I shouldn’t have come in here in the first place.  I knew that before I used Dad’s swipe card to get in.  But I was angry and disappointed.  He hadn’t shown up to see me play – he never shows up to see me play – so I thought I’d find him and give him a piece of my mind and then he’d get all guilty and try to buy me off with ice cream.  Then he would promise it would never happen again and he would cross his heart.  Mr Big Important Scientist would be all contrite and sorry – until the next time.

He wasn’t at the house.  There was a note, asking Mom to take his jackets to the dry cleaner’s.  There was no mention of where he was and what he was doing.  I rang his mobile from the landline.  One of the jacket pockets began to vibrate.  Great.  I took out the phone and considered sending an inflammatory text message to Mom to cause him some grief.  Friction between them would be an improvement.  They hardly ever spoke these days.  With Dad so absorbed by his research, they were hardly ever home at the same time.  A good old-fashioned row would do them good and perhaps get this family back on track.

Then I found the swipe card.  Instantly I forgot any idea of text messages.  I turned the card over and over.  It had no distinguishing marks and that’s how I knew what it was.  This was the key to Dad’s private laboratory, the one buried under the back garden.  The one no one was ever allowed in.

Well.  We’d see about that.

I clutched the card tight as I strode across the lawn.  An ordinary garden shed stood over the airlock that gave onto the subterranean chambers.

I wasn’t going to mess with anything.  I was just going to have a look.  Show Dad I was showing an interest.  Like he should be showing an interest in me.

With one swipe, the control panel lit up, green and inviting.  I twisted the lock open, imagining I was entering a submarine.  Dim blue light filled the room.  Harsh spotlights illuminated a workbench that was behind a wall of thick glass.  Rubber gloves on concertina sleeves hung limply on the other side of the glass.  Ooh!  Whatever Dad was working on must be dangerous.  I moved closer and slid my hands into the gloves.  I waved my arms around like a crazy robot.  If Dad could see me, he’d laugh.

Until I knocked over the canister.  The rubber gloves melted and curled.  The glass began to pucker and sweat. The lights around me changed from cool blue to angry and pulsating red.  An alarm began to scream at regular intervals.

I backed away from the glass and collided with a protective suit, hanging up as though it too was waiting to be dry-cleaned.  I clambered into it.  It was a little too big for me but I thought that might offer me more protection from whatever it was I had spilled.  The visor in front of me steamed up with my breath.  I had to turn my head awkwardly to see anything.

I had left the airlock open.  Holes like yawning mouths were expanding in the glass wall.

I clung to the rungs that led up to the garden and the rest of the outside world, too afraid to go up there and see what I had let loose.


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