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The Phoenix Files: Arrival
published in 2009 by
Hardie Grant Egmont
85 High Street
Prahran, Victoria 3181, Australia
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publishers and copyright holders.
A CiP record for this title is available from the National Library of Australia
Text copyright Â© 2009 Chris Morphew
The moral rights of the author have been asserted
Illustration and design copyright Â© 2009 Hardie Grant Egmont
Illustration and design by Sandra Nobes
Typesetting by Ektavo
Printed in Australia by McPherson's Printing Group
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Grace and Peace.
See you when I get home.
The end of the world is one of those things that you never really expect to end up being
Not that I used to spend much time thinking about that kind of stuff. But if I had, I would've thought it was pretty safe to assume that saving the planet would be someone else's job.
So when we flew out to Phoenix a couple of weeks ago, it never really entered my head that I might be triggering a countdown to the destruction of the human race, or that I'd be the one who had to try to stop it.
We were supposed to be taking off from Sydney Airport at 2 p.m. But when the car from Mum's new company came to pick us up, our driver said there'd been a change of plans. He took us an hour out of the city to a private airstrip in the middle of a field. There was a helicopter waiting for us, this big ex-military thing. They'd ripped everything out of the back cabin and crammed in some aeroplane-style passenger seats. The windows had all been painted over, blocking our view of outside.
I thought the whole thing was more than a little weird, but Mum didn't have a problem with it, and I wasn't about to argue. She'd been accusing me for weeks of having a bad attitude about moving to Phoenix, and in her head, this would just prove her right. As if
attitude had caused all this in the first place.
It wasn't like I couldn't handle moving. Mum and Dad had always made sure I had plenty of practice. They both had high-powered jobs that meant we never stayed in one place for more than a year or two.
But this time I was leaving more behind than just a rental house and a school.
Two months back, the divorce papers had finally gone through. Dad had moved out a while before then, but now it was all official. Now they had the documentation to
that the last seventeen years were just a sorry mistake.
Not exactly the greatest self-esteem boost for the son they'd had two years in.
They both tried to make it easy on me. They said all the stuff you're supposed to say to your kid when you split up.
Just because your father is moving out doesn't mean
you won't get to see him.
Don't ever think that any of this is your fault.
We both still love you very much.
PS â I'm moving to some backwoods town a billion
miles from nowhere and I'm taking you with me.
That last one wasn't quite so comforting.
Right after the divorce was finalised, Mum was approached by an organisation called the Shackleton Co-operative who offered her this amazing job. I'm not sure why exactly, but for Mum it was like winning the lottery. There was just one little catch: she had to move out to Phoenix, this brand-new corporate town built by the Shackleton Co-operative for all its employees. Which meant that I had to move, too.
Of course, Dad tried to keep her from taking me, but Mum had the better lawyers. Eventually, they worked out some deal where I'd live with her most of the time and fly back to see Dad for holidays and the odd weekend. My opinion never really came into it.
Anyway, that's how I wound up sitting in the back of a helicopter, flying out to a town so new and so tiny that no-one had even been able to show it to me on a map.
I leant my seat back as far as it would go and sat there listening to the thumping of the chopper blades above my head, eyes closed against the too-bright fluorescent lights that burned down from the ceiling. Mum sat in the seat next to mine, flicking through a copy of
. She kept glancing down at me out of the corner of her eye, like she was trying to find something to say to reassure me, or at least stop me being so cut at her.
âI've heard wonderful things about your new school, Luke,' she tried eventually.
âYeah, you were saying.'
âAnd you won't be the only new student, either. The whole town is still getting established, so there'll be plenty of others who haven't been around for long.'
She looked like she wanted to say something else, but then she bit her tongue and went back to her magazine.
And that was pretty much it for conversation.
The sky was just starting to grow darker as we got out of the helicopter at Phoenix Airport. Not that you could really call it an airport. It was basically just a clearing in the bush with a little landing strip and a house-sized grey building off to the side. There were a couple of other choppers and a sixteen-seater plane, and that was it.
Two men came up to us as we walked away from the chopper. One was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. He was kind of overweight and had this massive Colonel Mustard moustache. The other guy was like a wall of solid muscle. He wore a black uniform with the same Shackleton Co-operative crest I'd seen on all the paperwork they'd been sending Mum â a red bird with its wings curved up into a circle.
âWelcome to Phoenix!' said Colonel Mustard, shaking our hands. âI'm Aaron Ketterley, Residential Liaison. I'll be showing you to your new place.'
âEmily Hunter.' Mum flashed her professional networking smile. âThis is my son, Luke.'
âPleasure to meet you both,' Mr Ketterley beamed. He waved a hand at the stony-faced guy next to him. âOfficer Bruce Calvin, Chief of Security.'
The chief nodded at us but didn't say anything.
âThis way,' said Mr Ketterley, leading us across the tarmac to the terminal building.
Inside, it was like any other small-town airport â vending machines, a sea of blue seats, tired-looking staff behind marble counters â except that everything here was obviously brand new. There didn't seem to be any other passengers around, no-one waiting for a flight. Just the airport staff and a security guy dressed in the same uniform as Officer Calvin.
As soon as we walked through the door, I pulled out my phone to call Dad.
No reception. Great.
âHey, is there a phone somewhere?' I asked, avoiding Mum's eye. âI want to call my dad.'
Mr Ketterley frowned. âSorry, buddy, all our phone lines are down at the moment. Internet, too. Our tech guys are working on it, though. We'll be back online before â'
âWe should get you to your new place before it gets dark,' Officer Calvin cut in, glancing sideways at him.
âRight,' said Mr Ketterley, clapping his hands together. He pulled two helmets down from a rack on the wall and tossed one to each of us.
âWhat's this for?' asked Mum, fumbling to catch her helmet.
âFor the ride into town,' said Mr Ketterley. âCome on now, your bikes are around the back.'
Mum stared at him. âExcuse me?'
âMs Hunter, car use is highly restricted in Phoenix. We're only a small town and we find that bikes are the most convenient way of getting around.'
Now I was staring at him, too. I'm all for saving the environment, but come on, what kind of town doesn't let you drive a car?
âI haven't ridden a bike in years,' Mum protested.
âDon't worry,' smiled Mr Ketterley, âit'll all come back to you. It's just like riding a â¦ well, you know. In any case, it's only a short ride.'
âOh, forty-five minutes or so.'
Mum pursed her lips. It's what she always does when she's torn between demanding her own way and wanting to make a good impression.
âThat sounds fine,' she said, finally.
We found our bikes and rode away from the airport, down a wide dirt path that curved off into the bushland.
âBeautiful, huh?' said Ketterley, sweeping his arm out in front of him. âThis bush stretches all the way around the town.'
âWhat happens if it catches fire?' I asked.
Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of Mum grinning. She reckons I worry too much. I thought it was a pretty fair question, though. If you're going to live out in the middle of nowhere, you want to know you're safe, right?
âNo need to worry about that,' said Mr Ketterley. âPhoenix's Security Centre is equipped with the best fire-fighting gear on the planet. All of our safety and security systems are absolutely cutting edge.'
And yet you can't even keep your phones up and
We kept riding, and eventually some buildings came into view up ahead. A few minutes later, we reached the edge of the town, and I realised just how seriously Phoenix took their No Cars policy. There wasn't a single proper road in sight. Where the roads should have been, there was a sprawling network of bike tracks.
Mr Ketterley took us down a wide track that led between two rows of houses. They were all identical â big, two-storey, green-roofed buildings with low picket fences and perfectly mown lawns.
It was starting to get properly dark now, and the streetlights were flickering on over our heads. We rode past a woman working in her garden. Mr Ketterley waved at her as we went by. She smiled and waved back.
It was the perfect town. Almost too perfect. Like something out of
The Brady Bunch.
âAh,' said Mr Ketterley, coming to a stop. âHere we are, 43 Acacia Way. Welcome to your new home!' He pulled out a set of keys and handed them to Mum. âSomeone will swing by in an hour or so to drop off your luggage.'
âGreat,' said Mum, sounding breathless. âThanks.'
âAnything else I can help you with before I keep moving?'
âNo,' Mum said impatiently, then checked herself. âNo, thank you.'
âRight,' said Mr Ketterley brightly. âWell then, I'll leave you to it. Again, welcome to Phoenix! It's wonderful to have you as part of the family.'
He shook our hands again and rode back towards the town centre. We parked our bikes on the front porch and got ready to head inside.
âLuke,' said Mum, stopping at the front door and putting her hand on my arm. âListen. I know this isn't an ideal situation. Moving so suddenly like this, and so far away from your father. But it's not the end of the world. I think it'll be good for both of us. A clean break.'