“Oh, thank you,” Johnny said into the phone, “Thanks a lot.”
He hung up the phone next to the tasteful photos of cutlery and looked down at his clothes. The tuxedo he wore, still in need of tailoring, hung off him, baggy and rumpled, the jacket seeming to merge seamlessly with his shaggy black hair, turning him into a tall, dark blob. It would need a lot of work before it was presentable for his wedding. In front of him, the door swung open.
“Oh, hi, Denny,” Johnny greeted. “Nice tux, you look great!” Like Johnny, Denny was trying on his outfit for Johnny and Lisa’s wedding, but his tuxedo already fit him like a glove, his skinny frame complimented by the suit and his bowtie positioned perfectly. A football was clutched between his hands, and he toyed with it in excitement.
“You look really handsome,” Denny replied, returning the compliment. Johnny chuckled in response. His eyes taking Johnny in, looking him up and down, Denny added, “Your wedding picture’s going to look great.”
“Oh, thanks,” Johnny smiled.
The doorbell rang. Denny turned to answer it, lighting up as he recognised Peter standing outside. “Hey, Peter,” he said brightly. “Come on in.”
“Oh, hi, Peter,” Johnny chimed in as the hologram stepped inside.
“Hey, guys,” Peter nodded, closing the door behind him.
Johnny mumbled something, and Denny nodded his approval. “A good tip,” he noted.
Motioning at the small seating area of his and Lisa’s condo, Johnny told Peter, “Sit down.”
The doorbell rang again, literally less than ten seconds after Peter had announced himself the same way. Denny laughed opened the door again. It took a moment for him to process what he saw on the other side. His eyes widened as he stared, amazed.
“Wow,” he gasped.
“Wow,” Johnny echoed, drawing the sentiment out.
His face clean-shaven and smooth, Mark stepped inside and flashed a thousand-watt smile. Like Denny and Peter, he was tastefully clad in his tailored tux. “Hey, guys,” he grinned. Everyone stared silently at him, lost in his eyes. “You like it?” he finally prompted.
They all nodded, and a chorus of approving Yeahs enveloped Mark.
“You look great,” Johnny observed. “You look, uh, babyface, huh?”
“You guys want to place some football?” Denny suddenly asked.
“In tuxes?” Peter clarified, searching his memory banks. In all his information on humanity, he could not find a single recorded instance of sports being played in formal wear, or at least not formal wear that had been expensive and was supposed to look pleasing to humans. The idea was unprecedented, and to blend in, he had to decline. “No. You’ve got to be kidding.”
Denny blinked, hurt. He turned to Mark. “Come on, Mark,” he pleaded, “Let’s do it.”
“I’m up for it,” Mark shrugged.
Johnny chuckled in response.
“Johnny?” Denny solicited.
“Ask Peter,” he smirked.
“Come on, Peter!”
“Nah, I don’t think so,” Peter shook his head, adjusting his cufflinks and smoothing any wrinkles from his tuxedo.
“Please?” Denny begged.
“Come on!” Denny crouched and flapped his elbows at his sides. “Cheep, cheep, cheep,” he called out, supposedly imitating a chicken. Mark and Johnny joined in, surrounding Peter with their absurd bird calls.
Their chatter didn’t stop as Peter finally gave in and they all ran into the alley outside, hooting and calling the entire way. Making a note, Peter studied their behaviour, still cross-checking it against his memory banks, observing that it seemed to be anomalous.
He had to admit, though, that the spontaneity of it was amusing, and he found himself smiling – actually excreting pungent pheromones from several sebaceous glands located over his eye – along with the hologram that represented him. These humans had forfeited substantial amounts of something they valued so highly, their money, for the garments they wore, and yet they were so willing to risk damage to the suits simply to make each other happy.
“Catch, Johnny!” Denny called out, and ahead of him, still running, Johnny turned and caught the ball over his shoulder. “Nice snag!” Denny complimented.
Slowing to a stop, Johnny whirled and tossed the football in a high, overhand arc. Calculating the projectile’s trajectory and speed, Peter adjusted the hologram’s position by a few microns and held up both hands to provide the best probability of catching the ball. It landed in his hands easily.
“Alright Peter!” Denny cheered, apparently committed to providing an inane running commentary.
Peter performed a few more calculations using the massive, orbiting supercomputers his brain was currently attached to, and found that an underhand throw, while sacrificing distance, would provide greater control. The three other humans were only a few feet away, eliminating the necessity for distance. He tossed the ball to Denny.
Without missing a beat, Denny snatched the ball out of midair. “Here we go, Mark!” he announced, throwing the ball across the alley. God, I hate this guy.
Denny crouched, lowering his center of gravity and trying to provide an enticing target. Mark obliged, hurling the football directly at his chest. Stumbling slightly from the force of the throw, Denny caught the ball and returned it instantly to Mark, calling out, “Catch, Mark!” as he did.
Although the three humans hopped and dodged no matter where the football was relative to them, Peter stood perfectly still, not sure what advantage such constant motion could convey.
The ball still clutched in his hands, Mark’s eyes fell on Peter. “Go,” he commanded, motioning with one hand to indicate the area behind Peter, further back in the alley. He held the football up, preparing to throw. “Go!”
Peter turned and ran, forgetting himself completely in the joy of the game. Wind flowing past the hologram, he sprinted, feeling a stronger sense of belonging than he ever had on his home-world of Xpsd’n. Lost in the moment, he didn’t notice when his sensors told him to alter course, and the hologram’s foot collided with a small stone.
The holographic image could have easily passed through the object, but that may have been noticed, and the overrides took over, calculating exactly how the body Peter controlled should react. His limbs flailing, he fell to the pavement, almost face-planting.
Wishing he could replay those last few moments, now over forever, Peter laid dejected on the concrete. Johnny, Denny and Mark came running over, worried about their friend.
Seeing Peter wasn’t injured, Denny grinned like an idiot. “Gee, Peter, you’re clumsy,” he commented stupidly.
“That’s it,” Peter announced, pushing himself up off the ground, “I’m done. Great idea, Denny.” He groaned in an imitation of pain as Mark and Johnny grabbed his arms, helping him to his feet. Denny still grinned, oblivious to the insult, as the four men marched back inside.
The night was clear, balmy, fresh, and a million other synonyms for pleasant that the humans might use. As Peter walked down the empty street, he was filled with warm hopes for Johnny and Lisa, despite his logical side telling him there was no way their relationship would work out, and the best case scenario was that they avoided the impending implosion. Some part of him, though, somehow believed, apparently through sheer stubbornness, that things would work out.
The streetlight ahead of Peter flickered, throwing the sidewalk into strobing darkness, making the road in front of him seem to momentarily disappear before his eyes. That didn't seem right. His sensory detectors should have been strong enough to pick up an infrared visual, even in total darkness. He frowned, running a diagnostic on his optics.
The street flickered again, disappearing completely to be replaced by a monitor telling him he had been disconnected. An image appeared on the screen, one of his superior officers.
“Oh, hi, Observer-237,” his commander's inflated bladder buzzed. “We’ve noticed you’ve been having some anomalous hormone profiles lately.”
“I can't afford to have my mission interrupted now,” Peter shot back. “I’m at a crucial juncture.”
The commander paused. “Then it is as we feared,” she burbled. “You have grown too close to the humans to be objective.”
“Have you not read my reports? My objectivity towards the humans cannot be questioned.”
“Observer-237, even your self-analysis does not seem to be objective.”
“I am perfectly capable of fulfilling my mission!” Peter graulphed.
“I am sorry,” the commander mogged dispassionately. “We are forced to re-assign you, Observer-237.”
“My name,” he hissed, “Is Peter.”