a tale in weekly parts
Doing school homework wasn’t Xander’s favourite way of passing his time, but it was one of the things he had to do regularly, if he wanted to keep up the appearance of being a normal eleven-year-old boy. If anything, mathematics was more boring for him than many other subjects; not, you understand, because he found the topic uninteresting. Far from it, Xander Grahamson was inordinately fond of the discipline, but his bitek enhancements gave him an aptitude and ability that would be the envy of many Masters candidates. However, his public persona was that of a typical pre-pubescent boy, which meant that his assignments were mostly based around multiplication tables and simple applied problems, with a smattering of set theory; certainly nothing that stretched him. His private work, guided by Albert, led him into theoretical consideration of the relationship between Eddies and Dark Energy, a truly absorbing study that could not be compared with the eleven times table!
Nonetheless, the eleven times table was the topic of this week’s maths homework, so that was what he had to do.
“I know how I can make this more interesting, guys,” Xander said to his dogs, “how would you like to be able to do more with numbers than simply counting?”
“Is there more?” Chav asked.
“You bet,” Xander replied, “Let’s start with something simple. Chav: how many fingers am I holding up on this hand?” he held up three fingers on his left hand.
Chav counted them, “One, two, three,” he said.
“Good. And Ixus? How many on this hand?”
Ixus counted the fingers held up on his right hand, “One, two three, four.”
“Excellent. Now, how many on both hands together?”
The dogs counted in unison, “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven!”
“So, three and four together make?”
“Seven?” the dogs asked.
“Yes. Three and four make seven. Now, if I take one finger away?”
They counted again, “Six.”
“So that tells us two things, doesn’t it?”
“Yes. It tells us that two and four make six, and that seven take away one also makes six.”
“Oh, wow!” Ixus said.
“What?” Chav asked.
“We’re learning adding up and taking away.”
“Yes, you are,” Xander confirmed; “now work among yourselves, and let me know if you have any difficulties. Find things in here to count, and do some additions; that’s adding up; and subtractions, which is what we call taking away.”
The two dogs ran across to their toy box and started counting and doing simple arithmetic with their toys. Xander very quickly finished his homework and started looking again at what Albert had set him.
Albert’s voice, full of concern, interrupted his deep thought.
“Xander. We need you in Jarvis, as quick as you like. The dogs, too. First, though, find your father and make sure he’s in the sitting room, close to a telephone. We may need him to relay information.”
“Why? What’s up?”
“I’ll tell you later. Just get your dad, okay?”
“I’m on it.”
Xander ran downstairs, leaving the dogs to amuse themselves with numbers while he looked for his dad. Finding his mother in the kitchen, he asked, “Mum; where’s Dad? And don’t give me any rubbish about whippets, I don’t have time. This is important.”
“What’s so important, Son?”
“No time to explain, Mum. Where is he?”
“That’s no way to speak to your mother. I’ll tell you nothing until you explain yourself.”
“Where is he?” Xander roared, in a tone of voice he didn’t know he could produce.
His mother froze on the spot, and said, almost chanting, like a person under hypnosis, “Your father went to the shop to buy a newspaper.”
Xander ran out of the house, thinking to himself that he had no idea he had that power, and not noticing that his mother had collapsed on the kitchen floor.
Half way between his home and the newsagent’s shop, Xander saw his father ambling back, his nose so deeply buried in the newspaper that he wasn’t aware of his son’s approach until the lad spoke.
“Dad, you’ve go to come home, quick,” Xander said, breathlessly.
“I don’t know. Albert got in touch, said it was urgent. I have to go with him and take the dogs, and he wants you to stay at home by the phone.”
“I didn’t hear any of that.”
“I think he sent it just to me.”
“What does he want the dogs for?”
“He said he’d explain later.”
“Well, if Albert says it’s urgent, I suppose it must be.” Al lowered the newspaper and increased his pace. The first thing they saw when they got home was Madge, collapsed on the floor.
“Madge?” Al yelled, “Madge; are you alright?”
Madge opened her eyes and raised herself to a sitting position. “Ooh, I don’t know. I must have had a turn or something.”
“Why, what happened?”
“I was talking to Xander; he wanted to know where you were; I must have blacked out.”
Xander’s face reddened visibly.
“Do you know something about this?” his father asked him in a whisper.
“I may have shouted at Mum; I’m sorry,” Xander said quietly.
“Okay, I’ll deal with it,” Al said, “you go off with the dogs, and make sure Albert tells me what’s going on!”
Xander ran back to his room and gathered the dogs. The three ran out to Jarvis. Arriving at the shepherd’s hut, they went in through the door and found Albert frantically doing something incomprehensible, as though her were fighting an invisible enemy, or conducting an invisible orchestra.
“Thank goodness you’re here,” Albert said, “there’s not a moment to spare. We have to go now!”
“What’s up?” Xander asked.
“Jarvis is explaining it to your father now. We must find your sister.”
“We’re not sure where or when, or in what dimension Kr’veth’neq’is is, but we do know that she is in trouble.”
“What sort of trouble?”
“Serious trouble. If we can’t get to her soon and pull her out, her life may be in danger.”
“Pull her out of where?” Xander asked, beginning to panic just a little.
“We don’t know,” Albert shouted, raising his voice uncharacteristically, “that’s why we need the dogs. Jarvis has just put them under and is enhancing their sensory skills. Let’s hope we can get to Kr’veth’neq’is in time.”