A Little Test Run
It was one of those glorious September days when it feels like summer will never end. The sky was a giddy cartoon blue, the breeze was warm and smelled faintly of bonfires, and the countryside all around the little village of Snorebury-on-Sea glowed gold, as if King Midas himself had sneezed everywhere.
It was the perfect day to launch a submarine out of a tree.
‘OK, let me see... batteries are fully charged, rudders are in position, periscope is down...’ Leonora Bolt muttered instructions to herself as she flicked switches on the large control panel in front of her. She was sitting inside the cabin of her six-metre homemade deep-sea explorer, the Aquabolt. It was wedged precariously in the remains of the treehouse at number 5, Primrose Lane.
‘Air pressure – check. Fuel levels – check. Otter seatbelt – oh no, hang on...’
Perched on a cashmere cushion beside Leonora was her pet otter, Twitchy Nibbles. His bright eyes fixed her with a look of dismay. His nostrils flared. Leonora leaned over and tickled the pale bib of fur beneath his chin with her oily fingers. Then she strapped him in.
‘Hey, don’t worry, Twitch. This’ll be a piece of cake.’
Twitchy let out a low, harrumphing growl and buried his head beneath his paws as Leonora completed her last-minute inspections. As she adjusted valves and clicked dials, she could feel excitement fizzing away inside her like a Jacuzzi full of sherbet.
Everything was ready for the test run. She’d calculated all the angles and velocities. She’d rehearsed the route 327 times in her mind. The wind speed was low, and the tide was high. This was going to be absolutely perfect.
Leonora couldn’t afford any more mishaps. Last night, when she’d been in the submarine up in the treehouse, experimenting with ultraviolet light, she’d made all the local squirrels glow in the dark.* They’d lit up the little garden like Christmas lights. Of course, she’d turned the UV off again the moment she’d realized – but what if the neighbours had seen? It was a silly mistake. A close call. She had to be more discreet.
*No squirrels were harmed during the making of this chapter. Some squirrels glow bubble-gum pink under UV light. Also, wombat poo is cube-shaped. Keep reading for more incredible animal science!
BRUUN!! BRRUNNN!! BRUUUUUNNNNNG!!!
Leonora turned the ignition and the diesel-electric engine roared to life. Great swirls of grey smoke filled the garden. Tree branches shuddered, launching leaves high into the sky. The motor made a strange HACK, HACK, HACK noise like a hoarse donkey coughing up hay... but then it sputtered off again.
‘Oh no, what is it this time?’ Leonora sighed and scrambled out of her seat. She turned and opened a large metal compartment behind her. ‘I’m so useless at fixing this,’ she mumbled, prodding the engine inside with a screwdriver. Her fizziness was starting to get flattened by anxiety.
You see, Leonora wasn’t supposed to be launching a subaquatic vehicle out of a tree. Or illuminating the local wildlife. She was supposed to be doing the exact opposite of that – lying low, keeping her head down, blending in. For Leonora Bolt was a nine-year-old girl in hiding.