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Earthling Ambassador, Page 2

Liane Moriarty

  For a moment he seemed depressed at the thought of all those children still to be tested, but then he brightened. "Who knows!" he cried. "The Earthling Ambassador might be in this very classroom sitting right in front of me! The Earthling Ambassador could, for example, be YOU!" He pointed at Lizbeth-Ann Roberts, who was extremely pretty and in love with herself.

  Everybody stared jealously at Lizbeth-Ann as she flicked her ponytail and batted her eyelashes. Georgio narrowed his eyes and gave Lizbeth-Ann another look. He frowned in distaste. "Although I rather doubt it," he said, and Lizbeth-Ann pouted.

  "ENOUGH DILLYDALLYING!" shouted Georgio. "Let the testing begin! Everybody to your feet! In just a few minutes we will know if the Earthling Ambassador is in THIS CLASSROOM!"


  Everybody stood quietly at his or her desk. Nicola's heart pounded like she was at the very top of a roller-coaster ride.

  She looked over at Tyler, who was standing stiffly at attention, as if he were in an army parade. Nicola knew that Tyler would want to be the Earthling Ambassador so badly he probably had a headache.When Georgio had said the words "intergalactic mission,"Tyler's chin had jerked up and the tips of his ears had gone bright red.Tyler's dream was to be an astronaut. He was always saying things like, "I can't wait to get off this planet," and he kept writing to NASA, asking for a part-time after-school job.

  He was also very intelligent, and although he wasn't necessarily very brave, Nicola thought he would be a great Earthling Ambassador. She hoped he got it. She hoped Greta Gretch didn't get it.

  "This is how it will work." Georgio pulled a large shiny red notebook from his pocket. "I shall be asking ten questions. If your answer to any question is no, then you must sit down immediately. If your answer is yes, then you may remain standing. If, by some remarkable chance, there is still one child standing when I ask my last question, then he or she is the Earthling Ambassador!"

  "THERE WILL BE NO CHEATING!" he boomed so ferociously that they all jumped. "I will KNOW if you are cheating!"

  "First question! Do you have the letter r in your first or last name? Sit down if the answer is no! Middle names do not count! Nicknames do not count!"

  After thinking furiously for a few seconds, about fourteen people slumped miserably back into their seats. Nicola thought happily about the two rs in Berry. At least she wasn't one of the first people to be eliminated.

  Nicola guessed Katie was probably only pretending to be sad when she sat down. Katie didn't even like leaving Honeyville to go into the city on the train, so she probably wouldn't be much good on an intergalactic mission.

  Bruno Ecclestson sat down, too, but since he was a nasty sort of a person, nobody bothered to remind him that Bruno had an r in it. (Afterward, when it was too late, one of the boys did tell him, and Bruno punched him in the nose.)

  "Second question." Georgio raised two fingers. "Do you have at least three FRECKLES on your face?"

  Nicola, who had always hated the seven freckles on her nose, suddenly became very fond of them.Tyler stood rigid, his freckled face stern and warriorlike. Lizbeth-Ann tried to convince Georgio that she had an extra freckle on her tummy, but Georgio just stared at her until she sulkily sat down.

  "Is your birthday in one of the following months--December, March, April, or . . . June?"

  Nicola thanked her lucky stars her birthday was when it was. If she'd been born even one day earlier, it would have been in November.Tyler's birthday was in September. He sat down quickly and gave Nicola a solemn smile. It was up to her now. She had to get as far as she could for poor Tyler.

  There were now just seven people standing.

  "Fourth question--do you own a pet fish?"

  Nicola, who secretly found her goldfish a dull sort of a pet, decided she'd give Goldie an extra fish-food treat when she got home.

  Four people were left standing.

  "Fifth question--do you hate zucchini?"

  That still left four people standing.

  "Sixth question--can you perform any one of the following three tasks: one, walk a tightrope, two, dissect a rat, or three, Rollerblade backward?"

  Nicola didn't know how to walk a tightrope or dissect a rat, but she could sort of Rollerblade backward, although she nearly always fell over. She wondered if it mattered how well you could perform the task.

  "It doesn't matter how well you can perform the task!" cried Georgio as if he had read her mind. Nicola stared up at him and she thought--she wasn't quite sure because his face was up so high--that she saw the tiniest suggestion of a wink.

  Now there were only three people left standing. Maybe I'm going to be the Earthling Ambassador! suggested a voice in her head. Oh, no you're not, said another sensible, prissy voice. Don't get your hopes up.You're not special enough, Nicola Berry! Nothing exciting ever happens to you!

  "Seventh question--do you own a purple piece of clothing?"

  Nicola couldn't think straight. Every piece of clothing she could think of was a color other than purple. Her red dress, her yellow sweater, her blue jeans--they all jumbled together in her mind.What color were her socks? Weren't they all white?

  She was just about to give up and sit down when she noticed Katie on the other side of the classroom behaving very strangely. She was twirling her arms in circles and turning her head to one side and opening her mouth.

  "Mmmm?" Nicola was halfway between sitting and standing.

  Katie held her nose and jumped up and down. Aha! Katie was pretending to swim because Nicola's new bathing suit was purple! How could she have forgotten? She stood back up and gave Katie a grateful smile.

  Now there were only two people left standing.

  Nicola Berry. And Greta Gretch.

  Sworn enemies.

  It was like a football match.There were the Greta fans and the Nicola fans.

  The atmosphere was electric.

  "Eighth question." Georgio turned a page of his notebook with a flourish. He looked as if he were enjoying himself. "Does your favorite beach begin with the letter B?"

  "Beauty Beach," said Greta smugly.The Greta supporters thumped their desks.

  "Buddy Beach!" said Nicola.

  "Nicola to win! Nicola to win!" chanted the Nicola supporters.

  "Quiet, please," said Georgio. "The next question is very important."

  The class became so quiet, you could have heard a pin drop.You really could have, because Sarah McCabe dropped a safety pin and everybody did hear it.

  "The ninth question is--and I don't want to hear anything except from Nicola and Greta when I ask this question--are you good at writing stories?"

  Apart from a few muffled exclamations and stifled gasps there was only silence.

  "Greta," said Georgio gently, "I'd like you to answer first."

  Everybody waited for Greta's answer.

  "Yes," she said.

  Nicola snapped her head around to stare at Greta.

  Greta was hopeless at writing stories.They were boring, there were always a lot of spelling mistakes, and you could tell she stole lines from TV shows. Greta was good at geography and geometry and gymnastics and just about everything else there was to be good at. Nicola was good at writing stories. It was her only thing. Everybody in the class knew that perfectly well. Even Mrs. Zucchini's face became a little less zucchinilike when Nicola read her stories out loud.

  "Is that true, Greta?" asked Georgio.

  "Yes," lied Greta steadfastly, and looked straight ahead at Georgio's stomach.

  "Look at me, Greta," said Georgio.

  To look Georgio in the eyes, Greta had to tilt her head so far back she was practically doing a backflip.


  Georgio roared, and his friendly blue eyes turned red with fury.

  "Not really, I guess."

  Did that tiny, frightened squeak of a voice really belong to bossy Greta Gretch? Nicola couldn't believe it. Greta sat down and put her head on her desk and began to cry noisily and snif
fily, thumping her fists and banging her feet.

  "And your answer, Nicola?" asked Georgio.

  Nicola's voice had gone all croaky with excitement. "My answer is yes, pretty good."

  Georgio allowed the class a few seconds of cheering before he said, "Now don't get too excited, please. I've come this far before with others who still lost out on the tenth question. HOWEVER, if Nicola answers yes to the next question, then SHE IS THE EARTHLING AMBASSADOR!"

  Greta Gretch burst into a fresh flood of jealous tears.

  "Oh, do shut up," said Georgio irritably. "Now, the tenth question is . . ."


  Nicola closed her eyes and waited for the tenth question.

  "Have you ever convinced somebody to change their mind when their mind was already made up?"

  Nicola opened her eyes and blinked.What a funny question.

  She thought about her mom when she made her mind up that it was Nicola's turn to clean the bathroom, even though outside it was the most beautiful sunny day in the history of the world. Had Nicola ever convinced her to change her mind? No.

  She thought about her dad when he made up his mind to watch some boring documentary about rock music from the 1970s, even though Nicola knew he would be snoring on the couch by the time it finished. Had she ever convinced him to change the channel? No.

  She thought about her brother, Sean, when he made up his mind to use the computer at the exact moment she was about to use it. Had she ever--even just once--convinced him to let her use it first?


  Not once.

  Nicola had never convinced somebody to change their mind when their mind was already made up. Her answer was no. She'd have to sit down.

  "Shall I repeat the question?" asked Georgio.

  So she wasn't the Earthling Ambassador. Of course she wasn't. She should never have thought she could be. It was just so disappointing to have come this close.

  I am . . . bereft, she thought to herself. (She'd been looking for a chance to use the word bereft--meaning very, very sad--for ages. It was good to finally have the opportunity.)

  I will NOT cry, she thought. No matter how bereft I feel.

  Courageously, she lifted her chin. "My answer is--"

  "I do beg your pardon!" Georgio hastily flipped the pages of his giant notebook while feverishly scratching his chin. "I think that question may have been an error.Yes! It was an error! How unusually clumsy of me!"

  A confused murmur rippled through the classroom.

  "The correct tenth question is this--are you wearing something red in your hair?"

  Nicola's heart, which had been inflated with hope for a second, again dropped like a stone. Doubly bereft! Of course she wasn't wearing anything red in her hair. In fact, she never wore anything in her hair--hey, wait a minute!-- EXCEPT FOR TODAY!

  While she was eating her breakfast that morning, her mother had said, "Why don't you ever wear that pretty butterfly clip Nana gave you?" And she'd picked up the clip from where Nicola had left it lying on the coffee table, pinned it to Nicola's hair, and said, "There! That looks so pretty and it keeps the hair out of your eyes!"Truth be told, Nicola didn't really like the clip all that much and had meant to take it out before she left for school, but she'd forgotten.

  "And your answer is?" asked Georgio.

  "My answer is YES!" Nicola pulled the butterfly clip from her hair triumphantly and held it up high.

  Georgio performed an extremely strange little jig on his knees (which must have hurt), flapping his arms like a chicken and slapping his hands against his thighs. "WHOOPEEEE! I've finally found the Earthling Ambassador. It's YOU, Nicola Berry! It's YOU!"


  I can't be the Earthling Ambassador, thought Nicola. It's a mistake. In a minute they'll realize it's a mistake and then everyone will laugh at me!

  The first time she'd been on the Demon roller-coaster ride had been terrifying and exciting all at the same time. That was how she felt now, except she wasn't screaming, of course, she was just smiling so hard her face hurt.

  Both Nicola and Greta supporters were clapping and cheering. Greta had fainted when she heard Nicola was the Earthling Ambassador and was lying on the floor, one hand to her forehead, demanding someone bring her a glass of lemonade.The other kids were pretending not to hear, stepping over her to get to Nicola. All the girls were bunched around Nicola in a big circle, trying to hug her, while the boys were shaking her hand and giving her friendly punches on the shoulder.

  "Good one, Nic!" said Bruno.

  "Ow! Thanks, Bruno."

  "You've always been my best friend!" said Lizbeth-Ann.

  "I have not." Nicola rolled her eyes at Katie, whose face was still flushed with excitement.

  "Congratulations, Nicola," said Tyler seriously. "I knew you'd beat Greta."

  Even though he must have been so jealous, he was still being nice. Nicola was impressed. She didn't know if she could have been that mature if Tyler had gotten something she'd really wanted.

  Georgio had stopped doing his chicken dance after he knocked over everything on Mrs. Zucchini's shelf with his elbows. Now he'd switched to a very businesslike manner. He dropped his chin and seemed to be muttering something into the top button of his shirt.

  "That's right, Plum, I've found her," Nicola heard him say. "Yes, it is quite a relief.You'd better get here right away, before the press gets wind of it. Oh--and send over the Wardrobewhizonic Ladies, please!"

  "I hope you haven't got any plans for the next few days, Nicola." Georgio lifted his chin from his shirt and looked down at her. "We need you to go on a little trip."

  "She's got a math test tomorrow," cried out Greta from the floor.

  "Good Lord! How do you stand her?" asked Georgio, and everybody shrugged.

  "Where is she? Where is she?" A group of pretty, rather plump women dressed in metallic silver overalls with gigantic Ws across their backs marched into the classroom carrying silver suitcases. Although they were as tall as ordinary basketball players, they only came up to Georgio's waist.

  "Ah,Wardrobewhizonics, at last," said Georgio. "Excellent. I need you to make her look extraordinary. Like a princess. Or a pop star. Or an outlaw. Or whatever she chooses, but it must be suitable for swimming. Oh, and please get rid of that dreadful school uniform."

  "Well, obviously the school uniform has to go! We're not silly, Georgio," said one of the ladies briskly. "Hello, dear. Congratulations. Princess, pop star, or outlaw?"

  Nicola thought for a second. She'd like to look like a pop star, but what if that meant she had to sing? Singing was her next worst thing after gymnastics.

  "Um. Princess."

  "Good choice. Actually, that was your only choice. We don't approve of pop stars. Or outlaws, for that matter. What's your favorite color?"

  "Blue," answered Nicola.

  "Such an agreeable color," the lady said approvingly, and turned to Georgio. "Could we have some privacy now, please?"

  "Of course. I'll see you in a minute, Nicola.You can choose one friend to stay with you while you have your wardrobe done, but everybody else, up to the school yard, please," said Georgio.

  Nicola chose Katie to stay. Georgio nodded his approval and shuffled out of the classroom on his knees. He ducked his head under the door frame and stood up.The whole class followed him, sprinting to keep up as he strode away on his long legs.

  In a moment the classroom was quiet and empty, except for Nicola, Katie, and the Wardrobewhizonics.

  "Right, let's get cracking," said the lady who seemed to be in charge. "What do you think of these?"

  She opened one of the suitcases and pulled out an entire rack of beautiful blue dresses, while the other ladies bustled about setting up a washbasin, hair dryers, makeup cases, and ironing boards.

  Ten minutes later, one of the ladies held up a full-length mirror. "What do you think?"

  Nicola's mouth dropped when she saw herself. "You do look like a princess!" said Katie. "Greta
is going to die!" Nicola's out-of-control curly brown hair was silky-smooth-straight and she was wearing shimmery strawberry lip gloss and glittery eye shadow. Her dress was a rich royal-blue satin, with a big full skirt that rustled and swirled around her legs. A sash of crimson fabric with the words EArthlInG AmbAssAdor was draped diagonally across one shoulder.

  "Naturally, this dress is perfect for swimming," said one of the ladies.

  "I beg your pardon?" said Nicola. "I wouldn't swim in this!"

  "Well, you could hardly swim without it!" giggled the ladies.

  Nicola and Katie looked at each other, completely perplexed, but there was no time to get to the bottom of it because all of a sudden the ladies were looking at their watches, shaking their heads, and frowning as they slammed shut their silver suitcases. "Quick sticks!" they cried. "Up to the school yard! The helicopter will be waiting!"

  The Wardrobewhizonics hurried off and Nicola and Katie ran to keep up with them. Nicola had to lift up the heavy skirt of her dress with both hands so it was above her knees. Her dress might be perfect for swimming, but it wasn't that great for running. As they ran through the corridors they saw all the classrooms were deserted.

  "The whole school must be up there!" panted Katie. "Everyone's going to be looking at you! Are you scared?"

  "Yes," said Nicola as they pounded around the corner and caught sight of the yard packed with hundreds of students and teachers. "I'm very scared! I wish you were coming with me."

  "So do I," replied Katie. "Sort of."

  "Oh dear," said Nicola.Their school principal, Mr. Nix, was walking purposefully toward them.

  "Nicola!" Mr. Nix's hairy eyebrows leaped up and down like trampolining beetles. "I assume you're wondering if you have my permission to leave in the middle of a school day and attend this, this--special mission."

  Actually, Nicola hadn't been wondering that at all.

  "Well, you do have my permission," continued Mr. Nix unhappily. "I have a note here from the prime minister. Apparently all the world leaders are extremely interested in the success of this mission. It must be something quite serious. So you have my permission for the . . . ah . . . mission."

  "Permission for the mission. Ha ha! That rhymes, sir!" cried out a boy from fifth grade.

  "I'm quite aware of that, Finch!" said Mr. Nix. "Well, the prime minister will also be in touch with your parents to let them know you've been chosen for this . . . ah, task. Good luck, Nicola. Let's hope you do well.Try not to worry too much about missing out on Mrs. Zukker's math test."