The Party

written and illustrated by March

The remainder of the summer had gone quickly for Niklas and his friends, including their alien friends hiding out in the woods near Davy's.

Of all four of them including the brothers Jahv and Keyro, Prince Arion of the planet Korras, and the camouflage-skinned Morik, it was Morik who had spent the most time with Niklas, Davy, and the others. Once he started associating with people again, he had turned out to be the friendliest. Jahv and Keyro tended to be content using their assorted equipment to scan the stars. Actually Keyro did most of this, whereas Jahv spent a lot of time building new contraptions, most of which -- perhaps thankfully -- didn't work very well, although he did build a small transmat unit that could "beam", much like Star Trek transporter systems, up to four people anywhere within a fifty-mile radius. Unfortunately, the device was a little pointless, since the foursome didn't dare show themselves in public, and they didn't know the terrain well enough to pick out hiding spots.

Prince Arion was regretably just too pompous for the others at times. He never really meant to be rude, but growing up in a royal family of apparently considerable opulence had engendered in him certain mannerisms of superiority that the others found difficult to put up with. Arion himself didn't seem to object all that much to being left on his own, and reportedly spent a lot of time flying, as he was able to do, always shooting out of the hidden dome-tent so fast that no one could have possibly seen him, and then flying either so high or so erratically that no ground-based radar system was likely to pick up on him. It was also hoped that he was too small to be easily detected.

Morik, meanwhile, alternated his activities between exploring the woods around the hidden home of the aliens, which given his camouflage skin was absurdly easy for him to do, or spending time with the others. This required a bit of effort, obviously. Although all four of the aliens were reasonably humanoid, there were aspects that prevented Jahv, Keyro, or Arion from readily being passed off in public. Even setting their unusual skin colors aside, Jahv and Keyro had antennae on their heads, and Arion had feathers.

Morik's face, however, was much more human than the others. And he had neither antennae nor feathers. Davy had managed to use some leftover face paint that he had stashed in his treehouse on Morik, and was able to get a much more realistic coloration than he had on Jahv's one and only journey to the outside world. Practice made perfect, apparently. There wasn't much to be done for Morik's long, dark green hair, but any parents who saw the boy just assumed he'd colored it that way for some weird reason. This caused some slight suspicion, but Morik was sufficiently polite and friendly that their worries were soon enough quelled. It wasn't as though Morik could really cut and color his hair, either. That would've given away his one unusual feature. Rather large pointed ears. He'd also accepted the name "Morris" for when he was hanging around with the others, at least when someone who didn't know who and what he was was around.

Morik had shown himself to be a good friend to anyone he visited. He'd also proven to be a good artist. He loved to draw, even if sometimes what he drew was a little unintelligible by Earth standards. Morik called it "recapturing memories of home". Apparently many of the sketches were drawings of his homeworld as he remembered it. Morik was also merciless with board games, although surprisingly he was completely inept when it came to video games. Perhaps it wasn't that surprising. He'd never been around working machines all that much. Just the crashed shuttle on the planet he'd been stranded on. Picking up on the rules of a board game was apparently a lot easier for him.

He was also no great fan of music. Apparently most forms of modern music hurt his very delicate ears. He couldn't stand heavy metal or rap, thought country sounded like some of the animals he'd heard on the jungle planet, and disco just plain nauseated him (although a lot of the other boys were in agreement with that particular judgment).

Despite all of this, Morik was still welcome in any group where Niklas or one of the others who knew about him were hanging around. It had been rather devastating for Morik when school had started. Morik, obviously, had never attended school, and it was generally agreed that attempting to hack into the school system's computer, an idea proposed by Jahv, and enrolling any of these kids would be pushing their luck a little too far.

Jahv, Keyro, and Arion didn't really understand the principle of school, either. Children on Jahv's and Keyro's world were educated by their parents. Arion, being royalty on his world, had had private tutors. He had no idea how other children on his planet were educated.

Which basically left weekends and the occasional holiday to get together. It was October, but it felt like July. Summer had decided to deliver one last blast of heat and humidity through the area. Davy and Niklas, who had gotten together with Morik, were extremely thankful that the day it happened was a Saturday. No school, no church -- no responsibilities.

Davy and Niklas had been spending quite a bit of time together, especially on weekends. Davy didn't attend the same school as most of the other kids Niklas knew, being just outside the school district. Niklas knew that Davy tended to be lonely. There weren't a lot of other kids in his neighborhood. When Keith and Martin had first dropped in on Davy, during their "runaway" adventure, the poor kid had acted desperate for friends. Fortunately, through Keith and Martin, Davy had gotten to know a lot of the other kids in Niklas' neighborhood, and they managed to keep in touch despite the distance.

Today, Morik had conceived of a game for all three of them to play. It was a variation on hide-and-seek. Davy and Niklas would try to find Morik somewhere in the woods. If he found them first, he won the game.

They'd already been at it for nearly half an hour. Niklas and Davy were hot, tired, rather dirty, and a little scratched up. "I don't believe this," said Niklas. "These woods aren't THAT big."

Davy retained a certain determination. "Maybe we shouldn't be surprised. He has spent most of his years on a planet a lot wilder than this forest, dodging things a lot nastier than us."

"Yeah, but how far could he get?" asked Niklas. "I know he's got skin that blends in with the background, but he was wearing a bright yellow shirt and red shorts! We should've spotted him by now."

Then Davy's foot caught on something. He looked down. "Uh, Niklas..." Niklas looked down. It was a bright yellow shirt and red shorts.

"That dirty little camo-skinned cheater." muttered Niklas. "We'll never find him now."

Suddenly a cry that sounded something like a strangled eagle shot through the air, and Niklas and Davy barely had time to look up and see a stark naked Morik plummed down on top of them from a tree branch. Fortunately there were enough fallen leaves on the ground to cushion the tackle. "I think the word is -- TAG!" proclaimed Morik, sitting atop the prone forms of Niklas and Davy.

"I think the word is -- TAG!"

"You crazy -- " sputtered Niklas as Morik allowed him and Davy to get to their feet. "Nobody said anything about you taking your clothes off!"

"Nobody said anything about using them for bait or climbing trees, either, one way or the other, I might add, but it worked rather well, don't you think?" said Morik, grinning widely and retrieving his shorts.

"I think you cheated." said Davy.

"I think I won." stated Morik.

"I think I'm hot and tired and want something to drink." said Niklas.

"Good." said Morik. "Let's head back to the tent. I think Jahv got that glitch out of the food replicator finally."

"I hope so." said Davy, as the threesome headed off. "There's just something wrong about blue lemonade."

Upon arriving at the dome-tent that was home to the four aliens, they found that Jahv had indeed gotten the glitch out of the lemonade program. It was the proper color. The chocolate chip cookies were another matter, however. "Never saw purple cookies before." said Davy, trying to be polite and keep his gag reflex down. "With white chips."

Niklas closed his eyes, worked up his courage, and took a bite. "Well, they taste okay."

"I guess that's all that matters." said Davy, reluctantly tasting one. It was, as Niklas had said, perfectly fine in flavor.

"Don't know what to tell you, guys." said Jahv. "You should've seen what it did to the meal Arion ordered last night."

"Stuffed pakra roast is most definitely not supposed to be green." grumbled the young prince.

Conversation turned to other topics while everyone could still eat. "I still wish we could look around your world more." said Keyro. "It's just not the same, getting everything through computer screens."

"Your big brother tried that once." remarked Niklas. "From what I hear, it didn't go very well." Niklas turned to Davy for corroboration, but the youngster appeared deep in thought. That generally meant trouble.

"There might be a way." said Davy. "How would you lot like to attend a party?" "What?!" exclaimed all of the other boys -- Jahv and Keyro in anxious expectation, Morik genuinely stunned, Arion moderately curious, and Niklas in utter shock. Niklas managed to get the next words in. "Did that purple cookie do something to your brain!?"

"The Halloween party." said Davy, grinning.

"What's -- Hollow Een?" asked Jahv.

"Well, I don't know its entire specific origin, but these days, it involves kids dressing up in costumes for a night." explained Davy. The aliens suddenly caught on. "Used to be, kids would go around to houses in their neighborhoods, knock on doors and beg candy."

Jahv and Keyro tried to stifle laughter. They failed. So did Morik. The three aliens burst into raucous hysterics. Arion merely raised an eyebrow, as if finding both the concept and the other aliens' reaction equally absurd. When Jahv finally recovered enough to speak, he said, "That has got to be the silliest excuse for a holiday I've ever heard in my life! But you said something about a party?"

"Well, the past few years, it's gotten kind of dangerous for kids to be out at night, going around to houses where maybe they don't know everybody." said Davy sadly. "There's some sick people out there. So the town decided that the best thing to do would be to have an organized, supervised party. It's in the local high school's gym, but it's run by adults, and kids of all ages are welcome."

"And with everyone in costume," said Jahv, "no one's going to notice a handful of actual aliens."

"You two will have to wear your uniforms." advised Niklas, speaking specifically to Jahv and Keyro. "Morik, I don't know. Come up with something. Maybe a military uniform. Arion, you'll need to wear a shirt." That got him a nasty glare from his highness, as if Niklas had somehow stated the pathetically obvious. "And I'm still not sure this is a good idea. Davy, costumes can't explain some of their features."

"No one paid that much attention to Jahv on his first public outing, until he got tossed into the fountain and threw a lightning bolt." said Davy. "No one's going to pay that much attention now."

"When is this party?" asked Keyro.

"Two weeks from tonight." said Davy. "I can give you directions to the school, and you can meet us there."

"Great!" said Jahv.

"Indeed," said Arion. "I haven't attended a proper celebration since I left my homeworld."

Niklas and Davy weren't sure what to make of that remark, but decided to let it drop. They said their farewells, and headed out of their alien friends' new headquarters, and towards home. "I hope this doesn't blow up in our faces." said Niklas.

"Stop worrying." said Davy. "By the way, what were you planning on going as to the party?"

"I've been working on a pirate costume." said Niklas. "I've got this old striped shirt, and some ragged jeans my mom said I could cut up a bit. Put on a bandana and an eye patch and I think I'm set."

"I've got an old stuffed parrot toy." remarked Davy. "You could have your mom sew it to the shoulder of the shirt."

Niklas grinned. "Not bad. What about you?"

Davy stretched his arms. "Well, I was going to go as Adam from the Garden of Eden, but I'm not sure I can find a big enough fig leaf."

Niklas scowled, a desperate attempt not to grin. "You're sick, you know that?"

********

Two weeks passed. Niklas and Davy alerted the other neighborhood kids, those that knew about the four aliens, about their intended presence at the party. The more forewarned, the better off they might be in case something did go wrong.

The night of the party arrived. Niklas had arranged with just about everybody to meet in a darkened area behind the high school's athletic field scoreboard. Sniv, Jason, Fabian, Randy, and Jonathan had opted to head directly into the party. They were pleased to see their alien friends back, but they'd never been as involved with their activities as the rest of the boys.

Davy had shown up as a wrestler.Niklas had made good on his pirate outfit, complete with stuffed parrot. Davy had shown up wearing a sleeveless spandex leotard and claiming to be a professional wrestler. He'd inscribed the word "HUNK" on the front of the outfit. Keith was dressed in a leather jacket, blue jeans, and leather boots, stating that he was a biker. Martin was garbed in a loose-fitting white shirt, jeans even more shredded than Niklas', and a floppy straw hat -- the sheer descendant of Huck Finn if there ever was one.

Keith wasn't quite able to restrain a few laughs when he saw Davy's uniform. "Jeez, Davy, if you have to advertise yourself that badly, why not rent out a billboard?"

"Watch it, pal, or I'll have to bodyslam you." countered Davy, more or less good-naturedly.

"So where's the aliens?" asked Keith.

"Here." came a new voice. Jahv, Keyro, Morik and Arion crept out of some nearby bushes. Jahv and Keyro were dressed in their usual spacesuits. Morik had taken the suggestion to dress in sort of a soldier's uniform, but he was going to have to pass himself off as a soldier of the future, given his long hair and the outfit itself, which consisted of a ridged, padded grey vest, black trousers with green and grey streaks in them, and the very high-tech boots. An insignia of Morik's own design was on the vest. He'd designed a cybernetic targeting eye to wear, in interesting high-tech contrast to the pirate eyepatch Niklas sported. Prince Arion was the wildest of all, garbed in a rather ornate, loose-fitting golden shirt, with turquoise trousers with red, glittering patterns running through it.

"Jeez, bird-head, what Las Vegas wardrobe did you raid to get that outfit?!" quipped Keith.

"I'll have you know that this is the ceremonial garb of the Royal House of Korras!" snapped Arion. Indeed, he'd managed to replicate it through the equipment in the dome-tent from memory. "And this is not how I am accustommed to attending parties."

"Just remember, this party isn't in YOUR honor." said Davy. Between Keith's wisecracks and Arion's attitude level obviously being set on "high" tonight, he was starting to get a little worried. "And don't expect to be announced when you walk in, either."

Arion snorted. "Barbaric primitives. No sense of ceremony."

The group headed out of the hiding place and towards the gym. "Anybody know what the rest of the gang was going to show up as?" asked Martin.

"Jonathan said something about showing up as an accident victim." remarked Niklas.

"That's hardly fair." said Keith. "You're supposed to come in costume, not as yourself."

"You sit on something sharp before you came here tonight, Keith?" asked Davy. "Tone down the attitude a bit."

"Yes, Hunk." said Keith.

"Fabian and Jason said something about coming as rock stars." added Niklas. "I don't know what Sniv or Randy had in mind."

The group entered the gym. Despite the presence of several hundred children and teenagers of varying ages, all the way from preschoolers to high schoolers, it didn't take long to spot the others. Jonathan had wrapped a bandage around his head and spattered red paint on it. He was also wearing a torn T-shirt that he'd drawn a tire tread across (or possibly rolled an actual tire across given how authentic it looked), and had smeared a bit of fake dirt and blood on his arms and legs. He was being given a generally wide berth.

Fabian and Jason were wearing phony, frizzed out wigs -- Fabian's was green, Jason's was purple. They were dressed in tie-dyed T-shirts and blue jeans, and were carrying guitars. Keith muttered under his breath that they should call themselves the "Eyesore Twins". Randy was wearing a silver snow suit, which he'd attached NASA logos to, claiming he was an astronaut. Sniv had dressed as Spider-Man, apparently buying a commercially-produced costume, to which he'd added red rubber boots on which he'd drawn the web pattern, but instead of a mask, he'd painted his face with the Spider-Man mask pattern -- entirely red, with black webbing lines, and the large, slanted black outlines around the eyes, with white centers.

Throughout the room was a miasma of costumes. Clowns, robots, monsters, animals, other superheroes, and several things defying description. At least three kids had gotten together and made a massive costume of some sort of nondescript but horrific-looking six-legged monster. Arion had to be restrained from attacking it. Niklas wondered how any of the inhabitants of the costume were able to get refreshments. Or even see where they were going. And milling through the crowd and watching over the refreshment tables were several dozen adults -- in varying degrees of nervousness.

Music was playing, but only a few high schoolers were dancing. It was early in the evening, so everyone was still comparing costumes, and some of the younger kids were playing games.

"Uh-huh -- and this race thinks of itself as an intelligent species." remarked Arion. "Riiiight..."

"Could be worse." said Niklas. "My sister could be here." Tina had managed to catch a nasty cold, and her parents refused to let her attend. It had taken all of Niklas' strength not to tease the daylights out of her over that one, but he realized doing so would likely get him barred from the party, as well. He'd let her have it later.

"Hey, amigo!" called a voice, and Sniv turned. It was his friend Ricky, whom he had first met when Keith and Martin had run away. He didn't see the boy all that often. Ricky was dressed -- sort of -- as a soldier. But nothing like Morik. He'd smeared green and brown paint on his face and arms, and was wearing a camouflage T-shirt and trousers. "Nice outfits!" said Ricky, then looking at Morik. "Wish mine looked that good." Ricky came from a poor family. The shirt and trousers were probably actual clothes of his.

"You look fine." said Sniv. "I think you've met some of the others?" Niklas and the rest of the group had wandered over.

"Yeah, but not those guys!" said Ricky, seeing Jahv, Keyro, Morik and Arion for the first time. "Those gotta be the best costumes I've ever seen!"

Sniv gulped. Ricky had never been introduced to the aliens. It just hadn't worked out. "Uh, yeah. This is Jeff, Kevin, Morris, and -- Arion." Jahv and Keyro had been willing to assume names that were a little more normal-sounding for the night. Morik had simply taken up his usual "Morris" identity. Arion had categorically and obstinately refused any alteration to his name.

Ricky scowled. "That's a weird name. You not from around here, amigo?"

"Hardly." said Arion with an icy tone to his voice.

Sniv and Ricky wandered off. Niklas walked up to Arion. "What's ruffled your feathers -- pun intended?"

Arion glared. "Do you have the slightest idea what 'ameegoh' means in my language?"

"Well, in his language, it means friend -- so make nice." said Niklas. Arion just shrugged. "Are there refreshments around here?"

Niklas pointed at towards the long refreshment table. It was actually a bit of a buffet. Somebody had reasoned that there was no reason to just have candy at the party. Besides, who wanted to deal with several hundred sugar-whacked kids in costumes? The high school wanted their gymnasium left relatively intact, thank you. Arion nodded and walked off.

"I hate to say this, but he's royalty, all right. A royal pain." remarked Niklas.

"I suppose he's used to higher living than this," said Davy, "his ability to fly notwithstanding."

"Well, if he's going to hang around for any length of time, he'd better get over it." affirmed Niklas.

"He's not that bad," said Jahv. "But I'll admit he takes getting used to. I think he tends to act arrogant to mask his nervousness sometimes."

"I just thought of something," said Davy. "You guys had to scan all the food when you first showed up here. What about him? Does he know what's safe to eat?"

Jahv nodded. "We put both him and Morik through that as soon as we arrived after the shuttle trip. The only thing Arion really can't tolerate is milk. And anything with garlic."

"And all I need to avoid is some orange vegetation called 'carrots' and I'm okay." said Morik. "So if you'll excuse me, as well, I'd like to try some of the local food."

"I saw some sliced meat for sandwiches up there," said Jason, joining in the conversation. "I doubt any of it has garlic in it, but you'd better check."

Jahv pulled a small analyzer out of his backpack and headed off.

The evening progressed largely without incident. Arion, after being assured that the food was all safe for him to eat, parked himself at one of a small number of tables set off to one side, and made himself so stand-offish between trips to the buffet that no one came anywhere near him, which was apparently how he wanted it. Niklas reasoned that Arion was more interested in observing than participating. His large eyes tended to dart everywhere, watching everything.

Jahv and Keyro were just the opposite. They wanted to see and do just about everything. The only risky moment came during an old-fashioned round of "bobbing for apples". A huge water-filled tub with apples was the centerpiece of this game. Keyro had decided to attempt the game, but his antennae instinctively perked back on his head to stay out of the water, which startled a few people. It also startled a few people that none of the "paint" on his face "washed off" when he came up. On top of that, the little imp had also eaten most of the apple while still underwater.

Morik, for his part, was talking his head off to anyone interested in conversation. Niklas considered that this was the largest group of people Morik had probably ever been in since his planet was destroyed. He wandered past within earshot a few times to make sure the boy wasn't saying anything he shouldn't. Fortunately, any slips he did make were being attributed to his being "in character" as a "soldier from a future planet" or some such. Niklas didn't want to look like he was eavesdropping, and Morik seemed to be keeping a number of people well entertained -- even if they thankfully weren't believing everything he said.

Davy spent a fair bit of time posing around some of the girls showing off largely mythical muscles. Niklas wasn't sure what he thought of that. Part of him almost felt -- jealous? At the same time Davy seemed almost oblivious to the probability that the squeals and giggles of the girls were more a result of them laughing at him than any substantial measure of appreciation.

Candy was being given out as prizes for certain games, although Keith had apparently managed to find where it was being kept and had liberated a fair supply of it for himself and Martin, and it looked as though Martin had gotten a bit too much of it. He looked almost as green as Jahv did normally. He'd also apparently somehow incurred the wrath of a rather large specimen in a black hockey shirt and pants, who wanted some of the candy. Niklas recognized him. Until he'd switched schools with the start of the new school year, the brainless oaf, whose name was Toby, was the biggest bully in the school, and the smaller the target, the better. Fortunately, Keith had risen to Martin's defense, and Jason and Fabian had edged over, and Toby, apparently on his own, although in Niklas' experience Toby tended to have reinforcements available if needed, didn't like being outnumbered, even if neither Keith nor Martin would have stood much chance against him, and Jason and Fabian little more. Once Toby backed off, Keith went and found an adult, who gave Martin some antacid. The boy looked better minutes later.

Ricky and Sniv had spent most of the evening together, Sniv making sure that Ricky had a good time despite the boy's apparent shyness. Whether Sniv had told Ricky the truth about Jahv and the others, Niklas did not know, but the camouflaged boy kept glancing at the three "obvious" aliens almost every time he was within sight range. Morik didn't seem to attract the same level of attention.

Niklas was playing a few games here and there, but something in the back of his mind kept telling him to keep an eye on the aliens. He hated to think he was being paranoid, but something was bothering him. That was when he noticed he'd lost sight of Jahv.

A loud belch behind him quickly determined the location of the green-hued alien. Jahv was sitting -- no, more like he was flopped down in a chair at a nearby table, holding a large cup of the rather peculiar punch the party had served. Niklas had wrinkled his nose at it. Everybody said it had tasted fine, but in keeping with the Halloween spirit, the punch bowl vaguely resembled a swamp. Jahv had a silly grin on his face and his eyes looked unfocused.

Jahv almost looked -- drunk?He almost looked -- drunk!? Was that possible, wondered Niklas? Would Jahv drink something without analyzing it first? Maybe, in the spirit of the party, he might have. Niklas walked over to the alien. "You okay?"

Jahv sputtered some static in his native language, and then said, "Huh? Niklas. Oh, yeah. I'm great. Great party!"

Niklas winced. Something was definitely wrong. He went off in search of Keyro, and found him fairly quickly. "Did you drink any of the punch?" he asked.

Keyro shook his head. "It looked too gross, why?"

"Because I think your big brother has, and I think there's something in it that's not agreeing with him too well."

Keyro's expression became one of immediate concern. "Where is he?"

Niklas led Keyro over to where Jahv was. Jahv now looked asleep, his head down on the surface of the table. Keyro picked up the cup and pulled an anaylzer out of his own backpack. "Uh, ohhh." he said.

"What?" asked Niklas.

"This stuff is half orange juice. The other half is melted lime sherbet, but it's the orange juice that's trouble. Orange citrus makes us -- act a little weird."

"Like drunk?" asked Niklas. "At least it looks like he's sleeping it off."

Keyro was shaking his head. "Not -- quite like being drunk. And when the stuff really kicks in -- "

Suddenly Jahv's head snapped back and his eyes opened. They looked glazed. He still had a silly grin on his face. He tried to stand up and failed. Finally he knelt on the chair. "I have ridden the nebulae of Andromeda!" his voice blasted, echoing more than usual. "I have been one with the cosmos! I am the great space explorer! I have seen the wuhh -- BWURRRP! -- wonders of the heavens!"

"Oh, great." groaned Niklas. "Jahv, you want to keep your voice down? It's not only carrying, it's echoing." Somewhat unfocused eyes scanned the room, resting on one high schooler who had, for reasons known only to him, painted his face blue and was dressed in silver. "How the *hiccup* did a Trandosian get in here? Don't they have security at the door?"

"What?" remarked Niklas. Keyro just shrugged.

Suddenly Jahv jumped up on the table. He'd seen the two guys dressed as the four-legged monster. "Good Lord, it's a four-legged vraktow! They're much more dangerous than the six-legged kind, you know." Jahv slapped his hip as if reaching for a weapon, then looked down. "I'm not armed, am I?"

"No, you're not," replied Niklas, adding, mostly to himself, "thank God."

"Oh." said Jahv, climbing (more like stumbling) off the table. "Okay. Somebody else will have to kill it then."

"Jahv, I think maybe we should get you out of here." suggested Niklas politely.

"Huh? Why? It's a great party."

"You've had a little too much orange juice." said Niklas.

"Don't be ricid -- riduc -- diric -- don't be silly." said Jahv. "If I had, I'd be acting drunk."

"Uhhh..." said Niklas, wondering how to phrase his next remark without sending the alien flying off the handle again.

"Niklas?" said Jahv quietly.

"Yes?" replied Niklas.

"This is the weirdest bunch of aliens I've seen since FelgerCon 35 on Relcos 7." proclaimed Jahv. "Or was it FelgerCon 7 on Relcos 35? It's a pretty big star system."

Niklas looked at Keyro. "What the heck is he talking about?"

Keyro shrugged. "Don't ask me. He tended to go ashore more often than I did anyway, back when we were traveling with our parents."

"Of course," said Jahv, continuing as if Niklas and Keyro hadn't even spoken at all, "that was probably because FelgerCon didn't have a dress code. Good thing, too, since I wasn't wearing anything!"

Jahv started to giggle at his own bad jokes, with intermittent native static coming through. This, however, was abruptly followed by a belch of truly staggering proportions. Niklas and Keyro weren't certain which was worse, the force of the blast, its unbelievable volume, or its staggering stench.

Niklas covered his face. "My God, what was that?!"

Keyro was blinking his eyes. "Smelled a lot like the last meal our parents fixed us. Only people I knew could ruin a meal out of a replicator."

"But -- that would've been months ago!" said Niklas.

"Yeah, I know." replied Keyro.

The gaseous explosion had not gone unnoticed in the rest of the room. It had darn near drowned out the music. Somebody from across the room bellowed, "Hey, what the hell just died horribly over there!?"

"We need to get him out of here -- right now." said Keyro.

"No argument there." said Niklas. Everybody within earshot, which was a good third of the room, was staring at them. Davy and Keith had already come over to help, and Martin was close behind. Niklas couldn't see Morik or Arion and right now he didn't care.

Niklas and Davy dragged the yammering alien out of the main room and carted him into a nearby -- and thankfully unoccupied -- restroom, not really knowing what else to do. They were followed quickly by Keyro. Martin and Keith stood guard outside, explaining to a few people that one of their friends was violently ill and they really didn't want to go in there. Somehow they'd managed to escape the detection of any adults so far. Either that or the adults didn't want anything to do with this, or assumed the matter was in hand or that Jahv had been removed entirely. Whatever the case, it worked to the boys' advantage.

"Any ideas how to detox him?" asked Davy. "He keeps yapping there's no telling what he might say."

Keyro shook his head. "It just kind of has to wear off."

"What in the name of --" another burst of static from Jahv -- "am I doing wearing clothes!?" Jahv started to tear at his uniform, ripping it in multiple places, several of them rather crucial.

"No no no no no!" yelped Keyro. "You don't want to be doing that right now, big brother!"

"Oh, great -- now what do we do with him?" groaned Niklas. "We can't let him out of here looking like that!"

"Keyro, can you two -- beam yourselves or whatever it is you do back to your headquarters?" asked Davy.

"Not indoors, we can't." said Keyro. "The transmat homing beacon and remote lock-on system has its limitations. It's just not powerful enough. We have to get outdoors."

"There's a door to the outside on the other side of the restrooms away from the gym." said Davy. "At least we won't have to haul him through the party again."

Niklas stuck his head out of the door and said to Martin and Keith, "Get ready to flank us. We've got a drunk alien here who's shredded his uniform. We need to get him outside."

"Thank you so much for including me on this, Niklas." said Keith. "Definitely a Halloween I won't forget -- no matter how hard I try."

"Just be ready." said Niklas. Seconds later, Niklas and Davy half-carried and half-dragged Jahv out of the restroom. Keith, Martin, and Keyro did their best to cover the scene, even as Keyro primed the transmat units remotely to beam the two of them back to their headquarters.

Miraculously, they managed to get outside and into the open without being spotted. "Where we goin', Keyro?" muttered Jahv, still tugging at what was left of his uniform.

"Home." said Keyro. "You're drunk."

"I'm not so think as you drunk I am..." said Jahv, as Keyro activated the transmat device and the two faded from view in a coruscating beam of light.

"Yeesh." was all Keith could say. "Well, come on, there's still some party left."

"I agree." added Davy. "Besides, Arion and Morik are still in there."

"I don't think we have to worry too much about them." said Niklas, as the boys walked back to the gym. "Arion seems content to sit in a corner and watch everybody else, and nobody's taking anything Morik's yapping about all that seriously anyway."

Arion looked like trouble.That, however, proved not to be the case when the boys returned to the party. Toby and Arion were facing down each other, and although Toby had the clear size advantage, there was pure fury written on the face of Arion. Morik was about a third of the way across the room from the confrontation, but his attention was directed solely on the situation, specifically on two rough-looking specimens leaning up against a wall with some balloons attached to it, part of the party decorations. They seemed to be grinning at Toby's actions.

"Jeez, we can't take these guys anywhere!" complained Keith. "Guess we'd better break this one up."

"Hold it." said Niklas. "Let's see how it plays out. That big bully has had it coming for a long time, and I think Arion might be the one to give it to him."

"Would you repeat what you called me -- peasant?!" roared Arion.

Toby bent down slightly to get right in Arion's face. "You heard me. I called you a feather-headed little f -- "

Whatever the final word was about to be, and apparently had been once already, Toby never got the chance to finish the sentence. Arion leapt into the air, not quite flying, and executed a series of martial arts kicks and chops the likes of which none of the boys had ever seen even in the most vicious video games. It was both unearthly and deadly-looking.

"Remind me never to play 'Mortal Kombat' with him." said Davy.

"Remind me to ask him who trained him and see if he's offering lessons." stated Keith.

Toby was now sprawled on the floor, a good ten feet from Arion, aching from a dozen nasty shots to his body. Arion apparently decided to add a certain less-than-graceful point to his martial arts exclamation by picking Toby up and throwing him across the buffet table, right through the punch bowl. The sopping swamp juice splattered the overstuffed, injured, and now nearly unconscious bully.

Arion turned his back on the whole mess and walked towards the same doors the boys had just entered. "Party is over." he said, and kept going.

"No kidding." said Keith. "Niklas, the next time these idiots want to go someplace, I say we drop him off at a wrestling match, Jahv at a juice bar, and let Keyro and Morik clean up after both of them!"

"I think I agree." said Niklas, not entirely stifling a grin. "Still, that one's had something like that coming to him for years."

"I think maybe we'd better get out of here before some of the adults remember who showed up with whom." suggested Davy.

That would've turned out to have been the least of their worries, as the two toughs Morik had been watching looked to move towards the departing Arion. Morik got as close as he could without being obvious, and made a small adjustment to his cybernetic eyepiece, whereupon a beam of laser light shot out of it and popped several of the balloons. The toughs turned and saw Morik's glowing eye. "Like my friend said, party's over, right?"

The two toughs grinned weakly and backed off.

"Gonna have to remember to thank Jahv for making me this thing." said Morik, catching up to the others.

The five boys quietly and quickly departed, with some of the others, including Sniv and Jonathan, behind them. Suddenly a voice called out. "Hey, wait up!"

If it had been an adult voice, there was no guarantee any of the kids would have maintained bladder control. But it hadn't been. It was Ricky, running to catch up. "I gotta ask you guys something. Those three weird friends of yours, and you with the eye thing -- they -- you -- those weren't costumes, were they?"

The boys looked at each other. Could Ricky be trusted? Apparently Sniv decided he could be. He walked up to the boy and placed his hands on his shoulders. "No, they weren't. They are actually aliens. Tomorrow I'll show you where they live, if you like. But you must promise never to tell anybody -- ever -- that they're here. It could be dangerous for them, and us."

Ricky's face spread into a wide grin under the camouflage. He looked the happiest Sniv had ever seen him. "Don't worry, amigo! No one will know from me! Gracias! Thank you for trusting me!" He hugged Sniv quickly and ran back to the party.

"Now there goes a happy kid." said Davy.

"He deserves to be." said Sniv quietly.

The next day, Sniv kept his promise. Along with Davy and Niklas, Ricky was taken out to the aliens' new headquarters. Whatever sort of paint he had used to camouflage his face the night before apparently hadn't been designed for use on skin. Most of it had washed off, but the boy still looked slightly multi-colored. "But I don't see anything!" he protested, as they reached the site.

"Watch." said Niklas, finding the hidden door-flap to the dome-tent that you really had to sort of know was there to find. It took practice. Fortunately, Niklas had plenty.

The doorway opened, and Ricky's jaw hit the floor. The group entered. Ricky's eyes threatened to bulge out of his head. "I have never seen anything like this! It is so big! How do you hide it?"

"It's bigger on the inside than on the outside." said Davy. Ricky just scowled. "You told him?" The voice was Keyro's, who was at the main monitor station.

Sniv nodded. "This is Ricky. Ricky, this is Keyro."

Keyro stood, and Ricky raised an eyebrow. "Howcum you not wearing any clothes?"

Keyro shrugged. "We generally don't, at least not Jahv and myself. If it offends you, though -- "

Ricky shook his head. "No. S'okay. Just wondered, I guess."

"Where is Jahv?" asked Niklas.

Suddenly a voice boomed from one of the secondary rooms. After the arrival of Morik and Arion, Jahv and Keyro had fabricated several smaller dome-tents so everyone could have their own quarters. "SHADDUP OUT THERE!" This was followed by a long moan. "Keyro, if we have to have visitors, will you PLEASE tell them to tread lightly on the floors and keep their voices down?"

Niklas laughed. "Hangover?"

"A whopper." giggled Keyro. "He'll probably be okay in a day or so, then he'll apologize. Meanwhile, he's not very good company."

"I HEARD THAT!" yelled Jahv.

"Go to sleep or I replicate my old percussion set!" shouted Keyro.

"All right, all right!" replied Jahv. "Just tell them to knock off the loud breathing, okay?"

"Where's Arion and Morik?" asked Davy.

"Well, given how insufferable Jahv's become, Morik decided to go on an extended exploration of the woods, and Arion decided to check the holo-program of his homeworld. He's using what used to be the old shuttle hangar. I'm sure he wouldn't mind company." smirked Keyro, giving them directions.

"Keyro!" yelled Jahv. "Do something! The bedsheets are rustling too loud!"

"Replicate some antennae plugs!" said Keyro.

"The replicator's too loud!" complained Jahv.

"Come on, anything's better than this." said Niklas, leading the rest of the group to to the holoroom.

The doorway opened to reveal Arion's homeworld of Korras. The boys found themselves perched at the mouth of a cave overlooking a huge precipice, and jagged mountains rising in the distance. Arion swooped over as soon as the door parted. "Welcome!" he said. "If you're looking for some peace and quiet from the whining going on out there, come on in."

"But -- it's so high!" squeaked Ricky.

"But," said Arion, " the room will let you fly."

"Fly?!" exclaimed Ricky.

"You're kidding!" said Davy. He had long envied Arion's ability to fly. was it now possible for him, even just in here?

"Absolutely!" said Arion. "I found a way to negate gravity in this area. Wasn't easy. I had hoped Morik might join me, but given Jahv's mood, he decided to get out of here entirely for a time."

"Is this safe?" asked Niklas. It looked like an awful long drop. His mind told him that none of this was actually real. His eyes and his nerves were telling him something else entirely.

"I gotta try this!" said Davy, dashing into the room and instantly going airborne. It was fortunate that the holoroom was soundproofed, because if it hadn't been, the delighted whoop Davy gave off as he seemingly soared through the sky probably would've pushed Jahv over the brink completely.

"He's -- flying!" said Ricky. "How is that possible!?"

"I think you'll find, with these guys, there's a lot of things possible." said Niklas.

Ricky grinned. He could believe that. His world had just gotten a lot more interesting. He spent the next hour flying, his spirit soaring as much as his body, through the (simulated, but who cares?) skies of an alien world, along with his friends.

Back!Next chapter!