Last week we announced that Neil Ostroff’s Silent Invasion is our Kids Corner Book of the Week and the sponsor of our student reviews and of thousands of great bargains in the Kids Book category:
Now we’re back to offer a free Kids Corner excerpt, and if you aren’t among those who have downloaded this one already, you’re in for a treat!
by Neil Ostroff
They are here! They are hidden among us! They will stop at nothing to destroy us!
Thirteen-year-old Tim Madison’s life turns upside down when a strange visitor takes him aboard a magnificent spaceship to train for a future alien invasion. Returned home with new skills and this terrible knowledge, he confides in his two best friends about his experience. Now, they’re in a race against time to prevent an all-out attack on Earth. Can they stop the ruthless, spider-like creatures from constructing a massive extermination army deep inside our planet? Or will we all perish?
And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:
Something was wrong! Air was still. The house too quiet. Brady the neighbor’s obnoxious collie wasn’t barking outside.
Tim Madison rolled to the side of the bed and flicked on the table light. His desk, cluttered with astronomy magazines, math homework, and his eighth grade history book; the model airplane with the broken landing gear hanging by fishing line above his bed, his laptop computer, all looked normal. It was the walls. Ordinarily light-blue, they were red. He looked to the floor. The blue carpet had become black. Bright brown numbers on his digital clock beamed 6:15 A.M.
Weird, he thought.
He slipped from the sheets, stepped toward the door, and turned the handle slowly. Bedroom light threw his shadow across the hallway’s previously tan, now lime-green carpet. Formally white hallway walls were yellow.
“Greetings,” a low voice said.
Tim spun around. Fear soared up his spine. He tried to scream but a lungful of choked air came out. A creature a few feet taller than him, with a human body, beetle-like head, and claws instead of hands, stood wearing an all black jumpsuit.
“I will take you to our training facility where the Thispan Council arranged accommodations,” the creature said.
Tim’s heart banged against his chest. He backed against the wall and looked from side to side thinking which way to run. To his parent’s room? The bathroom? His muscles tensed. Should he bolt back into his own bedroom and slam the door shut?
“What?” he gasped. “Who are you?”
“I am Kiz,” the creature said. “The council sent me here because they have knowledge of dangerous events that will occur on your planet. I will teach you skills that most assures your success at preventing these events. This is your assignment.”
Tim gulped, pushing panic down. “I… I don’t understand.”
“You are the Earth’s galactic warrior. I will explain more once we are onboard the Skyru.”
“Our traveling device.”
“I can’t leave!” Tim thought of excuses. “What about school? I… I have a math quiz today and a history test on Thursday!”
“Your universe will only age for one minute while you are away. However, we cannot remain in this state of near timelessness for an extended period. We must reach the end of your universe before the hole connecting our two dimensions closes.”
Tim’s mind whirled. So much farfetched information was coming at him at once he felt dizzy.
“This is impossible!” he stated.
“As you will learn,” Kiz replied. “Nothing is impossible.”
Kiz turned and stepped down the hallway. The impulsive for Tim to follow him was enormous, as if being pulled by an invisible string. He felt compelled to go. And he did; down the stairs, through the yellow foyer, to the blue front door. Kiz turned the handle. Hinges creaked.
“We are experiencing problems with the colorization adapter on the time-stopper,” Kiz said. “The Council believes its function was second in importance to the urgency of your assignment.”
Tim barely heard him; most of his attention was absorbed by the site of the bizarre landscape. The early-morning neighborhood was frozen in time and everything tinted with the wrong colors. Everywhere he looked was something different and astonishing. Brady was blue and stood silent for once in his life with his nose glued to the ground. A few feet away, a green sparrow hovered motionless in midair. Grass on the front lawn was red. Neighbors’ houses were pink and blue instead of their usual browns and grays. Leaves on the spruce tree across the street were orange and its trunk was yellow.
“Unbelievable!” Tim gasped.
Kiz headed down the driveway and onto the sidewalk. Tim followed, completely awestruck at his surroundings. They passed an orange squirrel suspended in mid-scamper and another reared back on its hind legs. Brown bees poised above silver daisies. Mountains of green clouds dotted a milky-white sky. Wild-colored cars sat motionless amid the morning congestion around the construction in the right lane of Watson Street.
Sound like a cracking of the sky. A silver triangle about the size of a parking space and looking as thin as a pane of glass appeared overhead. Three thrusters one at each corner kept the ship hovering as a beam in the center shone down on him.
“What’s that?” Tim asked.
“The Skyru. Battle training begins now.”
Brilliant light flashed from the triangle’s underbelly and just like that, Tim found himself standing inside a wide, brightly lit, metal corridor that appeared to go on endlessly.
Kiz stepped forward. “Other galactic warriors are waiting for us in the main hall.”
“Others?” Tim’s belly swooned with uncertainty. He held out his hands and backed away slowly. “I… I don’t think I’m ready for this! I mean, a few minutes ago I was asleep in my bed, and now… I mean… I don’t even know what’s happening?”
“To tell you more at this time will jeopardize your assignment and everything the Council has worked toward. You must learn your battle skills in the appropriate order for your training to be most effective. The fate of your world, perhaps all worlds, rests on you.”
Tim headed down the corridor in a daze, his heart beat so hard he was sure Kiz could hear it and see the arteries thumping in his neck. This situation struck him with awe and not knowing what waited ahead tinged that awe with a spike of fear.
They passed between two gold pillars and entered an enormous stadium. Thousands of strange beings stared at them from a massive tier of seats. Tim looked over the assembled group. These creatures were like nothing, and everything, he had ever imagined. One nearby form resembled a rose bush but had yellow, tulip-like flowers with bright blue eyes on the ends of translucent petals. And it was hardly the most exotic. Another individual appeared to be an oversized bacteria with large cilia waving on its outside. Another looked like a fish out of water except with a moose’s head. Some of the aliens could best be described as transfigured humans with hands where their heads should be and eyeballs on their elbows. Others were bizarre morphs of animal, human, and insect features: flies with arms, a caterpillar with horse-like legs, a moth with the ears of a rabbit. It looked to Tim like someone had taken animal parts out of various bins and put them back together at random.
“I… I don’t believe this,” he said. “What are these things?”
“Galactic warriors,” Kiz replied. “One galactic warrior chosen from each advanced civilization in this quadrant of the universe.”
“Can they understand me?”
“A universal translator is built into the Skyru. You will hear words in your own language as will the others in their own. Some receive information as sonar waves and others understand through scent and smell.”
Tim thought about this for a moment. “But you spoke English in my bedroom?”
“I have learned your language as part of the assignment.”
“The final galactic warrior has boarded,” a voice boomed, through an unseen loudspeaker. “Your assignments now continue. The next general assembly meeting will occur when we reach the final destination. Return to your rooms and await further instructions.”
The large crowd swelled toward the outlining corridors.
“Follow me,” Kiz said, and guided Tim into one of dozens of recessed openings.
They passed an amazing variety of life: a giant centipede shuffling along on several porpoise-like flippers, a snail with a ferret’s head leaving a trail of lime-green slime as it glided down the hallway, a bee that whipped a snake-like tail as it buzzed by.
A creature with a rhinoceros-like head attached to a lithe, cat-like body caught Tim’s attention. Spines ran down its back like teeth. A formidable horn poked from its snout. The rhino-cat stopped walking, turned, and focused its tiny black eye on Tim.
“Are you the galactic warrior from planet Earth?” it asked.
Tim’s throat clogged with nervousness. He cleared it. “I guess so.”
“I visited your world many time spans ago,” the rhino-cat said. “It is an acceptable planet for a brief period, but I would not want to live among your people. Impulsive carnivores like you have much to learn before you can be considered civilized. I hope Kiz can teach you to channel all that savagery. I’ve heard Earth is the first encounter.”
The rhino-cat snorted and ejected a wad of mucus that stuck to the wall like a piece of chewed gum. It continued tramping down the corridor, turned, and disappeared into a separate passageway.
Tim flashed Kiz a quizzical look. “What’s he mean first encounter?”
“Disregard his remarks. Blituars are an arrogant race who feels humans should not even be granted the privilege of having a galactic warrior.”
“Blituars evolved several thousands of years before humans. They made the same mistakes your species now make, somehow surviving planet-wide pollution, harsh famines, and dozens of catastrophic wars. They are now a peaceful race of explorers and somewhat hypocritically given their own tortuous path to becoming pacifists, they consider humans a violent, lower form of life.”
“Is the Blituar a galactic warrior?”
“Yes, but he isn’t nearly as important as you.”
“Why am I so important?”
“I cannot tell you at this time.”
Kiz stopped in front of a gold door encrusted with nine huge diamonds arranged like the Earth’s solar system with the third jewel from the center as the largest.
“This is your room,” Kiz said. “You are free to come and go as you please, but use caution if you choose to walk about the Skyru. Some representatives aren’t receptive toward humans. Battle training will commence when I return.”
Kiz walked away.
“Wait!” Tim called after him.
“Is there a problem?”
“How do I get inside?”
“Press the largest star-stone.”
Kiz disappeared into a side corridor. Tim raised his finger to touch the jewel. When he did, the door changed into a swirling, gray, curtain of mist.
“Computer on,” said a digital voice, startling him. “Please identify yourself.”
“I’m…uh, Tim. Tim Madison.”
“At last!” the computer rejoiced, its tone becoming thoroughly human. “I thought you were the Goron galactic warrior. The Goron has been trying to access your room since she came aboard. I assume she wanted to see what grass looks like. Gorons are curious creatures; they live their entire lives on a single ball of rock devoid of all vegetation. But never mind that information. Everything is prepared as described in your profile. Please enter.”
Tim hesitated. Was this a trap? He’d watched enough late-night horror flicks to know that if dangerous monsters were to attack him they usually lurked on the other side of such mysterious places.
“Your room is your sanctuary,” the computer assured him, as if sensing his concern. “There is no safer place for you.”
Still wary, Tim took a cautious step, and then another. He held his breath as he went through the warm, surprisingly dry mist, and emerged into his own yard with his house in front of him.
Tim stood jaw-dropped in disbelief. He was home. Or was he?
He surveyed the area; same trees, bushes, even the patch of weeds beside driveway that his dad had wanted him to pull. How was it possible? As the initial shock subsided, he noticed something peculiar. There were no other houses around the development, just a flat, grassy expanse. No animals. No birds. No annoying Brady barking at him from the next yard over.
“I am programmed to provide a habitat where you can relax after your training,” the computer said. “Please enter your dwelling so I may explain the altered devices.”
Tim crossed the yard to the porch, approached the front door, hesitated, and then twisted the knob. Hinges turned with a creak. He stepped inside. The interior of the house looked the same as always. Family pictures, the silver-rimmed mirror, the wreath of dried flowers, all adorned the hallway walls exactly as if he were in his real home.
He peeked into the kitchen. Mom’s blue oven mitts hung beside the gas stove. Dirty dishes from last night’s dinner were soaking in the sink. Even the scorch mark on the counter was identical to the one his dad had once made with a hot serving dish.
Tim noticed a green, rectangular device about the size of a small microwave oven.
“What’s this?” he wondered aloud.
A beam of light from the ceiling illuminated the device’s smooth sides and marble-like surface.
“That is the organic sustenance dispenser,” the computer said. “It can manufacture any variety of food.”
Tim approached the device, curious but cautious.
“Try it,” the computer offered. “Food energy is necessary to keep up your strength.”
“How does it work?”
“Simply speak your order.”
“Okay… um… ” His stomach growled as visions of his favorite foods ran through his mind: pizza, hot dogs, cheeseburgers, but he said simply; “How about a small chocolate cake?”
The machine clanked and popped and emitted strange grinding noises from its inside. A blue light flashed on top, and a second later, a tray materialized. In the middle of the tray sat a small, square chocolate cake. Tim ran his index finger along the icing and poked it into his mouth. He grimaced.
“This tastes like dirt!” he said, sourly.
“All nutritional content required by the human body is supplemented into whatever food you choose to consume. This small chocolate cake provides all the vitamins, protein, and minerals necessary for an active twelve-hour period. Would you like to order something more specific to your tastes?”
“Then please enter the area you commonly refer to as the den.”
Tim stepped from the kitchen toward the room. Heat hit like someone had opened a giant oven door. He looked to the ceiling and drops of perspiration slid down his cheeks.
“Can you cool it in here?” he asked.
“Whatever temperature you desire need only be spoken aloud.”
“Make it seventy degrees.”
Hotness skyrocketed to a broiling furnace. Tim felt as if he were going to ignite. Dizziness overtook him and he reached to the edge of the sofa for support.
“Seventy degrees!” he gasped, as sweat gushed from his pores. “I said seventy degrees!”
“This is the temperature requested,” the computer replied. “Commands are set on Thispin Kevlerts until otherwise specified by the room’s occupant. Would you like Fahrenheit or Cel–”
A cool blanket of air immediately fell over the room, relief and comfort rolled with it. Tim steadied his quaking legs and wiped his face with the bottom of his shirt. He noticed a large silver box resting on the table where the television set should have been and stepped over. A beam of light suddenly shone on the device, highlighting several multi-colored buttons poking out along the top rim. The base looked like a four-way speaker.
“And this?” Tim questioned.
“The entertainment receiver,” the computer replied. “The entertainment receiver can play any Earth-transmitted television program or music. Should you have any questions relevant to your environment simply knock and I will respond. Good day, galactic warrior.”
With the computer silent, Tim could finally think about the events of the previous hour. Will his parents and friends know he’s gone? What does being the Earth’s galactic warrior mean? Why did the Council choose him over billions of other people? Would he be back in time to take the history test on Monday?
He headed up the steps to the second floor and into the bathroom, and then into his parents’ bedroom, and finally into his own room, searching for mistakes; examining every angle and knick-knack: a misplaced lamp, a forgotten chair, a picture slightly out of focus. Everything was identical to his real house. Everything! The photograph of him and his two best friends, Dan Larson and Jamie Richards perched on the dresser, even the model airplane with the broken landing gear hung from fishing line above his nightstand. The clock held steadfast at 6:15 A.M.
He caught his image in the window. His hair was the same chestnut color and the same stubborn acne still spread like a gash across his forehead. He plopped down onto his bed, leaned over, and knocked briskly on the wood frame.
“Computer on, how can I be of service?”
“What’s a galactic warrior?”
“A galactic warrior is an agent, deputy, delegate or symbol of a governing body according to Thispin mandate 43567.82.”
“That’s not what I mean! What kind of galactic warrior am I? What’s this training all about? What am I supposed to do?”
“I am not programmed to relay that information.”
Tim fell backward onto the mattress, sighed in frustration, and looked out the window at a synthetic world bright with artificial sunlight and perfect in every way. The spruce tree across the street swayed in the automatic breeze. Chalky mounds of stark-white clouds gently skimmed a flawless, powder-blue sky. But no birds flew in that sky, no insects buzzed around the screen, no sounds of nature filtered in through the open window.
“Computer, can you tell me how long I’m gonna be here?”
“I am not programmed to—”
“Never mind! I know the answer. Only one minute will pass on Earth so it doesn’t matter, right?”
“I am not programmed to relay that information.”
“What are you programmed to answer?”
“Questions relevant to your environment. All other information will be divulged at the proper times. It is essential that you learn what is necessary in the sequence that best benefits your training.”
“What am I being trained for?”
“What kind of battle?”
“I am not programmed to—”
He hopped from his bed, bolted down the stairs, and entered the kitchen.
“Cheeseburger on a bun!” he stated, to the organic sustenance dispenser.
The dispenser whirred and made popping noises. A blue light flashed and a cheeseburger appeared on a tray. He bit off a mouthful, chewed twice, and spit it out. The meat tasted like the icing on the chocolate cake and the bun had the consistency and flavor of cardboard.
“This is awful!”
The dispenser didn’t respond.
He thought about his choices. Why had the chocolate icing tasted so bad? Why were the temperature extremes so specific? Why did the bun have the consistency of cardboard?
He glared at the device. “Six ounces of premium ground beef cooked medium-well and served on a toasted sesame-seed bun. With lettuce, dill pickles… wait, make that extra dill pickles, ketchup, and a slice of onion. Oh, and two slices of melted American cheese on top of the beef, and a sweet chocolate milkshake on the side.”
The dispenser wheezed and the selections appeared. He picked up the burger, eyed it skeptically, sniffed cautiously, and then took a small bite. The flavor was extraordinary.
“Mmm, that’s more like it.”
He grabbed the shake, headed out the back kitchen door, ambled around the side of the house, down his driveway, and across the street up to the spruce tree; which looked normal enough apart from the golf-ball-sized star-stone embedded in the center of its trunk. Beyond the spruce tree lay a flat, seemingly endless field of vibrantly green grass.
He paused, and then looked up to the perfect sky.
“Rainstorm, fifty-five degrees Fahrenheit!” he hollered.
Menacing black clouds immediately swallowed every trace of blue. Temperature plummeted and a sudden, strong wind whipped the spruce tree, bushes, and grass into a fury.
Tim grinned mischievously as rain began splattering in fat drops on his head, shoulders, and food.
He pressed the star-stone and entered the Skyru.
Tim walked the brightly lit metal passageways for what seemed like miles but hadn’t encountered even one of the creatures he’d seen in the main hall. He didn’t feel scared, or homesick, or even worried. All he felt, as he strolled down corridor after corridor, was pure amazement at the size of this wondrous place. He spotted a door similar to the one for his room except with sixteen star-stones embedded in the gold. The eleventh was the largest. He pressed it and the door turned into mist.
Something snake-like and covered with foul-smelling goop sprung out, wrapped around his chest, and yanked him into air chalky with dust and smoke. The snake-like thing tightened and squeezed out the last breaths in his lungs. Tim struggled to inhale against the iron-band pressure. His vision dimmed. Weird dots of light flashed inside his eyelids. He was going unconscious. He was going to die!
A high-pitched scream came from somewhere off in the darkness. The grip loosened and he dropped a few feet to a rough, vine-covered floor. Only this was no ordinary ground. And there weren’t vines beneath him. Terrain was moving, ebbing and swelling to the motion of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of tiny, snake-like creatures.
He gasped and clawed, teary and half-blind, toward the misty doorway, which looked as dim as a flared match in the harsh environment. Tiny creatures spun around his legs. His head ached from lack of clean air.
A huge, winged creature with a dragon-like face picked Tim up in its slobbery, toothless mouth, flapped to the doorway, and dropped him into the corridor. Tim lay flabbergasted, sucking in great gulps of fresh air. He looked up to see the dragon-faced thing shaking its head and pointing a talon, as if scolding him.
“You alone are responsible for the results of your actions,” the dragon-faced creature said.
It flicked its green tail indignantly and the hole closed, becoming the shiny gold door again. Tim sat a moment waiting for his hands to stop shaking and his knees to stop knocking. A noise came from one of the far corridors, like someone giggling after breathing in helium. He got up, proceeded toward the sound, and poked his head (cautiously this time) through a small archway.
On the other side, was a room like a movie theater with an aisle in the middle separating about a dozen long rows of seats. Dim, but not completely dark, the theater was illuminated by lights flickering across a mammoth video screen showing multi-colored balls spinning against a white backdrop. As each ball popped, another of a different color appeared in its place.
More giggling erupted from something squirming in the center seat of the front row, something large and furry. Tim edged down the aisle and shimmied along behind it.
“Uh… excuse me,” he said modestly, and lightly tapped the creature’s shoulder.
The creature yelped, bolted up, and scrambled over the seats, lodging one of its four flamingo-like legs in the thin space separating the back cushion from the bottom one.
“You startled me!” the creature screeched. “Computer, lights on!”
The room brightened and the huge screen went blank.
About Tim’s height, and covered with knots of coarse, dirty-brown hair, the creature had the pointy face and plump body of a field mouse, but with two long, hairy arms like a gorilla.
“Hurry up and help free me!” the mouse-creature demanded, and its long, wiry tail tossed impatiently. “I haven’t got all day to waste with you!”
Tim pushed on the bottom cushion and pulled the headrest back. “Is this better?”
The mouse-figure shook its foot free, and with a sneer on its snout said, “Quite. What are you doing here?”
Tim cleared his throat. “My name’s—”
“I don’t care who you are! Why are you intruding upon my leisure time? You’ve ruined my enjoyment of the Zenith Orbs!”
“They told me I could go where ever I wanted.”
“Who told you?”
The mouse-creature’s expression instantly changed into one of delight. “You’re him! You’re the one!” It grinned, showing several rows of small, serrated teeth. “The mission is almost over!” Its round, black eyes ranged up and down the length of Tim. “I missed the general assembly meeting but I did overhear that the Earth’s galactic warrior was quite young for an assignment of this magnitude. But I never figured they would choose such a small and weak-looking human.”
“I can handle whatever this assignment is, don’t worry!” Tim stated, letting it be known by the challenge in his voice that he would not be insulted. “What are you, anyway?”
“Being from Earth, a planet less-knowledgeable about the inhabited universe, you obviously cannot help your ignorance. My name is Colton. I am the galactic warrior from the planet Wooran, located at the seventeenth quadrant in the twenty-third universe. Tell me, young Earthling, has anyone explained the challenges bestowed upon you as the galactic warrior for your planet?”
Tim pursed his lips. “Well, not exactly.”
“Being chosen as a galactic warrior is probably the single most important responsibility that a member of a species can be entrusted with. You, in some way, maybe through acclaim, maybe dialogue, maybe violence, will directly affect the evolutionary path of your world.”
“What am I supposed to do?”
“Each galactic warrior has a different assignment,” Colton replied. He licked his hand graciously and then preened a whisker. “I know very little of yours except of its importance. You are the first encounter, after all.”
“I heard that before. What’s it mean?”
“I cannot answer your questions.”
Tim’s frustration boiled. “I want to know what’s happening to me!”
Colton turned and dashed up the aisle.
“Hey, wait!” Tim shouted.
But the galactic warrior from planet Wooran was gone.