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Authors: Pamela F. Service

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BOOK: Camp Alien
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It sailed into the air in front of me, maybe fifty feet above the bottom of the pit.

“No way!” I muttered, looking down the sheer cliff. But there was a way, and I knew it. The problem is that it's easier to accept the idea of being an alien as long as it's just an
idea
, as
long as you're not doing weird alien things.

I sighed and lowered myself over the edge. I just had to let my alien instincts take over. “Don't think, don't think.” I chanted Agent Sorn's words to myself as I climbed down. Somehow toes and fingers found tiny chinks in the rock, and in moments I was at the bottom. Lizardman strikes again.

An orange speck dropped from the blue sky, buzzed over me, shot off to where the gravel pit turned a corner, and then disappeared. Keeping to the cliff's shadow, I ran in the same direction.

At the rocky corner, I peered around into another section of the gravel pit. This wasn't quite as deserted. There were several sheds, a cinderblock building, and a few empty gravel trucks. There was also, quite clearly, a spaceship.

Not that I'd ever seen a spaceship before, but there are some things you just can't mistake. Also, several creatures were moving near it, creatures that looked like they
ought
to be near a spaceship. They also looked like creatures you didn't want to see up close if you didn't have to. I had to, of course.

On hands and knees, I crept for a ways behind a low rock spur that finally gave out near the remains of a rusty mobile home. Peering around the wreck, I could hear the creatures near the spaceship talking, but I couldn't catch what they were saying.

To get closer, I slithered snakelike through the dust until I was crouched behind a stack of metal barrels. It was still nothing but gargling until, with a sharp pain in my ear, the translator kicked in. The first voice was high and oily. I shivered. A Gnairt.

“Eighty is the number of Duthwi we have to offer. Not a full hatching, perhaps, but more than you're likely to get a crack at in any hunting park, legal or illegal. Give us the money, and we'll release them. In a few hours they'll be dispersed and will be as challenging a hunting game as you'll find anywhere in the universe!”

The next voice was watery and deep.

“The challenge is alluring, but what about the Galactic Patrol?” A horrid gurgle that must have been a laugh. “Not that we Flaaa have any problems with breaking the law, we just do not relish getting caught. It is an annoyance.”

“Would we allow our best clients to be annoyed?” Another Gnairt voice. “Should the Patrol appear, which is highly unlikely, we have the means to keep them at bay.”

A gurgle rolled into words. “How? Your ship does not appear heavily armed.”

“No. But as always, we Gnairt are armed with cunning, and that has given us two weapons to use. First, we have captured a Galactic Patrol officer, apparently the one they sent here to reclaim the eggs. Should the Patrol arrive and forbid your hunting, we simply threaten to kill her unless you are allowed to complete your hunt and depart without pursuit.”

So that's what happened to Vraj! Captured by these slime.

The Flaaa grumbled. “But perhaps they would be willing to sacrifice one Patrol officer. Eighty is a fortune in rare, succulent Duthwi.”

“Which is why we have a fallback. Should the Patrol continue to trouble your hunting pleasure, we have native hostages as well.”

“Indeed? Are they imprisoned here too?”

“No need. See the weaponry mounted over there? It is trained on the far side of this lake, on a summer encampment of native young. Nearly a hundred of them. And remember, this planet is approaching the time of its invitation to join the Galactic Union. Mass slaughter of their young by aliens would not be a good introduction.”

Flaaa laughter sounded like someone throwing up. Or maybe that image came to mind because that's what I felt like doing. Leaning against a barrel, I forced myself to think calmly.

OK. Vraj, the operative I was supposed to help, was captured and in danger of being killed. Bad. The Duthwi hatchlings I was
supposed to protect were going to be killed for sport. Very bad. The place where my friends and fellow campers were staying might soon be blown off the planet. Very, very bad.

When I'd first realized that this was going to be a bad summer, I didn't have a clue just how bad bad could be.

The sky above the quarry glowed with sunset. Not that I could admire it at a time like this, but it told me I'd be losing light soon. Whatever I was going to do, I'd better do it now.

I crawled along the wall of barrels for a better look at the speakers. Immediately I wished I hadn't. Through a gap, I saw two Gnairt and one creature that must have been the Flaaa. Gnairt I'd seen before—none too handsome, but they look basically like fat, bald humans. Flaaa, however, were why the word “ugly” was invented.

This guy was a large puke-colored slug. Lumpy arms bulged out of his body wherever he needed them and then sank back in while another arm popped out somewhere else. Mostly those come-and-go arms seemed to be juggling a weapon-looking thing or scratching patches of undulating skin.

If I'd had time, I would have been sick right there.

I had to find where they were holding Vraj and somehow free her. Slowly I crawled backwards. I'd almost reached the shelter of a rusty piece of machinery when something grabbed my shoulder.

“Mama!”

Good thing I was too petrified to scream.

“I take you to others.”

“Wait,” I whispered. “I need to find someone else first. They've captured someone who could help us. She looks like a dinosaur. No, you wouldn't know that. She's yellow-green, she walks on two hind legs, and she has little front legs with claws, a long thick tail, and
a big head with lots of teeth. Have you seen her?”

“No.”

“Oh.” Where was I going to look for Vraj in this huge place?

“Not seen, but know where she is.”

“Huh?”

“Hear very angry yellow-green thoughts. Show where.”

Starry zipped off low to the ground. I tried to keep up, but to my growing horror, we seemed to be heading toward the spaceship. I couldn't break Vraj out of
that
. They probably had high-tech security systems and weird alien locks.

I crouched beside a wooden shed near the ship, trying to build up courage. Starry dropped on my head. “Hurry ! Yellow-green person inside.”

“Right. But I'm not sure I can break into a spaceship.”

“What spaceship? Yellow-green person inside wood place.”

“In this shed?” Hesitantly I knocked on the plank I was leaning against. From inside came scrabbling, thumping, and muffled growling.

Cautiously I circled the building till I found a door, a normal wooden door with a very non-normal lock. The whole thing seemed to be sealed with metal tape. I tugged and kicked at it but nothing happened, except the growling inside became more frantic.

“Mama want yellow-green person out of wood place?'

I nodded.

“OK.”

The dish-sized orange star splatted itself against a wall and, in a spray of fine sawdust, chewed right through. It chewed another hole on the way back out and another going in again. In seconds, it had made a hole that was big enough for me.

“Nyuk! Wood, very stale.”

“Sorry. But thanks.” Kicking in a few jagged bits, I crawled through. The shed had only one small, dusty window, and the day's fading light
was even weaker inside. But from the growling and thrashing, it was clear where Vraj was.

“Calm down. It's me, Zack.” I walked toward the heaving lump. My eyes had adjusted to the gloom enough to see that Vraj had been thoroughly tied and gagged. Metal tape bound her arms, legs, and jaws, but her tail still thwacked about.

“Hey, watch where you swing that thing! There ought to be a way to get you loose.” The Duthwi couldn't eat through the tape since it wasn't wood, but there were lots of tools hanging on the shed walls. In the shadows, I made out saws, hammers, and a metal snipper. Grabbing that, I knelt beside Vraj. She thrashed even harder.

“Hold still!”

The tape around the ankles was the loosest. Gripping a leg with one hand, I wriggled the blade of the snipper under the stretched tape, trying not to shudder at the feel of hard, slick skin. It wasn't like a snake's, though. It was warm, almost hot.

After several snips, the tape frayed, then snapped. Next I did the wrists, then, with more difficulty, the jaw. That might have been a mistake. She started complaining right away.

“About time someone got here! I've been tied up for two days! I'm starved!”

A worrisome statement from someone with teeth like that, but I tried to ignore it.

“Food comes later. Right now, we've got to rescue the Duthwi before the Gnairt turn them over to some really gross hunters.”

“Looks like they're free already,” Vraj said, watching Starry bouncing around the shed, sampling wooden tool handles.

“That's the missing Duthwi egg. It hatched out and got the crazy idea I'm its mama. But it led me here and knows where the others are being held.”

“Duthwi are supposed to be smart as well as tasty,” Vraj commented. I hoped Starry hadn't picked up on that last part.

The hole in the wall was small for Vraj, but she forced her way through, further splintering
the edges. Soon we were both trotting behind the flying starfish. The sunset brilliance had faded, but the sky arching over us was streaked with purple and deep crimson.

The Gnairt near the metal barrels had switched on a greenish light. We passed close enough to hear rumbling voices. “Ah, so it's Flaaa they're dealing with,” Vraj hissed when she heard the oily tones. “They're rich enough to pay the Gnairt's price.”

Our little guide, flying low to the ground, kept zooming ahead and zooming back when we couldn't keep up. Its orange skin glowed slightly, enough at least for me to keep it in sight. As we approached several low buildings, Starry dropped onto my shoulder again.

“Mama, others in here. Hurry, get them out!”

The cinderblock building ahead of us was an abandoned ruin with a tree growing through a gaping hole in the roof. We peered through a doorway. Darkness was lit by a faint orange glow. In a far corner, a shapeless something
glowed like a lumpy pumpkin. We crept closer. It looked like a large trash bag stuffed with glowing Duthwi. They were boiling and bulging around in there but couldn't get out.

Our free Duthwi zipped over our heads and landed on the bag, thumping it uselessly with its legs. Vraj and I crouched beside the bag. The surface felt smooth and cold like plastic, but Vraj's claws couldn't scratch it. I tried the metal snippers on a corner of the bag. Nothing.

“Don't you have some fancy alien weapons that could cut through this stuff?” I asked.

She snorted. “Of course, I
had
weapons, but the Gnairt took them when they threw me in the shed. We'll have to carry the bag.”

That wasn't easy. Duthwi in large numbers are heavy. And bouncing around like that, they kept shifting the weight, nearly knocking us over as we lifted the sack onto our shoulders.

“Tell your friends to stop moving around!” I snapped at Starry.

But all Starry said was “Eeeeeee!”

That squeal lanced through me. I stumbled,
and the whole bag fell on me. Muffled through its squirming contents, I heard a Gnairt voice. “Got away, did you? Not this time!”

A sizzle of weapons' fire fried the air above me. Desperately I fought my way out from under the bag. Vraj had ducked behind a cinder-block wall. The Gnairt fired at her again. A chunk of wall exploded in dust, but Vraj leapt free. She landed on the tree and scrambled toward the gap in the roof. The Gnairt aimed again.

Yanking the metal snipper from my pocket, I threw it. I'd aimed at the bald head but only hit a shoulder. Still, the energy shot went wild, missing Vraj and shearing off a tree branch. Now, however, Vraj had time to escape and the Gnairt was looking at
me
.

BOOK: Camp Alien
10.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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