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Authors: Pamela F. Service

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BOOK: Camp Alien
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Someone sat down across from me. I jerked myself upright.

A handsome, white-haired lady smiled at me, my so-called Aunt Sorn. “Feeling all right? Ready to go?”

I nodded. “Just tired.”

“I should think so after what our Cadet told me. That was a good job you did last night.”

“Yeah, but it would have been better if the Duthwi hadn't all been shot or burned up.”

“Come on.” She stood up and walked
purposefully away from the dining hall. I sighed and followed.

Instead of the parking lot, we headed toward the campfire area. In the bright morning light, it felt cold and deserted. No—down by the fire circle, something was moving, digging like a dog, sending up plumes of ash. Vraj.

I hurried to her between rows of log seats. Scrabbling among ashes and charred wood, she was pulling out what looked like lumpy potatoes. Duthwi eggs.

I stared, confused. “But how?”

Sorn came up behind me. “Duthwi are attracted to heat and light. That must be how the Gnairt lured them into their trap.”

I suddenly remembered what I'd taken to be northern lights across the lake. What a dummy! The lake was west, not north. I frowned. “But Duthwi are smart. Light is one thing, but why would they fly right into a fire?”

“Defense,” Sorn answered. “When Duthwi are frightened, as they surely were by the Flaaa hunter last night, they try to escape. The most
secure thing they can think of is being eggs again, and a really hot fire can turn a young Duthwi back into an egg. They saw this campfire and headed for it.”

“Oh.” I looked down at Vraj. “Why didn't you tell me Duthwi could do that?”

She snorted. “Hey, I'm new at this. I didn't know till she told me this morning. Now help me dig these things out.”

The three of us raked through the ashes, pulling out sooty eggs and putting them in a shimmering metallic sack. I hoped that Starry was one of them and not one that the disgusting Flaaa had shot down.

As I put one more egg into the sack, the word “Mama” echoed with a familiar tingle in my mind. Smiling with relief, I held the egg in both hands.

“It's OK,” I whispered to it. “You're going to a nicer place. Mama says so.” I didn't know what the Duthwi home world was like, but I hoped it was wall-to-wall with fast-growing trees.

Sorn stood up, brushing herself off. “That's the lot. Now, Cadet, let's get them to your ship, and you can complete your mission by taking them home.”

I offered to help, but Vraj stubbornly threw the sack over her shoulder like she'd done with me.

“You're strong,” I said, “for an overgrown lizard.”

She swatted me with her tail. A good-natured slap, I think.

Vraj's little ship was hidden among rocks and fallen branches on the hillside with the lone pine. From there, we could just see the roofs of the camp and glints of Lake Takhamasak beyond. Not a bad summer camp, even if it didn't have horses.

When we'd stowed the eggs, Vraj bowed formally and saluted her superior officer.

Sorn saluted in return. “Mission well done, Cadet Itl Vraj Boynyo Tg. You'll go far in the Galactic Patrol Corps.”

Vraj nodded crisply, then turned to me. Her
usual yellow-green suddenly flickered to emerald. Was that a blush? “I couldn't have done it without help from this agent.” Her beady yellow eyes looked into mine. “You'll go far too, Agent Zackary Gaither. Maybe we'll work together again.”

Quickly she reached into her ship, pulled out something, and thrust it at me. “Here. You're quite hopeless at making your own.” It was the beautiful little basket she'd made at Nature Nuts.

With that, she scuttled into her ship and slammed the hatch. The silver sphere rose silently into the air, the last dust and pine needles sifting from it. Then, in a barely visible streak, it shot into the blue morning sky.

After moments watching it, Sorn said, “Well, Zack, guess it's time you went home too.”

I nodded, fumbling secretly in my pocket for a tissue. I found something else.

“Oh. Maybe I should give this to you.” I pulled out the silvery Gnairt gizmo. “What is it anyway? I took it from their tent thinking
it was just something like a can opener. But I guess it's really some kind of weapon.”

Sorn took it, looked it over, then tossed it back to me. “It's a can opener.”

“But it … ”

“It didn't do anything.
You
did. It has a little power cell meant for opening cans. You took that power, expanded it, channeled it, and used it as a weapon.”

I felt cold and a little sick. “Like what happened before. You know, it's really scary being able to do that sort of thing but not knowing how. You keep saying I'm not ready for training yet, but could I maybe get a few pointers?”

She chuckled. “Maybe you should. The way things have been going on this planet, we may need a
trained
agent here earlier than we thought. We'll talk about it on the drive back. Though my hope is that for the next few years you'll get to live a perfectly normal human kid's life.”

I followed her to the parking lot, not certain anymore that I totally shared that hope. Sure,
discovering I was an alien agent with a weird alien mission had totally messed up my life.

But I had to admit it had been a pretty interesting summer.

The summer was starting to look like a real bust. Until Alien Agent Sorn showed up, that is. After a slightly awkward handshake, we walked to the burger place near school. She said it was her treat, so I splurged on a root beer float and large fries.

“I really wish we didn't have to keep calling on you before you're older and fully trained,” said Agent Sorn. “But something critical has come up on this planet. This new assignment should be easy, though. You probably won't have to do a thing besides enjoy a foreign vacation and be on hand just in case our other agent needs a bit of help.”

“Sounds good,” I said, dumping ketchup on my fries. “So where's this vacation?”

“Mongolia.”

My hand jerked so much I sloshed ketchup on the white Formica tabletop. She might as well have said Mars or Alpha Centauri or something. “You mean, like over by China?” I said, as I hastily wiped up the ketchup with a wad of paper napkins.

“It is rather remote from your point of view, I suppose. We've arranged for your parents to be invited to join an American expedition to the Gobi Desert this summer. And of course you'll go along. It's a real scientific expedition doing an archaeological survey.

But it seems there's going to be another expedition there as well, unknown to anyone on this planet. It's from the Tirgizian Academy of Sciences. We tried to persuade them to hold off with their trip until the Galactic Union was ready to officially make contact with Earth. Unfortunately, they are not a patient people. And they have friends in high places, so their expedition is going ahead. They have sworn to keep their presence absolutely secret from the natives, but we thought it best to place an agent there to monitor things. And, as a backup to her, we need another agent who can work with humans in case anything goes wrong. That would be you.”

“And your other agent can't work with humans?”

Agent Sorn smiled. “Well, she had a little trouble last year, I believe.”

“Vraj? Yeah, I'd say looking like a vicious dinosaur does make it kind of tough getting along with people. How come you chose her?”

“She's Tirgizian herself. And she can handle whatever contact is needed between them and the Earth-based agent—you. At least I'm finally giving you an assignment where practically nothing can go wrong.”

You'd think that I'd have learned by now not to buy that kind of line.

Pamela F. Service is the author of all the books in the Alien Agent series. She has written more than 20 books in the science fiction, fantasy, and nonfiction genres. After working as a history museum curator for many years in Indiana, she became the director of a museum in Eureka, California, where she lives with her husband and cats. She is also active in community theater, politics, and beach combing.

BOOK: Camp Alien
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