Chapter One

Marco couldn't help but let out a long, low wolf whistle as one of the girls passed him, tight pink leotard hugging a very shapely part of her anatomy. Marco's eyes were glued to the swaying muscle and fabric as she walked away. His naturally tanned complexion, dark, short cropped hair and dark eyes left little room for doubt that he was indeed fairly hot, but still most of the leotard clad girls were simply ignoring him as they walked by.

"Remind me why I don't volunteer to pick up Rachel more often?" Marco asked his best friend and sometimes leader as the two leaned up against the fence just outside of the very prestigious gymnastics center. She'd been on the waiting list since she was ten, and had strictly informed the others that, alien invasion or no alien invasion, she was going. Marco suddenly became aware of the death glare he was receiving from the father of 'hot pink leotard' and visibly flinched before waving as innocently as possible.

"That's why," Jake couldn't help but snicker at Marco's flinch. With pale skin, blond hair and blue eyes he was Marco's physical opposite, the almost full foot of height he had on the shorter boy didn't help any, but he couldn't help but feel closer to the other boy than he did to his own brother… though considering his brother was practically possessed that was hardly surprising.

"Any word from Erek on the Party?" Marco asked innocently. Jake understood the subtext. After nearly seven years there was no need for further explanation any more.

"Nope, upper classman are being all tight lipped about it," Jake responded easily in code. Marco mentally translated- if the Chee supervisors knew what the Yeerks were planning they weren't sharing the information.

"Screw them man, they're always jerks. We'll just have our own party. My place or Cassie's?" Translation; maybe it's time we considered making the first move.

"You're place. Cassie had a sick skunk in the barn last week- she still can't get the smell out." There was no translation needed for that as both boys wrinkled their noses at the prospect.

"Sounds cool man- oh man oh man oh man…" somewhere during his response Marco had been distracted by a stunning young Russian in a sleek black leotard, nude leggings only enhancing the long muscular legs that seemed to stretch on forever and ever. Biting down on a knuckle and clutching desperately at Jake's shoulder with his other hand as a manly whimper escaped him.

"You're pathetic," both boys turned around to see Rachel standing there, blond hair held up in a high tight bun to keep it out of her way, loose windbreaker over her pink leotard and black leggings, an exasperated expression on her face. Marco looked like he was going to attempt a witty retort, but was cut off as Rachel addressed a pretty girl fiddling with her cell phone only a few feet away. "Hey Cassie."

The girl looked up, briefly confused for a moment before spotting Rachel and smiling. Dirty blond hair was tied up into a high pony tail on the top of her head. Bright green eyes were set into a lightly tanned complexion, a light smattering of freckles spread out across the bridge of her nose and cheeks. "Hey Rachel. Can I borrow your cell? My battery just died."

"Yeah, who're you calling?" Rachel replied as she fished through her bag for her outrageously outdated, but battle tested cell. She was surprised to see that Cassie's looked even older and hardier. A soft cough to her left brought her attention to the two boys standing awkwardly over her left shoulder. "Oh, this is my cousin Jake and his annoying friend Marco."

"Hi Cassie. I'm Marco, the man of you're dreams. So, do you want a spring wedding, or are you more of a fall girl?"

"Oh, hi," the new girl greeted with a polite smile, effectively ignoring Marco's rather lame come on. "I'm just calling triple A- my car won't start."

Rachel mentally scolded herself as the hairs on the back of her neck stood up. She remembered back in the beginning, when the Yeerks had targeted people one at a time by tampering with their cars and stranding them alone, it didn't help her nerves any as she glanced around and realized that the four of them were now the only one's left in the now empty parking lot. But that tactic hadn't been employed in ages. Not since they'd gathered the necessary numbers to start turning people in large groups. Seeing Marco and Jake's surreptitious glances, she felt slightly better about her own reaction- right up until a snapping twig in the tree line just beyond the gymnastics center sent her crouching into a defensive stance and searching for the best tactical position. To her surprise Cassie was already standing there. Despite the fact that the ground was soggy and muddy and staining her white shoes, Cassie was standing on the slightly elevated hill of land clearly away from all the big trees with a rapid escape route clear through to the highway and the best offered view of the surrounding area.

"Ok, I vote we bail now," Marco announced suddenly, his voice not wavering at all. Nope. Not at all. In no way did he just sound like a scarred little five year old girl. "Can we go now?" Well… maybe just a little bit….

"Yeah, why don't we give you a ride home today Cassie? I've got to drop off Rachel again tomorrow anyways," Jake suggested, proud that he managed to keep the abruptness from his voice despite the fact that his internal alarms were screaming at him to get out of there. Seeing the other girls nervous glance back towards her car he cut off her objections before she could even voice them. "My friend Max is pretty good with cars. He can probably figure out what's wrong with it and fix it for you if you want."

Relief flooded through the girls face as she nodded gratefully and the quartet began moving swiftly towards Jake's mom's minivan. They were nearly at the car when the breeze shifted.

With the rustling of branches came the raining of leaves, and a few innocuous soggy little bits of something. Rachel and Jake were standing at the doors to the minivan when the rain of leaves settled on Cassie and Marco. Glancing at his shoulder, Marco nearly jumped out of his skin and frantically swatted at the fallen bits of goo before shedding his jacket. Jake and Rachel turned around just in time to see him abruptly relieve Cassie of her jacket, ripping it off her shoulders and shaking it out violently, spraying off bits of good before turning back towards the van and practically dragging Cassie along behind him. Cassie seemed mildly grossed out by the bits of goo, but equally annoyed at being to abruptly manhandled. Marco on the other hand had his mouth set into a thin hard line, eyes shuttered as he took quick, solid steps towards the van. He had only a one word response to Jake and Rachel's raised eyebrows and questioning looks. "Slugs."