Authors: Pam Harvey
The principal stared at the three children standing in front of him.
‘You really have taken a particular interest in Explore!, haven’t you?’ he said. Andrea stood to one side, looking down. Her uncle had told her to go and get the children skulking about in the car park. Reluctantly, she’d done as she was told. Andrea didn’t notice the door open, nor see Gabby standing there, looking aghast. The others spotted her, though, and did well to remain expressionless as Gabby darted back inside again.
‘It’s an awesome place, Mr Taylor,’ Angus said.
‘It is indeed, Angus. But some of you young people have seen a little more of it than you should have, am I right?’
He had turned to E.D.
‘Uncle Richard,’ Andrea said, embarrassed.
’ Hannah blurted, unable to conceal her surprise. ‘He’s your uncle?’
‘Andrea, go home now,’ said Mr Taylor, trying to keep his voice steady.
‘But don’t we—’
‘I said NOW!’ he snapped, turning to glare at her. ‘The rest of you, follow me.’
‘So we’re not in trouble?’ E.D. asked, darting in front of the principal.
‘Not at all, Emilio,’ the principal smiled. Hannah caught Angus’s eye and frowned.
‘This is spooky,’ she hissed to Angus, hanging back a little. ‘I reckon he’s planning something.’
Angus looked at Andrea. ‘He won’t do anything while Andrea’s around. He’s just showing off, I reckon.’
‘But she’s not around. Look. She’s going.’ Hannah frowned.
They entered Kids’ Head Start.
‘I won’t bore you all with a tour of the learning centre,’ Mr Taylor said, sweeping his arms around. ‘Come and have a look at this.’ The children followed him across the room and through a side door marked ‘CONTROL ROOM’. ‘This is where I was when I saved you,’ the principal said, once again eyeing E.D. ‘We’re not
fully operational yet, as you know, but we’re not far away. Just the black tube to go, really,’ he said, flicking switches on a massive glass and silver console that took up one side of the room. ‘Oh, and the red,’ he added, flicking a red switch.
They looked at a large screen in front of them. The five different-coloured tubes were lit up. E.D.’s gaze followed the black line, twisting and spiralling between the others. It was easily the longest of the tubes. The graphic was three-dimensional, and E.D., staring at the black one, recalled the gentle rise then plummeting fall as the line shot straight down to the bottom of the screen.
The red tube began to flash, tiny little lights flickering along its entire length. Suddenly the door behind them swung open.
‘Oh!’ the security guard said, seeing the children alongside the principal.
‘Ricky?’ said Mr Taylor, not looking up. ‘Yet another intruder?’
E.D. felt a wet nose nuzzle up against him. ‘And that’s another thing,’ the principal said, leaning back and looking at the dog sniffing E.D.’s hand. ‘That dog’s meant to keep people away, not encourage them in.’
E.D. smiled. He was enjoying this. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a cabana stick. The dog licked his hand then took the treat.
‘Got sold a dud,’ Ricky grunted, eyeing the dog. ‘I’ll get rid of him and get us a real watchdog. I thought I heard someone in one of the tubes,’ he added, remembering why he’d come searching for his boss.
‘Oh? I don’t think so,’ Mr Taylor said, leaning to his right and pressing a round green button. A bank of small TV consoles above the main screen lit up. The principal pulled down a microphone from the ceiling and switched it on.
‘Hello? Is there someone in one of the tubes?’
‘How can you hear them?’ E.D. asked, leaning forward. Hannah stared at the TV screens above, each one showing a different angle of the various tubes. She saw nothing moving.
‘Secure the building, Ricky. I think it’s time for this little charade to end,’ Mr Taylor said. Angus looked up quickly. There was a different tone to his voice. ‘I’ve reported your break-in, Emilio. Given a full description to the police. But I’ve asked them to do nothing.
‘I can’t have meddling children interfering with my important work on enhancing children’s potential,’ he continued, looking
around at them. ‘The prestige and fortune for me once I sell the patent to my herbal tablets is beyond belief. But you’d never understand.’
Mr Taylor pressed another sequence of buttons. The green tube lit up. ‘I’m going to teach you a lesson. Learn from it and don’t come snooping back here again or you’ll have me
the law to contend with. This time your journey in the green tube should show you that I’m serious. Come along. It’s just been finished. You wouldn’t knock back a free ride now, would you?’
The principal ushered them along the corridor to the green tube. E.D. spun around, looking for a way to get out. He could see Ricky standing by the outside door with his arms folded.
Gabby sensed the dull, throbbing pulse vibrating through the red tube before she actually heard it. It was the beat of a heart she could feel pulsing through her. She was in the bloodstream of the human body.
It was time to get out again, Gabby thought, as a gurgling, gushing sound rumbled along the tube. But the sliding panel she’d climbed through had somehow closed. She pulled at it,
but couldn’t budge it. She stopped, recoiling in horror as red liquid suddenly appeared, flowing past her in the walls. She screamed, watching in disbelief as the coloured water flowed through the whole tube, swirling all around; a thick, streaming bright red liquid, frothing and bubbling.
Gabby started to move, grabbing desperately at the smooth sides of the tube, trying to resist the forward movement. But the whole floor was sliding forward and she could do nothing but go with it.
‘Hello? Is there someone in one of the tubes?’
Gabby was barely aware of the voice, crackling over the throbbing noise of the heart, now getting closer and closer. Then there came another voice—a woman’s.
‘You are about to enter the heart. Please ensure you are wearing your head piece and that it is fully covering your ears.’
Gabby looked around frantically, hoping that a pair of ear muffs or something would miraculously appear, but there was nothing but the bubbling, foaming liquid rushing past her, and the beating of the heart, like a huge bass drum, getting louder and louder. Gabby put her head down, covered her ears and screamed.
Mr Taylor waited until they were all in the tube and then pressed a button.
‘Don’t you ever, ever interfere in my family’s affairs again,’ he said, his voice hard. ‘What I am doing with Andrea is none of your business.’
He walked away as the entrance panel slowly began to close.
‘I’ve got a bad feeling about this,’ Angus muttered. ‘Really bad.’
‘So what do we do?’ Hannah asked, trying to get comfortable behind Angus. Before anyone could answer, a dog barked.
‘Hey, it’s Cabana! He must have followed me. Grab the panel, quick!’ E.D. yelled, pulling off his shoe. Angus reached for the panel and fought hard to keep it from closing. ‘Hold on!’ E.D. cried, shoving his shoe into the small gap just as Angus let go, unable to resist the force of the automatic door sliding back into place.
Suddenly a dog’s head appeared in the gap.
‘Come on, Cabana!’ E.D. grabbed the dog’s collar and pulled. For a second or two nothing happened until first one paw and then the other were poking through the gap. Cabana barked twice and licked E.D.’s hand.
‘Angus, give it another tug!’ E.D. called.
A moment later the rest of Cabanas furry body burst through the tiny opening, flopping onto E.D.’s lap. The panel snapped closed on the shoe, leaving a small gap.
‘Well done, E.D. Let’s get out of here,’ Hannah said, not exactly sure why it was a good thing to have a dog in the tube with them. She grabbed the panel but stopped as she felt a buzz from her mobile phone. There was a message from Gabby on it:
I’m stuck in the red tube. It’s
‘Gabby’s in the red tube!’ Hannah said.
‘Do you remember that map on the screen of all the tubes?’ E.D. asked. ‘Did the green and red tubes cross at all?’
Hannah closed her eyes. She’d studied the map carefully. It had reminded her of the Underground Tube map a friend had brought back from London.
‘Yes!’ she said suddenly. ‘It was just before the forest and the snakes. The red tube went underneath the green one. I’m sure of it. Before the green tube opened out into that massive jungle. Remember?’
‘I remember the snakes. Is that the part you mean?’ E.D. asked.
‘Okay, c’mon. We’ve got an opening if we need it. Let’s move.’
‘Why?’ asked Angus. ‘To get close to Gabby?’ Angus noticed Hannah’s frown as she fiddled with the phone. ‘Can you call her?’
‘I can’t get a signal,’ she said.
‘Try texting,’ E.D. suggested. ‘Tell her to move slowly and keep looking up. Look for the green tube.’
E.D. started crawling, the others following close behind. Soon the tunnel was opening up, getting brighter and brighter.
Movement ahead caught Angus’s attention.
‘What’s that?’ he asked, peering down the tunnel.
A group of mice were running towards them, but as they got near they stopped and fell over, as if they’d been hit by some invisible force. Hannah watched them in horror.
A few metres further on, E.D. sniffed. ‘Smells like gas!’ he yelled. ‘Change of plan!’ He spun around, charging into Angus. ‘MOVE!’ Hannah had already turned, and Angus was half pushing her as they scrambled back towards the opening.
‘Cabana, come on, boy!’ E.D. stopped to see if Cabana was following, but the dog was heading in the other direction. ‘Cabana!’
‘Leave him, E.D.,’ Hannah screamed, her arms and legs driving her body down the tube.
‘Cabana!’ she heard E.D. call again.
‘What’s with E.D.?’ Angus panted as they neared the section where they’d entered the tube. The shoe was still there. Angus shoved the sliding panel further open and Hannah stuck her head into the opening, breathing deeply. A moment later Angus joined her.
‘Is he coming?’ Hannah asked. Angus turned to look.
‘Oh no,’ he sighed. E.D. was dragging a lifeless-looking Cabana along the tube. Holding his breath, Angus crawled down to meet him. Grabbing the dog by the collar, the boys hauled him to the opening, then pushed him through. He flopped onto the ground and lay there. Still.
‘Idiot,’ Angus said, sucking in air. ‘It’s just a bloody dog. You mightn’t have got out.’
E.D. gulped in the air, breathing hard.
‘But I did,’ he replied, finally. ‘Now let’s go and find Gabby.’
Gabby shook her mobile phone. There was no signal, not even when she knocked it against the red tube’s wall. She looked around and shuddered at the cascading blood-filled walls. ‘Why does blood have to be red?’ she muttered to herself. ‘Why did this tunnel have to be so realistic?’
A bang from outside made her jump. She crawled over to the tunnel wall and peered through the murky haze. She could just see Hannah’s face staring back at her. ‘Hannah!’ she screamed. ‘Get me out of this mess!’
‘We’re trying!’ Hannah screeched back.
‘Any ideas on how to get her out?’ Angus looked at E.D. Cabana was coming back to life and licking E.D.’s arm, though his eyes were still closed.
‘There’ll be another opening like the one we
got out of,’ Hannah said, running a hand along the side of the red tunnel. ‘Help me feel for it.’
They were at the back of Explore! on a type of metal platform that ran against the building’s wall. Angus ducked under the tunnel and looked along the platform. A few metres down was a steel ladder. ‘Hannah!’ he called, then climbed to the top of the red tunnel. In the dull glow of the light, he could see a hatch. He undid the clasp and stuck his head in. Thick red liquid dripped onto his face and arms.
‘About time!’ Gabby stood up and reached for Angus’s hand. He pulled her through the hatch, nearly losing her at the top when his hand slid from hers.
Hannah appeared under the tunnel. ‘Have you found—’
E.D. ducked under as well. ‘Gab! You look real spooked.’
Colour was slowly returning to Gabby’s cheeks.
‘Well, E.D.,’ she said through tight lips, ‘you look beautiful as always.’
‘Let’s go then,’ said Hannah. ‘Before the principal gets back.’
‘Mr Taylor!’ gasped Gabby. ‘Is he still here? I know what he’s up to.’
‘Tell us on the way,’ Angus said. ‘We have to go down this ladder.’
The platform was a long way from the ground and Hannah moved slowly and carefully, without looking down.
Gabby chatted all the way to the floor. ‘He’s got these pills. Natural ones. Andrea and Dave have been taking them.’
By the time they were on the ground, the others had the full story.
‘I can’t believe it.’ Hannah shook her head. ‘He’s our
‘Doesn’t make him an angel,’ E.D. said. ‘Just because he’s a principal.’
Angus pointed across the room. ‘Let’s get out of here. Go for that door.’ E.D. scooped Cabana up off the floor where he’d left him and followed the others.
They ran, Gabby sliding on the smooth lino. But just as they reached the door, it swung open. Dave Kelly stepped through, pushing it shut.
‘Dave!’ hissed Angus, coming to a stop in front of him.
‘What are you doing here?’ Dave looked around the group, his eyes widening when he saw Gabby.
‘More to the point, what do you think
doing here?’ Hannah glared at him.
Dave looked down and shuffled his feet. ‘Well…um…I guess you were going to find out anyway…it’s the new principal. He’s helping me.’ Dave looked back at Gabby. ‘I’m not the brainiest kid in the world but Mr Taylor is doing an experiment. I’m his…what’s the word…ferret?’
Everyone looked puzzled.
‘No,’ Dave blushed, ‘I mean, I’m his guinea pig.’
‘The experiment’s not working if he thinks he’s a ferret,’ muttered E.D.
They turned at the sound of voices. Coming out of the KHS office was Mr Taylor, dragging a crying Andrea.
‘We’re sprung,’ said Angus.
‘Still here, then?’ Mr Taylor let Andrea go and stared at the group.
‘You were trying to gas us!’ Hannah put her hands on her hips and stared at the principal.
‘Gas you? What are you talking about? I was just going to give you a close encounter with a few of my friendly reptiles.’
‘I’ve come to get my pills, Mr Taylor,’ said Dave. The principal glared at him.
E.D. stepped forward, still holding Cabana limp in his arms. ‘You could have killed us. Look what you’ve done to Cabana.’
Hearing its new name, and the name of one of its favourite foods, Cabana suddenly stirred in E.D.’s arms.
‘Cabana!’ He put the dog carefully down on the ground. ‘You’re okay!’
‘There was gas in that tube and you know it,’ Angus said.
‘And I can still smell it now,’ said E.D., sniffing.
‘You’re talking rubbish. Why would I want to hurt you? I was giving you a free ride. There has been a problem with the cooling system, but it’s been attended to. Come along, Andrea. The rest of you can all leave now. Before I call the police.’ He turned and started to walk away. Andrea didn’t move. ‘Well? Are you coming?’
‘Uncle Richard, it’s over. I don’t want to do this any more.’ Andrea wiped tears from her face. ‘I’ve been trying to tell you. I don’t want to take the pills any more. It’s cheating. Gabby deserves to beat me. You are the best swimmer, Gabby.’
‘It isn’t cheating.’ Mr Taylor shook his head angrily. ‘It’s just enhancing what’s already there. Making the most of things. All the products in the pills are natural. You could find them in any health food store.’
‘So why haven’t other people used them?’ said Hannah softly.
‘It’s their combination that makes them unique.’ Mr Taylor shook his head. ‘I’ve been researching for years. All that time I’ve been overseas, Andrea. And now it’s about to pay off, isn’t it, David?’
‘Yeah, I suppose.’ Dave hung his head.
‘What is it?’ Mr Taylor spoke sharply.
‘How long does it take for them to stop working?’ Dave’s voice was so quiet it could hardly be heard.
‘I told you, David, that you have to take them continuously. That’s why you’ve been getting them from me at school. Is there a problem with that?’
Dave refused to look at the principal. ‘I didn’t take them today. Or yesterday. Not for a whole three days, actually…’
Dave shrugged. ‘I want to be me.’ He looked up. ‘I’ve already improved. I won the competition. I didn’t have anything else to prove. And I liked the way I was before.’
Mr Taylor had his fists clenched. He stared at Dave furiously.
‘You should have kept taking the pills, David,’ said Mr Taylor in a low, dangerous voice. ‘They take a while to start to work but they stop
working as soon as you stop taking them. You have completely wasted my TIME!’
‘I get it,’ said Hannah suddenly. ‘You changed Dave’s score to make him win our school competition because the tablets hadn’t started to work yet. But you wanted him in the state competition so he could win it, because the pills would be helping him by then.’ She looked at her principal in disgust. ‘I would have won, wouldn’t I?’
‘Of course you would’ve,’ Angus said. ‘We always knew that you were the smartest.’
Cabana swayed and began shuffling away, while Mr Taylor started towards the office. ‘I’m disappointed in you, Andrea. Maybe it was wrong to expect David to understand what I’m trying to do for him, but you—’
‘Uncle Richard,’ said Andrea. ‘Wait.’
Mr Taylor flung open the office door and marched in.
‘Cabana!’ yelled E.D. ‘Come here!’
‘He’s still groggy,’ said Hannah. ‘Look at him, poor thing. He can hardly walk.’
E.D. ran across the foyer. ‘Cabana! Don’t go in there!’
There was a yelp. E.D. arrived at the door in time to see Cabana and Mr Taylor on the floor.
‘Stupid dog,’ yelled the principal, pushing him into the wall. Something metallic clanged on the floor.
‘Leave him alone,’ yelled E.D. He bent down to the dog, curled up near a section of piping attached to the wall, and carefully helped him to his feet. E.D. picked up the piece of metal and turned angrily to Mr Taylor. ‘You might have hurt him.’
‘He got under my feet. Take him out with you.’
E.D. glared at Mr Taylor then turned to the dog. ‘Come on, Cabana. Time to get out of here.’ He tossed the metallic piece in the principal’s direction. ‘And here’s a bit of your broken Explore!’
Mr Taylor caught it. ‘Where did this come from?’ he snapped.
‘Down there. Where you pushed Cabana.’
Mr Taylor glanced down quickly then froze.
‘What?’ asked E.D.
Mr Taylor just pointed. E.D. looked closer at the spot where the metal had come away. He could see now that it was a knob. A needle in a small dial next to where the knob had been was slowly moving. Moving into the red.
‘What’s happening?’ E.D. asked. Mr Taylor had rushed past him and was frantically pushing
the piece against a protruding section of the pipe.
‘It’s the pressure dial for the cooling system,’ the principal shouted, trying desperately to reattach the metal piece. ‘If the dial keeps moving like this, it’ll blow.’ He looked up at E.D. ‘Go! Get the others and go! Get out before it explodes!’
E.D. grabbed Cabana and half dragged him out of the office. ‘Run!’ he yelled at the others. ‘The whole building’s going to blow up!’
Gabby screamed and ran for the door. Angus grabbed Hannah’s arm and pulled her after Gabby, Dave following close behind. Andrea ran back towards the office.
‘What are you doing?’ yelled E.D. ‘Get out of here!’
‘I can’t leave,’ Andrea shouted back. ‘You go!’
E.D. had no choice. Cabana had seen the others go out the door and he raced out after them. E.D., still with his fingers looped through the dog’s collar, was suddenly being dragged along.
He turned as he reached the main entrance and saw Andrea pulling her uncle along, his free hand still holding the piece of metal that had come loose from the pressure dial. Looking up,
E.D. saw Angus and the others running across the car park, over a road and into a vacant block. A moment later he’d joined them. He turned to see Mr Taylor and Andrea just behind him.
‘What’s going to happen?’ Hannah panted, finally slowing down.
‘The cooling system’s malfunctioning! It’s going to—’
Explore! shook. Windows shattered, sending glass raining down on the car park below. For a moment, Angus thought the door to Kids’ Head Start would be blown off its hinges, but it just bulged for a second and was still.
Gabby and Hannah crouched together, Hannah reaching into her pocket for her phone. ‘I’m ringing Emergency,’ she said. ‘This is terrible.’
When she’d finished her call, she slowly stood up, helping Gabby to her feet.
‘Are you okay, Andrea?’ Hannah called.
‘I’m fine, but I’m not sure about Uncle Richard.’
Mr Taylor sat on the ground, his hands covering his face. ‘My life’s work. Gone,’ he muttered.
‘Well that’s a good thing,’ said Hannah. ‘Taking those pills was cheating. It was wrong.
And when we tell the police about it, everyone will know.’
Slowly Mr Taylor stood up, turning to face Explore! Smoke billowed from its top windows. Suddenly another explosion shook the building. There was a huge cracking noise as the pink tube split open. Gabby screamed and ran back. The others followed.
The principal turned to face them. Behind him Explore! groaned as flames shot out of broken windows.
‘Let them find the evidence,’ Mr Taylor said defiantly. ‘Even now it’s probably nothing but ash.’
A siren wailed in the distance.
Mr Taylor walked towards the road to wait for the police to arrive.
‘Not all the evidence,’ said Dave.
‘What are you talking about?’ Hannah said.
Dave reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of green pills.
‘These are the ones I didn’t take,’ he said, grinning.
‘Dave, you’re smart
the pills,’ said E.D., slapping him on the back.