I opened my eyes. I'd been sleeping so soundly that for the first few seconds I had no idea where I was. Then it slowly came back to me: I was on the planet Smoo with my new friends Spuckler Boach, Gax, Mr. Beeba, and Poog. We were floating peacefully above the clouds on our little flying boat, resting up before the next leg of our journey.
I was a little embarrassed to notice that everyone else was already awake. Mr. Beeba was steering the boat, Poog was floating quietly by himself just behind the mast, and Spuckler was giving Gax a little tune-up. (After all that poor robot had been through lately, I'm sure he needed it.)
"Hey there, Akiko," said Spuckler, smiling as always. "How ya doin'? Feels good to get a little shut-eye, don't it?"
"Yeah," I said, yawning and stretching my arms. "How long was I asleep?"
"Not particularly long," Mr. Beeba said, turning his head to join the conversation. "You've nothing to be ashamed of, dear girl. I would encourage you to get all the rest you can."
"Yeah, 'Kiko," Spuckler agreed. "'Cause there ain't nothin' else to do on this boat."
"You have entirely misconstrued the meaning of my statement, Spuckler," Mr. Beeba said wearily.
"I'm right, though," Spuckler insisted.
"You most certainly are not," Mr. Beeba answered. He was never one to pass up a good argument with Spuckler. And who was I to stop him? Watching the two of them go at it was as good as any television show. Poog was interested too, apparently. He floated over and gave himself a good view of the debate.
"I'm sure there are any number of interesting activities for an intelligent child like Akiko to do on a boat such as this," Mr. Beeba continued.
"Name two," Spuckler grunted, tightening a bolt on Gax's underside.
"Well," Mr. Beeba began, "she could practice memorizing the names of all the books I've written—"
"That don't count," Spuckler interrupted. "You said interesting."
"She could follow that up," Mr. Beeba continued, ignoring Spuckler for the moment, "by memorizing passages from the books themselves."
"Well, that just proves my point," said Spuckler victoriously. "There ain't nothin' for 'Kiko to do on this boat but sleep." Gax clicked and whirred quietly as Spuckler tightened another bolt underneath his helmet.
"Hmpf!" Mr. Beeba snorted, apparently losing interest in the argument. There was a long pause, during which neither of them said anything. I found myself staring at the clouds and secretly agreeing with Spuckler.
After a long while I saw some orange-winged creatures flying overhead. They were the same creatures I'd seen way back when we'd just begun our journey.
"Hey, look, Mr. Beeba," I said, pointing up at them as they passed over us. "There's some more of those reptile-bird things you were telling me about before."
"Yumbas, Akiko. Yumbas," he replied, sounding slightly disappointed that I hadn't remembered the name. "An odd species, actually. All Yumbas fly in precisely the same direction by instinct. Northeast, I believe. Or was it southwest? Well, in any case, it is said that the average Yumba literally circles the planet once every fourteen days."
"No kidding," I said, shielding my eyes from the sun as I watched the Yumbas fly off into the distance. "Where I come from, birds fly in pretty much any direction they want." I thought for a moment about my science teacher, Mrs. Jackson, back at Middleton Elementary. She had this big lesson plan one time about birds and how they fly south in the winter. She actually took us out into the school yard so that we could see real birds flying south. We didn't end up seeing anything, though, and all I remember is how cold it was and how I wanted to get back into the classroom as quickly as possible.
I leaned back on my elbows and looked up at the clouds again, wondering what direction the Yumbas were flying in. I wondered if they got tired of seeing the same scenery over and over again.
Then a really weird thing happened. A second flock of Yumbas passed overhead, and I thought for sure they were crossing over us in a slightly different direction. The time before, they had come from the left-hand side of the ship and had flown across to the right. This time it was just a little more from the front of the ship, heading toward the back. I sat there and waited to see if more Yumbas would pass overhead.
Sure enough, another group flew over us, and this time it was even more obvious that they were changing direction.
"Hey, Mr. Beeba," I said, "I think you might be wrong about those Yumbas."
"Me?" Mr. Beeba asked, as if I'd just proposed something altogether impossible. "Wrong?"
"It's nothing personal, Mr. Beeba," I explained cautiously. "I just think that maybe sometimes they fly in more than one direction."
"Really, Akiko," Mr. Beeba clucked disapprovingly. "It's one thing to postulate a theory contrary to my own, but quite another to do so without offering any proof whatsoever to back it up."
"Well, look up there and see what I'm talking about," I said, pointing at yet another group of Yumbas in the sky. Mr. Beeba coughed, cleared his throat, and watched as they passed over us, this time coming a little from the right and heading slightly to the left.
There was a long, awkward silence as Mr. Beeba followed the path of the Yumbas with his eyes.
"Inconceivable!" he said at last, scratching agitatedly at his head. "Yumbas never change direction."
"Now, wait a gol-darned second here," Spuckler said, jumping to his feet.
Mr. Beeba and I turned around to face him, a little surprised that he had any interest whatsoever in the conversation. Spuckler paced back and forth across the deck, looking up at the clouds and down at the Moonguzzit Sea beneath us, a very grim expression coming over his face. Gax watched him nervously, as if experience had taught him to be prepared for sudden drastic changes in Spuckler's mood.
"Those birds ain't changin' directions," he announced. "We are!"
"Us?" Mr. Beeba asked, his eyes widening. "You mean the ship? Don't be ridiculous!" There was a slightly uneasy sound in his voice, though, as if some terrible truth had just begun to dawn on him.
"We're goin' around in circles is what we're doin'," Spuckler said, now starting to sound angry. "No wonder we been flyin' all this time and we still ain't past the Moonguzzit Sea!"
"F-flying in circles?" Mr. Beeba stuttered. "Nonsense! I've been steering this ship in an absolutely straight line!"
"You don't get it, do ya, Beebs?" Spuckler exclaimed, throwing his arms up in the air. "We are lost! L-A-W-S-T, lost!"
"We . . . ," Mr. Beeba began, trying rather desperately to defend himself, "we'd have finished this mission by now if your Sky Pirate friends hadn't destroyed all my books!"
"Aw, you an' your stupid books!" Spuckler said. He was actually kind of shouting. "You ain't in your cozy little library anymore, Beebs. This is reality out here—take a good look!"
This argument seemed more serious than the little spats I'd seen so far, and I figured if I didn't interrupt they'd end up throwing punches or something. I cleared my throat and jumped in between the two of them.
"Look, we're never going to get anywhere if you two don't stop arguing all the time!"
Without even a pause, they stopped, turned, pointed at each other, and said (at exactly the same time), "He started it."
Honestly! You'd think they were first-graders or something.
"I don't care who started it," I said, putting on my best bossy voice and wagging a finger in front of both of them. "I'm in charge of this mission and I order you to stop fighting."
And it worked, too. They both got quiet and just stared at the deck for a minute. A soft breeze blew over us and flapped through the sails as I allowed the silence to continue a little bit longer. The sun was getting lower in the sky, and we were all covered in a warm yellow glow.
"All right," I said finally. "We're going to sit right down here and have a little meeting."
"A meetin'?" Spuckler asked, with obvious disapproval.
"Yes. We're going to talk about how we got into this mess. Then we're going to find a way out of it." This was a little trick I'd learned from my history teacher, Mr. Moylan, back at Middleton Elementary. He said you always need to have a little meeting like this whenever you're in a tough situation and you can't figure out what to do next. Under the circumstances I think he'd have agreed this was a pretty good time to follow his advice.
"Okay," I said, trying to use a very businesslike voice, "the first thing we have to do is decide whether or not we're really lost."
"We're lost, all right," Spuckler snapped.
"Quiet, Spuckler," I snapped back at him. "If you want to say something at this meeting you have to raise your hand."
Spuckler rolled his eyes and Mr. Beeba smiled triumphantly.
"Now, Mr. Beeba," I continued, trying to think of a gentle way to approach the subject. "Are you willing to admit that we might be lost?"
Mr. Beeba pulled a handkerchief out from beneath his belt and began cleaning his spectacles. He took his time answering, as if he enjoyed making us all wait for him.
"We may possibly be a tad off course, yes," he said quietly, focusing most of his attention on a smudge he was trying to remove from one of the lenses.
"A tad?" Spuckler snorted.
"Please, Spuckler," I said, glaring at him. "It doesn't do us any good to point fingers at one another. If we're lost, the most important thing is to get un-lost.
Remember, Prince Froptoppit is out there locked up somewhere, and like it or not, we're his only hope of being rescued."
An air of helplessness fell over the whole group. Even Gax and Poog seemed perplexed.
"Now, any way you look at it, I've got to admit this mission of ours hasn't gone very smoothly so far. But at least we're all still together."
"Yes, quite," Mr. Beeba murmured, not sounding particularly pleased. There was a long pause, during which Spuckler rubbed his chin and scratched at the back of his head.
"Now, Mr. Beeba," I asked, "is there any way you know of getting us back on course?"
"Tragically, no," Mr. Beeba replied, a dejected look coming over his face. "Though this vessel of ours is very charming, I'm afraid it is not equipped with the sort of navigational equipment we so desperately need at the moment."
There was another long pause as we all sat and tried to come up with a way out of our dilemma. Just when I was starting to think the whole meeting idea might turn out to be a big waste of time, Poog spoke up. It had been quite a while since he'd said anything, so I was a little startled to hear his warbly, high-pitched voice. It still impressed me that Mr. Beeba was actually able to understand Poog's bizarre alien language.
"Really?" Mr. Beeba asked in response to what Poog had just said. "Well, now, that's encouraging!"
Poog continued with another brief burst of syllables, then stopped and smiled, blinking his big black eyes once or twice.
"Poog has just informed me of someone who might be able to help us," Mr. Beeba announced, his voice now very hopeful. "Her name is Pwip. She's the Queen of the Sprubly Islands."
"The Sproobly Islands?" I asked.
"Sprubly, Akiko. Rhymes with 'bubbly.' It's a small chain of islands in the middle of the Moonguzzit Sea. Poog tells me that if we can find Queen Pwip, she might be able to show us how to get to the place where Prince Froptoppit is being held captive."
"You mean Alia Rellapor's castle?" I asked.
"Exactly," Mr. Beeba answered, a mysterious look coming over his face. "Not only that, but Queen Pwip is evidently something of a clairvoyant."
"What's a claire buoyant?" I asked, never having heard the word before.
"A clairvoyant, Akiko," he corrected, "is someone who has the ability to see or know things beyond the realm of normal perception. Queen Pwip, it seems, has just such an ability. She may even be able to foresee the future."
"Wow! She really is the sort of person we need," I said, sitting up straight. "Thank you, Poog, for telling us about her. I have a feeling this could make all the difference."
"Well, I don't know if I believe in fortune-tellers and all that kind of razzmatazz," Spuckler said, scratching his head again, "but if she can show us the way to Alia's castle, I reckon it's worth lookin' her up."
"That settles it, then," I said in an authoritative voice, bringing the meeting to a close. "Our mission for the time being is to look for the Sprubly Islands and find Queen Pwip!"
"Thank you, Akiko," Mr. Beeba whispered to me a moment later. "That was a very productive meeting."From the Trade Paperback edition.
Excerpted from Akiko in the Sprubly Islands by Mark Crilley. Copyright © 2001 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.