The staff of Science 86 always did like a good party. There was the party at the Moroccan restaurant featuring a mock issue of the magazine, with articles like "Chocolata Chocolata: Physiology of the Godiva Syndrome." There was the formal fifth-anniversary party in the Great Hall of the National Academy of Sciences. There were the beer, baseball and frisbee parties on the Ellipse. But last night's arm-bending session at Champions was the saddest fun of all: Science 86 is dead.

Murdered, some would say. Despite 700,000 subscribers and three National Magazine Awards, the American Association for the Advancement of Science sold it to Time Inc. last June, to be merged with Time's Discover magazine. The 33 Science 86 writers, editors and artists are on the street.

At Champions last night, Helene Ebrill, 32, permissions editor, wore her new T-shirt with "Science 80" written SW,-2 SK,2 ld,10 on top, "Science 86" on the bottom and the names of everyone who worked there in between. "Realizing after next week I'm not going to see these people every day is hard," she said.

In the upstairs party room, beneath pictures of happier staff parties, molecular chemistry experts, astronomy editors and authorities on the insect wing essayed merriment over a buffet of chicken and ribs. The mood was poignantly upbeat.fice at AAAS's H Street headquarters yesterday, however, Allen Hammond, the 42-year-old Harvard geophysics PhD who founded the magazine (earlier called Science 80, 81, etc.) looked terribly gray as hezine.

"It pioneered a new kind of science journalism and did it with some grace and some style and sometimes even some wit," he said. The phone rang and he begged off a call from his headhunting firm: "My mind is quite fogged with closing this place down. I would talk a little more coherently after I've had a little time off."

Assistant Managing Editor Avery Comarow, 41, packed cardboard boxes with "books, magazines, reports, plans, memos, projects, files, ideas. Maybe they'll be of some use to me in my next life" as an assistant managing editor at U.S. News and World Report. "It's hard to feel as ecstatic as I think I should be feeling," he said. "I'd rather be here, but since there's no here to be at, I guess I have a pretty good job." Most of the staff members have come into the office for the last few weeks just because they like each other. They call each other "family." "The emotion will set in Thursday," when they have to clear out for good, said Comarow. "We've all been going out to lunch with each other like crazy." A few staffers lost their cool in the days following Publisher William D. Carey's June 27 announcement of the sale, but morale stayed surprisingly high. Some got angry and wondered why the sale of Science 86 was more secretive than the almost concurrent sale of Scientific American, which, like many other science magazines, was in financial trouble. "It was a fait accompli so no amount of questions or anger or anything was going to change it," said Senior Editor Barbara Seeber, 42. Senior Editor Russ Rymer called his mood "a sense of unreality."

The future looks good for many staffers, but they bemoan the fate of laymen's science magazines. Managing Editor Ellis Rubinstein has fairly firm offers from two news magazines. "I'd be happy to go to either, but it's a shame the science magazine field is being squeezed out," said Rubinstein. He called Science 86 "a Renaissance magazine. Here you are, dealing with science, but the writing is up to a literary quality of any magazine, even The Atlantic, and the illustrations are almost fine art."

Things will be tougher for others. Researcher Beth Py, 25, applied to a medical publishing firm that needed a beginning writer and a senior writer. "So I wrote this clever cover letter that said, 'How about an intermediate?' " No deal. And the beginning writer's salary was lower than her researcher's salary at Science 86. Another researcher, Lynn Crawford, 25, said, "I don't think I'll ever find another magazine that I can put on my coffee table every month and be so proud of."

At Champions, the staff gave Allen Hammond a surprise: a poster with inside-joke pictures of everyone. There's writer Deborah Franklin with the "Other Worlds" issue, blowing soap bubbles; "real cool" Associate Art Director Wayne Fitzpatrick lurking behind his dark glasses; and copy editor Perry Turner in his natural habitat: lounging on the floor with a cigarette in his mouth. And the message in the lower right hand corner stated a scientific fact: "It wasn't just a magazine."