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Authors: Pamela F. Service

Camp Alien (10 page)

BOOK: Camp Alien
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I turned to run for the doorway, but the fat shape of another Gnairt blocked it. Nowhere to go but up. Leaping over the bag of squirming Duthwi, I bounded toward the tree. An energy blast exploded in front of me, setting one end of the fallen branch on fire.

Grabbing the other end, I swept up the burning branch, meaning to throw it at the nearest Gnairt. One blazing twig nicked the bag.

“Eeeeeeeeeeee!” The sound was piercing. That patch of bag melted, and all the Duthwi burst free. The little building filled with panicky, flying starfish. Some shot out the hole in the roof. Some poured out the door, knocking that Gnairt to the ground. As he scrambled to his feet, the other Gnairt joined him, and they both ran out. I followed.

The sky was dark now except for a swirling mass of orange stars.
Free to destroy Earth's trees again
, I thought grimly, but at least they wouldn't be sport for gross slugs.

Wrong. From back in the green-lit area, a thin red beam of light shot into the air. A soaring Duthwi plummeted down. One Flaaa was getting in his hunt anyway.

I didn't know what to do. Hide from the Gnairt? Go after the Flaaa? Look for Vraj? What I did was scream.

Two clawed hands grabbed me and yanked me to the roof of the cinderblock building. I'd found Vraj.

“Can't we stop them?” I gasped.

“We won't have to,” Vraj yelled over the noise of firing weapons and screeching Duthwi. “They will.”

I followed her gaze into the sky. Clustered blue lights were dropping out of the darkness.

“Just before the Gnairt caught me,” Vraj said, “I got off a message to the Patrol. An Emergency Assistance Required message. Didn't want to. Kind of an admission of failure, but … ” She made a gesture I guessed was a shrug. “Anyway, they've arrived, and the Gnairt and their client can't talk their way out of this! A clear violation of Galactic law. While they held me captive, they might have bargained, but now they've nothing to bargain with.”

We'd just jumped to the ground when I remembered. “Oh yes they do have something to bargain with! Camp Takhamasak! I overheard
them. They'll blow up the camp if they aren't let off!”

I was already running, though, without a clue what I could do. Vraj ran after me. Ahead, one Gnairt was running toward their ship, probably to send off their threat, while the other ran toward the cannonlike weapon mounted nearby. The only person
running was the Flaaa, who was gleefully shooting screaming Duthwi from the sky.

I pounded over the gravelly ground. Overhead, the remaining Duthwi banded together and shot off toward the lake. Ahead, one Gnairt had vanished into his ship while the other was fiddling with the weapon. He hadn't noticed me.

Crouching, I fumbled over the ground, grabbed a couple of rocks, and crept closer. In the dark, I heard scuffling behind me. Vraj must have been doing the same.

The nearly full moon had just cleared the eastern rim of the gravel pit. By its white light, we saw the Gnairt slam on a pair of earphones and
drop into the gun's swivel seat. Unfortunately, he swiveled my way.

For a moment we just stared at each other. Then, with an evil grin on his bloated face, he drew a smaller gun and aimed at me.

I threw one rock and dove aside. An energy bolt sizzled through the air, grazing my hand with incredible pain. Gasping, I stuck that hand into my pocket and threw my last rock with the other hand. Then I sank, groaning, to the cold bare ground. There was nowhere to run and nothing to fight with. All I could do was play dead.

With the pain I was in, it didn't seem much like play. I just lay there in the moonlight, but the Gnairt seemed to have lost interest in me. My throbbing hand, cocooned in my pocket, felt something sharp and hot. The alien can opener. Great. But it hadn't been hot before. I glanced down. My whole pocket glowed.

Wincing, I pulled the thing out. One knob glowed pink. Had the blast from the Gnairt's gun triggered the change? What was this thing, really? Could it be a weapon?

I looked around. Hopefully Vraj was safe somewhere, but she wasn't near enough to give advice. The Gnairt had gone back to his cannon.

Overhead hovered the clustered blue lights of a Galactic Patrol ship. It had probably already received the Gnairt's demands: either let them and the rich slug go free, or they'd blow up a camp of native young—my friends, my people, even if they weren't my species.

Gingerly, I clutched the thing I'd pulled from my pocket. If this was really some sort of weapon, now was the time to use it. Shifting as little as possible, I slipped the gizmo to my good hand and aimed it toward the cannon. The pink knob was glowing brighter now. Ready to fire—or open a can.

Pulling myself up to a crouch, I pressed the knob. Nothing happened. Then I spun the thing around and pressed a silver knob. Still nothing. No, wait. The pink was getting brighter and shifting to purple. This gadget had to be a weapon. It had to work!

As I jabbed the knob again and again, the purple glow deepened and spread up my hand, my arm. Was this thing going to self-destruct? No! I had to destroy that cannon. I couldn't let them blast the camp. I couldn't let my and Vraj's mission fail so completely!

I seemed to be entirely purple now, glowing like a neon sign. The Gnairt at the gun turned and stared. Frightened and furious, I screamed like a karate guy. Purple energy shot out of my hand and through the air like a laser. It slammed into the mounted cannon.

The explosion was deafening. Its force blew me to the ground. I lay there, watching the most incredible fireworks. Then they and everything else faded to black.

Major motion sickness. Worse than a roller coaster. Worse than a fast car on curvy roads.

My head hurt, my stomach sloshed, and I was bouncing up and down. Slowly I opened my eyes. Everything was bouncing. Shadow, moonlight, trees. My arms were stretched over my head and hurting, like someone was gripping them. Someone with claws.

I snapped another notch awake. That “someone” was carrying me like a sack on her back. “Vraj!”

“About time you woke up. Support your weight! Grip my sides with your knees and grab my shoulders.”

I tried. It was harder than horseback riding.

“Where are we going?”

“To your camp, out of harm's way.”

“But the camp's going to be blown up!”

“Not now. You blew up their weapon, remember? Quite a show.”

“Oh. Yeah.” Things were falling into place. “So what's the danger now?”

“The Gnairt and Patrol ships are firing at each other, and we're in the middle. Now shut up. I need my breath for running with a heavy weight.”

I'd rather have walked—if my wobbly legs could have held me. Anyway, the sizzling explosions behind us made speed seem like a good idea.

“Off!” Vraj ordered when we'd finally reached the main camp building. Gratefully I slipped off, but I almost collapsed and had to grab a log pillar for support. Slowly my legs began doing their job again. I turned to thank Vraj, but she was gone.

So was everybody else. Then I remembered
it was after dinner now, and they must be at the session's last campfire. I stumbled toward the fire circle.

At the crest of the hill, I gasped. The sky over the lake was lit up like the Fourth of July. Crisscrossing beams of light, red and blue, were highlighted with brilliant white bursts. The kids below me squealed and pointed excitedly.

Then came a massive explosion. Sky and earth shook with noise, and light blossomed over the lake like a fierce red flower. Chunks of flame and a curtain of sparks dropped to the water below. The remaining cluster of blue lights skimmed over the distant trees and disappeared.

Everyone cheered and clapped. “Best fireworks ever!” somebody yelled. “What a way to end camp!”

As I stumbled through the crowd, someone tugged my jacket. “Wasn't that show just wonderful?” Melanie cooed. “I hope you didn't miss it, sulking at the nurse's with a stupid headache.”

Beside her, Scott grinned. “Nah, Zack knew all about it, I bet. His special effects stars started the show. That headache was just an excuse so he could help set it up. Great job, Zack!” He slapped me on the back, nearly toppling me over.

As those two swept off, there was Opal looking up at me, eyes wide and worried in her plump face. “What was that bit with the stars?”

“What bit?”

Her eyes widened further. “You really missed it? Just as the fireworks began, a swarm of those orange stars swept in from over the lake. They dove right into the campfire and completely burned up. The fire flared up in a big shower of sparks. Then there was a huge explosion across the lake, and the fireworks in the sky got bigger.”

She grabbed my arm. “I've figured it out, though. Those stars weren't special effects. They were real—just like the dinosaur. They hatched out of those eggs, and then flew off somewhere and evolved into baby dinosaurs.
I bet what flew back and got burned up were really just empty shells. The babies are still out there, I bet. They're all right, aren't they?

Her eyes pleaded with me, wanting to believe this crazy explanation. I wanted to believe it too. But I didn't.

“Sure, you've figured it out,” I said forcing a smile. “You'll make a great scientist.”

Relief seemed to shower over her. “Will I get to see our dinosaur again?”

I shook my head. Some part of my brain still seemed able to churn out stories. “No, she's going back into hiding. But she sends her thanks. And you'll keep all this secret, right?”

“Totally! But when I'm a grown-up scientist, maybe I'll get to work with them.”

“Maybe,” I muttered as Opal skipped off to join her friends. And maybe when the Galactic Union decides Earth is ready to join them, everyone will accept aliens the way this kid accepted an “evolved dinosaur.” I guess helping that happen is part of my job.

But the other part! My heart ached as I looked down at the smoldering campfire. The Duthwi must have felt that burning themselves up like moths was better than falling to greedy hunters. But it shouldn't have ended like that.

No one would call me Mama ever again.

I returned to the cabin in an exhausted daze, and nothing, not even my aching hand or my jabbering cabinmates, kept me awake.

The next morning we were to get on our buses right after breakfast. But as I halfheartedly speared my last canned peach, Muskrat, our counselor, came up to me.

“Don't get on the bus, Zack. We just got a call from your mother that your aunt is picking you up later.”

That snapped me awake. My aunt? She wouldn't … Oh, my
Aunt Sorn
. She could probably imitate my mom if she needed to.

Then came the hauling of luggage and the tearful farewells. I'd actually miss some of those kids. Even Scott and Melanie had kind
of grown on me. Opal gave me the secret dinosaur-claw sign before clambering onto the bus with her new friends. She wasn't the same Bashful the Dwarf who'd come here just a few days ago.

Finally, the last bus rumbled off in a smelly, dusty cloud. The camp was suddenly empty and quiet. While the remaining counselors bustled about, I sat at a dining-hall table, feeling alone and tired. My hand ached only a little. Not enough to keep me from resting my head on the table and almost drifting to sleep.

BOOK: Camp Alien
12.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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