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Authors: Pamela F. Service

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BOOK: Camp Alien
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I felt sick and chilled, as if I'd chugged down too much ice water. The worst part was that so much depended on the three of us. Laughable—if it wasn't so scary.

“What's she saying?” Opal squeaked.

“Er … mainly she's cussing out the egg stealers. They're camped down there.”

Creeping slowly to the crest of the ridge, we peered down through a screen of bushes. Nestled among trees below was what looked like a dome tent glowing with lantern light.
It was probably more high-tech than that, but for Opal's sake I was glad it looked so Earthly.

“They have the eggs in there with them,” Vraj whispered. “We need to get the Gnairt away long enough to steal back the sacks. If I go down the valley a little way and create a diversion, you two could snatch the eggs.”

I explained the plan to Opal. She liked it—better than I did. I knew these weren't bad guys trying to make a buck stealing glowing rocks. They were creepy aliens who packed some nasty weapons. But there didn't seem to be a lot of choices.

Vraj slipped off through the bushes and was soon out of sight. Lying on our stomachs on the damp mossy ground, Opal and I watched the tent. She tried to ask me more about evolved dinosaurs, but I shushed her. I doubted we could be heard from here, but my brain was tired of making up stuff.

The chugging and peeping of night creatures suddenly hushed. A new noise took over. It sounded like several people screaming at the
tops of their lungs. Then they came crashing through bushes at the lower end of the ravine.

“Help! Eeeek! A monster! Run to that tent! Maybe they've got guns!”

Two screaming people charged up the ravine heading for the Gnairt's tent. At the same time two other shapes slipped from the back of the tent and fled through the trees.

Not the diversion any of us were expecting, but it worked. Anyway, this was our chance. Opal and I pelted down the slope and reached the tent just ahead of the two screamers. Leaping inside, we grabbed the stolen canvas sacks. I turned to see Melanie and Scott staring at us, wide-eyed, through the tent opening.

“What are you two doing here?” Opal said.

“We didn't believe you,” Scott gasped. “We followed you and … What is that thing out there? It's coming this way!”

“What thing?” I asked innocently.

“Like a dinosaur,” Melanie wailed. “With lots of teeth!”

“Oh, that,” I said, looking around desperately, stalling for time. Several alien devices were scattered around the tent. I grabbed one randomly. Probably just a Gnairt can opener, but it
look pretty impressive. “That's just my laser holographic projection. I create it with this gizmo. I wanted to scare away the thieves so we could grab the rocks. But I guess you ran into the image first and instead scared them for us.”

Opal looked at me, obviously impressed. So was I.

I shouldered one of the sacks and thrust the other at Scott. “Let's split before they come back.”

The four of us scrambled up the ravine. I stayed in the lead, keeping an eye on the trees ahead of us and the just-visible flicking of Vraj's tail. Eventually it led us to a different path, one that ran around the lake toward camp.

We walked for a while without saying anything. Then Melanie's voice broke the silence. “Sorry we didn't believe you, Opal.”

“That's OK,” the pudgy little girl replied. She was swinging along with a more confident step, and I could almost feel her radiating happiness.

“That sure is a cool projection thing you have,” Scott said. “It convinced us all right.” He laughed sheepishly.

With my free hand, I patted the little can opener or whatever it was that I'd stuck in my belt. “My dad's a scientist. He thought I'd have fun with this thing at camp.”

“Hey, Zack,” Opal said. “Where are we going to hide these things so the bad guys don't steal them again?”

I frowned. “The camp buildings aren't safe, it seems. What we need is to dig a big hole and bury them until … until they're taken away. But we don't have the time or the shovels.”

“Hey, I know,” Scott said, “if you don't mind a suggestion.”

I almost liked Scott now that he was deflated a little. “Out with it.”

“We Sports Sprites had a water sports fest
and Hawaiian luau yesterday. We dug a big hole up by the fire circle for roasting yams. It's not filled in yet.”

“Then that's where we're headed,” I said, veering to the right.

It wasn't long before we reached the fire circle, dumped the sacks into the luau pit, and filled it in from the pile of loose dirt. Then we sat on the fire circle logs, tired and dirty, but not yet ready to go back to our cabins.

And now we had an added complication. These two new recruits, though they knew less of the truth than Opal, could still mess things up. I'd caught a glimpse of Vraj hiding behind a bush, and I knew she'd be fretting about a security leak.

I cleared my throat. “Scott and Melanie, I'm sorry you got scared and all, but could I ask a favor? Could you keep quiet about this?”

“Sure thing,” Scott said. He probably didn't want people to know that Mr. Big-Man-about-Camp had been scared witless.

“I won't tell either,” Melanie said, then
switched to a wheedling voice. “But could I ask a favor back?”

“What?” I asked cautiously.

“Well, we Arts Angels are supposed to come up with individual projects, poetry or painting or something. I should do something theatrical of course, since that's my art, but I can't think of a thing. If I … if we put together a show using that laser projector, it would be a real hit.”

“Yeah,” Opal said excitedly, then clapped a hand over her mouth, probably just realizing there
no laser projector.

Scott jumped in. “Right, and if we offer parts to the others in our cabins, they'll keep quiet about our being out tonight. We'll say we were practicing.”

“Yeah, but … ” Opal began.

I waved her down. “Let me think a minute.” The idea was crazy, but it sounded like fun. And now that my mission was wrapped up, I could use some fun.

I stood up. “OK, we could do a play about
the Greek myth Andromeda. Opal knows that stuff so she can write it. Melanie could be the star, of course, since it's her project, but we'd all have parts. We'll use that projector for the sea monster, Draco.”

Opal giggled, the others applauded, and I sat back, hoping Vraj had overheard. She'd said it would take a while for the Patrol to come pick up the eggs, so she'd have the time. She might even enjoy this, and anyway, she owed these kids something for their help.

Everything, at last, seemed to be winding up nicely.

When, I wonder, am I going to learn?

Vraj definitely did not like the idea.

The next night I met with her at our regular spot, the hill of the lone pine. “You expect me to take part in stupid, childish native games?” she spluttered as moonlight glinted dangerously off her teeth.

“Lighten up,” I said, averting my eyes from those teeth. “Your job here's nearly done.”

“One egg's still missing,” Vraj snapped as she paced around the tree.

Annoyed, I sat down on a fallen log. “Then look for it. Or maybe somebody miscounted. Anyway, the eggs are safe from hatching now, tucked away from light in that pit. You've got
to wait around for the ship so you might as well have some fun.”

“This will not be fun.”

I shrugged. “OK, then it's
. Planned or not, you've involved a lot of native kids in completing this mission. Opal has been a help, and it was Scott and Melanie who scared the Gnairt from their tent. And remember all those kids who collected your eggs? They deserve some payback. If you take the part of a laser-projected Draco, some of the kids will have fun doing the play and others will have fun watching it.”

“As a member of the Galactic Patrol Corps, it's beneath my dignity to … ”

“Bah. You're a Cadet. And is dignity more important than honor? Aren't you honor bound to help those who have helped you?”

Her grumbling wasn't translated, but finally she snarled, “All right, what do I do?”

“We have permission to rehearse during rest periods starting tomorrow. If you sneak down to the fire circle and watch, you'll see what's
expected of Draco. It's easy. All you have to do is stalk up to Andromeda, look fierce, and threaten to eat her.”

She grumbled again.

“Come on, I can't believe your species doesn't have plays.”

“Of course we do! We have highly developed art forms. But this is … ”

“This is your chance to be a star. Most members of the Galactic Patrol Corps never get a chance like this. And here you've lucked out on your first assignment.”

She scowled but didn't contradict me. So I'd been right all along. This
her first assignment. She probably wasn't much older than me.

She kept grumbling like a small green volcano, but finally accepted the role.

For a couple of days, the play consumed the energies of two cabins, Opal's and mine. Bessy and Jessy were thrilled to be acting with a real, experienced actress, the Hollywood-bound
Melanie. Following Scott's lead, even Ramon and Carlos got into it. Rehearsals were a bit ragged because not everyone had learned their lines, but Melanie flounced around like a temperamental director, shaming them into it. Occasionally I saw a flicker in the bushes. Our surprise cast member.

The campfire area on a bluff overlooking Lake Takhamasak made a good stage. Log seating sloped up from the flat clearing next to the fire circle. The luau pit had been in part of that clearing so some of the dirt was soft. However, most of the stage area was hard packed and perfect for acting. Bushes screened the area behind our stage.

On the night of our performance, everyone in the cast was almost too nervous to eat. I'd met with Vraj the night before, giving her special instructions. She still scorned the whole idea, but I thought her reptilian glare seemed less fierce than usual. A hint of excitement trying to break through?

The cast and the other performers at the
night's campfire were excused early from the dining hall. We rushed back to our cabins to put on costumes and then headed down to the fire circle. I stuck my Gnairt gizmo in the pocket of the old bathrobe I was wearing as my king costume. I had to make sure that everyone would think Vraj was a laser projection.

Nervously we checked the props: the thrones for the king and queen, the cardboard rock to tie Andromeda to, the yardstick swords, and of course, the Gorgon's head. Jessy and Bessy had built it from papier-mâché with rubber snakes stuck into it so they wriggled and bobbed.

As the first campers trooped toward the fire circle, we hid behind the bushes. On the excuse of checking my equipment, I slipped into another clump of bushes where Vraj was hiding.

“Nervous?” I whispered.

“Of course not!” Her voice seemed higher than usual.

BOOK: Camp Alien
11.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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