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Wonders abound at the zoo....
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Wonders abound at the zoo. There are so many creatures of every shape, color, and size wandering around that it’s hard to tell the difference between the animals and the visitors. Then the zookeeper takes a special interest in Akiko, and she is added to his personal collection! Will Akiko and her friends find a way to escape from this nightmare vacation?
From the Hardcover edition.
Fifth-grader Akiko's old friends from the planet Smoo return to Earth to take her to see an intergalactic zoo, where she has a harrowing adventure with a winged Zullziban girl.
My name is Akiko. This is the story of my journey to the planet Quilk and all the crazy--and extremely dangerous--stuff that happened to me while I was there. I know, I know. A girl like me has no business going to other planets in the first place. I mean, I really ought to wait until I've at least finished elementary school. What can I say? I keep getting invited, and it's very hard to turn these people down.
It all started last fall, just a few weeks after the new school year began. I'd finally made it to the fifth grade. I liked most of my teachers. Homework was light. Things were going well. Then, one warm September afternoon when I least expected it, they came to get me. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I hadn't been at school that day. Maybe I'd have missed out on the whole adventure. Probably not, though. I think they would have found me one way or another.
Well, anyway . . .
That afternoon I was at school tidying things up after a meeting of the girls' safety patrol in a first-floor classroom at Middleton Elementary. As leader of the patrol it was my duty to organize the meetings every month, which was actually a lot of fun, since our little get-togethers hardly ever had anything to do with safety. Mainly we just used them as an excuse to talk loudly and eat potato chips in a classroom without anyone yelling at us. Unfortunately this also meant that I was the only one left to throw stuff in the garbage and put all the chairs on top of the desks after the others had gone home. Leadership has its drawbacks.
I was just about finished when I noticed a big mop standing in the corner halfway across the room from the broom closet. It was one of those big old janitor's mops that looked as if the school had bought it back in 1919 or something. It had that horrible stink old mops have, the sort of smell that makes you really glad you're not a floor. I was going to just leave it there, but then someone might think I was the one who had forgotten to put it away, so I went over and dragged it across the room--it was pretty heavy because it was still soaking wet--and opened the broom-closet door with a good yank.
I jumped back as quickly as I could, clutching the mop handle as if it were a weapon. A voice inside that closet had just booed me, and though I figured it was probably just that crazy Jimmy Hampton pulling a prank, I wasn't taking any chances.
"Scared ya," the strangely familiar voice said from somewhere back in the shadows, "didn' I?"
It was definitely not Jimmy Hampton.
Then I saw a head emerge from behind a stack of cardboard boxes. The spiky blue-black hair, the unshaven chin, the mischievous squinty eyes . . . Who could it be but Spuckler Boach?
"Spuckler!" I cried, shooting a glance out the window to make sure no one would see him. "What in the world are you doing here?"
"Now, 'Kiko," Spuckler said as he stepped out into the classroom, "that ain't no way t' greet an old friend!"
He leaned over and gave me a great big bear hug that lifted me right up off the floor. I didn't have the faintest idea how he'd gotten there or why, but I sure was glad to see him. It had been several months since I'd returned from my first big adventure in outer space, and I couldn't count the number of times I'd dreamed about seeing my Smoovian friends again.
"Stand back an' lemme get a good look atcha!"
Spuckler said, locking his fingers around my upper arms and thrusting me back a good yard or so. We looked each other up and down as if we hadn't met in years.
"Whoo doggy, girl, you're gettin' bigger! What are ya now, a college student or somethin'?"
"No, Spuckler," I laughed. "I've only just started fifth grade."
"Well now, close your eyes, little miss fi'th grader," he said, stepping back to the broom closet, " 'cause I got a big honkin' surprise for ya!"
"Uh-oh," I replied. "I don't like the sound of this. . . ."
"Close 'em already!" he ordered.
I shut my eyes and waited. There was a muffled noise from somewhere inside the broom closet, followed by the faint sound of sneakers squeaking on the floor.
"All right, y' can open 'em now," Spuckler said finally.
I opened my eyes and saw . . . well, me.
It was the Akiko robot, the same one Bip and Bop had used before to replace me here on Earth while I was off having adventures on the planet Smoo. She was wearing the same clothes I was and looked exactly like me in every way. Okay, her posture was a little better than mine, but otherwise she was a perfect copy.
"Hi, uh . . . Akiko," I said to her.
"Hello, Akiko," she returned with a smile.
"Thanks again for taking my place last time," I said. "You did a really good job. Even my parents didn't know."
"You're very welcome," she replied. "It was my pleasure."
"Of course, there is the matter of that grade you got on my geography test," I added with a wink.
"I'm sorry, Akiko." The robot hung her head sheepishly. "This time I promise I'll get much better grades on all your tests."
"This time? Whoa! Wait a minute," I said, turning to Spuckler. "You're not here to take me to Smoo again, are you?"
"Naw, 'Kiko," Spuckler answered reassuringly. "You seen enough a Smoo t' last a lifetime."
I was relieved, but also just a tiny bit disappointed.
"That's good," I said, crossing the room and pulling the shades down over the windows. "I was afraid you had me lined up for another weird prince-rescuing mission or something."
"No missions, 'Kiko," Spuckler explained. "No work, neither. We're here t' take ya on vacation!"
"All expenses paid by King Froptoppit," Spuckler continued with a gleam in his eyes. "'S just his way of thankin' ya for all the trouble ya went through rescuin' his son."
"Gee, I don't know," I said. "My school doesn't go on vacation again until Christmas. . . ."
"What are ya, nuts?" Spuckler chuckled. "We got a look-alike 'Kiko here, li'l lady. You can take off school any time ya want."
plI paced back and forth and stroked my chin while I thought it over. I have to admit, a little break from school sounded pretty good to me right then. There was that big history test coming up in Mrs. Riffin's class, for one thing.
"A vacation, eh?"
"Tha's right," Spuckler said, grinning. "A real humdinger, too: the planet Quilk! There ain't no place like it in the whole dang universe."
From the Hardcover edition.