Incredible Space Raiders from Space!
JONAH BLINKED SEVERAL TIMES BEFORE he realized she was not going away. He took one last extra-long blink, just to be sure, and then opened his eyes. Still there.
“Ready to wake up yet?” she asked politely.
“No,” he replied.
She smiled and nodded. “Okay. I can wait.”
Jonah frowned and looked around the room. It was small and mostly empty, apart from a cot tucked against the wall. The walls themselves were made of rusty-looking gray metal, and a few dim light panels flickered on the ceiling, casting everything in an eerie white glow. Jonah wondered why he was sitting on the floor. It was hard and cold.
When he finally turned back to the girl, she was still just smiling patiently and staring at him like he was a new pet. She seemed a little odd.
For one, she was wearing what could only be described as a uniform. It was a faded brown color and far too big, but it had a belt and a black patch sewn onto the chest.
The patch said ISR in red letters. That was strange enough for someone who must have been about eleven years old. But she also had on a pair of broken glasses, was wearing bright red lipstick, and had wild brown hair tied up in bunches, like a porcupine having a bad hair day.
“Who are you?” Jonah asked.
She stood at attention and saluted. “Willona the Awesome, at your service.”
Jonah raised his eyebrows. “Your name is Willona the Awesome?”
Jonah looked around the room again. “And where am I?”
“The Fantastic Flying Squirrel.”
Jonah rubbed his forehead. “The what?”
“The Fantastic Flying—”
“I heard you,” Jonah said quickly. “Why am I here?”
Willona smiled happily. “Because you have been specially selected to join the Incredible Space Raiders from Space. You should be honored. There were only two hundred members chosen from the entire solar system. And you were the last! The extra-special recruit. That’s why we gave you such a good room.”
Jonah looked around. “This is a good room?”
Willona shrugged and gestured behind him. “Well, you got a window.”
Jonah slowly turned around. His eyes widened.
He wasn’t leaning against a wall. It was a window. The
reflection of a small, skinny boy with a mop of messy hair and bright green eyes was staring back at him. Behind that reflection, and behind a few inches of extra-thick glass, was outer space.
And sitting in that, now small in the distance, was the familiar blue-and-green ball that was Earth, where his big white-bricked home with a long black driveway and neatly trimmed lawn stood at the end of Eleventh Drive.
Jonah stared out the window for a moment and then turned back to Willona.
“What is the Fantastic Flying Squirrel?” he whispered.
Willona smiled. “Come with me.”
• • •
Willona led Jonah down a long hallway made of the same dark-gray metal as the room he’d woken up in. Dusty old light panels ran along the ceiling, and most of them were flickering ominously or out altogether. Large steel double doors with black-and-yellow stripes blocked the hallway farther ahead. There was no plush carpet or nice pictures or anything else Jonah was used to seeing in hallways on Earth—just identical gray doors lining both walls, all with little grooves for handles. There were lots of those.
As they walked, kids in overlarge brown uniforms kept marching by or popping out of open doorways. Every one of them grinned at Jonah and saluted crisply.
They looked normal enough, besides the uniforms and the fact that many were holding long metal pipes
like weapons. They were all kids, the oldest only about fifteen years old. Most were wearing ratty old sneakers, but a few had no shoes at all.
“This hallway is called Squirrel Street,” Willona said, gesturing around them. “It’s where every Space Raider lives. But you see those big double doors with the warning stripes? Squirrel Street continues on the other side of it, but we can’t go there unless ordered by a lieutenant or the commander, because that’s the next sector—there are four sectors total. This is Sector Three. It’s clearly the best sector, which is probably why they put me here.”
Jonah felt he should sit down. She patted one of the identical gray doors.
“Most of these doors lead to bedrooms like yours, but we also have bathrooms and, of course, a cafeteria—one for each sector.” She glanced back. “Are you all right?”
Jonah shook his head. “No.”
“That’s okay,” she said. “It’s a lot to take in.”
It wasn’t the fact that they were in space that was so perplexing to Jonah. In the year 2156, space travel was fairly common. Humans had overpopulated Earth fifty years ago, and they now also lived in domed colonies all across the solar system. There was even a colony on icy Pluto. Jonah had never been on a spaceship before, but his parents had.
What was confusing was that the only people he had seen on this ship were children, and they were marching
around like they were the crew. That had to be illegal.
“Where are the adults?” Jonah asked.
Willona laughed and kept walking. “Adults? The ISR doesn’t need adults.”
Jonah frowned as a boy with red hair saluted and walked by.
“Who are you people?”
“Ah,” Willona said, “I should probably explain.”
She stopped in the middle of the hallway and pulled a notepad out of her uniform pocket. Adjusting her glasses—even though there were no lenses—she turned to the first page and started reading.
“?‘Welcome, recruit. You’re probably wondering where you are.’?” She looked up and smiled. “I really should start with this.”
Willona continued reading.
“?‘Four years ago scientists on Earth made a groundbreaking discovery. They found new life.’?”
“I never heard about that,” Jonah said.
She glanced up at him. “May I continue?”
“Sorry,” Jonah murmured.
“?‘There was just one problem: The life they found was not friendly. They called them the Entirely Evil Things—or the EETs. The EETs come from a starless part of our galaxy called the Dark Zone. The scientists observed black ships flying out of the Dark Zone, and whenever the EETs found a habitable planet, they landed and
proceeded to consume all life. Earth sent a ship to the Dark Zone to make contact, but they never heard from it again. Since then, we’ve stopped trying to talk.’?”
Jonah didn’t like where this was going.
“?‘On that day, Earth came up with a new plan. The Incredible Space Raiders’—that’s us—‘were selected to travel to the Dark Zone and destroy the Entirely Evil Things.’?”
Jonah paled. “But we’re just kids.”
“Exactly,” Willona said, looking up. “The EETs prey on our weaknesses—our fears and mistakes and worries. An adult has too many. And so the ISR is made up entirely of children: those pure of heart and full of noble intention.”
She returned to her notes.
“?‘If we don’t stop them, the Entirely Evil Things will spread across the universe, consuming everything in their path. And so you, noble recruit, are now officially a member of Earth’s last defense, and you are tasked with saving humanity from evil.’?”
Willona closed the notepad and met Jonah’s eyes.
“And that is not the only danger we face,” she whispered, looking around the hallway. “The Squirrel is home to two other forces of evil. The first is Captain White Shark and his crew. They were hired by Earth to take us to the Dark Zone, because only a crew so evil could ever survive there. There are rumors that they kill Space
Raiders for fun. Not sure if it’s true, but I wouldn’t be surprised.”
Jonah felt his knees wobbling.
Willona leaned in. “But that’s not the worst thing on this ship.”
“It’s not?” Jonah murmured.
She shook her head. “We call it the Shrieker. It roams the hallways, coming and going like a shadow. You’ll hear it in your sleep. What is it? We don’t know. A ghost, maybe. An alien creature. A monster. But it’s not human, we know that. And it preys on Space Raiders who venture outside the safety of Squirrel Street.”
Willona stood up straight.
“This is a dangerous ship. But we are Space Raiders, and our only job is to survive long enough to get to the Dark Zone and save the universe from evil. Do you accept your noble task?”
“Well—,” Jonah said.
“Excellent,” Willona cut in. “Shall we?”
She continued marching down the hallway, and Jonah hurried to catch up. They walked past a second, smaller hallway that joined up with Squirrel Street. Gathered at the entrance to the hallway were ten Space Raiders standing in front of a tall boy with dark hair and serious brown eyes. He was giving them a lesson.
“The EETs are big,” he said, “but they have trouble hitting a moving target. You have to be fast, and when
the time comes you have to attack even faster.”
He started swinging his metal pipe back and forth in a complex pattern, and then he suddenly lunged forward, stabbing at an invisible enemy, shouting, “Take that, fiend!” As he did, the other Space Raiders followed him in perfect synchronization. They looked very impressive.
For just a second, Jonah thought it might be nice to be on a team. He’d never been on one before, other than the Science Club, and they definitely didn’t get to use weapons, unless you counted the time Jonah’s experiment blew up and turned his partner’s face green. But these kids looked like a real team: They followed orders and worked together and were probably friends, which wasn’t really like the Science Club either. Jonah didn’t have a lot of friends. Actually, he didn’t have any. Taking one last look at the group of kids, he hurried after Willona, who was already well past the hallway.
“For the next week, you will be in training,” Willona said as he fell into step behind her. “I call the program Space Raider Training 101.” She stopped and handed him a sheet of paper. “Here. I’ve prepared you a syllabus for Day One.”
SILABUS CYLABUS SYLLABUS?
1. Introduction to the ISR
2. Tour of Sector Three: Refreshments Available
3. Break (Naptime?)
4. Uniform Fitting
5. Bonker Training with Alex—NO ADVENTURING
6. Orientation Session: Ship Schedule
7. Rules Pop Quiz (Pretend you didn’t see that)
9. Bedtime: I DO NOT Tuck In
Jonah frowned as he looked over the syllabus. He had so many questions, it was hard to pick just one. But there was one thing Willona had said that had kind of stood out.
“How do you know the Shrieker preys on Space Raiders?”
Willona just started marching again, and Jonah jogged after her.
“How do you know?” he asked again.
Willona hesitated and looked at him. “Because it’s already eaten seven of us.”