Alexei Leonov has completed the first ever spacewalk. But as he reaches the airlock he realises his suit has expanded in the vacuum of space.
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Charlie Lupton and the Hi-Tech Kid
Charlie Lupton Adventures, Book 5, 2017
- CHAPTER 1 -
Charlie knew that something was wrong as soon as he walked into the kitchen that Tuesday morning.
Barney, the black and white spaniel, came up to him and sat, whimpering. He looked up at Charlie with his big, sad eyes.
‘Oh, morning, Charlie,’ said Mum, as she poured a mug of tea. ‘I’m glad you’ve come down. We don’t know what’s got into Barney this morning.’
‘What’s up, Barney?’ asked Charlie.
Barney jumped up at him and barked.
‘Maybe he wants to go out into the garden,’ he said.
‘I’ve already let him out, but he soon came back in.’
‘Morning, Charlie,’ said Dad, as he walked in.
‘Has Barney calmed down yet?’
‘No, he’s still behaving strangely,’ said Mum. ‘Maybe he’s ill.’
‘He’s eating normally and looks okay,’ said Dad.
Barney went to the backdoor and barked at Charlie.
‘I think he wants to go out again,’ said Mum. She opened the door, but Barney stayed where he was and kept barking at Charlie.
Charlie walked towards him and it was only then that Barney went outside. But even so, he kept turning to check that Charlie was following. Barney ran onto the grass and seemed to calm down. He sniffed the flowers and chased off a sparrow which had landed nearby.
Charlie looked at his watch. ‘Come on, Barney. I need to have breakfast or I’ll be late for school.’ He walked back in and Barney followed close behind.
All through breakfast Barney sat quivering against Charlie’s leg.
‘I must be going,’ said Dad, as he took a last gulp of tea. ‘We can’t keep the customers waiting to get into the best climbing shop in Heatherbridge.’
‘Martin, it’s the only climbing shop in Heatherbridge,’ said Mum, laughing, as she kissed him goodbye.
‘It’s definitely the best, then. By the way, Charlie, do you fancy going for a climb this evening?’
‘We’ll have a go at Lightning Crack. You have to use a climbing technique called chimneying to get up. You haven’t done chimneying before have you?’
‘Well, first time for everything. You’ll enjoy it. Bye everybody. Oh, Jane, phone me if you think Barney needs the vet.’ With that he walked out and closed the backdoor.
‘Charlie, have you heard how Darren is?’ asked Mum, as she sat down at the table.
‘He’s okay as far I know.’
‘Thankfully, you’ve had chickenpox.’
‘Yeah, it wasn’t too bad,’ said Charlie.
‘Wasn’t he due to be in the school play? I’m sure his mother told me he was in it. And the performances are next week.’
‘Mickey is taking his part.’
‘Mickey? I wouldn’t have thought acting was his thing.’
‘He texted me last night. I think he’s hoping it will mean he can miss some lessons.’
‘He’s a tinker. Anyway, I’m sure the play will be good. Your dad and I have got tickets for the second of the two performances, on the Thursday. Are you sure you don’t need a ticket?’
‘No, I’ve volunteered to help out on both evenings so I’ll be there anyway.’
Charlie finished his breakfast and was soon ready to go.
‘Are you okay walking, Charlie?’ asked his mother.
‘I’ll be fine.’
As Charlie opened the front door, Barney bounded after him. ‘Woah, Barney, you can’t come,’ he said.
‘You have a good day, Charlie,’ said Mum as she held Barney back by his collar.
‘See you,’ said Charlie.
As he reached the end of the drive he glanced back. Barney was straining to get out and looking at Charlie with pleading eyes. Yes, something was wrong with Barney, but what?
‘Charlie, it’s unbelievable,’ said Geraldine Primrose, as they stood in the playground waiting for school to start. ‘Are you sure?’
‘Yeah, it’s all decided.’
‘I should have gone to the audition. If only I didn’t have piano lessons straight after school on Mondays.’
‘It wouldn’t have made any difference. It was Mrs Drake and Mr Daniels who decided.’
‘They should have spoken to me. After all, the play is called Elizabeth the First and I am the one playing Elizabeth. It’s unbelievable,’ she said again, shaking her head.
‘What’s unbelievable?’ It was Emma Appleyard, who had just joined them.
‘You know Darren’s gone down with chickenpox and can’t play Sir Walter Raleigh in the school play?’ said Geraldine.
‘Well, guess who’s going to play him instead.’
Emma looked at Charlie, who just shrugged. ‘I’m sure Charlie will make a very good Sir Walter Raleigh,’ she said.
‘Charlie?’ said Geraldine. ‘Uh, no, it’s not Charlie. It’s even worse than that.’
‘Thanks a lot,’ he said.
‘Well, who is it?’ asked Emma.
‘Tell her, Charlie.’
‘Mickey?’ said Emma. ‘I didn’t think he wanted to be in the school play.’
‘He didn’t,’ said Charlie. ‘But then he found out that there might be rehearsals during lesson time. Any excuse to get out of class.’
‘It’s unbelievable,’ said Geraldine. ‘This is a play about the Queen defending England against Spain whilst secretly in love with the dashing Sir Walter Raleigh. No one will take it seriously. The nearest Mickey comes to dashing is when he dashes home after school.’ She folded her arms and sighed.
‘He must have done well in the audition,’ said Emma.
‘He didn’t exactly have a lot of competition,’ said Geraldine.
‘How many was he up against?’ said Emma.
‘Uh, well, apparently, according to his text, nobody else turned up,’ said Charlie.
‘It’s ridiculous,’ said Geraldine.
‘Anyway, where is he?’ asked Emma. ‘Has he arrived yet?’
‘I haven’t seen him,’ said Charlie.
‘Let’s hope he’s gone down with chickenpox too,’ said Geraldine.
‘Don’t be so mean,’ said Emma.
‘I think that’s him coming now,’ said Charlie, as he looked towards the school gate. ‘It looks like his mum is dropping him off.’
‘WHAT is he playing at?’ asked Geraldine. ‘Why is he sat in the back, and why is he refusing to get out?’
They watched as Mickey sat still in the car with a serious look on his face and his nose in the air. Eventually, his mother threw her hands up, got out and opened the back door.
‘Please tell me this isn’t happening,’ said Geraldine.
‘I’m afraid so,’ said Emma. ‘He obviously thinks that he’s a star and that his mother is his chauffeur.’
‘Oh, no, look at him!’ said Geraldine.
Mickey had put sunglasses on and he had a scarf wrapped round his neck. He strode through the gates with a confident air and he was carrying a ring binder. ‘Ah, my co-star!’ he said, as he walked towards Geraldine with open arms.
‘Don’t even think about it,’ said Geraldine.
‘Think about what?’ said Mickey.
‘Mickey, what’s that you’re carrying?’ asked Emma.
He showed them the front of the folder. There, printed in large letters were the words, Elizabeth the First - Movie Script.
‘Movie script?’ said Geraldine. ‘It’s just a play.’
‘It was just a play,’ said Mickey, ’but now I’m in it, Hollywood will soon be taking an interest.’
‘Mickey, why are you wearing a scarf in this heat?’ asked Charlie.
‘It’s what movie stars do. Anyway, it’s part of my disguise.’ He lifted his sunglasses and then lowered them back down. ‘It stops fans pestering me for autographs and selfies.’
‘How many have pestered you so far?’ asked Geraldine.
‘None,’ said Mickey.
‘Well, there’s a surprise.’
‘It shows the disguise is working. Anyway, don’t give me any hassle. I’m all stressed. I’m worried about my pet mouse, Measles.’
‘Why, what’s wrong with him?’ asked Emma.
‘I dunno, really. He just seemed a bit agitated in his cage, that’s all. He’s probably just excited because his owner’s about to become a megastar.’
‘That’s funny,’ said Charlie. ‘Barney was playing up this morning as well.’
Then the bell went and they all trooped into school.
After assembly they went back to their classroom.
‘Now, then, everybody, settle down, please,’ said Mrs Drake.
Charlie sat down at his table with Mickey, Geraldine and Emma.
‘Mickey Dewhurst,’ said Mrs Drake, ‘I told you to remove those sunglasses and scarf.’
‘I thought that was just for assembly,’ he said, as he straightened his glasses.
‘Remove them now please, Mickey,’ said Mrs Drake.
‘But I might get mobbed,’ he said, as he took them off.
‘You didn’t get mobbed in assembly and you definitely won’t get mobbed here,’ said Geraldine.
‘That’s all I need, a grumpy co-star.’
‘Quiet, everybody,’ said Mrs Drake. ‘Now, before we start I have an announcement to make. Tomorrow, a new boy will be joining our class. His name is Omar and he is from Saudi Arabia. His father is in charge of the company drilling at the quarry and he has come to inspect the work.’
‘It’s all to do with fracking,’ said Mickey.
Everybody turned to him with puzzled looks on their faces.
‘My dad works there, that’s how I know.’
‘What’s fracking?’ asked Jimmy Durrant, who was sitting in the corner.
‘Would you like to answer that, Mickey?’ said Mrs Drake.
‘It’s something to do with drilling for gas,’ he said.
Geraldine put her hand up.
‘Yes, Geraldine,’ said Mrs Drake.
‘They drill deep into the earth and then pump in water at high pressure. The water fractures the rock and the gas is released. It’s called fracking because the rock fractures.’
‘Thank you, Geraldine,’ said Mrs Drake. ‘Now, I don’t know how long Omar will be with us, but his father was keen for him to experience a school in Britain. So please make him very welcome tomorrow.’
‘According to the local paper, they’re only doing test drillings,’ said Geraldine. ‘I don’t expect he will be here for very long.’
‘Well, his father said that his son is keen to be a proper member of the class,’ said Mrs Drake. ‘Omar even asked for a school sweatshirt to be sent to him in Saudi Arabia before he came.’
‘He obviously needs to get out more,’ said Mickey.
‘That’s enough of that, Mickey,’ said Mrs Drake. ‘As I said, please make him very welcome. Now, for this morning’s less... Yes, Penny.’
Penny Elliot had put her hand up. ‘Isn’t fracking dangerous? My mum said it can cause earthquakes.’
‘It’s true,’ said Geraldine. ‘They think some test fracking in Lancashire caused some tremors. They had to halt the tests. I don’t agree with fracking.’
‘I think we have discussed this subject, enough,’ said Mrs Drake. ‘We need to start our lesson. Now ...’
‘That’s it!’ said Geraldine. ‘Of course!’
‘Geraldine, if you have something to say please put up your hand,’ said Mrs Drake.
‘Sorry, Mrs Drake,’ she said, as she put her hand up.
‘Well, what would you like to say?’ asked Mrs Drake, who sounded a little cross.
‘Charlie’s dog and Mickey’s pet mouse have been behaving strangely this morning. That’s what animals sometimes do before an earthquake.’
‘I don’t think that has been proved,’ said Mrs Drake. ‘And I’m sure nobody else’s pets have been behaving strangely.’
‘My cat wouldn’t drink her milk this morning,’ said a girl across the room.
‘My budgie was really quiet,’ said a boy. ‘He’s usually talking non-stop.’
‘My hamster was quivering in his cage,’ said another boy.
Everybody in the classroom started talking.
‘Quiet everybody!’ said Mrs Drake. ‘We really must move on and start our lesson. Now, as you know, this year’s school play is Elizabeth the First and rehearsals are well under way. And I’m sure we are all very grateful to Mickey for standing in at the last minute to replace Darren.’
‘Thank you, fans,’ said Mickey as he raised both his hands.
Geraldine shook her head.
‘This morning I would like you each to write a short piece about Elizabethan England. But first, as a class let’s do an ABC on this period of history and find out why it’s so interesting.’
‘Great, I like ABC’s,’ said Geraldine to the others on the table. ‘It’s such a good way to learn.’
‘I can hardly wait,’ said Mickey.
Miss Rees, the classroom assistant, switched on the digital projector. The first word, Armada, appeared on the screen.
‘A is for Armada,’ said Mrs Drake. ‘What was the Armada? Yes, Susan.’
‘Was that the Spanish ship that attacked England?’
‘That’s a good answer,’ said Mrs Drake. ‘But the word Armada means a whole fleet of ships. The Spanish Armada was the fleet of ships sent by the King of Spain, Philip the Second, to attack England. Now, onto B.’
The word Bowls appeared on the screen.
‘I’ll give you a clue,’ said Mrs Drake. ‘This means the game called bowls not the things you put food in. And I’ll give you another clue. It might be to do with one of my husband’s ancestors.’
Emma put her hand up.
‘Sir Francis Drake was in Plymouth playing a game of bowls with his men when he heard the Spanish Armada had been spotted. His men wanted to set sail straightaway and fight, but he stayed calm and said there was time to finish the game first.’
‘Well done, Emma, that’s excellent.’
‘Mrs Drake, is Sir Francis Drake really your husband’s ancestor?’ asked Geraldine.
‘Not as far as I know, Geraldine, but he might be. It would be nice to have a famous explorer in the family. Mind you, some say he was really just a pirate.’
‘You should have the part of Francis Drake in the play,’ said Mickey to Charlie. ‘All pirates have an artificial leg.’
‘That’s horrible,’ said Emma.
Charlie just smiled. He was used to Mickey’s humour.
‘Mickey, have you got something to say?’ asked Mrs Drake.
‘Uh, no, Mrs Drake.’
‘Drake and Raleigh were just two of many explorers in the reign of Elizabeth the First,’ said Mrs Drake. ‘They sailed to far off places and brought back many things which people had never seen before. Mickey, as you are to act the part of Sir Walter Raleigh in the play, perhaps you can answer a question about him. Mickey, do you know what Raleigh brought to England for the first time?’
At first, Mickey looked like he had no idea. Then he furrowed his brow as though he was thinking hard. Then his face seemed to light up. ‘I know,‘ he said.
‘Good,’ said Mrs Drake. ‘Tell us then, what was first brought to England by Raleigh?’
‘What?’ said Geraldine.
Many of the others were laughing and some boys were jeering.
‘Quiet, everybody,’ said Mrs Drake. ‘That was a good guess, but not the right answer. Does anybody know?’
Geraldine put her hand up. ‘It is said that Sir Walter Raleigh brought tobacco and potatoes to England.’
‘Yes,’ said Mrs Drake, ‘although he probably wasn’t really the first to bring these things to England. He also put his cloak over a puddle so the Queen would not get her shoes muddy. He was very gallant.’
‘And people wonder why I was chosen for the part,’ said Mickey. ‘I’m a natural.’
‘Now the letter C,‘ said Mrs Drake, as the word Calais appeared on the screen. ‘Calais is a town on the coast of France. What did this town have to do with the Spanish Armada?’
Nobody put their hand up.
‘Well, the Spanish ships were moored at Calais,’ said Mrs Drake, ‘when they were attacked by English fire ships. The English had set light to some ships and let them drift without anybody on board towards the Spanish fleet and then ... ‘
But Mrs Drake never completed the sentence.
There was a deep rumbling sound. Everything in the classroom seemed to come alive. The tables began to shake and pencils rolled onto the floor. The clock on the wall slid down with a screech and crashed onto a cupboard. The blinds on the windows rattled.
Mrs Drake swayed and then reached behind her and leant against the table.
Some girls screamed.
Charlie felt his stomach turn. He grabbed hold of the edge of the table with both hands and gripped as hard as he could. It was like being on a roller coaster.
Miss Rees, who had been standing near the front, reached out and put her hand against the wall.
Then everything went still. There was silence, apart from the sound of dust settling.
Charlie let go of the table and noticed his knuckles were white. His mouth felt bone dry.
‘I think,’ said Geraldine, ‘we have just had an earthquake.’