Sky liked the train because the buzzing from the electrics made her feel warm. The train was better than the tube because they never went underground and she could watch the high rises of the cities they passed through and the little stations in the middle of nowhere in between.
Sarah Jane had fussed at Paddington, repeatedly telling her not to talk to strangers, not to get off the train before Oxford and to find the guard if something went wrong. But there was nothing for Sarah Jane to worry about. The train wasn't even that busy and she had two seats to herself all the way.
Luke met her at Oxford, giving her her a hug once she'd passed through the ticket barrier. He insisted on carrying her backpack, although he was too big to get both arms through the straps. Once she'd texted Sarah Jane to say she'd arrived safely, Luke led her out of the station.
"Where are we going?" She looked over her shoulder towards the car park, where she thought Luke was parked, but he was leading her away from it.
"Carfax Tower." He gave her a smile, but didn't tell her what that was, so she filled in the details herself.
"It's the tallest building in Oxford and it's right in the centre of the city. There are good views of Oxford from the top." That was what Wikipedia said, anyway, which she tended to believe, despite Sarah Jane's complaints that it wasn't a good research tool.
He nodded. "You said you'd been reading up on Oxford, so I thought I'd take you up there."
"I did." She skipped a little and not just to keep up with Luke's longer legs. "I bet I know more facts about Oxford than you do."
He grinned. "You're on."
They had to declare it a draw because they were both out of breath by the time they reached the top of the tower. Besides, there was too much to look at to be bothered with remembered facts from the internet. And that included the spaceship poorly disguised as a car. Minis were not that long; nor did they hover.
"Luke!" She whispered, because aliens weren't something you talked about when they were in public.
"Yes, I see it," he whispered back.
They stood by the parapet and watched as the spaceship landed in the middle of the pedestrianised street to their left. The shoppers walking past glanced over at it, but didn't give it a second thought. Given the buskers and the man painted grey, they probably just thought it was another form of entertainment.
"Come on, let's get down there." Luke took her hand and Sky followed him down the spiral steps, which was a lot easier than it had been coming up.
Not wanting to draw attention to themselves, they didn't run down the road, much as Sky wanted to. They were just in time to see the aliens exiting the spaceship, ten of them, one behind another in a long line. Or at least, they were probably aliens. They just looked like men in top hats and tails all painted white, but when Sky looked carefully she could see that their clothes didn't move in the wind.
They stopped in front of the aliens and Luke asked, "Can we help you?"
The alien in front stopped and all the others behind him stopped too, still keeping in a line. The alien looked Luke up and down and then stepped closer. Sky grabbed Luke's arm, worried about what the alien might do, but he just sniffed him. And then he sniffed her too. Sky giggled - his breath tickled.
"You have chocolate," the alien said to her.
"Yes. Would you like some?" She pulled out the bar Sarah Jane had bought for her journey that she'd eaten half of on the way and held it out to him. It was in small pieces now, but it still tasted just as nice.
His eyes widened and he held it aloft. All the other aliens dropped to their knees. Luke and Sky took a step back.
"Behold my brothers: chocolate!"
"Chocolate," they chanted, sounding like monks. "Chocolate."
They made it sound like it was the most amazing thing in the world, but Sky often bought some with her pocket money from the newsagent on her way home from school. "If you like chocolate you can buy some in there." Sky pointed over at the nearest shop that would sell some.
Before the aliens could make a move, Luke put in, "But you need money to pay for it."
The aliens looked mournful and turned out their pockets to reveal the empty, white linings, which confused Sky over whether they were clothes or not.
"You could get some," she suggested, remembering the entertainers further down the street. You just need a hat to collect the money."
One of them tried to take off his hat but he mimed that it was stuck. Sky laughed. "And then you act like that and people give you money."
"Sky," Luke said in a warning tone.
"Sarah Jane helps aliens all the time," she said confidently. She wasn't doing anything wrong.
He put his hands on her shoulders and turned her to face him. "That doesn't include scamming money out of people."
She frowned. "But people will only give them money because they think they're funny and they want to pay. And there are other people doing it."
He sighed and put his hands up. "Go on then."
She beamed at Luke before turning back to the aliens. "Here, use my hat." She took off her woolly hat, which had been stopping her hair from blowing in her face, as well as keeping her head warm (something Sarah Jane had also been insistent on) and put it on the ground. "Now, do something funny."
They looked at each other and then at her.
She sighed. "Catch the eye of someone walking past and pretend you've got no money in your pockets."
They did as she said and a couple of people stopped and dropped coins in her hat. She kept suggesting more things they could do, remembering the entertainers she'd seen at Covent Garden. It wasn't long before the hat was full of coins and she left the aliens to decide what to do next while she counted them.
"That will buy you a few bars of chocolate." She dropped the coins in the leader's hand.
He bowed to her. "I am in your debt." Then he strode off towards the shops.
Luke caught Sky's arm as she was brushing the dirt off her hat. "I think we should go," he said quietly.
She looked over her shoulder to see two policemen walking towards them. "Why? We weren't doing anything wrong."
"I think you might need permission to ask the public for money." He started pulling her away, but she resisted.
"We can't just leave them," she protested.
"They'll be fine, they'll just get moved on, but we don't want to get involved with the police because it'll get back to Mum. And I'm supposed to be looking after you."
She didn't want Luke to get into trouble, so she let him drag her away into a busy shop they could hide in.
"Mum is going to kill me for letting you do that," Luke said as they pretended to be looking through DVDs. He popped his head up from time to time to check where the policemen were.
"Let's not tell her," Sky suggested brightly.
He didn't look sure. "That would be deception. And what if the aliens come back and recognise you?"
She shrugged. "Then I'll tell her." She looked up at him. "It can be our secret."
He hesitated and then said, "All right."
"Keeping secrets from their parents is what having siblings is all about." She grinned at him and he smiled back.
"It'll be our secret," he promised.