Big Changes [Alien Kids, #5]

The ground shook around Katie and Francisco as dust and pebbles rained down from the ceiling.

“Get up!” Katie shouted again, helping Francisco struggle to his feet. They staggered towards the cave entrance. Then they suddenly heard a voice cutting through the shaking rock.

“Francisco! Are you there? Can you hear me?” It was coming from the radio in his suit. “Francisco!”

He stopped and looked at Katie.

“That’s my mom!” he exclaimed.

“Your communicator is working!” Katie shouted, just as a voice came out of hers.

“Katie! If you can hear this, please answer.”

“Dad?” she cried. “I’m here. Where are you?”

“Mom?” Francisco said, at the same time.

“We’re outside the cave!” his mother’s voice came back. “We’re coming in.”

The rumbling and shaking slowed and then stopped. Francisco and Katie hurried, panting, to the cave entrance and saw what had caused all the noise and shaking. It wasn’t an earthquake at all, but one of the colony’s jet copters that had landed in the clearing just below the cavern. Its searchlights lit up the space as if it were the middle of the day.

Four adults, all wearing all-weather suits, were climbing the slope. Francisco’s mom Martina was in the lead.

“Frankie!” she shouted and ran the last few steps. She grabbed him in a hug. Just behind her, a tall man ran up and nearly lifted Katie off her feet. It was Joe Hirota, Katie’s dad.

“Katie!” he cried. “We were worried sick. Are you okay? Are you both all right?”

“Aw Dad,” she protested. “Of course, we are. We can take care of ourselves.”

Francisco’s mom held him at arm’s length. “You’re a mess,” she cried. “And your arm. Are you hurt?”

“It was just a splinter,” he told her. “Katie took it out.”

“But if you were injured, why didn’t you call us?”

“We tried, but the signal didn’t go through.”

Martina nodded knowingly. “You were blocked by the cliff. I knew you went past the fence, even though I told you not to. We’ve been out looking since this afternoon, but we lost your signal for some time. We thought we heard your distress sirens, but they kept cutting out before we could pinpoint your location. We only just picked up your signal again. We were so worried.”

Francisco hung his head. “I know, I’m sorry. I didn’t think it would…”

“It’s my fault,” Katie blurted out. “I fell off the cliff.”

“You what?” her dad cried.

“It was no big deal.”

“No big deal? Listen to me, Katie Hirota! When we get home…” Her dad stopped and laughed. “We’ll worry about that when we get home. Come on.”

“No, Dad, wait,” Katie told him. “We can’t go yet. We have to show you something.”

The two other adults had joined them. One was Abdul, who worked in the greenhouse. The other was a scientist named Sara. They both carried weapons, clunky-looking rifles.

“We’d better get going,” Abdul told them. “There’s a large pack of needle dogs just beyond the tree line. They might attack any minute.”

“I told you it was dangerous out here,” Martina cried.

“But we figured out how to stop the dogs,” Francisco told them. “I mean, it was Katie’s idea. We used the sound of our distress signal. They hate it.”

“Very clever,” his mom said. “But we’d better go.”

“Not yet,” he replied. “Come and look. Come on!”

Francisco and Katie led their parents into the cave. Abdul and Sara followed, with a large lantern. Sara set up the lantern on the floor, and the entire cavern was filled with light.

“Wow!” Joe Hirota looked up at the cavern walls. “It’s like a honeycomb.”

“That’s what I said!” Katie exclaimed.

“Tell them about Rosie and Spot,” Francisco urged. Then without waiting, he explained. “They went into the holes.”

“Yes, they crawled in,” Katie added. “Up there.” She peered at the wall. “Except I can’t find which holes. They’re all covered up now.”

While they talked, Abdul walked along, taking video with a small camera. Meanwhile, Sara stood closer to the cave entrance, scanning the environment around her. Now she shouted back to them.

“The needle dogs!” she warned. “They’re coming up the path.” Abdul hurried to join her. Six of the large dogs appeared just beyond the cave entrance. They were growling, but their heads were down.

Abdul and Sara raised their rifles to their shoulders. The dogs inched forward, and their large paws crossed the cave entrance. They were still growling, but they didn’t open their jaws or show their fangs. They kept their heads down.

“Get back!” Sara warned the others. “They’re going to attack.”

“No, they’re not!” Katie shouted. She and Francisco ran towards the front of the cave, next to Abdul and Sara.

“Don’t shoot!” Francisco pleaded.

His mom ran up and grabbed him by the arm, “Frankie! What are you doing?”

“Don’t shoot them,” Katie pleaded.

Abdul held the gun out for her to see. “It’s only a dart gun.”

“We could use the distress signal,” Katie’s dad said. “Like the kids did.”

“No, no, they’re not dangerous,” Katie insisted.

“Not dangerous?” Martina snapped. “What’s gotten into you?”

“Don’t you see?” Francisco replied. “It’s this cave. It’s…”

“It’s their nursery!” Katie shouted. “Look!”

She pointed to the cavern wall and the adults turned to look.

High up, the thick webbing across one of the holes was moving. Something was pushing it, from the inside.

“What is that?” Abdul wondered. He kept his dart gun aimed at the needle dogs.

“Is that the hole Spot went in?” Martina asked.

“No, I don’t think l so,” Francisco answered. “And it’s not the one Rosie used, either.”

The dogs at the entrance continued to slink forward. Sara and Abdul kept their dart guns at the ready, but the dogs seemed less angry. They stopped growling and spread out slowly along the edges of the cavern walls.

“Look!” Katie shouted, pointing to the hole in the wall. “Something is coming out!”

“It’s not an arteta,” Francisco said. “It’s too big. What is it?”

“It’s a….” Katie began

“Needle dog!” Francisco finished.

“A baby needle dog,” Martina gasped.

“A needle pup,” Joe Hirota corrected her, staring in awe.

They watched with amazement as a small, blue-furred needle puppy squeezed out of the hole in the cavern wall. It half slid and half stumbled down the steep slope and landed on the cavern floor with a tiny whelp. Two of the needle dogs broke from the others, and ignoring Sara and Abdul, trotted to the puppy. They began to lick it all over.

“I can’t believe it,” Francisco’s mom said. “Do you realize what this means?”

“Yeah,” Francisco nodded. “Artetas and needle dogs are the same animal.”

“Like caterpillars and butterflies,” Katie added, “except with them, the butterflies come first.”

“This is what they wanted us to see,” Francisco explained. “Rosie and Spot led us here so we would understand.”

“No wonder the needle dogs were angry and attacking us,” Joe said. “We were keeping their kids.”

“We weren’t keeping them,” Francisco protested.

“Except maybe we were,” Katie interjected. “All those sugary treats. They kept coming back for sugar and never came here to change into grown-ups.”

“Well, I suppose we’ll have to stop doing that,” Martina laughed. “You kids made an amazing discovery.”

“Does that mean we’re not in trouble?’ Francisco asked.

“Not a chance, you’re still definitely in trouble,” his mom answered, but then she gave him a hug. “Let’s go home. You need a bath.”

As they walked to the cave entrance the needle dogs moved aside. It was as if they knew the humans understood and were no longer a threat to their young. Katie stopped at the entrance and looked back.

“I’ll never see Rosie again,” she whispered.

“Yes, you will,” Francisco told her, smiling, “only she’ll have a mouth full of tiny, sharp teeth.”

Katie laughed. “Do you think she’ll let me pet her?”

“Sure,” Francisco said. “Only, very, very carefully.”

The End.