By Wendy Mass
By Michael Brawer
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The Furry Alien
One of my favorite parts of being Dad's space taxi copilot is the moment a new alien climbs into the backseat. Sometimes they jump, hop, slither, or roll in, too! That's the thing about aliens—you never know who you're going to get!
Usually the customer meets us at Barney's Bagels and Schmear, but today we're picking up an alien with the strangest name of any I've met so far. I couldn't believe it when Minerva sent Dad the assignment. His name is—wait for it—Toe Fungus.
I am not kidding. That is his real name. We're taking him back to his home, a small planet in the Sombrero Galaxy.
A thrill buzzes through me when Dad parks at the pickup location, a large warehouse by the river. This is the first time I've been to this part of town. The riverfront is full of old couches with torn cushions, a broken-down bumper car from an amusement park, and rubber tires laid out in a pattern perfect for jumping from one to the next. Dad has to pull me away from those. Mom says the riverfront is "no place for a child," but I think it's exactly the place for a child. This place rocks!
We knock on the dented metal door of the warehouse. While we're waiting, I say, "I bet this Toe Fungus guy is really hairy and smells like freshly baked chocolate chip cookies." I pause, then add, "And I bet he sings instead of talks."
Dad chuckles. "No way. He's probably two feet tall, with scales instead of skin. And really wonky toes, of course."
"Of course," I reply.
"But he doesn't sing," Dad says, knocking again. "He can only make clicking sounds with his tongue."
I grin. This is a fun game. We can call it Guess That Alien! Although I'm pretty sure my guess will be right.
The door opens an inch. A black-gloved hand shoots out, palm open.
Dad pulls out his space taxi driver ID card and hands it over. He is used to this. Aliens can't just go with anyone who rings their bell. What if that person was just selling Girl Scout cookies or stopping to ask directions and then an alien suddenly opened the door? 99.99 percent of people on Earth don't know there is life on other planets; Dad says that one day humans will be ready for it, but not yet. That's why alien visitors usually have their business meetings in out-of-the-way places like this.
The arm disappears from view, and a few seconds later the door swings open. It is very dark inside the warehouse, so we hear the alien before we see him. And he's singing a rap song!
"Welcome, driver of the sky, how nice of you to come on by!"
The alien steps out of the doorway and into the sunlight, a briefcase in his no-longer-gloved hand. The distinct odor of chocolate wafts out with him.
Dad turns toward me, his hands on his hips. "Archie Morningstar, you cheated!"
I laugh. "Maybe it was a lucky guess!" But truthfully, Pockets looked up his species for me before Dad and I left the apartment this morning, which is why I knew so much about him. Pockets was going to come with us, but he had some last-minute police business to take care of and closed himself in his office (otherwise known as my closet!) instead. When you're a highly decorated officer with the Intergalactic Security Force, your work always comes before a routine taxi run.
Besides singing and smelling like cookies, the alien is in fact covered completely in thick, brown, fur-like hair. Dad was right about the toes, though. Big and green—definitely wonky. And his height—he only comes up to my hip. Basically, he looks like a big stuffed animal.
After one last race through the obstacle course of tires (which Toe Fungus does with me!) we drive down to the airfield. We are eighth in line for takeoff.
"Why is the airfield so crowded today?" I ask, unrolling the space map that helps me navigate our trips.
Dad finishes his pre-flight checklist and says, "Actually, we have Pockets to thank for that. Now that everyone can use Camo-It-Now to disguise their Space Taxis, more drivers have been stopping here to refuel."
Minerva buzzes onto the line. "Good morning, Morningstars!" she says cheerily.
From the backseat, Toe Fungus sings out, "Good morning to you! The sky is so blue!"
Minerva gives a hesitant squeak like she's not sure what to make of our singing passenger. "Um, it certainly is?" she says. "Busy day today, so—" Her voice cuts off.
"Minerva?" Dad asks.
After a few seconds of silence, she comes back on. "Stand by for a public announcement."
Dad throws me a worried glance and flips the com line to PUBLIC.
Toe Fungus begins to hum. The tune is catchy and I find myself humming along. But Dad's increasingly worried expression stops me. "Is everything okay?" No one has moved forward in the line. "Why isn't anyone taking off?"
The com line crackles and Dad says, "I think we're about to find out."
Trapped on Earth
"Attention all space taxi drivers and co-pilots." It's Minerva again, but she sounds very stern and her voice isn't nearly as squeaky as usual. "The entire fleet is grounded until further notice. A giant solar flare is heading toward Earth. It will reach us in six minutes, affecting all the satellites in Earth's orbit, and disrupting electronic devices of human and alien origin, including your taxi navigation systems and communication between the taxis and Home Base."
Dad and I look at each other in alarm.
Minerva continues. "Buses will arrive in two minutes to take all the passengers to Barney's. Barney is currently clearing out all the human customers. You will wait there for further instructions."
Toe Fungus finally stops humming.
"Please remain calm," Minerva says. "Once the solar storm passes, we'll get everyone back into space."
- On Sale
- May 23, 2017
- Page Count
- 128 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers