by March

- drawings by Niklas, color by Eddy -

There was a loud knock at the door of the Dillinger household one morning. Mr. Dillinger never particularly liked visitors, so he opened the door hoping that, at worst, it was some salesman that he could swear at and get rid of quickly.

It wasn't. It was two men in military dress uniform. Whatever Mr. Dillinger had expected, this wasn't it. "Are you Mr. Dillinger?" one of the men asked.

"Yeah." said Mr. Dillinger. "Whataya want?"

"You have a son named Keith?" asked the other man.

By this time, Mrs. Dillinger was at the door, as well, standing several steps back.

"Stepson." said Mr. Dillinger. "Her son, not mine. Don't tell me the little brat has done something to piss off the entire military."

"No, sir." said the first man. "We just want to talk with him. When he's at his grandmother's he plays with a couple of friends in a nearby woods and pond, is that correct?"

"Yeah," said Mr. Dillinger. "It gets him out of the house and out of our hair for a while, so we let him. What of it?"

Unknown to any of the adults, Keith was at the top of the stairs, listening.

Keith was listening

"We've had some reports of strange activity in that area," said one of the uniformed men. "Bursts of light and noise, and possible sightings of aliens."

Mr. Dillinger was at a rare loss for words. Finally he spoke. "You clowns are kidding, right?"

"No, sir." said the first man, who was the ranking officer.

"So why come banging at my door?" demanded Dillinger. "Go check out that area. Or the other kids."

"We're doing that." said the second man. "We've had a little trouble identifying the others. But we also need to talk with your son."

"Yeah, well, one of the others is named Martin something-or-other." replied Dillinger. "I can't pronounce the last name. I don't know many people who can. Go find him."

"Sir, your cooperation would be appreciated." urged the ranking officer.

"I'm sure it would, soldier-boy, but seeing as how my taxes pay your salary, I resent you wasting my money chasing after a bunch of little green men and harassing me in the process. You that short on real enemies to fight? Now get out of here!"

With that, Mr. Dillinger slammed the door, and looked out a nearby window until he was certain that the two men had left. Then, without turning around, he yelled, "KEITH! Get your ass down here!"

Keith descended the stairs, but said nothing.

"You and your friends wouldn't be pulling any tricks in those woods, would you?" demanded Dillinger.

"Like what?" asked Keith.

"I'm your father and I won't put up with that kind of backtalk!" barked Dillinger.

"You're NOT my father!" snarled Keith.

"We just had a couple of army-types come by here, making up some stupid story about light-shows and aliens out in those woods!" shouted Dillinger. "You little punks trying to scare people around there or something!?"

"I have no idea what that's all about." said Keith, trying not to sound nervous.

"You little lying PUNK!" roared Dillinger. Before Mrs. Dillinger could react, Dillinger grabbed Keith, who managed to spin away, but in so doing, stumbled and fell across a table. His face hit the floor, there was an audible snap, and when he stood up, his nose was bleeding profusely.

"Keith!" cried Mrs. Dillinger. "Come on, let me take care of that. That looks serious!"

Keith was too angry and scared to even let his mother help him. "Just get AWAY from me!" he snapped, and bolted out the back door and was on his bicycle before either his mother or step-father could catch up to him. He heard both his mother and stepfather calling for him to come back, one pleadingly, the other angrily. But even through the pain of an obvious broken nose, Keith knew there was more to this than he could tell either one of them. And he wanted to give his stepfather a chance to calm down a bit, if such a thing was possible. At least so he wouldn't get really physically abusive.

Blinded now more by tears than pain, Keith rode through streets, alleys, and finally over the hills and fields to get to the woods and pond where his alien friends Jahv and Keyro lived, hidden away in a cloaked dome-tent that you had to know was there even to find it. Keith's nose had bled profusely, to the point where even his shirt was spattered, but it seemed to be letting up. It still hurt, and Keith was certain it was broken. But Jahv and Keyro had recently healed a nasty gash on Martin's leg after an incident at the mud pool. Healed it within a few minutes, for that matter. Hopefully a busted nose wouldn't be any greater a problem for them. And he had to warn them, as well.

Keith found the entrance to the dome-tent, and pulled the panel aside to enter. Jahv was busy at the cobbled-together but immensely-powerful computer that he had built from parts scraped together for him by Keith and several other neighborhood boys. Keyro was watching a video of "Howard the Duck" and was apparently finding it hysterical. So much for a higher order of intelligence in respect to entertainment.

Jahv turned to greet whoever was at the door. Only four people knew that this place was here, and it would be nearly impossible to find by accident. "Keith!" said Jahv happily, then he noticed the boy's condition. Blood smeared across his shirt down his face, and spattered on his jeans, and his nose was quite literally out of joint. "By the twin suns of the homeworld! What happened to you?!"

"You mean - who happened""You mean -- WHO happened." said Keith. "Ah, hell, that's not entirely true. He grabbed me, I pulled away, fell over some furniture. Stupid on my part as much as anything."

Jahv cringed. He, too, was from an unpleasant home environment, which was why he and later Keyro had left. But it had never been this bad! He'd heard that Keith had a difficult time with his modified family, but this was the first real evidence of it he had seen. "Come over here. We can take care of that."

Keith walked over to the desk Jahv had indicated. The alien boy was already fishing around in his backpack.

"Is this gonna hurt?" asked Keith.

Jahv pulled out a device that looked like a small, square flashlight. "Not as much as it does right now, probably." He waved the device around Keith's nose, and a blue light shone from it. "Your nose is definitely broken. Before I can repair it, I'll have to get it back in place. This could hurt a bit." He reached up and adjusted Keith's nose. It stung like crazy, but Keith knew he needed to remain still.

:"That's better." said Jahv. "Now, just stay put for another few moments." Jahv raised the device again. This time a green light came out of it. A few seconds later, Jahv turned the device off. "Good as new. Perhaps a bit stronger."

Keith gingerly touched his nose. It felt fine. "Thank you." he said.

"You can wash the blood off your face in the washroom in the back." said Jahv.

Keith looked down at his shirt. "Anything you can do about this?"

Jahv frowned, and shrugged. "Laundry's not exactly our specialty." Indeed, most of the time, he and Keyro wore nothing.

Keith sighed, but at least his nose was okay, and that was what was important. That, and warning his friends. "You guys might be in trouble out here. That's sort of what caused this." Keith explained what he'd overheard, while he washed his face, and was just finishing the brief tale when Davy came into the tent, looking alarmed. "We've got a problem. Keith! What happened to you?"

"My stepfather, some furniture, and my own clumsiness, in that order." said Keith grimly.

"Keith, I don't know your customs or laws, but really, this should be stopped." said Jahv.

"Yeah, yeah." said Keith, not really wanting to talk about it. "I agree with you. And lately, my mom's been taking his side a few times. Maybe I just need to start staying away. But we've got a bigger problem than that right now. Davy, lemme guess -- couple'a guys in uniform showed up at your home asking nasty questions about what's going on out here?"

Davy nodded. "I slipped out. My parents have no idea, of course, and they said as much. I'm not sure they were believed."

Keith slapped his forehead. "We're idiots. If they saw and followed either of US..."

"They'd probably be peeling open the tent right now, and they're not." said Jahv cautiously. "Let's not panic -- yet. But I do wonder how they have any clue as to our presence. The computer --?"

"I doubt it." said Keith. "If you guys haven't tipped anybody off by now with all your hacking, it's not going to happen. But you guys put on a big light and sound show when you show up. I only saw Keyro arrive, but if yours was anything like that, Jahv..."

"It was..." added Davy.

"It might have been enough to worry somebody around here to alert someone or other, who's just now getting around to looking into it." finished Keith. "And Jahv, you sort of blend into the surroundings with your green skin. Your lavendar brother over there doesn't."

Jahv pondered the situation. "All right, let's consider what's happening here. Suppose we are captured? What happens to us?"

Davy and Keith looked at each other. Finally Davy spoke. "I really don't know. Assuming the military has ever actually caught any aliens before, it's not the sort of thing you read about on the news."

"There's probably some general official attitude that most people wouldn't be able to handle the existence of aliens." said Keith. "My guess is, at best, you could say goodbye to any freedom. You'd probably be locked way, way away someplace for good. At worst -- they'll kill you. Maybe dissect you. Maybe after trying to get technological information out of you."

Jahv cringed. So did Keyro, although he was still watching "Howard the Duck" with rapt attention. "I do not consider any of those to be attractive options."

"Then we'd better start thinking of some new ones." said Keith.

"We could just move the tent somewhere else, more hidden." suggested Davy.

Jahv shook his head. "If they have suspicions about this area, they're probably watching. The tent can't be moved when cloaked. We'd have to de-cloak and disassemble it."

There was a rustle at the tent door, and everybody in the room jumped nervously. But it was only Martin, looking very upset. "Hey, you guys, there's some big black cars and an army truck parked on the road nearby, and some men in uniform headed this way."

"Dammit!" swore Keith. "One of us WAS followed!"

"Or they have been keeping an eye on this place and saw us arrive." suggested Davy. "Either way, we've got a big problem."

Jahv was at the computer, activating an outside monitor. Four men in uniform were heading towards the tent, flanked by a number of well-armed soldiers. "These are military personnel?" he asked.

"Yep." said Keith.

"Sure they are!" added Keyro. "Don't you remember some of the movies we've watched?"

Suddenly there was a loud voice, magnified through a bullhorn. "This is Major Simmons of the Armed Forces! We know there's someone or something around this area that doesn't belong here, as well as several kids! I suggest you show yourselves immediately!"

Jahv's antennae suddenly perked up. "I think I just had an idea. You three better go out there. Try to stall for about a minute if you can. Do NOT let them think there are offworlders in here. And stay clear, too. Just in case this doesn't work."

"Jahv, are you -- " began Davy.

"Go!" interrupted Jahv. "Trust me." The young alien grinned.

Reluctantly, Keith, Martin, and Davy left the tent, to face the officer who had introduced himself as Major Simmons. The man looked decidedly startled to see three kids emerge seemingly from nowhere, but he quickly regained his composure. "I knew it. I knew there was something out here, and those aliens obviously have a pretty good technology to camouflage their ship or their headquarters to the point of being invisible. And who knows what they've done to these kids?"

Three kids emerged out of nowhere.

"What aliens?" said Davy, trying not to look nervous. Keith was doing the best job of this. Martin looked ready to either faint or disgrace himself. On the other hand, how often did a bunch of kids run across a bunch of die-hard military officers and soldiers with big guns? Hopefully they'd think that was the reason.

"Nice try, boys." said Simmons. "I can't imagine why you'd want to protect a potential threat to the security of this country. Maybe you've just seen E.T. or Star Wars too many times. But whatever's in that hidden -- whatever it is -- is dangerous. And we're here to deal with it. Now stand aside."

The three boys reluctantly complied. Simmons and the other three officers moved forward. It took Simmons a few tries to feel for the surface of the dome-tent, and then find the door, but he ultimately did. With a mild grin of satisfaction, quickly replaced by his usual look of determination, and opened the door --

And stepped inside what looked exactly like a large, fairly high-tech, military outpost. There were two officers standing inside, and about a dozen enlisted personnel at various computer stations. The ranking officer was a grim-faced, older general, who scowled at Simmons and his men. "Major, what is the meaning of this?!"

Simmons blinked, stunned. He quickly came to attention and saluted. "Sir! We've -- had reports of possible UFO activity in this area, sir. We were investigating."

"UFOs?!" barked the general. "Poppycock! This is a secret military installation designed to test new electronic camouflage equipment, short-range weaponry, and conduct special maneuvers."

Simmons had regained a little of his bravado. "Sir, there have been reports of mysterious flashes of light and sound in the area."

"Of course there would be!" roared the general. "It's a new weapon system designed to distract the enemy! I would have hoped that our own boys would have been above such obvious devices!"

"Sir, we passed no checkpoints on our way in." said Simmons.

"Of course you didn't, Major. Wouldn't that rather blow the 'secret' part of this operation, to have guards apparently guarding nothing?" replied the general, in an exasperated tone.

"Sir, what about those three children?" asked the major.

"What about them?" asked the general. "They stumbled across the place not long after we set up. I felt it might be a good idea to continue to let them play here -- when we're not testing weapons outside, of course -- to keep the illusion of nothing going on out here intact. They've been fully sworn to secrecy, as well. Not even their parents know."

"That's -- unusual procedure, Sir." said Simmons.

"Are you questioning my command?!" yelled the general.

"No, Sir!" answered Simmons quickly. "But why hasn't anyone else heard about this place?"

"Because it's a secret, major! That's the whole point of it! Strictly need to know! And YOU are now under orders to go back to your command and destroy ANY records you have of this place, and forget that you were ever out here, unless you want to find yourself mysteriously demoted right down to private and cleaning latrines in the most unpleasant place I can think of! And I can think of plenty! Do you have a problem with anything I've just said?!?"

Simmons saluted and tried to keep from sweating. "No, SIR!"

"GOOD!" yelled the general. "Now get out of here before somebody sees YOU and blows OUR cover!"

"Yes, SIR!" replied Simmons, quickly turning around and escorting his men out the door, across the field, into their vehicles, and away from the area at a speed normally not recommended by the highway department.

Davy, Keith, and Martin had remained standing outside the tent rather nervously. They weren't entirely sure what to expect or what to do. They didn't want to run off and abandon their friends, but neither did they want to be taken away with them if they were captured. So they remained hoping that, at worst, if they had to, they could escape in some measure of confusion and maybe take their friends Jahv and Keyro along with them. The last thing they expected was such an obvious retreat.

Once the soldiers were gone and that particular fact had sunk in, it was Keith who commented first. "Hunh. What do you suppose caused that?"

"What would cause a bunch of soldiers to be scared of two naked alien kids?" asked Davy to no one in particular.

Keith snickered. "Do me a favor, Davy. Don't hand me straight lines like that, okay?"

"Too bad the dome-tent is soundproofed." remarked Martin, still scared. "Maybe we'd better check on them. Maybe the soldiers just -- shot them?"

That got all three of the kids back in the dome-tent in a hurry. Jahv and Keyro were perfectly fine, Keyro having returned to his video, and Jahv storing the holocron device in a holding place on a control panel. "Oh, hi guys!" said Jahv cheerfully. "I was afraid you'd left."

"You're okay?" asked Martin.

"Yes, we're fine." replied Jahv.

"Okay -- what did you do?" demanded Keith. "The last time I saw a retreat like that was at school, when Bubba Trukowski got sick over his limburger cheese pizza."

"Just a little holocron trickery." replied Jahv. "And some experience with some of your military movies. There's some really pompous, scary commanding generals in those things. Ever see 'Patton'?"

The boys started to giggle. Even if they hadn't seen the movie, they got the idea.

"Wish I could've seen that." said Keith, finally stifling the giggles. "Although I'm surprised they didn't wonder about this mess of a shirt I'm wearing."

"They probably figured it was just some T-shirt pattern." said Davy.

"You mean it's NOT?" exclaimed Martin. "Keith, did your stepdad do that to you?"

Keith fell silent.

"Yeah, we've still got a problem here, even though we got rid of the military, hopefully for good." said Davy. "Keith, enough is enough. Your stepfather can't keep doing this to you."

"It wasn't just him." insisted Keith. "I really did fall over a table."

"After he grabbed you and you pulled away." said Jahv. "Maybe he hasn't beaten you that severely yet, but doesn't this sort of thing just tend to get worse?"

"It's against the law, even as it is, I'd think." said Davy. "One of these days he might do something that not even Jahv can fix!"

"Come on, Keith, you can't let him keep hurting you like this." urged Martin. "You've got to report this to somebody. I'm sure my parents would help."

"Look, guys," said Keith, "I appreciate it, but as much as I hate being around him, I don't wanna end up in some special agency, or stuck in foster care, or maybe forced to leave town with some strangers that some court judge says are supposed to take care of me. I'd miss all of you too much."

Martin's eyes were filled with tears. Keith was his best friend. Davy was close to crying, too. But he was thinking, as well. There had to be some way to get Mr. Dillinger to cut Keith some slack. Then he noticed the holocron. "I've got an idea."

Keith looked up, skeptically. "What are you -- no, don't tell me. I'm not sure I want to know. Just don't do anything that's gonna get me into even more trouble, okay? Just -- just leave it alone. Hell, if I can survive long enough, I'll be grown up and can legally move out."

"Okay, if that's what you want." said Davy sadly. "Maybe you'd better head home before you get into more trouble."

"Yeah, right." said Keith, leaving the tent. Davy, Jahv, and the rest watched him depart.

"I hate this." said Martin. "Keith's my best friend. We can't just let him keep getting hurt."

Davy grinned slyly. "Sometimes you gotta help people whether they want it or not."

"You sound like you have a plan." said Jahv. "And I suspect it involves our technology."

Davy seemed to have a plan.

Davy kept grinning, his mind already working. First, he'd need to convince his parents that he wanted to spend the night in his treehouse. Then... "What works on the military, oughtta work on civilians..."

Keith rode his bike home, and, not surprisingly, his stepfather threatened to beat him. But his mother got the man to back off. For his part, Mr. Dillinger was surprised that Keith was uninjured. He was certain Keith's nose had been broken, and for that matter, so was his mother, but except for the blood on the boy's shirt, Keith was unhurt. But for his "misbehavior", Keith was sent to his room without any dinner. Later that night, Keith crept downstairs to get something to eat. His mom and stepfather had turned in early that night. Keith grabbed a couple of toaster waffles from the freezer, toasted them as quietly as he could, poured a glass of milk, and started to tip-toe back to his room.

And ran smack into Davy, Jahv, and Keyro coming through the living room. Keith almost yelled, but checked himself just in time. "What the hell--?!" he whispered. "How did you get in here?"

Jahv held up a tiny device. "Electronic lockpick."

"Besides," said Davy. "You're just dreaming, Keith. Go back to bed."

Keith glared at Davy. "Get off it. What the hell are you three doing in here?"

"Helping you, whether you want it or not," said Davy, with a slight edge to his voice, "and I don't think you can do much about it without waking your parents, and that'd just get you into more trouble."

Keith was angry, but he also knew that Davy and the two aliens had him over the proverbial barrel. "Okay, you three. I can't stop you. But I swear if whatever you're up to gets me into trouble, I'm taking it out on the lot of you." Keith resisted the urge to either stomp up the steps to his bedroom, or to slam the door. He scarfed the waffles and hoped he'd be long asleep before those three idiots did whatever it was they intended.

Two minutes later, Davy and two aliens, one holding the holocron, silently crept up the stairs and found the Dillinger's master bedroom.

And less than a minute later...

"DILLINGER!" roared a thunderous, echoing voice. Keith woke up to find Davy at his bedside, grinning like an idiot and telling Keith to stay put. Keith now had at least a general idea of what was going on. He grinned, slightly. He was still skeptical, however.

The Dillingers woke up to find their bedroom turned into a nightmare miasma of outer space. Their bed seemed to be floating on nothing. Stars, comets, nebulae soared past. Suns exploded in the distance. Planets flew out of their orbits and roared dangerously close.

And standing at the foot of the bed were two of the most horrific-looking aliens one could possibly imagine. These things would scare Klingons. They'd scare those acid-blooded critters that Sigourney Weaver kept picking fights with. Easily over seven feet tall, one had green skin, the other lavendar. Impossibly muscular, they had deepset eyes, long, flowing white hair, antennae on the backs of their heads, ridged foreheads, and they were decked out in battle armor that was something out of a Japanese animator's worst nightmare. Each brandished a huge, bladed weapon that looked like it was part axe and part sword, and was double bladed at both ends. Their voices were deep and echoing.

Mr. Dillinger swore in utter shock. Mrs. Dillinger screamed.


"We need to have words, Mr. Dillinger." said the green alien. "You've been abusing a friend of ours. Your stepson Keith."

"Oh, damn." said Dillinger meekly. "Those military bastards were right. There are aliens out there."

"We took care of them earlier today. Now it's your turn." said the lavendar alien.

Dillinger remained slightly skeptical. Everything he saw around him -- this just wasn't possible. "How do I know this is real?"

"Your son's nose was broken this morning as a result of your actions." said the green alien. "We fixed it."

Dillinger felt a cold shudder run down his spine.

"And if that isn't enough..." said the lavendar alien, raising his weapon, "just in case you think to write this off as a dream..."

"Or a nightmare..." added the green alien.

"Remember this!" yelled the lavendar alien, bringing his weapon down and leaving a large mark on the bedpost at the foot of the bed.

"Start treating Keith with more care and respect, Dillingers." warned the green alien. "Or next time, your furniture will not be all that suffers. And be warned, any attempt to find us, will only result in tragedy for all concerned."

There was a flash of light and an explosion of thunder, and when the Dillingers' eyes had cleared, the room was back to normal. "That hadda be a dream." muttered Mr. Dillinger angrily. "It hadda be."

"I don't think so." said his wife, still terrified. She looked at the bedpost. It was still marked. "And someone did fix Keith's nose after it was broken."

"Hey, he had it coming!" barked Dillinger. "If the little twerp hadn't broken away from me..."

"You probably would have hurt him anyway." said Mrs. Dillinger, with enough anger in her voice to bother Mr. Dillinger.

"Yeah, well..." Dillinger couldn't think of anything to say. The room still smelled of ozone from the aliens' departure.

"What are we going to do?" asked Mrs. Dillinger.

The next day was yet another in a growing series of insufferably hot and humid days that this summer had produced. The kind where you figure that even if you could work up enough saliva to spit, it'd evaporate before it hit the sidewalk. The kind of humidity where your clothes and your hair make you feel like you've been stuffed into plastic wrap and tossed into a warming oven. Keith scarcely noticed, tearing through the neighborhood on his bicycle, jumping curbs, letting out a whoop every so often, and occasionally scaring traffic.

He raced out to the pond near Davy's home as fast as he possibly could, once he set his mind to it. He practically jumped off the bike as it clattered to the ground, and found the location where Jahv's dome-tent was located. Based on the presence of other bicycles, it was reasonable to assume that Davy, Martin, and even Niklas were out here.

Keith ran into the tent. "I heard the whole thing last night, you guys." he said. "Nice bit of acting. You ever get discovered for real, we should just turn you over to George Lucas."

"So what was the result?" asked Davy.

Keith sort of grinned. "Well, you scared them, that's for sure. I kinda think he's going to back off for a while, probably till school starts, anyway. He'll probably crack down on me again then. But he kind of said that whatever I wanted to do this summer was okay with him, as long as I didn't cause trouble or break the law."

"And what you want to do is -- ?" asked Niklas.

Keith laughed once. "Stay as far away from him as possible. If anybody's looking for an overnight guest, maybe for a couple of nights or so in a row, I'm definitely available."

"I get him first!" called Martin.

"I'm sure it'd be cool with my parents once in a while." said Davy.

Keith nodded. "With a little luck, I might not have to be home more than a day or two in a row this summer."

"What about your grandmother?" asked Niklas.

Keith shrugged. "Ah, she's okay. But she's getting too old to take care of me, and you know she doesn't like having other kids around. I'm glad I can stay with her most of the time, though. I just wish I could see my mom more often without HIM around."

"I still think you should report this." said Davy. "Maybe one of us could persuade our parents to take you in."

Keith raised a hand. "One step at a time, guys, okay? I don't trust the cops or any child welfare authorities to do the right thing. And for now -- I'll take what I can get. If he leaves me alone the rest of the summer, that works for me. But I do owe you an apology. I didn't think anything could be done. You proved me wrong. Thanks for your help."

"Keith, we're your friends." said Davy. "What else could we do?"

"We could go to the pond!" announced Keith. "You know how hot it is out there today?"

"There is one other thing, that I think we should discuss." announced Jahv. "Two things, actually. The first is: we have heard you refer sometimes to others of your friends. A boy named Jonathon. Another who calls himself Sniv, although I should mention that that's a pretty rude word on a couple of worlds I can think of. Keyro and I are very glad to have all of you as friends, but we would like to meet more of your friends. Would this be possible soon?"

The boys considered the question. Niklas knew the others best. "I think so. I'm sure we could trust Sniv, and I know we could trust Jason and Fabian. I'm not so sure about Jonathon, but maybe. Maybe Randy, too."

Jahv nodded. "Good. We'd like to meet and know more of your friends."

"You said two things." remarked Davy.

"Remember when we used the holocron to visit a representation of our world?" asked Jahv.

"Do I?" said Davy. "The inside of my mouth is still healing from those flame berries or whatever they were."

"It occurred to us that there are many different planets and races out there." said Jahv. "And although we are banned from ever returning to our homeworld, no such ban exists for other planets."

"Yeah, so?" asked Keith.

"Come with us." Jahv and Keyro stood, and led the boys through a second doorway in the dome-tent. One that had not been there until recently. "It's taken some doing. Fortunately, Keyro's backpack contained a second, larger dome-tent. And an intact computer, complete with the necessary schematics. The fabrication equipment that makes dry goods similar to how our replicators make food has been difficult to convert for a project like this, but it has worked. And it's almost ready."

"What's ready?" asked Niklas. The interior of this second dome-tent was darkened.

"Lights!" said Jahv.

The second dome-tent was a hangar. And in the center of it, nearly complete, was a huge, sleek, gleaming shuttle, that looked like it was straight out of Star Trek, Star Wars, or something equally futuristic. There was no question that it was capable of interstellar flight.

There was a shuttle.

"Ohhh, wow." whispered Davy, breaking the silence of the four boys. Jahv and Keyro were grinning widely.

Niklas started giggling. "What's so funny?" asked Keith.

"No one's going to believe it, you know." said Niklas, still giggling. "We're going to have to lie like nobody's business when we write the reports for school."

"What reports?" asked Martin.

"How we spent our summer vacation." said Niklas, finally breaking down into complete hysterics, followed quickly by Davy, Martin, and Keith. Jahv and Keyro didn't quite get the joke, but they laughed as well.

The entire group headed out to the pond to cool off, and there they spent the rest of the day, with the prospect of the greatest adventure of all yet ahead.

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