Milo was waiting in his driveway just before sunrise on Saturday morning as a battered looking van pulled up in front of his house. It rolled to a stop, engine rumbling in the pre-dawn quiet. The side door opened to reveal Zack, Melissa and Amanda sitting on a bench along one side of the van. “Morning guys,” said Milo with a half suppressed yawn, as he climbed into the van. He shrugged off his backpack and sat down between Zack and Amanda. He tucked his backpack behind his knees.
“Hi Milo,” said Dakota, with what seemed like an unnatural amount of energy for so early in the morning.
“Morning, Dakota,” said Milo.
Dakota held out a bag of fast food from Slushy Dawg. “Breakfast burrito?”
“Thanks,” said Milo, taking the bag from Dakota. He reached across and pulled the side door shut with one hand, then sat back down and turned his attention to the bag of food from Slushy Dawg. Cavendish revved the engine and the van backed out of the driveway. As Milo worked his way through his breakfast, which consisted of two breakfast burritos, orange juice and a hash brown, the van rumbled through the sleepy streets of suburban Danville. The drive from Milo’s house to Phineas’ took around twenty minutes. By the time Cavendish pulled into the driveway, the sun was starting to creep above the tops of the houses, casting a dappled mix light and shadow on the ground. As the van pulled into the driveway of the Flynn-Fletcher house, the dome of a large astronomical observatory rose above the top of the house from the backyard. The lens of a large telescope glinted in the morning sunlight. The van’s side door rattled open and Phineas and Ferb clambered into the van.
“Hi Milo,” said Phineas.
“Morning Phineas, Ferb,” replied Milo.
“So what’s with the telescope,” asked Zack.
The young genius shrugged. “Oh that,” he said. “That’s just our astrophysics homework. We’re conducting a study of the distribution of dark matter in the galaxy.”
“Oh,” said Dakota, “well it’s nice to see kids taking an interest in astronomy.” He didn’t bother to ask the genius stepbrothers if they were old enough to be astrophysicists. He already knew the answer.
“So, where are we going?” asked Amanda as Cavendish turned onto the highway.
“Kind of out town,” replied Dakota.
“Really?” asked Melissa, “I though you guys only ever worked around town.”
Dakota nodded,”yeah, most of the time we do, but for some reason Mr. Block is sending us way out to the back side of Danville Forest.” He shrugged. “What can I say, the Bureau is weird sometimes.”
Cavendish nodded in agreement. “Yes, the actions of the Bureau don’t always make sense.”
“And exactly what do you do?” asked Phineas.
“We pick up garbage,” said Dakota. “Like I said, we don’t get the cool missions-“
“Wait, wait, wait,” Phineas interrupted, “you pick up garbage? I thought you said were time travellers.” The tone of Phineas’ voice gave Dakota the impression that the young genius didn’t suffer fools gladly. Dakota smiled to himself. Milo really had a knack for picking his friends.
“Emphasis on ‘were,’ Flynn,” replied Dakota. “We were stripped of our time agent credentials for stopping the Pistachions. You’re welcome, by the way.”
The drive from Danville took almost an hour. By the time the battered van arrived on the far side of Danville Forest, the sun was well above the horizon. Cavendish parked the van and the eight of them piled out in into the mid-morning sunshine. They walked around to the back of the van, where Cavendish threw open the doors and handed out white jumpsuits, trash picks, gloves and plastic garbage bags. “Most of the stuff we pick up is pretty innocuous,” said Dakota, “but sometime time we find stuff that’s different. If you find anything unusual let us know and Cavendish and I will deal with it.”
“How will we know if we find anything unusual,” asked Milo.
“You’ll know it when you see it,” said Dakota.
Cavendish and Dakota turned and led the four teenagers and Phineas and Ferb into the woods. The walk from where Cavendish had parked the van to the clean-up site only took fifteen minutes and they eventually emerged on to a clearing bordered by pine trees and strewn with garbage. They immediately set to work picking up the trash that was scattered all over the ground.
At first glance, it appeared to Milo to be ordinary terrestrial garbage, however, upon closer inspection, the writing on the various paper food wrappers and disposable plastic cups, if that’s what they were, were written in languages that Milo had never seen before. There were smears of blue and purple stuff that Mill assumed was some kind of alien condiment. Milo quickly speared all the waste in his immediate vicinity and deposited it into his plastic garbage bag. The clean-up site was large, but there were eight of them and it only took them an hour to clean up most of the garbage. Milo had almost filled his third garbage bag when he noticed Phineas, who was standing about six feet away from him, suddenly stoop and pick something up off the ground. From where Milo was standing it appeared to be cube shaped, roughly the size of a baseball and made of some kind of dark metal with a matte finish.
“Phineas,” Milo started slightly and the sound of the voice behind him, before realizing that it belonged to Melissa. “Be careful with that around Milo.” Phineas was slowly turning the strange object over in his hands. As it moved, it caught the light and Milo noticed the surface was incised with a hexagonal pattern. There was also a thumb sized depression on each face.
“Phineas,” said Melissa again, this time more loudly, “I think you should show that to Cavendish.”
“Melissa, I don’t think he’s listening,” said Milo. Phineas had a distant look on his face, as if the young savant could inside the cube and was trying puzzle out exactly what it did. He placed his thumb in the depression on the top of the cube. As soon as he did so, the little device emitted a bright flash of green light. At the same instant, Milo felt as if every particle of his being was being pressed toward his centre. It was as though Milo were being squeezed by a giant pair of hands. Then he felt as though he was falling and Milo instinctively curled into a ball. He hit the ground with a jarring thud and felt his left shoulder pop. The force of the impact had dislocated his shoulder. He bounced a couple of times and came to stop. He was lying spreading eagled on his back, with his backpack wedged beneath him. Ignoring his dislocated shoulder, Milo sat up. He looked around and saw Melissa slowly picking herself up. She looked at him.
“Left shoulder again?” she asked.
She nodded and walked over to him. Melissa took hold of Milo’s left arm and holding it out straight, she gave a hard push, Milo felt a momentary flash of pain as the joint was inserted back into its socket. He started to perform some preliminary stretches, but his shoulder protested loudly and he had to stop. Phineas had picked himself up while Melissa had been resetting Milo’s shoulder and was looking around. Milo began to do the same. He quickly realized that everything appeared to have drastically changed. The small twigs on the ground suddenly looked like tree trunks and the tiny particles of dirt that had previously been nearly microscopic now buried Milo’s feet up to his ankles in clouds of earth the size of baseballs. From somewhere behind him, something was casting a long square shadow. As Milo turned to see what it was, Phineas said, “oh, so that’s what that does.”
The baseball-sized cube that Phineas had been turning over in his hands now appeared to be the size of a large office block.
Milo was suddenly aware that Melissa was looking at him out of the corner of his eye. The look on her face plainly said, “we need to talk about Phineas.”
Milo gave her a return look that said, “later, after we get out of this.”
“I think we’ve been shrunk ,” said Phineas.
“Ok,” said Melissa slowly, “how do we get
Phineas though for a minute, then pulled out his phone. It appeared to be a make that Milo and Melissa didn’t recognize. “I’m going to see if I can call Ferb,” said the young genius.
Milo and Melissa traded a skeptical look. “Will that work,” asked Milo.
“To be honest, I’m not sure,” replied Phineas. “We never thought about this scenario when we built our phones.”
Milo and Melissa looked at each other, astonished. “You built your phone?” asked Melissa.
Phineas shrugged as if this was a perfectly normal thing for a nine year old to do. “Sure,” he said casually, tapping and swiping through his contact list looking for his stepbrother’s phone number. “We built the prototype for Candace last summer. We liked the design so much that we built two more.” Phineas stopped tapping and swiping and stared at his screen. “Hmmmmm,” he said thoughtfully. “I thought that might be the case.” He reached into his pocket, pulled out a small set of screwdrivers and proceeded to remove the back of his phone. He deftly made some adjustments and replaced the back plate with a metallic snap. Phineas examined the screen again. He nodded in approval, tapped Ferb’s number and then the call button. He placed the phone to his ear and spoke for a couple of minutes, then hung up.
No sooner had Phineas hung up, than the three of them began to hear noise in the distance. Milo could see figures coming closer and he realized that he was staring at Cavendish, Dakota, Zack, Amanda and Ferb, except that they were all absolutely enormous. Phineas had pulled a calculator out of his pocket and his hands were deftly dancing over the key pad. “Based on the disparity between our height and theirs,” he said, “I’d say we’re a couple of millimetres tall.”
“How does that help us?” asked Melissa.
“Well, It lets us know where we stand,” offered Milo.
“Milo, not helping,” said Melissa.
Milo was still watching the towering figures of his friends as they came closer. He could feel the vibrations of their footsteps rattling his teeth. He felt something familiar click in his brain and he began to analyze direction, gait, stride length, weight, mass density and impact force. Milo did it without thinking. Thirteen years of living with Murphy’s Law had turned the analytical part of his mind in a finely tuned precision instrument. He turned to Melissa and Phineas. “We need to move,” he said pointing, “over this way.”
The three of them began to move. It was difficult. The vibrations from the footsteps of five people caused the soil around Milo’s feet to liquify. It was like walking in thick mud and in a rare lack of foresight Milo had not packed his hiking boots in his backpack. He wondered if he should make a point of packing his boots from now on. The jolt of Amanda’s right foot coming down not far from Milo interrupted his thoughts. He pushed the thought aside and kept moving, eventually reaching the spot he had indicated to Melissa and Phineas. He stopped and turned to face the towering figures of his friends. They had stopped short, not wanting to accidentally step on anyone. Dakota threw out a huge arm to keep Zack, Amanda and Ferb out of the way. He turned to Cavendish and Milo saw his mouth move, but couldn’t hear the words. Cavendish turned walked and a little way a way from the others. He bent down and picked up the cube that Phineas had found. Milo watched as he examined it carefully. At the same time, Dakota tapped the side of his sunglasses and bent very low. He could see himself reflected in the lenses of Dakota’s sunglasses. Text and icons scrolled down around Milo’s reflection. Dakota pointed at Milo, Melissa and Phineas, then turned and said something to Cavendish, who nodded. Dakota made a sign that clearly said, “don’t move.” Milo turned to Melissa and Phineas. “Don’t move,” he said. “I think Cavendish and Dakota have an idea.” There was another bright flash of green light, but instead of Milo, Melissa and Phineas returning to their normal size, they watched as Dakota shrank down to their level.
“Yeah, OK, that didn’t go the way I thought it would,” said Dakota after he dusted himself off.
From high above them, Cavendish sighed and shook his head.