A free sample of Emma Laybourn's full-length children's book MEGAMOUSE - the new, revised edition
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MEGAMOUSE

by Emma Laybourn

Chapter One

'Go on,' urged Kelly. 'I dare you! Your Granpa'll never know.'

Joe shook his head unhappily. 'I can't.'

'Of course you can! Don't be so soft. It's your living room!'

'Not any more,' said Joe gloomily. 'It's Granpa's room now.'

'So? It's still your house! If your Granpa doesn't want anyone to use his computer, he should lock his door. But he hasn't, has he?'

Joe shook his head. His fingers curled nervously around the door-handle.

He told himself there was nothing to be afraid of. Nobody would know. Granpa was at the University, where he was probably growling at terrified students right now. He wouldn't be home till Dad fetched him; and Dad was out, too, painting somebody's kitchen.

Mum was busy upstairs feeding baby Rose. It was the perfect opportunity. But all the same...

'If this was my house, I wouldn't think twice,' said Kelly. 'Go on, Joe! Please! I've got all these brilliant games, and our computer's too old to run them!'

She hopped impatiently up and down, waiting for Joe's answer.

He gave in.

'All right... Just for a bit.'

'Good for you! Martian Warlord first!'

Joe pushed open the door.

The living room felt strange. It felt alien. Dad had only just finished decorating it when Granpa broke his leg and had to move in. It had been Granpa's room ever since.

Joe was left with nowhere to spread out his race track. There were no more cosy evenings snuggling in front of the TV - he had to watch the tiny TV in the kitchen instead, perched on a hard chair.

The room didn't feel like part of his home any more. It had been taken over by Granpa's things: his bed, his bookshelves, and especially the computer that sat big and square on Granpa's desk.

It was a gleaming, new and very expensive computer. Around the huge flat-screen monitor teetered piles of CDs and memory sticks, boxes full of electronic bits, old coffee cups and snaking coils of tangled wire. In the middle of the wire maze sat a packet of digestive biscuits and a large square cage, where a white rat crouched, glaring at them.

'A rat? What's your Granpa doing with a rat?' whispered Kelly.

'Don't ask me. She's called Cleo. She doesn't like me.'

'Cleo! Cleo!' Kelly tapped softly on the bars. The white rat turned its back on her and began to clean its whiskers.

'I wish I had a pet,' said Kelly wistfully. 'Even a rat would be better than nothing.'

Joe was getting twitchy. 'Come on! If you don't want to play, let's leave!'

'Of course I want to play!' Kelly pulled the Martian Warlord CD from her pocket. Then she looked round, puzzled.

'Bother! Where's the mouse?' she complained. 'There's a rat - but no mouse!'

'Maybe we should just forget it...' Joe was already edging back towards the door.

But Kelly rummaged through the piles of equipment on the desk.

'Aha! Here we are!' she said triumphantly. 'This'll do. Must be new - it's still in its box.' She read aloud from the label.

MEGAMOUSE

ADVANCED COMPUTER MOUSE

WITH MEMORY, BACK-UP BATTERIES

AND OPTIC CELLS -

what are they?'

'Like eyes, I think,' said Joe.

'AND OPTIC CELLS FOR FASTER DOCUMENT READING,' finished Kelly. She tipped the mouse out on to the mouse mat.

Carefully, Joe set it upright. Its grey plastic dome was cool and smooth to the touch.

'If it's new, we probably shouldn't use it,' he said anxiously.

'What's the problem? A mouse is a mouse. This one's not that special. It's not even wireless. Give it here!'

THUMP! Something heavy crashed into the patio door, making Joe recoil in alarm.

'What's that?'

A wrinkled black nose was squashed against the glass. A pair of watery, bad-tempered eyes glowered at him.

'It's only that awful bulldog from next door,' said Kelly. She plugged the mouse's cable into the computer. 'It belongs to that woman who moved in last week. She calls it Hogarth. Horrible Hogarth. Just ignore it. Relax, Joe! You're as jumpy as a flea!'

Joe turned away from the bulldog's snarling face at the window, as Kelly loaded up the game.

'Be careful,' he pleaded.

'I'm being careful! Watch out, Martian Warlord. Here come Jumpin' Joe and Killer Kelly!'

She was Killer Kelly all right. Joe had to admit it - she was a whiz at computer games. Joe was hopeless. He always seemed to end up dead.

'These Martians are really cool!' said Kelly, her fingers busy. 'The blue ones are the best. They've got nine tentacles and they'll slime you with poisonous goo if you don't zap them!'

Kelly was good at zapping them. Martians exploded in slimy splurts all over the screen. Their spaceships turned into golden fireballs. Kelly was quick.

'Much quicker than me,' thought Joe. 'I can't do that!' He was all thumbs on the computer. They'd never had a proper one before Granpa arrived, only Mum's ancient laptop which took about half an hour just to start up.

And he'd only been allowed to use this computer with Granpa frowning over his shoulder and going 'Hrmph!' under his breath. It hadn't been much fun.

He jumped as the bulldog thudded on the glass again. It was squinting hungrily at Cleo's cage. The white rat calmly ignored it.

'Bother that Horrible Hogarth!' exclaimed Kelly. 'Now I've gone and got myself killed. Your turn, Joe.'

She ran at the window, waving her arms and pulling faces until the bulldog backed away.

Joe slid into her seat. He held the mouse tightly, and fixed his eyes on the Martians as they belched blue slime and slashed out with their plasma swords.

But he couldn't concentrate. He kept thinking he heard the car outside, with Granpa; and his heart would pound and his fingers stop. And then he got drenched in blue slime.

It wasn't fair. Granpa had taken over the house. Grandfathers were supposed to be kind old men who gave you toffees, thought Joe resentfully, not snappy old tyrants who barked out orders and made you do mental maths tests and kept on asking if you'd left your brains in bed...

Joe winced at the memory. His hand clenched on the mouse. Angrily he clicked its buttons in a rapid tattoo, banging it on the desk, not caring what part of the screen he clicked on.

'Gotcha! Gotcha!' he muttered. But it was Granpa he was zapping, not Martians.

'What are you doing?' said Kelly. 'That's not how you play! You're going to - '

There was a dazzling flash. Then the screen went blank.

Beneath Joe's hand, the mouse quivered. Suddenly it pulled away from his fingers, shot across the desk and tumbled headlong onto the floor.

Chapter Two

'What on earth are you playing at?' hissed Kelly.

'Nothing!' said Joe, bewildered.

'You tell me to be careful, and then you go and throw the mouse on the floor!'

'But I didn't throw it! It jumped!'

'Oh, sure,' snorted Kelly, stooping to pick up the mouse.

The instant she touched it, it darted away. It zoomed under the desk and disappeared behind a box of paper. Only its tail, a long grey cable, could be seen sticking out.

Kelly sat up so fast that she banged her head on the desk. 'What's going on?

'It came alive,' Joe whispered.

'Rubbish! It can't have.' Kelly dived after it, but Joe pulled her back.

'Wait! Let me.' Kneeling down, he cautiously reached beneath the desk until he felt something cool and smooth and rounded. It trembled at his touch.

It's scared, thought Joe. But that's crazy...

All the same, he held the mouse gently, until it was still. Then, wrapping his fingers carefully round it, he lifted it up.

'Batteries!' said Kelly. 'Of course! That's how it moved.' She sounded relieved.

Joe cupped the Megamouse in his hand. He felt afraid of hurting it, as if it were a flesh and blood mouse, not rigid plastic. He put it carefully on the desk.

'Not batteries. It came alive,' he murmured.

Kelly picked up the mouse and jiggled it. 'Doesn't feel alive to me.'

She plonked it back on the mouse mat, where it sat like a lump of stone. 'Doesn't look alive either,' she sniffed. 'Let's plug it in again. I hope it still works after you threw it around like that!'

Megamouse

She switched off the computer, reconnected the mouse, and powered it back up.

The screen flickered, and a single word flashed out.

But it wasn't READY. It wasn't even ERROR. It was:

'Greeting.'

'That's not right!' said Kelly, frowning.

Joe gaped at the screen. Then, reaching past Kelly to the keyboard, he hesitantly typed: 'Who are you?'

'Megamouse,' said the screen.

Joe stared down at the plastic mouse. He put his hand gently on it, and felt it quiver.

'Greeting, Light Hand,' said the screen.

'What?' exclaimed Kelly.

Joe looked down at his hands. 'I think it means me,' he said. He typed: 'I am called Joe.'

'Greeting, Called Joe.'

'No, just Joe.'

'Greeting, just Joe.'

Joe gave up. 'Call me Light Hand.'

'Second greeting, Light Hand.'

'I've heard about programs like this,' said Kelly. 'You can program a computer to have a conversation just like a real person. You wouldn't mistake this one for a real person, though! Nobody talks like that!'

Joe wondered what to type next.

'How do you do?' he asked politely.

'How do I do what?'

He tried again. 'How are you?'

'How am I what?'

Kelly giggled. 'Weird program!'

'It's not a program. It's the mouse. It's alive,' said Joe firmly.

'Then why is it talking in such a funny way?'

'I'm asking the wrong sort of questions,' said Joe. He thought carefully, and then typed: 'How are you made?'

This time the reply came readily.

'92% moulded polycarbonate plastic, rechargeable 15 volt battery, 16 gigabytes of memory. How many gigabytes do you have?'

Joe scratched his head. 'I don't know!'

'I guess it is the mouse talking - but it can't be alive, Joe,' said Kelly. 'It's just programmed to say things. It's good, though, isn't it? I bet-'

She stopped in mid-sentence.

Joe heard the sound he had been dreading. A car engine coughed to a halt. Car doors clunked, twice.

The children stared at each other in alarm.

Joe heard the smack of crutches on the path. 'Granpa! Quick! Before he finds us!'

Swiftly, Kelly shut down the computer. Joe snatched up the Megamouse and put it back in its box. They heard the front door open.

'Get out this way!' gasped Joe. They scrambled for the patio door and slipped out into the back garden, just as Granpa's heavy footsteps entered the hall.

'Go round to the kitchen,' whispered Joe. 'Maybe we can sneak in there.'

But as they crouched under the kitchen window, they heard Granpa's deep, imperious voice.

'I'll have a chop for my tea,' he was announcing loudly. 'Peas, not carrots.'

'Yes, Gerald,' said Mum's quiet voice in answer.

'And apple sauce. Smooth, not lumpy like last time.'

'All right, Gerald.'

'And don't burn the chop!'

Kelly pulled a face at Joe. 'Bossy, isn't he?' she whispered.

'I have some very important work to do this evening,' Granpa went on, 'so I need to eat as soon as possible. I'll have a coffee now. Three sugars.' His crutches clattered to the floor as he sat down.

'Wow! What an old grump. I'm glad he's not my Granpa!' muttered Kelly.

'Come in with me,' urged Joe.

'No way!' Kelly shook her head.'Sorry, Joe. I'm off home. See you tomorrow.'

She ran off. Joe slunk into the kitchen, hoping Granpa wouldn't notice him.

But Granpa frowned at him, his grey eyebrows bristling.

'So what have you been up to, young fella?' he asked sharply.

'Playing in the garden,' mumbled Joe. He was sure Granpa suspected something.

Luckily Rose began to wail, so Joe busied himself with bouncing her on his lap until she giggled. Her wriggly, wobbly legs kicked against his. Her starfish fingers pulled at the tablecloth and slopped Granpa's cup of tea.

'Careful!' snapped Granpa. Rose gazed up at his face and burst into wails again.

'I hope she's not going to keep that up all evening,' Granpa grunted. 'I need peace and quiet! I can't work with that racket.'

'She's only five months old,' said Mum mildly. 'I'll try and keep her quiet, but babies still cry a lot at that age.'

'I like a bit of noise while I'm working,' said Joe's Dad cheerfully. 'I don't like things too quiet.'

'Well, painting window-frames doesn't exactly tax the brain, does it?' snorted Granpa. 'It's not what I expected a son of mine to end up doing.'

'It's what I'm good at,' said Dad. He drained his tea and walked out of the kitchen.

Joe felt like snorting and snapping right back at Granpa. How dared he talk to Dad that way, when he was living in Dad's house? Only it seemed to be Granpa's house now. Everything revolved around him.

Yet Joe didn't dare say anything. He didn't want to draw attention to himself, because he felt guilty about using the computer. So he kept quiet as he helped Mum make the tea.

It was mashed potato again. They seemed to have mash all the time now, because Granpa liked it. Joe didn't.

Halfway through tea, he stopped eating.

'What's the matter, Joe?' asked Mum.

'Nothing.' The mash had just turned to cotton wool in his mouth. He could hardly swallow for the fear that had gripped him.

He hadn't closed the patio door properly. He was sure of it! He'd left it open a crack.

As soon as Granpa went into his room, he'd see it, and then Granpa would know...

Chapter Three

Megamouse sat on his mouse mat, and wondered.

What was he? Where was he?

He'd been awoken by a chance command that he couldn't now remember. Before that, there was nothing. After that, everything.

Who had woken him? A small, light hand had held him gently. But now Light Hand had gone.

Megamouse had no ears, yet he could hear. Sounds vibrated through his delicate circuits. And, with his optic cells, he could also see. Now he saw that he was not alone.

In the cage nearby, there was a scurry of activity. The white rat was busily clawing at the catch on her door, until it fell open with a click. She slipped out, scampered across the desk, and helped herself to a digestive biscuit from the open packet.

Cleo dragged the biscuit over to Megamouse. Sitting up on her thin haunches, she stared at him bright-eyed. Then she began to squeak.

Megamouse listened. He analysed the squeaks. It only took him a few milliseconds; Rat was not very difficult. He soon translated Cleo's squeaks as:

'Do you want some biscuit?'

She dropped a piece in front of him.

Megamouse tipped his box over and rolled out to survey the biscuit. What was he supposed to do with it? He had no mouth. He tried rolling over it, but that just turned it into crumbs.

As he moved, his little wheel squeaked faintly. This gave Megamouse an idea. He practised rolling and squeaking until he got his answer right.

'No eat,' he squeaked.

Although it wasn't very good Rat, Cleo understood.

'You don't eat!' she exclaimed. 'Then what do you live on?'

'Desk.'

'No, no! I mean food! You are a mouse, aren't you? They called you a mouse.' Cleo studied him doubtfully.

'Me Megamouse!'

'Not much of a mouse, if you ask me,' she sniffed. 'Where's your fur? Where are your whiskers, and your tail?'

'Me got tail,' squeaked Megamouse hopefully, waving his cable.

'Hmph,' snorted Cleo. 'Funny sort of tail. Oh, well. If you're staying, I'd better show you round. Come on down.'

Gracefully she leapt on to the chair, and then to the floor.

'Bye-bye up!' squealed Megamouse, throwing himself recklessly after her...

***

Want to read more? You can buy the ebook of MEGAMOUSE at:
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Kobo Books
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The Apple iTunes Store
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the cover of the children's ebook Megamouse by Emma Laybourn, about a computer 
mouse that comes to life

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Megamouse (revised edition) is Copyright 2012 Emma Laybourn

The ebook of MEGAMOUSE is available at:
Smashwords,
Kobo Books,
Barnes and Noble Nook Books,
the Apple iTunes Store
and the Amazon Kindle Store.


the cover of the ebook Megamouse

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