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Authors: Pamela F. Service

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BOOK: Camp Alien
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“Of course you can. You know your stuff, and this will make good our excuse to Melanie. Plus it will give us an army to look for Vraj's eggs.”

Nature Nuts spent the afternoon looking for animal tracks on the muddy edge of a swamp. Mostly that meant dodging mosquitoes and
water snakes. Beyond the reeds, we could hear the Sports Sprites having fun canoeing on Lake Takhamasak. I had to keep telling myself I was
not
at this camp to have fun. Still, canoeing appealed a bit more to me than tracking toads in a swamp.

That night I convinced Opal to stay in her cabin so Melanie wouldn't get all suspicious again. I sneaked out to the lone pine to tell Vraj our plans. The scaly alien guilt-tripped me into looking for eggs for a few hours, bringing our total number of eggs needed down to eighty-one. Hopefully reinforcements would help.

At breakfast the next day, the nature counselors announced that our group would go on an overnight nature hike that evening. We spent much of that day planning for the excursion. After dinner, the Nature Nuts shouldered packs and sleeping bags and headed for the hill with the lone pine, the place that Opal and I had suggested. Not much of a trek from a hiking point of view, but it nicely fit the counselors' idea of experiencing nature at night.

Chelsea did her owl talk, and a real owl even answered her feeble imitations. A kid named Walt talked about nighttime animals like raccoons, possums, and skunks. There were lots of skunk jokes after that, but I was more worried about seeing dinosaurs at night. I had warned Vraj to stay out of sight, but she didn't seem to take orders well from a near native.

Next was Opal's turn. Muskrat practically had to drag her from behind the pine tree to get her to stand in front of the group. Mechanically Opal began pointing out constellations and mumbling the names that are attached to each group of stars. But when someone asked her about the names, Opal started telling the Greek myths about each constellation. By the time she got to the story of Andromeda, she was really into it, and her shyness evaporated.

“This one's got a really cool myth,” she said enthusiastically. “This queen, named Cassiopeia, brags that her daughter, Andromeda, is prettier than the sea god Neptune's daughters. Neptune
gets mad and sends Draco the Sea Monster to destroy the town. Well, Andromeda's dad, King Cepheus, chains Andromeda to a rock so Draco will eat her instead. (Thanks, Dad.)” The kids laughed at that, and Opal beamed.

“So meanwhile,” she continued, “somewhere else in Greece, a hero named Perseus has just killed the Gorgon, a lady with snakes for hair who is so ugly that people turn to stone just looking at her. He flies by on his winged horse, Pegasus, turns Draco to stone with the Gorgon's head, and then flies off with Andromeda to live happily ever after.”

All those characters were supposed to be seen in the constellations. Those ancient Greeks must have had pretty good imaginations to connect a bunch of scattered stars into those pictures. I wondered suddenly if people on the planet I came from connected stars into different constellations. I had to drop that train of thought as Opal finished her talk. Everyone applauded, and she blushed a bright, happy red.

It was my turn next, but the campers were getting pretty restless, so I raised my voice and threw my arms around like I was on stage.

“Listen up, Nature Nuts! Now comes the exciting Magic Stone Quest. Duthwite is a rare rock that can only be found near here. We're going out and looking for it!”

“Looking for rocks at night?” some kid called. “Give us a break!”

“Ah, that's the best time to find Duthwite. By day, it looks like this.” I held up one egg Vraj had lent me and shone my flashlight on it. It looked like a dirty potato.

“So it's a rock. Big deal,” that kid said.

“But at night, it looks like this!” I switched off my flashlight. The “rock” glowed a spooky blue-green.

“Oooo,” everyone said.

“Now, we're going to look for them. The person who finds the most wins this huge bag of candy!”

I held up the bag my mom had given me to share with my cabinmates. My particular
cabinmates hadn't inspired me to share much, but this was a good cause.

We all trooped over the ridge into the rocky valley, twenty-five kids and three counselors. This army of Nature Nuts spread over the hillside and soon began finding “Duthwite.” Even the counselors were having too much fun to call it quits. But after a couple of hours, the finds became fewer and the younger kids were tiring, so we trooped back to our hillside camp. After the counselors checked each kid's take, the prize went to a shy kid named Ted who suddenly had a lot of friends.

Once the campfire was going, the others roasted marshmallows and sang songs while I counted the eggs and stuffed them into sacks. Eighty exactly. We'd only missed one! Vraj could find that one on her own. As for me, it was Mission Accomplished.

After everyone had quieted down and crawled into their sleeping bags, I looked up at the countless stars spangling overhead. A shooting star streaked silently across the others,
disappearing behind the trees. Out there, some people were wondering if a couple of alien agents down here were doing their job. And we had! Vraj would get the eggs out of here, the mysterious danger they posed to Earth would be gone, and aliens would leave me alone for a while. Maybe I could even start enjoying this camp, horses or not.

Which goes to show that when things seem too good to be true, they usually are.

Back at camp the next morning, I stored the sacks of “Duthwite” in a closet at Nature Nuts House, and that night I reported briefly to Vraj. She planned to search that night for the last egg, collect the others, and leave Earth.

So the following morning, when Muskrat reported anxiously that someone had stolen my Duthwite, I was hardly surprised, though the way the closet door had been smashed in just confirmed that Vraj was an inconsiderate, or at least impatient, jerk. But anyway, all that was
behind me now, so I was determined to focus on actually being at camp.

Our activity that morning had us sitting at the tables by the Nature Nuts House and making baskets from reeds we'd collected in the swamp. Mine looked like a nest that birds had rejected. Opal was actually sitting with other friends she'd been making. I was happy to be sitting by myself at a table by the edge of the woods.

When I came back to the table from getting more reeds, another kid had joined me. His basket looked pretty good, but I couldn't see his face under his pulled down hat. His thin fingers were weaving reeds like lightning. Thin fingers with long claws.

“Vraj?” I whispered, peering under the hat. “I thought you'd be gone by now!” She grimaced with all her teeth. The shirt fit oddly and her tail must have been tucked into the baggy pants.

Sticking her mouth frighteningly close, she hissed. “The Gnairt are back. They stole all
the eggs you found from your Nature Nuts closet and hauled them somewhere. Now, I've got to find them again!
If
I need your help, I'll tap at your window tonight. Those thieving Gnairt probably won't leave without the eggs I found earlier, and
mine
are well hidden.”

I would have been annoyed at that jab if I hadn't been so freaked at the idea of creepy Gnairt being around.

“So how come your Galactic Patrol didn't keep the Gnairt away?”

She snorted. “Patrol ships are spread thin just now. Looks like we're on our own here.” If the translator got it right, she sounded a little scared.

“Alert that Opal person too,” she continued. “Much as I hate to say it, we may need her help. Things are getting tricky, even for a trained professional like me.”

Trained indeed. She was just a kid getting training on the job. Like me.

Vraj completed her basket and examined it from several angles. Tucking it under her little
arm, she disappeared into the woods. The counselors never noticed the brief appearance of a new camper, though I wondered which kid would soon be reporting missing clothes.

At lunch I told Opal about the mysterious basket maker, and she was delighted about maybe having another adventure with her dinosaur friend. I wasn't. I'd had enough adventures with aliens for one year. But that night, I lulled myself to sleep with the thought that “experienced professional Vraj” could probably handle this herself, and I'd seen the last of her. Dream on.

A tapping noise—it sounded like a branch blowing against the glass—pulled me from sleep. There were no trees near that window. I scrambled down the log wall, pulled on clothes as quietly as I could, and slipped outside.

Two figures waited in the tree shadows cast by a bright half moon. “I've found the Gnairt's camp,” Vraj whispered harshly. “They probably don't know they're dealing with an official
of the Galactic Patrol, but I may need some backup in the rescue.”

Opal was jumping around, wanting to know what the “dinosaur” said. I only changed it a little. “She says she may need our help rescuing the eggs from her enemies.” I hoped that Opal would never actually meet those enemies. Gnairt might be sort of human looking, but based on personal experience, I knew they are definitely more dangerous than most of the dinosaurs that ever lived.

Vraj was already trotting off into the shadowy trees. Opal and I hurried, trying to catch up. I wondered if all of Vraj's people were this snotty or if it was only the cocky kids trying to prove how great they are.

We'd almost lost sight of Vraj when a voice came from the shadows right beside us. “Going somewhere, little lovers?”

We spun around. Two people stood there, one cabinmate for each of us—Scott and Melanie, both looking smug.

“Can't think of a more unlikely couple,”
Melanie said. “But isn't tapping on windows awfully old-fashioned?”

“Hey, it's not what you think,” Opal protested.

“No,” Scott offered. “Instead of going off to smooch in the woods, it's some science experiment. Forget it. You've already used up that excuse.”

Opal was spluttering into a story, but I trusted my imagination more than hers. “It's not an experiment, it's a rescue. We found out who stole the Duthwite and we're going to get it back.”

“Who'd want a bunch of old rocks?” Melanie laughed.

“What do you know?” Opal piped up. “You didn't see them.”

“Right,” I added. “They're rare glow-in-the-dark rocks. Rock dealers would pay lots for them.”

Scott snorted. “So a couple of clueless kids confront big bad rock robbers. That's a weak TV plot.”

“Sorry, but it's true.” Then I smiled. “You can come and watch if you'd like. But maybe you ought to get back to your cabins before people start thinking
you two
are secret nighttime lovers.”

As both bubbled protest, I headed into the trees. “Come on, Opal, the trail's getting cold.”

When I turned to check, we weren't being followed. But we had also lost our guide. After stumbling along for a while, we finally saw her waiting in a patch of watery moonlight, tail twitching impatiently.

“About time you shook those two. I don't need any more native help.” She turned and jogged off again with us straggling behind. After what seemed like miles, she stopped at the top of a ridge.

“The Gnairt are camped down there. I listened in on them, and their plans have changed—for the worse. Instead of leaving with the eggs, they want to let them hatch here. Then they'll bring in rich hunters, using Earth's natural wildlife as an added hunting attraction.”

“But that could … ” I was struggling to find a way to say things so that Opal, who was understanding only my part of the conversation, wouldn't catch on to the truth.

Vraj continued through my translator. “That could devastate Earth, what with hatched Duthwi flying everywhere and alien hunters swarming about shooting every animal they see. It would totally destroy the Galactic Union's approach to bringing in new planets gradually. Your natives would hate aliens after that.”

BOOK: Camp Alien
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ads

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