Copyright © 2022 by Alan Nettleton
All rights reserved.
This is an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) of Chapters 1 and 2 from Space Kids 2, which is due for publication in 2023. No portion of this ARC may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the author.
Chapter 1 – The Call
Sophie Williams longed to return to space. She began daydreaming about what her next mission might involve as she sat next to Jack, Sahil and Leena on the red talk show sofa.
“There I was, on a distant planet searching for rocket fuel, when I was confronted with the most gigantic spider ever seen by human eyes,” said Jack, leaning forwards. “I mean, seriously, this thing was the size of a house!”
The show was being broadcast to millions from Florida, USA. It must have been the hundredth interview the children had taken part in since their adventure. It was their third interview of just that day.
“Surely you were terrified, Jack?” asked Josh Pikerman, the famous talk show host, in his deep voice.
“You know, Josh, I should have been scared, but I wasn’t really. I was more trying to look after Biggles, our dog. I didn’t want our lovable mutt to get hurt, so I quickly pulled Biggles into a small cave away from the creature. I decided to shelter there until the others arrived.”
Sophie smirked to herself, amazed at how Jack changed the story every time he told it. Her recollection of events was slightly different. It was Leena, the smallest of the four children, screaming at the alien spider whilst waving her arms furiously that made it back away. It was true that Jack ran and hid in a cave, but Sophie found him sitting in a corner trembling so much he could hardly speak. She stayed quiet as she didn’t want to embarrass him.
Eight months had passed since the children returned from what many were calling the most important journey in human history. The year was 2069, and the four children, all of whom were now thirteen, had been catapulted to stratospheric levels of global fame. One year ago, Sophie applied to lead a child-only mission into space. It was supposed to be a relatively routine trip, the type of mission completed hundreds of times by adult astronauts. Go into space, travel to a distant planet with a hyperdrive jump, collect samples from the surface and return to Earth. Space Command mission planners expected the children to come back with a few space rocks, which would have been impressive enough. Another planet out of the many millions would have been investigated. Nobody in their wildest dreams expected the children to meet and actually save intelligent alien life.
Nobody, that is, except Sophie. Even before she sent her application she was troubled by recurring dreams, which were more like nightmares, in which rocks were raining down and obliterating an alien planet. At the time, Sophie suspected that she was either going crazy or someone was trying to contact her. In the end, she discovered it was the latter. Someone needed their help.
Josh Pinkerman turned to Sophie which forced her back into the present moment. “Sophie, you were captain of the mission. Tell me how you felt when you first discovered life on the planet.”
Despite being asked this question countless times, she didn’t mind. Many people, especially children, were watching her answer for the first time, so she always did so enthusiastically.
“We were flying down to the planet in our spaceship when we suddenly spotted the huge dinosaur bird. It had scaly skin like a reptile, in the most vibrant, deep blue colour, and was just beautiful.”
“We didn’t have much time to think about it,” said Leena, in her soft, Finnish accent. “Loads more of them suddenly flew out of nowhere and I accidentally hit one.”
“Leena couldn’t have avoided the one we hit,” continued Sophie, “but she did brilliantly to land us on the planet with a damaged ship. She saved our lives at that moment. She is the most amazing pilot.”
“But the most fantastic part,” continued Sophie, “was when the dinobird smiled at us. That’s when we realised they were intelligent.”
“And then the other aliens arrived on the back of those dinobirds?” asked Josh.
“Yes,” replied Sophie, “whilst Jack was looking for rocket fuel, more dinobirds appeared with these very tall, thin people riding them. We called them the Hopian people because Sahil had the idea of naming the planet Hope.”
Josh turned to Sahil. “Sahil, you were the mission scientist and discovered the huge meteor heading directly for the planet. Tell us how you did that?”
“Well,” began Sahil in his Indian accent, “Sophie greeted the Hopian people, but I knew we had to find a way of communicating. This was not like Star Trek, where there is some magical universal translator that lets everyone speak English. The Hopians spoke in clicks and whistles. So I thought the best way of talking to them was by drawing pictures. I’ve actually always enjoyed art, as well as science. Anyway, I started drawing us arriving on the spaceship and crashlanding. The Hopian leader seemed to understand and then drew something that looked very much like a rock hitting a planet. Sadly, our sensors confirmed it.” Sahil waved his arms around with child-like enthusiasm as he explained how the kids eventually managed to take off and divert the meteor, again thanks to Leena’s incredible piloting skills.
It was all beginning to feel like a distant memory to Sophie. Almost like a pleasant dream. She started slipping into a daydream again, which she often did these days before Josh asked her a question directly.
“So, Sophie, what’s next for you children?”
She hated this question, mainly because she had no idea what was next. Returning to space felt more like a need than a desire, but it wasn’t up to her. It was up to the Space Command directors. Would they send children into space again? She certainly didn’t want to spend her life travelling around the world doing talk shows whilst trying to fit in her school work in her spare time. But then she remembered that so many children would love to have her life, which made her feel guilty. She reverted to her standard answer.
“I can’t speak for the others, but I just want to continue studying, and hopefully, I’ll get the chance to train as a full-time astronaut.”
Finally, Josh wrapped up the interview. “Well, you are all amazing. When they told me you four were coming on the show, my hair stood up on my neck. It is an honour to meet you!”
“No, Josh, the honour was ours!” responded Jack. He enjoyed the TV shows. He liked the attention.
“We’re going to take a break,” announced Josh. “Stay right where you are.”
“And…cut,” shouted the show producer.
A make-up artist came on the set to touch up Josh’s fake tan whilst other TV staff came and unhooked the kids from their microphones. They wandered backstage and had a chance to talk to each other in private for the first time that day.
“So, really, how are you guys coping these days?” asked Sahil.
“I’m not sure I want to do more interviews,” replied Leena. “It was fun at first, but I just feel tired of them. It’s not what I want to do. I want to fly spaceships!”
“I know, Leena,” replied Sophie, who always seemed to know what Leena was thinking. “I think about nothing other than getting back into space, but I suppose when we accepted the mission, we knew Space Command wanted us to be an inspiration for other kids, so we have to keep telling our story.”
“It’s not so bad,” responded Jack. “Look what I found in the shops the other day.” He reached into his bag and pulled out six small boxes. Each box had the Space Command logo at the top and contained action figures of the four children, Codey and Biggles.
He pulled the Jack and Sophie figures from the boxes and started to imitate Sophie’s Welsh accent whilst jiggling the Sophie figure. “Jack, you’ve saved our ship again. How did you become such an excellent engineer?”
He then exaggerated his own American accent and jiggled the dark-skinned toy Jack. “I don’t know, Soph. I suppose I was just born with a gift.”
Sahil and Leena laughed.
Full-sized Sophie stared at Jack, unimpressed. “Jack, you are a good engineer, but you’re also a moron!”
Sahil started examining his action figure and complaining about the bushy hair they had given him when his backpack started beeping and vibrating. Then Jack’s jacket pocket did the same, as did Sophie’s watch and then Leena’s backpack. They all glanced at their devices. It was an urgent message from Space Command.
“I’ll play it to all of us,” said Sophie, her heart racing.
A holographic image of Dr Millson, the original mission designer, was projected onto the nearby table from Sophie’s watch.
“Sophie, Jack, Leena, Sahil, we have a new, urgent task for you. Please come to Space Command as soon as possible.”
Chapter 2 – Return to HQ
Space Command had arranged for the children to take a short, earth-to-earth rocket flight from the nearest spaceport, which was Kennedy Space Center, Florida, straight back to the Space Command Headquarters in Wales.
“It must be important if they are paying for us to go by rocket! Do you know how much these flights cost?” said Sahil.
The four children waited outside the TV studios with their team of assistants and security guards. A self-driving bus approached them.
“If this is so urgent, why do we need to take a bus to the spaceport?” asked Leena.
“Leena, this is America,” responded Jack. “That ain’t no ordinary bus.”
Once the children had boarded and fastened their seatbelts, the sleek panels on the roof of the bus slid away and dozens of propellers emerged. Leena’s frown turned into a huge grin as they fired up and the bus began to lift, blowing a gush of wind over those people that remained on the ground. The rubber tyres retracted into the bodywork as the bus continued upwards and turned toward its destination. The propellers then angled themselves to shoot the vehicle forwards. Within seconds they were high above Florida, racing towards the spaceport.
Leena stared at the view. “This is very cool.”
Jack turned towards the others. “So, what do you think they will want us to do? I hope we will be going on a new mission!”
“I’ve been studying the data from our last mission,” began Sahil. “There is so much more we could learn from going back to planet Hope. We could collect more information on the composition of the atmosphere, start to classify the lifeforms, find out if their diet is entirely plant-based or if they….”
Sophie drifted away from what Sahil was saying. The thought of a return to Hope instantly gave her goosebumps. She remembered the thrill of riding on the backs of the dino-birds, the excitement of meeting the Hopian people, and especially the Hopian children. She couldn’t get those thoughts out of her mind. She had to go back.
Then, there were the unanswered questions. Sophie was sure the alien leader, Trista, communicated with her via her dreams before the Space Command mission was even advertised. She shivered whilst recalling the nightmares. The aliens shrieked and scattered. The rocks rained on the planet and wiped out beautiful the landscape. Trista was sending me a cry for help. How was this possible?
This train of thought always led back to dad. It was now three years since Sophie’s father, Mike Williams, had died. She recalled what Professor Yang, director of Space Command, told her when she got back to Earth. “Your father was working on the possibility of transmitting messages between star systems. Michael had some interesting theories.”
When Mike was alive, Sophie had no idea what he did for work as he never talked about it, but every day he would just be in his big shed at the bottom of the garden. It was still locked, and mum had refused any suggestion of opening it. In fact, it had so many locks on the door, Sophie wasn’t sure if Mari could even open it. Sophie had never seen any keys for it anywhere.
Within minutes the spaceport came into view on the horizon. Sahil suddenly recognised it. “Guys, do you realise where we are? This is where the first missions to the moon launched about 100 years ago. Then, around 50 years ago, Space X used this very pad to launch a car into space, and they landed the rockets back on Earth.”
The kids appreciated the history of the spaceport, but they had no opportunity to be tourists. The tyres re-emerged and touched down with a squeak. The bus drove the last few hundred metres, right to the base of the towering rocket. Space Command officials ushered them off the bus and straight into an elevator, which raised them level with the rocket’s passenger cabin.
Sophie had never taken an Earth-to-Earth rocket trip before. The launch was smooth, and although she felt the acceleration press her into the chair, it was nothing like the roar and bone-shaking vibration of their previous spaceship launch. This was a commercial flight, for paying business people, rather than an astronaut launch.
“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, this is your captain speaking. It gives me great pleasure to be welcoming you aboard. And I must say, Sophie, Jack, Sahil and Leena, you are four incredible individuals. I don’t normally do this, but if you could just sign this toy space ship it would make my own kids so happy!”
Sophie had to pinch herself. This celebrity lifestyle was a long way from where she was a year ago.
The flight seemed to take no time at all. Sophie barely had time to finish her in-flight meal, a veggie lasagne, before the captain’s announcement. “We will shortly be arriving at Space Command headquarters in Wales. Cabin crew, prepare for landing.”
The more Sophie travelled around the world, the more she enjoyed returning to Wales. She lived not far from Space Command HQ and was looking forward to seeing her mum, Mari, again. Sophie had told her to use some of the money from the TV interviews to buy them a new house and wanted to help view them.
The landing rockets brought the ship to a gentle touchdown that the kids barely felt. They quickly took turns signing the captain’s toy rocket with a black marker and smiled for a cheesy selfie with him, and followed their team of assistants directly from the rocket and into the Space Command headquarters glass skyscraper, through the maze of gleaming corridors and to the same meeting room where they were provided with their first briefing over a year ago. Being back in that room brought back so many memories, but after everything that had happened, it seemed like a lifetime ago.
The room was packed full of people, most of whom Sophie didn’t recognise. She did recognise Dr Millson, who looked a lot older than Sophie remembered, her curly ginger hair showing signs of grey and quite a few more wrinkles developing on her forehead. Dr Millson was in mid-conversation with another adult but broke off as soon as she saw Sophie come in.
“Sophie! Children! Thank goodness you’re here.” She ran over to Sophie and gave her a warm hug, and then hugged each of the other kids in turn. “Please, have a seat.”
Some of the adults stood up to let the children sit at the meeting table, which felt slightly odd to Sophie, but she accepted the seat. The more important-looking adults also took seats, whilst for others, it was standing room only.
“Sophie, Leena, Sahil, Jack, thank you for coming at such short notice,” Dr Millson began, “I’m sure you’re wondering why we needed you back here so urgently.”
Jack opened his mouth with a cheesy grin as if about to make one of his bad jokes but then hesitated. The mood in the room seemed so serious that even he must have decided against it.
“Sorry to have to start with this, but we don’t have much time and I need you to make an immediate choice. What I’m going to tell you is top secret. You must not tell anyone outside of this room. This is so important that I’m afraid I need you to sign a legal document to promise that you will not, or otherwise you need to wait outside. Are you willing to sign?”
The children looked at each other. Sahil’s eyes widened even more than usual. Sophie sensed the tension, but she decided to let the others answer first so she didn’t influence their response.
“Er, yes, I will,” responded Leena.
“Me too,” said Sahil.
“There is no way I’m missing what you’re about to say!” said Jack.
Sophie tried to sound as professional as she could, although her nerves were building. “Yes, I’m willing to sign.”
A Space Command employee passed each of them a tablet and a pen. The children read through as quickly as they could, although none of them absorbed much of the information as they were so excited. Each of them signed the document.
“Thank you, children,” Dr Millson said as the tablets were collected. Silence filled the room. Sophie leant forward in anticipation.
Thank you for trying Space Kids 2 – The Alien Princess
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