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Authors: Pamela F. Service

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BOOK: Camp Alien
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“Actually, I'm in Nature Nuts,” I managed to slip in.

Her eyes practically shone. “So am I!”

Just then a big yellow bus rumbled up. In the jostling crowd, I tried to edge away from my young admirer. It didn't work. I'd no sooner found a seat than Opal plunked down beside me. After tearfully waving to someone outside the window, she began to chatter about her hamster and her seashell collection. I grunted
a few times in reply and sank into my own thoughts.

Not generally pleasant thoughts.

These Galactic Union aliens really couldn't have much of a clue about Earth. They seemed to think that sending me somewhere near those eggs would be enough. But at a summer camp for human kids, you can't just wander off looking for things whenever you want. There are schedules, and adults are watching you. If you do something really dumb, they call your parents and send you home. I guess that's one reason they needed me. I'd certainly have some major briefing to do for their secret agent.

But first I'd have to find her. I scanned the girls on the bus, and then with a start I looked down at Opal. She was going on about her science experiments in school.

“Do you know anything about Duthwi eggs?” I asked innocently.

The blank look she gave was either real or better acting than she'd done during the whole
theater class. “No, but I used duck eggs in one experiment.” As she chattered on about that, I realized that the alien Cadet probably wasn't a camper but might be a counselor. So I gave up searching and just stared out the window, watching the trees change from the round lollipop types that little kids like to draw to ones more like Christmas trees without lights. And then I dozed.

Hours later, the bus left the highway for a dirt road that jolted upward through miles of dark woods. The trees were crammed close together, and the dim space under them was filled with bushes and fallen logs. How could anyone find eggs scattered through country like this?

Finally we rumbled up to some wooden buildings, and I peered through the bus's dusty window at the people waiting for us. No one was acting like “It's me, I'm the alien.” Maybe I should be carrying a sign like people do when they are meeting someone they don't know at an airport. “Secret Alien Agent” or something.

Once off the bus, we were all trooped to the smelly latrines, then to a big meeting with all the campers. Everyone sat on their luggage in a big open space around a tall flagpole. The counselors told us the camp rules and schedule and gave out cabin assignments. I was sure glad Opal was a girl and would finally have to let go of me. But she didn't seem too happy when she learned who her cabinmates were—Melanie and blond twins, Bessy and Jessy, who looked and acted like cheerleaders. I couldn't really blame her.

My own assignment wasn't great. A couple of brothers from another school, Ramon and Carlos, seemed OK. But then there was Scott, the All-American Sports Hero. Oh well, I reminded myself, I wasn't here to have a good time but to do a job.

Like all the others, our cabin was a rustic log box that looked like Abe Lincoln could have lived there. At least I managed to snag a top bunk. The brothers fought over who got the other top bunk, but Scott in his usual take-charge way
settled the matter by grabbing it himself. And the brothers seemed to love him for it. They suffered from major hero-worship. Good thing all three of my cabinmates were in Sports Sprites so I wouldn't have to deal with them much.

The only furniture besides the beds were four small cupboards for storing our stuff. We'd just started unpacking when the lunch gong sounded. Before joining the flow to the dining hall, I headed up the pinecone-lined path to the nearest latrine. It was dark inside the little wooden building and eye-wateringly smelly. Trying to hold my breath, I stepped in. I'd no sooner shut the door than I heard a scratching on the walls—the outside of the walls, fortunately, but it became louder. Bears? Could bears break through wooden planks?

Then came a harsh whisper. “Follow the path up the hill and meet me at the lone tree.”

I let out my breath. Not bears. The Cadet.

“When?” I asked.

“Whenever you can break away from the group.”

As soon as I'd finished in the latrine, I ran behind the building but couldn't see anything. At least I'd made contact. I would try to slip away after lunch.

The dining hall was a big open-sided shed, like a huge picnic shelter with heavy log pillars holding up the roof. Long tables and benches were lined up on a concrete slab. After filing through the serving line, we sat down to eat tomato soup and greasy grilled cheese sandwiches. Then the counselors had us play get-acquainted games and sing songs.

My mind wasn't on any of it. I kept looking around at the counselors, the cooks, and even the janitors, wondering who the alien was. A female with a harsh voice was all I knew.

After lunch, I saw Opal outside the dining hall, shyly standing alone. Before I could slip away, she latched onto me and began complaining about her cabinmates. “All they do is talk about cheerleading and becoming movie stars or dancers. I'm a klutz at all that.
They don't talk about animals or rocks or anything outdoorsy. I wish you were a girl so I could be your cabinmate.”

I silently thanked heaven that I wasn't, said something dippy about how she'd probably get to like them once she knew them better, then slipped off in the direction of the boys' cabins. What I'd just told her was probably good advice that I should try to apply to myself and my own cabinmates. But frankly, making friends wasn't what I needed to be focusing on now. I had an assignment to get through.

Once most people had returned to their cabins for what was billed as “rest time,” I strolled instead toward the latrine, then passed by its stinky island, and continued up the hill. After a while, a faint path left the trees and continued through a stretch of dry grass to an ancient, gnarled pine tree. There was no one around. I sat at the base of the tree, wishing I could remember the Cadet's name so I could call her.

The sun was warm. Leaning against the rough trunk, I looked sleepily around at the rocks poking through the thin soil. On one, a lizard sat sunning himself, unmoving except for the tiny rise and fall of his jeweled sides. Insects whirred and birds chirped.

With a start I opened my eyes, realizing I'd fallen asleep. It couldn't have been for long. The lizard was still there.

I gasped. No way was that the same lizard! It was bigger, much bigger. I jumped up and stared. It looked like something from a dinosaur movie. A velociraptor!

It was six feet away, and I was staring right into its eyes. Yellow, beady eyes.

“Zackary Gaither,” it hissed. “Galactic Agents do not sleep on duty!”

I stared at the Hollywood horror in front of me. My legs tensed, but I forced myself to stay. This was my partner!

Swallowing, I croaked, “Fine, but I'm just the local help. You're … what was your name again?”

“Itl Vraj Boynyo Tg.” The creature's toothy mouth twitched in an unmistakable sneer. “Obviously that's beyond you. Use Vraj.”

“Right. I'm Zack.” I tried not to stare at those teeth and claws. I knew I shouldn't be surprised that some aliens would look … really
. It's just that most of those I'd met
before, including me, looked human. No wonder this one needed some help. She certainly couldn't pass as a native.

“So what do we do now?” I said, trying to sound like I talked to velociraptor look-alikes every day.

“What I've been doing for two days—looking for Duthwi eggs. And I could finish this job by myself if it weren't for the time factor.”

“The time factor?”

With a gargling growl, she flung up her short arms. “Put in this translator. Speaking your language hurts worse than having teeth pulled.”

She reached into a shoulder bag and held up a little black thing that looked like a metal spider. Then she jammed it into my ear. I stumbled back against the tree. Talk about pain! It felt like someone had attacked my ear with a heavy-duty staple gun. But before I could scream, the pain had dropped to a low throb. Hesitantly, I poked a finger into my ear. I couldn't feel any bump. Had the thing gone right inside?

She was talking again. “The more light that Duthwi eggs are exposed to, the sooner they hatch.” Now I could hear growly sounds underlying echoey English. I tried to concentrate on the words instead of my sore ear.

“But we don't know when this batch was laid,” she said, “so we don't know how long we have.”

“Where do we look?” I asked and was suddenly unsure what language I'd said that in. My throat hurt like I'd swallowed a cactus. Was I actually speaking her language? Cool. This gizmo in my ear could be a big help in my Spanish class.

In any case, she'd clearly understood me. “The smugglers dumped them in a rocky ravine on the other side of this hill.” She jabbed a clawed finger toward the north. At least that sounded close.

“So they should be pretty easy to collect,” I suggested. She snorted, and I half expected to see smoke billow from her nostrils. “You haven't seen a Duthwi egg, have you?”

She reached into a large bag and thrust something round into my hand. It was shaped like a large potato with a rough, gray-brown surface. Basically it looked like a rock, but it felt a lot lighter than a rock that size should feel.

“What's worse,” she said, “is that no two are exactly alike. I have a device that detects them, but it only works when I'm already close. In two days, I've only found seven.”

“How many were there to start with?”

“One hundred.”

Ninety-three rocklike things to find in a ravine full of rocks. I groaned. “What's so special about these things that anyone would bother smuggling them anyway?”

Her sneer exposed an alarming number of teeth. I hoped Cadets weren't allowed to eat their partners. “You certainly are ignorant. Duthwi are among the most prized hunting prey in the galaxy. They are fast and challenging to hit. And they are absolutely delicious to eat.”

She grinned. Don't look at her teeth, I told myself. Look at her … skin. A pebbly, yellow-green, it looked slick and hard as china—not that anyone would want a china figurine anything like Vraj.

Snatching the egg back, she continued. “They're an endangered species because so many other species hunt them. Those Gnairt were taking them to an illegal hunting reserve somewhere in this sector. Once we round up the eggs, the Patrol will send a ship to return them to their home world. They're too dangerous to leave here.”

How dangerous? I added that to the list of questions I didn't have time to ask. I needed to get back. “OK, I'll help you tonight. It's hard for me to get away during the day, and you shouldn't risk being out in the daylight in case anyone sees you.”

She growled. “Yes. A young native saw me yesterday and made an unimaginable fuss.”

imagine. Good thing kids from that last session had already left. Luckily, no one
would believe a kid saying they'd seen a dinosaur anyway. “I'll meet you by this tree once everyone's asleep.”

“Don't dawdle. Your schedule is slowing my mission enough.”

What a charmer
, I thought as I headed back to the cabin. Was this one a particular jerk, or was her whole species like her? I sighed. At the rate Vraj had been collecting eggs, it would take every night this session to find them all. Lots of sleep was obviously not in my future.

As I trudged past the outhouse, something leapt at me. I stifled a yelp. “Opal! What are you doing here?”

“And what are you doing chatting with monsters? What
that thing?”

Trouble. I'd been warned that one of my main duties was to keep the existence of aliens an absolute secret. I had to think fast.

“What do you think it was?”

“Well, it
like a dinosaur, but I'm not that stupid.”

BOOK: Camp Alien
11.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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