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Authors: Pamela F. Service

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BOOK: Camp Alien
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The summer wasn't even half through, and I thought it couldn't possibly get any weirder. How wrong could I be?

I'd begun the summer by learning that I, Zackary Gaither, wasn't even human. I'm really an alien agent, planted on Earth to carry out a big-time mission. It seems that there's something called the Galactic Union. It's an organization of planets, like a
really big
United Nations. Earth isn't part of the Union yet. I was placed here to grow up “human” and learn the planet's ways. Eventually, I'm to act as a go-between when the Galactic Union contacts Earth and offers to let the planet join. Sort of like an interplanetary ambassador.

This whole thing was news to me. I first found out about it when a couple of creepy alien guys tried to wipe me out. They were enemies of the Union, and they didn't want Earth joining up. So I had to be told about my mission way earlier than the Union planned. Talk about mind-blowing!

I was numb for a few weeks after learning it all, but it's odd how quickly you can get used to things. My family and friends still think I am human. My parents have always thought they'd adopted a regular human kid. And frankly, being a human kid was all I'd ever known. So after a while, I stopped feeling weird about it and slipped back into my ordinary summer life. I did a week of theater class at the Arts Center and started looking forward to a session of horseback riding at Camp Trailblazer.

That's when things started getting weird again.

A few days before I was scheduled to go to camp, I came back from an afternoon playing video games with my friend Ken.
I headed directly for the kitchen, but before I even placed a hand on the refrigerator, my mom came in from the dining room and waved a letter in front of me—a letter on Camp Trailblazer stationery.

“Change of plans, Zack. It seems that they signed up too many campers and are now randomly assigning some to other camps.”

“Meaning me?” I asked, sinking into a kitchen chair. It wasn't just the riding I'd been looking forward to. Ken and some of my other friends were going to Camp Trailblazer too.

“Yes, but it looks like the camp they chose for you is a great substitute. Camp Takhamasak is a lot more expensive than we could usually afford, but they're making up the difference. And it's way off in the mountains.”

She handed me a brochure. Dully I looked at it. Mountains, trees, a lake, and no horses. Probably the biggest animals around would be mosquitoes. The camp had three units with majorly geeky names—Arts Angels, Nature Nuts, and Sports Sprites. I'd been signed
up for Nature Nuts. Nice of them to give me a choice.

That evening my folks could see I was in a major funk, so they took me along with them to the county fair. Lots of fun if you like looking at pigs and visiting booths about fertilizer and tractor companies. I don't.

Mom and Dad had a shift volunteering at the Humane Society booth, so I just wandered. I consoled myself by guzzling greasy funnel cakes, pork barbecue, and root beer while I drifted through the various boring exhibit buildings.

Turning a corner in one, I almost collided with Melanie Steeples and a gaggle of her giggling friends. Melanie had played the part of Snow White in the production we did at the end of my summer theater class. She would have been better cast as the Wicked Queen. She
was
the queen of annoying, self-centered airheads. I'd played the Woodsman and had often been tempted to finish her off early with my ax.

“Look, it's the Woodsman,” she exclaimed, setting off a round of giggles. “Sorry, I can't remember your real name.”

“Zack,” I growled.

“Right, Zack.” Dramatically Melanie pointed at a bulletin board, jangling a wrist-full of bangles. “Come look at these pictures of the Fair Queen Candidates and tell us your choice.”

Dutifully I looked at the ten photographs of beaming girls, most of whom looked like older clones of Melanie—bouncy blond hair, fake smiles, heavy makeup. I deliberately pointed to the least attractive of them.

“You're hopeless!” More giggles from Melanie's fan club. “When I'm old enough, I'm
definitely
going to be Fair Queen. It's an important career step.”

At theater class, we'd heard endlessly about her career plan which, through various unlikely moves, ended with her as a big Hollywood star.

As she and her friends went back to jabbering, I glowered at the queen candidates. They
might all have career plans as unrealistic as Melanie's, but at least they had some choices. I apparently had no more choice in careers than I had in summer camps. What do you want to be when you grow up, Zack? An alien agent? Right.

Now totally ignored by Melanie's gang, I slipped away from the exhibit buildings and drifted toward the amusement park. I figured the carnival music, swirling lights, and smell of cotton candy ought to cheer me up. They didn't much, but I had enough money for maybe one ride. After my greasy meal, my stomach didn't feel up to anything fast. But the Ferris wheel was really tall, and I remembered you could get a great view from the top.

As I got in line, Melanie and her gang giggled past me, loudly saying something about skipping the “baby rides.” Well, at least I had enough choices left in life to choose a cool view rather than throwing up.

When I reached the head of the line, I would
have been willing to share a car, but the smoochy couple ahead of me didn't look like they wanted company. The fat lady and kid behind me wouldn't have had room, so I got into the swinging seat by myself. The attendant was just lowering the bar when a white-haired woman bustled up and cried, “Zack, dear! What a wonderful chance to talk with my favorite nephew. We'll share!”

I was too startled to object. She sat beside me, the bar clanked down, and we jerked forward and off the ground. I stared at my companion. I do have a pushy aunt. But this wasn't her. This was Sorn, the white-haired alien lady who'd helped save me from the creepy aliens a couple months ago.

“Sorry to butt in, Zack, but I need to talk with you alone. An unexpected crisis has come up on this planet, and the Galactic Union simply doesn't have enough operatives around to handle it. Even though you're not trained yet, you're our only agent on Earth. I'm afraid we'll have to call on you for help.”

My stomach felt like I'd gone on one of those really fast rides after all.

“What kind of crisis?” I managed to say.

“The Gnairt again.” I felt even sicker, remembering the fat, bald, human-looking guys who had tried to kill me. They'd found out I was the planted Galactic Union agent and didn't want me to mess up their own plans for the planet. “Not the same ones, of course,” she said quickly. “We dealt with them. These are Duthwi-egg smugglers. And they could cause a planetwide disaster.”

I stared at her. White hair or not, nothing about Sorn looked soft and grandmotherly. “Egg smuggling? Doesn't sound too disastrous to me.”

She fixed me with her very intense, almost purple gaze. “These Gnairt were smuggling a valuable shipload of Duthwi eggs across this sector when a Galactic Patrol ship gave chase. They ducked into your solar system, dumping their cargo on Earth so they wouldn't be caught with the evidence.”

“So, what's the problem. The smugglers got away?”

“For the time being. But the real problem is that we can't have Duthwi eggs hatching on Earth. Not only could they create an environmental disaster, but they look very alien and that could freak your natives out. We don't want that kind of negative attitude toward aliens a few years before the Galactic Union establishes contact with Earth.”

“So why don't you just go and pick up these eggs?”

“We would if we had the manpower. But I need to be elsewhere, and we've only been able to assign one Galactic Patrol Cadet to the job. She'll need someone familiar with native culture to help her.”

I glanced away, realizing vaguely that the Ferris wheel had already gone around once without me noticing the view. “But this is crazy! Kids on Earth can't just take off on secret missions without adults asking questions and probably saying no.”

“We've taken care of that. You'll be leaving shortly for a site near where we believe the Duthwi eggs were dumped, somewhere just east of Lake Takhamasak. Our Cadet will meet you there with further details.”

Suddenly I felt like I'd been dumped out of the Ferris wheel. “Wait a minute!
You
had me turned down by Camp Trailblazer and sent to Camp Takhamasak instead!”

“Rather clever, I thought, for such short notice.”

“But it's not fair! I didn't choose to … ”

She fixed me again with those amethyst eyes. “Zack, few of us of whatever species have complete free choice over our lives. You can choose not to help, if you want, but I imagine that after living on this planet all your life, you might care enough about it to choose saving it from harm.”

I swallowed like I was fighting motion sickness. She had me there. Maybe I
was
an alien, but I didn't feel like one. Earth was my home, and if I could keep some nasty aliens from messing it up, I guess I had to try.

“Right,” I muttered. “So how do I recognize this Galactic Patrol Cadet, and what do Duthwi eggs look like anyway, and what do I do with them if I find them?”

She smiled. “Our Cadet will explain everything. Her name is Itl Vraj Boynyo Tg. I'd help if I could, but tomorrow I'm supposed to be light-years from here. I have faith in you though, Zack. I wish things hadn't started for you so early. We really had hoped to give you more time just to grow up. But this is your job. You'll be good at it.”

With a swing and a bump, our chair reached the bottom and stopped. The bar lifted, and I stepped off, dazed. Sorn patted my arm and disappeared into the crowd.

I blinked. I'd gone on an entire Ferris wheel ride and hadn't seen a thing. But just the same, my world had been turned totally upside down.

I didn't have long to get used to this secret mission thing. James Bond from outer space. None of it seemed like
me.
But two days later, I was standing in front of the school where a bus would be picking up kids for Camp Takhamasak.

Those two days, though, had been long enough for me to decide that if I was going to give up an ordinary summer for this crazy job, I might as well do it right. I'd look for their stupid lost eggs and hope that after that these Galactic Union people or whatever would leave me alone for a few years.

And hey, I told myself as I hauled my bulging pack from my mom's car, how hard could
this be? I'd had years of experience looking for Easter eggs. Around our house, the Easter Bunny, otherwise known as my dad, was fiendishly clever at hiding them. Besides, there'd be this alien Cadet with the unpronounceable name to help.

So who was this person? “She,” Sorn had said. I looked around at the other kids gathered at the curb. Some had parents hovering embarrassingly around, but most, like my Mom, were waiting properly in their cars. I didn't recognize most of the kids, but at the end of the crowd, dribbling a basketball, was Scott Turner, that jock jerk from my school. True to form, he had swarms of girls hanging around him. I groaned. One of them was Melanie the airhead. Well,
she
certainly wouldn't be the Galactic Cadet in disguise.

I felt a tug on my jacket. “Hello, Woodsman. Remember me?” I looked down at a girl a couple years younger than me, short and plump with stringy brown hair and very wide eyes. “I'm Bashful.”

I remembered, and she certainly was—having been typecast as Bashful the Dwarf in our Snow White play. Why any parents would send someone that shy to an acting class, I couldn't imagine. Whenever she got up in front of people, her words totally dried up. Now, though, she was chattering nervously. “My real name's Opal, and I remember that you're Zack. I didn't really want to go to this camp. I get awfully homesick, but here I am. You're the only person I know here except for Snow White over there. I bet you're signed up for the Arts Angels unit. You're such a good actor.”

BOOK: Camp Alien
7.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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