Ctrl-Z

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 Extract from Ctrl-Z by Andrew Norriss

Chapter 1

 

It was a Saturday morning, and Alex was sitting at the desk in his bedroom, when his father called up to say there was a parcel for him. A parcel sounded interesting, Alex thought, and he hurried downstairs to the kitchen, where his father was studying the label on a box about the size of a small suitcase.

‘It’s from Godfather John,’ he said, as Alex appeared. ‘I suppose it’s a birthday present.’

Alex’s birthday was not for another three months, but presents from Godfather John could arrive at any time in the year, and when they did they were usually… unusual.

Last year’s present, for instance, had been a Make Your Own Explosions Kit, which Alex still wasn’t allowed to play with, and the year before that his godfather had sent a pair of ferrets, with detailed instructions on how to use them to catch rabbits.

‘Perhaps we should open it outside,’ said Mr Howard, doubtfully, remembering the ferrets, but Alex was already tearing off the brown paper and pulling open the lid of the box.

Inside was a battered black case, containing a laptop computer.

‘Goodness,’ said his father. ‘How very generous.’ He peered into the empty box. ‘Is there a card with it? Or a letter?’

Alex was rather disappointed. A laptop computer might sound like an exciting present to get, but this was not, he could see, a new machine. It was old, with spots on it that looked like bits of somebody’s lunch. It probably wouldn’t be able to do half the things that Alex could do on the computer his parents had given him for Christmas. As presents went, an old laptop was a lot less exciting than a Make Your Own Explosions Kit or a pair of ferrets.

‘Are you going to try it out?’ asked his father.

‘He’s not trying out anything till he’s done the drying up.’ Alex’s mother had appeared in the kitchen, wiping oil and grease off her hands onto a piece of kitchen towel. ‘Could someone put the kettle on?’

Ten minutes later, when Alex had finished the drying up, he took his computer upstairs to his room. It might only be an old laptop but you never knew. There might be some interesting games on it.

Sitting at his desk, he turned on the machine and a window appeared asking him to type in his name and address, and then to fill in the date and the time. The date was the 14th of May and the clock on his desk said the time was twenty three minutes past ten, so he tapped in the numbers 10.23.

At least, that was what he meant to do.

In fact he typed in the numbers 10.03.

That wasn’t really a problem though. Alex knew that, when you made a mistake on a computer, there was a very simple solution. If you pressed the Control key and then pressed Z, the computer went back to before you had made the mistake.

So that was what he did now.

He pressed Ctrl-Z.

And the computer disappeared.

 

It took a moment for this to sink in. After all, things don’t just ‘disappear’ – especially not computers that you’ve only had for ten minutes and hardly touched. Alex looked round the room, and under the desk – he even looked out of the window, but there was no mistake. The laptop had vanished and there wasn’t a sign of it anywhere.

He was still sitting at his desk, wondering what he should do, when his father called up from downstairs to say there was a parcel for him.

Puzzled, Alex went down to the kitchen where he found his father studying the label on a box about the size of a small suitcase.

‘It’s from Godfather John,’ he said, when he saw Alex. ‘I suppose it’s a birthday present.’

Alex stared at the parcel. ‘It’s the same as the last one!’ he said.

‘You mean the Make Your Own Explosions Kit?’ said his father. ‘No, no, that was a much bigger box.’ He paused for a moment before adding, doubtfully. ‘Perhaps we should open it outside.’

Alex stepped forward, tore off the paper and pulled open the lid of the box. Inside was a battered black case, containing a laptop computer.

The whole thing was getting weirder by the second. ‘It’s another computer,’ said Alex. ‘Why would he send me another computer?’

‘Well, he probably didn’t know that we gave you one for Christmas,’ said his father, picking a bit of dried egg off the lid. ‘And this one’s a laptop. Which means you can have it upstairs in your room, if you like. Are you going to try it out?

‘He’s not trying out anything till he’s done the drying up.’ Alex’s mother had appeared in the kitchen, wiping oil and grease off her hands onto a piece of kitchen towel. ‘Could someone put the kettle on?’

 ‘I’ve already done the drying up,’ said Alex. ‘I did it just…’ he stopped. There on the draining board were all the breakfast dishes. Not more dishes that had been put there since he did the drying up but exactly the same dishes as before. As if someone had carefully taken them back out of the cupboard, got them wet under a tap and put them out for him to do all over again.

He was beginning to think that the whole world had gone mad – and then he saw the clock.

The clock on the kitchen wall said that the time was eight minutes past ten.

A faint suspicion of what must have happened stirred in his mind. It was quite impossible of course and yet… and yet…

Twelve minutes later, when Alex had finished doing the drying up for the second time, he was back at his desk in his bedroom with the laptop open in front of him.

After he had turned it on, a window appeared, asking him to type in his name and address, and then to fill in the date and the time. He typed in his name and address, filled in the date, the 14th of May, and then the time.

The clock on his desk said the time was twenty two minutes past ten, but that was not the number he tapped in. Instead, he did exactly what he had done before and carefully tapped in the wrong time – 10.03 – and then pressed the Control key and Z.

The computer disappeared, and Alex sat there, waiting.

He didn’t have to wait long.

It was only a minute or so before his father’s voice came floating up from downstairs to say there was a parcel for him.

 

The clock on the kitchen wall said that the time was four minutes past ten. Alex’s father was studying the label on a box about the size of a small suitcase and saying ‘It’s from Godfather John. I suppose it’s a birthday present.’

And then everything happened again. It was the strangest feeling, watching the events unfold – opening the box, finding the computer, his father’s surprise, his mother coming in from the garage and saying he had to do the drying up for the third time. Finally, he was back at his desk in his bedroom, typing his name and address into the computer and then filling in the date and the time…

Well, not the time. Not just yet.

Because the time was the secret, he was sure of that. When he typed in 10.03 he had gone back to 10.03, but did that mean if he typed in a different time he would go back to that one instead?

There was only one way to find out.

The clock on the right hand side of his desk said the time was 10.21. He tapped in 10.20 in the keyboard, then moved the clock from the right hand side of his desk to the left before pushing down the Control key and tapping the Z.

Instantly, the clock disappeared from the left hand side of the desk and was back on the right.

And it said the time was 10.20.

He did the same thing again, just to check. This time, as an experiment, as well as moving the clock from one side of the desk to the other, he moved some books from the shelves by the window to the middle of the floor, and a pair of slippers on to the bed. Sitting back at his desk, the clock said the time was 10.22. He tapped 10.20 into the computer, and pressed Ctrl-Z again.

In an instant, the clock had moved back to its original position, the slippers were back under the bed and the books were back on the shelf. Everything was back to exactly how it had been at 10.20.

It was extraordinary. It was the most extraordinary thing that had ever happened to him, Alex thought. It was hard to believe, but it seemed that, if you put a time into the computer and pressed Ctrl-Z, you went back to that time.

It was so hard to believe, he thought he had better try it again.

For his next experiment, he decided to make more changes than moving a few books and a pair of slippers. This time, he tipped all the books onto the floor, he emptied the entire contents of a box of Lego onto the carpet and then pulled his duvet and pillows off the bed for good measure. While he was pulling the duvet, he knocked his bedside light onto the floor and broke it, and for a moment he wondered how he was going to explain this to his parents. But then he realised he didn’t have to explain anything. It didn’t matter how much damage he did or what he broke because, when he pressed Ctrl-Z, everything would go back to how it had been before.

He was still standing there, thinking about this, when his father came in.

‘Just wanted to see how you were getting on with…’ Mr Howard paused, taking in the bedding on the floor, the Lego scattered on the carpet and the broken bedside light. ‘What on earthhave you been doing?’

‘Ah…’ said Alex. ‘Well…’

‘You’ve broken the light,’ said his father. ‘How did that happen?’

‘Um…’

‘And why’s all this stuff on the floor? What’s going on?’

Alex was moving towards his desk. ‘Hang on a minute,’ he said. ‘I just have to type in something.’

‘You’re not typing in anything,’ said Mr Howard, firmly, ‘until you’ve explained what all this…’

But at that point Alex pressed Ctrl-Z and his father disappeared. Alex was back sitting at his desk, the duvet and pillows were back on the bed, and the bedside light was back on the table, unbroken, and the clock said it was twenty minutes past ten.

Looking at the computer screen, he noticed for the first time a little envelope icon in the bottom right hand corner. When he clicked on it, the menu screen disappeared and was replaced by an e-mail. It said –

 

Dear Alex,

I know you’re probably thinking this is a really boring present and you’ve already got a much better computer, but hold your horses because this machine can do something really quite interesting!

When you turn off this message and start filling in your details, one of the things it’ll ask you to do is fill in the time. You can always put in the right time but, if you put in an earlier time and press Ctrl-Z, I think the result will surprise you!

Anyway, I hope you have some fun with it and make lots of mistakes!

Your loving Godfather,

John Presley

P.S. It might be best not to mention any of this to your parents. They’d probably just take it away like they did the Explosions Kit!

 

Alex read the email through twice. He had no idea why Godfather John should want him to make lots of mistakes but that was only one of several questions buzzing round his brain. Like where the laptop had come from, who had made it, and how it worked…

The door opened and his father came in.

‘Just wanted to see how you were getting on with your birthday present,’ he said. ‘Does it work?’

‘Yes, yes, it does,’ said Alex. He stood up. ‘I thought I might take it round and show Callum.’

‘Won’t he be busy this morning,’ said Mr Howard, ‘with the party?’

‘That’s not till this afternoon,’ said Alex. He closed the lid of the laptop. ‘And there’s a programme on here I think he’d like to see.’

He had a feeling that his friend Callum would be particularly interested in Ctrl-Z.

***

 

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