There’s an Alien in My Backpack
CHAPTER 1 (Tim)
“Hey, monster-maker,” said Jordan Lynch as he sauntered into our classroom. “Why don't you go back to space where you belong?”
I sighed and slid down in my chair, trying to disappear. Jordan has always had a large collection of names he likes to call me-things like boogerbreath, dootbrain, and buttface. But after Pleskit and I came back from our adventures on Billa Kindikan, Jordan decided his new nickname for me was going to be “monster-maker,” which hurt worse than all the others put together.
The reason he calls me that is because he blames me for the fact that our former classmate, Linnsy Vanderhof, is now a veccir-that is, she is locked in a symbiotic union with a crablike creature named Bur, who lives on her head. Linnsy vec Bur (the proper name for the combined being) decided not to return to Earth. The two of them-or maybe I should say “The one of them” since they claim to be a single unit-are off somewhere exploring the galaxy, or doing business deals, or who knows what.
Anyway, it's hard enough to return to everyday life when you've just saved the entire civilized galaxy from collapse into chaos. If you happen to have lost one of your classmates in the process it's infinitely worse-especially if she was one of the more popular kids in the class.
It doesn't help the churning that starts in my guts whenever Jordan calls me “monster-maker” that sometimes I do blame myself for what happened to Linnsy. I know this is stupid. It was Maktel who got us trapped in Ellico vec Bur's spaceship. And it was Linnsy's own choice not to come back. Well, Linnsy vec Bur's choice.
Half of me is worried sick about her. The other half is crazy jealous because she's doing what I had always dreamed of-exploring the galaxy.
I think about that at night, when I am trying to get to sleep, which hasn't been so easy lately. It's one thing to dream about leaving home for the stars and another to actually do it. Until Linnsy made her choice I had never really thought about how my going would affect my mother. Now I have a better idea, partly because I go to talk to Linnsy's mom and dad a couple of times a week.
The Vanderhofs live in the apartment directly above ours. Fortunately, they don't seem to blame me for what happened-at least, not entirely. It helps that the Interplanetary Trading Federation brought them to Trader's Court, so they had had a chance to see Linnsy before she took off with Bur-had had a chance to say goodbye. Still, it's hard for them.
I think that's why Mrs. Vanderhof keeps inviting me upstairs for cookies and milk.
“We all have to let go of our children sooner or later,” she'll say, dabbing at her eyes with a tissue. “I just wasn't r-r-r-ready t-t-too… oh, Mr. Timothy!”
That's as far as she ever gets before she breaks down crying.
I'll confess that sometimes I cry, too. I miss Linnsy more than I could have imagined. Even though she had dropped me as a best friend when she sprinted ahead of me in the social decathlon (which hadn't been hard to do, since I pretty much tripped over the starting line) we had known each other for years. Yeah, she made fun of me sometimes. But I also knew I could go to her for help and advice on just about anything.
I even miss the “little punchie-wunchies” I used to get from her when she thought I had said or done something particularly dorky. Actually, that was another reason I wished she was still around: I wanted to ask her if I was getting less dorky. I know that would count as a miracle of some sort, but I've noticed this odd thing happening since we got back: some of the girls-particularly Rafaella Cruz and Misty Longacres-have started to act as if they actually think I'm a human being or something.
Rafaella has even smiled at me a couple of times.
It's hard to get used to.
As if getting hassled by Jordan and feeling lousy about Linnsy wasn't enough, I was also having a problem with Ms. Weintraub. She actually expected Pleskit and me to make up all the classwork we had missed while we were off saving the galaxy!
“Sheesh,” I complained. “You'd think a guy could get extra credit in social studies for saving galactic civilization from collapse.”
“I give you all the credit in the world, Tim,” said Ms. Weintraub. “I still want you to know why the Civil War took place.”
“Good luck,” snorted Jordan. “He doesn't even know who's buried in Grant's tomb.”
This earned him a laugh from Brad Kent, who I think must have been a dog in a previous life, since that's the only way I can explain his total devotion to Jordan. I always expect him to lick Jordan's face and ask for a biscuit after he barks out one of those pathetic suck-up laughs.
Pleskit had missed as much work as I had, of course. The difference is that he has a truly mighty brain, so he was able to make it up more quickly. Which meant I was the one who ended up staying after school to get extra help.
One Friday afternoon I left school after one of these sessions. It was a beautiful spring day, which was nice, except it was also sort of weird, because it had been winter when we left for Billa Kindikan. I was riding my bike, and when I got to the bridge I stopped to stare at the embassy for a while. Basically it's a huge flying saucer dangling from the tip of a two-hundred-foot high hook that thrusts up from the big hill in Thorncraft Park. It's so cool that even though it's been there since last fall I still sometimes think I'm dreaming when I see it-especially since I'm the only kid on Earth who gets to visit it on a regular basis, on account of Pleskit being my best friend.
A light rain started, and I decided I had better get going. But just seconds after I crossed the bridge a kid I had never seen before jumped out from behind a tree.
I screeched to a halt, barely avoiding crashing into him.
Eyes wild, face desperate, he gasped, “I'm in terrible trouble, Tim. You have to help me!”
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