Aquila

3 Extracts from Aquila by Andrew Norriss

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Chapter One Pages 1 – 4

It began when Geoff disappeared. The last words he said were,  ‘Where do you want to go then?’ And then Tom was about to reply that he couldn’t really think of anywhere worth going when,  without warning,  with barely even a sound, the entire wedge of earth and grass on which Geoff had been sitting came away from the side of the hill and slid with astonishing speed down the side of the quarry in front of them.
Tom watched in astonishment. Geoff had his rucksack on his lap, a can of drink poised in one hand, and there was scarcely time for the look of sur-prise to register on his face before the earth hit the bottom of the quarry. There was a rumble like pass-ing thunder….
And he disappeared.
Tom looked at the place where Geoff had been sitting,  then at the path that had been scythed through  the undergrowth on the side of the slope, and finally at the dark hole at the bottom of the hollow into which his friend had vanished.
The whole thing had taken a little less than three seconds.
‘Geoff?’  he called, and the sound of his voice echoed round the countryside. ‘Geoff, are you all right?’
There was no reply.
Tom hesitated. It was one of those times when fast, decisive action was required, but he had never been good at rapid decisions. He was the sort of boy who needs time to think. Quite a lot of time usually, and for anything of real importance, he preferred several days’ notice.
He could go back and get help, but he knew that would take time, and Geoff might need him now. Alternatively, he could climb down and see what had happened, but if Geoff really was hurt, what could he actually do?
Decisions…
‘Geoff!’  he called again. ‘Can you hear me?’
‘Aaaaaagh!’ A sudden wail came up from the ground. Distorted, muffled, but not encouraging.
‘Geoff? What is it?’
‘Aaaaaaaaaaagh!’ The cry was followed this time by an odd scrabbling sound.
Tom threw off his rucksack, rolled over onto his stomach, and lowered himself over the edge of the quarry.   As his feet searched for a foothold, his fingers gripped the grass — but the earth beneath them instantly gave way, and he started to slide.
Halfway down he grabbed a branch to try to slow his rate of descent, but the tree was dead, the wood broke off in his hand and a moment later he was turning, sliding, tumbling and falling all the way to the bottom before disappearing into the darkness.
Winded and blinded he struggled to his feet. Slowly, his eyes adjusted to the light. He was in a cave. The only sound was of water dripping softly from the roof above, and the rock beneath his feet felt damp and cold. Over to one side he could just make out his friend sitting on the ground nursing an elbow.
‘Are you all right?’
Geoff nodded.
Tom looked at him carefully.
‘You’re sure?’
‘Fine.’  Geoff was recovering his breath. ‘Absolutely fine.’
‘Really?’
‘Yeah.’ Geoff nodded a little more certainly. ‘Really. Fine.’
Tom’s shoulders relaxed a little, but his grip on the piece of branch he was still holding did not loosen.
‘So  . . .    why the screaming?’
‘Sorry about that.’ Geoff smiled a little sheep-ishly. I suppose it was seeing him over there.’
Tom turned round to where Geoff was pointing.
‘Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagh!’ he screamed.

***

 

Pages 16 to 18

The flight back to the quarry was not as bad as Tom had expected. They travelled at a few metres above the ground, which was a lot less frightening than being several thousand metres in the air, and he had to concede it was  the most extraordinary sensation.

It was like being a bird, but without all the bother of remembering to flap your wings. Aquila sailed over the ground with less effort than it took to push a telephone button, and in total silence.

A couple of cows gazed indifferently up at them as they crossed one field, and a flock of sheep ran away from their shadow in the next. They waved at a couple of cyclists when they flew over a road, and laughed as one of them fell off his bike in surprise.

And when, finally, they swept over the top of the hill behind the quarry they had left so suddenly an hour before, Tom decided that before they went back to the coach, he would like to try a turn at the steering himself. It was such an incredible machine. It was a shame in a way, he added, that they wouldn’t be able to keep it.

‘What do you mean?’ Geoff leant over the side to

pick up Tom’s rucksack from the quarry’s edge.

‘Why shouldn’t we keep it?’

‘Well… we can’t, can we?’ It was so obvious that Tom found the reason difficult to put into words. ‘For a start, it’s not ours.’

‘Yes, it is. We found it.’

‘That doesn’t mean it belongs to us.’

‘We know who it belongs to,’ said Geoff. He pointed to the bottom of the quarry. ‘He’s down there and he doesn’t want it any more.’

‘That doesn’t make any difference!’ Tom looked at his friend. ‘Come on Geoff. Your mum doesn’t let you ride a bike on the main road – you think she’ll let you buzz around town in something like this? You think anyone will?’

They were hovering directly over the cave.

Beneath them, the Roman soldier stared out in front of him, as he had for the last millennium and a half.

‘So when we get back, we just hand it over and … never see it again?’

‘I wouldn’t have thought so.’

‘They’ll take it away…’

‘Yes.’

‘We’ll never have another chance to fly it… ‘

‘No.’

‘Or find out what any of these other buttons do…’

‘No.’

‘No…’

Thee was a long pause as an idea slowly grew in Geoff’s mind. A very simple idea.

‘I have a suggestion.’ he said.

***

Pages 54 to 58

In the garage, it was very quiet. Tom stared at the emptiness around him with a sick feeling in his stomach.

‘Geoff?’ he called weakly. ‘What’s happened?’

‘I don’t understand.’ Geoff’s disembodied voice came from somewhere in the middle of the room.

‘It’s got a light on. It must be there to do something,’

Tom looked round. Geoff’s voice sounded perfectly normal, but there was no Geoff. There was nobody in the garage but himself.

‘Geoff? Are you there?’

‘I’ll try it again…’

For a moment, Geoff and Aquila were back. Geoff, with a finger poised over the yellow button, looked disappointedly round.

‘What a let down!’ He pressed the button again, and disappeared. ‘I think I’ll try another one.’

‘Geoff!’ Tom shouted from his place at the back of the garage. ‘Please! Don’t touch anything.’

Tom reached behind him and grabbed a spade that had been leaning against the back wall. He picked it up and stepped cautiously forward.

‘What… what are you doing?’

There was a note of concern in Geoff’s voice, but Tom ignored him. Edging round to the side of where Aquila had been, he lifted the spade and let it fall. It stopped in mid-air with a clanging sound, a metre or so above the ground.

‘Have you gone mad? You’ll damage the paint.’

Geoff stood up in Aquila and stared down at Tom. At least, Tom presumed he was standing up. All he could actually see was Geoff’s body down to his waist. Below that, his legs and Aquila were still invisible.

‘What do you think you’re doing?’

By way of reply, Tom simply pointed, and Geoff looked down. For a moment he froze in astonish-ment, but then he reached down, dipping a hand into the emptiness. It disappeared. When he lifted the hand out, it was back again.

‘Hang on a minute.’ Geoff disappeared complete-ly as he sat down, and a moment later both he and Aquila reappeared. His finger was poised over the yellow light.

‘You can see me now?’

‘Yes.’

‘And now I’ve gone again?’

‘Right.’

‘Oh, wow!’ Aquila became visible again and Geoff’s face was wreathed in smiles. ‘Oh, wow! This … this is cool! You know what we have here?’

If Tom knew, he did not reply. He was staring thoughtfully at the spade he still held in his hand. In the centre, there was a small hole about two centimetres across and, judging by the dribbles of melted metal that had formed at its base, it had been made by something extremely hot.

He went to the back of the garage, to the place where the spade had been leaning against the wall, and knelt down.  A few centimetres above the ground, he could see an identical circular hole drilled through the brickwork, its sides as smooth as glass. It went right through the wall, and he could see fronds of ivy on the other side, blowing in the wind.

‘I don’t believe this.’ Geoff was half standing in an invisible Aquila, slowly bobbing up and down to watch his body vanish and then reappear. ‘Just as well you stayed outside, isn’t it?’

Tom was not really listening.

‘I mean, if you hadn’t stayed outside,’ Geoff went on, ‘we’d have just thought it was like the first button and didn’t work at all…’

‘I wouldn’t be too sure of that.’ Tom stood up.

‘What?’

‘About the first button not working.’

He held up the spade for Geoff to see and, as he did so, both boys caught the sound of fire engines getting closer.

There were eleven fires in all: four garden fences, Mrs Murphy’s shed a sunlounger, a tree, three bushes and a basket of washing. All of them were still vigorously burning when the fire brigade arrived.

The fire chief was understandably puzzled that eleven separate fires should have broke out in half a dozen gardens at exactly the same time, but he decided eventually that the fire in the garden shed must have started all the others. An exploding petrol can, he believed, had showered its contents over the fences to start the fires on either side.

It seemed plausible, and it was certainly a lot more plausible than Mrs Murphy’s claim that the fires had been started by a laser-cannon from the spaceship she had seen the previous day. It was not an idea that anyone else took seriously, though it was curious, as a police constable pointed out, that all the eleven fires were in an exact straight line.

‘I think it might be best if we didn’t try any more buttons for a while,’ said Tom.

And for the moment Geoff agreed.

That afternoon they took Aquila out on its first invisible flight around Stavely, and Geoff stopped over the park to perform a brief experiment. Hovering a couple of hundred metres above the lake with Aquila’s nose pointing slightly downwards, Geoff stabbed briefly at the blue button again.

The beam of light that appeared from the back of Aquila was bright enough to dazzle, but what most impressed the boys was the way it seemed to go on and on and on. It was there for only for a fraction of a second, but it seemed to stretch up into the sky for ever. Tom had the feeling that if it met a satellite 40,000 miles up, it would punch a neat two- centimetre hole through it as easily as it had through the garage wall.

They had, when he thought about it, been rather lucky. If Aquila had been pointing a different way, if the laser beam had shot through a row of houses instead of gardens, if it had gone through people instead of fences…

Geoff was less worried, and he was still curious about what the other lights on Aquila might do, but for now he was prepared to concede that it would be wiser, in the short term, not to conduct any more experiments.

What they already knew Aquila could do was exciting enough for the moment.

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