Two girls and a boy stood knee-deep in snow on the side of a mountain. A thousand dazzling rainbows soared above them. Beneath them a frozen sea shimmered like a giant sapphire.
The shorter of the girls had curly red-gold hair that blew in a halo around her head and dimples that dented her cheeks.
She was in an extremely bad mood.
“Are you sure it’s true?” she snapped.
“No. I made the whole thing up just to ruin your day.” The boy sighed. He was her younger brother, which explains a lot.
The other girl, who had dark brown frizzy hair and a serious pale face, didn’t say anything. She was thinking, pressing her finger hard against her bottom lip.
The girl with the red-gold hair blew her nose noisily. She said, “I just never thought things would go this far. It’s frightening.”
“Yes,” admitted the boy. “But we’ll fight!”
“Of course we’ll fight! What is this evil Earthling’s name?”
The boy pulled out a sheet of paper from his back pocket and examined it.
“Nicola,” he answered. “Nicola Berry.” Chapter 1
Nicola Berry had a problem.
She needed to make a long-distance phone call.
long-distance phone call.
She needed to call someone who lived on another planet.
Unfortunately, whenever Nicola’s mother checked the phone bill lately, she made a sound like she had a fish bone stuck in her throat. If an intergalactic phone call appeared on the bill she might stop breathing altogether.
Nicola pondered her problem while she cut up a banana to put on top of her breakfast cereal. The house was still and silent. A shaft of summer sunlight was creeping its way across the kitchen floor. It was early Saturday morning and her brother and parents were still sound asleep. They wouldn’t be up for hours, when they would appear rubbing their eyes and saying things like, “You’re up already? Why?
While Nicola ate her cereal at the kitchen table, she frowned as she studied the newspaper clipping her dad had pinned to the notice board. The headline read:
NICOLA AND HER FRIENDS SAVE THE WORLD!
She still got the strangest feeling from seeing her name in a newspaper. Nicola read the first paragraph of the article again.
Last week, Nicola Berry and a group of young friends she refers to as the “Space Brigade” undertook a daring intergalactic mission to kill an unspeakably evil alien princess called Princess Petronella, who had been left in charge of the planet of Globagaskar while her parents were on vacation. The spoiled young princess came up with a despicable plan to destroy Earth.
Fortunately, Nicola and her young friends found out about the plan. They traveled to Globagaskar by spaceship and kidnapped the princess from her palace bedroom . . . The princess is dead and Earth has been saved, thanks to the heroic efforts of the Space Brigade.
The newspaper reporter had got it wrong. Nicola and the Space Brigade had kidnapped the princess and convinced her not to destroy Earth, but they certainly hadn’t killed her! She was very much alive and kicking.
Actually, she was kicking all day long, according to her latest Glext (intergalactic e-mail—sent from the superadvanced computer in the Globagaskar Palace all the way through outer space and cyberspace to the Berry family’s battered old computer in their living room). The princess had Glexted to say that her new hobby was kickboxing and she was spending hours practicing on her poor guards.
Without a doubt, traveling to Globagaskar and kidnapping the princess had been the scariest thing Nicola had ever done. Not surprisingly, most people assumed Nicola wasn’t in a hurry to head off into outer space again. “You probably want to put your feet up, eat popcorn, and watch TV for the next twenty years or so, hey, Nic?” her dad had said hopefully.
He had no idea that Nicola was actually hoping for the Space Brigade to be on its second mission very soon.
She put down her spoon and pulled out a crumpled letter from her pocket to read it for about the 1,200th time. It said:
I understand you’re the leader of a brigade of highly trained intergalactic freedom fighters and that you recently saved a planet by the name of EARTH.
Our small but exquisite planet is currently facing grave danger of a rather unusual kind and we would like to engage your services. Payment would be both generous and delicious.
If you are available and interested in taking on a new mission, please don’t hesitate to call this number: 902856082484509342508905180891230943809421.
We look forward with much anticipation to hearing from you,
COMMANDER IN CHIEF,
PLANET OF SHOBBLE
Nicola looked longingly at the phone. If she didn’t hurry up and call him, the commander might find another brigade of “highly trained intergalactic freedom fighters.”
Of course, the truth was that the members of the Space Brigade weren’t exactly “highly trained.” Nicola felt a flutter of fear as she considered the words grave danger.
Imagine if something happened to one of them and it was Nicola’s fault. Everybody would hate her. She’d never be invited to another party for the rest of her life. Why was she even considering it? She put her hand over the letter, ready to crumple it up, but then her eye caught the line, “Payment would be both generous and delicious.” That sounded so tempting.
Nicola’s great-grandmother was turning one hundred years old in a few days’ time and Nicola wanted to find her the perfect present. After all, not many people had been alive for a whole century. If they were paid with something delicious, Nicola could give it to Grammy. “This is just a little something I picked up in outer space,” she could say casually.
She looked down at her cereal.
What should she do?
She slapped her hand to her forehead.
“It’s pretty obvious,” she said out loud.
“What’s obvious?” said a voice and Nicola got such a fright that she jumped back in her chair and sent her cereal bowl flying with her elbow. Chapter 2
What are you two doing here?” asked Nicola.
It was as though her best friends, Katie Hobbs and Tyler Brown, had materialized out of thin air.
They were standing right in front of her wearing sunglasses and caps, with beach towels draped over their shoulders. Katie had leaped forward and caught Nicola’s cereal bowl just before it landed on the floor.
“We thought you might want to come to the pool with us,” Katie said. She took Nicola’s cereal bowl to the sink, rinsed it out, and put it in the dishwasher.
“What’s that you’re reading?” asked Tyler.
Nicola pushed the letter over to him. “Read it for yourself. You too, Katie.”
Katie came and read over Tyler’s shoulder.
Tyler finished first and looked up. His eyes shone through his glasses and his ears glowed pink.
“When are we going? Have you called the commander yet? Oh, this is just . . . this is just—I can’t think of a word that’s good enough!”
“Stupendous?” suggested Nicola.
“If that means really, really excellent, then yes! What do you think, Katie?”
“Ummm.” Katie pulled her long brown braid from over her shoulder and chewed on the end. “I guess.”
“Great!” said Tyler. “So, Nic, we’ve got to act fast.”
“Wait a second.” Nicola looked carefully at Katie. “I want to know what Katie really thinks.”
Katie threw back her braid and chewed on her lip. “It’s just that—”
“What?” said Tyler.
“It’s just that it says grave danger
,” said Katie.
“We don’t have to do it,” said Nicola.
“I want to do it but I don’t want to do it,” said Katie. “Our first mission was the best time I’ve had in my whole life, but it was also the worst time. Does that make sense?”
“Yes,” said Nicola.
“No,” said Tyler.
“Well, anyway,” continued Katie. “We don’t have a choice, we’ve got
to do it! They need us! All the poor people on their ‘small but exquisite’ planet are depending on us!”
Nicola felt guilty. All she’d thought about was how fun or scary the mission would be. She nodded gravely and frowned as if she’d been worried to death about the people of Shobble. “Yes, I know,” she said. “It’s a big responsibility.”
“So what did you mean before when you said that it was pretty obvious?” asked Tyler.
“I realized I should just put it to the vote,” said Nicola.
“Well, Sean will want to go,” said Tyler confidently.
“That’s true,” agreed Nicola. “He’ll probably complain that it doesn’t sound dangerous enough.”
“What about Greta?” asked Katie.
“Oh, is she still in the Brigade?” asked Tyler. “I mean, she sort of tricked us into letting her join in the first place.”
“She did help with some things,” said Nicola.
“She wasn’t that
bad,” said Katie. “She doesn’t mean to be so bossy. I kind of liked her at the end.”
“Oh-kay.” Nicola and Tyler gave each other doubtful looks. Sometimes Katie took being nice just a little too far.
“And then there’s Shimlara,” said Katie.
Shimlara was their friend from the planet of Globagaskar. Her dad was Georgio, the president of the Save the Little Earthlings Committee. Shimlara had become a member of the Space Brigade when she offered to help them kidnap Princess Petronella. Apart from the fact that Shimlara was six feet tall (the people of Globagaskar were nearly twice as tall as Earthlings) and knew how to read minds (a handy Globagaskarian skill!), she was pretty much like an ordinary Earthling girl.
“She’ll want to go,” said Nicola, Tyler, and Katie all at the same time.
“It looks like we already know what the vote will be,” said Tyler.
Nicola picked up the letter again. “The other problem is that I need to call the commander. How much do you think it would cost to call another planet?”
At that moment Sean walked into the kitchen, yawning. “Why are you three up so early
?” he said predictably. He opened the fridge door and stood there for a few seconds before turning around slowly. “Did you just say something about calling up another planet?”
“Yep.” Nicola waved the letter at him mysteriously. “The Space Brigade might be going on another mission.”
Sean slammed the fridge door shut and grabbed the letter from Nicola’s hand. He read it quickly. “YES! So have you called yet? Why not? Too nervous, huh?”
“How do you think Mom and Dad would like it if I called another planet?”
“Oh. Good point.”
They were all silent as they tried to think of a solution. Suddenly, the phone rang and they all jumped.
Katie, who was the nearest, picked it up.
She spoke in a bubbly, professional voice, entirely unlike her normal voice. “Good morning
! This is the Berry residence. How may I help you today?”
Katie learned how to answer phones from her mom, who was a receptionist at a doctor’s office. If Sean had answered it, he would have said, “Yo,” which always caused the person on the other end to say, “Ummm, pardon
“Nicola Berry? Yes, I’ll just check if she’s available. May I ask who is calling?” said Katie. Her eyes had become very wide and were rolling about wildly like a frightened horse’s.
“What?” said Nicola. “Who is it?”
Katie handed the phone to Nicola and said, “It’s the commander in chief of the planet of Shobble, calling for Miss Nicola Berry.”
Copyright © 2018 by Liane Moriarty. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.