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Authors: Pamela F. Service

Camp Alien (4 page)

BOOK: Camp Alien
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“Oh, but it
is
a dinosaur.” I looked around
theatrically. “This is a really big secret. You can't tell anyone.”

Her eyes were enormous. “I promise. A real dinosaur? But how… ”

“My dad's a scientist. He learned that not all dinosaurs became extinct. Some evolved into intelligent creatures, but they hide from humans so that we don't put them in zoos. This one needs our help, that's all.”

“Cool! Can I help too?”

I tried not to groan. A lot of good it would do to say no. She'd just tag along anyway. “OK. I'll meet you here after lights-out.
If
we think we can trust you, you can help.”

“Oh yes, you can trust me!”

I looked her in the eye. “I hope so, because even evolved dinosaurs aren't always friendly—especially ones with big teeth.”

Opal went pale as a marshmallow but quavered, “Got it. Absolute secret.”

“Good. Now let's get back before we're both in trouble.”

I caught some trouble anyway when I entered
my cabin. “Didn't you hear the rules?” Scott snapped. “At rest time we're supposed to be in our cabins.”

“Well, I am
now
,” I said, climbing to my bunk. “I had to cheer up a younger camper who was majorly homesick.” The other three made snide comments but went back to reading their sports magazines. I laid on my bunk, worrying about a supposedly simple assignment that had turned out to be full of camouflaged eggs, an alien dinosaur, and a really inconvenient witness. Finally, a gong called us all to our units.

Nature Nuts House was a small log building next to an open-sided shelter like a smaller version of the dining hall. A half-dozen tables and benches filled the open space. I sat at one randomly then glanced up to see Opal sliding onto the bench across from me, looking like she would burst with our secret. She'd never make a spy.

Muskrat, the chief Nature Nuts counselor, began talking about the wonders of nature we'd
discover: animals, trees, insects, birds, wild-flowers, and weather. And we'd all do an individual project.

I wasn't paying much attention until Opal leaned forward and whispered loudly, “I'll do my project on dinosaurs!”

“A lovely idea,” Muskrat said, overhearing, “but let's confine our projects to parts of nature we can actually see.”

At that Opal giggled and kicked me under the table. I glowered menacingly at her, wishing I had Vraj's teeth to back it up.

The afternoon was spent in a meadow south of camp looking at wildflowers. Thrilling, I'm sure, but I kept my eyes open for Duthwi eggs. All of the rocks I picked up were heavy like real rocks. Muskrat noticed my rock fixation.

“Maybe you'd like your special project to be about rocks, Zack,” she said brightly.

I nodded glumly. I had enough special projects already.

The rest of the day went by in a blur. More
nature stuff, dinner, a campfire with songs and marshmallows. Mostly my mind was on how to make my non-extinct dinosaur story more convincing for Opal while not ticking off Vraj that I'd involved a clueless native.

Back in our cabin, Ramon, Carlos, and Scott all started chattering about the endurance course they were going to run. I slipped under my covers, hoping nobody noticed I was fully dressed, and pretended to fall asleep. Eventually the others did for real, and I lay there thinking about how to get down from my bunk without shaking the creaky bed and waking someone up.

I could always say I had to go to the latrine, but if I did that every night they might get suspicious. But suspicious of what? That I was a recovering bed wetter? That I was really a vampire who slipped out at night to suck blood? No, a vampire could just turn into a bat and fly off without creaking anything. OK, so not a vampire. An alien.

I smiled a little at that. There
were
those
alien powers I'd discovered earlier. Since then I'd tried not to think about them, because they freaked me out. Actually the climbing hadn't been too scary, but what freaked me out was that it
didn't
scare me. It came perfectly naturally. Not for the first time, I wondered what my real species was like. I shrugged the thought away. Basically I was human—with just a few odd additions.

Quietly, I slipped to the foot of my bunk where it butted against a wall. Trying to keep my mind blank, I grabbed the rough logs and scrambled down like Lizardman.

I left the cabin with everyone still asleep, then hurried toward the latrine. Smell hung around the place like a cloud, but Opal wasn't there yet. I hoped maybe she'd forgotten, but soon I heard her crunching up the path. Definitely not spy material.

She jumped when I stepped out of the shadows, but she recovered quickly and said, “OK, Zack, tell me what your friend needs help with.”

I had my story ready. “Like I said, these evolved dinosaurs stay away from humans, except for people they trust, like my dad and me. This one was in charge of moving a nursery of dinosaur eggs away from where people were building new houses. But there was an accident, and the eggs spilled over a mountainside near here. So my friend needs help collecting them.

“Wow!” Opal was silent a moment. “You can talk with her?”

I nodded. My ear still hurt from the translator. “Dad taught me their language. I'll have to translate for you.” At least Opal wouldn't be able to hear what that nasty-tempered alien was really saying.

“Come on,” I said as I headed off through the dark and rather spooky forest. Shadows moved jaggedly in the wind, and the only sounds were creaking branches and hissing pine needles. “Maybe she's there already,” I said, trying to hurry Opal along. “Dinosaurs are short tempered. They don't like to be kept waiting.”
The same could be said for grouchy aliens, but I kept that to myself.

But Vraj wasn't there. We were alone on the open hillside except for the big tree, rustling night creatures, and a whole lot of stars overhead.

“Look, there's Andromeda!” Opal said.

My head swiveled around. Not another camper! Then I noticed Opal was pointing into the sky.

“You hardly ever get to see her in a city. Too much light. And there's Pegasus above her, that big square.”

Constellations. Actually, I kind of wished I knew something about them, since I apparently came from out there somewhere. Maybe Opal could …

My thoughts were snapped back to earth by a cracking twig. Vraj bounded up to us, scales glinting in the starlight. Opal shrank back against me.

“What's this?” the alien growled in her language.

“Opal saw you, Vraj,” I said in English, using what I hoped was a calm, soothing voice. “And she wants to help. I explained how you are an
evolved dinosaur
hiding from humans and that you lost a bunch of
dinosaur
eggs and need help finding them.”

Vraj's face crinkled into an expression I was glad I couldn't read. “This infant thinks I'm an extinct primitive reptile?” Her snarl was untranslatable. “Well, what's done is done. But she'd better keep quiet about this.”

“Opal's promised not to say a word,” I said loudly.

“Right,” Opal quavered timidly from behind me. I was glad she was only getting my end of the conversation. “I can keep secrets.”

Vraj growled at me. “She'd better. Remember, neither of us can afford to have this mission fail.”

Though I still didn't know exactly what the danger was, Sorn had made it clear these Duthwi were a threat to Earth. Was Vraj so uptight about the mission because she was a
Cadet trying to prove herself? Maybe this was her first mission. If she was just a kid, I'd hate to meet her parents.

Vraj held out an egg. “All right. This is what we're looking for. Not easy on a rocky hillside in the dark.”

I looked at the egg clutched in her claw. “But it helps that it glows.”

“Glows?” Vraj growled.

Mistake.
I
could see the glow, but apparently Vraj's kind of alien couldn't. I didn't want Opal to catch on that I had special alien powers. “Eh … maybe it's just reflecting starlight.”

“No, it's glowing all right,” Opal chirped. “These should be as easy to find as giant glowworms.”

I relaxed. It seemed that humans and my own species could both see the glow, but Vraj's beady yellow eyes couldn't. The Cadet grunted with annoyance and turned to go uphill. She moved ahead in quick jerky steps, her tail sweeping back and forth. I guess, all told, I was lucky to get this sort of alien for a
partner. Something that looked like a badly animated movie dinosaur was still easier to explain to Opal than some green alien with three heads.

Through the misty starlight, Vraj led us over the crest of a ridge and onto a steep hillside bare of everything but rocks. Zillions of rocks. Glow or not, it wasn't going to be easy to find those eggs. And if we didn't find them soon, two mismatched alien kids—and maybe this whole planet—could be in big trouble.

It was the weirdest egg hunt I'd ever been on. After long hours of scrabbling in the dark, we were tired and cold, and our eyes ached. All we had to show for it were nine more eggs. Nine plus Vraj's seven left eighty-four more eggs to find.

The sky was paling to gray when Opal and I slipped back into our cabins. It seemed like the wake-up gong sounded only seconds after I'd crawled into bed. But by then it was fully light, and everyone was bustling around, excited about the first full day of camp. As for me, I almost fell asleep at breakfast and nearly drowned in my pancake syrup.

After breakfast, I blearily noticed that Melanie had cornered Opal between the dining hall and the nurse's cabin and was apparently making her cry. I told myself to ignore it, but nobody deserves to be bullied, not even little pests like Opal. And with Opal holding that big secret, I figured I'd better check things out.

“So who's your boyfriend?” Melanie was saying as I walked closer. “Tell me, or I'll tell the counselors I saw you sneak out last night to meet a boy.”

“I didn't,” Opal sobbed. “I don't have a boyfriend.”

Melanie had backed Opal against a tree and was smirking down at her. Angrily, I stepped up to them. “Hey, leave the kid alone,” I said. “Don't you have some artsy showing off to do?”

Melanie spluttered. Then suddenly a nasty glint came into her eye. “It was
you
, wasn't it? The guy was tall and dark haired. I saw that when they came back.”

Opal started to protest, but I jumped in. “Melanie, who would have guessed you have
such a dirty mind? If you must know, we're planning our Nature Nuts project. We want to lead a nighttime hike, but we need to figure out where to go.”

Opal, eyes big and teary, nodded earnestly.

Melanie sneered. “You expect me to believe that?”

I shrugged. “Who cares what you believe? But when we get the hike planned, Arts Farts and Sports Dorks will
not
be invited.”

As we split up, Opal gave me the thumbs up, followed by what looked like dinosaur claws. When it came to keeping a secret, that kid was a time bomb.

Still, when we got to Nature Nuts that morning, I had an idea churning. As Opal and I settled onto a bench, I tried it on Muskrat. “Opal and I have a great project idea, and it could involve other people's projects too. A nighttime hike. Chelsea could do her bird-call project with owls, and Opal could point out constellations and tell their stories.”

I talked right over Opal's squeaking protest. “And I could do a thing about rocks. My dad says there's a special type of rock on a hillside near here. They sort of glow in the dark, so searching for them would be perfect for a nighttime hike.”

Suddenly catching on, Opal stifled a giggle. Muskrat beamed. “Wonderful. We counselors were thinking of a nighttime hike, but we never knew about the rocks. Nothing's scheduled for tomorrow night. How about holding it then?”

“But I can't talk in front of people about constellations,” Opal whispered after Muskrat had gone.

BOOK: Camp Alien
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