My name is Akiko. This is the story of how I went from building a snowman to flying through a black hole to nearly getting crushed by the Jaws of--
Well, I don't want to give it all away.
Let's just say for now that some really weird stuff happened to me the other day. Stuff involving my friends from the planet Smoo, a big rusty spaceship named Boach's Bullet, and several tons of something green and smelly called grull.
See what I mean? Weird stuff.
I'll start with the snowman.
It was a freezing cold January morning, a Saturday. My best friend, Melissa, and I were playing in Middleton Park, just a few blocks from the apartment building where we both live. We were chucking snowballs at each other, making sorry-looking igloos, and just generally goofing around with the six or seven inches of snow that had fallen the night before.
"Middleton is nowhere," said Melissa. "When I grow up I'm moving to a big city. Where exciting stuff happens. Every day, all the time. And I'll tell everyone I meet: Stay away from Middleton. Unless you really like being bored."
"Oh, come on," I said. "It's not that bad."
Melissa chucked a snowball and we both watched it slide across the frozen duck pond. I threw one too, but it didn't go as far.
"Trust me, Akiko. I've been to Chicago and Milwaukee and Cincinnati. Those are real cities. Your problem is you've never been away from your own hometown."
(Melissa's problem is she starts too many sentences with "Your problem is.")
"I have too," I said.
"Where have you been?"
"I've been to places you've never even heard of."
If only I could tell her: Smoo! Quilk! The castle of Alia Rellapor!
"Leamington?" She laughed and shook her head. "I've been to Leamington. It's even worse than Middleton." She threw another snowball. "When I get older I'm going to stay away from any place that ends with -ton."
"I like Leamington," I said. "My gramma lives there."
"You like everything," Melissa said. "That's your whole problem."
Then Melissa's mom called her from the top of a hill on the other side of the duck pond.
"Come on, 'Liss! Time to go!"
"But Mom," she said, "we're in the middle of something really important here."
"Count of ten: one . . . two . . ."
"Mom!" Melissa pleaded. She stretched it out until it sounded like Maaaah-um.
". . . three . . . four . . ."
"Gotta go." Melissa sighed, dropped the snowball she'd been making, and trotted off around the edge of the duck pond. I stood there and watched the puffs of breath trail off behind her.
"See ya, Melissa!"
A minute later there was no one in the park but me.
I was about to head back home, but then I decided to make a snowman. We don't get that much snow in Middleton, so there are only so many chances for snowman making before it's suddenly March and the so-called snow is so gray and slushy you don't want your mittens going anywhere near it.
I had finished with the second big ball of snow--the snowman's belly--and was working on the third when I began to feel warm. Seriously warm. It was like I was being heated from inside or something. I unzipped my coat and loosened my scarf a little, but it didn't really help. I took off my mittens and stuffed them in my coat pockets.
That's when it started happening.
First my hand-knit winter hat disappeared. It sort of loosened itself from my head like it was, I don't know, letting go of me. And then it just vanished. By that point I was feeling downright feverish. I reached into my coat to loosen my scarf a little more and found that it had disappeared too.
Then my eyes went haywire. All of Middleton Park started to lose its color. The black tree trunks faded to gray and then to white, all the buildings turned white, and the sky turned white: I could hardly see anything but white, no matter what direction I turned.
There was a surge of heat from inside me, like a burst of flame right between my heart and my stomach.
A popping noise shot through my skull from one ear to the other, and when I looked down . . . I couldn't see my body anymore! Everything around me got whiter and whiter until I was surrounded by a million little white-hot suns and I had to shut my eyes and throw my hands over them and . . .
There was a terrific slamming sound, louder than anything I'd ever heard in my life.
A second sound, even louder. Then:
Except for a low, buzzing hum in my head.
I uncovered my eyes.
I was kneeling in the middle of a large gray square, smooth and glossy, but with scuff marks all over it like a well-used floor. Middleton Park was gone, replaced by a sea of blackness in all directions. Well, most of Middleton Park was gone, anyway. My now half-melted snowman was still right there in front of me, for some reason.
The humming slowly gave way to a loud rattling noise, like an old muffler in need of repair. There was a flicker of light, then all at once everything snapped into focus: I was in a small room cluttered with all sorts of strange machines and flashing orange lights. On one side of the room was a large glass windshield, beyond which lay a field of stars.
I was inside a spaceship.
"Wait! Look!" said a familiar voice just behind me. "That's her! She's coming through!"
"You're a lucky man, Beebs," said a second voice, just as familiar. "Let's hope her innards didn't get flipped upside down."
I spun around and found myself face to face with my Smoovian friends, Spuckler and Mr. Beeba. They were crouching just beyond the edge of the square, staring at me with wide eyes. Behind them to the left was Spuckler's rusty robot, Gax, and hovering above Gax was Poog in all his strange purple-round glory.
Mr. Beeba flinched and pointed behind me.
"Good heavens!" he cried. "She's not alone! We've picked up some sort of alien ice creature!"
"Don't worry, Beebs," said Spuckler, eyeing the unfinished snowman. "It ain't breathin'. I think the Trans-Moovulator musta killed it."
"What . . . ," I started.
Took a deep breath.
"Where am I?"From the Trade Paperback edition.
Excerpted from Akiko and the Alpha Centauri 5000 by Mark Crilley. Copyright © 2004 by Mark Crilley. Excerpted by permission of Yearling, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.