Not long afterwards, the ruins of the school were cleared away and a new building site appeared. The builders must have known about the beam and made it safe, because there was nothing in the paper about people getting cut in half. And nothing about planes getting wings cut off either.

Dyspepsia asked the builders what they were building. They said it was a geothermal power station: the only one in England. The only one that England would ever need. And (quite possibly) the whole world.

Soon the power station was up and running. There was hardly any noise. Just the quiet humming of underground generators, plus dozens of power lines which sprouted from the new building and went off in all directions supported on tall pylons. They hummed, too. Plus there was a deep, deep rumbling sound that came from far, far underground.

Near the building stood a huge pit wheel, just like a coal mine. But they weren’t mining coal. There were no coal trucks and no smoke. But people were having to go deep underground for some reason or other.

The pylons were an eyesore for the people in Ashbrooke. They hadn’t minded when it had been a school, but now it was a power station. And power stations need pylons. Mummy and Daddy didn’t mind, because they’d stopped getting electricity bills. They phoned up the power company to ask why, and they were told electricity was now too cheap to meter.

Nobody really minded about the pylons, because everyone liked free electricity. With all the money they saved, they could go away on holiday twice a year to nice places like Turkey and Morocco.

The newspapers were full of the good news. It wasn’t just Sunderland that was getting free electricity, but the whole country. Britain was selling electricity overseas—to France, to Germany, even to Russia, which now felt it best to leave all its oil in the ground. The climate was beginning to change for the better, but ever so slightly. It wouldn’t be noticeable for the next fifty years. Mankind had been busy wrecking the climate for over 400 years, so it wasn’t something you’d expect to fix itself overnight.

Meanwhile there was all this lovely free electricity to burn. Nobody bothered to turn lights off, or to unplug their phone chargers. Televisions were left on all night, and soon nothing electrical had an off-switch. It was all meant to be left on the whole time.

Nobody scolded their children for leaving the electric fire on all night. When the house got too hot you simply turned on the air-conditioning to cool it down again. The fact that it used twice the electricity to do precisely nothing didn’t matter any more.

New bright street lights were installed, and presently the streets were as bright as day all night long. Shops forgot to close, and you could buy Dr Pepper and bubblegum 24/7. Everyone was happy about it and saw nothing to worry about.

Everyone, that is, except Spookie.

Far into the night she’d stand at the back door, looking out into the vast pool of light the city had become. Her shoulders began to droop and she looked more and more miserable. Dyspepsia begged her to come in and have something to eat. Which she did, just to please her friend. But she’d munch away with a spacey look on her face, paying no attention to what she was eating. It might have been dog-food, for all she’d notice.

Dyspepsia knew what was bothering her. She held Spookie’s head between her palms and looked straight in her eyes and said, “What if it is a black hole down there?”

“If it is,” said Spookie in a hollow voice, “then it’s getting big. Big enough to sink deep underground. Melting through rock, turning it to lava by the energy it gives off as heat. Making more heat by the lava that tumbles into it. All the time sinking through the Earth’s crust, getting bigger and bigger.”

“Will it reach New Zealand?”

“No. It will get to the centre of the Earth and then stop.”

“Then what will it do?”

“Just sit there, growing bigger and bigger, hotter and hotter, as more and more lava is forced into it by the huge pressure at the centre of the Earth. Eventually the planet will become a hollow shell, glowing inside with deadly radiation. Volcanos will pop out all over the place. The seas will start to evaporate, and boiled fish will float to the surface. The Earth’s crust will get thinner and thinner until in the end everything collapses in a ginormous ball of fire.”

“When’s all this going to happen?”

“Sometime in the next hundred years.”

Dyspepsia stared at her friend wide-eyed. For a long while she couldn’t speak, and they sat in silence.

…to be continued.