An extremely tall man and woman huddled together in a small, damp, dark cell.
Their nostrils were filled with the scent of roses. Their mouths were dry from thirst and fear.
A little boy lay asleep on the woman’s lap, his thumb in his mouth.
“We should never have done it,” whispered the woman. She brushed away a leftover teardrop from the little boy’s face.
“Maybe not,” sighed the man.
“What do you think she’ll do?”
This time the man smiled, his teeth a sudden flash of white in the darkness.
“She’ll call Nicola, of course.”
Nicola! Phone call!”
Nicola Berry was startled. Who would be calling her here at this time of night?
“For me? Really?”
It was past midnight and she was at her great-grandmother’s one-hundredth birthday party. The music was thumping, and Grammy was tapping her feet and jiggling her hips, leaning on a walking stick in each hand. Nicola and her cousins were all hiding yawns as they danced in a circle around their tiny, white-haired grandmother, who might have been the oldest one at the party, but seemed to have the most energy. The littler cousins were asleep, curled up in corners. Even Nicola’s dad had collapsed on a sofa, his head tipped back, twitching violently each time he snored.
“She said it’s Shimlara,” yelled Nicola’s crazy great-aunt Annie over the music, handing the phone over to her. “I said it was a bit late to be calling. She said it was lunchtime on her planet. Her planet
! What a jokester!”
Nicola took the phone from Great-Aunt Annie, who marched off, muttering and shaking her head. When will they start believing that I actually do know people from other planets?
she wondered. After all, it had been international news when Nicola and her friends saved Earth from being destroyed by a spoiled princess from the planet of Globagaskar.
Why would Shimlara be calling Nicola now? It had only been a matter of hours since they had dropped her back home after their last mission.
Nicola’s older brother, Sean, appeared by Nicola’s side. “Why is Shimlara calling you?”
“How would I know?” said Nicola, irritably, because she was worried.
They went down Grammy’s hallway toward her bed-room, where it was quiet.
!” Shimlara’s voice sounded tiny and strange, and then she burst into tears. Nicola made an alarmed face at Sean. It wasn’t like Shimlara to cry for no reason.
“What’s the matter? What’s happened?”
“Mom and Dad and Squid have vanished
!” sobbed Shimlara.
“But are you sure?” said Nicola. “Maybe they went shopping and forgot to leave a note.” Her own family was constantly doing that.
a note,” said Shimlara. Her voice became stronger. “In Dad’s handwriting. It says, ‘Help, Shiml—’ and then nothing else, as if he was interrupted. I think they’ve been kidnapped
“Have you called the police?” asked Nicola.
“What are police?” said Shimlara.
Maybe they had a different name for the police force on Globagaskar. “Who do you call when someone commits a crime?”
“We don’t have crime on Globagaskar. We’re far too advanced for that. That only happens on prehistoric planets. No offense.”
“Okay, but isn’t kidnapping a crime?”
“Stop being so picky!” snapped Shimlara. “All I know is that I’ve got a very bad feeling. Can you and the Space Brigade come to Globagaskar? Please?”
“We’re on our way, Shimlara.” Sean said, leaning close to the phone.
Nicola gritted her teeth. She was the leader of the Space Brigade. It was her
job to say dramatic things like that.
“We’ll be there as soon as we can,” said Nicola. “Just try and stay calm.”
“Hurry,” said Shimlara. “Please hurry.” She hung up.
Sean looked at Nicola, his eyes shining. “Looks like we’re going back into space sooner than we thought.”
“It looks like it,” agreed Nicola. She was suddenly feeling very wide awake. Chapter 2
Except it wasn’t that easy. How were they going to get away from Grammy’s party? How were they going to call the other members of the Space Brigade at this time of night? Furious parents would refuse to wake their children up. If Nicola and Sean tried to tell them about Shimlara’s predicament, they would say reasonably, “Why doesn’t she call the police?”
“Nicola! Sean! Get out of the way!”
Nicola and Sean’s mother raced past, pursued by her sister, their auntie Peg.
“Aha!” Their mom reached the bedroom at the end of the hallway first.
get the most comfortable bed!” sulked Auntie Peg.
“What’s going on?” asked Nicola.
“We’re all staying the night here,” said their mother. “Grammy wants the party to continue on till breakfast time. You kids are all going to sleep in sleeping bags in the living room. That will be fun, won’t it?”
Oh, yes, great fun, sharing a room with a dozen wriggling cousins. However, it would certainly be convenient
for a discreet trip into space.
“Did you win?” Their dad came down the hallway, rubbing his eyes.
“Sure did!” said their mother. Nicola and Sean winced as their parents gave each other high fives.
“See you kids in the morning!” said their mother.
“If we’re not around for breakfast it’s because we’ve gone to the pool,” said Nicola, trying to buy more time.
“As long as you’re back by ten—”
“Of course,” said Nicola, crossing her fingers that they’d be back by then. Luckily Tyler always flew their spaceship on Time-Squeeze speed, which meant that they could spend days on another planet, but only a few hours would pass on Earth.
“We can text Greta,” she said to Sean, as they closed the door on their embarrassing parents, who were bouncing around on the four-poster bed. “But what about the others?”
Greta was the only one in the Space Brigade who owned a cell phone. (She was also the least popular member of the Brigade, but now that they’d been on two missions with her, it was impossible to imagine leaving her behind.)
“Greta can go and knock on Tyler’s window,” said Sean. Tyler lived across the street from Greta. “I don’t know what to do about Katie.”
“Wait a sec,” said Nicola. “Katie’s mom is away at the moment!” Katie’s mom didn’t miss a thing, but her dad was an eccentric scientist who wrote textbooks about frogs. “I bet Mr. Hobbs won’t even notice we’re calling so late!”
Nicola was right. Katie’s father was delighted to hear from her. “Nicola! How are you? Still tap dancing?” Nicola and Katie had last done a tap-dancing class when they were five years old.
“You bet, Mr. Hobbs! Is Katie there?”
“I think she might be asleep, but I guess I should wake her. Shouldn’t she be getting ready for school?”
“Absolutely!” No need to mention it was past midnight on a Friday.
A minute later she was talking to a sleepy Katie. In the meantime, Sean was busy using a cousin’s phone to text Greta.
After Nicola hung up with Katie, Sean read out loud a text message reply from Greta:
Very disorganized as usual, but okay, I’ll collect Tyler and see you asap.
“How could we be organized
for something unexpected like this?” said Nicola.
Sean shrugged. He never let Greta’s snarky comments bother him.
“How was Katie?”
“As soon as she heard Shimlara needed us, she didn’t ask questions,” said Nicola.
Twenty minutes later, the Space Brigade gathered quietly in the front yard of Nicola and Sean’s great-grandmother’s house. They were whispering because most of the party guests and Grammy had finally gone to bed.
“You didn’t forget the spaceship, did you, Tyler?” said Nicola.
“You’re dealing with a professional here.” The lenses of Tyler’s glasses glinted in the moonlight. He pointed to the familiar silver briefcase with the words mini easy-ride spaceship stamped discreetly on the side. He’d strapped it to the back of his bike.
“I was nervous riding my bike over in the dark,” said Katie, trying to smooth down her glossy brown hair where it was sticking up in the back. Nicola had to laugh when she thought of what Katie had been through on their last mission. Maybe it was easier to be brave on a planet other than your own.
“If this turns out to be a wild goose chase, I won’t be impressed,” said Greta. You wouldn’t have thought she’d been in bed when they called. She looked as neat as a pin. “Sometimes Shimlara can be a bit of a drama queen.”
This was true, but Nicola immediately jumped to her defense.
“She wouldn’t be dragging us all the way to the other side of the galaxy if it wasn’t an emergency.”
“Okay, guys, stand back.” Tyler picked up the briefcase. He pressed a button marked activate on the side. As usual, nothing happened for just long enough for Greta to snap, “Is it broken?” Then, suddenly, it began spinning rapidly, until it was nothing but a streak of whirling color. Within seconds, the briefcase had been transformed into a compact, but impressive-looking, spaceship.
“Wha dat?” said a voice.
Nicola spun around.
It was their youngest cousin, Jessie. She was wearing pink pajamas and staring with wide eyes at the spaceship.
“Go back inside, Jessie,” said Nicola, in what she thought was a firm, kindly parental voice.
“No,” said Jessie in an equally firm, kindly voice. “Wha dat
“It’s a spaceship,” said Sean. “Now scoot off, kiddo.”
Tyler unlocked the spaceship. The glass bubble on top hinged back and a ladder slid down to the ground.
“Jessie come for a ride!” Jessie’s voice rose to alarming levels.
“Can’t you control her?” said Greta to Nicola. “Isn’t she, like, a relative
Nicola shrugged. She had no idea how to handle naughty children except to just give them whatever they wanted. Katie bent down beside Jessie. She was good with children because she had four very naughty little brothers.
“If you quietly go back inside, we’ll bring you back something really special from our trip,” said Katie. “Would you like something pink or yellow?”
Jessie put her finger to her lip. “Ummm, I think, pink. No, yellow. Pink!”
“I don’t think you should bribe her,” said Greta. “She’ll get unrealistic expectations about life. Do as you’re told and go inside, little girl.”
Jessie stomped her feet and screamed, “No!”
A light went on inside the house.
“We’d better hurry,” said Sean.
“What’s going on out there?” called out a voice from inside.
, thought Nicola. (Frizzle
was the Berry family’s own private swear word.)
“Go, go, go!” she said. The Space Brigade began scrambling up the spaceship ladder.
Jessie screamed like both her legs had been broken. “Me come, too!”
“We’ll bring you back something pink, honey!” Katie ran to the ladder.
Jessie got a firm grip on the hem of Nicola’s dress. (She was wearing a floaty, floral summer party dress to please Grammy.)
The front door of the house swung open.
“Oh, please let go, Jessie,” begged Nicola. She staggered to the spaceship with the little girl dragging along the grass behind her.
“Prepare for blastoff,” said Tyler.
Nicola’s foot was on the second rung of the ladder. Jessie was clutching her leg with both fat little hands.
A voice from the front porch said, “What in the world . . . ?”
Jessie’s grip loosened. Sean and Katie leaned out of the spaceship and pulled Nicola inside. She strapped herself into her passenger pod. Through the glass bubble lid of the spaceship she could see her crazy great-aunt Annie striding across the front lawn toward Jessie, her mouth moving rapidly. Nicola couldn’t hear what she was saying, but she had a feeling it wasn’t “Have a great trip in space, kids!”
Tyler twisted around to look at her with questioning eyebrows.
“Blast off now
!” she ordered him.
He didn’t even need to look back at the controls. He slammed one fist against the big red button.
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.