change in direction. But the only variance was the gradual climb that had started a few metres back. The floor and walls of the tube were shiny
and smooth. As the climb started to get steeper, E.D. found it increasingly difficult to get a grip. He started using his elbows and knees, pushing them against the sides of the tube.

E.D. struggled on a few more metres before pausing. There was something else. Straining every muscle in his body, he listened. A low rumble, like a distant roll of thunder, was gradually creeping up towards him. E.D. didn’t often feel frightened, but the darkness, the deep growling noise coming towards him, the guard in the office and the fact that he’d left his motocross bike parked against the back wall of Explore! for anyone to come and steal, caused a tightening knot in his stomach and sweat to break out on his brow.

E.D. swore softly to himself. Slide back down and get out of the tunnel, or press on? But press on to what?

The distant rumble was now a growing roar.

‘Head back.’ E.D. grimaced, letting go of the walls and hoping he’d return to where he’d started and the safety of the room. But to his amazement, he found himself stationary, suspended in the tunnel. He should have been moving backwards!

The noise increased, and E.D. realised why he was stuck. A cool breeze was quickly turning into
a blast of air. Suddenly he was pushing at the walls, trying to force himself backwards, but the wind roaring through the tube from behind was pushing him the other way.

Bracing himself against the blast of air, E.D. hunched his body, pressing his feet and hands against the sides of the tube. A deafening roar of wind rushed past him. E.D.’s hair and clothes flapped wildly as he clung desperately, forcing as much of his body as he could against the sides of the tube.

Suddenly a foot slipped free and his body jerked forward. The noise from the tube snatched the scream from his mouth. Then his hands gave way. The howling blast of air had won. E.D. was being driven forward, gaining speed every second, plunging deeper into the black tube.

The darkness was terrifying. The tunnel curved to the left then suddenly dropped. E.D. was diving in a vertical descent, plunging into the depths of Explore! Putting his arms up to protect his face, he plummeted downwards, faster and faster. Just when he thought he couldn’t endure another moment of the terrifying dive into blackness, the tunnel evened out, and sparkles of light started to appear. Were they stars? E.D. looked again. He was slowing
down, somewhere way beneath Explore! He wondered how he was going to get out. There was no way he’d be able to climb back the way he’d come.

Finally E.D. came to a stop. He reached out a hand towards the glittering lights surrounding him but felt nothing. Tentatively he raised an arm, stretching it directly above him. Nothing. Then he looked down. There were twinkling lights beneath him too. Slowly E.D. stood up. The tube had flattened out and widened. He could stand up without hitting his head.

Again he raised an arm. This time he could just touch the roof of the tube. E.D. almost jumped out of his skin when a voice suddenly echoed down the tube.

‘Welcome to space,’ a low, resonating male voice said. ‘The final frontier. You are going where no man or woman has gone before. It will get hot, it will get cold, it will get light and it will get dark. Very dark. Please adjust your helmet and crash equipment and attach your goggles. Your journey recommences in fifteen seconds.’

E.D. turned right, then left, trying to make out where he was. Crash equipment? Goggles? The sound of air rushing through the tunnel
started up again. ‘Take up your position and prepare for flight,’ the voice said.

‘Position? What position?’ muttered E.D., lying down again, this time feet first. I’m in the black tube, he reasoned. Nothing can happen to me. It’s just another ride. Okay, a bit darker and faster than the green tube, and one hell of a lot scarier than any ride he’d taken before, but still a ride.

Slowly E.D. began to move. This time he didn’t resist the force. The tube was getting lighter as it gently turned upwards.

‘This is your last warning about goggles. You are approaching the sun,’ the voice called. The tube made a bend to the left. It was quickly getting hotter. A moment later E.D. was thrust into the brightest light he’d ever experienced. It wasn’t yellow, but white. He shut his eyes, covering them with his hands as the air forced him along the tube. Ignoring the voice that was now reeling off a whole bunch of facts about the sun, E.D. cradled his head in his arms, desperately trying to shield himself from the blinding light. He had hardly noticed the temperature rising, but suddenly drops of perspiration were falling from his brow. The heat was intense.

‘The surface temperature of the sun is a staggering 6000°C,’ said the voice, as E.D. sped through the tube. He sensed the light softening and a cool burst of air. He slowly unfolded his arms, waiting a few more moments before opening his eyes. The tube had swung around another corner, the glow of the sun lighting up the tunnel behind him as he sped further away.

‘What next?’ he muttered, beginning to shiver as cool blasts of air attacked him from all angles. Then everything went black again. The air pushing him along died, and the lights around him went out. The speakers crackled then a voice spoke.

‘Hello? Is there anyone in there? In the black tube?’

E.D. looked up.

‘Hello?’ E.D. called out.

‘If you can hear me, don’t panic. You are not in any danger. We will have you out in a moment. All the features have been deactivated. Get yourself comfortable. In a moment a blast of air will deliver you to the exit.’

‘I’m here!’ E.D. shouted.

No one replied. A few seconds later the blast of air came. E.D. dived onto his stomach, arms
stretched out in front of him as the wind from behind started pushing him forward.

It was a journey of upward twists, sudden dives, 180-degree turns, even a somersault where the tunnel curled up and over itself. E.D. got the sense that someone was now controlling his journey. He wasn’t travelling at a frighteningly fast pace like he had been at the start. All the time the man through the speakers spoke to him, reassuring him, telling him there was nothing to worry about. He’d heard the voice before. It was Mr Taylor, the school principal.

‘I’ll be in big trouble
if
I ever get out of this thing,’ E.D. mumbled, as he felt himself slowing and the noise of the airflow decreasing. E.D. sat up, spun around, and started scrabbling backwards again. Wasn’t that a sliding panel he’d just passed? Ignoring the voice now telling him to wait, E.D. reached out for the panel, sliding it open. Suddenly the air started rushing again. Had they seen him? Were there cameras in here as well? Stretching his arm out, E.D. just managed to curl his fingers around the edge of the opening before the full force of air tore through the tunnel. He was hanging by only his fingers, his body stretched back down the tunnel.

Gritting his teeth for one final effort, E.D. dragged himself forward, hauling his body centimetre by centimetre towards the opening, the wind whistling and howling as it sped past his face. First one leg and then the other, E.D. clambered through the opening and out of the tunnel. Wobbling and staggering, he got himself over to a door and pulled it open to discover a long, dark corridor. He crept down slowly. Somewhere in front of him a dog barked. E.D. pressed on and finally reached the office. It was empty.

He unlocked the door and stepped outside. The dog stared at him.

‘Hey boy,’ E.D. said quietly, throwing his last cabana sticks at him and climbing the wire fence. He was relieved to see that his bike was still where he’d left it. As he climbed on, he glanced at his watch. It had been only thirteen minutes since he’d parked the bike even though it felt more like thirteen hours.

He had nothing to report for his adventure either. Nothing, that is, except that Dave Kelly had visited Explore!

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