My name is Akiko. I’m a pretty average fifth grader in a pretty average town that’s right in the middle of a pretty average part of the country. My life is for the most part extremely dull. For the most part. It’s the least part that’s always getting me into trouble. The part that has to do with me being taken off to other galaxies, battling strange aliens, piloting rocket ships, and, on occasion, eating in intergalactic fast-food restaurants.
People are always telling me not to exaggerate. Which bugs me because I never do. It’s just that the things that happen to me tend to happen in a pretty big way. So please don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that the story I’m going to tell you right now is basically about the end of the world. Well, the end of a world, anyway. Or a world that nearly came to an end. Very nearly.
Maybe I’d better just tell the story.
It all started on my way home from school.
I had just gone into Chuck’s. Chuck’s is this convenience store about three blocks from Middleton Elementary. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but it has the biggest supply of bubble gum in town. All the usual gums, of course, but the rare stuff too: Arkey Malarkey’s Rain-Bo Day-Glo Sparkle Gum. Captain Zack’s Holy Mackerel Rub-A-Dubble Gum. Even Abe & Mabel’s Pop-N-Ploppin Super-Supple Bupple-Gum (That’s right: Bupple). The gum I bought that day was something I’d never tried before. It was called Dr. Yubble’s Ooey-Gooey Double-Trouble Bubble Gum.
I gave Chuck his money and got my nickel in change. Then I stepped out onto the corner, pulled out a piece of gum, unwrapped it, popped it in my mouth, and chewed.
So was it double trouble?
Not really. It was gooey. And ooey. Definitely ooey. But to call it trouble? I don’t know. That’s going too far.
Oh well, I thought. At least it’s ooey. That’s hard to come by in a gum.
So there I was, chewing gum, standing on the corner of Wabash and Fifth. The light changed and I began to cross the street. But before I got even halfway . . .
A siren! I spun around and found a black-and-white car barreling down the street at me, its siren blasting, its tires weaving back and forth. It squealed to a halt just inches from my legs.
They’re pulling me over? For what?
I looked around to see if anyone was watching; the last thing I needed was a bunch of gawkers crowding in to see what was going on. I was lucky. The only witnesses were a grandma and her cat peering down from a third-story window across the street, and a grocer, half a block away, squinting from the shade of his awning.
I turned back to face the patrol car. I’d never been so close to one before. The words MIDDLETON POLICE were painted on the hood, black on white. On the roof of the car was not one but eight flashing lights, each spinning and strobing a different color. Smoke billowed out in all directions, delivering a stink like an airport runway, only worse.
This was one weird police car.
The siren stopped.
A door popped open in the middle of the hood, and out came a small mechanized megaphone. It could have come from a sci-fi movie, except it looked more like a sixth grader’s homemade science project. It rose into a position between me and the windshield and rotated until it was pointed directly at my head.
A crackle of static, then:
“Please step over to the door of the vehicle, Aki—”
“—er, little girl.”
I took a few steps toward the driver’s side of the car.
Aki—? Whoever was manning that megaphone had started to say my name. And he sure didn’t sound like a policeman. He sounded an awful lot like . . .
“Not that door.” A cough. “The other one.”
I stopped in my tracks, reversed direction, and walked to the passenger’s side of the car. There was a muffled whump and all the lights on the roof went out. Then they flashed on again. Finally there was a louder whump and they went out for good.
This was not the Middleton Police.
The passenger-seat window went down, and there before me was Mr. Beeba. He was dressed in his usual brown space suit and oversized yellow gloves but was wearing dark glasses for some reason.
“Quickly, Akiko!” he whispered, the words coming from both his mouth and the megaphone. “Into the backseat!”
“Shut off the dagnabbed speaker thing, will ya, Beebs?” Spuckler Boach was at the wheel, unshaven chin, scraggly blue hair, and all. “You’re whisperin’ to the whole dang neighborhood!” Mr. Beeba twisted a knob on the dashboard and with great effort managed to get the megaphone switched off and back under the hood. Through the open window I could just make out the silhouette of Gax in the backseat, his robot head quivering nervously on his long, spindly neck.
“HELLO, MA’AM,” he said.
“Quickly!” Mr. Beeba said again, this time without the echo of the megaphone.
It’s funny. Seeing my friends from the planet Smoo hiding in a police car was one of the silliest things I’d ever laid eyes on. They just looked so ridiculous. But something told me—the expressions on their faces,
mostly—that this was no laughing matter.
“Please, Akiko.” Mr. Beeba’s brow was furrowed into several chunky wrinkles. “Time is of the essence. We’ll explain later.”
These guys. They always explained later.
“Now, hang on a second,” I said. “This, uh . . .” I waved a hand in front of me. “This isn’t a real police car.”
Mr. Beeba adjusted his dark glasses. “It’s not only a police car, no.”
I narrowed my eyes.
“It’s a spaceship, isn’t it?”
He and Spuckler both nodded.
I took another long look at the boxy black-and-white car parked in front of me. It was hard to believe this thing had just rocketed through a half-dozen distant galaxies before landing near the corner of Wabash and Fifth.
“There ain’t no time for chitchat, ’Kiko,” Spuckler said, pulling a knob that popped open the back door on my side of the car. “Trust me, you gotta come with us. Right now.”
I looked across the street and down the block. Both grandma and cat had gone inside their apartment, and the grocer was busily rearranging a pyramid of grapefruits with his back turned to me. No one would notice a thing. But . . .
“Guys, guys, guys. We’ve got to make some rules here. This whole zooming-into-Middleton-c’mon-Akiko-let’s-go thing is really starting to get on my nerves.”
“It’s Poog,” Mr. Beeba said.
Poog. I leaned over to get a better view of the car’s interior. My round, purple floating friend was nowhere to be seen. “He’s in trouble.” Mr. Beeba took off his dark glasses, revealing panicked eyes. “Grave, grave trouble.”
From the Hardcover edition.