Keith Dillinger was not especially happy this morning, despite it being another warm and sunny summer day. His grandmother, Eleanor Eldenheim, had packed him off to the laundromat. Normally, this was something that would not happen, but their washing machine had broken down, and frankly, they were both running out of wearable clothes. Since Keith had left his bicycle at the home of his mother and stepfather, which was too far to go to either fetch the bicycle or take the clothes, Keith had been relegated to placing a large laundry basket on his skateboard, tying a length of rope to the skateboard, and dragging the thing into town. He couldn't even ride the skateboard and make better time. Not with the laundry basket on it.
Keith was trying to see the bright side of the situation, but there wasn't a whole lot of that to see. He had at least managed to place most of his own clothes that needed washing on top of the laundry pile, so his grandmother's flowery dresses and (eeew!) underwear were tucked further down in the basket, largely out of sight. And, he admitted to himself resignedly, this was still a preferable activity to hanging around his mother's house and getting yelled at by his step-father for every little thing. Still, the boy was in a grim mood.
Then he looked up and saw someone coming the other direction, who honestly didn't look much happier. This was a little surprising, since the person coming the other direction was Keith's best friend Martin, who usually was a very upbeat and chipper youngster. Martin was on his bicycle, but somewhat incongruously dressed in clothes better suited for Sunday morning church services. Long-sleeved white shirt, dark trousers, and his hair was ridiculously neatly combed.
Martin saw Keith and brightened just a bit. "Hey, Keith!" Martin stopped the bike next to his friend.
"What's with the formal wear?" asked Keith. Then he sniffed the air. "And why do you smell like room freshener spray?"
Martin groaned. "My Aunt Matilda. She hasn't visited in like three years, so my mom wanted everything to look special for her visit. Including me."
"And smell special, apparently." added Keith, trying not to laugh.
"No, that was HER." said Martin. "I think she weighs about 300 pounds and she took one look at me and said, 'What a BIG boy you are!' and started kissing me! Gross!"
Keith did his best not to laugh. He knew the type of relative Martin was describing. He didn't have any such aunts himself, thank goodness, but he knew a few other kids who did. "Does your mom know you ducked out dressed like that?"
"Yeah," said Martin. "I ran into the kitchen when she started kissing me. I couldn't get up to my room without getting past HER, and Mom saw I wasn't too happy. So she said I could go ride my bike around for a few hours as long as I was careful not to get these clothes too dirty. So what about you?"
"Our washing machine is broken." explained Keith. "My grandma's sending me to that laundromat at the edge of town. You can help, if you want."
Martin chewed his lip. "Um, how?"
"You've got a bike." said Keith. "I can get there a lot faster on that than walking. If you let me ride the bike, you can ride on the handlebars or something, and we can tie the skateboard with the laundry basket to the back of your bike."
Martin pondered this idea for a minute. "Are you sure you can keep the bike balanced with me on it?"
"It's not that far to go on the bike," said Keith. "I'm sure I can manage it."
"Well ... okay." Martin hopped off the bike and helped Keith tie the skateboard to the back of it.
"By the way, how'd your hair get so wet?" asked Keith.
"Oh, I forgot about that." said Martin, as they headed back to the bike. "Mom slicked it back so I'd look neater. It's just water. I guess I thought it'd've dried off by now."
"In THIS summer's humidity?" remarked Keith.
Martin then shook his head several times rapidly, spraying water on Keith. "Thanks a lot. You get that idea from that mutt of yours?"
"Oops, sorry," said Martin. "But how does my hair look now?"
Keith tried not to laugh. By shaking his head, Martin had gotten a fair amount of the water out of his hair, but his hair had also stuck up in every direction as a result, "Like you stuck your finger in an electrical outlet."
Martin's eyes went wide, and he patted down his hair with his hands a bit. "That's better," said Keith. "Almost normal. Now climb on and let's go."
It was relatively slow going. Balancing Martin on the bicycle was more difficult than Keith had expected. Though the younger boy was almost one foot smaller, Keith has underestimated his weight on the front wheel so that steering the bike became a surprisingly tough job. And since Martin's bike was a bit smaller than Keith's as well, its seat was so low that Keith had some problems looking past the slightly wet head that was swaying before his nose. While pedaling slowly he passed the time by describing the laundromat to Martin, who had never been there. Keith had only been there once before, about a year ago, when the same thing had happened. His grandmother's washing machine had broken down. The place was run by this old guy who actually lived in an apartment in the back. It was fully automated, so he hardly ever even bothered to come out to the counter area. There was a small arcade in the back. The laundry machines were surprisingly state-of-the-art, but the arcade was ancient. The games all still worked, though.
Keith couldn't see much more than the sidewalk and the middle of the road left and right of Martin's head, but this was still enough to find their way to the laundromat. At least he thought so. But then disaster struck. All of a sudden the front wheel ran into a pothole that was filled with dirty water. Keith had mistaken it for nothing more than a small puddle, but it was deep enough to unbalance the overloaded bike instantly. Keith felt the handlebars slipping through his fingers and ramming into his stomach while at the same time the seat under his butt lifted and chucked him out. He flew through the air and landed half on Martin, half in a rather cold and soft material just to the side of the road. It was a large, dirty, and somewhat thick puddle half-water and half-mud, leftover from a recent thunderstorm.
Squirming to regain his footing, Keith stood up. Besides the fact that the handlebars had hit him and that one half of him was soaked with dirty water, he wasn't hurt. But Martin still lay face-down in the puddle, stunned. With a concerned look Keith bent down to his friend and touched the boy's shoulder. Finally, Martin lifted his head, dripping with dirty water and mud, and after a moment of silence he began to cry.
"Are you okay?" asked Keith and tried to find out if Martin had suffered any injuries.
The small boy took a deep breath just to cry out: "Noooo!"
Carefully, Keith dragged his friend out of the puddle and pulled him up to his feet though Martin was almost too upset to stand. "I mean, are you hurt or something?" he asked the crying boy.
"Noooo!" answered Martin with the same deep breath. "But ... look!" He spread his arms a little and looked down himself. His formerly white shirt was greyish-brown. splattered with mud and dirty water, his dark pants were similarly splattered, they just didn't show it as much. "My mom's gonna kill meeeee!"
"It was an accident," said Keith. "And I don't see your mom killing much of anybody." Keith said it gently. Martin's parents were the kind of parents Keith wished he had. They doted on the boy almost to excess. Martin, in turn, did everything he could within reason to behave, but was also terrified of getting out of line. Though Keith was sure that his friend wasn't in too much trouble, he still felt guilty about the mishap. It had been his idea to ride the bike as they had, and Keith should've noticed at the outset that they were misbalanced.
"What do we do now?" cried Martin.
"Um ... I think there's probably a way to fix this mess", Keith said after a moment of thinking. "I mean, we're heading for a laundromat. We have detergent and we have money."
* * * * * * * *
They reached the laundromat about ten minutes later. It was a huge place, really the only laundromat in town, and it had literally dozens of machines. Martin was protesting. "Keith, I don't understand. How are we supposed to wash the clothes we're wearing! We don't have anything else to wear!"
"So, we just stay put in the laundromat, that's all." replied Keith. "I doubt there'll be anyone else in there. The place hardly ever gets used since most people have their own washing machines these days."
"I am NOT taking all of my clothes off in a place like that!" insisted Martin. "The pond and the mudhole out at Davy's farm is one thing, but not here!"
"Not all your clothes," said Keith. "Keep your underwear and shoes. I'm going to do the same thing, so if anybody does see us, then we'll both look like a couple of idiots. But no one's going to see us, okay? Can you really see anybody that we know bothering to go into a laundromat?"
Martin sighed. "I guess not."
"And which would you rather do?" asked Keith. "Hang around in one place, with me, in your underwear for a little while, or go home and try to explain that mess?"
Martin almost cringed. "Okay. Underwear, then."
The two boys cautiously but quickly entered the laundromat. Keith looked around. The place was quiet. No other machines were running, and as expected, there was no sign of the old guy that ran the place behind the counter. "Okay," said Keith. "Let's pick out a machine near the back of the store, away from the window and closer to the arcade."
Keith and Martin carried the laundry basket in, and scooted towards the back. The laundry machines were massive, and Keith noticed that they were combination washer-and-dryers. This was a new development from last year. All you had to do, apparently, was throw your clothes in, put the money in, and that was that. The machine would do the rest from start to finish.
"Okay, let's get started," said Keith, first reaching into the pockets of his jeans to extract several dollars in change, part of it provided by his grandmother for the laundry, the rest rounded up by himself for video games. Then he pulled a small cel phone out of the other pocket. His grandmother had loaned him this in case he needed to contact her. He tucked the cel phone into one of his socks he was wearing, and stuffed the extra change into one of his shoes.
"Are you sure no one's going to come in here?" said Martin.
"Relax. Even if someone does, they won't know us, and I'm here with you." said Keith. "Besides, people do this in laundromats all the time. I've seen it."
"You sure?" asked Martin.
"Of course I'm sure." What he didn't tell Martin was that those times he'd seen it, it had been on some television sitcom his grandmother was watching, and invariably the people doing it got into some sort of trouble. "Besides, we don't have much choice."
"I ... guess not." said Martin, unbuttoning his shirt and removing it, and then very reluctantly unzipping his pants and pulling them off. Keith did likewise with less hesitation.
They loaded the clothes into the massive machine, Keith tossed in a packet of detergent his grandmother had given him, closed the door, put the money into the slot, and started it up. "How long do you think it'll take?" asked Martin.
"Uhhh", said Keith and tried to stuff his hands into his pockets and then he noticed that there were no pockets since he wore just a pair of light blue underpants. He folded his arms instead and thought back to the time he once had been here. "I think about maybe ... half an hour?" He didn't sound nearly as sure as he would've liked to, and admittedly he wasn't. Laundry wasn't exactly something he paid much attention to.
"Okay", said Martin and scratched his bare arms. He was still somewhat dirty and the dirt was itching.
"We'll just have to wait for the machine to turn off. Come on, there's a restroom next to the arcade. We can get our faces cleaned off in there. And our arms."
It didn't take too long to wash off. There was a long roll of paper towels in the restroom, and a few minutes later, Keith and Martin and cleaned the road mud from their faces, arms, and even hair. Now it was just a matter of waiting for the clothes to be clean.
It was when they exited the restroom that Martin first spotted the sign on the wall, which had been well above the boys' heads when they walked in. "Oh, no. Keith..."
Keith read the sign. "NEW SAFETY FEATURE -- LAUNDRY MACHINES LOCK FOR SECURITY UPON ACTIVATION. FULL LAUNDRY CYCLE ... 3 HOURS."
"Three hours!?" exclaimed Martin.
Keith felt bad. He honestly hadn't realized. But it made sense. Three hours was a pretty long laundry cycle. At least he guessed it was. The price, he supposed, of having a machine that did the washing AND the drying all in one. And it also made sense for the machines to lock upon activation, since most people wouldn't want to hang around the laundromat for that period of time. They'd want to go elsewhere and run errands or something, and come back just in time for the machine to finish up. But they'd also want to know that their clothes weren't going to be stolen or anything in the meantime, hence the automatic lock.
Of course, most people wouldn't be stuck in just their underwear.
"Ohhhh, man! Is that for real? What do they mean by 'three hours'? How can anybody stay here and wait for THREE HOURS?!" exclaimed Martin, turning a bit red, half from anger, half from potential embarrassment. He looked a bit weird in his white underwear combined with black shoes and socks, and he knew it.
"Are you expected home anytime soon?" asked Keith, sincerely concerned. He was already trying to think up some excuses for Martin's behalf.
"No, not really," said Martin. "Aunt Matilda was going to be visiting all day. Mom said as long as I was home by dinner that was fine. But Keith, what are we going to do? I mean ... three hours?"
"Nothing." said Keith. His major concern had just been addressed. No one was going to miss Martin that soon. "Nothing we can do. We'll just have to wait it out." He put his hands on his hips, trying to look more decisive, but this made him feel even more weird. Funny, how skinny he suddenly felt while standing in underwear in a somewhat public place. The feeling made him shiver a little though the air was pretty warm. But he couldn't very well let on that he felt almost as uncomfortable with this situation as Martin did.
Martin scowled, unconvinced. Keith sighed. "Look, we've got the arcade. Okay, most of the games are older than we are, but that just means we probably haven't played them before, so that can't be too bad. And there's a soda machine in there, and another one with candy and crackers in it, so we won't starve. Try to see it as an adventure."
"In our underwear," said Martin sourly.
"This from the kid who survived being tossed into an interplanetary brig on a spaceship with less than that?" said Keith, trying to sound cheerful and encouraging. "Come on, what's a couple hours in a laundromat in your Fruit-of-the-Looms compared to that?"
Martin cringed. "Don't remind me. That was awful."
"But...?" asked Keith, trying to sound upbeat.
"Okay. I guess that was worse than this." said Martin.
"And you survived that." concluded Keith. "So you can survive this. Now come on, let's see what sort of video games this place has."
They were just about to head over to the arcade area when the door to the laundromat opened, and trouble walked in. It was a huge lady that could have been a cousin of Martin's aunt Matilda. She carried a bright colored plastic basket with clothes in her massive arms and headed for one of the machines. If the lady was alone, there was the chance that she might go away after she had unloaded her laundry. But unfortunately, there was somebody in her company, a girl of about ten or eleven years.
Keith swore. "Couldn't they pick another day to do their laundry?" he whispered.
"I'll go and play a little", said the girl, jingling with some coins in her hand. The fat lady just sighed and put the basket down in front of the chosen machine. And then the girl came straight towards the small arcade room where the two boys in underwear hid behind a corner.
"Keith, what do we do now?" whimpered Martin. Getting caught in undies by grown-ups was bad enough. Getting caught in the same situation by a girl of their age was a fate worse than death in Martin's book ... and Keith's as well, frankly.
"Sssshhhhh!" said Keith and pushed Martin deeper into the corner behind a candy machine, already trying to think of a way out of this mess but not immediately seeing one.
Luckily, the girl had no reason to think that somebody else was already in the arcade. So she had only eyes for one of the archaic games that, fortunately for the boys' present location stood in an opposite corner. Soon she was absorbed in the game that made funny sounds and some awkwardly primitive music, her attention completely diverted.
There were multiple rows of laundry machines, and fortunately, one was leading to the exit far enough from the fat lady's view. "C'mon." said Keith flatly and dragged Martin with him. Keeping low, under the level of the rows of machines that were between them and the lady, Martin and Keith sneaked to the door. Then, Martin stopped and held Keith back.
"But where are we supposed to go? And suppose these people are still here when we get back? And what if they take our clothes?" said Martin in rapid-fire succession.
"Later," said Keith. "Let's get outta here first."
"You seriously want us to go outside on the street, in our underwear?" cried Martin quietly.
"I can't see anybody outside. You'd rather hide here for three hours?" argued Keith.
Martin swallowed. "Okay ... let's go."
The boys managed to slip outside without anybody noticing. Then they ducked quickly into the nearby alleyway where Keith had parked Martin's bike and his skateboard. "Keith, what about our clothes?" demanded Martin. "They might steal them, or still be there when we get back!"
"Don't be silly." said Keith. "Our clothes are locked in the laundry machine. We could leave them there until evening if we want."
"But we can't just stay here in this alleyway. It's not very big, and somebody's bound to see us." argued Martin. He wrapped his arms around his small body though the sun was shining and it was pretty hot. His upper thighs looked paler then the rest since the pants that Martin usually wore in summer were quite longer than the briefs he stuck in now. Keith could even see goose pimples on this pale skin.
Keith chewed his lip. Martin had a point. If a cop came along and saw two boys sitting in an alleyway in their underwear, they wouldn't get out of that one too readily. But where could they go? Then he had an idea. "I think I know what we can do," Keith said, pulling the cel phone out of his sock.
"What?" asked Martin.
"The one place where clothes don't matter." replied Keith. For the first time since this fiasco started, Martin grinned. He knew what Keith meant. The aliens that lived out near the woods near Davy Caulfield's home. Two of them, at least, Jahv and Keyro, almost always wore absolutely nothing. A third, Toben, also was frequently unclothed. And it'd be a safe place to spend a couple of hours until the clothes were done. There was still the matter of getting out there, though, but Martin suspected Keith was trying to deal with that right now.
And indeed, Keith was. Technically, Jahv and the others didn't have a telephone. But they did have what they called a "commlink" which Jahv and Toben had set up in such a way that it could be accessed by telephone. It was a ten-digit number that Keith had memorized, followed by "#" three times. It wouldn't even show up on the phone bill.
"Hi, Keith!" came a voice over the phone. It was Jahv. Keith was a little surprised that Jahv used his name, but he realized that not that many people had this number, and certainly Jahv must have something like "Caller ID" in his commlink.
Keith explained as much of the situation as he felt was necessary, then said, "You've got that transmat device or whatever it is. You think you can bring Martin and me out there directly?"
"Keith, I really wish I could, and I certainly would any other time, but Toben and I are performing maintenance on it at the moment. We'll be done in about an hour and a half, but I know that won't do you much good right now."
Keith groaned. The laundry would almost be finished by then.
Jahv continued. "Look, if you can get out here, you can certainly hang around with us for the duration, and then I'm sure we can transmat you back to the laundromat in time to pick up your clothes as soon as they're done. You'd be safe out here, you know."
Keith considered this. The one advantage to their current location was that the laundromat was at the edge of town, and the edge closest to the rural area where the Caulfield farm existed. Keith and Martin would not have to go through any city streets or even suburban neighborhoods to get out there. At least not many. They could be at the farm in about thirty-to-forty minutes, Keith estimated. That would give them almost two hours to spend with the aliens, by which time they should have the transmat device working again. Keith didn't particularly trust Jahv's repair skills, but he did trust Toben's. The blue-hued Botaran had managed to keep his own starship operational for quite some time after his father's death. Finally he said, "We'll be there as soon as we can."
Keith turned off the phone to look into the stunned expression of Martin. "We've got to get out there on our own!? We're supposed to go out in public like this? Are you crazy?"
"What public?" said Keith. "We'll be on back country roads for the most part. You gonna worry about what a cow thinks of how you're dressed?"
"People live out there, you know." said Martin.
"Yeah, on big farm properties where the house is so far from the road they'd need binoculars just to see us, and even then they'd figure us for two kids in swimsuits, which wouldn't be unusual on this hot a day." Keith knew he was mostly making excuses, but he hoped it sounded good. "And who besides Davy even knows us out there?"
"I am not doing this." said Martin flatly.
"Well, I am. And so are you." insisted Keith. "Because I'm not going to hang around this alley for the next two and a half hours, waiting for some cop or some bum or worse to come along. You want a cop or a bum or a drunk to see you in your underwear?"
"Noooo." said Martin.
"Then come on. Grab my skateboard and get on the bike." said Keith.
* * * * * * * *
It wasn't all that easy, but then Keith hadn't expected it to be. This time around, Martin sat behind Keith, hanging onto the boy for dear life with one hand while hanging onto the skateboard with the other. It was an awkward position, but not as awkward as the positioning that had dumped them into the dirt and caused this mess in the first place. Keith wasn't one to make mistakes twice if he could help it.
Since Martin was taking most of the bicycle seat, this pushed Keith forward a bit into a position that wasn't as easy to maintain his balance on the bicycle as it would've been if he hadn't had a passenger. But Keith managed to keep the bike upright and make decent enough time nevertheless.
They'd gotten out of the city and suburbs in short order, and were now on the back roads and feeling a little more at ease. There really wasn't much of anyone around at all. Keith and Martin were just about thinking they were going to make it out to Davy's farm without any further incident when a huge delivery truck came along the other side of the dirt road, and managed to hit a rain-soaked depression just as Martin and Keith were passing through on the other side, and soaked the boys, once again, in mud.
Keith almost wiped out on the bicycle, but managed to keep it upright and moving. "Aw, maaaaan!" sputtered Martin behind him.
"We were just not meant to stay clean today, I guess," said Keith resignedly. "Look at it this way. That was just mud that time. There wasn't any road gunk in it. And you weren't wearing your Sunday best, either."
The two boys finally made it out to Davy's farm, and rode around to the back, avoiding the main house since they didn't want to have to explain this situation to Davy's parents if they could help it, and made their way around to the concealed, invisible dome-tent that was the home of the alien youngsters.
Present inside were Keyro, Jahv, Toben, and Davy. The only one wearing any clothes was Davy. Toben occasionally wore a jumpsuit, but not today. It looked to Keith as though the young Botaran had been letting his hair grow a bit longer, and he'd already been shaggier than either Jahv or Keyro. But more than likely, Toben had just forgotten to cut it. Toben was a technological genius, unlike Jahv, who had a great imagination but somewhat lesser and occasionally dangerous skills, but Toben tended to be a little more absent-minded when it came to things like personal grooming.
Davy and Keyro were playing some sort of computer game. Toben and Jahv had the transmat device on a worktable, partially disassembled. Keith was hoping that a more accurate description would be to say that it was partially reassembled. The transmat device, which was pretty much just like the "transporters" from Star Trek, could send them back to the laundromat within a few seconds once it was ready to go.
Keyro was the first to notice the new arrivals, and didn't quite manage to stifle a laugh at Martin's and Keith's muddy conditions. "Come on, guys, you couldn't wait until you were out here to play in the mud?" There was a large mud pool in the woods that Keyro especially liked to play in.
"This was not playing," said Keith. "This was a traffic incident."
"Lemme guess," said Davy. "Large delivery truck? Dark blue in color?"
"How'd you know?" asked Martin.
"That guy loves to do that sort of thing after a rain. He probably doesn't even have any packages. He's just waiting to splash people with mud."
"Nice," said Keith. "Ever think of putting a few land mines in the road for him?"
Davy giggled. "Come on, let's head out to the pond. You can clean up out there, and then mom's fixing lunch."
"Lunch. Food. That works for me." said Keith.
"We can't go into your home in just our underwear!" protested Martin.
"Sure you can," said Davy. "I plan to." At the moment, the boy was dressed in his usual overalls. But it was a sure bet he wouldn't be wearing them into the pond. "Just tell her you were in the pond. It's the truth, and she doesn't need to know that your underwear is all you showed up here in."
Martin scowled. "It still sounds a little sneaky."
"Of course it is," said Keith, as he led Martin out of the tent along with Davy and Keyro. "But you really need to learn a bit better how to cover your butt without actually lying it off in the process."
"I've had trouble covering my butt all day, thanks to all this nonsense." said Martin.
Martin brightened a bit as they got close to the pond, and had a little bit of fun, turning around and giving Keyro a very muddy hug before they went into the pond. Keyro didn't object. It wasn't long before even their underwear was set aside, once it had been given something of a washing, and the boys splashed around in the pond for the better part of half an hour, having great fun and, in the case of Martin, Keith, and Keyro, cleaning up rather well.
Keyro returned to the dome-tent, and Davy led Martin and Keith up to the house. Mrs. Caulfield had no objection whatsoever to feeding the two additional boys some lunch. She was always glad to see any of the boys that Davy had made friends with ... apart from the aliens, Davy didn't really have any friends in the immediate area. She didn't even comment on the fact that all Keith and Martin were wearing was their undershorts. Given their soaking wet condition, as well as Davy's, who had left his overalls in the dome-tent, it was obvious where they'd been.
Lunch consisted of huge chicken sandwiches, mashed potatoes, and corn on the cob. By this time, Keith and Martin were starving, and made very short work of the meal. They talked with Davy, asking where the other two aliens, Arion and Morik, were. Davy explained that Morik had set out on a personal expedition to map the woods, and was expected back in about two days, while Arion had gone even further. He sorely missed the mountains of his homeworld, and the holocron just wasn't sufficient for him. So he'd packed a backpack, one of those bottomless ones that Jahv and Keyro used, and had taken off ... literally ... in search of some mountain ranges. He had promised to be back in two weeks, but there was some concern that it might take him longer than that to find some reasonable mountains. There wasn't a lot of concern that he would be discovered by anyone. The young prince was easily the most anti-social of the entire group, and would likely go out of his way even more than the others to avoid human contact.
The boys wrestled around on the living room floor for a while after lunch, and then returned to the dome-tent to find that Jahv and Toben had completed their maintenance of the transmat device. Keith looked at a clock on the worktable. "Just about in time, too. Laundry's just about done."
"Where is this laundromat located?" asked Jahv. Keith gave him the address. Jahv ran the address through a computer attached to the transmat device that would turn it into coordinates that the transmat would understand, and then he did a scan of the place to find a safe spot to materialize Keith and Martin.
"What about the restroom", suggested Keith and pointed with his finger on the computer screen. "That's surely the safest place for us to show up. There's not likely anyone in there, and it'll give us a chance to look around the place before we head out to get our clothes."
"That should work," said Jahv.
"How precise is this machine, though?" asked Keith. "I remember you put us right in a restroom stall when you beamed us to that amusement park. I don't want to end up inside a washing machine."
Martin gulped at that prospect.
Jahv sighed. "Relax, okay? Toben and I have been overhauling all of the equipment. It's much more precise. Besides, you can keep the commlink open and tell us if anything goes wrong."
"You sure you guys don't want to borrow any clothes from me?" asked Davy kindly. "At least some pants?"
Martin said, "Yours wouldn't fit me anyway."
Keith added, "Look, all we need to do is find our clothes from my grandmother's, and get dressed. That shouldn't be too hard. And it'd take more time for us to undress from your stuff and redress in ours, than to just get dressed as soon as we get there. But thanks."
Davy merely nodded.
Moments later a strange, bright blue cascade of light appeared in the laundromat's restroom, a cascade of light that expanded to fill a considerable portion of the room, ultimately gave off something of a small sonic boom before dissipating, revealing two humanoid forms, both dressed in brief underwear and shoes.
Keith looked around quickly then held the cel phone against his ear and said: "Alright, we're in the restroom. Everything is quiet."
Martin rushed impatiently to the door. "Come on, Keith, I want my clothes back now!" he hissed and opened the door that led to the arcade. Then he froze in motion.
Three older teens stood there around the soda machine, smoking cigarettes, teenagers of 16 or 17 years. Keith even recognized them as some of the worst bullies on this side of the town. They were the same bunch, in fact, that had taken on Jahv in a mall arcade not long after the young alien had first arrived, and he, Martin, and Davy had tried to show him around town a bit. For a few seconds the guys just looked motionless at the two boys in underwear. Then suddenly, their leader threw away his cigarette.
Keith reacted just in time. He pulled back Martin and slammed the door right before the bullies could reach them. With all his strength he held the door closed while some strong hands rattled at the other side.
The cel phone had fallen to the floor. Martin picked it up. "Jahv! Are you there?" he yelled at the cel phone in his hand in a panicked voice. "Beam us back! Quick! Now!! Hurry!!!"
The three bullies stopped rattling at the door for a moment when they heard a strange noise coming out of the restroom. There was also something like a strange light flickering from the gap between the bottom of the door and the floor. Then a strange silence fell over the place.
Ignoring the noise, the leader of the gang said, "Did you just see two little sissies in their underwear in there?"
"Yeah, Bruno, two little sissies that'll be a lot more fun than checking the machines for chump change."
"Oh, good", said the leader. "I wasn't quite sure." Then he grinned wickedly and pushed the door to the restroom open.
What the bullies faced were not "two little sissies in their underwear", however. The bullies faced two figures that looked like boys. But one was green and the other one blue, both had white hair, twitching antennae and huge, dark eyes -- and neither one of them wore underwear, or anything else. They were like something right out of a sci-fi movie. Not the sort of thing anyone expected to find in a restroom.
Both beings were holding what certainly looked like sophisticated weapons, long, almost rifle-like devices, attached to strange, cylindrical tanks on the floor by thick, glowing cables.
The bullies hesitated in surprise. "What the -- ?!" muttered one of them.
The green creature lifted the weapon and pointed it at the trio. In a strange, echoing voice he said, "Huuuumannns!"
The blue creature did likewise, and snarled, "Prepare for disintegration!" In that instant, both machines started to glow strangely and give off a loud, whirring noise.
The three bullies fell all over each other in a heap, then struggled to their feet again and darted towards the exit as fast as they could. Their leader was saying, "I'm tellin' ya, one of them was that one at the mall! It's an invasion! We gotta get outta town!" Just three cigarettes laying dropped on the floor as evidence of their presence.
"Amazing," said Toben, as the two machines shut down. "The most dangerous-looking humans seem to get upset over the least little thing."
"You know," said Jahv, "between that and what Keyro and I did to Keith's mother and stepfather one time, we're really going to have to work on our public image one of these days."
"What public image?" asked Toben, trying not to giggle.
"Well, there is that." said Jahv. Then he spoke into the commlink on his wrist. "Okay, Keyro. The place is clear. Send Martin and Keith through."
Seconds later, Martin and Keith materialized in another cascade of blue light, along with Martin's bicycle and Keith's skateboard.
"They're gone?" asked Martin hopefully.
"I don't really expect them to stop until they're possibly on another continent." replied Jahv.
"Nice work, guys," said Keith. "But what the heck are those weapons you brought with you? I didn't think you guys were armed like that!"
"What weapons?" asked Toben, turning his device on and pointing it in the direction of the smoldering cigarettes. "Nasty things, whatever these are." The device sucked them up instantly. "These are vacuum cleaners."
Keith allowed himself his first real laugh of the day.
"I'm really surprised that the old guy who runs the place in the back didn't come out." said Martin.
Keith walked over to the counter and listened near the door that led to the rear apartment. "He's turned up the volume on his TV. I think unless he heard an actual explosion, or smelled smoke or something, he's not going to care much."
"We, however, should be going," said Toben. "If one of those bullies decides to bring law enforcement back here, however unlikely that may be, we probably shouldn't be here for that."
"Thanks for your help today, guys." said Keith. "Yeah, thanks!" added Martin.
Jahv and Toben disappeared in the final cascade of light. Martin and Keith located the laundry machine they had used. It had just finished up, and Keith heard the lock click off. They got their clothes out, quickly finding the ones that they had been dressed in when the day had started and putting them on, and then loading the rest into the laundry basket, Keith making sure as before that his grandmother's stuff was on the bottom. Then they finally left.
They rode Martin's bike, with the laundry basket behind, very carefully back to Keith's grandmother's, making sure to avoid any possible potholes in the road or any other sources of dirt. This time, it worked. There were no incidents on the way home. Keith thanked Martin for his help, and Martin, as usual, gave Keith a big hug.
Keith entered his grandmother's home. "I'm back!" he yelled. Eleanor was a little hard of hearing. She came out of the living room into the entryway. "Oh, Keith. Good. How did it go at the laundromat?"
"Everything's done," said Keith, pointing to the laundry basket sitting on the skateboard.
"Good boy." said Eleanor. "I know that was probably not something you really wanted to do, and I imagine it was pretty boring, but I really do appreciate it. I called the repairman and he'll be out tomorrow to fix the washing machine, so you won't have to do that again."
"Okay," said Keith. "But it wasn't too bad. I ran into Martin, so we spent some time together."
"Well, good." said Keith's grandmother. "He's such a sweet boy. I'm glad you have a friend like him. And with Martin, you're not as likely to get into trouble."
Keith barely kept a straight face. "Right, Gramma."
Martin pedaled home. Thank goodness, his Aunt Matilda's car wasn't in the driveway. She was apparently gone. Martin parked his bike and went inside. The place still smelled like Matilda. Martin's dog Fix came running to the door soon as he entered. The dog was whining a bit. Matilda's perfume had probably been very unpleasant for the poor pooch. Either that, or he smelled aliens on Martin.
"Martin, honey, is that you?" called Martin's mother.
"Yes, mom." said Martin.
The woman came to the entryway. "Martin, I know you weren't comfortable around your Aunt Matilda, but I'm glad you stayed around for a few minutes. She means well, you know, and she does love you."
Martin felt a little guilty. "I know, mom, it's just ... she's ... I dunno."
Martin's mom smiled, and knelt down and hugged her son. "I know. That's why I let you get out of here for a while. I hope it wasn't too rough a day? I know asking you to stay clean in your good clothes on your own like that wasn't easy for you, but you look fine."
"Um, yeah, well, I ran into Keith not long after I left, and he had to take his gramma's clothes to the laundromat, because their machine was broken, so I went along with him to keep him company."
"Well, that probably wasn't very interesting, but that was being a very good friend to Keith, and I know he needs friends." said Martin's mom. "And taking clothes to the laundromat ... you couldn't've gotten into any real trouble with that, I'm sure."
"Right, Mom," said Martin, hoping she didn't notice that he'd rolled his eyes at the comment.
"You weren't too bored with it all, were you?" asked Martin's mom, who was heading back into the kitchen to continue dinner preparations.
Martin really had to stifle a giggle. "No, mom. I wasn't bored at all..."