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Rocket & Liftoff – The Bedlam Bugs

 

Rocket & Liftoff – The Bedlam Bugs

Copyright 2016 Jon Ireland

Published by Jon Ireland at Shakespir

 

 

 

Shakespir Edition License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your enjoyment only, then please return to Shakespir.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 – The chase

Chapter 2 – Escape from Devil’s Canyon

Chapter 3 – Under attack

Chapter 4 – Holding on for dear life

Chapter 5 – The rescue

Chapter 6 – The watcher in the shadows

Chapter 7 – The peculiar incident at the lake

Chapter 8 – We’ve got problems

Chapter 9 – An appointment with the Doctor

Chapter 10 – Beware the bugs

Chapter 11 – Night time visitors

Chapter 12 – Crazy Klump

Chapter 13 – The Arm-E Attack

Chapter 14 – Back to the backdoor

Chapter 15 – Underground and undercover

Chapter 16 – The computer virus

Chapter 17 – The Specimen Chambers

Chapter 18 – The Code Maker

Chapter 19 – The escape key

Chapter 20 – The insider

Chapter 21 – The final countdown

Chapter 22 – The return of the Bedlam Bugs

Chapter 23 – The Beginning of the End

Chapter 24 – Double the trouble

Chapter 25 – The missing key

Chapter 26 – Into the final minute

Chapter 27 – Only thirty seconds left

Chapter 28 – The Shadow’s warning

Thanks

About Jon Ireland

Chapter 1 – The chase

His clothes were normal for a young boy – a red sports shirt, black knee-length shorts and a leather belt. What wasn’t normal was his furry face, perky ears, black shiny nose, swishy tail and enormous padded feet.

In those ways, he was much more like a cat.

A unique cat certainly, a cat who talked and walked on two big feet – and a cat with a world-class talent for running.

Fast running. Blazingly fast running.

He was so quick that everyone called him ‘Rocket’.

If you had seen Rocket on this particular day, on the secret island where he lived, you would have been lucky enough to witness the fastest chase in the whole wide world.

And not only was it the fastest chase in the world, it was also the most dangerous. So dangerous that one of the racers would die.

On that fateful morning, it began with Rocket wandering round the woods in search of dry sticks for a camp fire.

It was a gloomy and drizzly day, the trees swayed with a cold breeze and a mist blanket fell deep into the forest.

Amongst the pitter patter of raindrops, Rocket began to hear an unusual whistling sound.

His ears pricked up.

Strange, he thought.

The whistling grew louder.

The hairs on the back of Rocket’s neck began to tingle. His eyes darted along the forest path where he could see something peculiar happening in the fog. It was unravelling and swirling like a whirlpool.

Very strange.

Rocket squinted at the whirling fog when suddenly –

SWISH!

Out of the grey mist came a blast of sparks and flames. A glistening, shimmering red missile flew out at terrific speed – and straight for Rocket.

The missile was going too fast for anyone to move of out of its way.

But Rocket, of course, wasn’t anyone.

Faster than the blink of an eye, he hopped aside.

WHOOSH!

A red blur zoomed past Rocket’s face and the fur on his cheeks ruffled in the missile’s wake.

‘Hey!’ shouted Rocket. He coughed and spluttered as a cloud of exhaust fumes engulfed him. ‘Watch where you’re going! You could kill someone!’

Rocket stared in disbelief as the speeding red comet rose majestically into the sky, turned around and headed back towards him.

‘Uh oh,’ said Rocket, dropping his collection of sticks to the ground. ‘It is trying to kill someone… ME!

 

  • * *

 

Liftoff looked like a normal bear – brown fur, large extruding nuzzle, wide black nose, and a tuft of fluffy hair between two round furry ears. But unlike a normal bear, Liftoff wore an extra-extra-large blue t-shirt, denim shorts and an over-the-shoulder brown school satchel with a white toy bunny.

Liftoff was a special bear for another very important reason … Without doubt he was the strongest animal in the world.

That morning, Liftoff was excited because he’d seen some pink tulips in bloom and had decided they would make a rather nice addition to his log-cabin window. Liftoff (and his bunny) had found them on the southern tip of the island, just before the cliffs where a patch of wide open grassland stretched out before the sea.

Liftoff bent over, plucked a handful of the tulips and placed them into his satchel next to his bunny.

That was when he heard the thunderous boom.

He rubbed his tummy gently. ‘It can’t be my stomach. I’ve only just had breakfast.’

He looked up at the grey clouds drifting in from the east.

‘Must be a storm coming. We better get inside, little bunny. Don’t want you catching a cold!’

Another boom reverberated from the trees, and this time the earth trembled under Liftoff’s feet. There was a loud, crunching sound like snapping wood from the forest. Then, quite unexpectedly, bursting through the trees, appeared an extraordinary, ginormous bouncing ball.

BOING! BOING! BOING!

The ball was bigger than the size of Liftoff’s log-cabin!

‘What in the fruit trees is going on?’ said Liftoff, staring in disbelief at the mega ball bouncing towards them.

The ball was shining like it was made of stainless steel, and it was powered by jets of blue flames, spinning it around after every bounce.

Casting an ominous shadow, Liftoff watched in amazement as it bounded ever nearer.

‘Watch out!’ shouted Liftoff. He covered his small furry ears with two big paws and ducked down. ‘It’s going to squash us!’

BOING! BOING! BOING!

There came an almighty –

SPLAT!

– as the huge shiny ball dropped from the sky and pummelled Liftoff flat into the mud.

 

  • * *

 

Rocket was feeling extremely worried.

The returning missile throttled its way along the forest path, leaving a wake of dust, scattered leaves, branches and exhaust fumes. Like a furious rampaging bull, it was locked in deadly pursuit, fixated on its target.

And there was no doubt about it now.

Rocket was the target.

Without a moment to spare, Rocket reached into his belt utility pocket and pulled out several blueberries. He popped them into his mouth and downed them in a single swallow.

Gulp!

Already he could feel the tingling magic in his tummy. His belly glowed a warm yellow. Next his thighs were radiating, then his knees and ankles and then his big padded feet. From yellow to orange to fiery red, his toes, at last, burning like hot iron pokers pulled from a roaring inferno.

He could feel the powerful energy pulsating through his legs.

‘Nothing is faster than a speeding Rocket,’ he whispered to himself. ‘Nothing!’

But as the missile roared closer he wasn’t quite sure whether a missile was faster than a rocket.

One thing was for sure, he was about to find out.

Chapter 2 – Escape from Devil’s Canyon

SWOOSH!

Speeding cat against speeding missile.

Rocket’s feet became a blur of circular motion, arms pumping and chest pushed out front.

The roaring red missile was hot on his furry tail.

It was a strange experience because running at fifty miles per hour was, for Rocket, a casual affair, a light jog, simply a fast-paced stroll. But this was much faster – much, much faster. Two hundred? Three hundred miles per hour even? The thought occurred to Rocket that this could be the fastest he’d ever run in his whole life.

And perhaps his last.

Zooming through the Forever Forest, it was all a blur of greens, reds and browns, with a cloud of dust and debris in his wake.

Wild rabbits didn’t have time to hide away in their burrows – they didn’t even have time for a nose twitch.

Rocket and the red missile had come and gone in a flash.

At incredible speed, Rocket led the missile on a winding trail to the far edge of the forest.

The missile had kept pace with him round every corner, every turn, and every tree – and it wasn’t slowing down.

I can’t get it off my tail, thought Rocket, gasping for breath. It’s too fast!

 

  • * *

 

Now for any other creature, animal or normal person, being bashed on the head by a giant bouncing steel ball would most certainly have been a fateful ending. Squashed and splatted like an unwelcome fly at a summertime picnic.

But Liftoff was far from normal.

Using his super-powerful strength, Liftoff pushed up the shiny ball and threw it away like an olympic shot putter.

Liftoff rubbed his soar head and stepped out of the newly formed crater.

He checked his satchel and was dismayed to see his new flowers were squashed and bent.

‘You broke my tulips!’ cried Liftoff, feeling more upset by the flowers than the bang on his head. ‘That’s not fair!’

All of a sudden, the huge shiny ball erupted into blue and orange flames, engulfing itself in a blazing fire.

Liftoff stared at the fire-ball wondering if he’d broken it.

But the massive fire-ball rolled forwards, slowly at first, and then picking up speed, faster and faster, until it was bouncing once again.

BOING! BOING! BOING!

Burning furiously, it bounded menacingly towards Liftoff, ready for a second deadly strike.

 

  • * *

 

Glancing back at the venomous red missile, Rocket decided to change tactics.

Suddenly, he hit the brakes. Pushing his feet into the dirt, carving the ground and sliding like a desperate baseball player reaching first base.

The missile flew within a fraction above his ears and whizzed onwards.

Rocket didn’t have time to rest. Like a shark returning for the kill, the missile had already begun a one hundred and eighty degree turn and was back on the hunt – ready to attack.

Gathering his bearings, Rocket looked for an escape route.

Devil’s Canyon! thought Rocket, spying an entrance to the infamous rocky ravine. He took a deep breath.

‘Only a fool would go in there…’

Without a second to lose, his oversized feet were a circular blur of action. Once again, the villainous red missile was hot on his trail.

Rocket scrambled his way down a rocky pass and entered into Devil’s Canyon. He shot out into the steep-sided ravine where he hopped from boulder to boulder and rock to rock, speeding his way over white-water rapids.

Light on his feet Rocket barely made a splash.

The chasing red missile, on the other hand, churned up the water-rapids with a roar, leaving behind a trail of steam and splattered mud.

Turning this way, then that, Rocket followed the canyon northwards where it became nail-bitingly narrow. With all the noise from the missile, the rocks round him trembled. Suddenly there was a huge land-slide –

CRASH.

Skidding and sliding, Rocket dived into a pile of the fallen boulders and somehow managed to squeeze through the land-slide and onto the other side.

The missile scraped the side of the canyon as it tried to follow Rocket’s tail.

SCREECH!

Battered on both wings, the missile tried to squeeze into a tiny gap between the boulders – but it was no match for Rocket’s agility.

BOOM!

The missile impacted into the land-slide and blew itself to pieces. An explosion, and then a mushrooming ball of smoke climbed into the sky followed by a shower of broken metal pieces.

Rocket breathed a sigh of relief as he watched the red missile’s debris splatter and pop against the rocky ravine.

‘Where on earth did that missile come from?’ said Rocket wiping his sweaty brow. He looked around at the scorched rocks and frowned.

‘I’ve got a bad feeling I’m not the only one who’s in danger…’

 

  • * *

 

Ruffled by the knock on the head and, more annoyingly, his squashed tulips, Liftoff felt rather miffed off. Marching over to a nearby pine tree, a fairly sturdy one, and with a good bit of tugging and twisting he lifted the trunk from the dirt.

SCRUNCH!

With the long roots behind him and the tip of the tree in front, he held the pine tree as though it were a regular baseball bat.

The shiny fire-ball bounced menacingly closer …

BOING! BOING! BOING!

Liftoff readied himself for a mighty swing and –

THWAK!

With a well-timed lash of the tree, Liftoff thumped the bouncing fire-ball way up into the air and out towards the sea.

PEAOW!

The fire-ball hurtled and whistled into the sky, beyond the coastal cliffs and then down, down, down, splashing into the ocean below.

The shiny ball sank slowly, its flames extinguished with a hiss of steam. Then covered with lapping waves it gave a final gurgle of bubbles and disappeared below the water’s surface.

Rocket appeared by Liftoff’s side, screeching to a sudden halt.

‘What are you doing playing with fire?’

‘It’s not my fault,’ said Liftoff, shaking his head. ‘It was a giant bouncing ball! It came out of nowhere, set itself on fire, and tried to splat me!’

‘Weird. I’ve just been chased by a deadly missile,’ Rocket explained, motioning with his hands. ‘It almost killed me!’

‘A deadly missile?’ Liftoff stared blankly. ‘Did you escape?’

Rocket gave a puzzled look and then decided to ignore the obvious question.

‘I think someone or something is trying to finish us off!’

‘But why? Does someone not want me picking flowers?’

Rocket shook his head.

‘I don’t think it’s anything to do with your flowers, Liftoff. I think our island is under attack.’

Chapter 3 – Under attack

Being something like a cat was, at this moment, to Hoppy’s great advantage. Her long pink swishing tail provided balance, her back could arch and twist to the oddest of shapes and her hands and feet were nimble and strong. Her tight fitting pink costume was designed to stretch and twist, and her white utility belt and pink slip-on shoes were perfect for this kind of climbing.

Over on the east coast of the island, Hoppy was clambering over a jagged rock face – hundreds of metres above a rushing river – and doing it all upside down.

With great skill, Hoppy carefully navigated her way down the steep ravine. Her expression was hardened with concentration.

A metre or so below her was a satellite dish, somewhat rusted and dented, and extruding from the rocks. Hoppy gingerly lowered herself nearer and leaned in. She stretched her left hand to the base of the dish and flipped open a concealed maintenance hatch. Inside the hatch lay a bundle of spaghetti wires, cables, a radio and a keypad.

A small green dinosaur was yapping and barking from the ledge above.

‘Quiet, Tinysaur,’ said Hoppy sternly. She focussed her attention back on the satellite dish and the maintenance hatch.

Tinysaur was perched at the top of the cliff, peering down. Best described as a small, harmless Tyrannosaurus Rex, she was a little green dinosaur without sharp claws or vicious teeth.

Tinysaur whined pitifully, shuffling anxiously side to side, clearly in some sort of distress.

‘Shhhh’ hushed Hoppy, who now had one hand inside the satellite’s maintenance box while the other hand gripped tightly to a piece of rock. ‘I think the radio’s still working.’

‘Yap, yap, yap!’ Tinysaur barked. ‘yappety, bark, grrrr, yap, yap, yap!’

Tinysaur’s extraordinarily heightened sense of smell and hearing were picking up all kinds of warning signals.

‘Well it will just have to wait,’ said Hoppy keeping her attention on the satellite dish. ‘Can’t you see I’m busy.’

She pulled at one of the spiralling cables which was attached to a radio transmitter and receiver.

‘Time to make an emergency call.’

She swung herself around into an upright position, clinging on tightly and began to tap onto the radio transmitter.

‘Hello? Is anyone there?’

The speaker crackled.

‘This is a restricted communication channel,’ said a male voice. ‘Who is this?’

‘Please help,’ said Hoppy urgently, ‘I’m on an island – somewhere – I don’t know where. And I need rescuing! You must help!’

‘What is your name?’ replied the male voice.

‘My name is Hoppy. I’m being held in captivity. You need to get me off this island!’

‘Hoppy….’ said the voice. There was an uncomfortable pause. ‘I remember that name…’

‘Hello? Are you still there? Do you know who I am?’

‘You don’t need to worry about a rescue,’ said the mysterious voice, and then in a sinister tone: ‘Your time on the island is coming to an end.’

There was a click and a long beep sounded as the line disconnected.

‘Hey! Where’d he go?’ said Hoppy. She tried tapping the keypad again but there was no answer. She punched it in frustration.

‘Why do I never get a break!’ said Hoppy angrily.

Tinysaur began howling. She was jumping up and down frantically.

She could see something terrible coming. Scurrying over towards her was a frightening sight –

Giant spiders!

Hundreds of them!

With long spindly legs and big hairy backs, a mass of giant spiders crept closer to the cliff.

In a panic, Tinysaur scrambled over the cliff edge, scrappily clutching onto anything her little paws could reach. Her big two feet dangled and slid down the side of the rocks, knocking stones and loose soil into river far below.

Before Hoppy could say or do anything, Tinysaur lost her grip and tumbled. With lightning reactions, Hoppy reached out a hand and grabbed one of Tinysaur’s paws, saving her from a perilous fall.

‘What do you think you’re doing?’ chastised Hoppy. ‘What’s got into you?! I told you to wait at the top!’

The little dinosaur signalled for Hoppy to look up. The giant spiders were crawling all above them.

‘Oh,’ said Hoppy, eyeing up the oncoming creepers. ‘They don’t look friendly. We better move and fast.’

To the left of them was a rock ledge, extruding several feet out over the ravine, and just about big enough for the two of them to stand on.

‘Over there,’ said Hoppy, pointing.

Hoppy helped Tinysaur clamber along the rocks and onto the ledge.

‘Do you think you can climb down from here?’

Tinysaur poked her head over the edge and stared down at the river below. It was a drop of several hundred feet. She covered her eyes with her tiny paws and shook her head.

‘Ouch!’ Hoppy suddenly felt a sharp sting in her left shoulder. One of the giant spiders had jumped and landed on her back, taking her by surprise.

Instantly, she swatted it away, sending it flying down the ravine.

‘Make sure they don’t touch you – they’ve got stingers. We’ve got to get away from here.’

As soon as she’d said that, ten more of them appeared at the back of the ledge. Then ten more to the right and ten more to their left.

Giant spiders everywhere.

They were trapped!

Chapter 4 – Holding on for dear life

Three giant spiders leapt together at Hoppy but this time she saw them. With one chop of her right arm and a kick with her left boot, she knocked the spiders flying.

HEEYAH!

Two of the creepers went after Tinysaur, who growled at them menacingly. Tinysaur flicked her tail and skilfully brushed them off the ledge and into the river.

Hoppy backflipped over five more spiders, and swept her foot in a circle like a whip, flinging several more over the side.

‘YEOW!’ howled Hoppy as she was stung again, this time on her left foot. ‘That hurt!’

She stomped on top of spider and crushed it.

More giant spiders began to emerge. They were coming from all directions.

‘There’s too many of them,’ cried Hoppy, ‘I can’t hold them off any longer. Take my hand, Tinysaur.’

She held her right hand out to Tinysaur who took hold of it with both her paws.

‘You’re going to have to trust me. This sounds crazy but I’m going to throw you onto the other side of the ravine!’

Tinysaur’s eyes widened. But before she could do anything about it, Hoppy lifted her from the ground and swung her round and around preparing her for launch.

Tinysaur yelped!

‘Get ready! 3 – 2 – 1!’

She was off.

Flying through the air like a tossed pancake, Tinysaur went from one side of the ravine up and over to the other.

WHEEEEE!

Landing with a thud, and then skidding on grass and into a bush, she made it to the other side.

Hoppy was left on the rock ledge, now swarming with spiders.

‘Here I go,’ said Hoppy as she took one step back and two fast steps forward. Using all her strength she leapt out over the ravine.

Several of the spiders immediately tried to spring after her.

‘Yowch!’

One of the spiders managed to grab on to her trailing ankle while the others missed and fell.

Now she couldn’t jump far enough!

Her arms flung wildly and Hoppy managed to grab onto an overhanging tree branch on the other side of the ravine. Then in one smooth motion, she swung herself around the branch, flicked off the last clinging spider and let go, catapulting herself up and over the cliff edge to end up gracefully landing beside Tinysaur.

‘Phew!’ gasped Hoppy. ‘I’ve never seen anything like them! Did you see the way they moved? It was like they were machines.’

Tinysaur whimpered and Hoppy patted her on the head reassuringly.

‘Something bad is brewing,’ said Hoppy ominously, ‘and I don’t mean one of Liftoff’s cabbage soups.’

 

  • * *

 

Somewhere deep in the Forever Forest, perched at the top of an extremely tall pine tree, and hanging on for dear life, was a large orange-shelled tortoise wearing a matching orange helmet. His name was Shelly. And he was keeping as far away as possible from an odd-looking bunch of robots that stood by the foot of the tree.

‘You metal morons!’ shouted Klump. He was fuming at the other robots beside him. ‘How did you let Shelly get up in the tree? How are we going to get him down now!’

Klump was a boxy, dull grey-coloured robot, built like an old-fashioned computer, with two arms and four small wheels. He had two gold stars above each of his shoulders and he seemed to be the leader of the gang.

Next to him was a hovering ball-shaped robot with long arms and a moustache. His name was Hover and he had one gold star.

Then there was a little three-wheeled cone-shaped robot, with two binocular eyes called Zoom.

And finally, the biggest of them all was a muscular robot shaped like a wrestler. This one was called Basher, and he was the brawn of the bunch.

‘I’m going to be in a heap load of trouble if I don’t take you back to Doctor Mischief,’ said Klump, shuddering at the mere mention of his boss’s name. ‘You have to come down.’

‘No, I’m staying here,’ replied Shelly, holding tightly to the tip of his pine tree. ‘Besides, I don’t want to talk to her. I’m too busy!’

‘Busy!’ shrieked Klump ‘You’re up a tree!’

‘I’m searching for a new breed of insect,’ said Shelly matter-of-factly.

Hover, the floating robot ball, grunted and snorted, and Zoom, the little one, chirped something that only the robots could understand.

‘Basher, you’ll have to try and push the tree over,’ said Klump, pointing first at the big muscly robot and then at the pine’s trunk.

Basher shrugged his broad shoulders and stepped up to the tree. He put both his huge arms around the trunk and then proceeded to push with all his strength.

‘Heave!’ groaned Basher.

But no matter how long or hard Basher shoved and heaved, the tree wouldn’t be toppled.

‘Give it a shake,’ ordered Klump. ‘We’ll shake the tortoise off his perch!’

Basher changed his stance a little and then forcefully tried to wobble the tree back and forth. This was a more effective approach and the top of the tree swayed quite considerably.

Shelly gripped on for dear life as he was tossed back and forth on the swinging branch.

‘That’s it!’ cried Klump with a devious smile. ‘You’re doing it, Basher! Keep going! He’s falling off!’ Several twigs and pine cones dropped to the ground but Shelly’s grip was stronger than expected and he wasn’t letting go.

All of a sudden, one of the larger pine cones came loose and dropped directly onto Klump’s head.

DONG!

‘YEOW!’ cried Klump. ‘Stop! Stop! STOP! Stop shaking the tree! I’m getting more hurt than he is!’

Basher took his big hydraulic arms off the tree trunk, stepped back and inspected the damage.

Shelly was still at the top of the tree.

‘Somebody will have to climb up and get him!’ snapped Klump. ‘One of you lot, get up there!’

Basher and Hover looked at each other in despair.

‘I’m too big to climb,’ said Basher in a deep, slow voice. ‘Hover can’t get more than six foot of the ground. And Zoom doesn’t even have arms.’

Zoom chirped and nodded. Hover grunted in agreement.

Klump slouched to the floor and covered his head with both hands. ‘I’m a failure!’ he said, ‘I can’t even catch a tortoise. I can’t do anything! I’m really gonna get it from Doctor Mischief this time.’

Basher whispered to Hover, ‘Dr Mischief will be real mad at Klump if he turns up without Shelly. I wouldn’t want to be on his four wheels when she finds out.’

Hover hovered next to the deflated Klump and gave him a reassuring pat on the back.

Zoom gave a sympathetic series of beeps.

‘I can’t go back to the Doctor without Shelly. We’ll just have to wait for him to come down,’ said Klump. ‘Did you hear that Shelly? We’re not going anywhere until you come down!’

Chapter 5 – The rescue

‘What’s the matter?’ asked Hoppy.

They were on their way home to the Tree House, when Tinysaur had started yapping furiously at Hoppy. She gave a series of short barks and growls.

‘Oh dear,’ said Hoppy, understanding Tinysaur’s dino-language ‘Shelly’s calling for help? I hope it’s not more of those spiders.’

Tinysaur sniffed the air and pointed her nose to one side, indicating the direction of the calls.

‘Yap, yap, grrr!’.

‘You lead the way.’

Ten minutes running later, Tinysaur had led Hoppy to a clearing in the forest, an open area of high grass with just a single huge pine tree in the centre.

‘I see something,’ whispered Hoppy. ‘Look – it’s the robots. Klump, Basher, Hover and Zoom. What are they doing this far into the forest?’

Tinysaur whimpered and lifted her nose in the direction of the top of the lone pine tree.

‘Shelly!’ said Hoppy, spotting the tortoise’s distinct orange shell clinging to the highest branch. ‘They’ve trapped him! Those mean robots.’

Hoppy and Tinysaur kept themselves hidden behind a large bush while listening in on the odd-looking robots conversation.

‘You’ll have to come down sooner or later,’ shouted Klump up to Shelly. ‘If I don’t bring you to her, Doctor Mischief will have my microchips crushed down to micro-mash!’

‘I’m not going with you,’ replied Shelly. ‘Now let me down before I miss my three-o-clock cup of tea.’

Hoppy looked at Tinysaur; ‘We need to rescue him. But how are we going to get past those robots? I need some kind of a distraction…’

She glanced side to side until she found a large branch on the forest floor.

‘Maybe I can use this,’ said Hoppy. But as she looked up Tinysaur had vanished.

‘Tinysaur!’

Tinysaur was scampering across the grass to the robots, barking furiously at Klump, who in shock, leapt up on all four wheels.

‘Argghhh!,’ Klump cried out, ‘Get this reptile away from me! Hover, Basher! Grab her!’

Hover glided over to the small dinosaur, reaching out his metal arms to grab her, but Tinysaur slipped under his grip and escaped. In a spin, Hover accidentally flew straight into Klump and bumped heads.

DOING!

Hover rubbed his round head and winced.

‘You tin-can klutz!’ reprimanded Klump. There was a big dent in his metal forehead. ‘Someone get that dinosaur!’

Basher bent over to grab him, but the little dinosaur zipped under Basher’s big legs. The giant robot lost balance, toppled forward and squished his face into the dirt.

Klump was fuming.

‘Get up from there and after her. All of you! Track her down!’

Hoppy was about to leap into action when she saw Tinysaur race to the other side of the clearing and dive into the forest undergrowth.

Clever girl!

With her green skin, she would be extremely hard to spot in the undergrowth. The perfect distraction.

Klump was now left all alone to guard the tree.

‘Hey, Klump!’

Hoppy suddenly appeared right behind him and tapped Klump on the shoulder.

‘Why don’t you pick on someone you’re own size.’

Klump spun around in alarm. ‘What? I’m doing nothing,’ he spluttered. ‘I’m not picking on anyone!’

Hoppy pointed a finger up to his face and eye-balled him.

‘Don’t tell fibs, Klump! Shelly’s up in that tree and you’re bullying him.’

‘I am not!’

‘Oh yes you are,’ said Hoppy. She pushed her finger onto his forehead, making him stumble backwards on his tiny wheels. ‘Not so tough now that you don’t have Basher or Hover protecting you.’

Klump’s eyes searched for his robot entourage but they were no where to be seen. He widened his mouth into a cowardly smile. ‘We’re just hanging around, chilling out, having a picnic.’

Shelly’s voice called down from above, ‘You’ve kept me stuck up this tree for the last two hours!’

‘Oh who’s that up there? What a surprise!’ Klump said, feigning ignorance. ‘Goodness me, I didn’t even notice you were there,’ he lied.

Shelly began to climb down. At the lowest branch he hopped off, scrunching himself into a tight ball, he rolled onto the grass and then popped up onto two feet.

‘Thank you, Hoppy.’ Shelly said simply. ‘I’m going home. I’m late as it is.’

And with that, he walked into the forest and disappeared.

Hoppy glared at Klump.

‘Do that again and I’ll knock your block off! You hear me?’

Klump cringed.

Hoppy took a few steps, acrobatically back-flipped and then ran after Shelly.

Klump stood alone in the clearing, aghast.

‘Yap, yap, yap!’

Tinysaur raced past Klump, knocking him with his tail and sending the boxy robot tumbling over on one side.

SPLAT!

‘What have you done to me?!’ whimpered Klump who had all four wheels sticking up in the air. ‘Somebody get me out of here! I’m stuck in a cow pat!’

‘Good girl,’ Hoppy said, grinning as Tinysaur came running to meet her.

Shelly smiled and gave Tinysaur a big thumbs up.

‘Thank you for the rescue. Those robot rascals! Always up to no good.’

Hoppy waved them onwards. ‘They’ll never find us once we’re in deep into the Forest. Let’s go!’

And with that, the three animal friends, dashed safely into the Forever Forest, far from Klump and his goony robots.

Chapter 6 – The watcher in the shadows

While Rocket was rubbing his chin, contemplating their next move, Liftoff was replacing the squashed pink tulips in his bag with white daffodils.

‘We should look for the others,’ said Rocket thoughtfully. ‘Let’s check the Tree house.’

‘Shouldn’t we have lunch first?’ asked Liftoff, distracted by hunger pangs. ‘All this excitement has made me a bit peckish.’

‘You’re thinking about food while the Island is in danger!’

‘Huh?’ said Liftoff. ‘What danger?’

‘That fire ball! The missile that chased me!’

‘Oh right, sure, I guess that was pretty dangerous,’ said Liftoff, thinking about it again.

‘Who knows what other dangers are out there? Who knows what’s round the corner? It could be a matter of life and death!’

Liftoff paused to think about it.

‘We could pick up some fish on the way,’ said Liftoff.

Just the mention of fish was all the excuse Rocket needed to become distracted.

‘No harm in doing a bit of fishing first I suppose. As long as we don’t take too long. And I do need to pick up some fruit. I am feeling a bit weak after all that running.’

Agreeing to have lunch first before going on any adventure, the two heroes chose the forest path leading to their favourite fishing lake.

As they strolled together along the earth track, they relived the strange events of the morning. It certainly hadn’t been a typical day.

‘Wasn’t it just Mischief and the robots?’ said Liftoff.

‘Even for them, it’s awfully mean,’ said Rocket. ‘Besides, I’ve never known them to use those kind of weapons.’

‘Then who did?’

‘It’s a mystery…’ Rocket said. He noticed a bush off to the side of the track. ‘Blueberries! Don’t mind me while I do some fruit picking.’

‘I don’t see what the fuss is. They’re so tiny. Those little berries wouldn’t fill me up at all. I don’t know why you even bother.’

‘You know how I get super tired if I don’t eat fruit. These blueberries are perfect for carrying as a snack. It won’t take me long.’

Rocket walked over to the blueberry bush which was covered in clusters of sweet juicy berries. He harvested a few of the best ones and placed them in the leather pouches tied to his belt.

‘Come on, get a move on!’ shouted Liftoff. ‘What’s taking you so long?’

Liftoff was holding the bunny from his satchel and he put it close to his right ear.

‘Bunny says he’s hungry and wants to get moving,’ he shouted.

‘Okay, okay, I’m done,’ said Rocket, leaving the bush and rejoining his friend.

No sooner had they started walking again when Rocket stopped in his tracks.

‘Shhh,’ hushed Rocket, putting a finger to his lips and placing the other hand in front of Liftoff. He whispered, ‘Did you hear that?’

‘Hear what?’ replied Liftoff blankly.

‘That!’ said Liftoff. ‘That whining noise. Like a humming, whirring noise. Listen…’

‘I can’t hear anything.’

‘Over there,’ said Rocket, his ears pricked up. He pointed to the right.

Liftoff squinted, trying to see something. He shook his head. ‘I don’t hear anything.’

‘Now there,’ said Rocket, spinning around. ‘There!’ He changed position again and pointed to his left. ‘Whatever it is, it’s moving!’

‘Are you sure it isn’t just the wind? Remember that time you thought the air had been poisoned? But then you realised I’d just been cooking my cabbage soup special.’

‘It did smell toxic… No, this is different. Something’s watching us,’ whispered Rocket. ‘And I’m going to find out who.’

Pulling out a handful of the fresh berries from his pocket, Rocket gobbled them and within seconds his tummy was glowing bright orange. Then his thighs, then his knees, calves and finally his feet and toes burned red hot.

‘Stay right here,’ said Rocket. And before Liftoff could blink Rocket had disappeared.

As Rocket sped away from Liftoff in search of the mystery stalker, the world around Rocket changed into ultra-slow motion. A leaf that was falling to the ground appeared to levitate in the same spot. Drips of water from the tree branches looked like icicles. A seagull flying above them seemed to hover mid-flap.

You can’t hide from me at this speed, thought Rocket.

First to the right, then to the left, Rocket checked behind every nearby bush and tree trunk, hunting for the mystery stalker. It wasn’t long before he found the intruder – 0.00001 milliseconds to be precise.

About twenty metres or so behind Liftoff, hiding in the shadows behind a large shrub, was a hovering dark grey disc about the diameter of Rocket’s outstretched arms and about as tall as Liftoff’s hand. It was covered in tiny camera lenses, like little glass beads, and it had several grey spinning antennae poking skywards from its central head.

‘Hello, what have we got here?’ said Rocket, examining the strange flying object. ‘Spying on us, are you?’

Rocket reached out a hand to grab the hovering disc when all of a sudden it dodged to one side. Then zipping backwards, the spying disc angled onto one side and shot up into the sky.

‘Woah,’ gasped Rocket, taken aback by the flying disc’s speed as it rose above the tree tops and flew away beyond his line of sight. ‘What was that?!’

‘I’m back,’ said Rocket.

‘What do you mean you’re back,’ said Liftoff. ‘I didn’t even see you leave!’

‘I found what’s been following us,’ said Rocket. His legs and feet were changing back from glowing orange to their normal light brown. ‘It was some kind of flying machine. Very fast. Very quiet. I think someone’s been spying on us.’

‘Spying on us? Who’d want to spy on us?’

‘Who is the question,’ said Rocket thoughtfully.

‘Where is it now?’ asked Liftoff, spinning around to try and see it.

‘Gone. Up there,’ said Rocket, pointing to the sky.

Liftoff raised his eyebrows; ‘You couldn’t catch it?’

‘It took me by surprise, okay,’ said Rocket, turning a little red in the cheeks at the thought of being outrun. ‘I’ll get it next time. Someone is poking their nose where it doesn’t belong and we need to find out why.’

‘It’s all very strange,’ said Liftoff.

‘Right,’ said Rocket, nodding his head. ‘Too strange for my liking.’

Under the shadow of a dandelion leaf, two red glowing eyes watched Rocket and Liftoff return to their hike along the forest track. Several more red-eyed black beetles crawled out from their hiding places in the shrubs and scuttled quietly behind them.

Unlike regular black beetles, these had springy silver antennae poking up from their backs and strange red eyes that glowed in the shadows.

They were all staring at Rocket and Liftoff and one by one they followed them along the path.

Chapter 7 – The peculiar incident at the lake

Every time Rocket saw the fishing lake he couldn’t help but feel relaxed. Right in the centre of the Forever Forest, lay a most wonderful greenish-blue lake, with romantic waterfalls on the far side and a trickling stream on the other. Not the biggest of lakes, but big enough to home plenty of fish, ducks, frogs and other friendly wildlife.

‘Listen, we mustn’t stay here for long,’ Rocket said, more telling himself than Liftoff. ‘We catch a couple of fish and then we move on to the Tree House.’

‘No more than three or four,’ said Liftoff.

There was a fallen tree over by one of the lake’s grassy banks, and beside it a couple of homemade fishing rods left out from their last visit.

The sun had come out and a deep blue sky dotted with white fluffy clouds reflected on the water’s surface.

Rocket turned over a couple of rocks by the bench and, as he expected, it revealed a couple of fat wriggly worms, perfect for fishing bait.

‘We mustn’t stay too long,’ said Rocket unconvincingly as he took up a seat next to Liftoff. He passed out the worm bait. ‘Five or six fish maximum.’

Liftoff was first to get his line in the water. He yawned and stretched, relaxing into the moment. Rocket put his fishing line a bit to the left of Liftoff’s and they sat comfortably together waiting for the hungry fish to bite. Two ducks quacked and waddled over to see what was happening. After all the excitement of that morning, to Rocket and Liftoff, this felt like a small piece of heaven.

Within five or ten minutes, there were bubbles in the water and then a couple of little tugs on Rocket’s line.

‘Ha!’ cheered Rocket. ‘I’ve got one! It feels like a big one too.’

Rocket tugged at the fishing line and wound up some of the slack.

‘This is the life,’ he said grinning. There was a splash in the water. ‘It doesn’t get better than this, eh?’

‘Hey, looks like there’s a big shoal of fish coming. Look at all those bubbles in the water.’

Just as Liftoff had described, the water near their fishing lines was bubbling with activity.

‘I’ve never seen that before,’ said Rocket, furrowing his eyebrows. It was as though the water was starting to boil.

Suddenly, a giant bubble of air popped out in the middle of the lake followed by thousands of smaller air bubbles. There was a huge ‘glug, glug, glug’ sound and an unusual swirl appeared in the middle of the lake.

Several small fish leapt from the water.

Liftoff and Rocket stared wide-eyed.

‘What’s happening?’ said Liftoff, worriedly.

‘I honestly don’t know.’

Rocket’s mouth dropped wide open.

The swirl in the middle of the lake had grown massively and was transforming into a whirlpool.

‘Oh no,’ said Liftoff. ‘The water level is falling. And fast! Someone’s pulled the plug out of our lake!’

‘That’s impossible,’ said Rocket, not believing his eyes. He shook his head. ‘Lakes don’t have plugs …’

The whirlpool was now some twenty metres wide and deep – very deep. Half the lake had disappeared. A green algae ringed the basin, revealing how far the water had dropped. Tiny fish were leaping out the water, troubled by the turbulent waters beneath them. Frogs frantically hopped their way to the water’s edge and onto dry ground. It was as though a giant bathtub was draining everything down a plug hole.

Liftoff dropped his fishing rod to the floor – the end of the line wasn’t even touching the water anymore.

Neither of them could take their eyes of the receding water.

Rocket said what both of them were thinking, ‘This is a disaster …’

Another minute passed, and it was obvious to the two friends that the lake they once knew was gone. All that remained was a few puddles, some flapping fish and lots and lots of mud. At the centre of the lake was a wide open drain.

‘I told you,’ said Liftoff, ‘It’s a plug hole.’

‘Well I’m pretty certain, lakes don’t usually have plug holes. Someone’s sabotaged our fishing spot and I want to know who.’

‘I think I’m going to cry,’ said Liftoff, wiping away tears from both his blue eyes.

‘Hold on, big man,’ Rocket said, trying to hold back the tears himself. He put an arm around Liftoff. ‘We’re going to find out who did this and make sure they put every drop of water back where it came from. No one steals our fresh water lake and gets away with it.’

Liftoff bravely held back a sob, and gave a little sniffle instead.

‘Missiles and Fire-balls we can handle. But this! Taking away our fishing lake … This is one step too far.’ Rocket looked Liftoff in the eyes and said with absolute determination: ‘I promise you this, Liftoff. I’ll get you our water back. And I’ll get our fish back too. And I won’t rest until it’s done!’

‘What about when it gets dark?’

‘Well, of course, we’ll rest then,’ Rocket conceded. ‘That’s night time. And other than breakfast, lunch, dinner, tea times and siestas – I totally won’t rest!’

‘Hooray!’ cheered Liftoff. ‘You’re the best friend ever.’

‘Come on, buddy! Let’s go get our lake back.’

Chapter 8 – We’ve got problems

About an hour later, Rocket and Liftoff arrived at Hoppy’s Tree House. It was fairly easy to spot as it was built on what was probably the biggest, widest, tallest tree on the east side of the forest. The tree was certainly old, with flaking bark, and a wide twisting, contorting trunk that rose up into three large offshoots, almost as though it were three trees in one. Each of the main three branches supported a raised wooden cabin roofed with straw.

‘Hoppy!’ Rocket shouted. ‘Are you up there?’

Hoppy suddenly appeared from behind the tree trunk.

‘What are you doing here?’

‘Geez, you made me jump,’ said Rocket. ‘How do you do that?’

Hoppy’s arms were crossed.

‘What do you want this time? I told you before I don’t have any chocolate buttons left. And you’re not having any more of my orange and mango juice. Go make your own next time.’

‘We’re not here for anything,’ said Rocket, his hands gesturing innocence.

‘But if you do have any spare iced-buns,’ added Liftoff, ‘I’d be very grateful.’

‘I don’t have time for this – we’ve got big problems.’

‘You’ve got problems? We’re the ones with the problems,’ Rocket said, gesturing wildly. ‘Someone’s drained our fishing lake of all the water. Literally pulled the plug on the whole thing. It’s a catastrophe of the highest proportions!’

‘That’s not a catastrophe. Me and Tinysaur were hunted down by giant spiders and Shelly was ambushed by Klump and his robot gang. I think that’s more important than you’re silly pond water.’

Silly pond water,’ Liftoff echoed, incredulous. ‘That’s one of our three best fishing spots you’re talking about there, missy. You tell her, Rocket.’

‘Giant spiders and ambushed by the robots?’ said Rocket, scratching his head. ‘I forgot to mention we were hunted down by a missile and a fire-ball this morning. We actually came to this way to warn you – see if you needed help.’

‘Oh,’ said Hoppy, placing her hands on her hips. ‘Well, we’re doing just fine on our own. We don’t need your help.’

‘Yap, yap, yap!’ Tinysaur emerged out of one of the cabins and onto a Tree House balcony.

‘Me and Tinysaur are perfectly able to look after ourselves.’

Rocket shrugged.

‘Fine. We’re off anyway to get our water back. I reckon it’s that barmy Doctor Mischief who’s taken it.’

Tinysaur slid down a rope ladder and excitedly bounded over to Hoppy, Rocket and Liftoff.

Liftoff bent down and petted Tinysaur on the head.

‘Who’s the loveliest little Tyrannosaurus Rex in the whole wide world,’ cooed Liftoff.

Tinysaur lay down on the floor and showed her tummy to Liftoff, who promptly gave it an affectionate scratch.

Tinysaur,’ said Hoppy, rolling her eyes. ‘Don’t be such a big softy!’

Tinysaur obediently jumped up and sat by Hoppy’s feet, panting.

‘I think we should all go and speak to Doctor Mischief,’ said Hoppy. ‘She needs to tell her robot goons to stay away from Shelly. And I bet she was behind all these attacks today.’

‘That barmy old doctor is bonkers,’ said Liftoff.

‘You know she wants us all back in cages.’

‘Do you think it was Klump and his robots who sent the missile and fire-ball?’ asked Liftoff.

‘I don’t know about that. I think they’re too dopey.’

Liftoff shrugged. ‘They did once try to trap me in a giant net.’

‘It was a net made of liquorice! Don’t you remember? You ate your way out. Hardly torture.’

‘I did have a stomachache that night. That was pretty painful.’

Rocket shook his head.

‘Nah, Klump and his gang are idiots. But Doctor Mischief on the other hand – she’s smart and devious. She’s got to be behind it all. It is the sort of bonkers thing she’d do.’

‘I hate going to her mountain,’ said Liftoff. ‘Gives me the creeps.’

‘Don’t worry, buddy,’ said Rocket reassuringly. ‘We won’t go inside. She can come out and meet us. You do want your fishing lake back, don’t you?’

Liftoff nodded.

‘What about Shelly?’ Rocket asked Hoppy.

‘He’s gone off on another one of his odd investigations. He’s got it in his head there’s some kind of new beetle on the island. You know him.’ Hoppy tapped the side of her head. ‘Once he gets an idea in that orange helmet of his he can’t drop it.’

‘There’s no point hanging around for Shelly,’ said Rocket. ‘The four of us should go now.’

‘As long as we’re home before it gets dark,’ said Liftoff, frowning. ‘And not in a million years am I going inside that mountain.’

‘Don’t worry about it,’ said Rocket. ‘We won’t go inside. Besides, the Doc’s a big coward. Once she see’s us face to face she’ll back down.’

‘He’s right,’ said Hoppy. ‘She’s a wimp in person.’

Liftoff reluctantly agreed to go and the four animals left the Tree House and made off in the direction of the mountain.

Just as they left, six giant spiders crawled up the trunk of the Tree House and into the log cabins.

Chapter 9 – An appointment with the Doctor

Hoppy, Tinysaur, Rocket and Liftoff approached the base of the mountain.

‘This is it,’ said Hoppy.

The trees grew sparse and the ground was mostly grey rock. In front of the four animals was a huge round steel door, built securely into the side of the mountain. To the side of the entrance was a small keypad and screen.

‘I hate this place,’ said Liftoff, shuddering. ‘Gives me the heebie jeebies.’

‘Come on you big scardy bear,’ cajoled Rocket. ‘It’s not like we’re going inside. It’s just a quick “hello” and “give us back our lake and stop bothering us”. We’ll be off home for marshmallows and hot mango milk in no time.’

Hoppy shook her head.

‘You’ve got the strength of ten bears, Liftoff. Lighten up. She can’t hurt you.’

‘Let’s just get this over with,’ said Rocket. He went over to the entrance and pressed a green button.

He heard a buzzing noise followed by two clicks.

A voice came out of the speaker above the keypad – it was the robot leader, Klump.

‘Doctor Mischief’s residence. Klump speaking.’

‘Yo! Klump, it’s Rocket. Tell that green lizard boss of yours we want a word.’

‘Is Shelly there with you? Tell me you brought the orange tortoise.’

Hoppy answered this time: ‘No, you metal bully. Shelly’s not here. Get Doctor Mischief on the line now. She’s got some explaining to do.’

‘If you want to speak with the Doctor, you’ll have to make an appointment. She’s very busy.’

Another voice came out from the speaker: ‘Move out the way, Klump, you numbskull!’

It was a high pitched voice, and by the mean tone, they all knew it was Doctor Mischief.

‘Ah hello, it’s me, the Doctor. Ignore what you just heard. My assistant Klump has the brain the size of a small pea. I’ll be down in one minute. Don’t go anywhere …’

The speaker clicked and went dead.

‘Do you think it’s a trap?’ asked Liftoff.

‘She couldn’t trap a beetle in a jar,’ said Rocket cooly.

‘I don’t trust her one bit,’ added Hoppy.

Two minutes later, a red light began flashing on and off and there were several warning beeps. The large steel entrance doors creaked and groaned, opening from the centre, widening like an eye pupil in the dark. There was a hissing sound and finally a deep thundering boom as the door disappeared into the surrounding rock wall revealing a cloud of smoke and a tunnel of bright light.

‘I’m scared,’ said Liftoff.

‘Ridiculous,’ said Hoppy. ‘All that smoke and light. Who on earth makes an entrance like that. It’s so impractical.’

Out of the rising smoke appeared the robots: Klump, Basher, Hover and Zoom.

Klump coughed several times.

‘I’m sorry about all this smoke. We’re not trying to be dramatic. It’s just we’re having a few mechanical glitches. And we can’t get rid of all these fumes.’ He coughed several times again.

‘Out my way, out my way,’ came the voice of Doctor Mischief. ‘Move over, Basher, you oversized lump of metal.’

‘Sorry, Doctor Mischief,’ said the wrester robot, Basher, carefully sidestepping out of the Doctor’s way.

Doctor Mischief was surprisingly small for someone with such a domineering voice. Standing only slightly taller than Klump and less than half the size of Basher. The most noticeable difference between the Doctor and her robot entourage was that she was a reptile rather than mechanical. Her face was pale green and underneath her long snout she had two protruding teeth. Dark green fins ran from the top of her head all the way down to her tail. The back fins stuck through her white lab coat which covered most of her body and legs.

‘Ghastly weather,’ declared the Doctor, peeking out from underneath an umbrella.

‘What?’ said Hoppy, ‘It’s bright blue skies.’

‘Exactly,’ said the Doctor. ‘Terrible for my skin. I can’t stay here much longer. Why don’t you all come in and I’ll make you a lovely cup of stinging nettle tea.’

Liftoff grimaced at the thought.

‘No thanks,’ said Rocket, crossing his arm. ‘We know what you’ve been up to and we want you to stop.’

‘Whatever do you mean?’ said the Doctor.

‘Don’t pretend you don’t want us back in cages – trapped like rats and mice.’

‘I only want what’s best for you. You’re too special to be out in the wild.’

‘Special?’ said Hoppy, ‘I’ll feel special once I get off this wretched island.’

‘Hey, less of the wretched,’ Rocket interrupted. ‘Some of us like it round here, eh, Liftoff?’

Liftoff gave a simple nod and looked at the floor. He didn’t like being by the mountain one bit.

‘Not saying anything today?’ said Doctor Mischief in a rather patronising voice. ‘Such a big bear and deep down such a big softy.’ She gave one of those fake expressions of sympathy.

‘Leave him alone,’ said Rocket.

Hoppy stepped forward and pointed her finger.

‘Leave us all alone. We know it’s you who sent the missile after Rocket, the fire ball after Liftoff, giant spiders after me and robots after Shelly. Don’t deny it.’

‘Listen up, Miss Pussy Cat,’ replied the Doctor condescendingly. ‘I’ve not sent any missiles, fire balls, spiders or whatever else you’ve imagined. You’re blaming me for something I know absolutely nothing about.’

‘Don’t lie Mischief. I saw your computer goons corner Shelly up a tree. You can’t deny that.’

‘Now that I don’t deny,’ retorted the Doctor. ‘But I only gave orders to bring Shelly here so I could have a little chat with the tortoise. Stored in that bonkers brain of his, is a password I need.’

‘You’re talking elephant poop!’ said Rocket, pointing his finger accusingly at the doctor. ‘All you want to do is cage us up like pet animals.’

‘I may have a predisposition for putting things in order, but in this case, I am entirely blameless. All I’m after is a password from Shelly. I promise him no harm. Not this time at least.’

‘I don’t believe that for a second,’ said Hoppy. ‘Wasn’t it you who attacked us with the Tummy Tickler only two months ago?’

‘No joke,’ added Rocket. ‘Shelly almost died laughing.’

Hoppy continued: ‘And wasn’t it you who lured us into a hole of Quicksand Custard?’

‘Thank goodness Liftoff hadn’t had his pudding that day and was able to eat his way through it,’ said Rocket. He gave Liftoff a reassuring nod.

Hoppy still wasn’t finished.

‘And what about when you tried to trap us with Giant Jam Jars!’ she added.

‘I felt sticky for days,’ said Liftoff, wiping imaginary goo off his fur.

‘No, no, no,’ replied Doctor Mischief dismissively. ‘That was all Klump’s doing. I had nothing to do with all that nonsense.’

Klump looked shocked.

‘But it was you who gave us the Jam Jars,’ he said defensively.

‘They were meant for spreading jam on toast.’

‘They were ten feet tall!’

‘I like a lot of toast. It was a misunderstanding.’

‘But you gave us the Quicksand Custard,’ said Klump. ‘And you gave us the Tummy Tickler!’

‘They were meant for a surprise party,’ said the Doctor, going red in the face.

‘You told us you wanted all the animals on the island captured. You told me if I didn’t imprison them all I’d be recycled into cans of soup.’

‘Be quiet, you brainless box of wires!’ And with that she gave Klump a big slap on the side of his head.

‘You’re not fooling anyone, Mischief,’ said Rocket. ‘First of all, stay away from us and stop picking on Shelly. And secondly, and perhaps more importantly, we want our lake back.’

‘Lake? What lake?’ asked the Doctor, scrunching up her green face.

‘You know what I’m talking about. Don’t play dumb with us,’ Rocket said, feeling pretty angry about the whole missing water business. ‘You took all the water from our fishing lake and we want it back.’

Doctor Mischief’s face turned a pale shade of green, as though it had just dawned on her that something terrible was happening.

‘Oh dear. That’s not good. That’s absolutely awful!’

‘Yes it is, it is awful,’ said Rocket, taken aback by the Doctor’s empathy. ‘I’m glad you understand how important that lake is to us.’

‘Huh?’ replied the Doctor, ‘I don’t give two owl hoots about your stupid fishing lake. You haven’t a clue what’s going on do you? The water in that lake is connected to my computer warehouse and its emergency cooling. If the water in the lake has been drained then it means my computer servers are overheating. And that is what is awful.’

Rocket and Liftoff stared at each other blankly.

‘So does that mean you can give us our lake back?’ asked Liftoff.

‘Did you not hear what I just said?’ reprimanded the Doctor. ‘The water from the lake is part of an underground emergency cooling system inside this mountain. The water was automatically taken from the lake to cool down the central computer servers because of extreme overheating.’

‘Computers – blah – emergency – blah – cooling – blah,’ said Rocket, miming a talking mouth with his hand. ‘We don’t care why it’s gone. Just give us back our lake!’

‘I can’t do anything while the computers are overheating. And I can’t fix the computers until I have Shelly’s password. Tell Shelly I need his password. He’ll know what one I mean. If you want your lake back get me the password!’

‘Why would Shelly know a password for your computers?’ asked Hoppy.

‘If you want a history lesson – ask Shelly,’ replied the Doctor curtly. ‘I don’t have time for this.’ She clicked her fingers. ‘Klump, Basher, Hover, Zoom. We’re done here.’ And with that she spun around and marched back into the mountain tunnel.

‘You heard her, everyone,’ said Klump in an authoritative voice. ‘All robots back inside.’ He turned around to see the other robots had already left him.

Tinysaur growled at Klump.

‘Hey! Wait for me!’ Klump called out, his four little wheels scooting through the main entrance. ‘Someone close the door – and fast!’

‘Oy!’ shouted Rocket. ‘We’re not finished with you yet!’

But before Rocket could say another word the tunnel entrance slammed shut with a clang, the big heavy steel doors squeezed tight and the entrance to the mountain lair was once again sealed.

Chapter 10 – Beware the bugs

Rocket was still feeling pretty fed up about the missing water in the fishing lake as he and Liftoff, Hoppy and Tinysaur made their way back home.

‘I still think she could have put our water back,’ moaned Rocket.

‘I wouldn’t trust that green lizard as far as I could throw her,’ said Hoppy. ‘But why would she make-up a story about Shelly and a password?’

‘Why would Shelly have a password for her computers?’ asked Rocket. ‘It’s some kind of trick I’m sure of it.’

‘Why don’t we just ask Shelly,’ said Liftoff. ‘He’ll know if she’s telling the truth.’

‘Good point,’ said Rocket. ‘If by some small chance she is telling the truth, then Shelly can give her the password and we’ll get our lake back.’

‘And if she’s lying?’ asked Hoppy.

But before anyone could answer, they all stopped and gasped at what stood before them. This was not the same Tree House they’d left just a couple of hours ago. Spider webs hung down from every part of the tree, covering it from head to toe. It was a strange and ugly sight.

‘Yuk!’ said Liftoff. ‘Looks like you’ve got a mega spider infestation.’

Tinysaur was yapping frantically. She came from the behind the tree and excitedly motioned for Hoppy to come over.

‘What is it, Tinysaur?’

Hoppy gasped.

‘If it’s a spider,’ said Rocket cooly, ‘then I’d suggest using a glass cup and a piece of paper.’

‘No, it’s not that. Come and see this. I think something awful has happened to Shelly.’

Rocket and Liftoff walked round the foot of the tree to see what the fuss was about. There, scratched onto the Tree House trunk were three words:

 

BEWARE THE BUGS

 

‘It’s Shelly’s writing,’ said Hoppy worriedly.

‘Ha, is that it?’ said Rocket laughing. ‘That’s nothing to be scared of. It must have been Shelly just warning us about these spider webs. No big deal.’

‘Shelly!’ Hoppy shouted up to the tree house.

There was no reply.

‘The sun’s almost setting and he should be here by now. He’s never this late. I’m worried something’s happened to him.’

‘I’m sure Shelly’s fine,’ replied Rocket calmly. ‘He probably couldn’t stand the sight of all these spider webs and has gone to sleep somewhere else tonight. You know him, he never gets cold in that shell of his.’

Hoppy shook her head.

‘I don’t like this one bit. I think we should spread out and search for him.’

‘Come on, Hoppy, it’s almost dark so why don’t we look for him in the morning. He’ll probably find us before we find him.’

‘The sun’s nearly set,’ said Liftoff, noticing the sky changing from orange to black. ‘Let’s get home and put some marshmallows on the fire. I’m hungry.’

‘You’re leaving me here with all these spider webs covering my house?’ said Hoppy. ‘No way. Me and Tinysaur are staying at your place tonight.’

Rocket sighed.

‘I guess if you’re really scared then maybe you can stay with us.’

‘I’m not scared,’ replied Hoppy crossly. ‘I’m thinking of Tinysaur that’s all. You don’t want to stay here do you girl?’

Tinysaur shook her head vigorously, shuddering at the sight of all those cob webs.

‘It’ll be fun,’ added Liftoff cheerily. ‘I love a good sleep over.’

‘Just one night though,’ said Rocket. ‘ When Shelly turns up tomorrow you can clear those cobwebs away in no time.’

‘Fine by me.’

 

  • * *

 

 

Rocket and Liftoff’s two log cabins lay on the outskirts of the Forever Forest with a terrific view of the ocean.

‘I’ll get the fire going,’ said Rocket, who suddenly dashed off to collect some firewood, returning just a few seconds later with a bundle of sticks which he dumped on the old fire’s dying embers. ‘Liftoff, if you wouldn’t mind.’

Liftoff sucked up a huge gulp of air and blew onto the glowing embers. The fire flickered to life.

Gathered round the camp fire, Rocket, Liftoff, Hoppy and Tinysaur watched the sun dip behind the ocean horizon and fall beneath the waves.

‘I do hope Shelly has found somewhere safe for the night,’ said Hoppy. She dragged a large log over to the fire and dropped it down.

‘What you need is a hot mango milk and a couple of toasted marshmallows,’ said Liftoff kindly. ‘We have a whole stash of them.’

‘Where did you get marshmallows?’ asked Hoppy, frowning. ‘Rocket said you ran out of them months ago.’

‘Ha ha! A simple misunderstanding,’ said Rocket, with a forced laugh. ‘I think Liftoff meant to say vegetable marrows?’

‘What are you talking about? We never toast vegetable marrows,’ replied Liftoff. ‘No, I meant those marshmallows you stole from the Doctor’s food store last month. You don’t remember? They’re your favourite treat!’

Hoppy gave Rocket a stern look.

‘Oh those marshmallows,’ said Rocket, rolling his eyes. ‘Sure, bring them out. Let’s all share them. That way everyone can enjoy them.’ Rocket then added in a hushed voice. ‘Thanks a lot, you big dope …’

A few minutes later, everyone was toasting marshmallows on sticks round the roaring fire. Rocket and Liftoff sat together on half a tree that had been turned into a seat. Tinysaur was covered in a blanket curled up asleep by Hoppy’s feet.

‘Thanks for the this,’ said Hoppy, taking another toasted marshmallow out from the fire and putting it into her mouth.

‘Our pleasure,’ said Rocket, attempting a smile. ‘I love sharing.’

Liftoff took a final slurp of warmed mango milk from a half coconut shell and yawned and stretched. He looked down at his bunny that was sitting on his lap.

‘Time for nap nap, little bunny. We’ve had a busy day.’

‘I am pooped,’ sighed Rocket. ‘I’m gonna hit the hay too.’

‘But shouldn’t we take it in turns to keep watch?’ said Hoppy. ‘After what’s happened today who knows if we’ll be safe tonight.’

‘Just stay close to the fire and you’ll be fine,’ said Rocket, unable to hold back a big yawn. ‘See you in the morning.’

And with that Rocket, rubbed his eyes and stumbled into his cabin. Within seconds there were loud snores coming from both Rocket and Liftoff’s beds.

Hoppy sighed. ‘So it’s just you and me, Tinysaur,’ she said, stroking Tinysaur’s head.

Tinysaur snuffled and dug her head into Hoppy’s lap. The little dinosaur couldn’t keep her eyes open.

‘They’re probably right. We’ll be safe here by the fire. Goodnight, Tinysaur.’

Hoppy lay down on the spare camp bed and pulled her blanket up to her chin. Mesmerised by the fire that flickered before her, it wasn’t long before Hoppy’s eyes shut and she drifted to sleep.

Behind the fire and cabins lay the dark silhouette of the forest beneath the stars. A gentle wind rustled the leaves and bushes.

Two glowing red eyes, hidden in the dark undergrowth, watched and waited.

It was going to be an eventful night …

Chapter 11 – Night time visitors

Hoppy awoke with a fright.

‘Tinysaur, wake up!’

Hoppy nudged the little green dinosaur resting by her feet.

‘Did you hear that? Something’s moving in the forest.’

Tinysaur gave a yawn, opened one eye, tried to open the other but instead shut both of them and went back to sleep.

‘Oh Tinysaur, so much for your help,’ sighed Hoppy.

Rocket and Liftoff were deep in sleep snoring in their cabins.

‘Just me to look out for everyone then.’

There was that buzzing sound again. A low, humming, pulsating noise coming from somewhere in the forest. Something strange, mechanical, out of this world.

Hoppy squinted and stared into the woods. Her heart was pounding. The noise was getting louder.

‘Tinysaur, get up,’ said Hoppy sternly. She nudged the sleepy dinosaur with her feet and hopped out of bed. ‘There’s something out there.’

Tinysaur rolled over and went back to sleep.

Hoppy knelt down by the fire and pulled out one of the half burning sticks. She held the burning wood in front of her as a torch and edged closer to the forest.

She looked into the darkness intently.

And suddenly there it was – flashing lights – dashing through the trees.

On and off, the lights flickered green, yellow, orange. They moved quickly, about six foot from the floor, zooming left and then right. The humming noise grew louder and a wind whipped up over Hoppy’s face.

‘Guys! Wake up!’ shouted Hoppy. ‘We’ve got company!’

Then suddenly, a flying machine with dazzling spinning bright lights whooshed out from the trees and flew towards her. She ducked, feeling the wind from the flying machine pass overhead.

The flying machine and the flashing lights whizzed round the fire and cabins and then no sooner had it arrived than it was gone.

WHOOSH.

Like a shooting star, the flying machine sped into the sky and out of sight.

Hoppy breathed a sigh of relief, her heart still beating fast from the excitement.

Whatever it was was gone. She threw the flaming torch back on to the fire and sat back down on the camp bed beside Tinysaur.

The only sounds were the gentle crackle of the fire and the ocean waves breaking against the shore.

Hoppy pulled up her blanket and covered herself tightly.

‘Did I just imagine that?’

There were no more strange humming nosies or mysterious lights, just the warm crackle of the fire.

‘Well seeing as everyone else is fast asleep …’ She closed her eyes and within seconds was dreaming of sailing away on the ocean.

 

  • * *

 

 

The two small glowing-red eyes hiding in the undergrowth became four. Then six, then twelve. Ten minutes later there were red eyes everywhere, thousands of glowing dots sprinkled in the darkness of night.

It was the the red-eyed black beetles that had been following Rocket and Liftoff.

A few of the beetles crawled out from the undergrowth and crept over to the sleeping Hoppy and Tinysaur, while the other beetles spread round the camp.

Tinysaur twitched her nose and rolled her head to one side.

Hoppy shuffled in her sleep.

‘Tinysaur, move over,’ said Hoppy drowsily, her eyes firmly shut.

Without knowing it she wiped away a beetle from her shoulder. Two more of the black insects crawled up on to Hoppy’s head. But this time it woke her up with a start.

‘Argh!’ she screeched. ‘Bugs!’

She flicked the beetles away. Fully awake now, she glanced around and saw how many insects there were. Not just ten or twenty but hundreds and thousands. Red-glowing eyes surrounded them – on the cabins, in the grass and all over the camp.

Liftoff suddenly ran out of his cabin and shouted, ‘Help! I’ve got bed bugs!’ He was hopping up and down on either foot, scared he might touch one. ‘Get them away from me!’

‘What’s all the fuss?’ said a bleary eyed Rocket stepping outside his door. ‘Are you having nightmares again? I told you not to have that third mango milk.’

‘Rocket! We’re surrounded by thousands of beetles!’ cried Hoppy.

‘We’re always surrounded by beetles,’ replied Rocket, barely keeping his eyes open. ‘Have you not noticed we live in the great outdoors?’

‘Open your eyes, Rocket! They’re swarming all over us! And look at their red eyes – that’s not normal.’

Tinysaur woke up in shock – all over her little green-skinned body were scuttling black beetles.

‘Yap, yap, yap!’ shrieked the little dinosaur, desperately trying to shake off the insect infestation.

‘I don’t like them,’ said Liftoff, quivering at the sight of the crawling insects milling about the camp. ‘How can we get rid of them?’

‘Relax everyone, so we’ve got a little bit of friendly wildlife for company,’ said Rocket, motioning with both hands to calm down. ‘We’ll just sweep them back into the forest and then everyone can return to snooze-ville.’

‘Er – I don’t think it’s going to be that easy,’ said Hoppy, her eyes widening. She lifted her finger and pointed up to the roof of the cabins.

Covering both of Rocket and Liftoff’s cabin roofs were thousands upon thousands of the black insects, so much so that Hoppy couldn’t see any of the straw on the roofs.

‘There’s more of them over there,’ pointed Liftoff. ‘And there! There! And over there!’

In a circle around the camp, the black beetles had created what looked like a wall of slithering darkness.

‘There are millions of them,’ Hoppy cried out. ‘They’re trapping us. They’re everywhere!’

Tinysaur flicked away several beetles near her feet.

‘Calm down everyone and move closer to the fire,’ said Rocket.

Liftoff, Hoppy and Tinysaur watched helplessly as the insects grew in numbers, edging closer and closer.

‘I think a little wind might clear them off,’ said Rocket, eyeing up the approaching pests.

‘I’ll try my best,’ said Liftoff, scrunching his face and turning red in the cheeks. ‘But I didn’t have baked beans for dinner so it may take me a little while.’

‘Not that kind of wind!’ exclaimed Rocket. ‘Good grief … ’

Rocket reached into his belt pockets and pulled out several blueberries. He gulped them down and within seconds his tummy and legs glowed almost as bright as the camp fire.

‘Hold on tight,’ he said. ‘I’m about to create a whirlwind!’

‘Huh?’ said Hoppy. ‘A whirly-whaty-what?’

‘We should hold hands,’ said Liftoff. ‘Rocket’s going to make a storm.’

Rocket’s feet burned red and in a flash he was off. Faster and faster he circled around the camp, building up a dust cloud, whipping up a tornado. Each time he dashed around the camp the wind grew stronger.

Hoppy, Tinysaur and Liftoff stood in the eye of the storm. The fire behind them had all but flickered its last flames as the cyclone blew furiously about them. Tinysaur clung on to Hoppy and Hoppy held hands with Liftoff as the strong gusts tried to lift her up off the ground.

‘It’s working! Look!’ exclaimed Hoppy excitedly. ‘Rocket’s whirlwind is pulling the beetles into the sky.’

It was a bizarre sight to see, the millions of tiny red dots swirling and dancing in the air like a theatre show.

How many times had Rocket zoomed round them? A thousand? Ten thousand? Who could count? Neither Hoppy nor Liftoff could spot Rocket through the blur of red and black streaks.

‘Tinysaur! Watch out, your feet are coming off the floor!’ shouted Hoppy. In all the commotion, Tinysaur hadn’t noticed her big green paws lift from the earth.

Hoppy let go off Liftoff’s hand and tried to keep Tinysaur from flying away. But now Hoppy’s feet lifted off the ground as well. Both her and Tinysaur were being sucked up into the the cyclone.

‘Where are you two going?’ said Liftoff, and he plucked Hoppy out of the sky by her left foot.

Hoppy shouted at the top of her lungs: ‘ROCKET! STOP! STOP! STOP!’

All of a sudden, the wind speed dropped.

Hoppy and Tinysaur fell with a thump to the ground.

‘Evening all,’ greeted Rocket.

He was looking at the carnage and admiring his night’s work. Way up high in the sky was a cloud of tiny red dots. Not a single beetle was left on the camp floor.

‘You may want to put these up,’ said Rocket, handing out two colourful umbrellas. He popped up a bright green umbrella of his own and grinned. ‘You’ve heard the saying “it’s raining cats and dogs” … Well tonight it’s about to rain beetles.’

All of a sudden, thousands upon thousands of the tiny mini-beasts came pouring down upon them. Liftoff and Hoppy quickly popped up their umbrellas and Tinysaur snuggled in next to Hoppy’s legs. Like a heavy hailstorm, the black beetles tumbled from the night sky.

‘Hey, I thought insects turned into goo and slime when they died,’ said Hoppy. ‘These beetles are shattering like glass.’

Liftoff put out one of his giant paw hands and grabbed one of the falling bugs from the sky. He opened his paw to reveal an assortment of tiny broken pieces of electronic wires and microchips.

Hoppy examined the fragments in Liftoff’s hand.

‘They’re not insects,’ Hoppy answered. ‘They’re machines. Tiny machines designed to look like beetles.’

‘Rain’s stopped,’ said Rocket, taking down his umbrella. ‘I say we sweep this mess up in the morning. I’ve had enough excitement for one night.’

‘You’re telling me,’ said Liftoff. ‘Another one of Doctor Mischief’s crazy contraptions no doubt.’

‘She’s always pestering us,’ said Rocket grinning. ‘Get it, pest-er-ing. You know, pest. Pest-er-ing us!’

Neither Hoppy nor Liftoff were laughing.

‘Good night, Rocket,’ yawned Hoppy. ‘I’m too tired for your lame jokes’. And with that she walked off with Tinysaur back to their blanket and bed.

‘I didn’t mean to bug you,’ said Rocket. ‘Hey, Liftoff, did you hear that? I said I didn’t mean to bug you!’

But Liftoff was back inside his cabin and already tucked up in bed.

‘Don’t let the bed bugs bite!’

Not getting the kind of response he’d hoped for, Rocket sighed and went back to his own bed. It had been a long night for everyone.

Chapter 12 – Crazy Klump

The next morning Liftoff had a broom in his hands and was sweeping out all broken beetles and mess from the previous night. Rocket had started up the fire and was cooking some salted sardines.

‘What a strange night that was,’ said Liftoff, sweeping away the last remains of broken pieces.

‘I’m getting tired of all this nonsense.’ Rocket turned the fish over in the pan. ‘I say we make Shelly give Mischief the password and be done with it. I mean, who cares about a password on her computer?’

Tinysaur ran over to Rocket and panted.

‘You want some breakfast, eh?’

Tinysaur nodded excitedly.

Rocket threw a sardine to Tinysaur who swallowed it whole.

‘You know, that Mischief is more trouble than sitting on a nest of gobbler ants. I just want our fishing lake back with a bit of peace and quiet.’

Hoppy ran into the camp breathless.

‘I’ve looked everywhere for Shelly and I just can’t find him anywhere. What’s more, I found this note at the treehouse. It’s from Klump.’

Liftoff left his broom by the side of his cabin and came over to see.

‘What does it say?’ asked Rocket. He stood up from the fire and offered out the rest of the fish.

Hoppy showed them the note.

‘I don’t know if it’s some kind of trick or a bad joke, but look …’

Rocket nibbled on the sardines and with his mouth half-full he read the note out loud:

All gone wrong,

We don’t have long,

When you see me next,

I may be gone.

You shouldn’t trust me,

If I tell you to stay,

I won’t be myself,

So run, run away!

Klump.’

‘That’s just crazy talk!’ said Liftoff, tapping the side of his head.

‘It’s just another one of Klump’s lame tricks,’ said Rocket. ‘Doctor Mischief must have made Klump write that nonsense.’

Hoppy scanned over the message one more time.

‘Shelly’s usually the one who’s good at these sorts of cryptic messages. Maybe the note was meant for Shelly?’ she wondered.

‘Maybe Klump wrote the message to get his attention?’ said Rocket. He snapped his fingers. ‘I bet Shelly’s gone to the mountain to find Klump.’

‘If it’s a trick to lure Shelly into the mountain then we need to stop them.’

‘I’m going nowhere,’ said Liftoff stubbornly. ‘I hate that place. I’d rather stay here and tidy up – I haven’t dusted my cabin in three days!’

‘But we need you,’ pleaded Hoppy. ‘You’re the strongest person on this island.’

Liftoff picked up his Bunny and put it to his ear.

‘What’s that you say, bunny? You want us to stay here?’

‘Oh come on, you big softy,’ said Rocket. ‘It won’t take long. We’re not going inside the mountain anyway.’

‘No!’ said Liftoff firmly.

‘I’ll clean all the dishes if you come with us,’ said Rocket. ‘For a whole week!’

‘Nope.’

‘I’ll do the laundry. Even those blue shorts with the brown marks on the bottom.’

‘They’re your shorts!’ Liftoff crossed his arms.

Rocket gave Hoppy a ‘what can you do?’ look.

‘How about if I bake you some special honey oat cookies?’ offered Hoppy.

Liftoff raised an eyebrow.

‘Cookies? How many cookies?’

‘Three large ones with extra chocolate chip toppings.’

Liftoff thought for a moment and sniffed the air.

‘Make it six and we have a deal.’

‘Deal,’ said Hoppy. She shook his big hand. ‘Now come on we’ve wasted enough time already. Let’s sort this mess out once and for all.’

It wasn’t long before Rocket, Liftoff, Tinysaur and Hoppy were back outside at Doctor Mischief’s mountain base entrance. Rocket was about to push one of the buttons on the communicator, when the giant steel doors suddenly opened.

Inside the round doorway was Klump who glided on his four wheels to meet them.

‘Come inside,’ Klump said in a monotone voice. ‘We’ve been expecting you.’

‘We got your note,’ said Rocket. ‘Kind of weird. But love what you’re doing with the poetry.’

‘Note?’ asked Klump, showing no sign of emotion. ‘I am unaware of any note.’

Hoppy handed him the message.

‘This one with your name on it.’

Klump took the piece of paper and tore it to pieces.

‘An operating error. You must come inside now.’

‘Klump, you are acting like a moron,’ said Rocket. ‘I mean, I know you’ve always been a bit bonkers but even for you this is odd. What’s up with your voice? You sound all roboty and machiney.’

‘I am a robot,’ answered Klump. ‘I am instructed to bring you inside.’

‘And what’s up with your eyes? They’ve gone all red. It looks freaky!’

‘I’m not going inside,’ said Liftoff firmly. ‘No way!’

Rocket leaned over to Hoppy: ‘I’m starting to think something’s not right with, Klump. Remember what that note said –’

‘–You shouldn’t trust me if I tell you to stay,’ quoted Hoppy, remembering the words from the torn-up note.

‘You know what,’ said Rocket to Klump. ‘It’s such a nice day out here I think we’re going to stay right where we are. Why don’t you go get your boss, Mischief, and tell her to come out and meet us here instead.’

Klump’s eye’s glowed red and narrowed.

‘The Doctor must not be disturbed. You will come inside. I am under strict instructions.’

Liftoff put up a hand.

‘Not me. I’m going nowhere.’

‘You heard him, box-boy,’ said Rocket. He pointed into the darkness of the tunnel behind Klump. ‘We’re not coming with you in there. I think you’ve got a loose microchip or two. You don’t look right.’

‘Very well,’ said Klump nonchalantly. ‘You had your chance to obey. Now you will be forced to enter the mountain instead.’

‘Ha!’ laughed Rocket. ‘You and what army is going to make us?’

Klump raised his right hand in the air and snapped his fingers. From deep within the mountain came the sound of gigantic footsteps, like the pounding of cannon balls.

BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM!

‘I don’t like the sound of that,’ said Hoppy, feeling the earth tremble beneath her feet.

Tinysaur whimpered.

The footsteps grew louder. A mechanical whining spinning sound started, like the sound of chainsaws and sharp knives.

‘Something big is coming,’ said Rocket.

‘I said this place was bad news,’ said Liftoff,

The booming and whining grew louder and closer.

‘Oh my goodness,’ gasped Hoppy. ‘What on earth are they?!’

Chapter 13 – The Arm-E Attack

Out from the mountain entrance, came the giants. Three monstrous robots who stomped forward on legs of iron. Their bodies were cylindrical, no neck and a slit for the eyes like knights in armour. Their arms were like tentacles, four on each robot. Twisting and writhing, the tentacle arms had sharp claws for hands.

‘You must surrender,’ said Klump. ‘These are Arm-Electrics. Arm-E robots can be extremely dangerous if not obeyed.’

‘Your dumb machines don’t scare us,’ said Hoppy fiercely, getting herself into a fighting stance. Tinysaur snuck behind Hoppy’s legs cowering.

‘Look at the size of them,’ said Liftoff.

‘Watch out for those claws,’ warned Rocket.

‘We’ll take one each,’ said Hoppy.

‘Klump, don’t go anywhere!’ shouted Rocket. ‘I’ll need you to clean up the scraps of metal after we’ve finished pummelling your army robots to pieces.’

‘How can Klump do any cleaning up?’ asked Liftoff blankly. ‘He hasn’t got a broom or dust pan and brush?’

‘Just tough talk, buddy,’ said Rocket. ‘You know, trash talk.’ He gave Liftoff a wink.

‘Arm-Es attack!’ ordered Klump, pointing at the animals.

‘Time for a fruit snack,’ said Rocket. He gulped a handful of blueberries from his side pocket, and within seconds his body and legs were brightly glowing.

The first of the three Arm-Es stomped menacingly up to Liftoff.

‘Hi! My name’s Liftoff. What’s your name?’ said Liftoff. The Arm-E reached out one of its clawed tentacle arms. ‘Hey, Rocket, I think this one is friendly.’

Liftoff reached out his right hand and grasped the claw of the Arm-E, shaking his hand firmly. But the monstrous droid responded by powerfully squeezing Liftoff’s hand with a force that would break the bone of any normal person.

‘Hey!’ said the super-strong Liftoff. ‘That’s a firm hand shake you’ve got there.’

‘I’m pretty sure they’re not trying to make friends with us,’ said Hoppy. She leapt to one side as the second Arm-E threw a tentacle punch, just missing her and thumping on the ground instead.

Tinysaur shrieked and fled to a nearby tree.

‘Some help you are,’ said Hoppy, skipping past a second swing from the Arm-E’s claw.

The third Arm-E rushed at Rocket with all four tentacles – its claws spinning like blades. The tentacle arms swung in to grab Rocket, but at the last fraction of a second Rocket zoomed away.

‘I don’t like hugs from robots,’ said Rocket, suddenly reappearing behind the Arm-E.

Liftoff was still hand in hand with the first Arm-E, its powerful hand clamp crushing down on Liftoff’s bones with incredible force.

‘Hey, that tickles,’ said Liftoff, giggling. ‘Let go!’

Liftoff tugged back his hand but the Arm-E held firm. So without a great deal of effort, Liftoff swung the giant robot over his head, crashing it on to the ground.

SMASH!

‘I do wish you’d let go of my hand now,’ said Liftoff. ‘This is a very, very long hand shake.’

He slammed the Arm-E back and forth over his head, until it’s claw fell off and it’s body smashed to pieces.

The second Arm-E flicked out all four of its tentacles like whips at Hoppy, who immediately jumped back with a flip. It was then that she stumbled and fell on to her back.

Tinysaur yapped in terror.

The Arm-E had its spinnings pincers out and they pressed in towards Hoppy who was lying on the floor. She could feel the wind from the spinning claws on her cheeks.

Tinysaur dashed out from her hiding place and ran to Hoppy, barking and yapping frantically. The Arm-E was distracted just long enough for Hoppy to safely roll out the way.

SHWIZZ!

The spinning claws hit the ground, cutting up the grass and tearing up the dirt.

Rocket leapt on to the back of his Arm-E attacker and sat on its shoulders.

‘What have we got here?’ he said, seeing a secret hatch built into the rear the machine.

The Arm-E wriggled furiously to shake Rocket off.

‘You’re m-m-m-making me dizzy!’ said Rocket with a wobbly voice. He gripped his left hand on the Arm-E’s shoulder as tightly as possible. With his right hand he tugged open the hidden compartment, and inside he saw what looked like four enormous power cells.

‘Batteries!’

He pulled the batteries loose and chucked them to the floor, leaving the compartment empty. The giant Arm-E squawked and fizzled, and then creaked to a halt, falling head first to the floor with an enormous –

CRASH.

Rocket hopped off the Arm-E’s back and onto the ground beside the fallen metal giant.

‘And that’s why you should always use solar power!’

Meanwhile, Hoppy energetically ran and threw herself on to the last Arm-E, flipping herself up and balancing with one foot on its head. She reached down her hands into the robot’s eye slit – neatly dodging a tentacle swipe – and ripped out a camera with a pop and spark of electricity.

‘You can’t hit what you can’t see,’ she said. And leapt off its metal head landing in a crouched position on the floor.

The sightless Arm-E, dazed and confused, flapped its arms aimlessly and stumbled around. It swiped out a spinning claw and hooked itself in the foot, sending itself toppling over.

CRASH.

The three giant Arm-E robots lay broken and defeated on the ground. A waft of grey smoke drifted into the sky.

‘I told you we’d need someone to clean up this mess,’ said Rocket. He turned to see Klump speed off back into the tunnel entrance. ‘Hey, where are you going? I want a word with you!’

Chapter 14 – Back to the backdoor

Just as Rocket was about to sprint over and give Klump a piece of his mind, the massive steel doors to the mountain entrance suddenly slammed shut.

‘We’re not finished with you yet, Klump!’

Rocket looked at Liftoff with pleading eyes.

‘How about opening that door for us? Should be easy for you …’

‘No way,’ said Liftoff, shaking his head, ‘I told you I’m not going in there.’

Rocket went over to the steel door and knocked.

A second security door slammed over the first, doubling the protection.

‘First they want us in? Now they don’t,’ said Rocket. ‘It’s like they can’t make up their minds?’

A third security door whooshed up from the ground.

‘Looks like they don’t want us in after all,’ said Liftoff.

‘And they were being ever so friendly,’ said Hoppy.

‘Let’s wait till Klump comes out again,’ suggested Rocket.

‘And get into another fight?’ said Hoppy. ‘No thanks. Next time there might be thirty of those Arm-E robots. Or more!’

‘Well that’s that then,’ said Liftoff cheerily. ‘Back for lunch?’

‘Lunch?’ frowned Hoppy. ‘How can you think of lunch? We’re at war! I’m getting inside this mountain one way or another.’

‘There is only one way in,’ said Rocket tapping on the third security door. ‘We’re shut out.’

‘Shut out from the front door,’ Hoppy said. ‘But I bet there’s a back door.’

‘What back door?’

‘The underground tunnels by the old dock … There used to be a back door for deliveries.’

‘Are you kidding me? Those tunnels were flooded years ago. You won’t be able to get through there.’

‘You could if you swam underwater,’ said Hoppy confidently.

‘Liftoff can’t swim,’ said Rocket. He lifted up his hand to cover his mouth so only Hoppy could hear the next part. ‘You know he has to wear inflatable arm bands, right? And that’s for bath time too.’

‘I heard that!’ huffed Liftoff. ‘I can swim! I just choose not to.’

‘You two could try up there instead,’ suggested Hoppy, glancing up the mountain. ‘They’ve got air vents. I’ve seen smoke rise out from up there before. You might be able to get in that way.’

‘I ain’t going in no vents,’ said Liftoff, crossing his arms. ‘And I ain’t going in no mountain neither. How many times do I have to tell you!’

‘Suit yourself. Come on, Tinysaur, we’re going this way. We’ve got an island to save.’

Tinysaur yapped and followed Hoppy’s lead, heading round the base of the mountain towards the coastline.

Rocket patted Liftoff on the shoulder.

‘Normally, I’m with you, pal. Going inside that mountain brings back bad memories for me too. And any other day, I’d say, let’s forget about it and go home. But I’ve got a bad feeling that if we don’t get in there and help Hoppy our whole life on this island could come to a tragic ending.’

‘That’s very brave of you,’ said Liftoff, ‘and I’m going to be right behind you …’ Liftoff turned and walked back towards the forest. ‘Right behind you on the other side of the island!’

‘What? You can’t just leave me on my own!’

‘I told you. I ain’t going in there. Nothing but bad news in that place.’

‘That was a long time ago,’ said Rocket. ‘It’s just Mischief and the robots now. Nothing that a big strong bear like you couldn’t handle.’

‘What if there’s all kinds of terrible things in there we know nothing about. Nothing good happens in there.’

‘This is hard for me to say, but I’m going to have to say it anyway.’

Rocket swallowed hard and choked out the next few words.

‘I …’

He coughed.

‘Need …’

Cough! Cough!

‘You …’

Rocket sighed with total relief.

‘There I said it.’

‘Said what?’

‘You heard me! Don’t play games.’

Liftoff pondered his options and Rocket waited for an answer.

Liftoff took out his bunny out from his leather satchel and put its little black nose close to his ear.

‘Bunny says we’ll climb the mountain with you – but that’s all! The rest is up to you.’

Rocket frowned. At least he’d persuaded Liftoff to climb the mountain.

 

  • * *

 

Hoppy and Tinysaur had raced round the base of the mountain and after about half an hour they could see the ocean.

‘Let’s follow the track along the top of the cliff,’ said Hoppy. ‘We should reach the old dock within the hour. Just watch where you step – it’s dangerous along here.’

Tinysaur gave a nod of the head and a yap. Her little tail waggled in excitement.

The coastal path had eroded over many years. An overgrown, rocky and meandering track, only used these days by wild animals. There were signs of a former life, a few rusted metal safety chains, old iron rivets and the occasional broken pipe sticking from the rocks.

Hoppy stopped a moment to catch her breath. She looked out across the ocean.

‘Isn’t it beautiful,’ she said. ‘Out there … that’s where we want to be … freedom.’

Tinysaur looked at Hoppy and simply panted.

Hoppy shook her head and thought for a moment. She sighed.

‘We’ll get off this island one day. You’ll see.’

She turned and stared up at the coastal track.

‘Look, there it is – the old dock. We’re not far now.’

 

  • * *

 

In the meantime, Rocket and Liftoff had been slowly making their way up the easiest part of the mountain. It was a little frustrating for Rocket knowing he could have made it this far on his own in a matter of seconds rather than the hour or so it had taken.

‘Come on, pal,’ Rocket said. ‘Not much further.’

Liftoff puffed heavily.

‘I am not enjoying this.’

The first part of their journey up the mountain had been fairly pleasant with views over the forest and the ocean. But since then it had grown foggier and everything had become obscured by cloud. The temperature had dropped sharply and the terrain was getting steeper.

Rocket scrambled over some loose rocks until he stopped in front of a steep rise surrounded by cliffs on either side.

Liftoff stared at the steep rock face.

‘I can’t get up there!’ Liftoff said, partly deflated and partly happy that he wouldn’t be going any further.

‘Sure you can!’ Rocket clasped both hands together. ‘I’ll give you a step up, see. Just put your foot on here.’

‘It’s too high.’

‘Come on. Give it a go. We’ve come too far to stop now.’

Liftoff reluctantly put his large left foot on Rocket’s hands and leveraged himself up against the rock wall.

Rocket grimaced in pain.

‘Argh! My back, my back!’

‘Who’s back? Is someone back?’

‘Just get up there, you big great lump. I can’t hold you much longer.’

‘I’m trying!’ Liftoff grabbed at the top of the ledge and using all his arm strength, heaved himself ungracefully over to the other side.

Rocket fell exhausted in a heap.

‘My back is gonna hurt in the morning.’

Liftoff’s head appeared over the side of the edge.

‘Hey, what are you doing resting down there?’ he asked, feeling cheered up by his success over the rock wall.

Rocket growled under his breath. He rose on to his feet, arched and clicked his back, and then speedily clambered up to meet Liftoff.

‘We better find a way in soon,’ puffed Rocket. ‘I’m not doing that again.’

‘I dunno,’ said Liftoff. ‘That last bit was pretty easy.’ And with that Liftoff began to whistle as he climbed up the next bit of the mountain. ‘Are you coming or what?’

Rocket rolled his eyes and followed after.

 

  • * *

 

Hoppy and Tinysaur had made it to the old dock. Hoppy was leaning over a rusted and battered railing and peering down at the choppy waters below.

The dock was in a shabby condition and barely recognisable as a port for boats. The remaining brick walls that hadn’t crumbled into the sea were covered in green seaweed and algae. There was an old ladder bolted to one side – many of the rungs were either broken or missing.

‘We can get in to the mountain from here,’ said Hoppy.

Tinysaur looked bemused. She couldn’t see any visible doors or holes into the mountain.

‘Not up here. Down there!’ Hoppy pointed into the grey murky waters that splashed and echoed against the dock walls. ‘There’s a way in under the water!’

Tinysaur gave a little whimper.

‘We’ll need to hold our breath, of course. Maybe a minute or two. Do you think you can do that? Just stay close to me and you’ll be fine. Ready to jump in?’

Tinysaur’s eyes looked worried but she nodded anyway. Hoppy picked her up and held her over the railings.

‘On the count of three…. 1… 2 … 3!’ She let Tinysaur drop into the water and a moment later she dived in after.

SPLASH.

They both popped up out of the water, gasping for breath, treading water and trying to get used to freezing water. Hoppy’s pink fur was matted and wet while Tinysaur’s reptilian skin looked glossier than usual.

‘Deep breath, Tinysaur.’

And with that last instruction, Hoppy sucked in as much air as she could and dived beneath the surface. Tinysaur kicked down and swam close behind.

Straining to keep their eyes open in the salty water, there was just enough light to see the opening of the underwater tunnel.

Hoppy swam hard and Tinysaur, who was also a good swimmer, tailed closely. Inside the dark underwater tunnel was a small red light several feet further along. Hoppy signalled to Tinysaur and into the opening they went.

Hoppy remembered the last time she’d been there. That time was to escape out, not to go back inside. She felt fearful.

Summoning up her courage, and knowing Tinysaur was behind her, Hoppy swam further into the tunnel towards the red light.

There it was. An opening. Hoppy’s head burst from the water’s surface and she gasped for air. Tinysaur came up after her, puffing and panting.

‘I see it,’ said Hoppy breathlessly. There before them was a rusted iron door on a platform above the water. ‘We’re in.’

Chapter 15 – Underground and undercover

Liftoff bent over and clutched his knees.

‘That’s it. I’m done!’ he said, puffing out his cheeks. ‘I can’t go any higher.’

‘You may not have to,’ said Rocket. ‘Look –’ he pointed to a slither of rising smoke, barely visible against the surrounding fog, ‘– that’s one of the chimneys we’ve been looking for.’

‘I don’t see nothing,’ Liftoff said glumly. He shivered a little and rubbed the fur on his arms. ‘It’s too cold to go on. This is as far as I go.’

‘I’m going for a closer look.’

Two seconds later, Rocket was back.

‘I was right. It’s an old brick chimney. It must lead somewhere inside the mountain.’

‘So I can go back down now, right?’

‘Not yet – I need you to pull the chimney out first. I’m not strong enough.’

Liftoff sighed and nodded his head.

‘I’ll break if off but don’t for one second think I’m following you in there. You hear me? I am not going inside that mountain. Never!’

 

  • * *

 

Tinysaur spluttered and coughed as Hoppy took her paw and lifted her from the cold sea water. They were both shivering.

‘We’ll warm up once we get inside,’ she said. Lifting up a heavy latch, she pushed the underground door ajar and a gust of hot air blasted from the doorway. ‘Well that was faster than I expected.’

The warm wind was like a hairdryer and it immediately began to dry Hoppy’s soaked pink fur. Tinysaur’s smooth skin was dry in seconds.

‘I wonder what’s making all that heat?’

They entered into a dimly lit rock passageway that lead to a stone spiral stairway. Steam rose up from the floor, and the damp stairwell grew drier and hotter with every step up.

‘I guess we’ll find out soon enough,’ puffed Hoppy.

 

  • * *

 

The chimney was a couple of feet in diameter, made of old red bricks and protruded from the surface of the rock. Some of the bricks had crumbled and fallen loose.

Liftoff crouched and embraced the chimney with both arms.

‘Boy, does that stink!’ said Liftoff, wrinkling his nose.

‘Yuk!’ said Rocket, giving it a sniff. ‘What are they making down there? It smells like rotten eggs and old socks.’

‘The sooner I get away from here the better!’

Liftoff tugged the chimney back and forth to try and break it off. It cracked a little and a couple of the bricks broke in two.

‘Try pulling it up at the same time,’ said Rocket.

Liftoff lent back and there was the sound of cracking.

‘I think I’ve got it. I can feel it coming loose.’

Rocket felt the rock beneath his feet wobble.

‘Er, Liftoff, I think you better stop a second –’

‘Almost done…’

‘But the ground is breaking apart –’

‘Here it comes!’

Liftoff ripped the chimney out from the rock but as he did so wide cracks appeared all beneath their feet.

‘The floor is collapsing!’ shouted Rocket.

Liftoff dropped the chimney to ground with a crash but that only made it worse.

The ground disintegrated around them, sucking them down. Rocket scrambled to hold on to an edge but the earth crumbled in his hands. Liftoff slipped in first, dropping with a scream and falling into the darkness. Rocket followed after him, sliding out of control. They kept dropping until they slipped into a wide metal tunnel that curved and caught their fall. Now instead of falling they were sliding, sliding in darkness, groping at the side of the slippery walls.

‘Waaaaaaaaah!’ cried Liftoff.

‘Weeeeeeeeeh!’ shouted Rocket.

Liftoff saw a light beneath him but before he could say anything –

SMASH!

Liftoff went feet first through a metal grate, blown of its hinges, and he shot out from the tunnel and landed with not with a thud but with a sloppy –

SQUELCH!

Seconds later, Rocket flew out and landed with a mushy splat.

‘What a rush!’ said Rocket excitedly.

‘What a pong!’ cried Liftoff. ‘And what is all this soggy goo?’

As their eyes slowly adjusted to the dimly lit room and Rocket scooped up a piece of the junk they had fallen into.

‘What is this?’ said Rocket, holding out the soggy object. ‘It looks like an old sock, covered in –’

‘Eggs! Rotten eggs!’ shrieked Liftoff.

‘I told you at the top it stunk of old socks and eggs!’

‘I’ve got to get out of here!’ said Liftoff frantically. ‘This place is crazy. I’ve got to get back to the surface.’

‘You’ll never get out that way,’ said Rocket as a pile of rocks and soil fell down the chimney tunnel, blocking it up.

‘I’m so mad at you right now!’ said Liftoff all red-faced.

‘What did I do?’

‘I told you I never wanted to come down here. And now look at me!’ Liftoff held up a stinking sock and threw it at Rocket. ‘We’re trapped!’

‘No we’re not. Look over there – a door. We can get out that way.’

Rocket clambered over the gooey mess to the door and tried the handle.

‘It’s stuck!’ coughed Rocket. ‘And these fumes are killing me!’

Liftoff pushed himself up from the old socks and climbed over to Rocket.

‘Out of my way!’

And with that the giant bear shoulder barged into the door, knocking it wide open and then jumping through to the other side.

Liftoff took a deep breath of air.

Rocket stepped out the door, wiping an egg shell off his shoulders.

‘That wasn’t so bad …’ he said cooly.

Liftoff growled.

‘I told you I didn’t want to be here. This place is nothing but trouble.’

‘Don’t worry, I’ll find you an exit and you can leave right away …’ Rocket looked up and down what seemed like an endless passageway. The walls were a dull white and lined with hundreds and hundreds of doors, all closed and signed with with a unique number. ‘We just need to figure out which door is the exit that’s all.’

 

  • * *

 

At the top of the stone stairwell, Hoppy and Tinysaur reached a door marked:

 

COMPUTER WAREHOUSE.

 

She turned the door handle and it opened out into a magnificent underground, windowless, chamber, some sixty feet high and with no end in sight. Spread across the tiled floor were rows of computer servers, machines, flashing lights, cables of all kinds – all buzzing and humming in unison. Every row of computer servers seemed identical.

After the long climb up the stairwell and now into this intense heat Hoppy was sweating.

‘Goodness, it’s hot,’ she said, wiping her brow.

Tinysaur panted and waited for instructions.

‘Doctor Mischief’s command centre is at the top of the mountain and it’s a very, very long way up. We’ll have to take a lift up. There must be one here somewhere.’

They jogged round the outer wall of the computer warehouse, past line after line of humming machines, until finally they found what they were looking for.

‘Let’s hope the lift’s are working,’ said Hoppy, pushing a button with an upward pointing arrow.

A few seconds later the lift doors pinged and swooshed open, and the two of them entered. In front of Hoppy was a massive board of numbers from one all the way to seven hundred. She pushed the button marked one.

‘No turning back now …’

The doors shut, and the lift groaned as they felt it begin the long journey up the interior of the mountain. A display above the door gave the current floor number. It was reading six hundred and ninety-nine. A few seconds later, it turned to six hundred and ninety-eight.

‘This may take a while,’ said Hoppy.

Tinysaur sighed and rested on the cold lift floor.

 

  • * *

 

‘This may take a while,’ said Rocket, after opening the hundredth door along the long, long passageway. ‘Not this one either. That room’s just full of mouldy old cheese.’

Liftoff opened and then immediately slammed shut the next door along. ‘You don’t want to go in there. That one’s Brussels sprouts, ear wigs and worms!’

‘Disgusting!’ said Rocket. ‘Who’d want to fill a room with Brussels sprouts?’

‘Mischief is bonkers.’ said Liftoff tapping the side of his head.

‘All these rooms are full of mad experiments. I don’t think we’ll find an exit in one of these.’

‘I’m feeling claustrophobic,’ moaned Liftoff. ‘I’ve got to get out of here.’

‘There must be some stairs somewhere along here,’ said Rocket hopefully.

‘Or a lift,’ added Liftoff.

‘Exactly. There must be a lift nearby …’

 

  • * *

 

Hoppy could feel the lift grinding to a halt.

‘Something’s wrong,’ she whispered. ‘We’re stopping too soon.’

The display above the door read ‘166’.

The lift jolted and Tinysaur leapt to her feet.

Hoppy took a fighting stance. ‘Stay behind me. It could be one of the robots.’

The doors pinged and swooshed open.

There was someone waiting for them …

‘HEE-YAH!’ yelled Hoppy, flinging out a karate chop.

‘Hey, hey, hey!’ shouted Rocket, ducking out the way of Hoppy’s flying hand. ‘You could hurt someone with that hand shake!’

‘You two! You made it. You -’ Hoppy paused and sniffed the air. ‘You absolutely stink!’

‘That’s not our fault,’ said an embarrassed Liftoff. He sniffed under each armpit. ‘We’ve been trapped in some extremely smelly rooms.’

‘Don’t ask,’ added Rocket. ‘Going up or down?’

‘Up.’ Hoppy said.

‘Up?’ said Liftoff unhappily. ‘I want down! I want out of here!’

Hoppy frowned. ‘We’ve just spent the last half an hour getting the lift up to here. We’re not going down again. You’ll just have to wait for us to finish our chat with Doctor Mischief.’

Liftoff huffed.

‘Oh come on,’ said Rocket, beckoning the unhappy bear inside the lift. ‘We’ll just pop up to the top and then you can go home. Room for two more?’

Hoppy sniffed the air and said to Tinysaur: ‘Remember when we swam in that underwater tunnel? Well we might have to hold our breath even longer this time …’

Chapter 16 – The computer virus

Floor one was Doctor Mischief’s command centre – a thirty-foot high circular room excavated from the peak of the mountain. Numerous cables hung from the ceiling, machinery, metal boxes, wires and computer screens of all sizes filled the cavernous room. Its walls were rugged rock and it had two giant windows that, when not covered in cloud, had a view over the island and sea.

Doctor Mischief was working furiously. She flicked on and off several dials and switches, pressed virtual buttons on one of five different computer screens and typed at terrific speed into four different keyboards.

Steam was rising from the back of the computers and screens.

Over to one side was a row of small security monitors – one of which showed Rocket, Liftoff, Hoppy and Tinysaur cramped together in a lift.

Doctor Mischief glanced over at the lift doors on the other side of the command centre and then flicked a switch on her dashboard.

‘Hurry up, you blithering box brain,’ she shouted into a microphone. ‘They’re almost here!’ Using a white handkerchief from her lab coat pocket, the Doctor wiped several drops of sweat from her green brow.

The speaker hissed and crackled.

‘Klump, did you hear me? I said they’re almost here! Is Basher with you?’

A robotic voice finally answered through the speaker. ‘Affirmative. One hundred and twenty four seconds to designated meeting point.’

‘Is that you, Klump? Why are talking like that? What’s the matter with you?’ replied the Doctor. There was a sudden pop and hiss from one of the nearby computers. ‘Never mind! just get here pronto, lame brain.’

Above the command centre lift, an up arrow flashed green and a second later the doors opened with a swoosh.

‘Surprise!’ said Rocket, popping out the door with a big grin. ‘The front door was locked but we found our own way in.’

‘Leave me alone. You’re wasting my time,’ said the Doctor frowning. She kept her eyes fixed firmly on the computer monitors in front and typed into a keyboard.

Liftoff stepped into the control room looking uncomfortable and awkward. Hoppy and Tinysaur followed after.

‘We know what you’re up to,’ said Hoppy sternly, pointing at the Doctor. Tinysaur stood behind her and growled. ‘Stop harassing us! You need to leave us alone.’

‘I have left you alone,’ said the Doctor. She spun around and stared Hoppy square in the eye. ‘Now it’s you who won’t leave me alone.’

‘Don’t play dumb with us,’ said Rocket, gesturing with his hands. ‘In the last 24 hours you’ve tried to chase us, squash us, pinch us, bash us and smash us. But we’ve beaten everything you’ve thrown our way.’

‘I’ve done no such thing!’

‘Don’t deny it! You’re the only one on the island who doesn’t like us.’

‘I don’t deny I don’t like you. I can’t stand you if I’m honest. But today I’ve got bigger problems than you lot. Much bigger!’

There was a pop and crackle from one of the Doctors computer terminals. Some grey smoke began to rise up from one of the machines.

‘Something wrong with your computers?’ said Hoppy.

Doctor Mischief rolled her eyes. ‘Of course there’s something wrong with my computers! That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you – I have a computer virus!’

‘A virus?’ said Liftoff. He covered his mouth. ‘We should keep our distance. I’m very sensitive to coughs and sneezes.’

Rocket leaned over and whispered in Liftoff’s ear; ‘You don’t have to worry about catching a computer virus. It’s only something that effects machines.’

There was another ping noise and the lift door opened again. This time it was Klump and the other robots Basher, Hover and Zoom. Klump rolled over to the Doctor on his tiny four wheels. Basher and Hover stood by the lift with their hands behind their backs. Zoom, who had no hands anyway, had his binocular eyes on Rocket and Liftoff.

‘Klump, you lazy box of wires! What took you so long?’ shouted Mischief.

Klump said nothing. His eerie red eyes surveyed the room.

‘These animal nickampoops are trespassing!’ The Doctor pointed an accusing finger at Rocket, Liftoff, Hoppy and Tinysaur. ‘I want them removed immediately. Do you hear me? I want you to escort them out of here right now!’

Klump remained silent.

‘Hellooo? Is anybody in there?’ said Mischief, tapping Klump on the head with her knuckle. ‘I said I want you to clear this room immediately!’

She looked over at Basher, Hover and Zoom who remained stationary. ‘What’s up with you lot? Cat got your tongue? You seem to be even dumber than usual – if that’s even possible!’

‘Your robots aren’t moving us anywhere,’ said Hoppy. ‘I don’t know what game you’re playing but we’re not fooling for it. We’re not leaving until you stop all this nonsense and bring your attacks on us to an end.’

‘Oh – and more importantly – we want our fishing lake back,’ added Rocket.

Liftoff nodded in agreement.

Klump held up a hand. ‘Canisters at the ready!’

‘What is the matter with you, Klump,’ hissed the Doctor. ‘What canisters?’

The boxy robot turned on his wheels and gave a signal to the wrestler robot Basher and the floating robot Hover.

‘What are they up to?’ said Hoppy. ‘Somethings not right here.’

Basher and Hover took their arms from their backs and revealed what looked like fire extinguishers.

‘There’s no fire here – it’s just a little smoke from the overheating computers,’ said Doctor Mischief. ‘You won’t be needing those fire extinguishers. Put them away, robots.’

But instead of putting the red canisters down, Basher and Hover lifted them higher, with a hand ready on the trigger.

‘Lost control of your robots?’ said Rocket.

‘I said – PUT THEM DOWN!’ screamed the Doctor.

‘Release the gas,’ ordered Klump, his eye’s glowing bright red.

Basher and Hover squeezed on the canister triggers and a cloud of smoke pumped out with a loud –

HISSSSSS!

Tinysaur barked loudly and began to run round in small circles.

‘What is that nasty smell?’ said Hoppy, sniffing the air.

‘They’re not fire extinguishers!’ said Mischief in great alarm. ‘That’s sleeping gas! Hold your breath everyone – the robots are out of control!’

The white mist spread and hovered across the tiled floor as the two robots continued to spray sleeping gas from the canisters.

Liftoff yawned. ‘I’m just going to lie down here for a while.’

‘No, no, you mustn’t’ spluttered Rocket. ‘They’re trying to put us to –’ he coughed and steadied himself, ‘trying to put us to –’ He couldn’t finish his words. Suddenly he felt all dizzy and light-headed …

‘Sleep,’ said Klump. ‘We’re putting you to sleep.’

Rocket collapsed to the floor.

Hoppy covered her mouth with her hands but it was too late. She also slumped to the ground, quickly followed by Tinysaur next to her.

Liftoff sat down, leant against a big container box, shut his eyes and began to snore.

‘Stop – st - o - p -’ spluttered Mischief. She dropped to one knee and held a handkerchief to her mouth. ‘I ... order ... you ... to ...’

She fell forward with a thump, her arms spread out across the tiles, lying motionless.

The robots remained standing.

‘Take them to the Specimen Chambers,’ said Klump darkly. ‘All of them!’

Chapter 17 – The Specimen Chambers

Rocket rolled over on to his side and sucked on his thumb.

‘I want more jelly,’ he muttered. ‘Jelly in my belly.’ He gave a little giggle and it woke him up.

‘Huh? Where am I?’ He pulled his thumb out of his mouth. He could hear snoring.

Liftoff was sitting next to him, head slouch forward, breathing heavily. His feet and wrists were bound with a silvery cable. Rocket gave him a shove.

‘Wake up!’

‘Make up? I’m not wearing make-up. What? Who’s there?’

‘The robots knocked us out with sleeping gas …’

‘My head feels sore,’ said Liftoff, rubbing the fur behind his ears.

Rocket examined their prison, a small enclosure lined in dull-white padding. There was no daylight, just yellow lighting, and only one door with a small oval window.

‘I feel lousy,’ said Rocket, trying to shake off a groggy lethargy.

Without thinking he reached inside his belt utility pocket but nothing was in there.

He groaned. ‘They’ve taken my blueberries.’

‘I’m getting out of here,’ said Liftoff. But as he went to stand up he felt a silver cable pull against his wrists. He tugged on the cables expecting them to snap like cotton.

They didn’t break.

He tried again, this time much harder.

Nothing.

‘They’ve done something to me,’ whimpered Liftoff. ‘They’ve taken my strength.’

Rocket turned and examined the silver cable and handcuffs wrapped around Liftoff’s wrists.

‘Sorry pal,’ said Rocket mutely. ‘It’s made of Unbreakium. I guess they know even you can’t break that.’

Liftoff tugged and tugged at the cables but they wouldn’t give. No matter how hard Liftoff strained at his handcuffs they couldn’t be broken.

The two of them sat in silence for a while, taking in the bare, desolate surroundings. Liftoff sniffed and wiped away a tear.

‘We’ll find a way out,’ said Rocket, patting Liftoff’s arm. Rocket then stood up, mustered up as much strength as he could and tried to force open the cell door. It wouldn’t budge an inch.

‘We’re trapped,’ said Rocket. ‘No doubt about it.’ He peered through the small oval window in the door and saw two Arm-E guards, similar to the ones they had defeated earlier. Rocket banged on the door. ‘Hey, let us out! There’s been a mistake! Get your boss – Doctor Mischief – she’ll tell you!’

‘It’s no good, I’ve already tried.’

It was the sound of Mischief’s voice coming from the adjacent cell. ‘They won’t listen to me anymore.’

‘The robots are all infected by the virus,’ said Hoppy, her voice coming from the same cell. ‘Me and Tinysaur are trapped in here with the lizard.’

‘How dare you call me a lizard, you mangy half-cat,’ said Mischief fiercely.

Tinysaur leapt in front of Hoppy and growled.

‘Keep your dinosaur pet away from me! I’m warning you!’

‘Warning me? What are you going to do? Torture me with your bad breath?’

‘Come on you guys,’ said Rocket trying to calm the situation. ‘It’s no good fighting against each other in here. Besides, Mischief must know this place inside and out … she can tell us how to get out.’

‘The only way out is through these sealed doors,’ explained the Doctor, ‘and the only one strong enough to break them would be the bear. But he’s chained up with Unbreakium cables, right?’

Liftoff humpfed.

‘Just order those two robot guards to free us,’ said Rocket. ‘I thought you were the boss round here?’

‘I’ve been trying to tell you but the cotton wool in your brain must have stopped you from hearing,’ said the Doctor curtly. ‘The virus has taken control of every machine inside this mountain. I am no longer in command!’

Liftoff tugged at his chains. ‘I didn’t want to be here in the first place.’

‘If you’d just brought me Shelly like I’d asked in the first place,’ moaned the Doctor. ‘If you’d brought me his password. I could have rebooted the whole system and wiped it free of the virus.’

‘Why don’t you just switch off the main power supply and switch it back on again?’ said Hoppy. ‘That would fix it surely?’

‘That wouldn’t fix anything, my little pussy-kins. The system files require a manual over-ride and an authorised reboot. Switching off the power won’t do that. Only the administrator’s password can reset everything. And Shelly is the only one left on this island who knows it.’

‘Why would you assume Shelly knows it? What’s he got to do with any of your computers?’

‘Shelly knows more than you think! It was many years ago, back in the good times when everyone was confined here in the mountain. Back then Shelly was the Head of Technology’s favourite pet. And Shelly was the only one who ever got to see that password. And once a piece of information is in his strange little brain it never leaves – ever!’

Rocket thought about it for a second. ‘So you’re saying none of this was your doing. It was all the fault of the computer virus.’

‘Of course it wasn’t me! Have you got sawdust for brains? Why would I lock myself up in my own Specimen Chambers?’

‘So the missile and the fire-ball that attacked us …’

‘Triggered by the virus in the central computer. I had nothing to do with it. Zilch!’

‘And the water in the lake?’

‘Sucked out automatically by the computer’s cooling system. The virus has been burning through every computer chip and overheating every hard-drive in this place for the last two days. Once the computers overheated, they drew in water from everywhere. And that water included your fishing lake. So like I said, nothing to do with me.’

‘Hmmm,’ said Rocket, scratching his head. ‘And what about Klump and the others? Why won’t those goons listen to you anymore?’

‘Every machine in this building is controlled by the central computers – and that includes my robot servants.’

‘So the virus got them too,’ said Hoppy. ‘I guess that explains why they were acting so weird.’

Hoppy went and stood by her cell door and shook it as hard as she could. It wouldn’t budge. She stared through the door’s glass window at the two Arm-E guards with their tentacled arms, claws and pincers.

‘We’re in trouble,’ said Hoppy frowning. ‘Big trouble.’

Chapter 18 – The Code Maker

Several hours passed slowly in the sterile, dull, pale rooms of the Specimen Chambers. Rocket and Liftoff sat leaning against the padded cell walls. Rocket was struggling to muster the strength to crack a joke and Liftoff was tired of hearing them.

‘Did I tell you the one about the skinny goose, the fat cow and the ugly pig?’ Rocket said with barely any enthusiasm.

‘Yes,’ said Liftoff miserably. ‘About three hours ago!’

‘Oh.’

‘And it wasn’t funny then either.’

Rocket sighed.

In the other cell Doctor Mischief was mumbling grumpily under her breath with her eyes shut. Hoppy was pacing up and down like a frustrated tiger in a cage.

The main entrance door to the prison area swished open.

Hoppy peered through the thick glass door window and saw Hover and Basher, two of the Doctor’s servant robots, appear between the Arm-E guards. Hover levitated across the white room, his eyes glowing red as though in a trance. Basher stomped behind him like a zombie.

‘It’s two of your robot goons,’ said Hoppy frowning. ‘What do they want, I wonder.’

Basher approached Rocket and Liftoff’s cell door. The giant robot bent down and squashed his square-jawed face to the door glass, his eyes darting side to side, checking the prisoners were secure.

‘Hey Basher,’ said Rocket cooly. ‘Why don’t you open the door and we can play a game of hide and seek or something. You hide, I’ll seek. Or we could play tag. I’ll run and you catch. Your call.’

‘Be quiet,’ said Basher abruptly. ‘No funny business.’

Rocket got up and pressed his face up to the door glass so that his nose flattened like a squashed sponge pudding.

‘You see snot up there?’ said Rocket. ‘I’m not feeling well. Can you bring me a box of tissues? And a bowl of fruit if it’s not too much trouble.’

Basher grunted and stepped away.

Over at the adjacent cell, Hover indicated for Hoppy to check the bottom of her cell door where a hatch the size of a letterbox opened up.

‘What’s going on?’ asked the Doctor. ‘Is it food?’

Before Hoppy could see what was delivered Tinysaur had rushed to the door hatch and grabbed the small package between her teeth.

The hatch snapped shut.

‘Give it to me,’ said Hoppy kneeling down to Tinysaur’s level. It was a ball about the size of Hoppy’s hand that sparkled in gold and silver. ‘Why would they give us a toy ball?’

‘Don’t be so stupid,’ said Doctor Mischief, scowling. ‘It’s not a toy! It’s a Lumiscope!’

‘OK, Doctor Smarty Pants,’ said Hoppy, tossing the sparkling ball over to Mischief. ‘Show us what it does then.’

The Doctor reached out her hands to catch it but the ball slipped through her green fingers and smacked her on the forehead, bouncing off and rolling into the centre of the cell chamber floor.

‘Ouch!’ shrieked the Doctor.

‘It’s not my fault you can’t catch,’ said Hoppy.

‘You moron! Now you’ve broken it!’

‘No, I haven’t – see!’

Three tiny legs projected from the base of the globe and it rose up off the ground by several inches. The Lumiscope began to vibrate and a series of flashing lights emitted all over the small globe like a disco ball. Tinysaur raced round it, yapping furiously.

‘I don’t trust this thing,’ said Hoppy. She lifted up a foot to stomp on it.

‘Stop, stop!’ cried the Doctor. ‘What are you doing? It’s just a projector. A portable projector for video messages. It’s just switching itself on.’

‘What’s going on in there?’ said Rocket, trying to see through his tiny door window.

‘It’s perfectly harmless,’ said the Doctor. ‘The Lumiscope is warming up. It should begin to play us a video message of some kind.’

In front of their eyes appeared a holographic stream of stars, erupting from the top of the globe; a dazzling light show in the centre of the room.

‘Oh great,’ said Rocket, throwing his hands in the air. ‘We’re stuck in here while you get to watch a movie!’

‘Just our luck to miss out on a movie!’ said Liftoff grumpily.

‘Be quite, you wallies,’ hushed the Doctor. ‘It’s starting to play.’

Millions of stars hovered and swirled above the Lumiscope, gradually and elegantly forming into the shape of a face, just the outline at first and then slowly with more detail. Before long, Hoppy could see the holographic face had a scar that ran across the left cheek. It was the face of a man with long and wavy hair. His eyebrows were thick and his forehead heavily wrinkled.

The holographic face spoke …

‘Many years ago I helped construct the secret computer facilities within this mountain. I was one of a handful of pioneers who enhanced your animal bodies – giving you incredible speed, strength, agility and intelligence. Very soon the whole world will know my name. What once was hidden will be revealed. I am the Code Maker, one of the greatest scientists in the world. And I am about to collect what is rightfully mine.’

The scarred face dissolved into a cloud of stars that drained like a whirlpool into the Lumiscope. The ball’s legs retracted, the flashing lights dimmed and it switched itself off.

‘I recognise that voice from somewhere,’ said Hoppy puzzling it over in here mind.

‘It’s disastrous,’ said the Doctor ominously. ‘We’re doomed!’

Hoppy clicked her fingers. ‘Of course! At the satellite dish the other day. I spoke to him on the telephone. That’s why I recognised his voice!’

‘Can someone please tell me what’s happening?’ shouted Liftoff. ‘I can’t see anything from here. What was the movie? And who’s the “Card Maker”?’

‘Not Card Maker! Code Maker!’ said the Doctor darkly; her hands were trembling. ‘He said he wants to collect what is his. And that can only mean one thing!’

‘He wants his cards back?’ said Liftoff.

‘No, idiot!’ said the Doctor. ‘He wants – us – back.’

Chapter 19 – The escape key

‘Someone’s coming!’ said Rocket.

The Arm-E guards turned to inspect the small visitor at the Specimen Chambers’ entrance.

‘I can’t see who it is.’

‘I can,’ said Hoppy. ‘Down there. It’s just a robot carrying a mop and a bucket! Must be a maintenance droid, that’s all…’

The new visitor was a strange little boxy robot, painted blue and white, with two stumpy legs. Most of the robot’s face was covered in orange goggles. The robot’s upper body was oddly disproportionate, somewhat oversized for the small legs that held it upright. Awkwardly, he proceeded to dip his mop into his bucket and started to clean the reception floor.

‘Maybe that little robot can help us,’ whispered Rocket.

‘Don’t bother,’ said the Doctor glumly. ‘The virus has infected everything.’

‘Pssst!’ said Rocket. He tapped a couple of times on the door window. ‘Hey you!’

The blue and white robot ignored Rocket and carried on mopping.

‘It’s no use,’ said the Doctor. ‘It’s just a dumb less-than-nothing robot.’

Rocket sighed deeply. ‘There’s got to be a way out somehow …’

‘If you’d just listened to me in the first place,’ mumbled Liftoff.

‘What was that?’ said Rocket tersely.

‘You heard me!’ replied Liftoff crossly. ‘If you’d listened to me outside we’d be safe back home now.’

‘What do you mean listen to you? We fell down the chimney tunnel by accident! You can’t blame me?’

‘You made me go up the mountain!’ Liftoff was turning red in the face. ‘You never admit to nothing! You’re always getting me in trouble. And because of you we are going to DIE!’

He turned to Rocket with accusing eyes.

‘Oh come on, we’re not going to die. Don’t be so overdramatic, you big soft teddy bear.’

‘I’m not being overdramatic! And I am NOT a teddy bear! If I wasn’t tied up right now I’d pound you on the head and smack your bottom till it made you cry!’

‘Just you try,’ retorted Rocket. ‘You couldn’t catch me if I was stuck in a Quicksand Custard!’

‘OH YES I WOULD!’ roared Liftoff, straining at his leash. ‘Without your fruit you’re slower than a snail! And you know it!’

‘Guys!’ shouted Hoppy. ‘Stop arguing with each other! This is not helping anyone.’

Rocket took a deep breath. ‘It’s not my fault, okay. I’m just trying to keep the mood upbeat. It will work out OK in the end, just you see.’

‘I’m not a teddy bear,’ mumbled Liftoff. He picked up his toy bunny and gave it a cuddle. ‘How dare he call me a softy …’

Clunk!

Something had fallen through the door hatch in Rocket and Liftoff’s cell – a small plastic box.

‘What is it?’ said Liftoff. ‘Another one of those video messages? More bad news no doubt.’

‘There’s only one way to find out …’ said Rocket, as he picked up the box and peeled back the lid.

Rocket beamed a huge smile.

There inside, shining like the glorious ocean on a hot summer’s day, was a heap of fresh, glistening, delicious blueberries. And lying on top of the blueberries was something that sparkled, a small thin silver object with a round loop on one end and rough markings on the other.

‘I think we’ve just been saved,’ said Rocket grinning. He held up the little silver object in his hands. ‘I don’t know who, but I think someone’s just given us a key to get out of here.’

‘What do you mean a key to get out of here?’ said Liftoff, still in a bad mood. ‘There’s no keyhole in the door, dummy.’

‘There’s no keyhole in the door but there is one in your handcuffs.’

Liftoff held up his wrists and saw the keyhole.

‘Oh.’

‘Now who’s the dummy?’

Liftoff gave an embarrassed shrug. ‘Me?’

‘I’m sorry for getting you into this mess,’ said Rocket. ‘Now maybe you can get us out of it.’ Rocket tried the key on Liftoff’s handcuffs and with the smallest of clicks, the cuffs popped open and the unbreakable cables fell away.

‘I’m free,’ said Liftoff in delight.

‘Now how about knocking that door down,’ said Rocket as he took a bunch of blueberries, filled his big furry cheeks and chewed on the fruit to restore his lost energy. A warm glow filled the room as Rocket’s tummy and legs lit up with power.

Liftoff stood to his feet and stretched.

‘I wonder who sent us the box?’ said Liftoff thoughtfully.

‘Open the door and let’s find out.’

‘Bear coming through!’ roared Liftoff, and with his right shoulder he barged through the cell door like it was made of recycled cardboard.

CRUNCH!

Chapter 20 – The insider

The two Arm-E guards didn’t stand a chance against Liftoff. Toppled like bowling pins, it wasn’t even a fight.

Liftoff stretched out his arms, cracked his knuckles, and surveyed the mess of broken metal pieces dumped across the floor.

‘That was quick,’ said Rocket, hopping side to side, nervous energy bursting from his legs to the tips of his fingers. ‘You couldn’t even leave one for me?’

‘Door, please,’ said Hoppy, looking out from inside her cell.

Liftoff wandered over, tugged gently on the handle and the whole door peeled away from its hinges, dust and debris flying everywhere.

Doctor Mischief shoved Hoppy aside and walked triumphantly out from the cell. ‘I knew one of my trusty robots would rescue us,’ she said snootily, nodding her approval to the little blue and white robot who stood in the corner with the mop and bucket. ‘My trusty servant brought you the key.’

Hoppy pushed Mischief back out the way. ‘If I remember correctly you said we were all “doomed”!’

Tinysaur raced over to the little maintenance droid and began licking its face furiously.

‘Tinysaur, leave the poor robot alone!’ said Hoppy ‘You’ll frazzle his circuits.’

With all of Tinysaur’s special attention, the little robot lost control and tumbled backwards. Hoppy gasped when its head fell off and slipped across the tiles.

‘What have you done, Tinysaur!’

But it wasn’t a robot’s head problem at all.

Popping out from his robot disguise was none other than Shelly himself.

‘You!’ cried Hoppy. ‘It was you all along!’

Thoroughly covered in dinosaur saliva, Shelly managed to push off the excitable Tinysaur and sat himself upright.

‘It’s me, Shelly,’ said Shelly.

‘We can see that!’ said Rocket. ‘But how? How did you know where to find us? How did you even know we were in the mountain?’

‘The invitation from the Doctor. The red-eyed bugs. The Tree House spider webs. The empty lake. The robots in a trance. There was only one logical conclusion I could make. And after that it was simple’

‘I still don’t get it,’ said Rocket.

Liftoff shook his head in astonishment. ‘I don’t even know what time of day it is!’

Shelly continued, ‘It was when I discovered those little black beetles weren’t real insects but machines – it all began to make sense. Those pretend-beetles were spying on us! Tiny cameras designed to track our every movement. Did you not see the note I wrote – “Beware the bugs”?’

‘Oh, so that’s what you meant!’ said Hoppy, helping lift the tortoise up off the floor. ‘But that still doesn’t explain how you knew we were locked in the mountain.’

‘The last time I saw spying bugs like that was five years ago in this very mountain. It was inside one of the laboratories. They belonged to a scientist nicknamed the Code Maker.’

‘You knew the Code Maker!’ exclaimed Hoppy.

‘Oh yes, clever chap. Brilliant mind. Devilishly smart.’

‘And you knew he was behind all this?’

‘It suddenly all made sense why Doctor Mischief wanted my password, I knew it could only mean one thing – the Code Maker had control of the computers.’

‘Then you’ll understand why you must tell me your password immediately!’ said Doctor Mischief forcefully.

Shelly shook his head firmly.

‘You know I can never tell you my password. If you knew it, you would control every lethal weapon stored inside this mountain.’

‘What?! You’re killing me!’ The Doctor looked like she was about to burst a green blood vessel. ‘Without that password my computers and robots are out of control! We’ll all be doomed! You must give me the password!’

‘Hmm, I hate to say it but the Lizard has a point,’ said Hoppy. ‘That crazy Code Maker used the robots to trap us here and who knows what else he’ll send after us?’

‘I say we go home and get lunch,’ said Liftoff. He scratched his head thoughtfully. ‘Or should it be breakfast? Or dinner? I don’t know anymore!’

‘I can’t tell you the password,’ said Shelly, taking off the rest of his robot disguise ‘but it doesn’t mean I can’t use it. Take me to the underground warehouse and I’ll input the password there. The Doctor can then reset the computers without ever knowing my secret.’

‘Why don’t you write it down just to be on the safe side?’

‘Don’t push your luck, Lizard Lady,’ said Hoppy. ‘I’ll escort Shelly underground. And you two can escort the green doctor back to her command centre.’

‘What if the robots gas us again?’ said Liftoff. ‘I don’t want to go back to sleep and end up back here.’

‘We’ll be ready for them this time though,’ said Rocket. ‘I’ll hold my breath like I do on Baked Bean Curry Night.’

The Doctor pointed at Shelly and Hoppy. ‘Go to the central computer terminal and authorise a system reset using the password. And you two freaks of nature, get me up to the Command Centre safely and I’ll do the rest from there.’

‘Let’s get one thing straight, we’re slaves like your robots,’ said Rocket. ‘We just want our island back to normal.’

‘Whatever, freaks!’

‘Freaks?’ muttered Liftoff. ‘Has she seen herself in a mirror lately?’

‘We’ve wasted enough time already. Follow me everyone! Before the Code Maker realises we’ve escaped and …’

Before the Doctor could finish her sentence the room suddenly went pitch black.

‘Uh oh,’ said Rocket. ‘I think he knows already.’

Chapter 21 – The final countdown

‘Somebody put the lights on!’ cried Liftoff. ‘I’m getting scared!’

The Specimen Chamber was blacker than night.

Doctor Mischief pulled a small torch from her pocket and shone it round the room and across the floor.

‘It’s just a power-cut. The emergency power will be back on in a second.’

‘Ha Ha Ha!’ laughed a booming voice. It seemed to be coming from all directions. ‘You’re too late!’

It was the voice of the Code Maker.

‘Yo! Code Maker!’ Hollered Rocket. ‘How about you make the lights go back on?’

‘Listen up and listen closely, I will only say this only once,’ boomed the Code Maker’s voice.

‘He’s using my PA system!’ said the Doctor. ‘How dare he!’

‘Shhh,’ hushed Hoppy.

The voice continued;

Riddle me this, riddle me that

Have you ever heard of a racing cat?’

‘Easy. That’s me,’ said Rocket. ‘Hardly a riddle.’

Riddle me here, riddle me there

How strong can you make an ordinary bear?’

‘Duh! And that’s Liftoff obviously.’

‘Quiet! I’m trying to listen,’ snapped Hoppy.

A dash of this and a pinch of that

A dinosaur, a lizard, a tortoise in a hat.’

‘Not much of a rhyme …’ said Rocket.

Partly animal, partly man,

All the result of a computer plan.’

‘Hey, would you just switch the lights back on for goodness sake!’

‘Please Rocket!’ hissed Hoppy. ‘This could be important!’

Trillions of lines in computer code

An experiment created long ago.

A genius fled the island then

Never to return again.

Until in a virus he came back

Looked through eye’s of beetles black.

He tested you for strength and speed.

To collect the data that he needed.

Among the animals that raced and played,

He saw the things that he had made

The DNA, that once cost millions,

can sell today for more than billions!’

‘Thank you for that wonderful poem, oh great Code Maker,’ said Doctor Mischief, in a poor attempt to suck up. ‘I do hope we can sort this out amicably. Please feel free to take away these wretched animals and in exchange I’ll happily sort out any mess that’s left behind.’

‘Oi!’ Hoppy nudged the Doctor in the chest. ‘Stop trying to make deals. We’re in this together.’

‘I don’t make bargains with animals,’ boomed the loud voice. ‘I am the great Code Maker!’

‘That didn’t rhyme,’ said Liftoff. ‘Does that mean his riddle has finished?’

‘Your time is up,’ said the Code Maker’s voice. ‘Goodbye.’

The hall lights flickered back on. A siren began to wail from down the corridors and a calm female voice spoke through the PA.

‘Self-destruct initiated. Eight minutes to detonation and counting.’

‘SELF-DESTRUCT!’ Shouted the Doctor. ‘NOW WE ARE DOOMED!’

‘What’s going on?’ said Liftoff.

‘We have less than eight minutes before this place goes up in smoke,’ said Shelly matter-of-factly.

‘But why?’ asked Hoppy. ‘I thought the Code Maker wants to sell us for billions? Wasn’t that what the riddle meant?’

‘He doesn’t want us,’ answered Shelly. ‘He wants our DNA – the code that makes our bodies. It’s all stored in these computers.’

‘Of course!’ shrieked the Doctor. ‘That’s why all the computers are overheating! The computer virus has been downloading all our DNA information to the Code Maker. He wants to sell our DNA to the highest bidder!’

‘DNA what? Oh boy,’ said Rocket scratching his head. ‘I should have paid more attention in Science class. Hey! I didn’t go to Science class!’

‘But why destroy us now?’ asked Hoppy.

‘Our DNA is only valuable if he’s the only one who has it,’ explained Shelly. ‘The Code Maker wants to erase every last piece of evidence that we exist.’

‘How do we stop the self-destruct?’ said Hoppy.

‘I have an over-ride key up in the command centre,’ said the Doctor, ‘Once Shelly enters his password, I can reset the system and use the key. But we must move quickly…’

‘Who builds a self-destruct system in their own home?’ said Rocket with a puzzled expression.

‘Mad scientists, that’s who,’ said Liftoff, making the crazy gesture with a swirling finger.

‘EVERYONE OUT!’ shouted the Doctor. ‘MOVE IT!’

‘We’ve got another problem …’ said Hoppy, staring out the exit door.

There before her were millions and millions of black beetles – a sea of Bedlam Bugs! Too many to count, from floor to ceiling they blocked their path.

‘Anyone got some bug spray?’ said Rocket. ‘We’ve got ourselves an infestation!’

Chapter 22 – The return of the Bedlam Bugs

‘We’ll just have to wade through them,’ said Doctor Mischief, staring at the heaps of Bedlam bugs. ‘They’re harmless spying machines – nothing to worry about. Hoppy, you go first.’ And without warning the Doctor shoved Hoppy in the back and pushed her into the corridor filled with the dark mass of beetle machines.

Stumbling into the bugs, knee deep, Hoppy only just kept her balance and scowled furiously back at the Doctor. ‘Don’t you dare push me like that again!’

‘Do they hurt?’ asked Liftoff, twiddling his fingers anxiously.

‘They’re harmless. Come on, we can get through this if we push through.’

Tinysaur followed after Hoppy, barely able to keep her head above the beetles. Rocket went next, wading his big feet through the scampering, crawling black bugs.

‘Hey, it’s not so bad,’ said Rocket smiling, slowly making progress down the corridor. ‘I mean it’s not like they’re real bugs. They’re just kind of tickley.’

‘Something’s not right about this,’ said Shelly, stepping into the black sea of fake insects. ‘It’s too easy … I don’t understand …’

‘Move it, big bear,’ said Mischief eyeing up Liftoff, the only other one left in the prison ward. ‘Everyone in.’

‘I hate creepy crawlies,’ said Liftoff shuddering.

‘Just think of them as tiny machines,’ encouraged Shelly. ‘They’re not real bugs.’

‘I’ve got a bad feeling about this,’ said Liftoff and reluctantly waded in.

One by one they plodded through the robotic insects, crunching and squishing them as they went.

‘I can see the door at the far end,’ said Hoppy, leading the group onwards.

‘Move faster,’ said the Doctor, tailing in the rear for her own safety.

‘It’s not so bad,’ said Rocket. ‘That bad egg and sock room was worse than this.’

‘Something’s happening,’ said Shelly, holding up several of the beetles in his hands. ‘The bugs are moving.’

‘Of course they’re moving!’ snapped the Doctor.

‘It’s like being in a swimming pool,’ said Rocket, feeling the beetles wriggle around his waist. ‘Kind of fun!’ He turned around and grinned, but Liftoff wasn’t laughing, his face had turned pale.

‘Wave,’ mouthed Liftoff. ‘Big wave …’

‘Wave?’ Rocket waved his hand in front of Liftoff’s gaze. ‘You want me to wave at you?’

‘Not wave at me!’ said Liftoff pointing a finger ahead at a moving mass of beetles. ‘The bugs are making a wave!’

By the time Rocket had seen the twelve foot swell of millions of black bugs, it was already too late. Moving in synchronisation the bugs had formed a gigantic wave, from front to back it rolled through the corridor. First pummelling into Hoppy, then Tinysaur and then Rocket. The three of them tumbled backwards. Shelly was next to feel the force of the wave and even Liftoff couldn’t stay on his feet as the bugs swept around them, lifting them up and washing them down the passageway.

‘Arggh!’ shrieked Doctor Mischief as the wave of beetles knocked her off her feet.

WHOOSH!

Mischief was thrown back into the Specimen Chambers, pumped out like sewage. Next was Liftoff who landed on top of the Doctor, then Shelly who slid across the floor – and then Rocket, Hoppy and Tinysaur who hastily hopped back on to their feet.

‘Get off me!’ came the muffled scream of the Doctor whose face was squished between the floor tiles and Liftoff’s massive furry bottom.

Rocket helped pull Liftoff back on to his feet.

‘That was disgusting!’ said the Doctor, shuddering all over.

‘I didn’t think those beetles were too bad,’ replied Liftoff. ‘It was kind of like a fun water ride!’

‘Not the beetles – YOU! I’ve never felt so violated in all my life!’

‘How are we to get past them?’ said Hoppy anxiously, pulling out a couple of bugs that had been caught in her belt. ‘On their own, these Bedlam Bugs are puny. But put a million of them together and they’re stronger than a tsunami!’

‘Self-destruct in six minutes and counting,’ came the automated female announcer.

‘There must be another way out,’ said Rocket worriedly.

Doctor Mischief sat up, coughing and spluttering.

‘No, there is no other way. That’s the only exit.’

‘It’s almost impossible to get past them,’ said Hoppy, ‘it’s like swimming against a rip tide.’

‘You’re quite right,’ agreed Shelly. ‘They’re moving together like fast flowing water –’

There was a sudden realisation that crossed Shelly’s mind.

‘That’s it!’ he said snapping his fingers. ‘Water!’

‘We’re all thirsty,’ snapped the Doctor, clambering to her feet. ‘Let’s wait till after we’ve stopped the self-destruct before snacks and drinks!’

Shelly ignored the Doctor and instead politely asked Liftoff: ‘Would you mind lifting me onto that high worktop over there?’

‘If you want,’ said Liftoff, with a puzzled expression. ‘Need a better view?’ And with ease he plucked Shelly by his shell and placed him up on one of the stainless steel worktops that ran alongside the far wall.

‘What are you playing at?’ hissed the Doctor, impatiently tapping her wrist as though it had a watch. ‘We’re wasting precious time!’

‘Those beetles aren’t real insects. They’re machines,’ said Shelly as he reached up towards a bright red button. ‘Just electronic gadgets …’

He pulled off a glass cover and pressed the red button firmly.

Above it were the words:

 

EMERGENCY ONLY. PRESS IN CASE OF FIRE.

 

Immediately an ear-splitting alarm bell rang throughout the chambers, and then a second later, from the ceiling poured forth showers of water.

PSSSSSSSST!

The fire sprinklers sprayed cold water all over the floors, cupboards, walls … Water everywhere! And soaking everyone in the room from head to toe.

‘What are you doing, you fool!’ shrieked Doctor Mischief, trying to cover her head from the rain. ‘Have you gone mad?’

‘Look everyone – in the corridor!’ shouted Hoppy through the noise of the alarm and the sprinklers. ‘The sprinklers are soaking the beetles and they don’t like it one bit.’

‘Electronics don’t like to be mixed with water!’ said Shelly loudly.

Everyone turned and watched the electronic beetles as they malfunctioned in the water – sparking and hissing, flipping this way and that with the sound of crackling and popping like one of Liftoff’s mega bowls of Rice-Pop cereals.

‘Ha!’ said Rocket out loud. ‘The Bedlam Bugs are breaking!’

Shelly pushed the red button again and the sprinklers and alarm bells stopped.

‘Brilliant Shelly. You did it!’ said Hoppy. ‘You’re a genius!’

‘Except now we’re all soaking wet …’ moaned the Doctor.

‘If only you had your umbrella,’ said Rocket. ‘Bad luck!’

‘If we don’t stop the self-destruct it’s bad luck for all of us,’ said Hoppy. She waded into the mush of broken beetles and beckoned the others to follow.

‘Four minutes to self-destruct!’ warned the female announcer.

‘GO! GO! GO!’

Chapter 23 – The Beginning of the End

Rocket, Liftoff, Hoppy, Shelly, Tinysaur and a dishevelled-looking Doctor Mischief, shuffled as fast they could through the corridor of broken Bedlam Bugs. Hoppy flung open a door and into a lobby.

‘Where now?’ she asked.

‘We’re thirty floors away from my Command Centre,’ said the Doctor, nudging Hoppy aside. ‘I can take the lift up and reboot everything from there. You can take the other lift with Shelly down to the Computer Warehouse and use his password there.’

‘We don’t have time,’ said Shelly, shaking his head. ‘It will take more than four minutes for the lift to descend the five hundred and seventy floors to the bottom.’

The Doctor thought about it for a second and her face fell.

‘I don’t believe it, he’s right. We don’t have time!’

‘Come on, think!’ said Hoppy, who was pacing up and down beside the lift. ‘There must be an alternative.’

‘I say we surrender to the Code Maker,’ said the Doctor. ‘We beg for mercy and hope he saves us.’

‘Garbage!’ yelled Shelly.

‘Too right that’s garbage,’ agreed Rocket. ‘I’m not begging for mercy!’

‘No, I mean – rubbish – there –’ Shelly pointed to a steel hatch in the wall. ‘The garbage chute! It leads down the mountain. It’s got to be faster than the lift.’

Three minutes to self-destruct.’

‘I say we surrender,’ said the Doctor cowardly. ‘Who’s with me?’

Liftoff went over to the garbage disposal and ripped the steel trap door from its hinges like he was tearing tissue paper.

‘Anyone?’ said the Doctor, clearly being ignored.

‘Shelly, Tinysaur, you go first and I’ll follow,’ said Hoppy firmly.

The garbage hole was just about big enough to fit Shelly’s orange shell and he climbed inside.

‘Don’t worry about me,’ said Shelly, tapping on his shiny orange helmet, ‘I’ll be perfectly safe.’ And without the slightest sign of fear, he shoved off and dived into the black hole and away.

‘Wheeeeeee!’

‘Now you, Tinysaur,’ said Hoppy.

Tinysaur gave a whimper and looked sorrowfully up at Hoppy.

‘You either go down there with me and Shelly or you stay here with Doctor Mischief.’

The little dinosaur looked at the sneering lizard, thought about it for half a second and then hopped into the garbage chute and away.

‘We’ll do our part – make sure Doctor Mischief does hers!’’ said Hoppy to Rocket and Liftoff, and then dived head first into the chute.

‘Yeee haaaar!’

‘You heard her,’ said Liftoff, putting one of his big paws on the Doctor’s shoulder. ‘Let’s go.’

The Doctor reluctantly pressed the call button by the lift.

‘No funny business,’ said Rocket, ‘we’ll be watching you!’

The lift door opened and Rocket nudged the Doctor inside. Liftoff squashed in after them.

‘Top floor,’ ordered the Doctor. ‘Come on! I haven’t got all day!’

Liftoff rolled his eyes and pressed the button in the lift marked with the number one.

 

  • * *

 

‘Arrrrrrrrrgh!’ screamed Hoppy as she slid at terrific speed down through the waste tube, a slippery ride to the bottom of the mountain, bending, twisting and sometimes falling in sudden steep drops.

After a minute or so of bumps and bashes Hoppy saw a bright light approaching.

‘Coming through!’ yelled Hoppy. She hurtled out the chute, flew in the air for several feet and dropped into a waste skip full of broken cardboard and shredded paper.

‘Yap, yap, yap!’ Tinysaur jumped onto Hoppy and excitedly licked her face.

‘Good girl! We made it! Where’s Shelly?’

‘I’m up here,’ said Shelly, who was clinging onto a light fixture and gently swinging above the skip. ‘It’s very hot in here, isn’t it?’

‘Can you see a way out?’

‘There are lots of doors,’ Shelly replied, cupping his hand above his eyes. ‘But which is the right one?’ He dangled out his feet. ‘Watch out below.’ And with that he dropped down into the rubbish heap, crashing into the cardboard and paper.

After Hoppy helped Shelly onto his feet, the three of them quickly scrambled across the mess and leapt over the side of the skip.

‘Find the door that feels the hottest,’ said Hoppy, ‘that will be the way to the Computer Warehouse.’

‘Of course,’ said Shelly, nodding his approval, ‘good thinking!’

They split up and ran past hundreds of yellow and green waste skips and along the outskirts of the recycling depot. They were checking each of the doors by hand to feel for any heat.

Tinysaur spotted steam pouring out from under one of the green exit doors and barked to get the others attention. Hoppy felt the warmth on the door and she forced it open, steam pouring out everywhere.

‘We don’t have much time. Quickly!’

They sped along the hot foggy passageway and after a couple of hundred metres they came to a security door which read:

 

COMPUTER WAREHOUSE. AUTHORISED PERSONNEL ONLY.

 

‘Oh dear,’ said Shelly trying the door handle. ‘It’s locked!’

‘Stand back,’ warned Hoppy. ‘I’m about to unlock it!’ She took three strides back and then ran forward and karate kicked the door down with a crash.

Hoppy, Shelly and Tinysaur stormed into the massive computer warehouse – the same room where Hoppy and Tinysaur had entered from the underground tunnels just hours earlier. Only this time there were flames and smoke everywhere. Many of the computer servers had blown up through overheating and they began to cough at the toxic fumes.

‘What now?’ said Hoppy, shielding her eyes from the scorching heat.

Shelly tightened his helmet. ‘Over there,’ he Shelly pointing to a steel grey pillar surrounded by keyboards and screens. ‘I can enter the password in there –’

BOOM!

All of a sudden a blast of orange and purple flames exploded out from a nearby machine and knocked everyone to the floor.

‘Is everyone OK?’ said Hoppy, wearily climbing back to her feet.

Tinysaur gave a disheartened yap and Shelly sat up and repositioned his helmet.

‘Oh dear,’ said Shelly, blinking his eyes, ‘it looks like we’re not the only ones down here.’

Three Arm-E guards stomped into view. Next to them was the little three-wheeled droid, Zoom.

‘Beep, beep, didy, beep, bip, bip, beep,’ ordered Zoom.

Hoppy didn’t need to know the language of Roboticus to know it meant trouble.

The Arm-E guards lifted their long tentacled arms and moved to attack …

Chapter 24 – Double the trouble

Rocket watched the lift numbers rapidly descend: 5, 4, 3 – when without warning the lift jolted to a sudden stop.

‘What’s happening? Why aren’t we moving?’ said the Doctor sharply.

‘Don’t look at me?’ said Liftoff, raising his hands in innocence.

‘Did your dirty, fat bottom just hit the emergency button,’ accused the Doctor, scowling.

‘My bottom is not dirty! And no, I didn’t touch anything!’

‘I stopped it.’

It was the Code Maker. His voice came from a speaker in the lift.

‘Your efforts are futile,’ continued the Code Maker. ‘Don’t you remember I control all the machines in the mountain? Including this lift!’

‘No big deal,’ said Rocket coolly. ‘We’ll just take the stairs. Liftoff, would you be so kind to open the doors please.’

As though the big bear was opening his cabin curtains ready for a new day, Liftoff tore the heavy steel doors apart with a single swish.

‘You can’t control the stairs,’ said Rocket.

‘It’s too late!’ said the Code Maker, clearly agitated. ‘You’re out of time. Give up now and you can be spared!’

‘We’ll take our chances,’ said Rocket.

‘Speak for yourself,’ said the Doctor. ‘I give up! Spare me!’

‘Oh be quiet,’ said Liftoff, shoving the Doctor out of the lift.

‘It’s only two flights of stairs to the top,’ said Rocket. ‘You can’ give up now.’

 

  • * *

 

Hoppy was in a fighting stance, her fists clenched and fiercely glaring at the Arm-E robots.

‘Me and Tinysaur will distract the Arm-Es while you get to the terminal.’

Shelly nodded.

The three tentacled Arm-E guards pounded closer, their arms swishing like whips and their claws pinching tight.

‘Come on, Tinysaur,’ beckoned Hoppy. ‘Follow my lead!’

Tinysaur gulped.

Picking up a large chunk of broken metal, Hoppy hurled it towards the closest Arm-E guard.

THUD!

It bounced off the robot leaving barely a scratch.

‘Hey, four arms! Yeah, you! ’ Hoppy taunted. ‘Try and catch us, you big heap of junk!’

The first Arm-E stomped up to Hoppy and threw a big swipe of its tentacled arm. Hoppy ducked just in time, then backflipped and cartwheeled out the way.

‘You’ll have to do better than that!’ she shouted, distracting the guard away from Shelly.

The second Arm-E tried to grab Tinysaur but the little dinosaur slid between the robot’s two legs.

Hoppy called out to Tinysaur: ‘You go to the right and I’ll take this one left. We’ll split them up.’

Tinysaur barked loudly and the second Arm-E swivelled around and followed her up one of the rows of computer servers.

With two of the guards out the way, it was now up to Shelly to get to the main computer terminal.

But the little robot, Zoom, seemed to understand what was happening and it gave an order to the third guard with some beeping sounds. The third Arm-E moved in front of the computer terminal blocking Shelly’s path.

Two minutes to self-destruct!’

‘Oh dear,’ said Shelly. ‘Oh dear, oh dear! What am I to do?’

Chapter 25 – The missing key

Two big entrance doors flung open as Liftoff and Rocket barged their way inside Doctor Mischief’s Command Centre. They’d climbed the stairs quickly and the trouble with the lift had only set them back a few seconds.

‘Come on,’ said Rocket, waving for the Doctor to enter the room, ‘it’s perfectly safe.’

Doctor Mischief’s her eyes flicked about the room. ‘I don’t want to get caught out like last time. You can’t trust those robots …’

‘There’s no one else up here, see,’ said Rocket, gesturing around the room. He sat down on one of the office chairs and wheeled himself over to one of the main computers, where several screens sat round a desk full of buttons, lights, switches and a keyboard. ‘Just tell me what to touch,’ he said as his hands hovered above the controls.

‘Don’t touch anything!’ shrieked the Doctor, waving frantically. ‘One wrong move and you could blow us all up.’

She shoved Rocket out the way and typed in a series of key combinations and flicked several switches.

‘So you can switch off the self-destruct, can’t you?’ said Liftoff, biting his nails.

‘Oh for goodness sake. Grow a brain cell! I told you I can only switch if off once Shelly types in his password down in the computer warehouse – and by the looks of it he hasn’t done it yet!’

‘Give them a bit more time,’ said Rocket, trying his best to not look worried. ‘I’m sure they’ve got it under control.’

‘Oh no!’ choked the Doctor, her lime green face turning two shades paler. ‘The key – the security key to stop the self-destruct. It’s – it’s –’

‘Missing,’ said Klump finishing off her sentence. The boxy robot rolled into view, his eyes glowing red, deep in the trance of the computer virus. ‘You are too late to stop the self-destruct. The security key is not here.’

‘WHERE IS IT?’ screamed the Doctor. ‘TELL ME WHERE IT IS, YOU HALF-BRAINED MICROCHIP!’

Klump shuddered a little at the ferocity of her voice. ‘One of the robots has it down in the computer warehouse,’ he answered quickly.

‘THAT’S SIX HUNDRED FLOORS DOWN!’ cried the Doctor in a panic WE’RE DOOMED!’

She flung herself over the keyboard and bashed her hands on the desk. ‘I told you we should have surrendered.’

Liftoff plucked Klump up by the leg and held him upside down in the air.

‘What do you mean, security key? No one said anything about a key.’

‘The self-destruct can only be deactivated with the correct password and the security key,’ explained Klump, dangling upside-down. ‘I was ordered by the Code Maker to remove the key as far from here as possible. There’s no time to get it and bring it back.’

‘Rocket can get us the key, right?’ said Liftoff, turning hopefully to his best friend. ‘No one is faster than you!’

‘About ninety seconds left,’ Rocket said, looking up to the clock and then calculating in his head. ‘Six hundred floors. About fifty steps per floor…’

‘That’s thirty thousand steps to get down!’ said the Doctor despairingly, her hands in her face. ‘Then double that to get back here. It’s impossible!’

‘I’ve got to try,’ said Rocket and he reached into his leather pouch and pulled out what remained of the blueberries.

Just four of them left …

And one was half-squashed …

GULP!

‘You can do it, can’t you?’ said Liftoff earnestly.

‘Nothing’s faster than a Rocket!’ said Rocket. He grinned but his eyes weren’t smiling. Deep down he wasn’t sure at all. His legs were glowing but he could feel he wasn’t up to his maximum strength.

‘Who’s got the security key?’ asked Rocket sternly.

Liftoff, still holding Klump upside-down, shook him forcefully for an answer.

‘Z - Z - Z - Zoom - has - it... but - you - will - nev - er - make - it - in -’

SWOOSH!

Rocket was gone.

‘Time,’ said the Doctor, finishing his sentence. ‘You’ll never make it in time.’

One minute to self-destruct!’

Chapter 26 – Into the final minute

Hoppy was drawing the first Arm-E guard away from Shelly, but it was tiring work dodging the robot’s vicious arm swings in the extreme heat of the computer warehouse. Losing concentration, the Arm-E almost struck her but she backflipped away from its grasp with only a whisker to spare.

‘That was too close,’ grimaced Hoppy.

Over on the other side, Tinysaur was running for her life from the second Arm-E. The little dinosaur slid around a corner and narrowly missed a flying pincer that punched into a rock wall, smashing away several chunks on to the floor.

Crash!

‘Shelly!’ cried Hoppy. ‘We can’t stop all three guards. You must fight the last one!’

‘Fight?’ said Shelly in a panic. ‘I can’t fight. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear …’

He looked at the third giant tentacled Arm-E guard standing between him and the computer terminal. The little robot, Zoom, stood next to him and watched on, his eyes red and glazed, still under the influence of the computer virus.

Knees shaking, Shelly slowly approached the menacing Arm-E guard, edging closer to one of the main computers and the keyboard where he would be able to type in his password.

‘Excuse m – m – me,’ said Shelly stuttering the words, ‘w – w – w would you mind stepping out the w – w – way?’

The Arm-E growled, raising all its four giant tentacled arms into the air, it towered over the small orange tortoise that stood before it.

Zoom gave an unfriendly growly beep, and the Arm-E swung its right tentacle claw towards Shelly’s head.

Shelly dodged the robot’s arm by squashing and hiding his head down inside his protective shell.

SWISH!

The tentacle swung past, scratching Shelly’s shiny orange helmet and accidentally smashing into the helpless Zoom who had been standing too close to the action.

CRASH!

Zoom went sliding across the tiled floor and slammed into a rock wall.

CRUNCH!

The force of the impact on the little robot made Zoom’s storage cover pop open and out flew a shiny key that soared high up into the air.

With lightening speed a hand grabbed the falling key before it touched the ground.

‘I’ll have that, thank you very much,’ said Rocket, sliding to a halt with his right hand firmly clenched around the security key.

Shelly peeked his head out of his shell to see what had happened.

‘Watch out, Shelly!’ warned Rocket.

Too late! The Arm-E had lashed out another arm at Shelly but this time he didn’t miss, sending Shelly and his orange shell into a violent spin. The Arm-E was just about to thump Shelly with a second deadly blow when –

KERPOW!

Hoppy leapt on to the back of the third Arm-E, karate chopped his head and then wrestled him around the neck.

‘Shelly! Enter your password!’ she cried out, ‘I can’t hold it back much longer.’

Shelly’s orange shell stopped spinning and he fell to the floor like a toppled coin. His head popped out of his shell and his arms and legs flopped to the ground.

‘I feel dizzy,’ he said, his eyes wobbling in circles.

Hoppy caught sight of Rocket and the security key.

‘What on earth are you doing here?’

‘No time to explain. I’ve got to get back to the top of the mountain.’

And suddenly the racing cat disappeared.

Hoppy blinked. Before she could say another word, she was back grappling at the Arm-E, who had flicked a tentacle over its head that very nearly knocked her off.

Shelly was rubbing the top of his forehead. ‘Where am I?’ he said, trying to find his bearings.

‘THE PASSWORD!’ screamed Hoppy, as she clung desperately to the head of the Arm-E, which was now throwing her up and down like a bucking donkey. Behind her, she could see the other two guards had given up chasing Tinysaur and were storming angrily towards them.

‘Ah yes, now I remember,’ said Shelly, seeing the keyboard in front of him. He stood up and gingerly wobbled over to the computer terminal. Moving his hands at great speed, he touched several keys and the screen in front of him flickered and changed through several menus and pages until the screen read:

 

TO ACCESS TOP LEVEL SECURITY TYPE PASSWORD HERE

 

‘Oh dear, my mind’s gone a bit doolaley. I can’t seem to remember the password.’

‘You’ve got to be kidding me!’ said Hoppy, as she ducked another punch from the robot.

‘Don’t worry, I’ll remember it in a minute.’

30 seconds to self-destruct!’

Hoppy screamed: ‘WE DON’T HAVE A MINUTE! THINK, SHELLY, THINK!’

Chapter 27 – Only thirty seconds left

Even for someone as dazzling fast as Rocket, there was a noticeable difference between running downstairs and running upstairs. For Rocket’s sprint down the thousands and thousands of steps to the bottom of the mountain he had felt exhilarated and excited. It had almost been like flying.

But this… running upstairs … this was much, much, much harder than anything he’d done before. Rocket felt weak, his fruit energy was almost gone. It was hard. Very hard!

And then he saw a sign for the two hundredth and fifty-fourth floor.

That was not good. He wasn’t even half way up!

How long to go now? Twenty-five seconds, perhaps?

Now there was a new feeling. Something he’d never felt before when sprinting.

His legs felt like heavy weights. He was tired. He wanted to stop. His legs were telling him to stop …

‘Can’t …. stop … must … go …. on ….’

Another sign. This time it was for floor one hundred and ten.

Getting closer …

Keep going he told himself. Keep going. Keep going.

Twenty seconds to self-destruct!’

 

  • * *

 

Shelly was scratching his head, desperate to remember the password.

‘Come on, Shelly! THINK!’ cried Hoppy, still clinging on to the back of one of the Arm-E robots.

‘All I can remember is that it’s something impossible to crack …’

‘These robots are about to crack us!’ shrieked Hoppy. ‘I’m at breaking point here!’

‘Of course!’ said Shelly, clicking his fingers and he gave a little smile like he’d just solved a crossword puzzle. He quickly typed in the following letters…

 

U – N – B – R – E – A – K – I – U – M

 

The computer screen flashed – then another box appeared with a little spinning circle.

 

PASSWORD ACCEPTED.

SECURITY KEY REQUIRED.

 

Hoppy leapt off the back of the first Arm-E, somersaulted over the second and kicked herself off the third, landing next to Shelly with a graceful bend of the knees.

‘What’s happening? Why isn’t it working?’ gasped Hoppy, staring at the screen and catching her breath.

‘We may have to wait a few more seconds,’ said Shelly.

‘A few more seconds!’ panted Hoppy, glancing either side. ‘I can’t hold them off any longer. I’m exhausted!’

‘It needs a security key,’ said Shelly. ‘We must wait for Doctor Mischief to insert her security key. I would have thought she’d have done that by now …’

‘Rocket!’ exclaimed Hoppy. ‘I saw him down here a second ago. He must have come to get the security key!’

‘Oh dear. It’s an awful long way to get the key to the top of the mountain. let’s hope he makes it in time.’

‘He better! Or it’s the end for everyone …’

 

  • * *

 

Nearly there, thought Rocket. Just a few more steps to go

He’d just passed the third floor. He was going to make it…

And then…

BAD NEWS

His super fast legs wobbled with exhaustion and gave up. The fire in his belly had died away. The fruit energy was gone…

He was back to normal. Less than normal. He was exhausted!

Must … go … on …

Step by step, he slowly clambered upwards with one hand on the security key and one hand on the stair rail.

It’s there. I see it. The final door!

Across the big double doors at the top of the stairs were the letters;

 

FIRST FLOOR

COMMAND CENTRE

 

When suddenly out from the shadows stepped the robots Basher and Hover.

Oh no! I can’t get past them …

The robots’ eyes were reddened, still in a trance, they held up the sleeping gas canisters and pointed them at Rocket.

It was over.

CRASH!

The double doors swung violently open, thumping into the backs of Basher and Hover and tumbling them down the stairs.

Rocket leaned to the side as the robots rolled past him with a loud clang.

‘Come on slow coach,’ said Liftoff smiling. He stood on the other side of the double doors. ‘We’re waiting for you!’ Holding out a giant paw to Rocket, he lifted him up the last few steps and through into the command centre.

5 seconds to self-destruct!’

‘Give me the security key!’ shrieked Doctor Mischief.

With the last remaining ounce of his strength, Rocket threw the key over to the Doctor. He had nothing left to give.

Fumbling the key in her hands, the Doctor hastily shoved it into the security key hole and turned it clockwise. Then she punched a red button and suddenly all the lights went out.

The room was pitch black.

‘Have we died?’ said Liftoff.

Rocket felt the soft furry arms of his best friend holding on to him.

‘No,’ said Rocket, sighing. ‘I think we’re alive. But only just…’

Chapter 28 – The Shadow’s warning

‘So then it all went black,’ recounted Shelly to Rocket and Liftoff. ‘It was a bit scary but then a minute later all the lights came on and it was then we knew we were safe.’

The whole gang was now back together – Rocket, Liftoff, Shelly, Hoppy and Tinysaur – and they were finally going home. They had found the main entrance doors and were happily leaving the mountain and its foul stench behind them.

‘But what about the Arm-E guards?’ asked Liftoff.

‘They all turned to statues,’ explained Hoppy. ‘Once the virus was destroyed they stopped working. It was then that we knew you’d saved us. But how did you get the key from the bottom of the mountain to the top in such a short time?’

‘Incredible,’ added Shelly. ‘Remarkable.’

‘It wasn’t that difficult,’ said Rocket. ‘I mean running at supersonic speeds is what I do best.’ He winked at Liftoff.

Liftoff frowned and shook his head.

‘Glad to see you haven’t lost any of your humility,’ said Hoppy, rolling her eyes.

Liftoff gestured to the mountain behind them and shuddered. ‘That’s the last time I ever go in there.’

‘You’ve said that before,’ said Shelly.

‘But this time I mean it,’ Liftoff said sternly. ‘I really mean it.’

‘And what about the Code Maker?’ asked Hoppy, she felt a cold shiver run down her spine. ‘How did he get control of all the computers in the first place?’

‘It turned out the Doctor forgot to update her anti-virus software,’ said Shelly. ‘Once the Code Maker tricked his way in with a scam email, she couldn’t stop him.’

‘What if he does it again – or something worse?’ questioned Hoppy.

‘We’ll stick together and fight back,’ said Rocket, moving his fists like a boxer.

‘Oh really?’ said Hoppy, raising her eyebrows. ‘Well we’ll see about that.’

‘And what about Doctor Mischief?’ asked Liftoff. ‘What’s going to happen to her?’

‘She’s got a lot of clearing up to do,’ answered Shelly. ‘But I expect that trouble-maker will be up to no good before too long.’

Rocket could feel all his strength returning as they entered the forest. The smell of the woods, the bark on the floor and the chirruping birds. The suns ray’s streaked through wide gaps in the trees and shone brightly on their path.

Liftoff was pondering something and scratched his head.

‘Why did the Code Maker say we belonged to him?’ he asked. ‘In the prison cells he said we were his property.’

‘Poppy cock!’ said Rocket. ‘No one owns me. I’m a wild cat!’ He put his hands into claws and gave a growl.

‘Ha!’ laughed Hoppy. ‘Now that is the funniest thing I’ve seen all day!’

‘I’m not joking,’ said Rocket. ‘I am a wild tiger!’

Hoppy bent over in raucous laughter. ‘Stop, stop! You’re killing me!’

‘Rocket’s right in one way. We certainly don’t belong to him,’ said Shelly. ‘No matter where we came from.’

‘I don’t want to be someone’s property,’ said Liftoff. ‘I like being free.’

Hoppy was about to say something about being trapped on this island, but then immediately stopped in her tracks when she noticed something move in the trees.

‘What was that?’

WHOOSH!

Something extremely fast whisked by everyone causing Rocket’s fur to ruffle.

‘The flying drone!’ said Rocket excitedly. ‘It’s snooping on us again. But this time I’m going to catch it!’

‘It must be the same thing I saw on the night I stayed with you and Liftoff,’ exclaimed Hoppy. ‘It was like some kind of flying UFO.’

‘It’s a sneaky little spy, always hiding,’ said Rocket, his eyes squinting into the woods. ‘But this time I’m ready!’

The mysterious flying drone suddenly zipped out from behind the trees and floated in front of them.

‘It looks like it doesn’t want to hide anymore,’ said Shelly. ‘I wonder what it wants?’

The flying drone switched on an array of dazzling, flashing lights, a variety of colours that twinkled over it’s metallic grey surface.

‘Watch out everyone!’ shouted Hoppy, preparing herself for a fight by raising her hands into fists and spreading her feet.

‘Hold on,’ said Shelly reaching out an arm in front of her. ‘It doesn’t look dangerous to me.’

‘What do you want?’ Rocket asked the drone. ‘Why are you following us?’

There hovering machine whispered an answer: ‘My name is Shadow. My mission is to watch over you.’

Its voice sounded like the wind.

‘Well we don’t want you snooping on us anymore,’ said Rocket sternly. ‘You can go tell that to Doctor Mischief? Or is the Code Maker?’

‘No, I belong to the Guardian. I’m here to warn you of danger.’

‘Danger!’ laughed Rocket, ‘Do you not know what we’ve just been through? I think the danger is well and truly over.’

‘No,’ whispered the drone. ‘The danger has only just begun. Others are coming for you …’

‘Others?’ said Rocket looking about. ‘What others? Where?’

‘They are on the way, riding the ocean as I speak. I will try to delay them but they have great powers and great weapons. The Guardian has been protecting you for many years. But our enemies have grown stronger…’

‘Protecting us? No one’s been protecting me!’ snapped Hoppy. ‘And why should we believe you anyway?’

‘I tell the truth,’ whispered the drone. ‘I can’t explain anymore. I must leave your island immediately. I will return. Be alert!’

And in a flash, a blurring of lights and a whoosh of dust and wind, the drone soared through the blue sky. Then suddenly with a loud bang, it turned supersonic leaving only a streak of white fumes, vanishing into the west.

‘Do you think it was telling the truth?’ asked Hoppy.

‘Who knows?,’ replied Shelly. ‘I think it best to mull these things over with a cup of tea. Ah, yes, a cup of tea… ’

‘Well me and Liftoff have some very important fishing to catch up on,’ said Rocket wistfully.

‘Sure do,’ added Liftoff, ‘and some very important sleeping, too.’

‘Fine!’ said Hoppy. She crossed her arms and frowned. ‘You go have fun, fishing or whatever silly pointless things you do. The sooner me and Tinysaur get off this island the better…’

The little dinosaur whimpered and shrugged.

Shelly and Tinysaur turned towards the Tree House and Hoppy reluctantly followed after them. Rocket and Liftoff split off and took the path towards the fishing lake.

‘Do you believe all that stuff the drone told us?’ asked Liftoff anxiously. He stroked the head of the bunny in his satchel. ‘I don’t want no more trouble.’

Rocket shrugged and gave Rocket a friendly pat on the back.

‘We can look after ourselves, can’t we? Besides, it’s a big island. Even if someone did want to catch us – they’d never catch us, right?’

‘I guess,’ said Liftoff, although he wasn’t quite sure.

Rocket noticed a couple of blueberry bushes on their path and went over to pick a handful of berries.

As he was filling his pockets he noticed the sun glistening on a pool of water through the trees.

‘Look at that!’ said Rocket cheerfully pointing ahead. ‘Our fishing lake!’

‘The waters back!’ cheered Liftoff.

The fishing lake was, once again, full of water. Ducks glided and played alongside a grassy bank and there were bubbles and pops on the water’s surface, hinting at a shoal of fish beneath.

Rocket ran over to the bank and picked up his fishing rod. ‘First to catch five fish is the winner!’

Liftoff jogged over, took up his rod and sat next to Rocket on their trusty, well-worn log bench. ‘Now this is my kind of race,’ he grinned.

 

###

 

 

 

Thanks

 

Thank you for reading Rocket & Liftoff’s first adventure – The Bedlum Bugs.

 

If you’d like to read more stories about Rocket & Liftoff please give this book a good review online and tell your friends to read it too. It took a lot of work to write this book and only good reviews will make Jon Ireland write more!

 

If you do write a review, please let Jon know where to see it at [email protected] and he’ll email you a link to watch his short animation ‘Run Zoom Run’ for free.

 

To see some of Jon’s animations and illustration including some for Rocket & Liftoff:

www.islandcartoons.com

 

Here’s some other Rocket & Liftoff links…

 

Watch Jon Ireland’s ‘Run Zoom Run’ Animation trailer on youtube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDar_YRgN0w

 

Watch Jon Ireland’s ‘Run Zoom Run’ Animation on itunes:

https://itunes.apple.com/md/movie/run-zoom-run/id925552734

 

Read ‘Run Zoom Run’ Blog and Website:

http://www.runzoomrun.co.uk

 

Watch Kernel Klump and his robot friends rap video on youtube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5xLkIwPU5k

 

Listen to Kernel Klump’s ‘I got Problems’ rap song on itunes:

[+ https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/i-got-problems-single/id588663721+]

 

Listen to Kernel Klump on Spotify:

http://open.spotify.com/track/47OtcvuaJlrcgZJVIKDUoF

 

Listen to Kernel Klump on Google Play:

[+ https://play.google.com/store/music/artist/Kernel_Klump?id=Ag5vnnibuwxz3rhmz5lcnnhuyia+]

 

 

Cover illustrations by Massimiliano Lucania.

Character designs, 3D models, graphic design and story by Jon Ireland. Jan 2016.

About Jon Ireland

Jon Ireland is a writer, graphic designer and animator. Jon lives with his wife and two daughters in North Devon, the United Kingdom, and when he can get off his computer he loves outdoor activities and sports like running, surfing, kite surfing, climbing and tennis.

 

 


Rocket & Liftoff – The Bedlam Bugs

In this fun and exciting 'Rocket & Liftoff' adventure you’ll meet some strange and wonderful creatures: a lightning-fast cat, a super-strong bear (Rocket & Liftoff), an acrobatic feline, a miniature pet dinosaur, an eccentric tortoise, a devious lizard and a bunch of dim-witted robots. Why are all these odd creatures living on one island in the middle of nowhere? What is Doctor Mischief and her barmy robots up to? And who are the mysterious Bedlam Bugs? All is revealed as these odd-assortment of animal friends go hunting inside the island’s secret mountain fortress and discover they’re in way more danger than they ever imagined...

  • ISBN: 9781310725593
  • Author: Jon Ireland
  • Published: 2016-01-09 16:20:18
  • Words: 30482
Rocket & Liftoff – The Bedlam Bugs Rocket & Liftoff – The Bedlam Bugs