During earth science class at Mantle Middle School of El Seafloor, California, Robbie Richter was busy sketching an imaginary swamp creature, when, all of a sudden, a wadded-up clump of loose-leaf paper hit him on the back of the neck. He uncrumpled it, flattened it out carefully, and read the message signed by his three fellow band members. The trio staring directly at him was Nick Nickelson, Con Vection, and Norm Alfault; the band was a young, contemporary 198I punk rock band called "Middle Earth." The secret note simply said, "Science is a drag. Zoom out ASAP! Practice today?" The boys continued to look anxiously at Robbie. With a quick nod of his head, Robbie implied to the gang that they would be meeting at the same time and place: Robbie's garage, immediately after school. Suddenly, the science teacher, Mr. Ridge, called Norm's name. Norm, blushing and embarrassed, turned around and split up the group's silent conversation. All the rest went back to whatever they had been doing before, which, clearly, did not include learning or paying attention to the day's geology lesson. Finally, before Norm could sputter and stall, while trying to make up an answer, the bell rang and saved the day!
The class quickly jumped up from their seats, stuffed their notebooks in their backpacks, and, hastily, headed for the door. Before they could leave, however, Mr. Ridge handed out a few pages of paper summarizing the chapter on geology for the students. Being too lazy to take out his binder and put the paper in his ""Hand outs" section, Robbie carelessly folded it up and shoved it into his pocket. He would deal with it later when he had to actually sit down and do his homework, but there were much more important things to be worrying about now!
Thirty minutes later, Robbie was busy trying to set up "Middle Earth's" practice studio — also known as the Richters' garage -- by plugging in and positioning all the speakers and amplifiers. Nick and Con showed up with their guitars about five minutes later, and, last of all, Norm straggled in empty-handed, (because he left his drums at the Richter house permanently). Robbie's mother, Scala Richter, came out with some homemade chocolate chip cookies for the teenagers, and, before her eyes, they were savagely devoured, that is, all but Robbie's share. Robbie stuck his in his pocket so as not to hurt his mother's feeling actually, he found her cookies far too sticky and chewy for his tastes, even though his friends loved them. After insuring the boys were well-fed and cared for, Mrs. Richter wandered back into her kitchen. The kitchen was part of the enormous, lavish house that Robbie's family was able to buy because Mr. Richter, an investment tycoon, had struck it rich in the 1970's during a bull market. This was only one of the families four homes, which were scattered across the nation, but it was the one Robbie lived in permanently and the one he called home. In spite of all this, Robbie never bragged or showed off his money he was a modest kid who enjoyed the same things in life that most average kids liked — music, sports, and hanging out with friends.
The Crew began to tune up. Their greatest dream in life was to have one hit CD that made it to the top one hundred on the charts. At Mantle Middle School the guys in "Middle Earth" were not particularly popular or cool. They were not the stars of sports teams or student government presidents; they were just normal kids, mostly invisible to all those who were not in their small social group. 'I'hcir one dream of fame was attached to making it big in the music world and becoming a rock sensation. however, their goals were basically out of reach because their lyrics were not original, their music was stiff and unemotional, their lead singer was off-key, and their instruments were old, rickety, and worn out. For the time being, they were just playing for the fun of it, and, luckily, their parents approved because it kept them out of trouble. The group started playing one of its old-standby songs, but, midway through, Nick, the most organized member, halted the playing to tell Con that his beat was off and tell Norm that his singing was too soft. The guys grumbled, but got back on track, and the practice session was finished without further complaints. Still, it was getting boring, and the music, for the first time, began to seem old-hat to them. They shared a few laughs, as always, during the course of the rehearsal, but things just didn't seem as spirited or exciting. As they were about to disperse, Robbie asked the rest of the band, "Are we ever gonna get really serious about our music and really record this CD? Or are we gonna goof around and just tell ourselves we're musicians just waiting for a break?" No one had an immediate answer.
After a strange silence, there was a quiet chuckle from Nick, Con, and Norm, and still laughing, Con replied, "Where are we gonna find a recording studio that could make us sound better than the millions of the other bands that have demo CD's? First, we don't have enough time to practice because we have school to go to every day, and second, the acoustics of even the best recording studio on Earth couldn't help us sound as good as some of the other famous bands around."
"Actually you're incorrect, man," said Robbie, much more quietly and seriously than usual. "My cousin knows a guy who has a friend in the music business. lie says, supposedly, that at the core of the earth there's a secret recording studio, designed by some hermit millionaire. It creates perfect acoustics and makes any band sound awesome! He bought the thing twenty years ago when he couldn't break into the recording business, and he's remained there ever since. Only he and his backup group have recorded there, but the CD's have filtered up to the surface and sold under the names of some of the most famous groups ever... hey, I know it sounds crazy, but that is exactly what he told me, and my cousin sounded pretty straight about it."
"Even if it is true - and I know what you're thinking -- where are we gonna get the money to dig through over six thousand kHometers of extremely hot rock and metal, some of it molten, manage to get protection for ourselves, and bring our instruments along in usable condition? Can anyone answer that?" inquired Norm.
"Looks like someone's been paying a little too much attention in science class. WHAT A NERD!" joked Alex. Everyone chuckled.
"Wait a minute!" Robbie interrupted, I could get my dad to help us figure this out; after all, he's always working with investors. Maybe he could even sponsor us, you guys. 1 mean, he's always donating money to help the community and encourage education and stuff Why couldn't he help us?" So all the boys entered Andy's house through a large, hand-carved door that had "Richter"' carved under the glass window. The boys found Mr. Richter sitting peacefully and reading the Wall Street Journal in the living room. All of the boys, who were frequent, comfortable visitors in the Richter home, greeted Mr. Richter casually, and then Robbie started to excitedly explain.
"Hey dad! We heard of this radical new joint down in the center of the earth. it's a recording studio that'll make us sound awesome. But what we need is a sponsor to pay for our trip and some equipment to get us there. You can help, can't you?' "Whoa! Slow down, son!" replied Mr. Richter. "Tell me the details slowly and clearly." Robbie took a deep breath and laid out as much as he knew. Mr. Richter listened carefully, nodded several times, and mulled it over in his mind, lie finally responded, 'Now, I understand why you want to travel to the center of the earth with your friends. Normally, I would think this was just one of your crazy schemes, but, strangely enough, in this instance, 1 think that I may be able to help you. I've recently heard of this new "space travel organization called NASA." Mr. Richter stopped for a second to laugh at his own little joke.
"Ya dad, we know. NASA has been around for like twenty-five years. They have even put men on the moon!"
'Well," said Mr. Richter in a calm tone, recently came to know about them from a different angle. You see, they have had their government funding cut more and more each year, and, so, they decided to look for private investors. I invested a rather large sum of money in their new research project, which just happens to involve a journey into a different kind of space, the space between our location and the center of the earth. They are looking for young healthy volunteers to be part of the first mission, and you guys might just fill the bill. You'd have to work hard and go through the training, but they may just accept you. I'll get on it right now! Oh, here's a quirky little thing. in return for my funding, NASA has given mc this weird device, which is not of any interest to me but may help you. You see, it's some sort of depth meter and travel advisor.., tells you how to behave at whatever depth you are at, corresponding to geological facts at that depth. It's of no use to me.. . I just handle the money end of things."
Well, the money end of things turned out to be very influential, and, within a few days Mr. Richter had set up the perfect arrangement - an arrangement much better than the boys had ever dreamed of or could have created for themselves. NASA was sending a mission, very similar to a space shuttle mission, to the center of the earth the end of that July; it was looking for young, healthy, adventurous volunteers to man the mission, and the four boys fit the bill exactly. They could train for six week after school let out and, then, go on the month-long mission - all before they had to be back at school in September. The shuttle, nicknamed Hotrock Surfer, would be home to geologists, shuttle experts, meteorologists, biologists, and the four "normal" teenagers, who would be subjects for experiments on body changes at the center of the earth. There would be one hour a day of free time each day, in which they could practice their music on board; NASA had originally griped about the space that would be taken up by their instruments, but, since Mr. Richter was one of their principal investors, they managed to find a large lead storage box normally used for scientific equipment. (Unfortunately, only one small drum could be taken along). The stage was set for a perfect voyage - perfect in all but one way. Robbie and his friends never told NASA about the "unscheduled stop" they were planning on, that is, the journey to the recording studio at the center of the earth. NASA would never go for it! It had to be kept as a secret plan.
Summer of that school year came, and Robbie, Con, Nick, and Norm started training for their trip. Instead of wasting their summer sleeping in and playing Nintendo games, the four got in shape and learned how to survive in the depths of the Earth and control the vehicle in case of emergency. Every morning at 8 a.m. the boys started their day at the NASA fitness center with an endurance run. They started at just one mile and, gradually, increased their distances until they reached a seven-mile stretch. Along with their running, the boys lifted weights, swam dozens of laps in an Olympic sized pool, bicycled, breath-trained, and used simulators to learn the ship controls and buttons. The group worked six days a week with a Sunday break; they carried out the same routine each day. At the end of the first week, the boys were in extreme pain; their muscles ached, their heads were pounding, and their spirits were deflated. That first Sunday of training, the three other members of the group approached Robbie; Con stepped forward as the representative for the group, "Robbie, I think I speak for all of us when I say that we wanna quit!" Luckily, they all calmed down, thought about the great opportunity again, and decided to continue.
Finally, it was time for the mission to take off! A spherical ship, made of an alloy of lead and a newly synthesized metal named protectium, equipped to sustain temperatures over five thousand degrees Centigrade, was to be the boys' home for the next thirty days. Powerful, attached, space-age claws were engaged to dig a path in front of the shuttle, clearing it for present and future travel usage. A gel coating the entire ship was an invention of Jet Propulsion Lab chemists, designed to prevent collapse under high pressure and temperature changes under extreme conditions. "Blast down" took place on July thirtieth, and it happened exactly as the space researchers had planned it. The adventure was beginning!
Hotrock Surfer completed its first forty kilometers driving through the solid rock outer layer of the crust. It docked for six hours in the granite chamber of the Continental crust, and it was during this docking, that the boys got their first chance for a practice session. Were they ever astonished! In spite of all their efforts to duplicate the sounds they made in the Richters' garage, their music had a completely different feeling to it. The surrounding rocks dampened the sound and contained it, giving the music a muffled, blunted quality. At first the boys thought it sounded terrible, but they, later, began to appreciate this new, unusually dulled sound, naming it "blunt rock," and, even, composing a song in the newly altered style, a song called "Dull Vibrations."
When the ship resumed its movement, at a speed of one hundred kilometers per hour, the earth's mantle was its next destination. As they traveled beneath the lithosphere to reach the asthenosphere, the atmosphere they were traveling through changed from solid to softened, tarry, moveable material of the lower mantle. Yet, in the asthenosphere, the ship reached an unplanned obstacle; the ship had gotten stuck in the upward sweep of a convection current, and they were traveling towards the lithosphere again instead of their destination at the core. "Now what?" asked Robbie in a sarcastic tone. "We're never gonna get to the core and the recording studio if we can't get past the convection currents in the mantle!"
"But Robbie," replied Norm, 'We can just ride the current down when the material at the top cools, condenses, and sinks again, continuing our journey from there. 1t'11 be just like a wild mouse ride at the amusement park, only much gentler. Weren't you paying attention in our training courses at NASA?"
Although delayed for two hours, Hotrock Surfer did make it down to the bottom of the asthenosphere, riding the circular waves, just as Norm had predicted. When they reached the bottom of the asthenosphere, the group, immediately, set up a structural base that weighed them down so they could not get caught in another current. here again, a docking period allowed Robbie, Con, Nick, and Norm a brief rest and a much-needed rehearsal session. Once again, their sound was different, but different in a new way: it had the thick, syrupy quality of the asthenosphere surrounding the ship. Once again "Middle Earth" was able to compose in a unique style they nicknamed "maple rock;" the creation that flowed from their guitars became the beautiful love song, "My Love for You Hows Like Syrup." And the pattern continued. In the molten metal of the outer core, "Middle Earth" developed "buming rock," with a dance miracle single called "Too hot to Handle." Finally, through the intense, dense, pressured atmosphere of the inner core - the slowest, most difficult part of the shuttle's journey - the group got the brainstorm for "density rock" and a heavy metal piece called "Pressure on my Brain." The music they created was brand-new, original, and full of life; but it made them even more anxious to complete their mission - the mission of finding the recording studio at the center of the earth's inner core.
The shuttle was to dock for three days at the inner core to perform geological studies that had never been done before. No "human" experiments were going to be done at the time. This would be '"Middle Earth's" only chance to find the recording studio, and record the best demo on earth, (and, in earth, for that matter). Everyone onboard the shuttle would be wearing their pressure-temperature-adjustment suits for travel through the tunnels created with the ship's diamond mega-drills. Sneaking away while the geologists and meteorologists were gathering samples seemed like a practical plan.
The plan operated just as the band members wished, though it was a bit difficult sneaking away with their instruments tucked into their complicated adjustment suits. Luckily, Robbie had managed to get a map from his cousin's friend, which directed them from the ship's landing site to a location only about two miles away. Even more fortunately, it followed along the drilling path that the shuttle had followed when locating its docking and research site. After trudging for a few hours, the boys stopped dead in their tracks, frightened and confused: it was a complete dead end! This was not shown on the map, and there seemed to be no solution but tracing their steps back to the ship. What a bummer! All that effort and planning had come to nothing!
But wait! Robbie suddenly reached under his suit, into his pants pocket, and pulled out the ratty, torn handout he had stuffed there after earth sciences class months ago. He thumbed through the handout until he got to the section he was looking for: i've got it! I know what's wrong! Our map doesn't take into account the fact that the inner core is spinning at a slightly faster rate than the rest of Earth! This path is only open once every ninety-six hours when the inner core lines up with the rest of the planet."
Finally, something the boys learned at school had actually come in handy! But, what were they going to do with the information? Robbie remembered the gizmo his father had given him that first day they talked about NASA. Maybe it could help them now! What good fortune Robbie had stuck it, too, in his pocket just before leaving on the shuttle, and he had forgotten to remove it. Looking like a Palm Pilot, the trip-planning device, after being turned on for the first time, gave Robbie some options to put in his current location and the location he wished to get to. The device then charted a route, with key travel tips included with the directions. After Robbie typed in "Recording Studio - Earth's Core," the hand-held unit spit out a list of instructions: "Core lineup is about to occur in three minutes and fifty-two seconds. Your path will then be clear for one hour and forty-eight minutes. Proceed as follows: Look for the seam in the metal at your feet. There will be a weak spot twelve feet north of this seam. Press it as hard as you can, and a path will open before you, which leads directly to the studio. Be warned. The tunnel is quite old and unstable. Make sure your Suits are in good working order. You must get back in time, before the path closes. Good luck!" Miracle of miracles, the instructions worked exactly as they were written. The path opened and, one hundred yards before them, appeared the glorious sign: "Corey's Recording Studio - Music Getting Down to the Core."
They could not hide their emotions. Whooping and jumping - as much as kids can whoop and jump in eighty pounds of protective gear - the boys were ecstatic. They had reached their goal! The four hurried to the door, pounding to get in, when slowly, from a side entrance, a very old man, with a silver cane, snowy hair, and a streaming white beard, emerged and crept toward them. Impatient and anxious to get started, the boys' words tumbled out in a rush, explaining their long journey and search for the ultimate recording studio. Finally, Con came out with the question, "So, do you know how we can get in and start recording? We only have a limited amount of time, and we want to get going."
The old man shook his head sadly, "Sorry to disappoint you guys, but the studio has been gone for years. It was destroyed in an unexpected magnetic field shift, and I haven't had the heart or the energy to rebuild it. You guys wHl just have to do your recording somewhere else. It was an amazing place when it existed, but. . . no longer."
""Middle Earth" was shocked and speechless. Their dreams were shattered. But what could they do? Disappointed and angry, they still had to start back for the shuttle, before their presence was missed. Trudging slowly along their retraced path, none of them spoke. Just a half mile before they would hit the docking site, Norm let out a scream, i'm getting suddenly hotter and hotter; I feel like I'm boiling!"
They all rushed over to him, and Con was the first to recognize the problem, "Man, 1 see what's wrong. There's a little tear on the outside layer of your suit. We've got to do something or more heat will get in, and your blood and organs wHl be burnt to a crisp."
Robbie whooped, I have an idea!" He reached into his suit, deep into his pants pocket, and pulled out his mother's two-month-old chocolate chip cookies, which he had hidden away in his pants pocket. They were as rubbery as ever! Robbie began yanking out the chips and using them to plug the hole in the outer layer of Norm's suit; he set a patch, and the four kids began to run toward the shuttle. They pushed through the outer door of the ship in the knick of time, just as Norm's temperature was reaching one hundred five degrees. Another few minutes, and he would have been cooked!
LuckHy, no one had even noticed their absence. As the researchers began to file back in, the announcement came through the loudspeaker that it was time to get ready for lift-off to return to the earth's surface. Robbie, Con, Nick, and Norm went through the motions as they had been trained, but their mood was somber and hopeless. They had failed in their personal mission, and they even questioned if "Middle Earth" had any future at all.
This would be a sad tale, indeed, if it ended on this note of failure and hopelessness. It did not! The boys returned to earth safely and went back to school as earth travel heroes. The journey became history, and many future fact-finding missions to the center of the earth were planned. Robbie, Con, Nick, and Norm were named in the new edition of the earth sciences book their class was using the next year. Mrs. Richter's chocolate chip cookies were patented as a new repair material for NASA. Best of all, there was an amazing musical outcome. While the group never did get to record a CD in the perfect studio at the core of the earth, they recorded one in an excellent studio in Hollywood. They used the musical styles and hits they had developed while docking at the different layers on their way to the center of the earth. "Middle Earth" became famous for inventing at least four new musical styles and recording four top ten singles in the blockbuster CD they named Hotrock Surfer. Record companies were hounding them to sign contracts, and it seemed they would be creating music for years to come. "Middle Earth" dedicated its first professional CD to Mr. Ridge and their earth sciences class that helped save their lives and give new life to their music.