posted on 1-Nov-2001 6:34:04 PM by WR
Consequences of Truth

Disclaimer : I, in no way, am associated with the actors, writers, producers, etc. of ‘Roswell’. The rights to the show belong to 20th Century Fox, Jason Katims, Melinda Metz, UPN, and probably the WB in some way.
Category : M&L, but includes others
Rating : PG
Authors Note : Thank you so much Alexis, for all your assistance and hard work on my behalf.
Summary : Post Departure. It starts where Departure finished. Max, Liz and the others try to deal with the fallout of Tess’s actions, and try to get their lives together. Max and Liz’s relationship has serious repercussions, which puts someone in grave danger. Is this just what they needed? Just who is the enemy, and who are their friends? Caution: The start of this fiction is very dark while Max and Liz deals with their own version of hell. Just remember the mantra; WR is not TPTB! *happy*

Prologue

Of all the things that Walter Johnston knew to be true in this world, he knew that he loved his job. At the age of fifty-two, he suspected that there were those who wondered just why he had stayed not only in the same job, but also in the same position for more than thirty years. But he guessed that this was because they had never known true job satisfaction, like he had. He had finally left the horrors of the Vietnamese jungles, a traumatized twenty-two year old whose only skill was eliminating people, and burning villages. He held out little hope of ever finding happiness in a country whose citizens had branded him a criminal for fighting in a war they felt their country should not have gotten involved in. He had little choice in where his own government had sent him. Fortune, however, chose to smile upon him. His uncle found him a job with the U.S. Postal Service as a postman in Melbourne, Florida.

At first, Walt had been used to taking the place of those mail carriers that were taking one of their ‘sub’ days, were away on vacation, or otherwise absent from their duties. But, after just a few years, he had soon been assigned the district of ‘Norland Sands’, a small district on the northern outskirts of Melbourne, near the highway. When Norland Sands was initially developed, it was one of the many new suburbs where the migrant workers from throughout the U.S. came to buy their homes, attracted by the plentiful opportunities offered by the space race at nearby Cape Canaveral. In those early days, the land had been cheap; which naturally lead to affordable housing. When tourism boomed, many of the original inhabitants made their fortunes by selling their properties, now on prime land. There were those that chose not to sell their homes for the sake of a quick profit. So, all things considered Norland Sands was a strange community with a mixture of those who were fabulously wealthy and those who were merely… comfortable.

As far as Walt was concerned, the residents of Norland Sands were among the friendliest in all of Melbourne, perhaps all of Florida. Within this community, the residents of Atlantic Drive North were the most amiable by far. Atlantic Drive North was a two mile stretch of road, where the lovely, well spaced houses faced the golden sands of North Melbourne Beach, washed by the breakers racing in from the Atlantic Ocean. This was Walt’s favorite part of his route. Even during the storm ridden winter months, when the winds coming in off the Atlantic would become rather bracing, the greetings he received from his friends were always warm.

“Good morning, Walt,” an elderly man called out from his open front door. He started to walk down the path towards his shuttle shaped mailbox where Walt had just placed a handful of letters. Even in the mid-April sunshine, the morning temperatures had a tendency to be chilly, compelling the man to wear a crimson robe, which he belted tightly about his rather portly waist.
“Hey, Josh,” Walt answered with a smile. “It’s gonna be a warm one today.”
Both men looked up at the sky, squinting into the bright sunlight.
“Yeah,” Josh answered. “You may be right.”
“You going to see the lift off this afternoon?” Walt asked.

Joshua Blumberg, of 327 Atlantic Drive North, had once been a launch site technician and had been involved in most, if not all of the Apollo launches. When the Apollo project had been cancelled in favor of the new Space Shuttle, Josh had received his Golden Handshake. It was a handshake that left Josh extremely comfortable, as well as allowing him to retire to his beloved beach front home. Ever since, he had become a spectator, still thrilled by the awesome power generated by the huge rockets.
“Nah,” Josh shook his head. “I know it’s a special one today, but that just means there will be too many tourists.” Josh was referring to the fact that today’s launch of the Endeavor would be the 100th launching of a space shuttle. “I guess I’ll just watch it on CNN. It’s not the same but at least I won’t have to stand in line for twenty minutes just to take a pee. At my age, you kinda have to think of that.”
The two men laughed together.

“What about those Marlins last night? Did they suck, or what?” Josh asked with a resigned sigh.
“All that money they spent on those pitchers,” Walt shook his head bitterly. “Hell, I’d have pitched for a fraction of what they paid that loser last night. And I wouldn’t have done no worse, neither.”
“That’s for sure!” laughed Josh. “Oh, if only we were thirty years younger.”
“If I were thirty years younger,” Walt replied with a twinkle in his eye, “maybe I could have helped put a smile back on the face of Mark and Betty’s cute little niece that came over last summer.”
“Yeah, she sure seemed unhappy. Never did find out why.”
“Is she coming out again this summer?”
“Don’t know,” Josh replied, looking over at his neighbor’s empty house, number 329. “Mark and Betty are still in Europe. Won’t be back until early June. Some vacation, eh?”
“That’s for sure. Oh, hey, that reminds me,” Walt said, starting to rummage through his large delivery satchel. “We got this the other day. It’s got Mark’s address on it, but I ain’t never seen that name before. Have you?”
He handed the package to Josh who examined the writing. It was about fifteen centimeters square, and one centimeter deep.
“Any idea what it is?” Josh asked.
“Could be a CD, from the size of it,” Walt informed him.
“Las Cruces, New Mexico,” Josh said, reading the postmark out loud. “They have family in New Mexico, but not Las Cruces.”
“Well,” Walt sighed, “there’s no return address. Will you take it in for them? They might know who it’s for. If they don’t, hell, they can keep it anyway.”
“Yeah, sure Walt,” Josh smiled, tucking the package under his arm with the rest of his mail. “I’ve been collecting all their mail anyway.”
“Well, better be going. See you tomorrow, Josh.”
“Sure Walt,” Josh waved with a smile. “Take it easy now.”

***

His route was finally completed and Walt returned to his postal delivery truck for the last time that day, parked on a small side street. The small hairs on the back of his neck started to tingle, a feeling he hadn’t felt since his days in ‘Nam. It was a feeling that he had learned to trust in those dark days crawling through the jungles that promised death. It had helped him to survive dozens of dangerous situations, and he did not plan to ignore it now, even though it had been thirty years ago. Using extreme caution he crept up to his truck. Without warning, a hand grabbed his shoulder from behind him, scaring the living daylights out of him.
“Jeez!” he cried out, his heart pounding.
“You had a package,” the man informed him, “from New Mexico. Where is it?” the man demanded.
Despite the bad vibes he was getting from this man, he put on a brave front.
“I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about. I deliver dozens of packages every day. Never pay no mind to where they come from, only where they goin’ to.”
The man placed the flat of his right hand over Walt’s breastbone.
“What the…?” he started, but was shocked into silence by a searing heat that started to spread down the left side of his chest. Gasping for breath, he grabbed the man’s arm, trying desperately to remove it.

“Where was it addressed to?” Walt’s assailant demanded.
Walt tried to resist, but as the heat intensified, he cried out the address that had been written on the Las Cruses package.
“329, Atlantic Drive North… but…”
Walt never was able to finish his sentence, because the man was quick to increase the temperature from his hand ten-fold, which caused all of Walt’s internal organs to stop working, as they literally cooked inside him. He never saw the stranger drag his dead body to his mail truck or saw how his murderer’s hand glowed as he held it over the door lock. He would never have seen the iridescent silver handprint on his own skin; visible through the hole burned in his shirt. Walt was not able to witness the man climb into the truck, pull the lifeless body behind him, and hold the same death dealing hand up, with his palm facing outwards, giving a self-satisfied grin. Walt did not see the bright light that suddenly surrounded the mysterious being, or witness this demon, for that was surely what he must be ‘melt’ his current features and transform them into those of a sun-bronzed youth in jogging gear.

The youth left the truck and jogged towards the beach. Turning left onto Atlantic Drive North, the young jogger was soon lost amongst the crowds that were now assembling along the North Melbourne beach.

***

*happy*

[ edited 17time(s), last at 27-Dec-2001 4:16:28 PM ]
posted on 1-Nov-2001 6:35:33 PM by WR
Part 1

Considering that there were six young teenagers squeezed into the small Volkswagen Jetta, they were a very quiet bunch. Subdued. Liz was driving; having been handed the keys by an emotional Maria, who was happy that Michael had chosen to stay on Earth to be with her. Sure, Max and Isabel were staying too, but Michael would have remained behind even if they hadn’t found out that Tess had been actively involved in Alex’s murder. The two of them now shared the front seat, basking in each other’s company, rejoicing in their new-found closeness. Beside them at the wheel, Liz carefully drove the car towards Roswell, home, where she would start the next chapter in her complicated life. She occasionally glanced at Michael and Maria, and wondered if they ever considered what their happiness had cost her? After all, Madame Vivian had told Maria that the other timeline held no future for them. Had Maria ever realized that she had traded her own future for Maria’s? She glanced in the rear view mirror, looking at her three friends crushed into the back seat.

Kyle was the first person she saw. Poor Kyle was the only one of the group to have actually liked Tess. Okay, Max slept with the… tramp, but even she could see that he did not love her. Tess had used Max in much the same way that she had used Kyle. At least Kyle had an excuse, having been mind warped. Who knows how often she had manipulated his feelings? Her heart went out to Kyle, who had tried so hard to stay away from this alien nightmare, but had been sucked right on in, just like her, Maria… and Alex. They had all ended up hurt. Maria had tried to warn her, but she just wouldn’t listen. If it weren’t for Max, she might still be Kyle’s girlfriend. It might have been they who eloped to Vegas when they were 19. But then, had it not been for Max, her life would have ended on the cold floor of the Crashdown. How would Kyle react to Max now, she wondered, knowing that he was now responsible for taking away two girls that he cared about? Liz sighed deeply. If only Maria weren’t so close to Michael, now would be a good time to make the clean break from the aliens.

Isabel’s numb expression reflected in the rear view mirror. Liz had never seen her look so lonely, so… defeated. Liz wondered just what she was thinking about right then. Had her part in Alex’s death sunk in? Alex had worshipped her from afar, for so long, and when he finally got the chance to get to know her, she all but threw it back in his face. For months, he chased after her like a puppy dog, and she would occasionally throw him a scrap of affection. It was Alex who had helped Isabel through the dark time when Max was in the hands of Agent Pierce. It was Alex who came up trumps for Isabel when she didn’t have a date for the Prom. He was always there for her. She had never been there for him. Perhaps if she hadn’t screwed with Alex’s mind so much, he would have been able to resist the mind warping. Yeah, suffer, Isabel, suffer. You deserve it!

Liz’s gaze passed over Isabel’s and rested on Max. Her eyes locked into his. She knew that he hadn’t taken his eyes off of her since they drove away from the pod chamber. Sadness, remorse, and yes, even guilt lived there. Liz questioned whether he could see the hard, unforgiving chill she felt towards him. Would she ever forgive him for what he did? She doubted it. As he pulled her into a tight embrace, he had professed his love for her, a moment that made her heart sing. One that made her feel so alive, so safe, so… appreciated. But what did that mean? He had slept with Tess, got her pregnant. Could she ever forgive him for what he had done to her, to them? Did she want him back? It was strange to think that after all of those months of yearning for him, she was unsure as to whether she wanted to, now that he was free for her to get back together with him. Max had once told Liz that she needed to grow. Well, she had. Perhaps now, it was his turn.

Liz turned onto Murray Lane, having made the conscious decision to drop Max and Isabel off first, and pulled up outside his house.
“We’ll need to talk,” Max said in a quiet voice to all the occupants. They were the first words spoken during the entire trip. “We need to deal with the fallout from today. I…”
“We can meet at my place,” Kyle added coldly. “Tomorrow afternoon. No prying eyes.”
“Our shifts finish at 3,” Maria confirmed. “Want to meet up at 3.30?”
Everyone nodded. Max climbed out of the car, and walked to the driver door. Isabel followed him, and stood with her arms folded, looking at the house.
“Liz,” Max begged softly, trying to communicate the need to talk with her.
“See you tomorrow, Max,” she whispered with an edge of frostiness. She had no desire to speak with him just now.
While Isabel walked into the house, Max stood on the sidewalk, watching the red car as it cruised to the end of the road, and turned left. Liz did not look back once.

***

“Can’t you two just get a room, already?” demanded Liz, watching Maria and Michael sucking face at the door of Michael’s apartment while she and Kyle sat waiting in the car.
At last, Michael and Maria reluctantly separated, and the dazed young girl returned to the car. As she pulled away, Liz noted how her friend’s eyes never lost contact with Michael’s. It was how she had been once, with… in a different place, at a different time. Liz fought back her tears. Now was not the time for her to lose it.
“What?” demanded Maria, turning from her gaze now that Michael was no longer visible, and catching Liz’s glare. “Oh please. Like you have never been this happy?”
Liz’s face momentarily fell.
“Oh, Liz. I am so sorry.” she apologized. “Forget I said that, okay?”
“Sure.” Liz agreed placing a phony smile across her face.
The car remained silent until they pulled up outside the Crashdown.
“You know, this thing with… Max?” Liz continued. “I guess… I guess it wasn’t love after all. You know? It was all just an infatuation. I mean, he did save my life. Kind of turns a girl’s head, right?”
Leaving the keys in the ignition, Liz climbed out of the car, while Maria scurried across into the driver’s side.
“Actually, Maria,” Kyle called from the back seat as he started to get out of the car, “I think I’ll walk from here.”
“Okay, if you’re sure,” she confirmed with Kyle, and then turned to Liz, her eyes full of sympathy. “Call me later, okay?”
Liz nodded. Maria pulled away, waving her arm out of the window. Kyle and Liz waved back.

“There goes one happy chick,” Kyle smiled.
“I’m happy for her, Kyle. She’s had so much to put up with from Michael, you know?” Liz smiled, watching the car drive up the road. “But what about you? How are you making out?”
“Not good, Liz,” he sighed. “Not good at all.”
Liz placed a sympathetic hand on his shoulder.
“I don’t know if Buddha has a clever saying to help make sense out of all this,” he started, “but even if he did, it wouldn’t help. She used me, Liz. We opened up our home to her, tried to make her feel like part of the family, and all the time, she was just using us to get to Max.”
Kyle couldn’t help noticing her flinch when he mentioned Max’s name.
“What about you, Liz?” he asked. “You look like your holding up okay, but how are you, really?”
“I’m like you, Kyle,” she answered. “I’m only just holding it together.”
“Well, I guess the way is open for you to get back with Max now, huh?”
“I don’t know if that’s what I want any more, Kyle,” she whispered. Her eyes were downcast.
“Sean?” Kyle asked, but he noticed that Liz didn’t answer. “You know Liz, I’m not really in the Max Evans fan club…”
“Yeah, I think I just cancelled my membership,” she started to cry.
“He’s had a lot of crap to deal with lately, you know,” Kyle added.
“Kyle, he slept with Tess! He got her pregnant. He couldn’t even be bothered to wear protection! I don’t think that there is anything that can excuse his actions!”
“Liz, you’ve been pushing him into her arms all year, and she wasn’t exactly playing hard to get. I mean, look at what she did to Alex, and to me. Who knows what she has been doing to Max to get her way? Did you ever ask him? Seems like this was part of her plan all along.”
Liz was quiet now, but Kyle could see the tears running down her cheeks.
“He slept with her, Kyle!” she moaned.
Kyle rubbed her back, affectionately.
“Now you know how he felt,” he said gently.
“But we didn’t do anything Kyle!”
“He didn’t know that, Liz. How could he have known that? And he wasn’t pushing you away all the time, trying to push you to me.”
Kyle turned to leave, but after a few steps, stopped.
“Whatever you choose to do, Liz, I’m here for you. If you need to talk.”
That other Max, the one from the future who had destroyed her life, had been right. Kyle was turning into a great guy.

***

As the red Volkswagen Jetta disappeared around the column of rocks, leaving the long billowing cloud of dust as it headed towards the highway, silence descended upon the remote peaks that hid the pod chamber. High up on the ledge, the rock face momentarily shimmered and a tall gaunt humanoid shape stepped away from the rocks. He stared at the cloud of dust, deep in thought. With a frown and a sigh of resignation, the man, for that was now what he appeared to be, turned towards the wall and waved his hand across the rocks before him. Immediately, a silver handprint appeared onto which he placed his own hand. In the wall, a large circular doorway appeared as the rock slid backward, and then sideways. Taking a last look around, the man stepped through the portal, and sealed it up behind him.

***


posted on 1-Nov-2001 6:39:20 PM by WR
Part 2

The Counting Crows. As usual, Max listened to the Counting Crows when things were at their bleakest. Max lay back on his bed and thought about his current situation. He didn’t want to think of the events at the pod chamber. No, those events were too painful just now, the true indication of just whom, or what he was. But they would just not stop replaying in his mind. The look in Liz’s eyes during their trip home haunted him. Back at the pod chamber, when they had hugged and he had told her that the best thing he had ever done was to include her in his life, he had thought… no, hoped… that she would let him back into hers. But in the car, her eyes told him a different story. He had let her down. She would never forgive him now; she was lost to him. If he needed proof of this her driving away without a second glance was all the confirmation he needed. She was gone. He would have liked to blame Tess, but he knew at whose feet the fault lay. What was Tess doing now? Was she back on Antar already? He hoped that Kivar would have her chained in his deepest dungeon, but regretted the thought that his son might in some way be in danger. What had he done? Liz was gone, and he wouldn’t be able to express how sorry he was.

There was a light tapping on his door.
“Go away,” he shouted.
It was not fair of him, really. He regretted being so snappy. After all, none of this had been his mother’s fault, well, not his earthly mother. The door opened anyway, and Isabel entered his room. He was surprised to see her, since she had gone straight to her own room, with hardly a word spoken. She walked to the end of his bed, and sat down. Her shoulders were slumped; her head bowed low.
“Was there anything we could have done, Max?” she asked. “I mean, shouldn’t we have recognized the signs, or something? Shouldn’t we have realized that she had been warping Alex?”
“Iz, please,” he whispered, “Don’t blame yourself. The only way that this would have happened without anyone being hurt would have been for me to accept my destiny when Tess first showed up. Or when Liz… left me… to follow my… destiny. Instead, I fought against it, hurting everyone I cared for along the way.”
“But then we’d be in Kivar’s hands.”
“Alex would be alive.”
Isabel nodded as her vacant eyes stared at the floor.
“You know Max, you’re not entirely to blame. It’s Liz’s fault too, you know.”
“No, Iz,” he snapped, rising from the bed. “Don’t even say that.”
“Why not, Max?” she demanded. “It’s true. If she hadn’t run from you that time last year, if she hadn’t slept with Kyle, you’d have been stronger. Like the time you took on the FBI. You would have seen through Nacedo’s plan, you would have realized Tess was up to something. We would all be together.”
There was nothing Max could say to that. In the silence of his own soul, he had already considered this. But that was just spite. He knew who the guilty party was here. He was.
“Do you think we would have been allowed to see her?” Isabel asked.
“Who?” Max inquired.
“Mother. Our… real mother.”
“I don’t know, Iz,” Max sighed. “I think that we would have been… arrested. Maybe I could have bargained for your release, but me, I think that I would have been…”
It didn’t need to be said, for they both knew Max’s fate at the hands of Kivar.
Isabel rose.
“Forget her, Max.” she advised. “I mean, I know how you feel about her. But Max? I think she's moved on, you know… Sean. Let her go, Max.”
“I can’t, Iz.”

***

Liz closed the door to her room, collapsed onto her bed, sobbing hysterically for the next hour. When she regained some control over her emotions, she sat up. Looking at the photograph she kept of Max, she tried to decide what she wanted. Last night, when Max had told her how he and Tess had spent the night together, and that Tess was pregnant, Liz didn’t think that there was anything that Max could say or do to hurt her more. But she had been wrong. He had told her that they would be leaving, returning to Antar, because the baby couldn’t survive on Earth. She was so upset about everything, that she had almost thrown herself at Sean. But then, isn’t this what Max, Future Max had wanted? Wasn’t this what would save the world from their enemies? How could she justify being angry with Max when he was finally giving in to the destiny that she herself had been pushing him to? Did she want him back? Tears once again filled her eyes.

Liz was startled by a knock on door. Wiping her eyes, she quickly tucked the photo under her pillow.
“Hey Liz,” Sean called, peering round the door. “I heard you were back. Want to go bowling tonight?”
“Oh, hey Sean.” she said casually. “Uh, thanks for asking, but I’m going to see Maria tonight. We need to talk about a few things.”
“You could talk to me,” he smiled, hope apparent in his eyes. “You know I’m a good listener.”
“Uh, no thanks, Sean. I need to talk to Maria. You know… girl stuff. Besides, I’m not feeling up to a date.”
“It’s just that I hear Maria’s going over to that guy of hers tonight,” he told her. “So, the offer still stands. You, me and an empty bowling alley.”
“No, Sean,” she shook her head. “Not tonight, thank you.”
“Okay, how ‘bout tomorrow? It doesn’t have to be bowling. We can always go see a flick.”
“Um, Sean? I uh… have some things… I need to deal with right now.”
“Max?” Sean asked, disgusted at the thought. “What does it take to make you realize just what he is, Liz? How can you think he even cares about you?”
“Sean, not now, okay?”
“I mean, look at the way the guy treats you, and the way he hangs all over that bimbo.”
“Sean! Please.”
“Okay, Liz, but this isn’t over.”
“Believe me Sean, you don’t know how much I know that.”

***

Liz climbed out onto her balcony bringing her journal with her. Somehow, her personal haven seemed less friendly, colder than usual. In an effort to brighten it up, she switched on the gaily-colored fairy lights, and lit some candles. It gave off a lovely, romantic ambience, but Liz didn’t notice this. It still seemed… empty. She sat down on her garden chair and carefully opened the book to a new page.
“It’s May 21st, and I’m Liz Parker,” she wrote.
So, what should I write about, she wondered? How glad I am that Max didn’t leave me? How I don’t know where things between us will go next? How betrayed I feel? How much I hope we can work through this?
A voice called out from the alley. It was a quiet, unassuming voice, tinged with fear and sadness. The voice was Max’s and despite her anger towards him, it still sent a tingle down her spine.
“Liz?”
“Oh no,” Liz whispered. She closed her eyes and lay back. Perhaps she should just ignore it. She really didn’t want to talk about all of this right now.
“Liz?” he called again. “Are you up there?”
Liz released a deep sigh. This definitely wasn’t over.
“If I don’t go over there, he’ll come up,” she said to herself. “I would rather talk to him while he is down there.”
She rose to move over to the wall, but she was too late. Max had already climbed the ladder and had reached the top just as she got there. He moved to climb over, and onto the balcony.
“No, Max.” she ordered, holding her hand up, glaring at him through narrowed eyes. “Stay there.”
He looked at her with a shocked expression.
“I could never hurt you Liz.” Perhaps it was the wrong thing to say.
“No?” she demanded. “What about Alex? Could you ever hurt Alex?”
“Liz, I didn’t…“

“You didn’t what, Max?” Liz lost her temper. “You didn’t do anything? Is that what you were going to say? ‘Cause that’s right, Max. You didn’t do anything. You ran around like a chicken with it’s head cut off hoping no one would uncover your precious secret and then when something happened to one of us, something that shouldn’t have happened, you say it had nothing to do with you!”
“I realize that I was wrong about Alex’s death, Liz, but how was I…”
“What? Supposed to know? I told you last year that I didn’t trust her, that she frightened me. Did you listen? No, you screwed her!”
“Oh, so it’s okay for me to see you in bed with Kyle, for you to make me think that what we had meant nothing…”
“Yeah, well I guess it just shows you how much you thought of me, eh?”
“So tell me, Liz,” he demanded. “What was it all about? Did you see how Michael and Isabel were screwing up my mind, and you had to jump in there with them?”
“Huh! It seems the real screwing took place between you and Tess!”
“What was I supposed to do, Liz?” he shouted, his own temper now matching hers. “You were doing everything in your power to push me to Tess. You practically gift wrapped me for her. She was the only one I could trust.”
“Yeah, it’s everyone’s fault but your own.”
“There’s no talking to you, Liz.”
“You’ve got that straight Max!”
“You used to talk to me. I used to listen.”
“Well I guess I got wise. Things change, you know? I used to like you then, Max. But you know what? I hate you now!”
“Liz?” he begged.
“Yes, that’s right, I hate you! I loathe the very sight of you. You are nothing but an arrogant, selfish, self-centered… boy!”
She could not have chosen a more deadly word than that.
“You know, it’s no wonder you don’t want your mother to know what you are Max. She would flip knowing that her son was this disgusting thing, green and slimy, because that’s what you are inside Max! Now go away, Max, just… go. I don’t ever want to see you up here again, I don’t ever want to see you in the Crashdown again!”
“Fine!” he shouted, and started to back down the ladder. “Remember that time in that van, Liz?” Max hissed. “When you said how you wished I’d never saved you? Well guess what? I wish that too!”
With all her might, Liz swung her left hand across Max’s face. Completely surprised, Max’s hands slipped off the railing, toppling from the ladder. Liz heard the cry of pain from him, and looked over the ledge to see Max picking himself up from the ground, holding his head. Suppressing the need to rush to him, she ran towards her window, heavy tears raining from her eyelids. Grabbing her journal, she quickly scribbled three simple words, and bolted into her bathroom, where she wept for the rest of the evening. Out on her balcony, a shadowy figure dropped down from the rooftop above, and turned the journal towards it. With a deep sigh, it read the words that Liz had just written.
“It’s all over!”

***


posted on 1-Nov-2001 6:40:45 PM by WR
Part 3

Numb. That was how Max would best describe his mind at that moment. Alone in the middle of the High School playing fields, he felt as though he was waking up from a bad dream, one that those around him had been a party to. He had hurt everyone he cared about in some way, all because of his… destiny. And that very destiny now lay in ruins in the pod chamber. It had all been a lie, a trick to get his heir, to be used as a puppet by a tyrant and a… a witch. A trick, that he had walked into with his eyes wide open. Tess had been right when she had accused him of being a little boy, and not a king. His emotions had been pulled every which way, from dozens of sources, and in the end, he had been tricked into doing exactly what his enemy had wanted him to. Only the timely intervention of the other’s had prevented him from leading Isabel into a trap that had been set to catch them all. Only Michael had the sense to step away from it. Once again, the great leader had let his people down.

But that wasn’t the half of it. He had gone to see Liz. He had wanted to tell her how sorry he was, and how would give her the space she so clearly wanted. He wanted to ask her, no, beg her to not write him off, to let him prove to her that he loved her, to let him make it up to her in some way. But she was angry, not surprisingly, and had started to shout at him. Rather than let her temper take it’s course, he had argued back, and had said the worst thing he could possibly say to her. She had hit him, of course, and he had fallen off her ladder, and hurt himself. He could easily fix the wound, but he chose to wear the wound like the badge of shame that it was. Whatever chance of redeeming himself in her eyes was lost with that single, stupid quip. Once more he was the little boy! No wonder there had been a rebellion on Antar.

So what now? Tess was back on Antar, due to give birth to his son. Somehow, he needed to rescue him, so there was work to be done. Unlike before, Max knew precisely what he was up against. He not only needed to make sure that his powers were strong enough to face Kivar, he needed to find a way to get to Antar. He could practice his powers easily enough, and he knew that he could learn what he needed to build himself a ship. But how would he reach Antar. Where was it? Once there, he could use his position to raise an army, after all, his son could not claim the throne until he himself was dead. What did he have here on Earth? Michael had made his decision, a choice that Max supported, to stay on Earth with Maria. Max would not jeopardize that relationship, so he would exclude both Michael and Maria from his plans. He knew that Isabel’s heart was not really into returning home. He would grant her the freedom she so richly deserved to explore her options here on Earth, to be with the people she cared about, who cared about her. Once he was gone, she could tell her mother who she really was, and become as close as she always wanted to be. Kyle had already been through too much, along with his father. It would do them both good to just be normal people again, allowed to settle into the lifestyle they enjoyed before Max came along and turned it upside down. Perhaps Jim might feel comfortable enough to marry Amy now. And then there was Liz, who had already made her preference known. So there was no decision for him to make where she was concerned. He was on his own.

Max realized though, that he was not strong enough to do this as things stood. So he had to change, he had to become stronger. He would have to… grow. Nacedo had once told him that his emotions got in the way. He had certainly seen that in Michael’s case. He would now use Nacedo’s own words against the very people he had made that deal with. Max would block his emotions. He would no longer feel with his heart, but think with his head. His heart had lead him into trouble, it was time for his head to lead him out of it. And like Nicholas had said, how, as Zan, he had always chosen the wrong people to trust in the past. Who better to choose to trust, than just yourself? He could not achieve anything while he ran around worrying about inconsequential teenage stuff, so he would grow up, overnight. He had no room for the life of a teenage boy, worrying about girls, the latest music, sports and stuff. He had to become a man. But he realized that he could not yet operate as a man. He still needed access to the high school labs, and eventually, the high tech stuff at a college, so that he could prepare himself for the day he reached Antar. Max would make sure that he graduated in such a way as to get to the best college for what he would need. He would have to work, to raise the money to buy the things he needed, and he would have to study hard, for his school work, his extra curricular activities and making sure he selected the right college. It would be hard, but he would do it. He would reach Antar, and he would rescue his son.
“Look out Kivar!” he shouted out to the stars. “The universe isn’t big enough that I can’t find you!”

****

“Max came to see me last night.” Liz told Maria when they met up before their shift started at the Crashdown. Life goes on.
“Oh yeah?” Maria asked, her face had a faraway look in her eyes. The look told Liz that Maria had been experiencing the same strange feelings she used to get from kissing Max. She felt a momentary twinge of envy.
“He have much to say?” Maria asked. She turned her voice into a deep whining tone. “Like ‘I’m so sorry Liz’ and ‘please forgive me Liz’? Make him sweat, babe. No, you know what, Liz? Forget him. He’s such a jerk.”
“We had a huge fight, Maria.”
“He didn’t…?”
“No, he didn’t hit me,” Liz told her, “we shouted at each other, and I basically told him I didn’t want to see him around me. Oh, and I barred him from the Crashdown.”
Maria nodded, carefully noting all the information.
“You know, Liz,” she sighed. “I think that all this time that I’ve been pushing you back to him… I guess I was wrong about him. I think that you are better off without him anyway.”
“Yeah, you’re right.”
“And Liz?” Maria continued. “I’ve seen how nice Sean treats you, you know, and how you are around him, and if you feel that Sean is who you need right now, then I’m with you, babe. You know I’ll always be there for you, right?”
Maria gave Liz a big friendly hug.
“Thanks, Maria,” she said. “But I really don’t know what I need right now. Just some time, I guess. I don’t even know how I feel about Sean.”

***

The five of them were sitting in Kyle’s living room, waiting for Max to arrive. They had arranged to meet there at 3:30, and there were just a few minutes to go. Every one had congregated early, for their own reasons, but they had all assumed that Max would be there waiting for them, if only to talk to Liz. Instead, it seemed that he would be late.
“So where is he, Isabel?” Maria asked. The hostility towards Max was clearly evident in Maria’s voice. “What ever else he is, it’s not like him to be late.”
Isabel glared at the veiled insult. Michael, his arm protectively wrapped around Maria, gave Isabel that ‘back off’ look. Liz saw this, and remembered the times Max had done exactly the same for her. She also noticed that Isabel had not once looked at her.
“Well, if he isn’t here soon, we’ll just deal with this ourselves.”
“Yeah, we will save your Czechoslovakian asses again, right Liz?” Maria scoffed.
“He’ll be here,” Isabel defended.
“Who will be here?” Max asked as he stepped through the open door, just as the clock gave of the single chime to indicate the half hour.
“You’re late, Maxwell,” Michael joked.
Max looked at his watch, up to the clock, and then at Michael.
“Fix your watch, Michael,” he said simply and plainly.

Isabel gasped when Max strode into the room. There was a huge gash across one side of his face, and his eye was black and swollen.
“Max what happened?” Isabel demanded, rising and moving to her brother. She took hold of his chin, and twisted his head to one side. Everyone could now see the wound. “It looks painful. Why didn’t you fix it?”
Liz almost leapt to her feet, but caught herself. She realized that she had probably done that to him last night when he had fallen from her ladder. She fought down a pang of guilt.
“It’s nothing,” Max pulled Isabel’s hand away, and moved to stand in front of the gang. “Let’s sort out the current situation.”
They could all see his eyes now; it was a sight that made them go cold. It had often been said how Max’s eyes were the most expressive part of him. ‘Soulful’ Liz had once called them. Yesterday, they had all seen the whole range of emotions swirling in them, but today, there was nothing. Flat, empty eyes, just a black pupil in a flat pool of brown.
“Yeah,” Kyle subtly drew everyone’s attention from Max. “What are we going to tell everyone about… you know.”
“We could say that she’s run off to join the circus,” Maria added. “I always knew she was a clown.”
“We tell everyone that her father sent for her.” Max said sternly, glaring at Maria.
“What is up with you, Max?” demanded Michael, rising to defend Maria, not liking what he heard in Max’s tone.
“Let’s just sort this mess out, so that we all know what to say, and then you can go back to being mean about whoever you want.”
Everyone exchanged glances, his or her eyebrows raised in surprise.

“Kyle,” he continued in an expressionless voice. “I spoke to your father this morning. He’s going to fix the paperwork to back this up. Ed Harding called your Dad the other night to confirm that Tess would be leaving to join him at his post in Washington. At 6:15 this morning, Tess boarded a greyhound bus to Albuquerque. The bus driver will remember her getting onto, and off of the bus. As far as we are concerned, she missed her father, and has gone to be with him in Washington. Yesterday was spent saying goodbye to her at a private picnic out in the desert. That’s why many of you are upset.”
Everyone looked at one another. No discussions? No alternative plans?
“Aren’t you upset, Max?” demanded Michael.
Max looked at his one time second in command, and gave a wry smile.
“No… I am not. Now, any pertinent questions?”
“Pertinent?” Maria asked. “Who uses pertinent?”
“What about the Jeep, Max?” Isabel asked.
“It was stolen the other night. Kids, drunk probably. I filed a report with Sheriff Hanson this morning. When he asked why I had waited so long, I told him because we went out for the day in Maria and Kyle’s cars. Any more question?”
“Yeah. What’s going to happen to my dad this time, Max? It seems that your lot have nearly ruined him.”
“Nothing, Kyle. As far as you and your father are concerned, there are no aliens in Roswell. I have told him to pretend none of this ever happened. He owes me nothing, and I don’t expect him to pull any strings to protect me. He will, however, keep an eye on Michael and Isabel, here. As far as you two are concerned, you are normal teenagers trying to get through high school and make it into college. I don’t think that the Skins will pose any threat to you now, but be careful. Don’t use your powers, and you’ll be okay.”
“What is all this ‘me’ and ‘you’, Max?” Isabel asked. “You sound like you won’t be around? What are you saying?”
“I have a job to do Isabel, and I can’t, no, I won’t ask you or Michael to get involved,” he responded, trying to sooth his sister.
“What about us?” demanded Maria.
“I think that the humans have made their choices,” he looked directly at Liz.
“Are you leaving?” Isabel asked.
“No. At least not yet, anyway. It’s probably best if you sever your ties to me. Get on with your life, Iz. Go to college, have a great time.” He turned to Michael. “My advice to you, Michael, is to forget everything about aliens and your heritage. You’re just some punk who grew up through the foster system, found a great girl, and made good. Look after him, Maria. Keep him on the straight and narrow. Any more questions?”
The stunned faces shook their heads. Max hugged his sister, and then Michael. He nodded to Maria, and looked to Kyle.
“Don’t worry, Kyle. You’ll never be bothered by me again.”
With that, Max was gone.

***


posted on 1-Nov-2001 6:41:47 PM by WR
Part 4

The tall man looked very sharp wearing a perfectly creased charcoal gray business suit. Despite being indoors, he wore a dark pair of sunglasses. He took confident strides as he approached the maitre’d of the plush, affluent restaurant.
“My name is Mr. Neptune,” he informed the officious little man before him. “I believe that Mr. Jupiter is expecting me.”
“Ah yes… Monsieur Neptune,” the maitre’d confirmed in an absurd phony French accent. It sounded more like it had been copied from the movies, rather than being part of his cultural heritage. “That is correct. Monsieur Jupiter awaits your pleasure.”
The maitre’d snapped his fingers, causing a young waiter to appear at once. The elegant man surreptitiously folded a twenty into the maitre’d’s hand while he spoke to the young waiter. “Please escort Monsieur Neptune to table number cinque!”
“This way, please sir,” the young waiter invited, not seeing the need to mimic any phony accent, and led Mr. Jupiter towards table number five.

“So, what have you got?” Mr. Jupiter asked in a hushed tone when Mr. Neptune sat opposite him in the secluded table that he paid extra for the privilege of dining at. Like Mr. Neptune, Mr. Jupiter wore a dark business suit and dark sunglasses. If they were trying to avoid drawing attention to themselves, they were failing.
“Last April…” Mr. Neptune leaned in towards Mr. Jupiter, “in Melbourne, Florida, this postman was killed.”
Mr. Neptune covertly slid a large photograph of a postman across the table. It appeared to be a photograph extracted from an employee file. Black letters stamped across the bottom indicated that the photo was the property of the U.S. Postal Service.
“The Coroner’s Report says that the internal organs appear to have reached a temperature of 180 degrees Fahrenheit. It said that it was as if he had been cooked.”
“Colorful,” Mr. Jupiter stated dryly.
“Yeah, and he had this mark,” Mr. Neptune continued, sliding another photograph over the top of the first. It was a close-up of Walt’s upper torso. Over his breastbone was the clear image of a shiny, silver handprint.
“So what is the connection to our project?” Mr. Jupiter asked.
“One of the houses on this postman’s route was found to have been burglarized the same day. The owners were away on vacation. It was reported by the neighbor.”
“Again, what is the connection?”
“The house belongs to a Mark and Betty Parker, the Aunt and Uncle to this girl.” Mr. Neptune furtively added a new picture of a petite, dark haired teenager wearing a pale green waitress uniform, with an apron shaped like the face of an alien.
“So there is yet another link to her then. This just gets better. Are your men all set? Do they know what to do?”
“Yeah. The plan is in motion; everyone has their orders. The, uh… tools have been satisfactorily prepped.”
“Remember, Mr. Neptune, I want him alive. And I want no loose ends. Are we clear?”
“Crystal, sir.”

***

It was over. Liz didn’t really think that she would have cared, but Max’s speech and his actions earlier at Kyle’s house made it clear that it was definitely over. And she was surprised to find that this had upset her. But then, she had said some hurtful things to him the night before. She knew that Max’s own cruel remark had been purely the result of her own criticism. She realized that she would have spent a day or two feeling angry and wallowing in self-pity. After making Max suffer for a while, she would have slowly allowed him back into her life. It was, after all, what she wanted. She really didn’t think that Max would do it, but he had completely shut himself down, not just from her, but from everyone. He was so cold, so… determined. He had carefully severed every tie that he had with the non-aliens. Actually, it seemed as though he were breaking the alien ties as well. Although the thought of seeing Max regularly, but not being with him hurt beyond belief, the thought of not having Max in her life at all, of not being at least a friend, was far worse. She decided that she would make the first overtures of peace, and pay a visit to Max. She would offer him an olive branch.

Nervously biting her bottom lip, Liz took a deep breath and rapped on the glass. Liz waited outside Max’s bedroom window while a million butterflies flew around in her stomach. The curtains were drawn back to reveal Max, at least the shell that was left of him. Liz had always searched his eyes out, expecting to be drawn in, but instead she didn’t see a single flicker of emotion coming through. Was he surprised to see her? Was he glad she came? Or did he wish that she hadn’t? Perhaps he truly hated her now. Liz didn’t know what to think as he opened the window for her.
“Hi Liz.” Greeting her in a neutral tone, he then turned away, back into his room. It felt strange climbing in through the window without having Max standing by to steady her if she fell. But then, the last time she did this, she had told him she was all right, that she could manage. Liz was surprised when she finally stood in his room. Normally tidy, it was now a mess of pictures, drawings, and charts. The symbols they had found in the cave were tacked up along one wall. Along another were pages of the translations that Alex had been forced to work on. Another held pictures of star clusters and constellations, as if together, they somehow mapped out a quadrant of space. The last wall held engineering diagrams, charts, and studies of various spacecraft, as well as calculations and algorithms that would make even her head spin. Max himself was now staring at the current display on the computer screen. He was obviously surfing the Internet. While one hand held the mouse, the other manipulated two of the healing stones in circles on his palm. An eerie glow radiated from the amber spheres. A Counting Crows song mingled with the whirring of the laser jet printer sitting beside him, creating even more information to be reviewed and plotted along the walls of his room.

“Um, what are you doing, Max?” She could not hold back her curiosity.
Max merely turned and looked at her, another unreadable expression crossing his face.
“What is it you want, Liz? I’m kind of busy. Really, really busy, actually.”
“But what is it all, Max. Can I… you know... if you want… I could… help?” She meant that. What better way to rebuild her friendship with Max than to help him in his research?
“No, Liz,” he smiled, but to Liz it just didn’t look natural. “No, this is what you wanted, remember?”
“Yeah, I know Max. But the other night? You know… I’m sorry Max. I’m really, really sorry. I was just upset, and angry. I didn’t mean those things I said.”
“Didn’t you, Liz?” Max asked matter-of-factly. “Cause they were all true.”
“No, Max, they weren’t,” she sighed. “It’s just…”
“Apology accepted, Liz. Now if you don’t mind, I really am busy.”
“Oh… okay,” she whispered looking around the room again. This was not going the way she had hoped. “It’s just… I mean… Max, can we still be friends?”
“Sure, Liz. Friends. That’s what we are.” He didn’t hesitate, as though the concept meant nothing to him. “Now I really must get back to work.”
Liz watched him as he started to look at his computer again, calling up more pages of data on what looked like star systems. She shook her head as she climbed back out through the window.
“Good night, Max,” she called from outside the window, sorrow etched in every word.
Max turned around and looked at the exit through which Liz had left. After he heard her call out to him, he crossed to the window, and closed it.
“Damn!” he cried out, and hurled the two healing stones against the far wall. Tears flooded his eyes. He staggered to his bed, and collapsed back onto it. Reaching over to his CD player, he turned up the volume. The strains of the Counting Crows track blared, drowning the sobs coming from Max. Damn that girl, he cursed. What was it about Liz that made him so feeble? All she had to do was show up, and his resolve started to weaken. The carefully constructed walls seemed to tumble at her soft voice. The mere thought that he was again causing her pain made a mockery of his attempts to hide the emotions that undermined him. After a few short minutes, she had him bawling like a child. He would have to stay away from her, he decided. Far away. He understood that she made him weak, that she made him too much like a… small boy.

***

Humming to herself, Maria waltzed around the tables, clearing the remains left by customers.
“So I guess one of us had a good time last night, Maria,” Liz smirked.
“Oh yeah!” giggled Maria. “Last night was just about the best date I have ever had. I mean… ever.”
Liz chuckled.
“So, are you, like going to tell me, or is it that you did some… you know, private stuff.”
“Yeah right,” Maria scoffed. “Like you ever told me what you did on your dates.”
Liz’s face fell.
“Oh, Liz, Chica. I’m so sorry,” she consoled.
Liz looked up and smiled again, to show that it was all right. The door chime rang out, and an old man walked into the Café. Liz gave a little smile at Mr. Forster. One of her regular customers, he sat down at his usual booth, near the door to the backroom. He was a lovely man, with funny stories from his youth. He made Liz laugh, and she had needed some laughs during the last few weeks. He was good to talk to, and he knew all about her problems. Well, as much as she could tell him, of course. He often came out with silly little sayings, or pearls of wisdom, such as ‘You may be only one person in the world, but you may also be the world to one person.’ Liz watched him sit down and look over the menu. Then her face fell again.

“What’s up, Liz? We said you weren’t going to do this, remember?”
“I can’t help it, Maria,” Liz answered. “I miss him, okay? I only see him occasionally, and when I do, he’s cold. Closed off, you know?”
“Look, Liz. What he did was unforgivable, and there is no way that I’m going to stand to one side and watch you put yourself through this again. Face it: to save his son, he has to go to Antar! You made the right decision.”
“I know. But he doesn’t even come into the Crashdown anymore.”
“Well, yeah,” Maria laughed. “I mean, you barred him, right? Best thing you have ever done, if I may say so. Now look, forget him. He’s not worth it, Liz. It’s time you got over him already.”
The two girls looked over to where Liz’s father had just stood up. He had just finished a semi-formal meeting with a young sales rep from a large refrigeration company from Carlsbad. The tall, thin man, barely in his twenties, was working his way through college by visiting all the fast food outlets he could find, and trying to persuade them to upgrade their equipment.
“Here you go, Maria,” Mr. Parker said, smiling as he handed her a plush red baseball cap with the logo ‘PK Refrigeration’ on its brow,
“What’s this for?” she asked, with widened eyes as she followed Mr. Parker into the back room. She held the hat up, with her wrist tilted upwards.
“That rep seemed to like you. Asked me to give it to you, how did he put it? As a token of his admiration for you.”
“Ugh!” Maria cried, throwing the hat like a Frisbee towards the storeroom door. Laughing as he went, Jeff Parker retreated upstairs.

Returning to the dining area, Maria’s face suddenly lit up like a light bulb. Standing next to Mr. Forster, taking his order, Liz knew that Michael had entered the Cafe. She looked up to the door; hoping against that hope that Max would be with him. Of course, she was disappointed yet again. She had told him to stay away from her. In his new state of mind, she knew that Max would do just that. Max no longer cared about her. By the time Liz had taken Mr. Forster’s order to the kitchen, Maria had already taken Michael a cherry coke. She had to suppress a tear as she remembered that day, so long ago now, when she had served Max with a free drink, while Maria had threatened to put arsenic in Michael’s. How times change, Liz thought with regret. Liz looked up to smile at Isabel who had just entered the restaurant. Isabel’s eyes caught Liz’s but she didn’t return the smile.
‘You did this,’ her eyes accused. ‘You have done this to my brother.’
Isabel looked away, sitting down opposite Michael. Maria took a coke over to Isabel, and sat beside Michael. Almost instantly they linked their arms together. Liz wanted to join them, but the frosty glance from Isabel warded her off. Her chest heaved a deep sigh; they would be discussing Max anyway.

“He’s never been this bad. Even before… you know, he healed her, even then… he was never this… closed off,” Isabel complained. “Except for school, he never comes out of that room. And those charts! I’m afraid he means it, Michael. I’m afraid he’s going to leave without me.”
“You know,” Michael said gently. “It would all end if we can just get Max and Liz back together.”
“No way!” exclaimed Maria and Isabel together.
“Nuh uh!” Maria continued. “Not going to happen. She is so over him now. She doesn’t need him anymore.”
“He needs us!” Isabel exclaimed, clearly indicating that Michael was spending too much time with Maria, and not enough with Max.
“You heard him,” Michael said. “This is his mess, and he wants to sort it out himself.”
“What about all the times he’s helped you out when you screwed up?”
“His choice!”
“So you’re just gonna sit there and do what he says?”
“Yep!”
“You know, maybe if you’d been like this last year, all supportive, he wouldn’t be where he is now!”
Isabel stood and stormed out of the Café, nearly knocking Kyle over, on his way in.

Kyle took one look at Maria and Michael, and decided against sitting with them. He sat at the counter, across from where Liz was sorting out a bin filled with clean silverware.
“Hi, Kyle,” Liz smiled.
“Hey, Liz,” he answered, looking over at Michael. “Where’s Heckle this morning?”
“I don’t know, Kyle,” she said. “He doesn’t come in any more.”
“Things that bad between you that he’s avoiding you now?”
“Well, we sort of had a fight. I barred him from coming here.”
“Oh, right, right,” he smiled, picking up the menu. “Did it get pretty loud?”
“Um, yeah. I hit him.”
“He didn’t hit you back, did he?”
“No, of course not. Max would never even do that.”
“He’s done a few things that I thought he would never do.”
“Yeah,” she agreed, closing her eyes while a tear trickled through her eyelids.
“You need to talk to him, Liz.”
“No,” she slowly shook her head. “It’s past that, Kyle. It really is over.”
“I’m sorry, Liz,” he sighed.

***

“Sheriff Hanson?” his deputy called from the Sheriff’s door. “There’s a Special Agent Perkins from the FBI to see you.”
“FBI?” Hanson asked, sitting upright and removing his feet from the table. “What does he want?”
“To talk to you, I guess,” the deputy told him.
“Oh. Okay. Well, show him in.”
“Special Agent Perkins. FBI,” the tall man in a dark suit and sunglasses announced. He held out his badge and identification.
“Well, Agent Perkins. I’m Sheriff Hanson. How can I help you?”
Sheriff Hanson held out his hand, which the FBI Agent ignored. Instead, he reached into his inside jacket pocket, and extracted a sheet of folded paper.
“This is authorization, signed by the governor, ordering you to surrender certain files to me.”
“Uh huh. And what files would they be?” Hanson asked. He rose from his seat, and started walking towards the filing cabinets. He hadn’t even looked at the document.
“The reported gunfire incident in September, ’99, involving Elizabeth Parker at the Crashdown Cafe.”

***


posted on 1-Nov-2001 6:42:52 PM by WR
Part 5

“So what’s happening, Grier?” the young teenaged boy riding the scooter asked.
The older, portly man looked nervous, as he watched his commander, Nikolas, riding in circles around him.
“It’s the one called Tess, she’s… ah,”
“Come on, spit it out!” Nikolas had the knack of sounding so condescending. It seemed incongruous that the young teenager should speak to a grown man in such a way.
“Yes sir, she’s gone, sir.”
Nikolas stopped, and looked at the man venomously.
“What do you mean, gone?” he snapped, as he threw the scooter to the ground.
“Just that, vanished. We haven’t seen her for days now.”
“So what’s happening to our little group of Amigos?”
“Well, Zan, Max rather, has become isolated. He spends all his time by himself, either at home, school, work, or out in the desert somewhere.”
“Where does he go in the desert, the pod chamber?”
“No, the opposite direction usually, and when we try to follow him, he manages to lose us. I think he is aware that we are trying to follow him.”
“So Max, where do you go?” Nikolas pondered. “What of the others?”
“Well, Vilondra, Isabel, alternates between school, home and the Crashdown. Sometimes she goes to that other kid’s grave, she seems a little detached herself, but she is often with the other one. Michael, and the Earth girl, Maria, have become almost inseparable. The other Earth girl, Liz, and the Earth guy, Kyle, both seem to keep to themselves. There’s some other young guy on the scene now, but he just seems attracted to Liz.”
“So where the hell did Tess go? She should be practically glued to Max’s hip now, on her way home.”
“Um Nikolas… we think she went home, alone.”
“What?”
“The other morning, the four of them went out to the pod chamber. They came back a little later. They had the three Earthlings with them, but Tess was gone.”
“Didn’t you follow them?”
“We tried, but the other guy, the one who used to be the Sheriff, he was on the road, and we had to turn back. We saw the others rushing out there, but we were unable to follow them. Not without drawing attention to ourselves.”
“Sounds like Liz spoiled Tess’s little plan,” he chuckled. “So Tess went alone?” He started to look worried now. “She took the Granolith? Damn! This is not good. This might all explode in my face. I have to get home!”

***

Max liked the stillness of the desert, especially at this time of day when it was still hot, but not quite the overpowering heat that sucked the moisture from you. He had found this spot the afternoon Tess had left. Feeling depressed at Liz’s rejection, he had gone for a walk. He regretted destroying his Jeep now, but at the time, he really didn’t think he would need it again. An hour out of town, he had found the small alcove at the top of a rocky outcrop, facing away from the road, looking west. As he sat and watched the distant sun, he realized that this would be a good place to hide the data he collected, keeping it hidden from his enemies. Enemies. Did he have any now? With his son in Kivar’s hands, Kivar could simply install him as a boy King and rule in his stead as his regent. After the transfer of power was complete, Kivar would have no further use for his son. So there was no need for Nikolas and his remaining goons to hunt Max… or the others. No, that would be too much to hope for. Kivar couldn’t crown his son until he could prove that Max dead. Max knew that the only way Kivar could prove this was by publicly executing Max. He had to show Max’s followers that it was truly over. This meant that there was still a threat, to him, at least. Perhaps it was for the best that Liz had extricated herself from him. To that end, he needed a new chamber to hide himself from his enemies. This alcove, with some alterations that were easily within his capabilities, would suit that purpose perfectly.

Each day, after school, he walked out into the desert to get as far away from civilization as he could. He told himself that he was coming out here to avoid everyone while he absorbed the vast amounts of information he had been bombarding himself with, while practicing his abilities, trying to increase his power. In reality, he came out here to try and gain control of the emotions he was still struggling to keep hidden. They were still there, just well masked. He was still upset over the whole Liz issue. Every time he came out here, Max was forced to take evasive action, to lose whoever it was who was trying to follow him. It had to be Michael or Isabel. Max then made his way to his alcove, where he would sit and watch the distant sun slowly drop towards the horizon. Max was tired, so very tired. He had not been sleeping well, and with the constant pressure of hiding his emotions, absorbing the information he sought, and practicing his powers, he was worn out. Max picked up one of the loose stones and hurled it out into the valley. Using the control of his mind, he lifted another stone into the air, and pushed it away. It flew faster, further than the one he had physically thrown. If only he could do the same to his problems. It took him an hour and a half to walk up there, with the loops, but it was worth it to be alone. He knew that back in Roswell, Michael and Isabel would be looking for him, but he needed to avoid them. He needed to avoid them all. Especially Liz.

***

“Ugh!” cried Maria. “Won’t this shift ever end? It’s like a zoo in here tonight.”
“There’s only two hours to go Maria,” Liz informed her. “Besides, I like it when we’re busy.”
“Don’t worry about it, Liz,” Maria smiled cryptically. She knew why Liz liked to keep busy. Maria looked up at the door. “Cause that’s all going to change right now.”
“How’s that?” Liz asked.
Sean entered the Crashdown, and came up to the counter.
“Hi Liz, Maria,” nodding to the girls.
“Hi Sean,” Maria bubbled, taking Michael’s check over to him.
“Hi Sean,” Liz smiled. She was genuinely pleased to see him. He had been a good friend to her. She knew Sean wanted more, something she felt she was not ready for just yet. “Can I get you something?”
“Well, how about agreeing to go out with me?”
“Oh…” Liz’s face dropped, “a date. Um… you know… I’m kind of busy right now, so I’m going to have to say no. Sorry.”
“You always say no, Liz. And I know that you can’t be that busy.”
“Yeah, come on, Liz,” Maria added, putting Michael’s money in the cash register. “It’s been two weeks Liz. It’s time to move on.”
“Is this still about Evans?” he asked, with his eyes narrowing suspiciously.
“No. No, this isn’t about Max. I just don’t feel like going out tonight. That’s all.”
“I know you, Liz…” Maria started.
“No, Maria! You don’t. Cause if you did, you wouldn’t keep doing this to me,” Liz snapped. “I don’t want to go on a date just now, Okay?”
“Okay,” Maria defended. “Sheesh, no need to bite my head off!”
Liz then turned to a stunned Sean.
“Um, Sean? If you aren’t going to order something, could you just leave? Please. We’re kind of busy right now.”
Liz saw Maria turn to the drink dispenser, and just knew she was going to buy Sean a drink. She really did not need this right now. Sean realized what was going on because he made no move to leave.
“You heard her,” Michael threatened Sean, grabbing his shoulders forcibly marching him towards the door. “Now leave.”
“Michael?” demanded Maria, more than a hint of annoyance in her voice.

***

Jim Valenti knocked on the door to the Sheriffs office; catching Sheriff Hanson sprawled back in his chair, with his feet up.
“This seems kind of weird,” he smirked. “Knocking on my old door after being summoned by the new Sheriff.”
“Thanks for coming, Jim,” Hanson smiled, sitting upright and indicating for Jim to come in.
“No problem,” he replied. “It seemed urgent when your deputy phoned.”
“Yeah, it’s just I can’t find some files. I’ve looked high and low for them, but I can’t find them.”
“So what files would they be?”
“The reported shooting in the Crashdown two years ago. You remember, when those witnesses said the Parker girl was shot?”
Jim furrowed his brow.
“Why would you want them? Has more evidence come to light?” he asked, cautiously.
“No,” groaned Hanson. “I had me a visit from the FBI. They had some official letter demanding I hand over the files to them. Some Special Agent… something or other.”
“You sure he was FBI?” Jim asked, alarm bells ringing in his head.
“Yeah, he showed me his ID and his badge. Why?”
“The FBI took all those files shortly after the shooting, remember? Why would they send a Special Agent to ask for files they already have? Whoever he was, I don’t think he was a bona fide Feebee goon.”
“What’s going on, Jim? I always feel like you know more than you’re telling me.”
There was a sudden knocking at the door, a deputy stood there looking extremely flustered, panting heavily.
“There’s been an incident… in town,” he gasped, taking big breaths.
“An incident?” Jim asked, turning to face the deputy. Old habits died hard. “What kind of incident?”
“We think it’s an attempted robbery,” he answered Jim without a thought. “A couple of gunmen have taken some hostages. A shot’s been fired. A witness claims a young girl has been shot.”
“Where?” demanded Jim, the color was draining from his face.
“The Crashdown Cafe.”

***


posted on 1-Nov-2001 6:44:13 PM by WR
Part 6

Max was bored with throwing stones. There was only a certain number of times you could throw a small rock at an inanimate target, hitting it every time. So he had taken to lifting the stones into the air, and orbiting them about his head. With a heavy sigh, he lay back on the ground, and used his powers to pull more and more stones to join his spinning mass. He knew that he was safe to do this out here. The light was failing fast, and besides, no one would find him this far out of town. As more stones were pulled in by his mental agility, he slowly shaped the circling objects into a reconstruction of the Whirlwind Galaxy.
“That’s a pretty picture, Evans,” Kyle’s voice abruptly broke the silence.
Completely startled, Max lost his concentration, and the stones rained upon his head. Max rolled over and was on his feet in an instant. Kyle couldn’t help but laugh.
“Oh man, that was so funny,” he chuckled. “The look on your face!”
“What are you doing here, Kyle?” Max asked, trying to hide his embarrassment.
“I was down the road aways, practicing my shooting.” Kyle said while still giggling. “You know, Junior Rifle Champion and all that?”
Max nodded.
“So I saw you walk by earlier. I finished my practice, and thought I’d offer you a lift home. I knew about this cave, so I figured you’d be here. I see you’ve done some remodeling.”
“Oh, right.” Max mumbled. “Thanks.”
“No problem, Max.” Kyle smiled, sitting down. “There’s no rush, though.”
Max sat down opposite Kyle, and the two young men looked at each other.

“We’ve never really talked, have we?” Kyle spoke.
Max leaned over and dragged a large piece of dead wood he had salvaged. He placed the branch between himself and Kyle, and holding his hand over it, flames suddenly leapt up. Kyle nodded, looking impressed.
“I guess things just kept getting in the way.”
“Yeah,” Kyle agreed with a gentle nod of his head. He looked up at Max, as if he were measuring him. “You gotta know, Max. I didn’t do it to get back at you.”
Max knew that he was referring to Kyle’s pretending to sleep with Liz.
“I know, Kyle,” Max closed his eyes, and took a deep breath, warding off the terrible image that threatened to appear in his mind. “I know that you two didn’t do anything.”
“She tell you? I’m glad,” he sighed. “That really hurt her Max.”
“Can you tell me why she did it? Was it just to make me move on? To be with Tess?”
“She never told me Max,” Kyle informed him. “She asked for my help, and told me that she couldn’t explain why she was doing it.”
Max simply nodded. Somehow, he knew that would be the case.
“What’s it like, Max?”
“What?”
“Being an alien. Having to put up with all the crap you see on TV, green men who shoot death rays and are out to conquer the Earth.”
“How do you know that what you just said isn’t the truth, Kyle?”
They both laughed.
“Because Liz Parker would never fall in love with someone who was full of himself.”
Max grew serious. It was as though Kyle had slapped him in the face.

“Do you want to talk about it Max? Your relationship with Tess, I mean?”
“No,” Max stated blandly.
“Did you love her, Max?”
Max remained silent for a moment.
“I think I did. I mean, I used to, in that… previous life. At least I seem to remember loving her. But if I did, love her, I mean, why didn’t I love her here?”
“Because you met Liz.”
“It keeps coming back to her, doesn’t it?”
“Yeah. You could say she is important.”
“I’m sorry, Kyle. About Tess I mean. I know you were… fond of her.”
“Yeah, well. It’s Liz you should be apologizing to, Max.”
“She won’t listen to me. She’s made it clear that she wants nothing to do with me.”
“Just give her some time, Max. I know Liz well enough to know that even though she’s hurt, even though she’s mad at you, she still loves you. And I know you still love her.”
“Is it that obvious?”
“No, not to anyone who doesn’t really look. But I look, Max. Sure, I see those walls you’ve put up, and I know just what you are doing. You think that if you try and handle this by yourself, keeping everyone away from the fortress you’ve built around you then no one else will get hurt.”
“So how come you see it when no one else does?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I’m prepared to forgive you.”
“You are?” Max was startled.
Kyle shrugged his shoulders.
“Would it help you to talk about her?” Max asked.
Kyle looked over at him. “You’d be prepared to listen?”
“Sure.”

While Kyle talked about his feelings for Tess, how they changed from romantic leanings to brotherly feelings, Max lay back again, and started to piece together his map of the galaxy, spinning above his head. Although he concentrated on his stones, Max was listening to Kyle, interjecting from time to time. It did not take long before Kyle started talking about Liz. Although he was quick to point out that his feelings were platonic, he confessed that he still cared for Liz a great deal. Kyle wanted nothing more than to see Liz happy again, and he knew who it was who would make her that way. As though Kyle’s words were some trigger for Max’s subconscious, an image of Liz appeared in the center of his model. She was in her waitress uniform, complete with the antennae bobbing above her. The sad expression on her face revealed that it was a recent image. But the sadness turned to coldness, and then to anger. Max guessed that she was talking about him. Only he could bring those foreign emotions to Liz, he knew. But then the image changed. There were two gunmen storming into the Crashdown. Were these the two men who shot Liz that day? Was he seeing a reconstruction? No, they had been sitting in booths. These two men ran in, holding guns at the ready. A gun went off, and Liz flew backwards. Sudden waves of fear and pain swept through him. Liz had been shot again! Once more, the stones rained on Max’s face. Kyle started to laugh again, but caught himself when he saw the terrified look on Max’ face. Both men were up instantly.
“Where’s your car?” he demanded, his voice on the edge of panic.
“Down there,” he answered pointing to the back of the hill, his own voice echoing Max’s fear. “Why?”
Max grabbed Kyle’s arm, pulling him down the hill.
“Liz is in danger, Kyle,” he managed to say without his voice breaking. “She’s in great danger!”

***

“Jose,” Liz called out. “Is Mr. Fortser’s Heavenly Hash Special ready yet? He’s been waiting ages.”
“Mustn’t upset the regulars, must we?” Maria grinned at Liz’s impatience. “Especially not big tippers like him, right?”
“It’s not cause he’s a big tipper, Maria,” Liz objected. “He’s a nice old man. I like him.”
“Don’t you lovely young ladies have dates to get ready for?” Jeff demanded with a smile, as he came into the café to find Liz and Maria still working along with the two other waitresses. He nodded to Jose working out back in the kitchen, who gave a smile at his comment. Liz’s face fell again.
Damn him, Maria thought. Just as she had Liz in a good mood, not thinking about… him, her father comes and pulls this little stunt.
“Dad!” Liz complained.
“Well, I am seeing my man later,” Maria smiled, “But Liz here already turned down a date from an eminently eligible young man.”
“Oh,” laughed Jeff. “You turn Max down again, Lizzie?”
“Max?” snorted Maria, rolling her eyes as she picked up a piece of pie for a customer and took the coffeepot to check for refills. “Oh, please!”
Liz shook her head and, fighting back the tears, looked away from her father. He stepped up next to her and smiled gently.
“Don’t worry Lizzie. It’ll all work out. You’ll see.”
Liz simply nodded her head, and looked up at the opening door to see Isabel enter, and indicated she needed to talk to her. Liz nodded; knowing this had to be about Max. After taking Mr. Forster his meal, and checking to make sure that her other customers were okay, Liz poured a Cherry Coke for Isabel. Despite the attitude, Liz obliged Isabel, sitting across from her in the booth the taller girl had selected.
“Liz,” Isabel nodded coldly. “Every night after school, and when he is not working, Max disappears. Where does he go?”
Liz wasn’t surprised at the frosty treatment Isabel was giving her.
“How should I know, Isabel,” Liz retorted caustically. Two could play this game, she thought. “He works just as hard at avoiding me as he does you.”
Isabel stared at Liz for a while, as if gauging her denial. Finally she slid out to leave. Liz quickly stood up with her, but she noticed Isabel’s attention caught by something behind her. A tiny smile played across Isabel’s lips. Liz quickly looked over her shoulder to see one of her customers, a young businessman, she guessed, looking back at Isabel.
“Isabel,” she asked, capturing her attention from the young man. “Is he all right? I mean…”
“No. I don’t think he is,” Isabel informed her, her eyes drifting back to the young man. “He’s not thinking straight, and that makes him dangerous. He needs Michael and me, but he’s shutting us out.”
“Can I help?” Liz looked up at Isabel earnestly.
Isabel looked back at Liz, and snorted.
“You?” she demanded incredulously. “You’ve done enough, don’t you think?”
Again, her eyes drifted back the young man, her smile more noticeable. Something inside Liz gave. They had only buried Alex a month ago.
“Yeah, Isabel!” she snapped. “Like you’ve never hurt him. Like you’ve never lied to him, or betrayed him. You know what? You are worse than me, because I didn’t do it for selfish reasons!”
Isabel stared at Liz, here eyes clouding. Liz saw her bottom lip quiver. Isabel spun on her heel, and rushed towards the exit fighting back the tears Liz herself could feel. She turned away from her one time friend.

The man at the back that Isabel had been looking at started to slide out of his seat. Liz walked up to him, barring his exit. Liz just knew that he was trying to leave without paying. She had no doubt that he was going to chase after Isabel to ask for a date.
“Can I get you anything else, sir?” she asked through a forced smile, with as much politeness as she could muster.
The man looked at the door, through which Isabel had just retreated and then at Liz.
“No, just the check,” he growled, the urgency clear in his voice.
With a deliberate indolence, Liz carefully looked back through her pad for the man’s order. She leisurely totaled his bill, tore off the sheet and handed it to him. After a cursory glance, he pulled out two ten-dollar bills, and threw them on the table.
“I’ll just get you your change sir.”
“Don’t bother,” the man grunted, grabbing Liz’s arm to pull her out of the way.

Everything happened at once. Two men, one brandishing a shotgun, and the other an automatic pistol, burst through the doors.
“Everybody on the floor, now!” shouted the man with the pistol. He punctuated his order with a shot into the ceiling. Everyone dropped to the floor, except Liz.
Liz was distracted. At that precise moment, she was assailed with a wave of frightening images: bleak, colorless, and cold. Crashing sea foam, or perhaps clouds, thunder and lightning, the desolate depths of the desert and a dark haired woman in an open topped car flashed through her mind. When the images stopped, Liz saw the gunmen looking at her. She was the only person standing. All around her the customers were cowering under the tables. Liz tried to move, but she found that her legs were locked in place.
‘No! Oh no!’ she cried in her mind as her face took on a mask of terror. ‘Not again. This can’t be happening.’
The man with the shotgun spun the gun around, yelling.
“He said get down!”
Some one screamed.
A shot rang out.
Liz flew backwards.
She experienced a sudden explosion of intense pain.

***


posted on 1-Nov-2001 6:45:26 PM by WR
Part 7

At the news of the armed robbery, and apparent shooting at the Crashdown, Sheriff Hanson was on the phone immediately. Jim knew that he would be calling headquarters in Albuquerque for some assistance. It was standard procedure for incidents such as this.
“You say someone was shot?” Jim asked the deputy in a strained voice. “Do we have any indication as to who?”
“Not sure,” the deputy told him. “We have a witness who was passing by outside. She says she saw two armed men rush in the door, and she heard a shot. Then, seconds later, there was a louder shot.”
“Probably a shotgun,” suggested Hanson, still holding the phone to his ear.
The deputy nodded his agreement.
“Go on, Deputy Travers,” Jim urged.
“Anyway,” continued Travers. “She says that she saw a dark haired waitress at the back of the café go down.”
“No, not Liz!” Jim groaned with a terrible feeling of dread rising in him. “Do we know if the Evans boy was inside, Max?”
“No sir,” Travers replied. “We have no indication as to who is, and who is not inside.”
“Find him!” Jim ordered, forgetting that he was a civilian now. “Put out an APB if you have to, but find him!”
“Why Jim?” Hanson questioned through narrowed eyes as he placed the handset back in it’s holder. “Do you think he’s involved?”
“Oh God!” Jim swore under his breath. “I hope so. I really hope so.”

***

Sitting in the front passenger seat, Max clenched his palms together as if in prayer and rocked back and forth. As if the fear Kyle sensed from Max fueled the accelerator of his Mustang, they raced through the ever-darkening evening. Kyle wondered if Max was making it go faster.
“She will be all right,” the phrase was rapidly becoming Kyle’s mantra. “She will be alright.”
Ever since Max had explained what he had seen in that strange vision of his, Kyle had been trying to convince himself that they would get there in time, that Max would be able to help Liz, someone important to both of them. Kyle didn’t really know what frightened him more. The thought of Liz being shot again or the grim look on Max’s face.
“She’ll be okay, Kyle,” Max whispered through his tightened jaw. “She has to be. There’s so much I want to say to her. She might not want me in her life anymore, Kyle, but I will do anything to protect her.”
“Max, she never said she doesn’t want you in her life.”
“No, Kyle,” Max sighed. “She didn’t have to.”

***

When the man with the pistol accentuated his demand that everyone get down with a shot into the ceiling of the crowded Crashdown Café, everyone started to slide to the floor. Seeing Liz still standing, Maria reacted in the only way she knew how.
“Liz!” she screamed.
“He said get down!” The man with the shotgun yelled loudly spinning the gun around.
Feeling a strong pressure from behind her, Liz was suddenly pulled backwards. Mr. Forster, reacting with the agility of a man half his age, pulled her into the booth. A shot rang out as the gun pointed at Liz. Her hip hit the corner of the table hard, sending an overpowering wave of pain through her whole body. She couldn’t stop shaking.
“Are you okay?” Mr. Forster asked, holding her hand.
Liz nodded.
“Thanks,” she winced.
She turned to look at where she had been standing. In the wall behind her, a large section of the plaster had been blasted by the concentration of small pellets fired from the shotgun. It could have been her, she realized. And Max would never know the truth. A flood of tears welled in her eyes.
“Oh God!” she whimpered. “I wish Max were here.”
“Max?” Mr. Forster asked.
“Yeah um,” she stammered. “He’s my… ah… you know, he’s my… friend.”
“How could he help?” he asked with compassion, hoping to perhaps take her mind off the near miss.
“I don’t know,” she sobbed. “Just having him near would make me feel better. Besides, he might be able to think of a way out of this.”
“He sounds like a good man to know.” He noticed that talking about this Max had started to calm the distraught girl.
“Yeah,” Liz stated, “he’s the best.” But she knew that Max would not risk his life, and with it the chance to save his own son, for her. Not anymore.

***

As Isabel ran from the Crashdown, once again with tears rimming her eyes, Isabel made a mental note to avoid going anywhere near Liz. It seemed that she had perfected the ability to hurt both her, and her brother. As she stumbled out into the warm evening air, she saw Michael in Maria’s Jetta slowing down as he turned the corner. Hoping that he was planning to park there, Isabel hurried up the street to where the Jetta had disappeared. She was relieved to see that it was indeed parked, just outside the hardware store. There was no sign of Michael, so she leaned against the back of the car, and waited. She doubted he would be long.
“Hey, Iz,” Michael announced his presence. “What’s up?”
“I’m looking for Max. I don’t suppose you’ve seen him?”
Michael noticed that she had been crying.
“You know Max,” he sighed. “If he doesn’t want to be found, then he won’t be found. And that seems to be what he wants these days.”
“I bet Liz could find him!” Isabel snapped.
“You have a run in with her again?” he asked.
“Of course,” she complained. “I heard about you kicking Maria’s cousin out of the Crashdown the other night. So you’re looking out for Liz too now. How nice.”
“Look, Iz, whatever you think about her, there is only one way to keep an eye on her. And that is when she is with Max. I’m just afraid that she’s going to blab to that guy, Sean. You know?”
A police car screamed passed them, it’s siren wailing, and turned onto Main Street.
“Yeah. Sometimes I wonder whose side she is really on,” Isabel commented, watching the car disappear.
“Well, I’m on my way to meet Maria at the Crashdown. You coming?”
“What? And face Liz again?” Isabel shook her head. “No, she said some hurtful things, and I can’t really deal just now.”
“Don’t worry,” Michael grinned. “All I have to do is glare at her, and she backs off.”
Isabel nodded, and climbed into the car.

They turned the Jetta onto Main Street, only to be met with a chaotic scene. Outside of the Crashdown Café were half a dozen police vehicles, and an assortment of deputies standing behind them with their guns drawn, and pointed at the Crashdown. There were two ambulances standing by, and even a fire truck. A few deputies had erected a barrier to keep the ever-growing crowd, which included some members of the press, at a safe distance.
“What the…?” shouted Michael, slamming on the breaks.
“Oh my God,” Isabel gasped. “Michael. What’s happening?”
“I don’t know,” he snarled, winding the window open. “Hey you!” he then called to a passing bystander. “What’s going on?”
“A couple of gunmen!” the young man exclaimed. “They stormed in there and let off a couple of shots.”
“Michael!” Isabel cried. “What if Max is in there? What if she’s shot? He’ll heal her again. I just know it! He’ll reveal himself, and we’ll have to go through that whole FBI thing again!” Isabel ranted, bordering on hysteria. “We had the ideal opportunity to get away from them, to be on our own again.”
“Yeah,” sighed Michael, looking at the Crashdown. “But I know where Max is coming from now. Relax, Isabel. He’s barred from there, remember? There’s no reason for him to be in there. Besides, it’s all over. I know I said I wanted Max to keep an eye on her, but even Maria says that it’s over between those two.”
“Huh,” Isabel snorted. “Only when he’s dead will I believe that he is free of her, and even then I’ll have my doubts!”
“Isabel!” Michael gasped, a sudden realization hitting him. “Maria’s in there!”

***

Jim Valenti stood behind Sheriff Hanson, using the Sheriff’s vehicle as a barrier between them and any potential threat from the gunmen. Across the street, the blinds to all of the windows in the café had been pulled down, the first time in months that they had been used. Jim had been advising the new Sheriff until the backup from Albuquerque arrived. He nodded at the men’s questioning looks. Taking a deep breath, Sheriff turned to the Café, and lifted a bullhorn to his mouth.
“This is Sheriff Hanson,” he called out. “We have armed units surrounding the building. The best thing you could do is to throw out your guns, and surrender yourselves.”
“We won’t negotiate with no pig!” a voice called from the doorway.
Jim mumbled something to Hanson, who nodded, and lifted the bullhorn again.
“Why don’t we use one of your hostages as an intermediary?”
“No way!” the voice called again. “We’ll let you know who we want. Just back off. We have the back door barricaded. We hear anything funny, and we’ll start shooting!”

Inside the café, the two nervous men looked out from behind one of the blinds at the police cars parked in a semi circle around them. Neither man looked concerned. The two men let the blind drop into place, and looked at the cowering customers, now sitting on the benches and stools. While the man with the shotgun stood by the door, the one holding the pistol walked slowly along the length of the café.
“Which one of you is Liz Parker?” he asked in a cold, confident voice.
Liz and Maria exchanged glances from across the room. Both were thinking that they would want Liz to act as the intermediary, and were each urging the other to admit to being Liz, to escape to safety. Reluctantly, and giving Liz a filthy look, Maria rose.
“It’s me. I’m the one you want,” she sighed, wishing that she had her bottle of cedar oil.
The man with the pistol walked up to her and placed the gun against Maria’s head. Fearing the worse, Liz leapt to her feet, hitting her hip against the table again.
“No, no, it’s me,” she cried out. Tears were running down both Maria and Liz’s cheeks. She couldn’t risk Maria like that. “I’m Liz Parker. I’m the one you want.”
With narrow, hostile eyes, the man marched up to Liz, and threw her against the wall. She cried out in pain as her hip smashed against the hard barrier. She slowly slid to the floor with a groan. Mr. Parker started to rise. Only the barrel of the shotgun pointing at him made him stop. Mr. Forster leapt up to assist Liz, but was met with similar resistance from the other gunman.
“Sit down!” the man with the handgun ordered. He then moved to Liz, and grabbed her arm. None too gently, he pulled her to her feet, and held the gun to her temple. Tears were cascading down Liz’s cheeks, and her whole body was shaking with fear.
“Okay, pretty thing,” he held his face inches from the side of hers. He stank of stale cigarettes, and whisky. Liz fought hard to suppress the shudder that threatened to course through her body. “You get to choose who we use as an intermediary. I want you to tell them to get your boyfriend here!”
Liz could not help but hear Maria’s sharp intake of breath. Like Maria, Liz suddenly suspected that this was a setup, a trap to capture Max, maybe to force him into revealing himself.
“No,” she stated. “I won’t subject him to this kind of danger.”
Maria started to sob. She knew that Liz would die before she betrayed Max in that way. The gunman pushed the barrel harder against her temple.
“You have till the count of three. One…”
“Do it, Lizzie,” her father begged from his position at the front of the diner.
Liz looked at her father, her tears making him a blur. How could she tell her father that she would not be responsible for Max’s death?
“Two…”
“You know he would want you to, Liz,” Maria cried out. “You know he would never forgive himself if anything happened to you.”
“Three!”
“Okay!” she sobbed. “Okay. I’ll ask for him.”

***


posted on 1-Nov-2001 6:46:55 PM by WR
Part 8

Kyle pulled his Mustang up sharply in a side street a short distance from the Crashdown. They could see the red flashing lights reflecting off of the surrounding buildings. For Max, this was not close enough.
“Kyle!” he urged. “We can get closer!”
“Look, Max,” Kyle looked him straight in the eye. “When it comes to dealing with science fiction stuff, I will bow to your knowledge and experience every time. But when it come to police procedures, you should listen to me. There is no way they will let you just walk in there.”
“But I have to get in, Kyle.” It was a plea straight from Max’s heart.
“Trust me, Max,” Kyle responded with as much sympathy as he could muster. “You’ll get in. You stay put while I go and find out what’s going on,” Kyle ordered. “You don’t know what you are up against. Once we have the lay of the land, we can figure out a way to get you in.”
Kyle climbed out of his car, and started to jog towards the crowds who had gathered around the perimeter. Max leaned out of the open window.
“Kyle, wait…” he called out, the strain starting to tell in his voice.
Kyle, stopped, and looked back at Max.
“Yeah, don’t worry Max. I’ll find out for you.” Kyle didn’t need to ask. He just knew. Not for the first time, Kyle wondered just how deep the feelings these two had for each other went.

***

Isabel sat in the Jetta, bouncing her knees up and down, waiting for Michael to return. He had gone to see if he could find out what was going on. The door opened, and a harried Michael slid into the seat.
“The sheriff, well, Valenti, has an APB out on Max.” he growled.
“Why?” Isabel demanded. “What’s happened?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “What I do know is that Liz has been shot. Some woman saw the whole thing, and is blabbing her mouth off to the press. One of the gunmen fired a shot, and she saw Liz fall.”
“Oh no,” Isabel whined. “What if Max…?”
“I don’t think he’ll care!” barked Michael, slapping his open hands against the steering wheel in frustration. “He’s too preoccupied with finding a way home.”
“But that’s good, Michael,” Isabel sighed with relief. “If Max isn’t there, he can’t heal her, and reveal himself.”
“Oh god, Isabel.” Michael moaned. “If there is one person I want inside that Café, it’s Max. Maria is in there.”

***

“Well,” Sheriff Hanson said, continuing to think through the current situation. “We have the perimeter sealed, including the rear exits. No one can get in, or out.”
Beside him, Jim Valenti smiled to himself. I don’t think you know quite what Max Evans is capable of, when it comes to Liz, he thought.
“Backup from Albuquerque should be here in an hour,” continued Hanson, before turning to Jim. “So what do we do now?”
“Now, Hanson,” Jim determined, “we wait.”
“Can’t see what they’re waiting for. Why don’t they just give up? They ain’t going nowhere.”
“Hey out there!” someone shouted from the doorway of the Crashdown. “We got a girl here with a message!”
“Ask him if everyone is okay,” Jim urged Hanson.
Sheriff Hanson nodded and lifting the bullhorn to his mouth. He switched it on and took a breath, before releasing his finger from the button and dropping the horn. He held it to Jim.
“You handle this, Jim. You have more experience than me.”
“You sure?” Jim questioned, taking the bullhorn. “My name is Jim Valenti,” his voice rang out. “We need to know if everyone is all right. That everyone is safe.”
Behind him in the crowds, he could see a terrified Nancy Parker standing with an equally worried Amy De’Luca, holding each other for support.
“You ain’t talking to me. You talk to this girl!” the gunman replied. “She’s desperate to see someone!”
“Now who would that be?” Jim asked.
A dark haired girl was pushed through the front door. One of the gunman’s hands firmly held her dark ponytail, while the other held a pistol to her head. Liz looked as terrified as her mother.
“Liz!” cried Nancy.
“Liz, are you okay?” Jim asked. “Is everyone okay in there?”
“Yeah,” she answered in a shaking voice. “Everyone’s fine.”
Jim could almost feel the sense of relief from around him. He felt relieved too. After all, there were people he cared about in there.
“Um, Mr. Valenti?” Liz continued. “Please. They want… they want… Ma… Ma… my… boyfriend.”
“Liz, we don’t know where he is. Tell the men in there that we don’t know where…” There was a pause while Jim seemed to lose his train of thought. He had just realized what Liz had said, and made the connection. He knew why Liz had deliberately omitted Max’s name. “Liz, we’re not sure where he is,” Jim continued.
With a sharp cry of pain, Liz’s head snapped backwards where the gunman had pulled on her ponytail. The man was clearly hissing a command in her ear. Her eyes were closed. Her head jerked back upright.
“He says… he says…” tears straining her voice, “that he doesn’t care. If he’s not here in… thirty minutes, he’s going to shoot me, and select the next hostage.”
Liz gave a sudden shriek as she was pulled from the doorway; the door slamming shut behind her.
“Liz!” wailed Nancy. She had two loved ones in there, not including Maria.
Jim thrust the bullhorn back into Hanson’s hand. “Find Max Evans!” he barked. “Just find him!”

“You don’t need Evans!” called a voice from the back.
There was a buzz of excitement as someone pushed through the crowd, and squeezed beneath the barrier.
“Mr. De’Luca,” Jim recognized him. “What makes you say that?”
“Because you can send me in.” Sean informed him. “I’ll go in there for you.”
“Thanks for the offer, Mr. De’Luca,” Jim dismissing him, “but we’ll find Max Evans. He’s the one Liz would want right now.”
“No, he’s not her boyfriend anymore,” Sean continued. There was an element of desperation in his voice. “I’m closer to her than he is.”
“Is that true, Jim?” Sheriff Hanson asked in a quiet voice.
“Well, they’re kinda going through a… difficult patch right now, Hanson,” Jim hesitated. “But I know Liz, and I know for a fact that there is only one guy she wants to see right now. And that’s Max Evans.”
“That’s why you asked if the Evans kid was involved. Just what is it you’re not telling me?”
“I just know how close those two are. Believe me, she would much rather see Max.”
“Hey dad.” Kyle announced, as he stepped up beside his father.
“What about Kyle?” Sean suddenly demanded. “Maybe she would prefer to see him. He used to date her. From what I hear, even he’s closer than Evans.”
Jim looked at Sean and shook his head.
“No, Liz and Kyle are just… different.”
“What’s going on Dad?” Kyle demanded. “Is Liz all right? Is anyone hurt?”

***

Max Evans looked at his watch again, and once more wondered if perhaps the battery had run out. He knew it was still working, though, because he knew that the minute hand had moved on by ten minutes since Kyle had left. Ten minutes. Anything could happen in that time. Liz could be dying, and he was sitting here in Kyle’s car, waiting. He could go in. He could easily slip in the back door, and get to Liz. His shield could protect them while he carried her out of danger. Max opened the door to step out, but it was quickly pushed back against his emerging legs. He looked up to see Kyle.
“I tell you, Max,” he stated. “You have to lose that Macho attitude. You’ve got to keep a cool head, no matter who is in danger. You’re no good to Liz if you charge in there and get yourself killed.”
“I can protect myself, Kyle,” Max challenged.
“Oh good. But what about Liz?” Kyle demanded. “Or Maria? Or the others?”
“Kyle…”
“Max, why don’t you try thinking your way through things for a change. What is Liz going to think if you save her, but someone else dies?”
Max collapsed back into the seat, and dropped his head. He was still acting like a little boy. It was time he grew up.
“What did you find out?” Max asked.

“Okay, now were getting somewhere,” Kyle grinned.
Kyle proceeded to tell Max about the failed robbery, and the customers being held as hostages. To help calm Max down, he explained how Liz had been seen at the door, alive and well, and how she had said that no one was hurt.
“They want you, Max,” Kyle whispered. “When she appeared at the door, she said ‘They want my boyfriend’.”
“I don’t think that I’m her boyfriend anymore, Kyle.” Max moaned.
“Max, she didn’t give a name. Dad thinks she left it out deliberately. Like she was thinking of something.”
“What? A plan, maybe?” Max’s eyes went distant.
“Max?” Kyle pondered. “The gunmen only went in about half an hour ago. It was an hour ago that you saw the vision. How did you do that?”

Max looked at his watch. By his calculations, he had twenty minutes to present himself to the gunmen.
“Kyle,” Max ignored his question. “I want you to find Michael. Tell him to enter the Crashdown in twenty minutes, at 8:35. Tell him that he is to pretend to be me. He’s to disarm the nearest gunman to him at the most convenient opportunity.”
“What does that even mean, Max?”
“Michael will know.”
“What are you going to be doing? If they want you, why don’t you just go in there?”
“Oh, I am going in, Kyle. I’m going to get inside and even up the odds.”
Kyle looked at Max and shook his head. “They have a couple of deputies by the back door, Max. And the door has been barricaded from the inside. You’ll never get in.”
“Don’t worry, Kyle,” Max shook his head. “Liz is in there. I will get in.”
Kyle grinned and turned to head back to find Michael.

Max glanced around him, and darted into the alley that would bring him to the back entrance of the Crashdown. He found the two deputies hiding in the shadows, where they were keeping watch on the exits. Max carefully collected a number of trashcans, and stacked them precariously by the far corner. He looped around so that the deputies were between him and the cans. Reaching out with his mind, he gave the bottom can a push, bringing the pile down in a crashing cacophony. With their guns drawn, the two deputies carefully approached the source of the noise. With their backs turned, they didn’t see Max hurry to the wall, and effortlessly pull himself up to one of the Parker’s apartment windows. With the wave of his hand, the window was unlocked and Max was inside. With as much reserve as he could muster, he crept through the apartment and down the steps to the room behind the café. Peering through the window of the door to the diner, he couldn’t see Liz. He felt her fear and knew that she was close. All he needed now was a way in.

***


posted on 1-Nov-2001 6:48:09 PM by WR
Part 9

Max searched the darkened room for anything that might help him access the main room of the Crashdown. His eyes fell upon the red baseball cap. He crossed the room, and picked it up. As he read the logo, a smile crossed his lips. He found Jeff Parker’s tool kit on a shelf underneath a counter. He had his way in, all he needed now, was a distraction. Finding a timing device that allowed the small heater to automatically switch on and off, Max collected all of the portable electrical devices, extension cords, and adapters that he could find. Making a chain of the cords and the adapters, Max had all of the appliances connected to the main electrical supply through a single socket. He set the timer to switch on at 8:36. Satisfied, Max picked up the cap and with a wave of his hand, made it appeared much older. He pulled the dirty cap over his short brown hair and after looking in the mirror, added a touch of grease to his face. Another wave of his hand turned his jeans and his jacket into an old utility suit, which had the same logo on its breast as was on the hat. Picking up the tool kit, Max opened… and then slammed the large freezer door shut. Making as much noise as he could, Max strode into the café.
“Okay, Mr. Parker,” he intoned in a loud voice. “That’s the freezer fixed, if you… oh shit!”
Max knew it would be there before it appeared. A gun barrel pressed against his temple. Neither gunman saw Max’s look of warning to Mr. Parker. To his side, in the last booth, Max saw Liz. She was fighting back the overwhelming urge to throw herself into his arms. She barely resisted the urge to cry out his name.

While the hoodlum with the shotgun kept an eye on the rest of the customers, the other kept his gun on Max, as he frisked him.
“Who are you?” he growled at Max.
“I’m Ed,” Max lied. “Ed Harding. From P.K. Refrigeration. Been fixin’ Mr. Parker’s freezer. I only just finished.” He tried to act frightened. It was easy, actually, because in a sense, he was frightened… for Liz.
“He’s clean,” the man grunted, while pushing him into the nearest booth. As luck would have it, it was the last booth, in the corner, which was not visible from the window he had peered through. He found himself next to Liz. She looked so relieved to see him. As he sat down, she immediately grabbed his arm.
“Oh Max!” she whispered with a sob. She could see the worry and fear lifting from Max’s own face. It somehow eased her own.
“Liz,” he gasped under his breath, “I saw… I thought…”
“No… no, Max,” she urged with a whisper, “I’m all right. See, nothing happened.”
“I saw the gun go off Liz,” he was nearly in tears. “I saw you go down.”
“Oh, yeah,” she sighed. “Um, it happened Max, but I wasn’t shot. Mr. Forster here pulled me out of the way.”
Max turned, and saw the damage to the wall. He went white.
“Max, they want you. They specifically asked for me, and said they wanted my boyfriend to act as intermediary,” she urgently told him. “I think it’s some kind of…”
“Help’s on the way, Liz.” Max looked at his watch. “Any minute now. When I tell you, Liz, I want you to slide under the table.”
“No, Max. I want to stay with you.”
“Liz, this isn’t open for debate. When I tell you, get on the floor! You too, sir.”
Both Liz and Mr. Forster nodded.

Like Liz, Maria was terrified, and her wet cheeks gave evidence of that. She was more frightened for Liz than for herself. She knew that if anything happened to Max as a result of her giving in to the gunmen’s demands, Liz would never forgive herself. Even though Max didn’t deserve that kind of loyalty, Liz would never willingly betray him. It was such a surprise when Max boisterously entered the café, dressed in that ridiculous outfit, looking nothing like a refrigeration repair man. It was all Maria could do to stop herself from laughing at him. She realized in time that if Max had taken the trouble to sneak in here like that, then he must have some kind of plan. She hoped Michael wasn’t involved. Even though she loved him dearly, she knew he was not the best person for following orders. He would screw something up; she just knew it. She needed confirmation that Michael was coming. Despite her reservations, she wanted him here with her. Max was so wrapped up in checking on Liz, ensuring her safety that he had not looked in her direction, which of course, annoyed Maria. Liz had finally walked away from him, was finally getting over him, when all this stuff happens to drag them back together again. It was almost as if he was stalking her, hoping for an opportunity like this. Maria sighed. But then again, she was glad that Max was there for her.

Of course, Maria thought. The gunmen were expecting Max, but he was now inside the café. Now all he needed was for Michael to come in, pretending to be Max, and then they could somehow use their powers to deal with the two gunmen. Oh my god, no! The whole room will see! The rumors will spread like wildfire, and the FBI would get dragged in again. She had to stop them. As if he sensed her agitation, Max turned his attention to her. With one look, she knew Max was asking her if she was all right. She nodded in confirmation. She marveled at how expressive his eyes could be. With one calm glance, he had steadied her nerves, far better than any vial of cedar oil. Naturally, they would have a plan to cover the use of their powers. This was Max. It was so easy to see how Liz fell for him, and why she was having such a hard time breaking from him. Knowing Liz was in safe hands, Maria looked to the other end of the café. Mr. Parker was anxiously staring at Liz. She could sense that he was praying hard that Max cared as much for his daughter as he does, and that he would protect her. If only you knew, Mr. Parker. Maria sighed. She just had to get Liz away from Max Evans somehow.

Max kept glancing at his watch; it was almost as though he was counting down.
“Get ready,” he whispered.
From outside, the loud hailer crackled into life. “This is Jim Valenti. We’ve found… Ms. Parker’s boyfriend.”
Both Liz and Maria glanced up at Max.
“He’s coming in now,” Jim’s voiced boomed.
“Tell him to walk slowly!” the man by the entrance barked. “No funny business, or both him and the girl are history.”
They could all see a shadow looming up against the blinds drawn over the door. The gunman opened it wider.
“Keep your hands where I can see em,” he grunted. “Now step inside slowly.”
Both Liz and Maria heard Max gasp, and they knew something was wrong when Kyle stepped into the diner.
“Max?” Liz hissed, as Max swore under his breath. He shook his head, and glanced at his watch. “Now Liz!” he hissed with such anger that it frightened her.
Both Liz and the old man slid under the table, just as the lights all went out, plunging the room into momentary darkness. Max sent his thoughts out to the man next to Kyle, the one holding the shotgun. Max knew that this weapon would cause the most damage, knowing that it could hurt more than one person. He pulled it from the man’s grasp. Immediately, Max leapt in the direction of the man with the pistol. The pistol went off, momentarily illuminating the room, before Max collided with the man. There were whimpers and screams from the frightened customers. Two shouts of surprise sounded out above the din. Max wrestled the man down, holding his arms away from the people so that he would not be able to fire off a second shot, hoping that no one was hurt by the first.

Seconds later, the emergency lights flickered into life, casting a pale eerie glow over the room. Max could see that the man he had jumped was unconscious. His pistol was nowhere to be seen. By the front door, Mr. Parker had wrestled the other man to the floor. By the corner, Max saw Kyle crumpled in a heap. He wasn’t moving.
Oh, no!” he cried, and rushed to Kyle’s assistance.
“Is every thing okay?” Jim Valenti called through the bullhorn from outside.
As Max knelt beside the still Kyle, Liz and Maria were soon at his side.
“Oh, no.” Liz cried. “Not another one.”
”I’m sorry Liz,” sobbed Max, stung by Liz’s inadvertent accusation. “I told him to find Michael.”
Max reached his hand to Kyle’s chest, as a crowd of people started to gather behind him. He was so angry with himself, that somehow he was the cause of yet another friend’s death, that he was not thinking.
“Max, no!” Liz hissed, pulling his arm away. “You can’t do that. Not with all these people!” Liz turned to Maria. “Call Mr. Valenti. Get the paramedics in here.”
Kyle gave a groan, and started to try and sit up. Max gently held him down.
“No, Kyle,” Max apologized. “Lay still. Wait for the ambulance.”
“No, no. It’s okay. Look!” laughed Kyle. He pulled open his jacket, revealing a thick, heavy vest. “It’s my Dad’s bullet proof vest. I couldn’t find Michael. So I came instead. I realized that with two gunmen and only one… of you, this… might happen. I‘m just glad you…” Kyle checked himself, noticing Jeff Parker, still sitting on the other struggling gunman. “I mean… Mr. Parker got the shotgun away. That could have been messy.”
Liz gave a huge grin, and threw her arms around Kyle, giving him a big hug. Max looked away. After her embrace with Kyle, Liz threw herself at her father. Max took control of the other gunman, so that Mr. Parker could finally hug his daughter.
“Oh, Liz,” he exclaimed as the sheriffs men came into the room. “I was so scared that I would lose you.”

***

“Oh god, Michael,” Isabel gasped when she returned from finding out what had happened. “We are so screwed. Kyle went in pretending to be Max. Max was already inside, or something. Anyway, he… Max… used his powers to throw the lights, and pull the guns away, but Kyle got shot again. But get this. After Max, Liz and Maria went to him, he got up.”
“So Maria’s alright?” Michael asked, taking an urgent hold of Isabel’s arms. “She’s not hurt?”
Michael was relieved to know that Max had been in there with Maria. He knew that in spite of her feelings towards him, she would feel calmed by his presence.
“Yes, she is,” Isabel droned, exasperated by Michael’s lack of concern. “And so are Liz and Kyle!”
“So?”
“Michael! He healed them both! In a room full of witnesses, he just… healed them! We are so dead!”
“Isabel, calm down,” he barked. “We’re just hearing rumors and stories here, not facts. Let’s wait until we hear from Max.”
“Yeah, if they haven’t like… carted him off to the nearest military hospital already.”
“Isabel? What is up with you?”
“Look how they have treated him, Michael,” she snapped. “I hate it that even though they treat him like a leper and have given up on him, he still looks out for them.”

***


posted on 1-Nov-2001 6:50:07 PM by WR
Part 10

The clean up operation was well under way. The two gunmen had been taken away for questioning, and the two guns had been bagged up as evidence, along with the bullet extracted from Kyle’s vest. Sheriff Hanson’s deputies were taking statements from the freed hostages before letting them go home. There were lots of people outside, waiting for the only confirmation of their loved one’s safety that they would accept. Max, Liz, Maria and Kyle were sitting in the corner booth, away from the general furore. Max couldn’t take his eyes from the damaged wall.
“Max, Kyle,” Mr. Parker called out as he approached them. He took Liz’s hand and squeezed it. “I want to thank you for what you did this evening. It was very brave of you.”
“You were pretty brave yourself, Mr. Parker,” Max informed him. “I mean, you tackled the guy with the shotgun.”
“Yeah… about that,” he answered, his eyes going momentarily distant. “You know, I could have sworn that I saw the gun just… fly from his hands. That’s the only reason I jumped him. It was sure lucky that those lights went out when they did.”
Jeff Parker shook his head, and went through the door into the back room. He instantly saw the mess of electrical appliances plugged into the heater’s timer. The overloaded circuit would have blown the whole fuse box. Jeff knew that Max must have done this, and started to chuckle. He hoped that Liz and Max could resolve their differences, because he couldn’t think of a single guy he would rather she be with. He glanced back through the window, at Max and Liz sitting closely beside one another, their hands clasped beneath the table. You could hardly believe that they had broken up.

***

They had been separated now, each giving their own version of the night’s events to one of the officers that were crawling throughout the café. Max was impatiently telling his story to one of the deputies. His statement omitted any references to the powers he was able to utilize in the rescue, so he had to gloss over some of the more ‘hazy’ elements, and blamed it on not remembering how he did it, it was just instinct. He was anxious to get back to Liz, who had just finished giving her own statement. Max watched Liz drift to the counter, sit down, and stare into space. What was she thinking, he wondered? Dismissed by the deputy, Max crossed the room and sat on the stool beside her. She seemed very nervous around him now.
“Liz…” he began, reaching for her hand.
“No Max,” she pulled her hand away. “This is all too much, you know. Thank you for saving me, and all, but nothing has really changed, has it?”
Max’s shoulders slumped, and he shook his head. With a heavy sigh, he rose from the stool, and started to head for the door.
“Max!” Jeff called from the backroom. “Can I see you for a second?”
Max turned and crossed the café, joining Mr. Parker in the back room.
“Give her time, Max,” he suggested. “I know she still cares for you.”
Max looked over his shoulder and through the window, saw Liz sitting alone at the counter. Sean entered through the front door, and joined her. In an instant, they were hugging.”
“Yeah, right,” Max replied bitterly. “Good night, Mr. Parker.”
He didn’t ask for permission. Max just left through the Parker’s private door. He couldn’t face walking through the café and seeing Liz in someone else’s arms. What had he been thinking, he wondered as he walked in the night air? Did he imagine that she would forgive him so easily, simply because he had rescued her from danger? This was, after all, a situation caused by who he was?
“I am such a fool!” he barked. “A weak, little… boy!”

Although he knew that Kyle would give him a lift home, Max wanted to walk. His protective walls had taken a pounding tonight, and he needed time to resurrect them. He was shaken from his thoughts by the car slowing next to him. The familiar red Volkswagen Jetta pulled up in front of him.
“Busy night, Maximillian?” Michael laughed. It was as close to a thank you as Michael would give.
“Just in the right place at the right time,” Max smiled. “Maria alright?”
“Yeah, a little hyper, but she’s fine. So do you want to talk about it?”
“No,” Max grimaced. The memories of Liz with Sean still in his mind. “Not really.”
“You shouldn’t have gone in, Max,” Isabel accused. “Your place is with us!”
“Why, Iz?” Max asked releasing an exasperated sigh. He looked through Michael’s window at her. “Were you in any danger?”
“You risked us tonight,” she hissed. “And for what? Did it change anything?”
Max looked away.
“Didn’t think so.”
“Good night,” Max told them.
Michael watched him walking along the road for a while, before starting the car up again. He turned towards his apartment.
“Can you feel him? Pulling away even further?” Isabel asked. “This is ridiculous!” she snapped. “Michael, pull over!”
Michael obliged and let Isabel get out of the car. He watched her head in the direction of town before continuing to his apartment.

***

Sometimes, Max was glad that he no longer had the Jeep. Times like now, when the simple task of walking home gave him time to think. With everything that was happening around him, Max decided that he needed to speed up his research. To that end, he wondered if there was any way that he could get into college early. The sound of another car pulling up beside him caused Max to stop, close his eyes, raise them skywards, and give a deep sigh. He then turned and looked at the vehicle. It was Sean’s Beetle, and Sean was climbing out of the door. He marched up to Max, and gave him a push in the chest.
“You stay away from her!” he ordered, pushing Max again.
“Excuse me?” Max asked.
“Liz. You stay away from Liz, you useless piece of shit!”
Max could see that Sean was trying to goad him into a fight. He turned away, and started to walk again. Sean ran up to him, and pulled his shoulder around.
“You had your chance Evans! You blew it. She doesn’t want you any more, she wants a real man.”
“Well, when she finds one, I’m sure she’ll tell me.” Max could not resist fighting back at least a little.
“Funny, Evans,” Sean snapped. “I guess she knew that she had found a man the other week then.”
Max looked at him suspiciously.
“Didn’t you know? She came to see me. Three in the morning, and she’s bangin’ on my door like the devil himself is after her. When I opened it, she threw herself at me, Evans. She couldn’t keep her hands off me. Boy, let me tell you, was she hot!”
Max turned to leave.
“That’s right Evans. She’s mine now. Tonight, I’ll get another piece of her, cause, you know, she needs comfort. Now that she’s had a real man, she’ll never go back to a little boy.”

***

Whatever hopes he had to put things together during his walk home had vanished. Now he couldn’t get back to his room quick enough. His room? When had he ceased thinking of it as home? As he stared at the maps, charts, drawings and calculations, one thing, above all others, was clear to him. It was truly over. Even the life and death situation he had saved her from could not change that. He understood now that it really was finished. Liz was with Sean. There was only one thing left to him now. His research. As he looked at his work, he sighed. Even this wasn’t going well. The only actual fact that he had to work with was the celestial co-ordinates of the star that at the base of the ‘V’ constellation, the one that was indicated when he had his royal seal examined that time in New York. It was the one that confirmed him as the true King of Antar. Max sat in front of his computer, and connected to the Internet. Recalling his previous page, he started to read the text that he had not yet read. He knew that the coordinates he had found were those used by NASA, and was looking for data on guidance systems that might help him steer to those coordinates. After a few ‘clicks’ following links from the original page, Max found that the navigation system used in the current space shuttles made use of this coordinate system. Printing the pages as he went, he read of the forth-coming shuttle launch. He suppressed the chuckle when he remembered Larek urging them to take the shuttle to escape the danger of the Garandium
“If only…” Max smiled.

***

Liz sat alone in the unlit Café, crying. Her father had repaired the fault that Max had created, but she preferred the darkness. It matched her mood. She had even sent Sean away, because she wanted to be alone. Behind her, the door she knew was locked opened. Feeling a momentary panic, Liz whipped around.
“Oh, Isabel,” she sighed with relief. “You know, were kind of closed.”
“I’m not here to order anything from your menu.” Isabel glared at Liz.
“Oh,” Liz was feeling a bit intimidated. “What do you want, then?”
“You walked out on him, you know. It was you who kept on ending whatever it was you had. It was you who kept pushing him away. Now you’re surprised he went elsewhere? You had your chance Liz, and you blew it!”
“Isabel… I…” Liz stammered in confusion.
“He doesn’t belong to you anymore. He has something important to do, and you’re not helping!”
“Isabel, what are you talking about?”
“Stay out of his life Liz.”
“First of all, I can’t do that,” Liz looked at her. “Even if we aren’t together, he’s still my friend. I owe him so much. If he needs me, I’ll do what ever I can.”
“Why is it that this only works one way? When he needs you, you don’t want to know. It always seems to be that it’s you needing him. And you said I was selfish!”
“I didn’t ask for this to happen. I didn’t ask for him to come and save me.”
“Next time, Liz, do him a big favor, and make sure they do the job right!” Isabel turned, and left the Café.
Liz turned to the counter and buried her face in her folded arms.

***


posted on 1-Nov-2001 6:56:41 PM by WR
Part 11

Sitting on her bed, Liz’s knees instinctively drew up to her body as her back pressed up against the headboard. No words escaped her mouth as she gazed at the picture of her and Max in the photo-booth. She wondered why he had come to her rescue. At first, she thought it was because he still cared, that he still held feelings, however remote, for her. He had certainly behaved that way. But after Isabel’s visit, it had been made clear just where she stood. Liz had been reminded that Max was determined to rescue his son, there was no room for her in his life anymore. He was probably back in his room now, cursing her for getting herself in such a position that required his assistance. She wished that she had something of his, something that she might cling to, if only for a small amount of comfort. So where did that leave her? What should she do now, now that any hope of a reunion with Max was gone?
“Sean is fond of me,” she thought.
She could easily step into a relationship with him. But was it what she wanted? He treated her well, and he was fun to be with, she knew, but was he boyfriend material? Could she honestly believe that she would be any happier with him, when the man she wanted was so close? Whatever else Sean might be, one thing was clear to Liz. Sean was not Max.

With a sigh of deep regret she rose from her bed and crossed the room to her desk. She stood the photograph of Max back where it belonged. Next to it was the pendant that he had given her, in lieu of his graduation ring. She would have to return it, of course. Liz knew that this gift from Max would act as a constant reminder of a time she would never know again. No, she wanted nothing from the alien trio, nothing that would remind her of what she had lost. As soon as she could, she would give the pendant back to Max. After all, had he not given her back the pocketknife? She idly wondered if he might ever find someone else to give it too now. Or his ring, now that it appeared he might be around to graduate after all? Liz picked up the cool, smooth pendant, and looked at the symbol carefully engraved on its almost flawless surface. He had given her the pendant in a moment of tenderness that she knew wasn’t a figment of her imagination. It wasn’t a lie! He had said that he could never love Tess like he loves her. Where did things go so wrong, she asked herself? With a tear in her eye, her finger carefully traced the swirling pattern on the pendant. As soon as she touched it, she was assailed by a series of images. These were different from those she usually received while with Max. These had substance to them. She could hear, and she could feel.

*FLASH*
She was lying on the floor, looking up at a very frightened Max. He was emptying the contents of a sauce bottle onto her stomach. There was a desperate catch to his voice.
“You broke a bottle when you fell, spilled ketchup on yourself. Don't say anything please.”

*FLASH*
Liz was dressed in her Alien theme costume from the night of the Crash Festival. She and Max were standing to one side, away from the festivities, talking. She could feel how much she wanted to be a part of his life.
“Liz, it's not safe,” Max gently told her. “I mean, for you and, and me to... it’s not safe.”
“I don't care,” she answered truthfully.
“Liz I really, really wish that this could be something, you know… more. But it can't. We're just…”
“Different.”

*FLASH*
They were alone in Max’s Jeep, chasing after Michael and Maria. They had been caught in a traffic jam.
“I’m sorry too, Max,” she had responded to his apology. “You know, for Kyle and… how my stupid, boring life could possibly get you guys into trouble.”
“First of all,” Max replied, “nothing about you is stupid. And secondly… it feels like… my life didn’t even start until I told you the truth that day.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean. Max?”
“Yeah?”
“Umm… I know that we agreed, you know, not… not to feel a certain way about each other.”
“Yeah.”
“Do you still thinks that’s a good idea?”
She thought he was going to kiss her, when he leaned towards her.
“Just wanted to keep you warm,” he said, fixing a tear in the jeep’s cover.

*FLASH*
Liz was in the science lab, trying to get two slugs to reproduce, while she was talking with Max about how everyone seemed to be pairing up.
“Max, you know when you said before that we couldn't be together? That we were different? I just sort of accepted it, you know? Because I thought that it was like physically impossible. That it… that it couldn't be. But when I saw Maria with Michael… the truth is that… I was hurt, Max. Why is it okay for them, but it's not okay for us?”
“Liz, I think that what I'm afraid of isn't that we try this and it works out really badly. What I'm afraid of is we try it and it works out really well. I'm afraid of feeling everything that I know I would feel. Because I know it's not meant to be. And somewhere down the line, we're gonna get hurt. I can live with that. I just couldn't bear to hurt you.”

*FLASH*
She was sitting in her bedroom with Maria, discussing Liz’s earlier date with Max, at Senior Chows.
“I don't think so,” Maria had just said “And besides, I've come to the conclusion that it can never happen. I mean, human-alien relationships are bound to be disasters. Just don't think that you can enter into something with Max and expect not to get hurt in the end of it. I mean, me? I'm Teflon, babe. Michael starts acting like a total loser… I just walk away. But you and Max, ah. You guys have got that whole… look-into-my-eyes soul mate thing.”
“Um, yeah, you know, this... this whole thing is just, it's gonna work out. We just have to be prepared for anything that comes our way.”

*FLASH*
She was on her balcony, after they had helped to heal Michael.
“I mean, one day it will be me,” Max sighed quietly, “and I can’t keep pretending that I’m normal.”
“Max, look...you know, I didn't… I didn't mean to have doubts,” Liz stammered. “I didn't… I didn't mean to let you down in the cave.”
“I don't blame you. You had every right to feel that way, because what you felt is true. We don't belong together. The other night, you know, when we went out... and the whole day before... ever since we kissed… I've been off balance. You made me forget that anything else existed, but that's not real.”
”It is the only real thing that I've ever felt.”

*FLASH*
It was Liz and Maria again, standing in the middle of Frasier Woods.
“Well, are you staying here or are you gonna come with?” Liz demanded.
“You're going with them?”
“Make up your mind, Maria. I've made up mine.”
“You can't let go of him, can you?”
“I don't want to.”

*FLASH*
She was with Maria again, after Maria had caught her and Max making out rather passionately at Michael’s apartment.
“What're you trying to say? That Max is just gonna bite my head off?”
“Uh, no. What I'm saying is, how do you know that he's not like using you?”
“Maria, because it… it… it feels right. I'm sorry. It feels right in a way that nothing has felt right in my life before.”

*FLASH*
Liz was back with Max now, in his Jeep the morning after they had found the orb.
“Max, was it ever just about us?” Liz asked. “You and me? Because a person could feel like they just served their purpose. You know, like being used.”
“Is that what you think? Because you're not the only one who could worry about being used. I mean, some girls would give a lot to see themselves fly through outer space. You know, I'm sure it doesn't compare to other things you could be doing, like watching Kyle barf after a beer blast.
“I can't believe you just said that.”
“Why not?”
“Because it really happened.”
“You're kidding me.”
“No. I swear. Last summer. It was a really hot night...“
“You know what? No, no… don't tell me.”
“Ok, so what you're saying is that you saved me from a life of watching Kyle barf.”
“Liz Parker… I don't think that was ever gonna be your destiny.”
“No?”
“No.”
“Ok. Fine. If you know so much, then tell me, Max… what's my destiny?”
“I only know the part I'm hoping for.”

*FLASH*
Max was with her in the Crashdown, after closing. It was raining outside. This was just after Tess had arrived.
“Liz, about what Michael said before, about Tess, I just… I want you to know that I don't feel anything for her. I look at you, and I know you're the person I'm supposed to be with. I've always known it. What happened here that day, when you got shot and how that brought us together…it's fate. Look at me. You're the one, Liz… the only one. I could never be with anyone else.”

*FLASH*
She was alone with Max again, hiding out in the van after they had rescued Max from the FBI.
“Max, the day that you saved my life, your life just ended.”
“No, that was the day my life began. Liz, when I was in that room, and they did… what they did to me. You're what kept me alive. The thought of you. The way your eyes look into mine. Your smile. The touch of your skin. Your lips. Knowing you has made me… human. Whether I die tomorrow or fifty years from now, my destiny is the same: it's you. I want to be with you, Liz. I love you.”

*FLASH*
It was that day, below the smoking ruins of the Pod Chamber. Tess had just left Earth, taking the Granolith… and Max’s son with her.
“I've been really wrong about a lot. But I was right about one thing: To get you into my life, to be around you, to love you.”

Superimposed behind all of these images that Liz found herself reliving, was a kiss. It was singularly the most monumental kiss between her and Max. This kiss happened while they had been hiding from the FBI, after she had literally dragged him to safety, risking both of their lives with that leap from the bridge. It was the kiss that professed their love for one another, their belief and their trust in each other. It was the kiss that promised that nothing would come between them. It was the kiss that reminded Liz just how much she truly loved Max Evans, the one that reminded her how she would do anything for him. It was the kiss they shared only one day before Liz fled from Max, leaving him to his destiny… to Tess… to his… doom.

***

posted on 1-Nov-2001 6:58:22 PM by WR
Part 12

Neither Liz, nor Maria wanted to take the time off, offered by Jeff Parker, to recuperate from their ordeal at the hands of the gunmen. They both wanted to put it behind them, to get on with their lives. To all intents and purposes, neither seemed that affected by it, after all, they had faced worse in the past two years. Only Liz showed any outward signs that she had been troubled by those days events, for she seemed to move more cautiously than normal.
“Well,” smiled Maria looking up at the door that had just opened. “Here’s some therapy for you.”
Maria gave Liz a smile, and walked away with the coffeepot in her hand.
“Liz!” Sean called out, stopping the dark haired waitress from retreating to the backroom.
“Oh, hey Sean,” she smiled. “Can I get you anything?”
“Liz, you know… I felt something from you… when I comforted you… you know.”
Oh,” Liz slowly responded. How could she tell Sean that what he felt from her was the sorrow of not being able to be comforted by Max. “Uhm, Sean, I…”
“So I was wondering, you know, we could go out tonight. I could help take your mind off things.”
“I’m kind of tired, Sean,” she replied. “I just want to relax with my parents and have an early night.”
Sean looked at Liz intently. Unable to stand his constant scrutiny, she dropped her eyes to the floor, causing him to turn and leave the café.
“You should just go ahead and date him, Liz,” Maria advised her from behind her.
Liz looked around at Maria, rolled her eyes, and went to serve a young family in one of her booths. As she was writing down their order, the doorway opened again. Liz looked up hopefully, but it wasn’t Max at the door. It was the young man who had been in the café with her before the gunmen came, the one who had been interested in Isabel. Liz remembered the ugly flashes she received at the time when the gunmen burst in, and knew that she had to tell Max what had happened.

***

Max leaned over the latest chart that he had printed from yet another web site, carefully trying to correlate the data with other information that he had painstakingly collected from different sources. He had star charts for the Aries constellation, and trajectory settings for various deep space probes, as well as complex algebraic algorithms. The music playing in the background was so familiar by now, playing over in his mind, that even when the CD stopped it’s spinning, Max could hear the lyrics play in his mind. The sudden knocking on the window hardly fazed him.
“Go away, Michael,” he called out, not bothering to looking around. “I’m not in the mood.”
The call did not deter his visitor, for it was countered with fiercer knocking. This time, Max threw the papers down, and marched belligerently to his window.
“I said… oh! Liz…” he was surprised to see her. “What’s the matter?”
He had to force himself to speak in an even tone, hiding the excitement that threatened to reveal itself when he spoke. She had made her choice, he told himself. Just thinking those words made the hole in his heart grow deeper. Liz very gingerly climbed into his room. Seeing that she was wearing a dress, Max automatically offered her his assistance, forgetting about the last time he had offered his hand. But despite her refusing it before, their hands firmly clasped as he helped her inside. Safely in his room, both Max and Liz stared intently at their adjoined hands, before reluctantly letting each other go.
“I, uh… nothing, Max. Not really…I…” Liz watched Max as he carefully looked around his room, at the new pages of data that had appeared on his wall. “I just wanted to thank you, for… you know… yesterday.”
“That’s okay, Liz,” he shrugged his shoulders. “You know, I was passing, and…”
“Max?” she interrupted.
“Yeah?” he responded, examining a small ink squiggle on one of his charts.
“Why won’t you look at me any more? Do you hate me that much?”
“What?” he exclaimed, finally looking at her. “You should know that you don’t even have to ask that. Of course I don’t hate you, I…”
If either one of them wasn’t hurting so badly, if either one took the time to really look at the other, they would see that both faces mirrored the other’s unhappiness.

Max opened his mouth to say something, but the moment was lost as Liz spoke up again, determination in her voice.
“Max, yesterday, I had a flash,” she blurted.
While he hid the pain that wracked through his heart he looked up at Liz. It must have been when Sean came in, he decided. They must have kissed, and Liz had received flashes from him. Max collapsed onto the corner of his bed.
“Oh,” he whispered. He remembered a comment, one from Liz over a year ago, when Tess first came to town. Inexplicably, he had kissed her, and Liz had witnessed the sorry affair. When Max confessed that he had seen flashes with her, Liz had said that she couldn’t have been so special after all. Max didn’t want Liz to continue. He didn’t want to help her sort out what she might have with Sean.
“Max?” she continued. “These flashes were kind of like a premonition, I think.”
“A premonition?” he asked. What was she talking about?
“Yeah, I guess. It was when the gunmen burst in. I saw these bleak images. Frightening, in a way, and they made no sense.”
Liz crossed the room, and sat next to Max on his bed. He hoped that she couldn’t hear his heart pounding.
“What does it mean, Max?” she asked softly staring into space. “That I get these flashes?”
“I don’t know Liz,” he gave a wry smile. He now knew the flashes had nothing to do with Sean. “I know what I want them to mean.”
Liz turned to look at him. Did he just say what she thought he said? A smile lit up her face. Max gazed at her. It almost felt like old times, as their faces imperceptibly crept together. Max laid his hand on Liz’s hip, and she cried out. The moment was lost again.

“Liz?” he asked. “What’s up? What did I do?”
He was looking at her with concern for her cry was not one of surprise, but one of pain.
“Um… nothing, Max,” she said, closing her eyes. If she kept them closed, she wouldn’t have to see Max berate himself for weakening around her. She knew Max, and she knew he would regret his earlier action. “When Mr. Forster pulled me out of the way, I uh... hurt my hip. Then when they threw me against the wall, I hurt it again.”
“Is it bad, Liz?”
“Yeah,” she nodded. “It really hurts, Max.”
“Why didn’t you come to me?” he demanded. There was anger in his voice. Was he angry with her for being hurt?
“It’s like someone said, Max,” she replied, as a single tear trickled down her cheek. “It always seems that it’s me needing you, never the other way around.”
“I’m always here for you, Liz,” he urged, his anger replaced by a gentleness that only Max could show. “Now lift your dress.”
“Max!” she stated incredulously. Her eyes were wide open now.
“Liz, you’re hurt. I can fix it. I know… that… you’ve uh… you have moved on, so don’t worry. I’ll just fix you up.”
“Oh,” was all she could say.
Liz slowly, tenderly, lifted her dress, trying to keep as much of her modesty covered as she could, revealing a pair of delicate cotton panties. Max, however scarcely noticed these. On Liz’s side, from her bra-strap to her mid thigh, was a huge, ugly bruise of mottled purple and yellow.
“Oh, Liz!” Max choked in sadness and disappointment. Had things between them deteriorated this badly?
Max gently placed his hand over her damaged flesh, pausing while she flinched at his touch, and started to concentrate. As he made the connection to Liz, for the first time in too long, he was assailed by strange images.

*FLASH*
Liz was sitting at a beach side restaurant alone, looking at a large, scientific tome. She wasn’t reading however, she was staring sadly out to sea, ignoring the young guys who tried to attract her attention.

*FLASH*
He felt her joy, and her sadness at seeing him again on her return to Roswell.

*FLASH*
Her fear and her concern over his injuries that he had received the night Nacedo had died swept over him.

*FLASH*
He was confused by a bizarre image of himself in a ridiculous outfit, telling a very upset Liz that she had to make him fall out of love with her

*FLASH*
He sensed her despair at the ever growing distance between them, and how he rebutted all her attempts to at least remain friends.

*FLASH*
He felt her mixed feelings of joy at the rebirth of their friendship when he returned safely from New York, and her sadness for a lost love.

*FLASH*
His heart swelled with the pleasure he gave her that Christmas, when he told her “I believe in you.”

*FLASH*
He shared her feelings that maybe things might work out as they shared that memorable dance in Las Vegas.

*FLASH*
He felt the return of her despair when she started to realize that she had truly lost him at the Prom, when she had seen him kissing Tess.

*FLASH*
Max witnessed her despair and her anger, at the thought of losing him for good, never seeing him again, and for what he had done to their relationship by having sex with Tess.



With tears stinging his eyes, Max looked at Liz’s now perfect body. In fixing her damaged tissue, he had also found, and repaired, a chipped bone. Liz glanced down at his handiwork, and her smooth, unblemished skin.
“Why isn’t there a silver hand print, Max?” she asked curiously.
“I’m not really sure,” he replied, trailing his fingers lightly across the area his hand had been in contact with. “Perhaps it is something to do with how much energy I use. This wasn’t all that much, really.”
Max continued to stare at her body, aware now that he was starting to be affected by it.
“I think you’ve finished, Max,” she smiled.
Max allowed her to release her gathered dress, and looked up at her. They were both blushing furiously.
“Thank you, Max,” she said in a whisper, as she placed a hand gently on the side of his face.
She leaned over, and lightly kissed his cheek. Their eyes locked as they both started to lean into one another.
“Is this a private party,” a frosty Isabel demanded from the door, “or can anyone join in?”
Liz leapt away from Max, as if she had been burned.
“What are you doing here, Liz?” Isabel asked.
Liz turned to look at Max, and was dismayed to see that his eyes were once again flat, neutral. Did any of that mean anything to him? What had she been thinking? Of course, Max has to find his son, she reminded herself. His son that Tess had borne, would bear… him.
“Anyway, Max,” she said with an edge to match Isabel’s. “I thought you should know, in case there were any… repercussions. Whatever.” She turned towards his door.
“Liz, wait,” Max urged. “We need…”
“No, Max,” she sighed. “It’s over. Don’t you understand that? It’s over! You have this task, you know, and I know it’s important to you.”
She fled from his room. Max rose to follow, but Isabel grabbed his arm.
“She’s right, Max.” she started. “It’s over. Let her go.”

***

He was a nondescript sort of person. He was the sort of man that if someone had to describe him, would simply call average. Average height, average build, even the clothes he wore could only be described as… average. He was, in truth, easily forgettable. It was an image that he had spent what seemed like a lifetime cultivating. And this was exactly the reason why he was walking around the aisles of a grocery store in Midville, New Mexico. The town was your ordinary, average mid-west town, unlike its more famous neighbor only twenty-five miles up the road, Roswell. The contents of his cart, however, were not average. Amongst the bread, the potatoes, the canned vegetables and the cuts of meat were dozens of bags of sugar, and whole cases of Tobasco sauce. Many people looked on in amusement, but they were by and large, ignored, by this average man with a not so average dietary quirk.

He ignored the giggling from the young kids that passed him as he waited in the line behind one of the checkouts. He ignored the glances from the rather rotund lady in front of him who had her fair share of sugar stacked in her own cart, albeit in the form of cookies, cakes, candies and alcohol. The young female sales clerk carefully rang his purchases through the register, with a look of amazement on her face. Maybe it wasn’t amazement, the man speculated. Maybe this kid with no intelligence to speak of hadn’t even registered what had passed before her eyes, and merely had that dumb look on her face all the time.
“Wow, man!” the girl exclaimed in an accent that was so bad, the man wouldn’t have believed it if someone had passed this off in some story. “You must sure like your things sweet and spicy, huh?”
“Just ring it up,” Mr. Average demanded.
“Yeah, Uh… that’ll be… $78.92.”
Mr. Average pulled his wallet from his jacket pocket, and pulled out two one-dollar bills. Without a second glance, the girl behind the checkout accepted the two notes, and rang up $100 as the amount received. She carefully counted out the man’s change into his hand. With his groceries packed into bags, Mr. Average wheeled his cart out through the main door, helping himself to a newspaper from the stand, and out into the dry heat of the parking lot. Depositing the bags into his trunk, he climbed into his average looking car, and took a moment to read the front page. With a wry grin, and placing the paper down beside him, he was soon driving along the road, away from Midville, and towards… Roswell.

Still some distance from the town made famous by the alleged alien crash of 1947, the mediocre car turned onto a dirt track, leaving a billowing cloud of dust behind it as it drove some distance away from the main road, and towards a large outcropping of rocks. He emerged from the coolness of his car, and gathered up the grocery bags from the trunk. They seemed almost weightless to him. As he walked away from the car, it shimmered slightly, and slowly turned into what appeared to be a collection of boulders. The man didn’t even notice, and he walked up a ledge towards a spire of rock that seemed to be reaching for the heavens. He approached a flat part in the cliff face, and struggling to grip the bags, he passed his hand across the face of the wall. He pressed his hand into the silver handprint that appeared on the rock. A section of the wall snapped backwards, revealing a door, which slid sideways. The man stepped through the round portal.
“She’s in the news again!” he called out stepping into the smooth interior chamber.
Apart from the wooden cupboards that line one wall, which looked like they didn’t belong, the chamber was empty. Only four oval pods attached to the wall in two rows of two, glowing with a faint blue ambience gave light to the dark interior.
“Who is?” called a shrill voice coming from the lower left pod
“Who do you think?” the man answered, as a small, blonde woman emerged from the pod.
“I really don’t care,” stated Tess Harding. “Oh wait. You mean Liz Parker!”

***

posted on 1-Nov-2001 6:59:45 PM by WR
Part 13

Tess Harding stepped out of the pod, and approached the man she had always called her father, Ed Harding, though he was now in a shape more familiar to her than the tall balding man he used in Roswell. She took the newspaper from him and sat cross-legged on the floor.
“So what’s this all about?” she asked glancing down at the paper.
“It’s about your former husband and his being there for that girl again,” Ed Harding barked. “What is it with that girl?”
“Do you think Nikolas had a hand in this?” Tess inquired; ignoring Harding’s ranting. “Or is this something of yours?”
“Nothing to do with me,” he replied, calming himself. “Although I was present at the time. The goons were human. Of course, that doesn’t mean much. But this had none of the markings of Nikolas’ handiwork. Probably just coincidence.”
“A holdup at the Crashdown, the gunmen singles out Liz Parker, and demands that she ask for her boyfriend as mediator,” Tess stated wryly. “A boyfriend who happens to be not of this earth? Do you really think that it was just a happy coincidence?”
“Well, if it wasn’t us, and it wasn’t Nikolas, who else could it have been?” Harding pondered. “Larek’s been sniffing around the place a bit lately. Maybe he thinks the time is right…”
“I don’t think so,” Tess interrupted. “Larek has had access to our ‘King’ for months now. Max even thinks they were… friends. Larek doesn’t need to pull a stunt like this. Thinking about it, it’s as if… as if whoever pulled this crap isn’t sure who the aliens are.”

Harding thought on her comment momentarily before he crossed the room, and knelt down in front of the pod that hid the entrance to the Granolith Chamber.
“Any luck with that thing yet?”
“No,” she sighed, throwing away the paper disgustedly. “I really think we need Max to operate it.”
“Good thing I didn’t shoot him then,” he joked. “It was good for us that I shot the sheriff’s boy instead.”
“Kyle?” Tess’s face grew pale. “You didn’t…”
“No. That idiot husband of yours healed him.” Harding was almost spitting. “Again!”
“How do you know he healed him? It said in the paper that the lights blew out. Some kind of electrical fault.”
“Some stunt of Max’s, you mean,” he smirked. “I nailed him, right in the chest. I saw him fall. He’s getting careless now, Tess. I will have to keep an eye on the FBI for a while. I don’t want them getting involved again.”
“Why did you shoot Kyle anyway?” She asked.
“I wanted to shoot the girl, but Max was in the way. Anyway, he’s the only one left friendly to our leader. I just thought that if he had no friends, it would make it easier when we…”
“How could you be so foolish?” Tess snapped. “What about the rumors in town?”
“I really didn’t think he would be so stupid. Not in a room full of strangers. But I don’t think anyone saw. That Parker girl helped him hide it, I think. Even I didn’t see anything, and I was watching him. Everyone else was too keen on getting away from there.”
“So the bitch helped him?” She spat. “Are they close again?”
“No, not really,” he laughed. “When he came in, she was pleased to see him, but only because she knew he would help her out. How typically human. He has no one now; you did an excellent job of that. Well, except this… Kyle. Anyway, as soon as it was all over, she went running to that other guy, the thug.”
“You mean Sean?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“What a fool he is,” Tess chuckled. “He was easier to warp than any of them. He really thinks Liz is in love with him.”
“Well, to me, they looked quite cozy together.”
“See, that’s where not understanding emotions makes you weak. It’s so easy to play on them. Liz is one of those people who likes physical contact for support. Didn’t you see how she was always hugging her friends? All I had to do was coach the thug and she warmed to him. But it’s not love. She just needs a friend, and right now, he’s it. Of course, it helps that Max is as blind as you are.”

Ed Harding stood up again, crossed to Tess, and glanced down at her.
“How is the Crown Prince today?” he inquired, almost formally.
Tess placed her small hands over her stomach, which was still remarkably flat, and a calm look of peace came over her. The serenity was immediately replaced by a look that clearly expected to be in a position of some power.
“He’s fine,” she smiled. “Anxious to get home so we can place him in a pod. I can’t believe that Max fell for that sickness crap so easily. It really will be a good thing that he won’t rule Antar.”
“Then it is good for us that he knows nothing about his former life. If he had ever remembered that a fetus would not begin to grow until it has been placed in a pod, then he would have seen through that little charade. It would have made getting him home harder.”
“Well don’t look now, Toto,” Tess retorted, “but it appears we’re still in Kansas.”
Ed Harding stared hard at the young girl, but bit back the comment that was forming on his lips.
“We really need to find a way to get Max, though,” she continued. “Without him, we can’t go home.”
“Well, you should have made sure that he stayed. That was all you had to do. You only needed to make him think we had left. We could be home already if it weren’t for…”
“For that stupid bitch who showed up and spoiled everything!”

Harding stared thoughtfully at the doorway, and rubbed his fingers along his nose.
“That’s why I wanted to eliminate her,” Harding considered. “Why didn’t you just warp her, like the others?”
“I did!” Tess snapped irritably. “But it’s like she saw through it, or something. We need to keep an eye on her. It's like she has the ability to see the truth.”
“How?”
“I don’t know! You’re the expert here,” she barked. “I’m just another statistic now. A pregnant teen.”
“Sometimes, you go too far,” Harding growled. “You forget yourself.”
“It is you who forgets yourself!” Tess snapped. “I am the Queen of Antar, and I bear the Crown Prince. It is you who is in danger of committing treason here.”
“We have both committed treason, your majesty,” he sneered. “And if Max ever catches up with us, I do not think you will be able to hide behind your new shield for too long.” Ed Harding pointed to her stomach.
“By the time he wakes up and smells the coffee, he will have been executed.”
“Yet he is still free,” he shrugged. “Which brings us back to that girl. Perhaps we should just kill her.”
“No, not yet,” Tess smiled at the thought. Kill Liz Parker. It had such a delicious ring. “Wait until their relationship is definitely over. We don’t need him mourning over her death. He would never leave until he found her killer, and he would dismantle this planet looking for him. No, we just need to keep him detached from everyone. We need to keep him isolated.”

Harding shook his head, and looked away from the small girl before him. He didn’t like leaving loose ends, and his ‘Queen’ was leaving far too many. Nikolas was not as dumb as Max, and would easily see through their little game if they were not careful. There was still too much that could go wrong.
“Here,” he said, levitating the grocery bags towards Tess, “put this away while I have another look at that translation. Maybe there is something I missed.”
Tess started to stack the provisions Harding had bought in town into the ‘out of place’ cupboards, while he poured over the many sheaves of paper spread out across a makeshift table. His frustration was evident from the way he shuffled the pages around.
“Are we sure it’s all here?” he called to her.
“Yeah,” Tess called back, “it’s all there. Why shouldn’t it be?”
“I never did find that package he sent,” he complained. “Maybe he really did manage to send some important information away. You said yourself that he kept slipping out of the warp.”
“Are you sure he sent one?”
“Yeah, that roommate of his said that he took a package to the Post Office for him. All he saw was that it was addressed to someone in Norland Sands in Melbourne, Florida. But I checked the address, it never arrived. The people who lived there were away, and the Post Office weren’t holding it for them. I spent weeks hanging around, checking. Maybe someone stole it from their mailbox.”
“See that’s why I don’t think that package had anything to do with us. If Alex had been clever enough to send something out, he would have mailed it to Liz, maybe even Max. Anyway, after he broke out of the warp, I made him do the whole thing again. Both versions matched completely, there were no discrepancies. Even that bit of gibberish came out exactly the same, letter for letter. Nothing is missing from his translation. Trust me.”
“Do I have a choice?” Harding muttered.
“No,” she smiled, “not really.”

***

A black Cadillac with shaded windows pulled up in front of the warehouse, the decay bearing silent witness to how long it had stood empty. A lank haired youth in scruffy denims appeared from a small utility door and opened the larger warehouse doors. The Cadillac glided through these and into the dark interior. The large doors were swung shut behind the Cadillac. An imposing man dressed in a dark suit, and wearing sunglasses climbed from the driver seat. He approached two other similarly dressed men sitting by a table in the center of the huge empty building. To one side of them, a large white projection screen had been set up. A slide projector sat on the table.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Neptune,” the two men greeted the newcomer, their bodies both stiffening in his presence, and twisting defensively to one side.
The man looked at each of the two waiting men.
“Mr. Alpha, Mr. Beta. The instruments have been removed?” Mr. Neptune asked in a voice that suggested there would be trouble if the response were in the negative.
“Yes, sir,” Mr. Beta confirmed. Mr. Beta turned towards the projector and lifting a small black remote towards it, caused it to spring to life. The first image that popped on screen was of two dead men, each with a single bullet hole in the temple.
“Ah,” smiled Mr. Neptune. “It is so gratifying to see ones liabilities so neatly tied up. But are we sure that there are no links that may point back to us?”
“Neither man knew who we were, and both were killed by a gun stolen in Los Angeles eight months ago.”
“Good. And we have now identified our target?”
“We believe so,” the other man, Mr. Alpha smiled. He pressed another button, causing the image of a young man wearing a High School letterman jacket, walking down a dusty street, to appear on the screen. The young man looked nervous, and was glancing over his shoulder, as though some sixth sense had warned him that he was being watched.
“This is him?” Mr. Neptune asked. “What do we know about him?”
“His name,” Mr. Alpha answered, “Is Valenti. Kyle Valenti.”

***

Max Evans emerged from the alley beside the UFO Center, looking somewhat guilty. He glanced up and down the street before casting a longing look towards the Crashdown Café before stepping out onto the sidewalk.
“Ah, Max!” Jim Valenti called out. “I was just coming to see you.”
“I was just… on my way…” Max stammered, “to work.”
“Yeah,” Jim continued, eyeing the large duffel bag Max was carrying, “your parents said.”
“Oh,” Max explained, lifting his bag, “it’s just some stuff. Lunch… and a change of clothes. I’m ah… going out, straight from work.”
“Liz?” Jim’s face lit up at the thought.
“No,” Max shook his head.
Jim’s face was a mask of compassion. He liked these two kids, and knew how much they meant to each other. He honestly hoped that they would be able to work through their problems.

“Listen, Max,” Jim changed the subject. “You know those two gunmen?”
“Yeah,” Max blinked. “What about them?”
“Well, it’s like this,” Jim started in such a way that suggested there would be a long and complex explanation that Max would not like. “Sheriff Hanson allowed me to be involved with the questioning before they were taken off our hands.”
“Oh, right. What did they have to say?”
“Not much, actually.”
“Figures,” Max snorted.
“No, no, you misunderstand,” Jim urged. “They seemed confused, bewildered almost.”
“Are they trying to plead insanity?” Max asked.
“No, they won’t be trying that plea,” Jim laughed ruefully. “They were aware of what they did, they just didn’t know why. They vaguely remembered talking to a man about it, but they only wanted to rob the place. They had never heard of Liz Parker, so they had no idea as to why they asked for her.”
Jim paused, allowing Max to absorb the information.
“Max,” he continued. “They never asked for a lawyer, never even made a phone call, yet a lawyer turned up and bailed them out.”
“So they have friends,” Max shrugged. “Jim, is this leading somewhere?”
“Max, there was no hearing, no chance to set bail.” Again, Jim paused. “The officer who released them cannot remember doing so.”
“So they are out there somewhere?”
“No,” Jim shook his head. “Their bodies were found out in the desert this morning. They each had a single bullet hole in the head.”
“Oh!” Max’s head pulled back in surprise.
“That’s not all, Max,” Jim continued. “The bullet we found in the vest that Kyle wore wasn’t fired from either of the gunmen’s weapons.”
Max considered this.

“Do you think that this is somehow related to… other worldly stuff?”
“Seeing as they used… normal weapons, no, I don’t,” Jim confirmed. “But Max? I do think it has something to do with you.”
“FBI?”
“Perhaps, perhaps not,” Jim shrugged apologetically. “Someone was asking questions at the station the other day, claiming to be from the FBI.”
“What kind of questions?”
“Well, he just wanted the files from the shooting way back, you know.”
“But they already took those files.”
“Yeah, and hopefully Nacedo destroyed them. But I don’t think this guy was FBI.”
“You don’t?” Max thought for a moment. “Jim? Am I … is anyone in danger because of me?”
“Just keep your eyes open, Max. And be careful,” Jim warned him as he started to leave.
A strange prickling sensation caused Max to turn from Jim, and towards the Crashdown. His eyes caught Liz’s looking at him through the large plate window. They each misinterpreted the longing looks of deep sadness as indifference. How had things disintegrated so far, Max wondered as he turned away and into the UFO Center.

***


posted on 1-Nov-2001 7:01:05 PM by WR
Part 14

The three men stared at the image of Kyle Valenti projected onto the large screen in the middle of the empty warehouse. Was it their imagination, or had the room really grown colder? Mr. Neptune glided towards the projection and stretched his hand up towards it. Greed flared in his eyes and as thoughts swirled in his head, a smile drifted across his face.
“He appears to be the son of the sheriff,” Mr. Beta informed him. “Well, the ex-sheriff. Seems he got dismissed some time ago.”
“Do we know the reason?” Mr. Neptune turned to face Mr. Beta.
“He was accused of harassing some guy. There were other factors, but we suspect that it was all to help cover up the truth about his… son.”
“I must admit, it is a very good cover. The sheriff’s son. Is there any indication that he knows about the boy?”
“Given the fact that his father had a reputation as an alien nut, and that he himself seemed… interested in the initial shooting incident at the Crashdown Cafe two years ago suggests that he is ignorant of that fact.”
“Or,” interrupted Mr. Alpha, “that he has subsequently discovered the boy’s origins, and has… backed off.”
Neither of the three men commented.
“Continue,” Mr. Neptune ordered. “What else can you tell me about him?”
“Well, he is very athletic,” continued Mr. Beta. “He is an all around sportsman, and represents the school on almost all of the teams. Even though he wasn’t a senior, he was still captain of most of them.”
“Yeah,” laughed Mr. Alpha. “It must be tough, those powers must really hold him back, huh?”

“Why do you think this is our subject?” Mr. Neptune asked. “Is there anything else?”
“Yeah, there is,” Mr. Beta continued. “This is the boy who came to the aide of Elizabeth Parker the night of the armed holdup. After his entry into the Crashdown, the lights went out, and both our men reported that their guns were pulled from their hands seconds before they were wrestled to the ground. Additionally, our, uh… agent… says that he and the girl split up last year because they were, uh…” Mr. Beta shuffled through the pages of a small notebook. “The exact word he used was ‘different’.”
“So she could not handle who he was after he healed her that first time?” Mr. Alpha chuckled. “There’s gratitude for you. Thanks for saving my life, but you’re dumped.”
“Gentlemen,” Mr. Neptune beamed. “Congratulations. I believe that we have found our alien. When can we expect delivery?”
“It’s in hand,” Mr. Beta confirmed.

***

“Oh my god, Michael!” gasped a half-undressed Maria, while the two of them were making out in Michael’s apartment. She had never felt this much passion, this much emotion from Michael before. He lifted his face away from hers, and looked into her eyes. She felt a surge of electricity flow through her. Is this what Liz felt with Max, she wondered? As quickly as she thought that, she berated herself for such a question. No, Liz feels nothing for Max now. He did not deserve her.
“Come here,” she whispered to her very own Space Boy, and pulled him into another embrace. They continued with their passion-filled lip lock, which served only to fuel their desires.
“Michael,” Maria pleaded. “Make love to me!”
“No, Maria,” Michael gasped, still kissing the side of Maria’s exposed neck. “I’m sorry, I can’t.”
The effect on Maria was similar to a bucket of cold water being tipped over her. She froze for a second as she processed his comment.
“Excuse me?” she demanded, jerking her head back in exasperation. “What do you mean, you can’t?”
“Well, no, not that, exactly,” he stammered, surprised at Maria’s sudden rejection of him. “I can. I mean, I want to. It’s just, I um… I don’t have any more condoms.”
Maria pulled herself away from him.
“Jeez, you sound more like Saint Max every day,” she complained, pulling her blouse back on.

“Is that such a bad thing?” Michael asked, rolling onto his back, and folding his arm across his eyes.
“Well, yeah! It is actually. I mean, next thing I know, you will go running after some alien ho, and like… sleep with her, oh yeah, and get her pregnant.”
Michael looked at Maria, and shrugged his shoulders. He knew better than to argue with her about Max and Liz, but he could not help himself.
“I know how you feel about him, Maria,” he sighed, “but he is my brother, kind of. And he did save your lives the other night. He didn’t have to, you know. He could have washed his hands of you, like you have him.”
“Yeah, in my dreams maybe. Look, he wants Liz back. Plain and simple. For all I know, maybe he set the whole thing up himself! I plan to make sure that it doesn’t happen. I don’t think he even deserves her.”
“Who are you doing this for, Maria?” Michael asked, looking back up at her now.
Maria stared at him, and then folded her arms in front of her with a quick snap adopting a belligerent stance.
“I’m doing it for Liz, of course,” indignation seared through her words like a screeching train. “Duh! She is my best friend!”
“And has she asked you to do this? To make sure you help keep them apart?”
“The trouble with Liz is that she doesn’t know what, or rather, who is good for her. Wait. You’re not suggesting I let Max and Liz get back together?”
Michael looked carefully at Maria.
“Well, I know that Max is a better person with Liz around. She makes him more… she just makes him more, I guess. And Liz too. I think she is a better person with Max around. I think they need each other, Maria.”
“No,” Maria grinned. “The best they will ever be is friends, if he is lucky. It is over between those two Michael. Trust me.”
“I don’t know, Maria. There’s something about them. Anyway, I do know that Max is a better leader when Liz helps him. I have this feeling that we will need that from him.”
“Wait, is this the same guy who said that Max could sort out his own mess, because that was what he wanted? I thought you had given up this alien crap.”
“Well, I had, Maria. That was before we had it thrust on us again. If that hostage situation was alien related, we had all better start pulling together, don’t you think?”
Maria stared at him for a while.
“I’ll tell you what I think.” She pulled him into another embrace, and started to kiss him. “I think that you had better buy some more condoms Space Boy, and pretty damn soon!”

***

Another morning shift was drawing to a close at the Crashdown Café. Liz and Maria were taking advantage of the lull in business to catch up with minor chores neglected during the breakfast shift. The lunchtime rush would start soon, and they would be too busy to talk about the important issues in their lives. Maria walked behind Liz who was filling up the sugar dispensers.
“Have you seen Max lately?” Liz asked, trying to sound as casual about it as possible. “Did you happen to notice if he went into the UFO Center this morning?” She didn’t want to let Maria know that she had developed the habit of watching for him.
“No,” Maria shrugged, scribbling a note on the calendar, “why?”
“Because… it’s just that I haven’t seen him for a while. That’s all.” She saw him yesterday morning, but not today. The thought that Max was deliberately avoiding her was a little too much to bear right now.
“Like I care, Liz? Like you should care? He obviously doesn’t want to see you, so get over it already.”
The bell above the door rang out. Maria looked up and smiled. Perfect timing, she thought.
“Oh, look. Here comes Sean. My advice? Say yes. The guy can only have so much patience, you know? Hey Sean.”
“Maria,” Sean nodded, taking one of the stools at the counter. “Hey Liz, you wanna do something tonight?”
“Hey Sean,” she smiled weakly. “You know, I’m not really sure, I…”
“I know you aren’t doing anything with your folks, Liz, ‘cause I checked. So if you aren’t sure, I mean, if you are going to say no, then I have to believe it’s ‘cause you don’t like me. Because I know that you aren’t seeing Evans either.”
“No, Sean, I do like you. It’s just…”
“Just what, Liz?” He asked. “Either you do, or you don’t want to go out with me. No pressure or anything, just a date, you know?”
Liz glanced over at Maria, who merely nodded her head up and down.
“Okay, Sean,” she sighed. Why did she not feel so good?
“Okay, great,” Sean smiled. “Pick you up at eight? We can go bowling.”

“Uhm,” Liz shook her head. “No.” She had no problem with Sean picking her up at eight. She knew that Sean’s idea of bowling was to break in after the alley had closed. Liz didn’t want that kind of a date with him. She didn’t want to be in a situation where they were alone. She didn’t want him to get the wrong idea. Liz was about to tell him this when the door opened again. From the corner of her eye, she noticed a distressed looking Isabel storming towards her. Now what have I done, she groaned under her breath.
“Have you seen Max?” she demanded in a very cold voice.
“No, Isabel,” she answered, trying to maintain a neutral expression “I haven’t, not since…”
“She hasn’t seen him, and she doesn’t care,” snapped Sean stepping between Liz and Isabel. “She doesn’t care about him, or where he is hiding, licking his emotional wounds.”
“Okay then,” Isabel gave both Liz and Sean a withering look. “So she won’t care to know that he has gone.”
“Gone?” Liz cried out, pushing Sean out of the way. Max was missing? Had he been captured? She could feel the panic rising in her now. “Gone where?”
“Three guesses, Liz,” Isabel told her bluntly, as she turned towards the door. “But the first three don’t count,” she snapped over her shoulder.
Liz rushed through the cafe after Isabel.
“Liz!” Sean called. “Tonight, eight, right?”
“Yeah, Sean,” Liz answered as she rushed through the door after Isabel. She caught up to Max’s sister, and pulled her on shoulder, an action Liz would never have made a few months ago. “Isabel, wait! Do you mean he is gone, as in following… Tess and his… son?”
“Yeah,” Isabel confirmed miserably, “He left us Liz. Like you care.”
“How?”
“What?”
“How has he followed her?
“I don’t know. But no one has seen him since yesterday morning and his bed hasn’t been slept in. Oh, and two of the healing stones and an Orb are missing.”

***

The afternoon shift was in full swing, and the hungry customers seemed to be more demanding than usual. Maria loved it when it was like this. The day went by faster, which meant that in what would seem like no time, she would be back in Michael’s apartment picking up where they left off yesterday, assuming that her bone-head of a boyfriend actually remembered to haul his ass over to the drug store. As far as this day went, Maria could not have wished for a better one. Liz had finally accepted a date with Sean, and would soon be extracted from the alien abyss. If only Michael could let go, they too would be away from it, and could perhaps look forward to a normal life together. One that involved lots of making out, finishing their education together, and who knows, maybe marriage and children someday. Yes sir, Maria would have to say that life was good.

If only she could say the same for Liz, she thought, looking over at her best friend. Ever since she had that discussion – argument was more like – with Isabel, Liz had been absolutely miserable. She had made so many mistakes serving the wrong meals to the wrong customers, and even taking down the wrong orders in some cases. What was up with her, Maria wondered.
“Okay, Liz. Spill. What’s the big problem?” Maria demanded while they were able to grab a short break. “What‘s bugging you?”
“It’s Max.” Liz said with tears rimming her eyes. “He’s gone.”
“Gone as in gone, gone?” Maria asked. “Or just gone as in no one can find him ‘cause he is off sulking in the desert again?”
“Gone as in gone for good Maria. He’s taken some healing stones and an orb, and is following his… he’s following…”
“You can say it, Liz. Repeat after me, ‘He is following his des-ti-ny!” Maria suddenly let out a loud squeal of delight. “Oh, this is too good. He’s gone!”
“Maria!” Liz complained.
“Well, look at it this way, Liz. With him gone, you really can move forward now. I mean, you will never have to wonder again, right? Plus, Michael can finally let go, and be normal. It’s a win, win situation. Oh, Sean is going to be so happy.”

Without a word, while Liz cleared the remains of half-eaten Venus Platters and Will Smith burgers, she contemplated Maria’s words. “Sean is going to be so happy.”
Liz looked into the leftover Blood of Alien Smoothie she was holding and asked “But what about me? Why can’t I be happy?”
“Excuse me?” asked a customer, who had heard Liz say something, and thought she had directed a question at him.
“Oh, nothing,” Liz faked a smile at the diner. “Just grumbling, you know?”
The man shook his head, and returned to his meal, while Liz returned to her pondering. Had Max really left her? Where had he gone? How was he following Tess? From the charts she had seen in his room the other night, there were no indications that Max had made any kind of break through, so what had happened? She tried to remember what she had seen in his room. It was just maps mainly, and diagrams of rockets and space ships. He had the Space Shuttle data on his screen, obviously information he had been looking at over the Internet. Liz froze, and strange sensation trickled down her spine, and she suddenly thought of something.
“Cover me, Maria!” she cried out, and she fled through the back door towards the stairs to her apartment, leaving a bewildered Maria in the café.

Liz hurried up the stairs, and into her bedroom. She sat down in front of her computer, and called up her web browser. She typed a few words into the search engine, and scrolled through the rows of data that popped up on her screen. She watched as pages of information flashed before her. One page caught her eye, and she selected the article. As the full story appeared on her screen, she dove into the body of the article.
“Oh, Max!” she cried as the color drained from her face. “No!”
Liz ran to her drawer, and after a frenzied search, pulled out a small thin booklet and her purse. She pulled the fasteners of her waitress uniform apart, and hurriedly climbed into a pair of jeans, and one of her tank tops. She ran back down the stairs and through the café.
“Cover for me, Maria” she called out. “I’ll call you later!”
“Liz!” Maria cried out, annoyed at seeing her friend out of uniform. “Where are you going? Liz? Liz?”
Liz stopped at the door, holding it open with her right hand, and looked back at her friend. A look of determination burned in Liz’s eyes.
“I’m going to try to salvage my life, Maria!”

***


posted on 1-Nov-2001 7:02:22 PM by WR
Part 15

Ed Harding, in the guise of just another Joe, drove into Roswell and past the myriad of alien themed tourist traps. He parked in a small lot down the street from both the UFO Center and the Crashdown cafe, his ultimate destination. Tess might believe that she was in charge, that she was calling the shots, but Harding knew things that she did not. In spite of her beliefs that Kivar would allow her some element of power back on Antar, he knew that her usefulness to him would cease as soon as she no longer bore the Crown Prince. There would be no place in Antar’s future for Tess, any more than there would be for Max. Could the same be said for him, he wondered? After carefully locking his car, he walked down the street towards the cafe. The bell above the door rang out as he entered, and he chose a booth from where he could watch the entire restaurant. From here, he would watch the one person who had rapidly become a thorn in his side, a spike to ruin his carefully laid plans. Liz Parker. There was another reason why he had chosen this booth, of course. Liz did not serve at this table so there would be no way that she might somehow get those images from him. That had been a surprise. In retrospect, it had been a mistake to use Liz as the bait for his carefully laid trap.

The blond girl with the clever mouth served him. She was in one of her annoyed moods again, he noted. He could see why Michael was attracted to this one; they both had a tendency for erratic mood swings. She slammed the coffee he had ordered in front of him, giving scant consideration for the chance of any tip that she had just waived. Something had clearly upset her. Harding gave a wry smile at these humans and the emotions that so dominated them. Taking a sip of the bland coffee – he longed to pour the contents of the Tobasco sauce bottle into it, but knew that the bristly waitress would notice this little quirk – and cast his mind back forty-two years ago, to the deal he had struck with Nikolas. It had been 1959, a time that he had been at his lowest since the crash twelve years earlier, but he remembered it as though it were yesterday.

***

As Ed Harding emerged from his battered Chevy, he caught sight of the man who had been tailing him. He knew that the man would follow him, eventually, and had been carefully planning for this day for some time. From the moment that he read the book, ‘Among Us’, he knew that he needed to meet the author, James Atherton. True, the book was little more than an absurd joke, but dotted throughout the ridiculous claims were little tidbits of accurate information. In themselves, these snippets were not enough to jeopardize his mission, but they indicated, at least to Harding, that Atherton was receiving accurate information from someone who knew. Harding needed to know who that was.

So Harding had engineered a meeting with the man, passing himself off as an avid UFO hunter. In an effort to gain his confidence, he had even presented the man with the one artifact that he had from his home planet of Antar. It was a strange pendant that he had found when he scoured the crash site, now cleared, days after his escape from the special unit. It was shortly after the crash itself. He did not know the significance of this amulet, and simply assumed that it was a personal possession of one of the ship’s crew. Over time, the two men became friends, visiting each other often, either at Atherton’s strange dome shaped house in Texas, or here at Harding’s temporary shelter with the Native Americans at the Mesaliko reservation. Earlier that evening, Harding had dropped Atherton a subtle hint that he knew Atherton was receiving information from an alien. As suspected, Atherton took the bait, and was now keeping Harding under surveillance. All he needed now was to lure Atherton into the desert, and extract the information he needed.

“James!” Harding called stepping out from behind Atherton.
Atherton spun around, looking visibly shaken that somehow his quarry had managed to slip behind him. And he had been trained by the best.
“Shit! You damn near gave me a heart attack!” he exclaimed, trying to look relieved that it was a friend who had surprised him.
“What are you doing out here?” Harding asked.
“Nothing, really,” Atherton stumbled. “I ah, was just… kind of… I was wondering if you wanted to grab a beer?”
“You know I don’t drink, James,” Harding reprimanded. “And I was only with you a few hours ago.”
“Yeah, well I thought we could talk some more, you know?”
“I see,” Harding smiled. “Perhaps we could talk about who it is that is feeding you the information about the aliens?”
“I… I…” Atherton stammered. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Come now, James. Do you expect me to believe that? I know someone fed you some interesting facts about the… extraterrestrial… visitors among us. Why don’t you just tell me who it was? Better still, tell me where I can find them?” Harding stepped closer to the man, who kept backing away until his back pressed up against a rock wall.

“No, no, you’re wrong! There’s no one! I…” His eyes suddenly widened in terror. “Oh my god! You’re one of them!”
“Who was it James?” Harding asked calmly. “Where can I find them?”
“No! No! He will kill me!”
“Who? Who will kill you? Tell me who! I can protect you.”
“No!” Atherton gasped. “Too powerful! He has powers. He will know!”
Atherton was panicking now, trying to scramble away from Harding. He had lost his chance, and he knew that Atherton would not give him the information he needed. Harding calmly placed the flat of his right hand over Harding’s breastbone, and started to increase Atherton’s core temperature. As his internal organs cooked inside his own body, a strange look of peace came upon his face. As the body collapsed, dead, to the floor, Harding hurried away from the corpse that was once James Atherton, and returned to his car. As he pulled out onto the highway, a young boy of perhaps fourteen rose up from the back seat.
“It has been a long time, my Lord Terped,” the boy smiled.
There was only one person it could be, Harding decided.
“General Nikolas,” Harding nodded his head in formal greeting, hiding his surprise well.

***

“We don’t want to kill them, Lord Terped,” Nikolas informed him, after spending the better part of the last hour trying to convince Harding to hand the Royal four over to him. “Kivar knows that Zan commands the loyalty of more than two thirds of Antar’s population, not to mention the support of the other planets. No, Kivar wants him to remain on the throne. Of course, he will be a King in name only, wheeled out for the occasional state function, or to greet the ambassadors or leaders of the other planets. Kind of like the monarchy on that small island across the ocean down here.”
Harding was no fool. He knew that Kivar wanted his King dead so that he could rule undisputed. He also knew he would never rule until he could prove that Antar’s beloved once and future King would not return, and what better way than a public execution? He also knew that on the day he gave up Zan and the others to Nikolas, it would be his last. He needed to buy some time and so the deal was struck. At the appropriate time, Harding would hand over the Royal Four to Nikolas, and with the added bonus of a Crown Prince in the Queens womb. That had been Harding’s spur of the moment decision. What better way for a legitimate transfer of power? A young king handing over the throne to his Regent. Perhaps he might be able to turn this situation back to his advantage. Harding knew Nikolas would still search for the foursome anyway, but he knew that he had both the time and the freedom for his own plans now.

***

And those plans required his Orb. But it had been recovered by the FBI after the crash in 1947, and was currently in their possession. While he was in the FBI’s captivity, he had managed to persuade them that it would only work in the presence of the other Orb. In a way, it was true. For he needed Zan to trigger it, just the same as that other one, which at that time had not been recovered. Once Zan had triggered the Orb, it would summon his men, the ones he had the foresight to send secretly to this planet, in advance of the Royal Four. He knew that he would one day have need of them. He had hoped that his men might have realized the significance of the Roswell crash, and come to investigate. If they had, he had seen no signs of them. He would need the Orb to summon them. But now, in the hands of the FBI Special Unit, safely stored in their vaults at their Headquarters, it was next to useless. Knowing them as he did, he needed some bait to make them bring it out. Knowing that they were looking for their missing alien, Max would be that bait. It was worth the risk, he decided. And to make sure that Max would do as he was supposed to, Harding would use the one thing in the world for which Max cared above all others, Liz Parker.

The humans were rather predictable. He knew that the current leader of the Special Unit, Agent Pierce sought power and position from his obsessive search for the alien life form he knew to be out there. And Harding knew that once he had that alien in his custody, he would take it, and the Orb, to the nearest facility. It was obvious that Pierce would… question it himself. It was an easy task to get Pierce himself involved in the pursuit of Max, and then make him follow his trail to that Amusement Park. It was even easier to trick Max into following, a trick that Max had never discovered. Only that annoying Earth girl had nearly ruined his plans. Once Max was in Pierce’s hands, he was taken to the isolated Eagle Rock facility. Harding knew the base intimately, not only through having worked there undercover for many years until they added those skeletal scanners, but also having escaped there all those miserable years ago. It was an easy matter to gain Isabel and Michael’s trust, through his ability to help free Max and through his connection with Tess. Only the humans remained suspicious. The second Orb had been a bonus. He had no doubt that the message was what helped break Max from the human girl, and placing him on a path back to Tess. He had often wondered if that message was genuine, or if Tess had placed it there. He made a mental note to ask. By faking his death, he removed the higher level of support that Max was hoping to rely on, and make him listen to Tess more. His earlier laid plans were now standing him in good stead. Things could not be working out any better. Soon, it would be he who ruled Antar through Max’s son, and not the upstart Kivar.

***



[ edited 1 time(s), last at 1-Nov-2001 7:03:49 PM ]
posted on 1-Nov-2001 7:06:23 PM by WR
Part 16

The lumbering bus pulled into the dimly lit depot, and drew to a stop in front of a long, low, gray building. The bus engine shuddered into silence as the driver switched off the ignition. He stood up from his seat and turned to the passengers, some still sleeping in the dark interior of the bus.
“Jacksonville,” he bellowed, turning on the lights.
The passengers groaned with the pain that assailed their eyes, and started to shift about. The beginnings of a flurry of activity developed along the aisles. Most of the passengers, planning on staying with this bus, remained seated, or sleeping, while others were simply took the opportunity to stretch their legs. Those that were at the end of their journey gathered their belongings and filed off the bus. The driver stood by the door, thanking them for their business and wising them a safe trip home, as they emerged into the cool early morning air. Some nodded their silent thanks, while others were more vocal. Some even shook the driver’s hand. Finally, the last of the departing passengers stepped down the steps of the bus. He never returned the driver’s nod, nor voiced his thanks, nor shook the man’s hand. He simply sighed, threw the single bag he was carrying over his shoulder, and stepped away from the bus, and the building behind it, towards the eastern end of the depot. The driver watched the tall, dark haired young man walking away and shook his head. He had carried enough of his kind to recognize them immediately. Another runaway.

Max Evans was glad to get off that bus. True, he had only been on it for three hours, since his last changeover, but he had been travelling by bus now for nearly a day and a half. He thought back to that morning, when Jim Valenti had bumped into him, his bag in his hand, wanting to talk about the gunmen and their fate. Max had been so afraid that Jim had somehow uncovered his plans, and was seeking to prevent them. Max had gone into work as normal that morning, but at ten o’clock, he had sneaked out through the back door, and made his way across town to the Greyhound bus terminal, careful to avoid his friends and family. At ten twenty-five, Max felt a slight sense of exhilaration as the bus pulled away, but when he watched the Roswell City Limits sign go by, he had been struck with an air of depression. A memory had come to him, not quite a flash, but nonetheless, a solid, vivid memory.

“Me too. I just wish that I could have stopped you from saving my life that day in the Crashdown.”
“Don't say that.”
“Max, the day that you saved my life, your life just ended.”
“No, that was the day my life began. Liz, when I was in that room, and they did what they did to me. You're what kept me alive. The thought of you. The way your eyes look into mine. Your smile. The touch of your skin. Your lips. Knowing you has made me human. Whether I die tomorrow or fifty years from now, my destiny is the same: it's you. I want to be with you, Liz. I love you.”
“I love you.”


He was still in awe of how Liz risked her life for his, helping him out of the White Room, jumping off of a bridge with him and just being… Liz. But that was over now. As he looked over his shoulder, out of the back window and through the plume of dust at the receding view of Roswell, tears welled up in his eyes. He was leaving his past behind him now. His family, his friends, his… the love of his life. Whatever it had been between the two of them, it was over now. He lifted his hand and gently laid it, against the glass.
“Goodbye Liz,” he whispered as a tear slid down his cheek. “I love you. I always will. I will never forget you, Liz.” Max wiped the stray tear from his cheek with his other hand, never once taking his eyes from the town. “Never!”
His eyes remained on Roswell, blurred by his tears, until it finally vanished behind a rocky butte. Max turned away from the window and hid his face in his folded arms, leaning against the back of the seat in front of him. Max started to weep, his shoulders shaking in unison with his sobs while his tears rolled down his face and formed a pool on the floor.

The New Mexico towns passed by, Elida, Portales, as so too did the time. Although he had brought a copy of John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men”, Max was unable to read. Instead, he sat in his seat, turning the two healing stones over and over in his palm and staring out at America as it passed before him. After two hours, they had reached Clovis, and Max began having second thoughts. As much as he wanted to rescue his son, it was the thought of seeing Liz in the arms of Sean DeLuca, or anyone else for that matter, that kept him on the road. After Texico, they finally left New Mexico behind and entered Texas, stopping at Farwell. By three forty that afternoon, they had reached Amarillo, Texas, and the first of his transfers.

The bus Max joined in Amarillo was quite full, packed with soldiers returning to their training base, Max guessed, somewhere in Texas. Had he once commanded men such as these, Max wondered? Did he have an army that would support him when he finally returned home? Would they follow him on his quest to wrest control of his son from the treasonous Kivar? Max sighed. What did he know of soldiers and battles? The few battles - well minor skirmishes really - that he had been involved in, he had relied on those around him to get him through. He was not a very good leader, it seemed. He had no doubt that he would not be a very good king.
“Mind if I sit here?” he asked the large colored soldier with the single stripe on his sleeve. He appeared to be only a few years older. Max had no idea what the man’s rank was.
“Help yourself,” the man smiled at him, pointing to the empty seat.
Max stowed his bag in the overhead rack, and sat beside the large man.
“Ben,” the man smiled, reaching his hand out to Max. “Ben Stilgo.”
“Max Evans,” he reciprocated the greeting.
“So, Max,” Ben started. “Where ya headed?”
“Home,” Max mumbled. “You?”
“Going back to camp after my leave,“ Ben continued. “I’ve been home to see my girl.”
“That’s… nice.” He didn’t want to get involved in a conversation. He especially didn’t want to if it was somehow related to love.
“Yeah,” Ben smiled, producing his wallet from his uniform jacket pocket, and flipping it open to a picture of a young woman. “This is my Lisa.”
Max looked at the photograph of the girl that Ben was holding in his large hands.
“She’s very… pretty,” Max smiled.
“Yeah,” Ben smiled. “She sure is. And smart to boot! She’s at college. She wants to be a scientist.”
“Great!” Max enthused. Liz. Liz wants to be a molecular biologist. Max shook his head.
“She’s the one, you know?” the man smiled. “We have this connection. It’s like when we first kissed, we just… knew. She’s my soul mate. She was, like… my destiny.”
Max’s head jerked up.
“Destiny?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Ben chuckled. “I know what you are going to say. We’re too young, blah, blah, blah.”
“No, no,” Max shook his head. “I think it’s great, I really do.”
“Yeah? Well I just know Lisa is the girl I am going to be with. You can just tell, can’t you? You have a girl back home?”
“Kind of,” Max mumbled.
“Well, I guess she isn’t your soul mate then. She’s not your destiny.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Man, I know what it feels like. And you do not say ‘kind of’ when you talk about your soul mate.”
“It’s complicated,” Max a mere hint of his sadness evident as he shook his head.
“No, it ain’t,” Ben shook his head. “Don’t worry Max. When you meet her, you will know. You will find her one day.”
“One day,” Max sighed, and looked away.

Amarillo was soon behind them and as the hours rolled by, Memphis came into view. For a moment, Max thought about the Elvis wedding chapel back in Las Vegas, until he realized he was thinking of the wrong Memphis. Another memory of Liz, he sighed. As dusk was approaching, the bus neared Whichita Falls, and darkness had long since fallen when they reached Bowie. Fort Worth gave way to Arlington and as they approached midnight, the glow cast by the lights of Dallas created a bright contrast against the night sky. The bus was almost empty now. Max realized that he had not even noticed the soldiers leave. Ben Stilgo must certainly think Max rude, as he would have had to climb past him to get off. Max knew that he had not been asleep, simply lost in the vast cavern of his mind, walking through his memories. As the suburbs of Dallas started to appear, Max released a sigh, and wondered if Liz had been on a date that evening.
“Good night, Liz,” he whispered to the darkness. He kissed his fingertips, and blew in the direction he assumed Roswell to lie in.

Max sat alone at the table in the cafeteria of the Dallas bus terminal. In front of him was a half-finished cup of coffee, kept warm by Max’s slight of hand. He had forgotten his Tobasco sauce, and if the cafeteria had ever stocked it, it was gone now.
“Can you spare some change for a coffee, please?” an unshaven young man in a grubby coat asked.
Max looked up at the man, who appeared ten years older than himself, and dimly recognized him as a fellow passenger. He pulled some change from his pocket, and tipped it onto the table. It was enough to buy the man some coffee, but would leave Max short. He had not thought to bring much cash with him. After all, he had no need of it where he was going.
“Thank you!” the man smiled.
Max watched the man head for the stand with the coffee machines, and then returned to his silent contemplation.

“Miserable way to travel,” the man sighed, slapping his coffee on the table opposite Max, and sitting down.
“Excuse me?” Max looked up, surprised that the man had come back to sit with him. He reminded Max of himself in many ways. He seemed to be a man with many problems.
“Buses,” he stated. “A miserable way to travel. I’d fly if I could, but it’s too expensive, and I gotta try and keep the costs down.”
“Oh,” Max looked back at his coffee, hoping that was the end of the conversation.
“You see, I’m looking for someone,” the man almost whimpered.
“Oh,” grumbled Max. Clearly, this man was not going to leave until he told him his story. ‘Who?’
“My girl,” he added, nodding his head, as if he imagined that his benefactor had asked.
“Oh,” Max repeated.
“We had it all,” the man whispered, looking up at the ceiling, and closing his eyes. A tear trickled from one corner, and down his cheek. “Everyone said how we were supposed to be together, you know? I fought it, but my folks, they wanted me to marry her. She seemed quite interested too.”
Max shook his head. Been there, he thought.
“But she left me. She was pregnant with my kid, and she left me. But I’m going to find her. A kid needs a father, right? What kind of life is that? A single parent family? That’s where I am going now. I heard she’s in Nebraska. I have to find her. I have to rescue my kid.”
“Oh, right,” Max nodded. This was definitely too close to home. “And it would be nice to be there for the birth, too, right?”
The man looked at Max as though he had suddenly grown horns. “What are you talking about? The kid was born ages ago.”
“When did she leave you?” Max asked suspiciously.
“Five years ago.”
“Five years?” Max asked for confirmation.
“Yeah, but how could you understand? How would you know what it’s been like following one lead to another, always one step behind her? Do you think you could cope with constantly searching? How could you even know how important this is to me.” He picked up his cup and rose from the table. “Thanks for the coffee.” He walked away towards the row of buses.

After a three-hour layover, Max’s bus finally pulled in. He took a final look westward, and climbed onto the bus. He moved down to the back of the near empty vehicle, and pushed his bag up onto the rack again. He sat in the seat, and began his silent vigil through the dark night, as the stones danced in circles on his palm. Daylight was breaking and still the towns rolled past. They crossed into Louisiana, and into the town of Shreveport. At Natcitoches, an elderly woman joined the bus, and seemed to take a liking to Max, for she sat next to him, in spite of the empty seats.
“You seem like a nice young man,” she had told him.
And that was not all that Eileen, as she introduced herself, told Max. He was grateful to her, because she did all the talking and didn’t seem to care that he remained silent. In the four hours it took to travel through Alexandria, Ville Platte and Opelousas towards Baton Rouge, Eileen told Max her entire life’s history, and that of her family. During the last hour, as they approached Baton Rouge, she had been complaining how her sons never came to visit her, so she was going to visit them, whether they wanted that or not!

“Are you going to see anyone special, Max?” she asked as the suburbs of the town started to roll by the window.
“My mother,” Max grinned. He felt good smiling, if only for a while
“That’s nice,” she beamed back at him. “What a dear boy you are. I bet the girls just fall over themselves to get to you.”
Max gave a self mocking grin, and shrugged his shoulders. Then his face fell. “And hopefully, my son.” he added.
Eileen’s face grew sad.
“Oh, Max,” she sympathized. “You look a little young to be a father.”
“It was a mistake,” Max whispered.
“Yeah,” she answered. “They all say that. Will you be marrying his mother?”
Max looked up at her, and then glanced away.
“No,” he mumbled. “It’s kinda complicated.”
Eileen saw the look of misery on his face, and fell silent. The bus pulled into the bus terminal, and Eileen rose to leave. She paused, and looked back at the disconsolate looking Max.
“It will all work out, Max,” she smiled at him. “I have this feeling, you know? I think this journey of yours will be worth it. I think it’s just what you needed.”
Max smiled at her. “Thank you,” he nodded.

After a half-hour stop, the bus continued its journey, leaving Louisiana after Hammond, and entering Alabama. The next stop was in Mobile, during the late afternoon. Max looked at his watch, and wondered what Liz was doing. Two hours later, they entered Florida, heading for Pensacola. As they crossed the state line, a strange feeling rumbled low in Max’s stomach. It was not just the intense hunger that he had been suffering for ages now; it was the knowledge that he was now in the same state as his destination. Destination, Max thought, and gave a wry smile. His destiny was his destination. The hours rolled by, as did Milton, Crestview and Ponce De Leon. As darkness fell, Bonifay and Cottondale disappeared behind them. The evening wore on, and as the close of another day was drawing near, so too was Tallahassee. Both were soon left behind, and in the crisp stillness of the very early morning, the bus pulled into Jacksonville. By Max’s calculation, his final stop was a little more than 5 hours away. As he watched the steady glow rising off to the east, Max calculated that he had less than 6 hours left on the planet that had been his home for that past twelve years. It was then that he realized he had forgotten his picture of Liz, still tucked in his sock drawer.

***


posted on 1-Nov-2001 7:09:41 PM by WR
Part 17

Maria wiped down the milkshake machine again. It didn’t really need it. The café was empty and she had already cleaned it half an hour ago. But she needed to do something, anything, to stop from worrying about Liz. Where was she, Maria wondered? Liz had dashed out of the Crashdown just after lunch and still wasn’t back yet and it was almost eight o’clock now.
“You might as well go, Maria,” Jeff Parker told her when he saw that it was empty. “I’ll get Lizzie to lock up.”
“Oh… right… okay, Mr. Parker,” Maria answered. “It’s just that…”
“Say, where is Lizzie anyway?” he asked, noticing Liz’s absence.
“She had an errand to run,” Maria smiled. Good thing I’ve had my fair share of thinking on my feet, Maria thought to herself.
“Oh, right,” he nodded. “Well, when she gets back, you get yourself on home, and tell Liz she can lock up.”
As Jeff went out through the back, Sean came in through the front.
“I am so going to slap you for doing this to me, Liz.” Maria groaned.
“Hey, Maria,” Sean smiled. “Liz ready?” Excitement mounting in his voice.
Maria rolled her eyes and dropped her shoulders.
“Oh, hey Sean,” she smiled back. “She… ah… just popped out.”
“Okay. Will she be long?”
“Um… I… I don’t really ah… know.”
“That’s okay M,” Sean grinned, grabbing a glass and heading for the soda machine. “I’ll wait.”
“Yeah, sure,” Maria smiled. Why not, she groaned to herself.
“Does she talk about me, Maria?” Sean asked, taking a sip of his coke.
“Oh, yeah,” Maria lied. “All the time.”
“And she was excited about our date tonight?”
“Yeah, she was, it’s just… you know… stuff.” Oh yeah, Maria, you are really thinking on your feet now!
“So where did she go?” his eyes narrowed.
“I don’t…”
“It’s that Evans, isn’t it?” he demanded. “She’s gone to see him! He just snaps his fingers and she goes running. What’s his hold over her? Just what is it she thinks she owes him?”
“Don’t know,” Maria shrugged. Oh yeah, just her life.

When the clock rolled past nine o’clock, Maria gave up waiting and started to close up the cafe. She was just heading for the door when her cell phone rang.
“Liz? Where are you?” she barked.
“Maria, Max is missing and I think I know where he is,” the determination in her voice was burning through the phone lines like an order of Chili Cheese Saturn Rings. “I am going to get him.”
“Liz?” The condescension in Maria’s voice was as though she was about to make a request to a small child. “You have to let go of him.”
“No, Maria, I can’t,” Liz urged. She loved her friend dearly, but sometimes, she wished that Maria would let her live her own life. “Something isn’t right, Maria. I don’t know what it is, but it just… it doesn’t feel right.”
“What isn’t right, Liz,” her friend admonished, “is your infatuation with him.”
“Tell Isabel I will call her as soon as I find him,” Liz ordered. “Tell my parents that I needed some time alone, after… after… never mind, I’ll call them myself.”
“Liz! What about Sean?”
There was a moment of silence.
“Oh… Sean… yeah,” Liz muttered to herself. “Look, I’m sorry Maria, but I am never going to get over Max, even if he does go back.”
Liz disconnected the call before Maria could tell her off any more and switched off her phone. She looked out of the large plate window across the vast expanse of tarmac, illuminated by an array of yellow floodlights. Liz turned to the television set in the airport’s departure lounge, tuned in to CNN. In the background of the news report was the image of the Shuttle gantry, bathed in floodlights, while two men discussed tomorrow’s launch.
“No Max.” Liz begged in a whisper. “Please don’t go.”

***

As he watched the bus pull into the Jacksonville depot, Max glanced at his watch. Nearly four o’clock. To the east, the glow of the approaching dawn was starting to give faint illumination to the dark night. To the west, towards Roswell, towards… Liz, his family and his friends, still slept. Would they miss him, he wondered? They would at first, he decided, but in time, they would come to realize that their lives had improved when he had left them.
“Goodbye, Liz,” he whispered before he stepped up into the bus. “I may not get a chance to say it again, so… Look after yourself please? Be safe. Be happy.”
As before, Max lightly kissed his fingertips, and blew the kiss westwards. Above him, an aircraft flew southwards leaving a contrail that reflected the distant orange of the rising sun. He would soon be up there, he thought to himself.
“Are you getting on or not?” called the driver.
Max took a last look around and climbed on board. The doors hissed shut behind him, and as he started to move to the back of the vehicle, the driver had already left the terminal. He collapsed into his seat, and produced the healing stones from his bag. Max soon had the stones revolving in his palm, a strangely comforting action. As the bus moved southwards along the coast, Daytona Beach soon replaced Jacksonville, followed by New Smyrna Beach, Titusville, and finally, the end of the line, for now, anyway, Cocoa, Florida. Max stepped out into the early morning Florida sunshine, and took stock of his location. He followed the few people who were moving towards the back of the terminal, and he found himself where the local bus services ran from. There in front of Max was the bus he had hoped he would find here. Big white letters picked out its destination. “Cape Canaveral, Shuttle Launch.”

***

“No,” Maria exclaimed to Michael while they sat at a booth in the Crashdown where they shared a breakfast. She was complaining about her favorite subject. “What I am saying is that I don’t like the fact that just because he decides he wants his picture on milk cartons across America, she feels… obligated to go rushing after him. It sucks, Michael. She deserves a life.”
“But if Max is who she wants, I mean, she has gone to find him… Don’t you think that she can make up her own mind?”
“No! I do not!” she squealed. “After what he’s done? Get real!”
Michael stared thoughtfully at his coffee, and shrugged.
“Let her try, Maria. If it’s what she wants, let her try and get him back.”
“If he is still here.”
“What makes you say that?” he asked, his face snapping up with a sudden look of worry.
“Because Liz thinks he is trying to go home.”

Sean stormed into the café; still looking annoyed at being stood up the previous night.
“Is Liz here?” he interrogated Maria, pointedly ignoring Michael’s presence.
“Uh, no Sean,” Maria searched for a plausible excuse, “she ah… popped out.”
“Again?” he commented snidely. “She never came home last night, did she? Did the bitch sleep with him then?”
“Hey! What’s it to you?” demanded Michael. “And you don’t talk about our friend like that.”
“Why?” Sean sneered. “You want a piece of her, too?”
Michael rose, his fists clenched at his side. Maria pulled him back.
“Michael, sit down!” she ordered. “Sean, leave. When Liz gets back, I’ll tell her to call you.”
“Yeah, you do that,” Sean snarled. “And then ask her who it was she threw herself at the other night after storming into his room at three in the morning!”
Maria nearly missed Michael’s lunge at her cousin. Boy, she had been so wrong about him.

***

The bus was almost empty, as was the large concourse where Max and a few others got off. Max stood with his bag at his feet while he surveyed his surroundings. It was still early; the main crowds wouldn’t be arriving for ages yet. The few people that were milling around were mainly the vendors, preparing their stands and their trays to sell their merchandise to the hordes of tourists who would come to witness the launch. The empty bus pulled away from behind him, showering Max in a cloud of dust. He spun the stones in his hand a few more times, and shoved them in his pocket. The pangs of remorse of having to leave his love behind hit Max once more as he picked up his bag and threw it over his shoulder. He walked towards the large tunnel that led through to the stands where the audience would view the spectacle from and started to formulate his plan. He noticed that there were lots of guards here, dressed in their blue Air Force uniforms, and carrying automatic weapons. It would be easy, Max decided, to isolate one of these guards, incapacitate him for a few hours and take the man’s ID. Changing the document would be easy for him, and suitably armed, so to speak, he could make his way to the shuttle.

***

The guard was easily subdued, and Max left him comfortably propped in the restroom. He used his powers to change his scruffy clothing into the blue Air Force uniform, not wishing to take the clothes of his unfortunate victim. Leave the man some dignity, Max thought. He would need it when he woke from the harmless sleep Max had induced. He took the man’s ID card, and altered the image so that Max’s face and his thumbprint was now showing through the plastic covering. Max put the unconscious guard’s sunglasses on, to not only hide the dark shadows under his eyes, but as a small addition to his disguise. He adopted a military air and marched out of the restrooms. Max followed the pathway through the tunnel beneath the bleachers, and out to the large viewing arena. Max snapped to a stop and stared in open-mouthed awe. The space shuttle Columbia. I’ll need a jeep, Max thought as he stared at the distance between him and the shuttle. He took a deep breath, and threw his shoulders back. With a determined step, Max headed towards the gate that would take him out of the viewing arena, and give him access to the shuttle, to his… destiny.

***

“Please hurry!” Liz urged the taxi driver as he maneuvered his cab through the morning traffic.
“Relax, Chiquita,” the young Hispanic driver looked in the mirror and smiled at his young passenger. “We got hours yet. What do you say we stop for a coffee?”
“Can you just get me there, please?”
“What’s the rush?” he asked in his best seductive voice.
How could she answer that? And once she got to Cape Canaveral, what could she do? It was not as though she could approach the nearest guard and say ‘Excuse me, will you let me through? I think my boyfriend is going to steal your shuttle.’ Liz could not believe that she would really lose him. Boyfriend? When did she start thinking about him in that way again? Who are you kidding Liz, she thought? You never stopped.
“Just hurry, please!”

An old song started to play on the radio, and the young driver, perhaps thinking that the lovely dark haired girl might be impressed, started to sing along in a high pitched squeak.
“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…”
Liz shook her head. How true, she thought.
We interrupt this program for an important news bulletin,” announced the radio presenter, cutting off Joni Mitchell. “We go over live to William Rosendale at Cape Canaveral where some dramatic developments have taken place. William.
Thank you Johnny,” announced Will Rosendale. “In a sensational scene here at Cape Canaveral, the vast audience waiting for the launch of the Shuttle, scheduled for two hours from now, were stunned when it lifted off only moments ago. Chaos dominates here as rumor and speculation run rampant, but no one knows what is going on.
But Liz knew. Stunned beyond belief, she sank in the back seat, and stared blankly through tear-lined eyes out the side window. She knew that Max had succeeded. He had somehow managed to steal the space shuttle. He was following Tess; he really was going to try and rescue his son. The taxi driver reached over, and switched off the radio.”
“Well, that’s that, Chiquita,” he flashed a smile at her. “Perhaps now you and me can…”
“Can you get me there, please?” she asked in a defeated voice. “I still need to get there.”

Love of my life - you've hurt me,
You've broken my heart and now you leave me,
Love of my life can't you see,
Bring it back, bring it back,
Don't take it away from me, because you don't know -,
what it means to me.

Love of my life don't leave me,
You've taken my love, you now desert me,
Love of my life can't you see,
Bring it back, bring it back,
Don't take it away from me, because you don't know -,
what it means to me.

You won't remember -
When this is blown over
And everything's all by the way -
When I get older
I will be there at your side to remind you
how I still love you - still love you.

Back - hurry back,
Please bring it back home to me,
‘Cause you don't know what it means to me -

Love of my Life
Queen


She handed the cab driver the fare, along with a decent tip, and ignored his request for her phone number. As Max had earlier that day, Liz stood and stared at the large stand before her. The crowds were dispersing now. Liz was pushed against their flow. With her heavy heart lodged in the pit of her stomach, she made her way through, and past the bank of near empty bleachers, up to the high chain link fence that kept the audience back. She placed her hands on the links and stared across the empty space before her. From the empty launch pad in the far distance, Liz followed the billowing white plume of the departed shuttle up into the crisp morning air until it disappeared from the Earth’s atmosphere.
“Max!” she wailed. Tears coursed down her cheek. She turned away from the skeletal gantry, and pressed her back against the fence. Max was gone. From there, she slid down into a crumpled ball on the floor. She folded her arms and leaned into her knees. Broken hearted, Liz sobbed hysterically. “I never got to tell you that I still love you!”

***


posted on 1-Nov-2001 7:18:28 PM by WR
Thanks AJK001.

Well, as you can see, I'm now up to date on both boards. I will continue to post on both.

I hope you enjoy my story.

WR

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 1-Nov-2001 7:19:40 PM ]
posted on 2-Nov-2001 3:20:37 PM by WR
Thank you for the comments, I am glad that so many of you are still enjoying my story. Especially as the angst has gone on for so long!

ckkitten Hi! - Sorry you have been missing this. I've been posting every other day on the other board for a few weeks now. And yes, it's on my Web site, along with my other work, The Importance of Being Elizabeth,

www.olde.worlde.btinternet.co.uk
Enjoy!


Part 18

As was her custom, Tess awoke early in the day, and after wishing the Crown Prince of Antar, nestled securely in her womb a 'good morning', set herself about getting ready for another tedious day. Things were not quite as she had hoped. She had originally thought that bringing Max and the others to the Pod Chamber so early before they were due to leave had been a mistake. In light of Parker's discovery that she had been involved in Alex's death, perhaps they should have brought them out even earlier. Still, she had little doubt that she could lure him out here again. He was, after all, far weaker than she had ever imagined. Next time, they would have everyone they needed to ensure that neither Isabel, nor Michael, nor any of those humans, can help him. She gave a soft chuckle at the thought. Then, once Max was safely locked up, Tess would pay the dark haired bitch a visit, and show her what it meant to get in the way of Tess Harding.

Tess glanced at the strange Granolith, in whose chamber she slept, and went through to the main vault of the Pod Chamber. Harding was gone again, she noted with a shrug. After breakfast, she would take a walk outside in the warm desert air. Harding had forbidden her to do this. Her! The Queen of Antar, and mother to the Crown Prince! Who did he think he was? She might even sneak into town to witness the devastation she had wrought amongst her one-time friends. She wondered how Max was coping with the fact that his precious Liz was now in the arms, if not the bed, of a Neanderthal. Before Tess had taught him how to act around Liz, she would never have paid attention to him. Now, she could scarcely keep away from him. Tess laughed to herself. Poor Max. Soon he would stand before all of Antar and watch Kivar take possession of everything that was his; his wife, his son, his home, his kingdom... his planet. And when Kivar had stripped everything from him, he would strip him of his life. She wondered if there was any way that she could make Liz see that, maybe even make Max witness Liz's death, the ultimate injury to him. Tess chuckled while she ate her sugar-laden corn flakes.

***

Isabel stood in the middle of Max's room, and surveyed the walls with the charts, the maps, the diagrams and the drawings that Max had painstakingly collected and pinned to them.
"How did you do it, Max?" she asked through her tears. "How did you leave Earth?"
She crossed to his computer, and sat in the chair that he had spent so much of the past few weeks seated in. The faint hum of Max's hard drive, tucked beneath his desk, caught her attention, and she pressed the round button on his monitor, switching it on. His web browser was still active, it current page still displaying the last information that Max had pulled up. It caught her attention immediately, and she read the columns of text as she scrolled down the long page. It was a schedule for a Greyhound bus from Roswell to a place called Cocoa in Florida.
"What?" she asked herself. Perhaps Max had not tried to follow Tess after all. Perhaps he had decided that he simply needed to get away. A break from the 'alien' troubles that had been bothering him lately?
She moved the cursor to the 'Back' button, and called up the previous page. Perhaps it was a hotel, or something else that might indicate where he was. As the page popped into view, Isabel's blood froze.
"Oh God, no!" she cried, staring at the image of the space shuttle, and the heading beneath it that confirmed a launch scheduled for that morning.
"Oh God, Max!" she wailed, and after printing out the two pages of data, she bolted from his room.

She found Michael where she knew he would be, at the Crashdown with Maria. Kyle was with them.
"I know where he's gone!" she exclaimed.
"Who?" asked Kyle, looking up at Isabel's sudden entry.
"Max. Who else?" snorted Maria. "He's disappeared, presumably on his way back to the wife and kid. Isabel's upset. Liz is chasing him. Does that about cover it?"
"Yeah, just about," grinned Kyle.
"No, I know how he plans to leave!" Isabel continued, ignoring Maria's comments.
"Oh, you mean he hasn't left yet?" Maria asked, sounding as disappointed as she could. "What a pity. Who ate all the toast?"
"How?" Michael asked, handing Maria the piece of toast he had just picked up.
"There's a shuttle launch today," she informed them, thrusting the printed pages at Michael.. "Remember when Larek told us to take the shuttle to escape the Garandium? He's going to do it! He's taken the Greyhound to Cape Canaveral!"
While the others absorbed the information, Isabel tried to hide her anxiety by pacing back and forth.
"We have to get to Florida!" she commanded, stopping in front of Michael, and trying to look imposing. "We have to stop him."
Maria just laughed at her.
"I don't think so," Kyle stated, looking at his watch. "It's scheduled to launch in... about... two hours time." He dropped his arms to his side, and leaned back in his chair. "You'll never make it," he shook his head.

Maria rose, and walked through the café to the backroom. Curious, Michael followed after her. With a shrug, Kyle followed, as did Isabel, frustrated by the lack of action her 'friends' had shown. They all entered the staff lounge to find Maria surfing through the TV channels until she came to CNN. Behind the image of Martha Roberts, the CNN anchorwoman, was a white contrail of a launched shuttle.
"Once again," Martha announced, "Many were startled when the space shuttle Columbia was launched 2 hours before schedule. Although not scheduled to lift off until twelve noon Eastern Standard Time, there has been no word from Mission Control as to why it was launched early. This is unprecedented in all of Cape Canaveral's history. We will bring you word as soon as we have it. There will be an announcement from Mission Control in about an hours time, meanwhile, rumor and conjecture are suggesting situations as divergent as malfunctioning equipment to plots to steal the shuttle."
"Guess he's going after her, huh?" Kyle asked the stunned teenagers, all eyes glued to the screen. "But stealing the shuttle? Okay, I am impressed!"
"Yes!" Maria cried, rising from her seated position and punching the air with delight. "Yes, yes, yes!"
She walked back into the café, grabbed herself a glass of orange juice, and re-took her seat at the booth. The others soon joined her, the stunned expressions still visible on their faces.
"She is free of him!" Maria cheered. "She is finally free."
"It's all Liz's fault!" Isabel snapped.
"Hang on Isabel," Kyle leapt to his friend's defense. "She might have gone about it the wrong way, but everything she did, it was for you guys. All three of you."
"Oh, what?" Isabel demanded. "Turning him into mush was for his own good?"
"Look, Iz!" Maria yelled. "What about you? Can you say that you treated Alex any better?"
Maria and Isabel squared up to each other, unnoticed by Michael who was staring into his coffee cup. Kyle had started to back away, but seeing that Michael was not about to intervene, he took a step towards the two girls.

"Whoa!" Jim Valenti called out, entering the café to a tense standoff. "Just what is the problem here?"
Michael looked up now, first at Maria, and then at Isabel. Neither seemed to be in any state to answer him. He looked at Kyle, who nodded his head towards Jim, indicating that Michael should speak.
"Max has gone missing," he told Jim. "Two days ago. He caught the Greyhound out of Roswell and went to Cape Canaveral. The shuttle launched two hours early. We think Max took it."
Jim became as quiet as the others. He remembered how he had seen Max the other morning with that large duffel bag. Max had told him that he was going out straight after work, Jim had assumed it was a date with Liz.
"Has anyone told Liz yet?" he asked in a subdued voice.
"Oh my God!" exclaimed Maria. "Last night, Liz said she knew where he was. She said she was going to get him! What if...?"
Five pairs of eyes looked skywards.

***

After she rejected the lift offered to her by Kyle, Isabel started to walk home, in complete despondency. Tears rolled down her cheeks. Max had left her. Like all the men she had cared about, he had left. First Grant, then... Alex, and now, Max. Okay, her care for Max was different, but he still left. She began to think about how Max's abandonment of her would affect her life here. One thing she knew, though, now that Max had gone, was she free to tell her parents the truth about their... her origins. But did she really want to do that now? With a wave of understanding, she realized that Max was no longer here to make the decisions for her. She had to make them for herself. She felt lost. It was far easier to let Max determine their course of action, and then criticize him, than it was to make her own choices.
"Isabel," a voice called from behind her. "Isabel Evans!"
To her surprise, Isabel turned to face the young businessman who had attracted her attention the other day at the Crashdown.
"Can I help you?" she asked. "How do you know my name?"
"I know all about you, Isabel," he informed her. "Or should I call you... Vilondra?"
"I... I don't know what you are talking about," Isabel stated, searching around her for one of her friends.
The young man simply laughed.
"Caution. That is good Vil... Isabel," the man's face took on a serious demeanor. "For you are in danger. You are all in great danger."
"I still don't know what you're talking about," Isabel responded, her face showing the frantic desperation in her search for someone she knew. She wanted Michael - no, she needed Max. But he was on his way back to Antar. Something she had to 'thank' Liz for. "Just who are you anyway?"
"My name?" he shook his head disappointment. "I am called Venn. Until recently, I was the protector of the other four."
Isabel looked up sharply.
"What other four?" she asked through narrowed eyes. "What are you saying?"
"I am saying that I am from the same place as you and the others. I too was in the crash of '47." He paused now, allowing the revelation to sink in. "I took the other four pods, the ones that contained the backup royal four to the city of New York."

"Oh my God!" exclaimed Isabel. "You mean that you're a...a shape shifter?"
The man smiled with a kind of benevolence.
"In our tongue, Isabel, I mean... in Antarian, the word we use translates to 'Changeling.'"
"So you are different from us? To who we were, I mean."
"No," he emphasized with a shake of his head. "We were the same. But unlike you, I do not have any human DNA. But enough of this. I did not come here to teach you biology. I am here to warn you. All three of you are in great danger."
"Tell me something I don't know," mumbled Isabel. Will this nightmare ever end?
"I must speak with your Zan, with... Max?" he urged.
"Why? What's going on?"
"I was forced to flee from the ones I had been looking after for all these years. They turned on me, they tried to kill me."
"Why?" queried Isabel, looking shocked.
"Because they have struck a deal with our enemy, a man called Nikolas."

"We've met," Isabel admitted, a bitter taste rising in her mouth.
"Did you know he works for a traitor named Kivar? He is the reason you are here. He seeks... your deaths."
"Yeah, we kind of worked that one out for ourselves."
"Isabel, the other four, well, actually, there are only two now..."
"Two?" Isabel interrupted.
"Yes, two. They killed their Zan last November, and Ava disappeared shortly after. I believe that your enemies have hunted her down and killed her." Venn shook his head with a frown. "Anyway, those remaining two have entered into a deal with your Ava, and your protector. They plan to turn you over to Nikolas in return for safe passage home."
"We know all about that, Venn. Well, most of it. But Tess has already gone, and Nac... our protector was killed by the skins ages ago."
Venn looked thoughtful.
"Do you still have the Granolith?" he asked.
"No, Tess used it to get home. She is carrying Max's son, and he was sick. That was when we found out that we had been... betrayed."
"Oh no!" he looked worried. "This is bad. This is bad. I must speak with Max, urgently. Will you all come out and meet me at your pod chamber this evening? All of you?"
"No," she wailed. "We can't. Max has gone."
"Gone? Gone where?"
"To rescue his son. He hijacked the space shuttle this morning. He's on his way back to Antar."

Venn slowly backed away from Isabel with a sick, stunned look on his face. He turned on his heel, and ran off down the street. While Isabel watched him flee, her brow furrowed, she started to leave. Isabel was too distraught to realize that more than just Venn was keeping tabs of them. A large biker with a huge beer gut stepped out from the liquor store and stared first at the fleeing shape of Venn and then at the forlorn figure of Isabel walking slowly towards her home. He scratched his neck, dumped the six-pack of beers he was holding into a nearby trash bin and disappeared into a crowd of passing pedestrians. A small figure with a puzzled frown watched the large man disappear, and was about to leave the hiding place in the shadows when another young man stepped out from a nearby doorway. While scratching behind his ears, the young man looked around furtively, before darting into the nearby alley. With a rueful shake of the head, the figure left the scene with great caution, trying to use the shadows for cover while following Isabel.

***


posted on 4-Nov-2001 5:19:33 PM by WR
Thank you everyone for your feedback. I am sorry that I don't have time for individual mentions, but as always, I enjoy your comments.



Part 19

"Maria? Can I speak to you?" Sean called from the door. He stood half in and half out, nervous of Maria's reaction.
"Um... sure, Sean," Maria finished serving a businessman his breakfast, and moved towards the counter.
Sean stepped into the cafe and went to sit on a stool in front of where Maria was pouring some coffee. She placed one in front of him.
"Thanks," he looked surprised.
"Yeah, no problem," she nodded, and took the other cups to the customers who had ordered them. "What did you want to talk about?" she asked on her return.
"About yesterday, and the night before," he shrugged. "You know, this... Liz thing."
"Yeah, what was that about?"
Sean flinched at the animosity in her voice.
"Okay, I deserved that," he winced. "But don't you think I was even the teensiest bit justified? I mean the crap I've had to put up with over the last few weeks."
"No, I do not! You know, you're lucky Liz never heard you say that. And you're lucky Michael never got his hands on you."
"I can handle him," Sean smirked.
"Yeah, sure you can," Maria's sarcastic smile being completely missed by Sean. "Anyway, it's not exactly been a picnic for Liz either, you know!"
"I know," he exhaled with sadness. "I really thought we had something, you know? No, that's not right. I really think we 'have' something. And when she finally accepts a date with me, she just.... I mean, she told me herself that Evans broke her heart, but she just keeps going back for more. You know, what is with that?" His eyes were wide, hopeful that Maria might somehow be able to explain it all to him. She was, after all, Liz's best friend.

"Well, I warned you."
"No, Maria, you warned me off," he replied in a 'matter-of-fact' tone. "There's a difference."
"Whatever," Maria looked around to see if anyone needed her. "Look, she's going through this... this patch. Her and Max. She needs..."
"To get on and live her life?"
"Closure," Maria looked annoyed.
"Same thing," he threw his hands in the air, displaying his frustration. "But Evans is missing too, isn't he?"
"So?" she asked. Clearly, Sean was connecting Liz's disappearance with Max's. Okay, Maria, so you don't need to be Sherlock to work that one out. "He's been missing for days. Look, Sean. Give her some time, okay? When she comes back, I don't think Max will be coming between you any more."
"Why do you say that?"
"Trust me, Sean," she grinned. "But Sean?"
"Yeah?"
"Nobody talks about Liz like you did, got it? I mean, even Max never said anything like that. And believe me, you haven't gone through anything like he has!"
"Yeah, about that. Look, I'm sorry. I was angry, and, yeah, I was hurt. Okay?"
"Just don't do it again."
"Nah, I won't Maria," Sean finished his coffee. "If she would only give me a chance, you know, she might find I'm twice the man Evans will ever be."
"Look, things will be different when she gets back. I can promise you that." Twice the human, anyway, thought Maria.
"But will Liz be any different when she comes back?"
"Yeah," Maria forced her smile. "She'll be... different alright. Look Sean, I won't promise that she will happily step into a serious relationship with you straight away. But I do have reason to believe that she will soon be ready. So just be... patient, okay?"

***

"Gone?" Tess demanded in her shrill little voice. "What do you mean, gone? Where has he gone?"
"Antar," Harding grumbled, as he ran his hand through his hair. "Damn it! Things are getting out of control. What is he playing at?"
"He's probably playing at being a King." Irony dripped from her words.
Tess' snide remark brought a momentary smile from Harding.
"We pushed him too far," he explained. "His determination to save his son was greater than we thought. Without his friends to support him, he obviously made the ridiculously bad decision to go after you earlier than we thought. We completely underestimated him."
"How?" Tess asked.
"What?" Harding looked at her with confusion. "Well, we never thought he would be foolish enough to..."
"No, not how did we underestimate him, how did he leave? Earth I mean. How did he get off this stinking planet?"
"Oh, he stole the shuttle. Remember when Larek made that foolish suggestion? When the Garandium was discovered? Well, it seems the boy king decided to do it after all."
"Would that work? Could he get to Antar with that?"
"I don't know!" Harding groaned.
"So what do we do now?"
"I don't know. What I do know is that without Max to operate the Granolith, we are stuck here until his son is old enough to work it. Without Max, we have no bargaining chip with Kivar. Max's son is useless to him as long as Max lives."

"I suppose it would be too much to ask that Kivar intercept Max before he gets there?" Tess wondered. "I mean, we could still claim to have kept our end of the bargain, by forcing him to return home."
"How? Kivar has no means to capture a space ship. And, he could land anywhere. He might even arrive at a place loyal to him."
"Could anyone else work it? The Granolith I mean," Tess stopped her agitated pacing. "What about Isabel, or Michael. Could either of them operate it?"
"No, from what you say, it has to be Max. Or his son. How is he, by the way?"
"Yeah, he's fine." A serene smile drifted across her face as she laid her hand across her stomach.
"Good. Make sure he stays that way. Right now, he is the only way we can get home."
"So what to we do in the meantime?" Tess' smile vanished. Now she was appalled at the thought of remaining cooped up here for a dozen years or so. Not to mention the need to place her son in a pod. Until he was, there would be no gestation. The longer the delay, the longer it would take for Max's son to be born. It was a delay that they could no longer afford.
"We might need to rethink our allegiances," Harding decided, talking out loud to himself. "I think it's time to get everyone together."
"You mean, Nikolas and the others?"
"What?" Harding asked looking up. "Oh... yeah."
"So what did Parker say?" There was a grin of malicious triumph on her face. She had taken Max from her in every conceivable way now.
"To what?" he looked confused.
"To Max leaving? I would love to be a fly on the wall when that bitch finds out."
"I'm not sure. I never saw her, only Isabel." Harding moved towards the doorway. "I think I'll go check on things in town, find out what's happening."
"Okay, I'm tired anyway. I could use a nap," Tess turned towards to the Granolith chamber. She paused. "We will find a way home, won't we?"
"I don't know, Tess," he looked as defeated as she felt. "I just don't know right now. But I will do everything in my power to find a way."

***

"Excuse me, sir?" the agitated man interrupted Nikolas' enjoyment of the film he was watching. "I have some news for you."
"Yeah? What is it?" Although he had turned towards the man, his eyes were still on the television. He only seemed to be paying lip service to his minion.
"It's those two kids, Max Evans and Liz Parker."
"So? What about them?" He laughed at an amusing bit on the film.
"They're missing."
The film instantly forgotten, Nikolas' head snapped around to give the man his full attention. His eyes bore into the man. Nikolas raised the TV remote, and pointed without looking, to turn off the television.
"What? When?"
"Max has been missing for three days. The other's think he has hijacked the shuttle this morning. You know... it launched... early."
"I don't think even Zan would be stupid enough to try and reach Antar in that toy," he spat caustically at the thought. But Zan always was clever. Could he have worked out how to use the orb and the stones? Perhaps... if he had help. "What about the girl, Liz? Is she with him?"
"I don't know. But she only disappeared last night."

"Okay, her disappearance might be unrelated. She ran off last summer too, didn't she?"
"Do you think Tess told Max everything, and is pulling some kind of double cross?"
"No, I doubt that either of them have the intelligence for that just yet."
"Uh, and sir?" The man was nervous. He clearly did not want to give his boss more bad news. "The other protector, the one from New York? He's finally surfaced. Isabel was talking to someone, he told her he was the protector of the backup group."
"Damn! Put someone on him. I want to know where he goes, and everyone he talks to. And remember he is a shapeshifter!"
"We tried, sir." He was sweating now. He was afraid of Nikolas' reaction. "To follow him, I mean. We lost him."
"Damn!" He span and threw the TV remote with all his childlike might, and watched as it crashed into the wall, shattering to pieces.
"Why wasn't I told about Max earlier!" he demanded, his anger not appeased by his deliberate vandalism.
"We tried to find him before we told you, sir," the man stammered. "At first, we thought he was hiding out in the desert. Then, when he never returned, we started to put out feelers. That's how we discovered the other shapeshifter. We overheard Isabel telling the guy that Max had taken the shuttle."
Affected by his nerves, the man shifted his weight from one foot to the other, while Nikolas stood there staring at the broken remote.
"Okay, it looks like things are turning serious." He spoke with calm command now, while the shattered elements of the remote started to slide across the floor towards each other. "With both Max and Tess on their way to Antar, we might find ourselves stuck on this rock." The remote started to fix itself while Nikolas pondered his problem. "Get everyone together. The stakes have just increased."

***

"Okay, are we all here?" the young man in the red and white fast food uniform asked. "Is anyone else coming?"
A dozen or so heads looked about the living room. The buzz of conversation rose. By the window, another young man peered through the closed curtains, furtively looking both up and down the street outside. He turned back to the uniformed man who seemed to be in control of this rather unorthodox meeting, and shook his head. Receiving word that it indeed seemed that everyone was here, the man in the uniform raised his arms.
"Silence for Grodak!" the man who peered through the window called from his post.
The room fell silent.
"Thank you, Alwiss," Grodak spoke to the small gathering. "Okay, as you can see there are only a handful of us now." He paused while his audience again looked around the room. Grodak scratched his neck. "And it seems that things have taken a turn for the worse."
"Why? What's happened?" one of the young women asked. She scratched behind her ear. "It must be bad to call us out like this."
"It is," Grodak spoke in a voice of near despair. "Alwiss overheard some terrible news. Would you like to tell them, Alwiss?"
Everyone turned to the man standing by the window, who was scratching just below his ear.

"As you know, I have been following the King's sister, Isabel. Earlier today, after an emotional meeting in the Crashdown..."
"What was this one about?" someone demanded from the floor. "I suppose we could not get anyone close again?"
"No," Alwiss shook his head. "They are far more cautious now. It is difficult, no impossible, to get close to their meetings now. They are too nervous of strangers."
"Please, Alwiss," Grodak urged, "continue with what you overheard."
"Well, after the meeting," Alwiss nodded, "I followed Isabel. She seemed... upset. And Justifiably so for it seems that, this morning, Max Evans departed this planet on one of the Earth shuttles, bound for Antar."
Cries of "What?" and "How?" echoed through the pandemonium that broke out in the room. Only Grodak and Alwiss retained any semblance of calm. Both waited for the chaos to die down.
"That is not the only bad news, friends!" Grodak called out, silencing the few remaining people still talking. "A few weeks ago, Tess left for Antar in the Granolith, as well. She is carrying Max's son."

Once again, chaos ensued. As before, the two men waited for their compatriots to grow quiet. They allowed them their outbursts. The news was, after all, rather disturbing.
"Are we sure about her condition?" one of the women asked. "I mean, he seemed so attracted to the dark haired Earth girl. He has never shown any attraction to his former Queen."
"Yes," Grodak shook his head with disappointment. "Our spy in Nikolas' camp told us of her condition. It seems that this was some part of a plot against... Zan. Nikolas had Tess checked out by one of his physicians. He confirmed her pregnancy days before her departure."
The room fell silent.
"We must step up our preparations," Grodak urged at last. "Our only way home now lies in the hands of Rath, of this... Michael. He has maintained the friendship of the whole group, who have time and time again thwarted Nikolas. I think the time is right for us to ally ourselves with them, under Michael's leadership."
"But this Michael has twice resisted the call to betray Max, once as Rath on Antar, and again when Courtney tried to make him see that our way is the only hope for peace."
"We must talk with one of them. One of the humans. We must make them see it is the only way. Before Kivar gets his hands on Zan and his son. Before it is... too late."
"The logical choice is Vilondra, after all, did she not betray Zan the last time?"
"No, she is different now, they have a closeness that never existed on Antar."
"What about the dark haired one? There is a wedge between her and Max. They are no longer together. She is strong, perhaps if she were to be at Michael's side..."
"But he is partnered with the feisty blonde, Maria. And she has no love for Max. She is the one we should seek as an ally."
"No, it should be the dark one," Grodak called out to his followers. "We need her. Listen, this is what we shall do."

***


posted on 6-Nov-2001 6:03:50 PM by WR
Hey everyone. Thanks again for the great feeback. As always, I really appreciate it. I see you are all impatiently waiting to see what happened to Max, and what Liz will do now. ;) Patience. YOu will find out soom, just not in this part.

AJK001 - Yes, after a major discussion with my proof reader about bringing in the threads together, it was decided I had enough material and plot for a Book 2 - although I am actually still writing Book 1 ( currently working on Chapter 38 ) I think I can even produce a Book 3. But this assumes that you the reader continues to enjoy my stories.

My proof reader has read up to Chapter 34 - and loves it. She says that it is worth waiting for!

Okay - just this chapter to work through, and then we will pay Liz a visit next posting. ;)



Part 20

It had become a kind of a shrine for her now. Max had been gone from the planet for just a few hours, but already his bedroom was a place for Isabel to go and remember the good times. It was to this room that she fled after her distressing meeting with Venn, the other... shapeshifter.
At first, she had planned to leave everything as it was, but the sight of Max's charts and diagrams served only to remind her of the last painful weeks, not of their happier moments. In a bout of domesticity, Isabel cleaned up Max's room, throwing all of his papers that she had pulled from the wall into the trash bin. After just a few short hours, the room was how it had been before this nightmare had begun. Only a pile of clean socks left on Max's dresser by her mom earlier that morning remained. Isabel pulled open the sock drawer, to put them away, and she spotted Max's prized possession. The photograph he kept of 'her'. 'Love Liz.' She knew why he had left it behind, of course. Why would he take a memory of the one person who had done so much to destroy him? She wiped away a tear, and replaced the picture, face down, in the drawer. It would be better suited in the trashcan, but it was Max's and belonged in there. Isabel decided to keep it as a reminder of the dangers of trusting someone. At last the room was as it had once been. Quintessentially Max!

The quiet rattling at the window drew her from the silent reverie in which her mind had wandered. Was it Max at the window? Had he come home to her? Isabel leapt to the window and threw back the curtains. It was not Max. Instead she had found a stranger, a middle aged man, slightly balding. No! Not a stranger. She had seen him before. He was there when they had all gone to... Copper Summit.
"Grier!" she hissed.
Isabel backed away from the man who was grinning through the window at her, her hand reaching behind her, seeking out Max's baseball bat he kept next to his bed for just such occasions. A hand touched her shoulder, and she let out a frightened shriek.
"Hello, Vilondra," her assailant smiled as she span around to face him.
"Nikolas!" she spat, trying to recover from her shock. "What do you want?"
"Why, Vilondra," he pouted. "Is that anyway to greet your old friend?"
"When I meet any old friends, I'll let you know," she sneered. She tried hard not to let him see how frightened she was, but she could tell that Nikolas knew.
"Yeah," he snorted. "I guess you don't have too many of them right now."
Isabel gave an involuntary flinch, and looked away.
"Why have you come here? What are you doing in Max's room?"
"Vilondra," Nikolas shook his head. "With Max on his way back to Antar, I doubt that he considers this his room any more."

"Oh," she muttered with her eyes downcast. "You heard about that."
"Oh my, yes. You see, there is nothing you people do that I don't know about. I have been keeping a close eye on you, especially Max."
Isabel looked about the room, her head jerking in one direction and then another, as though she was seeking the hiding places of a dozen spies she assumed to be lurking around her.
"Well, it's still Max's room," she moaned.
"Well, as he is on his way to quarters more befitting a..."
"King?"
Nikolas looked at Isabel with surprise etched on his face. He started to giggle.
"More befitting a prisoner, Vilondra," he laughed. "But don't worry. He will be allowed to see his Queen, and his son, the Crown Prince."
Isabel looked away again.
"Ah, I see that you are surprised that I know about that? Well, don't be. It was, after all, what we had planned from the start."
"I thought you wanted us dead?"
"Eventually, yes. Well, Zan and Rath anyway. But no, we needed the Crown Prince first."
"Why?"
"Well, it makes things... easier. Let's just say that Kivar plans to have the Crown Prince slowly hand over all the power to him. Kivar's vision is that soon, it will be he who rules Antar, with you by his side."
"But the Crown Prince can't hand over any power if he doesn't rule! From what I know of a monarchy, he can't ascend the throne until Max is dead!"
"All in good time, Vilondra. All in good time."
"What about Tess?"
"What about her?"
"What part will she play in all this? What reward does she get for her part in Max's betrayal?"
"Oh, well, she imagines that Kivar wants her to rule by his side. But she has a much less appetizing fate awaiting her."
"So she will be executed as well?"
"Oh no," Nikolas laughed with a dirty smirk that seemed out of place on his young features. "Let's just say that she will be the reward for anyone who pleases Kivar."
Isabel's face blanched.

"Maybe Tess isn't really pregnant," she stated trying to sound casual. She wanted to try to knock some of his overweening self-confidence from him.
Nikolas simply laughed.
"Maybe," he grinned. "But she is. I had her checked out by my physician. Trust me, Vilondra. She is as pregnant as the sky is blue. She bears the Crown Prince. I myself watched the two horn dogs commit their act. It was quite..." He leered at the memory.
Isabel shuddered. She could not bear the thought of Max being with that girl. She could not bear the thought of Max being with anybody at all. He was her brother!
"So why are you bothering with me? I mean, you have Max, and you have Tess. The rest of us are stuck down here now. So why don't you leave us alone? What harm can we possibly cause you?"
"My dear Vilondra. You are not stuck down here. You never have been!"
"What are you talking about? If you have been spying on us, then surely you know that Tess took the Granolith."
"But you don't need the Granolith to get home. There are other ways open to you."
"How?" she demanded.
"That, Vilondra," Nikolas smirked, playing with one of Max's ornaments from a shelf, "is for me to know, and you to find out."
"Put that down!" she commanded, and was surprised when he did so, looking like a guilty schoolboy. "Well, actually, I don't care," she continued. "I want to stay here, and lead as near a normal life as I can."
"I don't think Kivar will like that." Nikolas shook his head.
"Like I care."
"Like you have a choice." He mimicked her condescension.

Nikolas moved towards the other side of the room, and gave a laugh of ridicule when he saw Max's computer.
"I have come to relay a proposal to you, Vilondra."
"Proposal? What kind of proposal, and will you stop calling me that?"
"Why?" he asked, emphasizing his question with his hands. "It's who you are."
"No!" affirmed Isabel. "It's who I was. I am different now!"
"You really don't remember, do you Vilondra? The sense of loneliness you had? How all around you, men sought you out not for you, but for who you were. For your proximity to the source of power. To Zan. You don't remember how above all else, one man attracted you, well, two, because I know you were attracted to me too."
"Yeah sure. I have this thing for little boys," she sneered.
"I was not always this way!" he barked, irritated by Isabel's jibe. "Kivar saw how the two of us were close. And we were, Vilondra. We were... very... close. He didn't like it. In fact, your very own brother used to use it to irritate Kivar. That's how little your brother thought of you! So when I was selected to come and find you, he gave me..." Nikolas indicated the shape he was now inhabiting, "this. To make sure that you would not be attracted to me."
"My heart bleeds."
"You have one, Vilondra?" he asked, striking her to the core. "You do surprise me. After the way you betrayed your friends on Antar, I am surprised to hear that you think you might have one."
"No. I would never betray Max."
"Ah, but you betrayed Zan. You were so caught up in your own petty jealousy over your brother and the attention he commanded, that you sought attention of your own. And like a moth to the candle, you were drawn to Kivar. As all the women were. Oh, I am sure that you never intended to betray Zan initially, but slowly, you became more and more captivated by Kivar. He is, after all, an imposing figure. It was not too long before you would do anything to please him."
"No, I don't believe you."
"What you do or do not believe is of no concern to me, Vilondra. If you want to think that, then okay. But I am telling you that you and Kivar made a handsome couple."
"So why does Kivar dislike Max so much?"
"At first, it was all about power. He had even managed to wrest concessions from the old, sickly King, building himself a small power base. But then, after Zan became King, and reversed all those decrees... he was also constantly thwarting Kivar's schemes to regain some of that lost power, as well as frequently belittling him. Well, let's just say that it grew personal."

"So what is it that I am supposed to have done?" Isabel asked in an intimidated voice. "How did I betray Max?"
"In a number of ways. You told Kivar what went on in Zan's secret meetings. You kept him informed of where Zan would be, and why. Basically, every time Zan exhaled, Kivar knew of it thanks to you."
"So I didn't cause his death?" her hopes raised. This was her biggest fear.
"You really don't remember, do you?" laughed the young boy.
"Of course I don't!"
"Well, I think that I will keep that to myself then. Save it for another day."
"So just why are you here, Nikolas? Have you come to kidnap me?"
"Actually, I have come to offer you a deal, Vilondra."
"What kind of a deal?"
"Our mission has always been to take as many of the four of you, but most particularly Zan, back to Antar with us, using the Granolith. The Crown Prince was a later embellishment. An idea of your Nacedo, actually."
"So?"
"Well, now that the Granolith is gone, we find that we are kind of stuck here. We need a ride home, so to speak."
"I thought you said you had another way home."
"No, I said 'you' had another way home."
"Yeah, but you wouldn't tell me."
"Right. But I can show you how, if you agree to take me and my men with you."
"And deliver myself up to Kivar? Get real!"
"No, not to Kivar." He paused, and took a deep breath. "Vilondra? How would you like to rule Antar? How would you like to be the Queen? With me as your consort, of course. Together, we could rally forces large enough to defeat Kivar. You, your family's loyal followers, and me huge sections of Kivar's own army. I'm not without power of my own!"
"No! I will never betray Max."
"But you won't have to. If he isn't already executed, you could even save his life."
"But if I save his life, he will be King, so to rule, I would have to betray him."
"What if I could fix it so that he would not want to rule Antar?"
"How would you do that?" Isabel's eyes narrowed.
"Everyone has his price, Vilondra. We could offer Zan something that he would not refuse, in return for him abdicating in favor of you."
Isabel sat on Max's bed, and looked at the floor.
"Think about it, Vilondra," Nikolas urged as he crossed the room to the window. It flew open by itself. "We do not have much time. Once Kivar has executed Max, it will be harder, but not impossible, to win. The longer we delay..."
"What about Michael?"
"I think he has already made his decision to remain, hasn't he?"

***

posted on 8-Nov-2001 3:42:05 PM by WR
Okay people - You seem to be anxiously waiting to see what happes to Liz so without further adieu .....


Part 21

Everybody needs a little time away
I heard her say
From each other
Even lovers need a holiday
Far away
From each other
Hold me now
It's hard for me to say I'm sorry
I just want you to stay
After all that we've been through
I will make it up to you
I promise to
And after all that's been said and done
You're just the part of me I can't let go
Couldn't stand to be kept away
Just for the day
From your body
Wouldn't wanna be swept away
Far away
From the one that I love
Hold me now
It's hard for me to say I'm sorry
I just want you to know
Hold me now
I really want to tell you I'm sorry
I could never let you go
After all that we've been through
I will make it up to you
I promise to
And after all that's been said and done
You're just the part of me I can't let go
After all that we've been through
I will make it up to you
I promise to

Hard to Say I'm Sorry
by Chicago

He was gone. Liz sat at the bottom of the chain link fence, her broken heart pounding in her chest, while her slight frame shook with her hysterical sobbing. Even now, in the depths of her despair, she understood one thing. That right now, Max Evans, the love of her life, her… everything, was hurtling through space, at speeds of… who knows? Who cares? Max was really gone. And it had all been her fault. She had been the cause of this mess when she blindly accepted future Max’s prognosis that they had to break up to save the world. She should have gone straight to Max, ‘her’ Max and told him the truth. She could see that now. The tears of unending agony flowed down Liz’s cheeks. The mere thought of never seeing Max again had been painful enough. The reality of it was just unbearable. She ignored the concerned looks of the few people that passed by her, and continued to weep hysterically for twenty minutes, thirty minutes, she couldn’t say. She only knew that she would cry inside for all eternity.

Finally, though, her weeping abated. She started to collect herself and rose to look again at the fading trail of the departed shuttle. Soon, the white billowing clouds would be gone, just like Max. There would be only a memory to remind people that it had been there. Determined to keep something of Max inside her, she thought of all the good times they had shared. Their little talks, the shy eye contact and bashful smiles of the early days, the tentative hand holding, the euphoria of finding herself held tightly in his arms, their… amazing… kisses. As if these memories somehow opened a channel to him, that was when she felt him. Was he even now thinking of her? Was he sending his thoughts down to help her, looking after her even from outer space? No! Liz’s head snapped upright. No! He was near. She just knew that he was near, she could… feel him! With great urgency, she spun to face the viewing arena, and with a frantic sense of determination, searched the remaining crowds that still milled about. She could not see him. Had she been wrong after all? Was this some final trick of fate, of destiny to give her this false hope and then tear it away?

There was a lone figure sitting in the top row of the bleachers, in the furthermost corner. A man. His posture clearly showed that he was upset. He was leaning forwards with his head folded into his crossed arms. Liz’s heart soared at the sight of him. She had found him. Just as Michael had chosen to stay for Maria, Max too had chosen to stay after all. But who was it for? Liz didn’t care. She had found him. He hadn’t left her.
“Max!” she cried, rushing across the open terrain towards the stairs that lead up to the top of the bleachers. “Max!”
Her crying was hysterical again, but this time with joy. She ran up the stairs, taking two steps at a time. As she scurried along the top row of seats, all the while sobbing Max’s name, Max rose, his face bearing an incredulous expression.
“Liz?” he called, and he too scurried along the seats towards her.
As she drew nearer to him, he opened his arms. She could see the tracks of his own tears now. She ran full into his body, nearly knocking them both over, but he stood firm, and she wrapped her grateful arms around him. He folded his arms around her, and they hugged each other tightly, afraid that if they let go, this moment might somehow… disappear. They were both sobbing now, weeping openly, uncontrollably. For ages, they simply stood there and held on to one another. Max had not left her after all.

***

“Why?” Liz asked him at last in a gentle voice when her sobbing had subsided. There were still tears in her eyes. “Why didn’t you go, Max?”
“It didn’t feel right, Liz,” he replied with his own tears spilling down his cheeks. “I couldn’t leave you.”
“So you stayed for me?” she asked; a fresh welling of tears blurring her vision. This was too good to be true.
Max just looked deep into her eyes, and nodded. He could not trust himself to speak. She pulled him to herself more tightly, as if trying to bring them even closer together. Finally, even though it took a great effort to do so, she leaned back from his comforting embrace, and looked up at the dark haired young man who she feared she would never see again.
“God, Max!” There was a hint of teasing laughter through her tears. “You look terrible.”
Max gave a simple shrug.
“I haven’t slept,” he replied. “Not since…” Max raised his hand and ran his fingers along the scar that remained from the night he had fallen from Liz’s balcony. Liz reached up, and repeated his action, running her own fingers over his blemish.
“Would you heal it, Max?” she asked with a gentle tenderness. “Please?”
Max caught her hand, and held it to his wound. All the while, looking into Liz’s eyes, he concentrated on the damaged tissue and healed himself, through Liz’s small, delicate fingers.
“Oh…” Liz emitted a soft little moan.
When Max pulled their hands away, the wound was gone. Liz rewarded him with a big smile, and another hug. Perhaps it was a statement. A beginning of the healing process that was even now, going on between two soul mates.

***

They embraced once more, soaking each other in their tears. Relishing in the reality that they were together again. To a passer-by, this young couple were locked together for an eternity, but to them it seemed like only a brief moment. Liz reluctantly pulled away and broke the spell.
“Come on,” she took control in that gentle manner of hers. “My aunt and uncle live close by. Let’s go and get you some sleep.”
Nodding mutely, Max allowed Liz to guide him. This was Liz and he trusted her implicitly. She assisted Max, who was now starting to show the signs of his fatigue, along the row of seats, and down the stairs of the bleachers, to the ground below. He followed her through the observation area, under the tunnel, and out into the main thoroughfare. Surprisingly, there were still large crowds of people milling about. There even seemed to be a few tailgate parties. Holding onto her hand with a constriction that suggested he feared losing her should he let go, Max kept up with Liz through these crowds towards the bus stop, with its line of waiting busses. Liz guided them to a bus that had ‘Melbourne’ designated as it’s destination. As they approached the doorway, Liz stopped Max, and pointed to the large advertisement for a new brand of perfume on the bus’ side.
“Destiny! It’s in your hands.”
Liz gave Max a big smile, a quick hug, and then led him onto the bus.

Neither one of them trusted their emotional condition enough to speak, so they sat in silence, holding one another’s hand and looking longingly into each other’s eyes. They couldn’t just see the emotions of the other; they could feel them. The bus pulled over in a residential area, just on the outskirts of Melbourne. As Liz led Max off the bus, he was grateful that she knew where she was going. She turned onto a large boulevard that was identified as ‘Atlantic Drive North’ and started to walk along the sidewalk, their hands still joined together in a tender hold. Max could not take his eyes off of the ocean, a fact that Liz noticed and made her smile as though he were a little child. When she turned up a pathway that led across a neat lawn and up to an elegant looking bungalow, Max paused.
“What will you say to them?” he asked. They were the first words either of them had spoken since they had headed towards the bus stop. “Your aunt… and uncle, I mean.”
Liz could not help smiling at his nervousness.
“It’s okay Max,” she teased, stepping closer to him. “They’re still away on vacation.”
“Alone, huh?” His smile was shy and tentative, and he could not hide his nervousness.

Using her own key, Liz opened the front door to the house, and Max followed her inside.
“You should phone Isabel,” Liz pointed at the phone. Max did not fail to miss the momentary coldness in her voice. She looked up at him again. “She’s really scared Max,” she explained.
“Yeah,” he sighed, looking at the telephone as though it might leap out and bite him. “Could I have a shower first Liz? I’ve been sitting on a bus for two days.”
“Sure Max,” Liz opened a door in the hallway, and pulled out a large towel from the cupboard. She led him to another door, and handed him the towel. “It’s through there. I’ll get you some of my uncle’s clothes. You may have to, you know… alter them, but at least they’re clean.”
Max found a clean change of clothes in a neat pile just inside the bathroom door when he emerged clean and wet from behind the opaque shower curtain. He smiled at the thought of Liz pushing them through a small gap in the door, and not peeking around the corner. He also found a new toothbrush, still in its packaging and smiled to himself. They were Liz’s relatives, all right. He dried himself, dressed – after shrinking the clothes to fit – and then brushed his teeth. He felt better. Better than he had in ages. It wasn’t just the shower. He and Liz were friends again. Maybe, in time… He found her in the kitchen, making some coffee.
“Feeling any better?” she asked with a sweet smile. Her face was a bright crimson. Max wondered why.
“Yeah,” he replied with a shy smile of his own. “A lot better. Thank you, Liz.”
“You better phone Isabel,” she beamed at Max, as she approached him and handed him a large cup of steaming coffee, and a bottle of Tobasco sauce. He gave her a look of gratitude and after he took the coffee from her, she laid her hand on his arm. “I think I’ll take a shower while you call her.”
“Keep your mind on the coffee,” Max repeated to himself, over and over.

***

Max was really nervous as he waited for someone to pick up the phone. He pulled the healing stones from his pocket, still there from that morning, and started to rotate them in his hand again. The gentle whirring sound soothed his nerves..
“Hello, Iz?” Max hesitated. “It’s me.”
“OhmyGod! OhmyGod! Max?” she screamed down the phone. “We thought you had gone. We though you had… I was so scared Max.”
“No, Iz,” Max interrupted. “I’m still here, on… Earth.”
“Thank you God!” her voice was full of emotion. “Where are you? Are you in Roswell?”
“No, I’m not in Roswell, Iz. I’m not even in New Mexico.”
“Where are you? When will you be home? You are coming home, aren’t you?”
“I’m safe, Iz. And yeah, I’ll be home soon. I just need some time, away from who I am, from… what I’ve done. I need to be… normal, for a while. Will you let Michael know? I’ll see you both soon, okay?”

***

Liz emerged from the bathroom after her shower wearing a thick cloud of scented steam and a large fluffy bath towel. Knowing full well that Max would not be standing out there, she nevertheless scurried across the hallway and into the bedroom she spent the entire last summer crying herself to sleep in. Once safely in her room, she set about the laborious task of drying herself, her hair, and otherwise making herself presentable for Max. As she waved the hair dryer over her dark, damp locks, she envied Max and his power that would let him dry his own hair in an instant. Satisfied that she had finished, and while she dressed in some of her aunt’s clothes, she spied the telephone on the bedside cabinet. Maria, she thought, I had better let her know that I’m okay.
“Hey Maria,” Liz was nervous as she spoke into the handset.
“Liz? Oh God! You’re okay!” Maria squealed with excitement. “We thought… when the shuttle… oh Liz! We thought you left with Max.”
“I didn’t leave, Maria,” Liz chided. “And neither did Max.”
“Yeah,” the relief in Maria’s voice was evident. “I can see you didn’t… Wait! What do you mean, ‘neither did Max’?”
“I found him Maria.” She wondered if Maria could sense her smile. “He didn’t leave me after all. He could have, but he chose to stay.”
“What? So you are with him?” Maria was angry now. “Right now, I mean? Liz, we need to talk.”
“Yeah, Maria. When I get back.” Liz sounded annoyed.
“What about Sean?”
“Maria, I could never see Sean as more than a friend.”
“So you’ve been using him?”
“I’m sorry if you see it that way, but you know…” Liz sounded forlorn. “I just can’t see me spending the rest of my life with him. He knows how I feel.”
”And how do you feel?” Maria barked.
“Why can’t you be happy for me, Maria?” Liz snapped. “You know how much I love Max. Why can’t you just support me for a change?”
Liz slammed the phone down, feeling nothing but anger at her friend. She looked at the handset, biting her lower lip. Perhaps she should call back and apologize. No, that would give Maria an excuse to try and talk Liz out of following her heart. She will get over it, Liz decided.
“Besides, I better call Mom and Dad.”

***

Liz stood in the living room doorway; just gazing at the back of Max’s head while he watched CNN. A smile of contentment played on her lips as she pretended, if only for a moment, that she had had their day in the Elvis Wedding Chapel. She momentarily envied Max his vision of that event. She gave out a small sigh.
“It was a storm,” Max spoke over his shoulder, perhaps hearing Liz, perhaps sensing her.
“Excuse me?” she grinned.
“A storm… a tropical storm… heading this way.” Max stammered. “That’s why they launched it early.”
“Oh, the shuttle, right,” Liz started to walk into the room.
“They had to launch or they would have missed their win…”
Liz was fully in the room now and had fully captured Max’s attention. Her aunt was the same size as Liz, and was a bit of a fashion slave. She was wearing a pair of tight white shorts with high cut legs, and a tight, white, cropped shirt tied across her bare midriff.
“…dow,” Max continued, his mouth dropping open as he gaped at the stunning Liz.
She continued into the room and, secretly grateful that Max had not elected to sit in an armchair, sat next to Max, as close to him as she could. He had not taken his eyes from her, and she could feel him tremble as she pressed against him. Liz smiled bashfully and gave a silent shout of triumph.
“Did you phone Isabel, Max?” she asked, breaking the spell for the moment.
“Uh… yeah,” his eyes briefly darkened. “You were right. She was really scared. She is also very upset and angry with me.”
“I’m not surprised, Max,” she scolded him. “I was too.”

Max looked up and saw the hurt in her eyes.
“I am so sorry Liz,” he murmured with tenderness.
“It’s okay, Max,” she comforted him. This was not the time for accusations. “Everyone runs away from something at some time in their life.” Liz thought back to last summer.
“Yeah, for that,” Max sank back into the sofa with resignation. “But for everything Liz. Everything that I have done to you. To us. I am sorry for doubting you. I am sorry for shouting at you. I am sorry for betraying you, hurting you. You! The only good thing that I have ever had in my life.”
Max sat forward again and turned his body towards Liz, taking one of her hands in his. He gazed with deep affection into her eyes, and gently wiped a single tear away. Their heads slowly drifted together, lightly touching their foreheads together.
“Why Liz?” he asked with a puzzled frown. “Why did you come after me? After everything I have done to hurt you, why?”
Liz looked thoughtful for a moment, and returned Max’s smile.
“I guess that’s the sort of thing you do when you feel a certain way about someone.”
“You still feel a certain way about me?” his eyes blinked wide with surprise. “What about… Sean?”
“Sean and I aren’t together. You know, I just had a few dates with him.”
“Oh,” Max looked down now, Liz knew that something was bothering him.
“What is it, Max?” Her tone suggested that there would be no secrets any more. That those days had gone.
“It’s just that… he said that… he said that you… and he…” Max was stammering, hardly able to formulate his sentence. He gave up, and shook his head. “Um, sorry. It’s none of my business.”
“Oh, well, he was lying Max. We didn’t.” Liz’s eyes turned downcast as she shook her head. “Well, I mean, we nearly did. I was so mad and upset with you, I went to see him…”
“You don’t have to explain, Liz.”
“No, Max, I do!” Liz was adamant, her eyes burning with fierce determination now. It all ends here. “I think I really do. Anyway, I started kissing him, and he kissed me back, but it felt wrong Max. It was just… wrong. So I stopped. Nothing happened.”
Max’s head dropped. Although there was a part of him that was happy with this fact, he had hoped that if she too had been with another, it would somehow redress the balance. Liz laid her hand on his arm, this gesture attracting his attention. On a moment of pure impulse, she leaned forward, and her soft warm lips brushed his cheek, leaving an affectionate, caring kiss. It was a kiss that said ‘friends’.
“We’ll work it out Max.” Her smile was filled with warm compassion. “Now why don’t you get some sleep.”

***

Did you like it? Was it worth the wait? *happy* *happy* *happy*
LivE - Hang on. ;)


posted on 10-Nov-2001 4:45:23 PM by WR
So you like that part? Well, these two have much to discuss, but for now, lets see what is happening in Roswell. *happy*


Part 22

So Max had left. Michael watched Maria dance around the café until like Kyle and Isabel, he too had had enough. Not once had Maria considered the possibility that Liz had left with Max. 'She is too clever for that,' Maria had insisted. Michael didn't really want to be in the same room if Maria ever found out that she was wrong. Michael suspected that if Liz had the choice, she would be on that shuttle with Max right now. At this moment, she would probably be chewing him out for being so stupid in the first place.
Making his way through the streets, he regretted catching a lift that morning with Maria, because now he had to walk home. At least it gave him the opportunity to think about how he really felt. Max was gone. For the best part of twenty months, they had lurched from one inept decision to another as Max imposed his will on them all, dragging them into realms they did not want to go. Perhaps it was for the best that he had gone. Yeah, he decided as he unlocked the door to his apartment. Best that he had gone.

He sensed his visitor before he saw her. With a slight pause to gather his breath, Michael stormed into his room and held his hand raised, about to fire a blast of energy at the intruder.
"No!" she barked urgently, making no threatening moves. "No! I'm not here for a fight. I'm only here to talk." She was quite attractive. The woman standing in his room was just a few inches shorter than he was, with long ginger hair and a freckled complexion. She wore jeans, and a denim jacket. "I was a friend of Courtney's."
"That means you're a..."
"Yes, Michael, I am one of your followers."
Relaxing his posture a little, Michael still maintained a watchful eye on her.
"Well, you have me at a disadvantage. You know my name, but I don't know yours."
"You can call me Layla. That is the name I was given to use down here."
"Okay, Layla." Michael watched her, his nerves tingling. "Why don't you sit down?"
The girl turned to the sofa, and sat down. Michael took his one dining room chair, and turned it so the back faced the girl. He straddled the chair and leaned against its back, but kept his energy level ready. She might say she was a friend, but how did he know?

"Now why don't you tell me what this is all about."
"About you," she stated. "About you finally seeing sense in what we have been trying to tell you."
"What about it?" Michael demanded. "What does it matter now? You know Max is on his way back to Antar, right?"
"Yes, we are aware of that fact. We are also aware that it is even more imperative that you agree to lead us, now more than ever."
"And why is that?"
"Because Max will soon be in Kivar's hands. If there is no figurehead to rally behind, to lead them, the rebellion will collapse. Kivar will have complete autonomous control of Antar, and soon, the other Planets will be forced to bow to him."
"Okay, fine. How does that affect me?"
"Don't think that Kivar will ignore your little planet here, Michael. Once he is in control back home, he will turn to this new planet of resources. He will have no need of the populace, he will simply obliterate them, like he will have obliterated all his opponents on Antar."
"How many of you are there?"
"About a dozen."
"So you think that me and a dozen of you will be able to stop him?"
"No, Michael. I don't. But if you seize power from... Max, there are more on Antar who will follow. With a popular leader against Kivar, even Max's followers will see that you are the better alternative. With your leadership, we 'will' defeat Kivar."
"Well, I doubt I could do any worse than Max, but... but he's my friend."
"Michael, when Kivar gets him, he will be dead anyway. We have no time, Michael. You must be declared Max's replacement before Kivar gets him. This will also negate the power he will hold in Max's son. Will you at least think about it?"
Michael furrowed his brow, and started to rub his chin. "I will think about it," he confirmed.
"Michael, there is something else," Layla spoke with a gentleness. "To defeat Kivar, to ensure you have the loyalty of those who follow you, you will need a strong Queen."
"Maria can be strong," Michael shrugged.
"All of your followers like Maria. She is a wonderful, vibrant person, and her loyalty to you is strong, but when you come up against Kivar, you will need brains and guile."
"I have brains! I have guile! What are you saying?"
"Michael. Even if it is only a partnership of convenience, the other one, Liz, would be an excellent choice."
"I think you have said enough. I want you to leave."
The lack of conviction in Michael's tone told Layla that the seed had been sown. She had accomplished her mission.

***

The phone rang an hour after Layla had left. It was Isabel, summoning him to meet her in Max's room. He had tried to turn her down, but something in her voice told him he needed to get there. He was now gunning his motorcycle to the Evans household. His route was followed on auto-pilot. Wresting leadership from Max? Just because he had decided not to return... home, to turn his back on his heritage did not mean that he wouldn't be the subject of any further alien action. He was, when all was said and done an alien. Looking back, trouble always seemed to follow Max. Every decision he made seemed like it just bred more problems. He seemed to stumble from one disaster to another. His actions seemed to draw attention to them. Michael wished there were someone to turn to, some one who could help him decide how to handle this. Could he do any better? And how did he feel about the suggestion that he replace Maria with Liz? Assuming, that Liz was even here anymore. There had been a time when he was envious of Max and the unquestioning loyalty he received from Liz. Was that its extent though? Was he envious because Liz was attracted to Max, and not him? Did he have a thing for Liz?
"Of course not!" he admonished himself above the roar of the engine. "I love Maria!"
Perhaps, but what if he was the leader? Michael was sure that he would be a better leader than Max. Perhaps if he had acted when he had originally wanted them to...

It felt strange approaching Max's window in this way. Not just because it had been so long since he had last had to, but because now that Max was travelling to Antar, he thought those days were long gone. But Isabel had asked him to come. He had no idea why she had sounded so strange, but clearly something had happened. He climbed into Max's bedroom to find Isabel sitting on the edge of the bed. He was surprised by the neatness. Michael had heard all about Max's obsessive search for data, but having given him a wide berth, had not seen it for himself.
"Okay, Iz. What's up?"
"Max called me," her voice had a raw edge to it.
"What?" his surprise was obvious. "He called from the shuttle?"
"No, he called from whatever phone he was at," she snapped. "He never left. I think Liz found him,"
"So where are they?"
"He wouldn't say," she shook her head, looking at the floor. "He says he needs a little time, that he'll be home soon."
"Yeah, I'll bet he does," he smirked. "You know what this means?"
"That he couldn't go through with it. That he still needs us."
"No, that you have to thank Liz now. You owe her, because you can bet that she is the only reason he would have stayed." There was an underlying anger to Michael's words.
"You don't sound too happy about it," Isabel accused.
"He's supposed to be our leader! Our King!"
"Didn't you make your choice? Didn't you turn your back on him already? So what does it matter?"
"What matters is that these crazy stunts of his always seem to put us in some kind of danger!" he snapped.
"You're changing your tune!" Isabel narrowed her eyes.
Michael flexed his shoulders. "I kind of have to. It puts Maria in danger too, you know."
"Well, if Max hadn't saved Liz in the first place..."
"Yeah, I still say that was a mistake. I mean, everything that's happened, the danger we have faced. It all goes back to that day."
"So you would trade what you have with Maria for getting our anonymity back?" Isabel was flabbergasted.
"That's not what I said."
"That's exactly what you said Michael! If Max had let Liz die, you would never have met Maria. We would never have let her in, or Liz, or Jim, or Kyle, or... Alex."
"So what are you saying, Iz?"
"I want my brother back. And so far, the version of the brother I love the best is the one that is with Liz."
"Who's changing their tune now?"

***

"Okay, so he didn't leave," Kyle said as they walked down the street together. Maria had been sent on an errand by Jeff Parker, and bumped into Kyle, who she told about Liz's phone call. "You know, I think this might be what they need. What Max needs."
"Huh!" Maria sulked. "What about Liz? She so does not need him."
"Well clearly, she begs to differ," Kyle soothed. "I mean, Maria, why do you hate Max so much? What has he done to you?"
"Look how much he hurt Liz, chasing after that tramp so visibly." Maria didn't see Kyle flinch with his own pain.
"Maria," Kyle sighed, turning to face her. "Last summer, you grew pretty close to him, yeah? As a friend, I mean."
"Yeah, he sure suckered me," Maria shook her head. "I can see how Liz got sucked right on in there."
"And in that time, did he ever give you any kind of hint that maybe he wanted someone... other than Liz?"
"No, of course not!"
"Okay then, put yourself in his shoes."
"Ew!" she squealed.
"No, I mean look at it from his point of view." Kyle shoulders slumped. It was hard talking to Maria.
"Do I have to?"
"Yes!" Kyle commanded. "It might help you to see straight. You know, Max has always looked out for us. All of us. First it was just Isabel and Michael. Then it became Liz, you, and Alex too. Then my dad, and yes, even me, and..."
"Don't even think her name," she scolded.
"He is seventeen, Maria!" Kyle stated. "As well as looking out for all of us, he finds that he is this king of some planet that he has to save. Then, the ones he calls his friends, start to... I don't know, abandon him, I guess."
"What do you mean?" Maria demanded.
"Okay, first Liz runs from him, and takes off for Disneyland."
"She went to visit her aunt."
"Whatever. Anyway, Michael acts like a jerk..."
"As usual!"
"Do you want to hear this?" Kyle demanded.
"I'm all ears."

"You know," he turned again as they continued up the street. "He was surrounded on all sides. Lies and betrayal, pushed away by the people he cares about, the people he thought cared about him. He should have been having fun, you know, dates and stuff, making out... with Liz. Instead, he was trying to hold everything together, including himself. Then when Alex... died, he's got to believe that if it was alien related, like Liz told him... Well, lets just say that he believes he's a failure. That he's failed us. Who wants to think he is a failure when you are just seventeen? You know what? Do you think you could handle all that, Maria?"
Maria, playing with her vial of Cypress oil, shook her head.
"The only one who supported him was Tess. Even Liz had abandoned him, and trust me, I know how much that hurt. If that had been Michael, he would have given in to Tess's advances ages ago."
"Oh, so you're saying Michael had a thing for Tess?" she accused.
"No!" Kyle asserted. "And neither did Max!"
"You don't know what you are talking about!" she accused him. Kyle could see that he had reached her.

They remained quiet for a while, each lost in their own thoughts.
"He saw her get shot you know," Kyle broke the silence.
"Who?" Maria snapped out of her own deliberations.
"Max. Liz. The day of the hold-up. We were out in the desert, and Max saw the future. He saw Liz get shot. He was so terrified, Maria."
"Yeah, that was convenient, wasn't it?"
"What are you suggesting, Maria?" Kyle gaped at her with an incredulous expression. "That he set the whole thing up to make him look good? So that he could get back with Liz?"
"Why not, Kyle?" she asked. "I mean, it was how he got her from you."
"That's beneath you Maria. You know Max better than that."
"You're turning into quite a guy, Kyle. I mean, you, more than any of us have the most reason to hate Max. Yet you don't."
"I just don't think this is entirely Max's fault," Kyle shook his head. "I mean, you would have to be blind to not notice how much they care about one another, even when things were their most bleak. Liz would have dumped me eventually. They would have found each other. And Tess? Well, until that last minute there, he never actively pursued her, did he? Something happened to him. I'd stake my life on it."
A car slowed to a halt beside them as they used a short cut, turning down an alley. Two men with a tangled map climbed from the car.
"Excuse me," one started. Neither Maria nor Kyle heard the rest of the sentence, as they were both injected with something. They both collapsed to a heap on the floor. The two men lifted Kyle into the trunk of the car, and sped off, leaving Maria slumped against the wall.

***

Venn moved back from the doorway that he had taken refuge behind after he had accidentally stumbled upon the two Earth kids friendly to Isabel and Michael. It had been interesting listening to them discuss Max like that. The sudden appearance of the car and the abduction of the boy had surprised him. What reason could there be to snatch him like that? Who were the two men who had snatched the boy? They did not look like any of the Skins he had seen around. Perhaps Kivar had found a way to get more men here? But why the Earth boy? Venn hurried out into the street, and managed to lose himself in the crowd.

***

Isabel sat on Kyle's sofa trying her best to comfort Maria. She had been on the verge of hysterics since Isabel arrived, and heard Maria's confusing story that suggested Kyle had been kidnapped. Maria had come here first, hoping that Kyle would also make his way here, but found the house empty instead. When it became apparent that Kyle wouldn't be turning up, she called the others.
"One minute we're like... talking about Max, when this car pulls up. The next, I'm like zonko on the sidewalk and Kyle is like, gone."
Both Maria and Isabel were sitting on the edge of the bed, watching Michael pace frantically back and forth.
"I wish Liz were here," Maria moaned. "No offence Isabel."
"That's okay, Maria, 'cause I wish Max was here."
"We don't need Max!" Michael barked, his look showing how irritated he was.
"So what do we do then, Michael?"

"Okay, we take your car, and Kyle's," he ordered Maria. "We cruise the streets looking for him."
"He won't be outside in plain view, Michael," Isabel snapped. "Besides, he might not even be in town anymore."
"Do you want to do this?" It was not difficult to sense Michael's agitation. It was clear that he had no idea what to do as he continued to pace the room. From time to time, he would stop with a look that suggested he wanted to say something, but with a shake of his head, he started to pace once more.
"Okay," he came out with at last. "You and Isabel look in Roswell, I'll cruise around the other towns."
Iz and Maria exchanged worried glances.
"No, wait." Michael countermanded "Lets go ask the people near where they took him if they saw anything."
"What if they did, Michael? What do you think they might say? Oh, they went that-a-way."
"Hey, it's a start."
"It's a dumb start." Maria mumbled.
"Michael," Isabel interrupted, "if they were the type of people to tell a couple of nosey kids what they saw, don't you think they might have told the police already?"
It was evident that the situation rested heavily on Michael's shoulders.

"It's not easy, is it, Michael?" Jim asked from doorway.
"What isn't?" he snapped at Jim.
"Leadership," Jim stated. "It can do things to people. Affect them in strange ways. You never know how they will handle it until they have to. You never know how they will react to the pressure."
"Well, seeing as Max has let us down again, I have had to take over. You know, I'm kind of new at this."
"Why is that, Michael? Why is it that you are new to this?"
"Because this was Max's responsibility before."
"Uh huh. Why is it that you are allowed to have a life, while Max isn't? Max was hurting, and none of you offered any support. No one wanted to lighten his load. Instead of trying to help him, no one wanted him around. Remember the way he handled the FBI. That was leadership at it's best. And now you have another problem, and he's the best thing since sliced bread. Only now he's not around to help. And if he were here, you would only criticize every decision he makes. You know what? He doesn't deserve you. He deserves better."
"Hey, I don't hear you coming out with any suggestions," Michael growled. "He's your son!"
"What are you talking about?" Jim demanded. "What's going on."
"We were talking," Maria explained. "Me and Kyle. Anyway this car, big, blue, I don't know. Two men and they ask us, but we... but I... When I woke up, he was gone."
"Someone kidnapped Kyle," Isabel explained, rolling her eyes. "We don't know who. We don't know why."
Jim took a long look at each of the three teens, picked up the phone and punched in a number.
"Who are you calling?" Michael demanded.
"Put me through to Sheriff Hanson." Jim ordered when someone answered the phone at the other end. He placed his hand over the mouthpiece, and spoke to the room, "Michael, in the bookshelf, the dictionary."
Michael crossed to the bookshelf with a complete look of puzzlement, and pulled out the dictionary.
"Look up the word 'loxodrome," Jim told Michael as he was crossing towards him.
"Why?" Michael barked. "How will this help?"
"Michael, please?"
"Okay, okay...." Michael leafed through the pages. "Got it."
"Now look at the word beneath it, Michael. It might come in handy."
Michael looked at the page, and with a look of absolute disgust, slammed the book shut.
"Hanson? Jim. Jim Valenti. Remember you asked me what was going on? Do you want to come around to my place? I'll tell you all about it."

***




posted on 8-Dec-2001 3:30:11 PM by WR
Hi everyone! Thank you so much for your comments, and your opinions. And special thanks for your compliments on my work. I truly appreciate them all. Thank you for taking the time to read my story. *happy* *happy* *happy*

Please be carefull what you say about S3 though. Living in the UK, I am unable to see the episode until my tape arrived. I should get eps 4,5 & 6 next week some time.

I am sorry that I have fallen behind on this board. I have been unable to get on, and when I do, I am unable to post. :( This is my thirs attempt tonight!

Wayne



Part 23

Nikolas looked around the room, as though he was searching for something that might somehow make sense of what he had just heard from his lieutenant.
"Are you sure about this Grier?" he demanded. "They took the Earth guy, Kyle?"
"Yes sir," Grier confirmed. "Two guys got out of a car, they looked like they were asking directions. They injected both of the kids, and they collapsed. They put the guy into the back of an SUV, and took off, leaving the girl behind. We couldn't follow them, because we didn't want to lose the other Protector, and he might have seen us anyway."
"I smell a rat," Nikolas narrowed his eyes. "How many of the rebels are left?"
"About a dozen, why?"
"Because I think they have just raised the stakes. I think Max's disappearance has made everyone a little jumpy. Maybe they worked out how to use the stones, and want to pressure the other two into helping them."
"But surely the girl would have been a better choice. Michael would have worked with them to save her."
"Depends. Not if it's Vilondra who is in charge. I want someone watching the remaining royals at all times. Especially that moron 'second in command'!"

***

With a big yawn, and a long stretch of his whole body, Max awoke from his sleep. Had Liz really crossed the country to try and stop him from leaving, or had it all been an amazing dream?
"Hey," a soft and tender voice greeted him.
He could tell that the voice was beaming down at him. So it had not been a dream after all. He beamed with her. Max opened his eyes to see the beautiful face of Liz, gazing back at him. She was sitting on the edge of the bed, with a warm smile of contentment on her face. Max continued to return the smile.
"Hey," he answered.
"Did you have a good sleep?" she asked.
"Yeah," Max nodded. "I did, thanks." He stretched again. "What time is it?"
"It's a little after seven," Liz lightly stroked his arm. "Are you hungry at all, Max? I know a great restaurant a short walk from here, down on the beach."
"I, uh..." Max looked about in embarrassment, finally settling on a spot on the floor. "I don't have any money, Liz." His stomach rumbled to emphasizing that he was starving.
"When was the last time you ate, Max?" she chided him tenderly.
"Um... two days ago," he mumbled.
"It's okay, Max," she chuckled. "I have some money."
His face slightly downcast, Max looked up from beneath his eyebrows at this amazing girl. "Liz?" he finally croaked. "I wish, I wish I could treat you how you deserved to be treated."
"How's that, Max?" she beamed coyly.
"The finest quality, Liz. The best restaurants, chauffeur driven limousines, the finest clothes, jewels... like a, like a..."
"A Queen?" Liz completed breathlessly. Max's Queen? How wonderful that sounded.
"Yeah," Max looked away bashfully. How stupid was that? As if Liz would ever want that, after what he had done? "What will your parents say? About uh... us, being here... alone like this?"
"Oh," Liz shook her head, and pulled her eyes from Max's. "I phoned them earlier. I told them that I needed to get away, what with everything that is going on." She blanched at the thought of what her father would say if he knew Max was here. "They were okay with it. I... um... didn't tell them I had company. What about yours?"
"I expect that I will need to do some major groveling when I get home, but then, I've been getting good at that lately, haven't I?"
Liz watched Max carefully; noting his changing features as his emotions seemed to play with each little muscular gesture. She wondered if he would be offended by a hug.
"Why don't you freshen up Max," she said instead. "Then lets go eat."

Max stood on the porch, looking across the lawn, and over the road to the ocean, while Liz was locking the door behind him. From the house next door, a small, thin, elderly man emerged with a large German Shepherd dog on a leash. He was eyeing Max with suspicion as he approached him, being pulled by the growling dog. At that moment, Liz stepped out onto the porch and stood next to Max. The man's scowl immediately broke into a huge grin of delight.
"Lizzie!" he announced. "We never knew you were coming out."
The dog continued to pull the man, but his growling ceased. His ears had flopped back, his tongue now hung from his mouth and his tail was wagging like a demented metronome.
"Oh, hi Mr. Blumberg," she smiled at the old man. Liz bent down to the big dog that was bounding towards her. She rubbed the scruff of his neck. "Hello... Max," she greeted the large dog. "Yeah, I..." she continued to Mr. Blumberg, blushing. It was clear that she did not know what to say at having been caught with a young man, coming out of her aunt's house.
"We came out to look at the college up in Jacksonville," Max, the one with less fur, helped. He too bent and petted the shepherd who had now turned his attention to his namesake.
"Yeah," confirmed Liz, giving her Max a grateful smile.
"FSU?" Mr. Blumberg queried. "So what happened to Harvard?"
"Just checking out some options, Mr. Blumberg," Liz treated him to her best smile. And why not smile, she asked herself. Max was with her.
"Uh huh," Mr. Blumberg beamed back. "And, uh... who's this?" He nodded at Max.
"Oh," Liz continued to grin. "This is my... friend, Max. Max Evans."
Friend, thought Max, his head dropping. Yeah, that's all he was. It was all he deserved to be. But at least he was that. At least he was her friend again. It was better than... the alternative. Max looked up to see Mr. Blumberg looking at him with a puzzled expression.
"Well," Liz spoke out giving the dog a final rub of its scruff, "we're going over to Bepe's for dinner."
"You are going to break Paolo's heart," Mr. Blumberg scolded with a laugh. Paolo, wondered Max? "Taking this young man with you."
"He'll live, Mr. Blumberg," Liz rolled her eyes. "He'll live."

***

As Max and Liz walked down the path towards the road, Mr. Blumberg watched the young couple walk away. He noticed the slow way their hands gravitated towards each other, taking a shy and tentative hold. He smiled to himself, and shook his head with an understanding resignation.
"They are in love," he spoke to the dog seated on its hind legs beside him. "But they are each afraid that the other doesn't love them back."
Joshua Blumberg reached down and patted his dog's head. "And her smile!" He lifted his spare hand to his heart. "Oye vay! What a smile she has. I wish poor ol' Walt could've lived to see that smile. And that man with her? That is one lucky young man."
Joshua turned and led his dog back to his house. "Max Evans, where have I heard his name before?"

***

"Max?" Max asked Liz with an amused grin on his face as they crossed the road to the beach walkway.
"Excuse me?" Liz questioned.
"The dog, his name is Max?"
"Oh, yeah..." Liz face colored immediately. She could not help her lopsided smile. "Mr. Blumberg only got him last summer. He uh...okay, this is embarrassing Max."
"It is?" Max raised his eyebrows in a playful gesture.
"Um... yeah, it is. He said I could name him, so I named him Max."
"'Cause of his dark hair and brown eyes?"
"Um, no 'cause he was friendly and cuddly, and I... was missing you so much."
"I missed you too, Liz," there was a twinkling in Max's laughter that had been missing for too long now. "But I never named a dog after you."
Liz hit his shoulder with her spare hand.
"You're such a jerk," she laughed back.

Bepe's was a neat little restaurant on the beach. The tables and chairs were spread across the sand, while a square wooden hut with four wooden walls swung out and propped up as extra ceilings, served as the kitchen. It seemed quite popular, as there were only a few empty tables. One of the waiters, a young man with dark wavy hair, approached them at once. He had a huge smile for Liz, but he could only scowl at Max. He tried to give Liz a kiss, but she turned away, allowing him to only kiss her cheek. Max drew a shape in the sand with his foot, while she greeted the young man who could only be one person.
"Paolo?" Max asked when the attentive young waiter had seated them.
"Yeah," sighed Liz. Her manner suggested that she was not as attracted to the young man as he would like. "He pestered me for a date all last summer. I kept telling him I had a boyfriend back home, but he wouldn't believe me."
Max wondered why she told him that, for it clearly embarrassed her to talk about the past summer.
"Back then, Liz... while uh, you were here, did you really think that? Think of me as your boyfriend, I mean?" Max knew that he had never stopped thinking of her as his girlfriend, but to imagine that she felt the same way?
"Of course I did, Max," she gave a heavy sigh, and closed her eyes to try and ward off the tears that threatened to spill at the returning memories.
"You never thought of..." he could hardly say it, "moving on?" Max remembered the image he received from Liz when he healed that bruise from the hostage situation. She had been sitting on a beach - this beach, he realized - and turning down dates with attractive young men.
"No, Max," Liz denied with an emphatic shake of her head. She looked down at her lap. "Never," her voice croaked in a whisper.
Max placed his hand over hers, a gesture not missed by Paolo, and Liz looked up at his touch. Their eyes held each other's gaze, as they just drank in the sight of their soul mate.

***

Sheriff Hanson looked around the room at the three teenagers sitting uncomfortably on the sofa and at a very agitated Jim Valenti. He would have to have been particularly dense to not notice the nervous atmosphere in the room.
"It all started," Jim started to explain, "back when we had that reported shooting in the Crashdown. Remember how rumors suggested that Ms. Parker had been shot, and those two tourists claimed that they couldn't find the bullet?"
"Yeah," Hanson nodded. "I remember."
"Well, ever since that time, these kids have been hounded by a group of nuts. I guess I'm partly to blame, I mean, it was my fault that that madman Hubble took it into his head thinking how one of 'em was an alien. He drew his gun on him, he was going to shoot the boy."
"Which one was that, Jim?"
"Does it matter?" Jim shrugged. "Anyway, last spring, some others kidnapped the same boy and held him in an old abandoned lab upstate. They conducted experiments on him, for crying out loud. The morons were convinced he was an alien."
Jim paused, while Hanson glanced around the room.
"We managed to rescue him, and I guess they found out he was just your average teen after all, 'cause they left well enough alone. Until earlier this year. You remember, the Grant Sorenson case?"
Hanson nodded his head. It was how he had become the new sheriff.
"So in a way, I feel responsible. Me chasing up that story of those tourists in the first place was what caused this trouble. Anyway, Hanson, Kyle's gone missing. We have reason to believe that he may have been kidnapped by some more 'alien hunters.'"
"So that's how come you always seem to be involved with these kids?"
"They're good kids," Jim nodded. "A credit to Roswell."
"Okay," Hanson produced his notebook. "Why don't you tell me about when you last saw Kyle."

***

When the plates had been cleared from their table, and coffee had been brought out to them, Liz moved her chair closer to Max. Together, they sat looking out at the stillness of the ocean.
"I really am sorry, you know Liz." Max, mumbled as he took Liz's hand in his.
"I know you are, Max," Liz soothed.
"If I apologize to you every day from now until eternity, it will never cover how sorry I truly feel."
Liz smiled, her eyelids drooping. She lifted her free hand across to Max's face, lightly touching his cheek.
"Max?" she asked. "I know you said that you didn't love her like you love me, but why did you do it? You know, it's just... It's just so not like you." Even though it caused her pain, the truth was important to Liz. She knew that she had to get everything out in the open so Max could start to leave this excess baggage he had been carrying behind him for good.
"It's hard to explain Liz," Max sighed with more frustration than he ever felt possible, "and totally inexcusable, I know. But you had been... pushing me away. Michael was being... well, Michael. And Isabel, um, I guess she was being even more Isabel-like. I felt so isolated, so alone. But Tess, who you seemed to keep on pushing me to, was always there. Always. Then when you said what you said when we were dancing... at the prom... I was so upset, so confused. I knew I had lost you then, that it was over, and Tess was there. I guess I just needed some comfort. And when Alex died," the grief in Max's voice was terrible. It was as if he blamed himself for Alex's death, and not Tess. "And you and I... fou... had words, Tess... she was there again. But I honestly don't know how it happened, Liz. Not that it's any excuse. It just seemed to. I don't know. It's all a bit vague, you know? Just feelings."
"Oh," was all Liz could trust herself to say. She didn't know what hurt her more. Listening to Max talk about what he did, hearing the pain he had gone through, or seeing the pain he felt now.
"Liz?" Max was looking at her now, his eyes a little less alive than they were five minutes ago. "Did you mean what you said? About wanting normal things? Because I don't want you to die for me either, Liz. I don't want anyone to die for me."
"No, Max," Liz breathed, shocked at how hurt Max appeared by that statement. "I did that to push you to your... destiny."
"But she wasn't my destiny."
"I know that," two tears trickled from Liz's eyes. All that pain, and for what? "...now."
"Why did you do it, Liz? I mean... the whole... Kyle... thing," his eyes were more alert now, a sense of urgency firing them. He had turned his whole body towards Liz, and he held her hand tightly. His whole posture begged for the truth. "Why?"
"Because you asked me to," Liz murmured from behind her closed eyes.
"What?" He sounded surprised. "Liz..."
"It's a long story, Max. Are you sure you want to hear it?"
"Yes, Liz. I do. I think I need to hear this."
"Okay..." Liz exhaled, her whole body spoke of resignation. This talk had been too long in coming. "It all started back in October. Remember that night you came to me with that Mariachi band?"
"Yeah," scoffed Max, "I'd spent..."
"All week with Mr. Delgado learning the words, I know Max. Listen..."

***

Ed Harding sat in the safety of his car across from the Valenti household, wondering what was going on. They were all there now, except Liz, whose whereabouts were not known, and Max, who was on his way back to Antar. Someone had kidnapped the other guy, Kyle, probably Nikolas. He had seen the sheriff arrive earlier to talk with Michael, Isabel, Maria, and Kyle's father. He was surprised that they would trust yet another outsider with what was obviously an alien matter. He could not understand why Michael and Isabel would worry themselves over the disappearance of a human when Max had left without them. Things were not making sense. They needed to find a way off of this planet. The sooner, the better.

***

Kyle's head was aching when he started to wake up. The bright light stabbed his eyes when he tried to open them, so he kept them shut, allowing his senses to recover in a gradual manner. Where was he? The last thing he could remember was... talking to Maria, yeah, that was right, about Max. A car stopped and... nothing. Kyle silently groaned. In the movies, that meant only one thing. He had been kidnapped. The sound of a sliding door and the clatter of metal on metal pulled his attention back to his predicament. He cautiously opened his eyes, and the white ethereal shapes slowly coalesced into normal men in white lab coats. It was then that Kyle realized he was strapped down to a table, and that he was in some kind of laboratory. Kyle knew without a doubt, just how Max had felt in the hands of that man who had held him in the white room. Kyle was scared, and he wasn't even a little green being from a distant galaxy.
"What do you want?" he asked, not realizing he was echoing Max's very words. "You've made a mistake."

***


posted on 8-Dec-2001 3:31:53 PM by WR
Hi everyone! Thanks for your comments. I though you might like to know they have kept me going through a particularly difficult couple of chapters. One of them has taken me a week to get right! I see you all liked the dog. ;) I must admit to chuckling when I wrote that bit. I wanted something light before they started to talk about all the bad things. Kind of like that dream sequence I wrote, right? Max and Liz talking? Yeah - it's good. *happy* See? I promised no one would interrupt them! *happy* And they still have more to talk about! Sherrif Hanson, yeah - not the brightest of bulbs, is he? :lol

And you are all worried about Kyle, huh? Okay - lets go see what's going on.



Part 24

"Welcome back, Mr. Valenti," greeted the man nearest to him.
Kyle could not see his face through the goggles and surgical mask, but he knew a sneer when he heard one. He looked around the room, as much of it as he could see, hoping to figure out some way to free himself. Who were these guys, and why would they want him? Besides the man speaking to him, who Kyle named Frankenstein, there were two other men. They seemed to be preparing surgical instruments. Is this where Bugs Bunny gulps, and makes a snappy retort, Kyle wondered?
"We have made no mistake," Frankenstein enthused. "We want to find out who, or rather... what, you are."
"Okay, okay!" Kyle groaned, not feeling unafraid. "So I'm a Buddhist. That's hardly a crime though... right?"
"A Buddhist, Mr. Valenti?" Kyle could sense Frankenstein's amusement. As if on cue, the other two men in the room chuckled. "Is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself? Something more..." Frankenstein held up a syringe and pressed the plunger until a small jet of liquid shot out. He looked straight at Kyle now. "...personal?"
"Well, It's been... a while since I had intimate contact with a girl, but you know, I'm always hopeful."
A man carrying some charts entered the room. With a sense of agitation, he held a whispered conversation with Frankenstein, constantly indicating the charts.
"They're all normal?" he demanded with an angry scowl. "You mean he's not an alien?"
"An alien?" Kyle demanded, his voice breaking into a squeak. "Whoa man, you have been watching way too much TV. I know this is Roswell, folks, but it's all hype you know?" Kyle paused for a moment, while he carefully considered something. "We are still in Roswell, right?"
"But this is the guy who healed her, isn't he?" Frankenstein demanded. "Our inside man told us he was the one! He saved her life."
"Well, these say he's human," the newcomer, Mr. Charts defended.
"Then he's no good to us! Mr. Neptune is not going to like this."
"So what do we do with him?"
"Excuse me," Kyle attracted their attention. "I have an idea. Why not just... let me go?"
"So you can go running to the authorities?" Frankenstein barked. "I don't think so."
"And tell them what?" Kyle was astounded. "'Oh hey guys, I was kidnapped by some people in white suits who thought I was an alien.' Yeah, like that'll enhance my reputation with the girls."
"Can the lip, wise ass," Frankenstein shouted, and then turned to the others. "Dump his butt somewhere far away from here."
"Alive, I hope!" Kyle shouted at Frankenstein's back as he departed.

***
To the west, the sun was setting. A deep crimson and orange glow disappeared behind the distant hills. To the east, the darkness loomed just above the silvery line that seemed to hang over the horizon, marking the join between the ocean and the sky. The water was calm, and steady, unlike Max's emotions, as he sat at a dining table in the sand, with Liz who was telling him about the time that he had seen her... with Kyle.
"And so we danced, Max, you know... to make up for the wedding dance I would never have," Liz continued, bringing her story to it's sad conclusion. "He spun me around, and when I turned back to you... to him, he was gone. I had changed the future, Max. I had saved the world, Michael and Isabel with it. But look what it cost me."
There were tears in her eyes, and such pain etched on her face, Max thought his heart might stop beating. He had not said a word, since she started. When she finished, he collapsed back into his chair, with a heavy, painful sigh. His mind reeled; Max was dumbstruck.
"Are you angry with me, Max?" she asked in a quiet voice that shook with her emotion. She could handle almost anything except the destruction of their newly revived friendship.
"What?" he asked, returning from whatever dark place it was that his mind had been lurking. "Yeah, of course I'm angry. But not with you, Liz," he added quickly when he saw her look of dismay. "I'm angry at myself. For doing that to you. For making you handle that by yourself. I mean... what was I thinking?" He waved his hand in frustration.
"You know, Max," Liz placed her hand over his, grateful that she had done the right thing at last. If only she had told him the truth earlier. "It wouldn't have been just your decision, would it? I mean... your future self's decision."
"What do you mean, Liz?" Max asked, still trying to come to terms with this latest failure of his.
"Well, I really don't think that if you and I had been so inseparable as he said, that I would have just let you come back to destroy what we had. I must have agreed to it as well, I mean the future me. So... Max? It was my fault too. You never stood a chance, did you? I mean, you had three of us against you."
Max looked at the union of their hands, and then back up to gaze into Liz's eyes. He gave her a shy, fragile smile.
"I don't deserve you Liz," he declared. "On so many levels, I have let you down. I'm just that little boy again, huh?"
"What little boy?" she asked with a furrowed brow.

"It's what Tess called me, in the Granolith chamber... the day she..."
"What happened in there Max? After we all left. What happened?"
"I asked her straight out, 'did you kill Alex?'" A dark shadow of pain drifted across Max's face. "She said she didn't want to, but she admitted it. When I asked her why, she said he would have told me what she had been doing, and she couldn't let that happen."
"Max, how can she say she didn't want to kill him?" she interrupted, her venom aimed at Tess. "I mean, if she did it to stop him from telling you... Max, she still killed him." Tears were rimming her eyes.
"She said his brain was too weak from the mind-warps, he just died. I tried to tell her how wrong that was, how his life, all our lives, were important. But she said that the only thing that was really important was getting home. She said I couldn't see that, because of... because of you. She... uh, called you a name."
"I bet she did," Liz gave a soft snort. "I have a few for her too!"
"I told her not to talk about you like that, and she got mad because she was supposed to be my... wife. That was when she told me about the deal. Her and... Nacedo made this... bargain, to return with the three of us and... my son, to be delivered to Kivar."

"Oh Max, that's horrible!" Liz gasped.
"I wanted to kill her Liz, but I couldn't do it. I asked how I could have ever... loved someone like her enough to have... married her. She told me that I was different, that I was a king... but that now, I was just a... boy." Max was surprised to find that the word still hurt.
"Oh god!" Liz raised her hand to her mouth, and clenched her lips. "And that night you came to see me. I called you a... a..." Liz squeezed her eyes shut, and exhaled with sorrow. She replaced her hand over his. "Oh Max, I'm so sorry!"
"No, that's okay Liz," Max gave her a faint smile. "You had every right."
"So you were doomed right from the start?" Liz sympathized.
"No Liz," he spoke with a clear conviction, as he took her hand in both of his. He was leaning towards her now, gazing directly through her eyes and into her soul. "Because, you see, I had let you into my life. And it saved me."

***

Michael carefully held the multicolored basketball, and standing just a few feet from the net at the side of Kyle's back yard, sent the ball in an arc towards the backboard. It bounced off the panel, onto the metal hoop, and away into the yard. Michael chased the ball, and again under his control, he dribbled the ball to attack the basket. He missed, as he had with every other attempt he made since he had come out there, just after Jim Valenti had brought Sheriff Hanson in on their problems over a fireside chat, twenty minutes ago. True, Valenti hadn't told Hanson of their extra-terrestrial status, but it was only matter of time before he found out, sooner, if Hanson found Kyle and his kidnappers before they did. Michael was no nearer to finding a solution than he was before Jim had come home. He hurled the ball at the board in frustration. Damn that Max! Where was he?

Maria sat by the doorway and watched Michael trying to control his nervousness. She sensed Isabel approaching from behind her. She and Isabel had come to an uneasy truce during this current... crisis. Maria did not like the way Isabel was blaming Liz for everything that happened, while Isabel disagreed with how Maria treated Max. About the only thing that they could agree on was that they would both do everything in their power to keep the two separated. Maria knew that, like Michael, Isabel was trying to deal with her nerves. Someone might be on the brink of discovering who they were. For a brief moment, Maria wondered how she would handle the knowledge that she was a minority race living on a hostile planet. Not very well, she decided.

"Have you thought of anything, Michael?" Isabel demanded. "I'm not happy about just sitting here. What if Hanson finds him, and sees some other alien. What if he makes the connection?"
"Hey!" snapped Michael. "It's not my fault that he called the Sheriff. I didn't exactly ask him to."
"We need a plan, Michael," Isabel huffed. "And you have no idea how to come up with one! Face it, you don't know what you are doing!"
"I knew what to do that time Pierce had Max!"
Isabel flinched. The memory was still painful. It made her think of the terrible things that might happen to her if she ever...
"No, as I recall, Tess knew what to do!" Isabel shouted, trying to cover up her attack of fear.
"Jeez, listen to you two, would ya?" Maria growled. "Why don't we work together to think of something. Even though Max never left, you guys are still on your own, I mean, you can't exactly count on him, can you? You need to pull together."
Michael and Isabel shook their heads.
"And Isabel?" Maria continued. "Don't mention that 'ho's name again, 'kay?"

***

Paolo, the waiter, smiled at Liz when he placed the bill, folded over on a small saucer, on the table in front of Max. Liz scarcely noticed him or the look of disappointment when she did not return his smile. She was too busy trying to hold herself together. Sometimes, Max would say the sweetest things, and he had just told her that she had saved his life, in spite of totally ruining it. Okay, he never said that last bit, but it was what she had done.
"Liz?" Max asked, after unfolding the bill and quickly reading it. "If there was any way for you and I to go back... in time... and warn us, I mean, an earlier us, and change things... would you?"
Liz looked up at Max, gauging if he was seriously contemplating this, or merely speculating. She looked away again, and stared out at the darkening horizon.
"No Max," she replied with a gentle shake of her head. "What if we make things worse?"
"But we could save Alex!" Liz noted the desperation in his voice.
"But at what cost, Max?" she cocked her head sideways. "Who would die in the next timeline? What if it's you? Or me? No Max." Liz was emphatic. "Let's leave things the way they are this time. Besides," she shrugged. "The Granolith is in Kivar's hands by now, so it's a moot point, isn't it?"
Max gave her a deep, penetrating look, and released a gentle laugh.
"You are incredible, Liz Parker. Do you know that?"

She smiled in reply. Max opened his wallet, and took the notes that Liz had given him earlier, back at her aunt's house so that he would not be embarrassed, and laid them on the saucer. Regardless of his jealousy, Max had to concede that Paolo had been a good waiter. And Max had been served by the best! Paolo gave Liz a little wave as they left; he looked disappointed that he had not had the chance to talk to her. Liz returned the wave, less than enthusiastically and Max resisted the impulse to give the young man a victorious grin.
As they walked towards the road that would lead them back to the house, their hands again sought each other out, and found their targets. It was darker now, and just above the horizon, a full moon bathed the beach in a golden light.
"Shall we walk for a little while, Max?" Liz asked hopefully, pointing up the beach with their joined hands.
"Sure," he smiled. Max would like nothing better than to walk with Liz, holding her hand like this. Well, at least under the circumstances.
Together, they strolled, hand in hand up the beach, away from the built up suburbs of North Melbourne, simply taking guilty pleasure in each other's company. After all, there had been a time that... no, that was over now. The full moon beamed down on them while the gentle waves lapped at the shoreline, emitting a gentle rhythmic swishing sound. It might just have been the most romantic moment Liz had ever shared, at least in Florida. There was only one thing that could make this moment more spectacular, thought Liz. Well, a few things actually, but only one that was within her grasp. She wanted Max to kiss her.

***

"Do you want to talk about it?" Maria asked Michael at last. He had been throwing the ball at that stupid hoop for an hour now, and had not once heard the magical swish of the ball slipping through the netting. Isabel had given up and retreated to the den, where she was staring at some cartoons, though Maria knew that Isabel had no idea what she was watching.
"No," he barked, missing yet another attempt at the basket.
"That's the Michael I know... so well," she sneered sarcastically.
"Hey, it's the one you fell in love with!"
"Yeah, and they say love is blind!"
Michael stopped for a moment, and looked at Maria. "Ditto," he spat. It was all he could think of.
"Look Michael. I know something is bothering you. And you know I am not going to let up until you tell me. What say you save us a whole load of grief and just tell me? If it makes you feel any better, you can tell everyone we fought for hours before you gave in to me? Okay?"

Michael looked at her, anger flashing in his eyes. Squeezing the ball between his two hands, he stormed towards Maria, who refused to be cowed by his petulant outburst. He stopped inches short of her. She could feel the fury pouring from every pore. His mouth seemed to churn, as he struggled to formulate a cohesive sound. With a shout of sheer desperation, he spun and hurled the basketball at the backboard. It bounced off the small square taped to the middle, and fell straight through the hoop, giving off the sound he had been desperate to hear all night.
"Oooooh" Maria's sarcasm was caustic. "Three points."
Michael stared at the basket, then at the ball bouncing to a stop, and then back at Maria. Finally releasing a huge sigh, he sank to the floor, his knees drawn up, his back against the wall, and his head tilted upwards, staring at the New Mexico sunset.

Maria sank next to him, and linked her arm around Michael's.
"Are you ready to talk about it, now?" she asked.
"It's just... this," Michael waved his free hand in front of himself, indicating his own person. "I mean me. Who I am, who I was."
"What about it, Michael," she questioned. "Who are you? Who were you?"
Michael looked at her now. Maria was glad to see that his anger had vanished.
"I was the Second in Commend to King Zan," he whispered. "I don't know who I am right now."
"Who do you want to be?"
"Think about it Maria. Second in Command. That's like the Vice President. That means that back there," his wave indicated the sky, "if anything happened to Zan, if he wasn't around, I had to make decisions. I must have been good, Maria. You don't make second in command unless you're good."
"I don't know, Michael. Most V.P.s are pretty useless people. I mean, can you even remember any? Besides, didn't you say that Nikolas said Max made bad decisions? I mean, maybe you were one of them. Oh, wait, no. Sorry Michael, I didn't mean it to sound that way."
"Every time it has mattered, Max had handled the situation. Even though I disagreed with his decisions, somehow we always got through. I mean, if Max made a bad decision in choosing me, as a second in command I mean... why is there a faction within the skins who want me to lead? To take over from Zan?"
"You mean Max."
"Yeah. Maria, I must have been good at this. I must have been a good leader."
"What are you saying? That you are going to take over from Max?" She pondered for a minute. "I don't know, Michael. I mean, look what it did to him and Liz. Is that what you want?"
"Maybe. No. I don't know!" he sighed. "What I'm saying, Maria, is if I was so good back there... back then, why... why can't I do it down here?"
Maria twisted herself, wrapped her arms around him, and rested her head on Michael shoulder.
"Maybe you just need the love of a good woman," she laughed, kissing him.

***


posted on 8-Dec-2001 3:34:05 PM by WR
Part 25

"So you've been here before then?" Liz asked Max as they continued their slow, leisurely stroll down the beach, still holding each other's hands. She had taken her shoes off now, allowing the sand to trickle between her toes.
"Yeah... well, not here exactly, but Florida," Max replied. "We were seven, I think. We came here on a family vacation. I think my dad was here on business actually. Anyway, on the beach, Isabel and I drew a symbol in the sand."
"A symbol, Max? What kind of symbol," she inquired, and then she realized. "Oh, you mean... a symbol."
"Yeah," laughed Max. It was good to see him like this. It had been so long since she had heard Max laugh.
"What did your parents say? Did they see it? Did anyone see it?" Liz was worried for him. "I mean, Max, wasn't that kind of dangerous?"
"We didn't even know what it meant, Liz," Max calmed her surprising reaction, "so I doubt that anyone else would have. We were just two kids playing in the sand."
"What was it? Was it one of the one's on the wall in River Dog's cave?"
"No," Max shook his head thoughtfully. "Actually, it was the one on the pendant, the one I gave you."
The one that's sitting on my dresser back home, Liz thought, the one I will have to give you back when we get home. Liz didn't want to think about that right now.
"I saw you looking at the ocean this morning," she smiled gently. "Were you remembering that time?"
"Um, no. It was... I think it was something else, some... one else."
"Oh."
"That symbol wasn't the worst thing that happened during that vacation," he changed the subject back to more comfortable ground. "Something else happened."
"Yeah? What was that."
"I healed a bird. It had a broken wing. I didn't even know how I did it. I just picked it up, and it flew away."
"Oh, Max!"
"That's not all, Liz," he paused. "My mother filmed it. She has it on tape back home. Remember that fire? She uh... she remembered that and uh..."
"Max, you know, I really think you should tell them," she told him with an honest sympathy. "Who you are, I mean."
As the final words left her mouth, she regretted them. Liz bit her bottom lip as she remembered another part of their... conversation that dreadful evening when she told him in anger that his parents would see him as a green monster. Words she had said when she was angry with him. If Max remembered what she had called him that night, he showed no indication. He did, however, change the subject again.
"Oh, look," he pointed out a group of kids playing further up the beach. It was hard to miss them, playing as they were by a large bonfire.

***

As before, Isabel and Maria sat on the sofa, giving each other comfort and support in the absence of those they would normally turn to. Michael was pacing back and forth across the room in a state of agitation now, his short interlude with Maria having done little to calm him down. Jim sat motionless in an armchair to one side, staring into space while pressing his fingers together.
"Why did she do it?" Jim asked, breaking the silence.
Maria and Isabel exchanged a cautious glance.
"Who, Mr. Valenti?" Maria asked. "Liz? She wanted to..."
"No... Tess," he interrupted. "I mean, we let her into our home, hell, even our... hearts. She was like the... daughter I never had. And all the time, she was planning to hurt Max, to hurt all of you. She was just... using us."
Maria looked to Isabel. This was her territory.
"We don't know why she went along with it, Mr. Valenti. But remember Nacedo? Well, he made this deal. Tess would have Max's baby, and they would take us all, that is, Max, Michael and I, to Kivar."
"This Kivar, I take it he's Max's enemy?"
"Yeah. He wants Michael and Max... dead. I think he, uh... has other ideas for me. I guess he plans to use Max's son like a puppet."
"Did she... was that..." he paused. "Did she use her powers to make Max... you know... to get herself pregnant?"
"I doubt it," Maria interjected with a snort of derision. "She only had to say 'hey I'm available', and Max was like, only too glad to help her out."
Isabel cast Maria a glare.
"I think you're being a little hard on him, Maria," Jim defended.
"Am I?" she shrieked. "Do you know how many times a day Liz cries? Do you even know how much Liz has been hurt? Do you have any idea how badly her life has been screwed up by Max and his so called destiny? Do you? I would not be her best friend if I just stood back and let her get pulled in a second time, let her get hurt all over again, maybe even worse this time."
Jim looked over at Maria, and raised a hand to silence Isabel's imminent vitriolic retort.
"Maria, take that sentence, and put 'Max' in place of 'Liz', and it still works."
"What?"
"Max is hurting too, Maria."

The sudden ringing of the phone silenced everyone while making them jump. All four people stared at it, each wondering what news this would bring. With a deep breath, Jim answered it.
"Hello? Jim Valenti."
His facial reaction told them all that it had nothing to do with Kyle.
"Yeah, hello Amy," he smiled, and tried to turn away from the three teens staring at him. He hoped that he might somehow find a little privacy.
"Yes Amy," he continued, "I... I know, Amy but... Of course Amy, it..."
Maria recognized the conversation. She had had that kind of talk with her Mom before. Maria's mother was panicking.
"She's talking about Brody," he spoke softly over his hand that was covering the mouthpiece. "She keeps talking about some guy called Larek, holding the kids, and shooting them. Isabel, is this the warp thing you were talking about?"
"Yeah," Isabel confirmed. "She's breaking out of it, starting to get her memory back."
"Oh, gawd," Maria wailed, "Isabel, she's not gonna die, like... like..."
"You can say it Maria. You can say his name. Like Alex? No, I shouldn't think so. Tess had been warping Alex for weeks. Your mom only got it once."
Jim's attention was pulled back to the phone.
"Yeah, okay Amy... Tomorrow... Yeah... Okay Amy, one of us... Yeah, okay, I will... We will... You too. Night Amy."
Jim hung up the phone, and stared at it for a few minutes.
"She wants to know what's going on. I don't know how you guys want to handle this, but she knows that there is something strange going on."
"We don't tell her anything," Michael ordered.
"Michael?" Maria demanded. "What do you mean? Come on, she knows half of it anyway. She's going to remember Tess doing something to her."
"Tess isn't here. We can deny she ever existed. Let her think it was all just a bad dream."
Now it was Michael's turn to be stared at by the others. Maria stood up.
"How did you even get to be second in command?" she demanded, and rushed for the bathroom.
"Nice going, Romeo," Isabel admonished Michael as she followed Maria.
She stood outside the door, and tried to persuade Maria to let her in. She was not having much success.
"Loxodrome," Jim said.
The front door opened, and a bedraggled shape stepped into the room.
"Hi guys," Kyle smiled. "What's up?" He collapsed in a heap onto the floor.

***

As Max and Liz drew near the large fire, they could see that the group of kids - there were around twenty of them - were all high school age. As they approached, the group appeared to be in the process of splitting up into two teams for some kind of game.
"Hey!" one of the guys called as they walked past them.
"Hey," both Max and Liz replied, stopping to see what the guy wanted.
"You wanna play?" he asked holding up a football that was glowing in the dim light with some kind of luminous marking. "Tag football."
Max looked at Liz, about to decline the invitation, but her big smile and wide eyes suggested that she was in favor of the idea.
"Sure," Max answered, giving Liz a smile in return for the squeeze of his hand.
"Sweet!" the kids all smiled. "Okay, you..." he paused to allow Max to give his name.
"Max."
"Ken. Okay, Max, you are on the skin's team."
Liz took a firm grip of Max's arm as he sharply inhaled his breath.
"It's just an expression, Max, look," she indicated the group of teens who were pulling off their shirts, leaving them in their... bare skins, except for the girls on the team, who were still wearing their bikini tops. Max relaxed, gave Liz a look of gratitude and crossed to his new team members.
"And you are?" the young man asked Liz.
"Wha...?" she managed to answer, staring at a receding shirtless Max, at the way his shoulder blades slid beneath the taught muscled sinews of his back. "Oh, sorry... Liz. I'm Liz."

As the game progressed both Max and Liz remained on the periphery of the game, constantly exchanging shy glances across the scrimmage lines, but never finding themselves near each other. A few times, Max had the ball passed to him, but he invariably felt someone's hands slap against him, as he tried to see if Liz was watching.
"Perhaps if you kept your eye on the game," Ken chided him with a laugh, "instead of on Liz, you might not have missed that tackle."
"Tackle?" Max looked around in confusion, to see that the opposition was dancing in the end zone, having scored a touchdown. "Oh, sorry." He was blushing furiously at having been caught like that. He looked over at Liz who was bent over double with hysterical laughter.
"I'll get you for that, Liz Parker," he grinned.
After the kickoff, the skins team started to move the ball down the 'field.' The scores were tied; it had been decided that the next touchdown would be declared the winners. Max approached the quarterback, Lindsey, a blonde in a blue bikini top.
"Hey, Lindsey," he flashed her a smile. Lindsey's smile in return was shy, but delightful. "Will you throw me the ball? I'll go out wide."
"Oh," her face fell. "I'm not sure that I can throw the ball that far, Max. I'm not that good."
"You'll do just fine," he winked. "You'll reach me. I have complete faith in you."
"Okay," she grinned with a shrug of her shoulders as all the kids in the huddle held one hand in the middle. "Wide out to Max, on three."
"BREAK!"
Max lined himself up on the right, deliberately placing himself opposite Liz. At the snap, he ran a short buttonhook, and used his mental agility to pull the badly thrown short lopsided pass that Lindsey had attempted, all the way into his arms. He turned and easily evaded the defender that came across to tag him, and ran in a direct line towards Liz. With a shriek and a laugh, Liz rose to the challenge and ran towards Max. As he easily passed her outstretched arms trying to tag him, he gently lateralled the ball into her surprised arms. She stopped, and looked at the ball in bewilderment. At that moment, Max ran into her, gently of course, with his shoulder tucked into her bare tummy, and wrapped his arms around her. Squealing loudly Liz fell to the sand, with Max on top of her. She had dropped the ball, which was grabbed by someone, but neither Max nor Liz cared. They were having fun together. She grabbed two handfuls of sand and dumped them onto Max's back while he poured warm sand on her navel. Reluctantly, slowly, Max climbed off of her, and helped Liz up.
"You cheater," she laughed, slapping his bare arm. She hoped he would not see her gazing at his torso, or feel her rapidly beating heart.

With the game over, and the victors jubilantly indulging in their bragging rights, Max picked up his shirt and shook it to free of sand. He didn't see the disappointment on Liz's face as he pulled it back over his head. He held his hand out to her, indicating that they should leave now.
"Would you like to join us?" Ken asked. "We'll probably sing some songs, roast a few hot dogs, and later, we'll play some music so we can dance."
Max looked at Liz. From the delighted look on her face it was obvious what she wanted to do.
"Thank you, Ken," Max grinned.
"There's some cold drinks over there too," Ken waved at a collection of coolers. "Sorry there's no alcohol, but if the cops come, they won't hassle us if we don't have any. This way they'll let us come again."
"That's okay," Max nodded, and led Liz to get something to drink.
The gang sang songs while they all sat, kneeled or lay at the side of the fire, cooking their hot dogs on the ends of long slender sticks. Everyone else's kept getting scorched, coming out of the fire charcoal black, but Max's emerged from the flames perfectly cooked every time.
"Hey, we got us an expert weenie roaster!" someone called out.
"There's a job waiting for you back in the Crashdown kitchen, mister," Liz's eyes sparkled with mischief as Max fed her.

They were talking with a small group of guys now, perhaps attracted by the lovely looks of Elizabeth Parker. The girls all seemed to have realized that there was something between this young couple, and pretty much left Max alone. Liz was sitting between Max's legs, her back pressed against his stomach. He was gently stroking her wonderful hair.
"So where are you from?" one asked.
"Roswell," Max replied, "over in New Mexico."
"Roswell, eh? Isn't that the place where they had the crash? Like Area 51 or something?"
"Yeah," Max smirked, "that's the place."
"Have you seen any aliens?" They all laughed.
"Oh, yeah, I have," Max grinned. "They're all over Roswell. According to the adults, every teen in Roswell is an alien to them."
Everyone chuckled with a rueful nodding of heads.
"Yeah, it's the same here in Melbourne," someone commented. "Probably the same the world over."

"You down here to check on colleges or something?"
"Yeah, kind of," Max nodded.
"So which one do you think you will go to?"
"Oh," though Max. "Well... I'll probably end up in Las Cruces... that's in New Mexico too, just up the road from us. But Liz, here," he spoke with a touch of pride in his voice, " will be going to Harvard, won't you Liz?"
"She's asleep," one of the guys pointed out in a soft voice.
"Oh," Max answered, dropping his own voice lower.
"She's very pretty," someone offered. "Brains as well as beauty. She seems really nice too."
"Liz? She's the best," Max confirmed.
"Is she your girlfriend?"
"No," Max shook his head with a sad sigh. "She's... just a friend... A very good friend. My best friend," he decided after a moment's hesitation.
Max didn't see the single tear form under her eyelid, and trickle slowly down her cheek, where it dropped into her lustrous dark hair.

***

The group of kids had departed, loading their belongings into their cars and returning to whatever suburbs it was that they came from. Liz turned down the lift that was offered to them, declaring that she and Max would walk home, especially as the night was so lovely. Once again holding hands, they followed the beach heading back towards Melbourne.
"You know, Max, Las Cruces has a good microbiology department. It doesn't have to be Harvard."
"Oh," Max blinked. "You were listening?"
"Yeah, sort of," she smiled. "But the thing is, Max. I want to go where you go."
"Why, Liz?" Max asked with an amazed expression. "I would have thought that it would be in your best interests to get as far away from me as possible?"
"Max, how can you even think that?" she demanded with a hurt expression. "And why did you lie to those guys?"
"I didn't lie, Liz," Max defended himself, as he tried to think of all the things he had discussed that evening. "What did I say?"
"You said that I wasn't your girlfriend," Liz stopped, and still holding his hand, stepped in front of him. She looked straight into his eyes. Hers were blazing with a bright passion, visible even in the moonlight. Liz had had enough of gently stepping around each other. She knew that she loved Max, and all of the evidence suggested that he still loved her. "I am Max, though you may not realize it. I am your girl. Now and forever."

Max's mouth dropped open. Did she really say that, he wondered? Or had he just wished that she had. Liz answered his questions by reaching up and wrapping her arm around his neck, and pulling him to her. At long last, after more than a year, after so much heartache, so much pain, after so many false starts and lost hopes, after all of their shattered dreams, their lips met, not just in friendship, but in love. The first kiss was tentative and soft. They took pleasure from the fact that they had at last broken through the obstacles that had been placed in their way, and had found one another again. While they kissed each other, they both shared but one exhilarating thought. That they still loved one another, that their love was returned after all. Max gently grabbed her bottom lip with his lips, and pull back gently. Liz caressed her Max's lips with her tongue while her fingers interlocked with Max's hair. When he let her go, she trapped his lips with hers. As their passions rose, they opened their mouths and let their tongues play, kissing with more and more intensity. Max gently rubbed his hands up and down Liz's back and neck. She shivered with pleasure.

Her own hands were busy too. One held the back of Max's neck, holding him to her, while the other was caressing his side. Far off, she could hear the relaxing sound of the waves crashing into the beach. Finally, after too many months of secret dreams, her inner most desire was about to become a reality. She would have her Max back. She could feel Max trembling, or perhaps it was her. Their breathing was hoarse and ragged now, as they pressed themselves together with a sense of urgency, stomach to stomach. Max could feel her heaving breasts pressing in to him. He broke from the kiss, and leaned into Liz, kissing up the side of her neck, and behind her ear. Shuddering with the sensual feeling that coursed through her, she gasped, emitting a soft sigh of delight. He was holding her tightly. She felt so good in his arms, he doubted that he ever really wanted anything from Liz except to hold her, to be allowed to kiss her. He suddenly realized how long it had been since he had hugged her... kissed her like this, how much he missed it and how much he had missed her. He buried his face in her long brown tresses, and felt something damp. Max realized that he had been weeping.

He pulled away slightly, moving his head back against the insistent pressure of Liz's hand trying to pull him back to her lips. She gave up, and slid her hands up and around to frame Max's face. Her ragged breath panted across Max's face, short, sharp, little bursts of soft, sweet smelling puffs of warm air. Her eyes, which had always been penetrating, seemed to drift and remain only half open. She looks how I feel, Max thought. Still cupping his face, she stretched her body to touch her lips to his. He did not resist, and soon, they were again kissing with unabashed passion.
"Oh, Max," she murmured into his mouth. "My Max."
"Liz," Max could only gasp, as he sucked at her lips, gently biting them.
Max pulled Liz against him and full of enthusiasm, kissed her hard, their lips becoming one, fusing with the heat from their combined desires.
Leaving his face, Liz's hands drifted down Max's sides and to the edge of his T-shirt. With a sense of urgency, she pushed his shirt up and over Max's firm torso. She needed to feel his warmth against her. Max responded by lifting his arms. Liz pushed the shirt over his head, a frantic desire burning within her. She could feel him now, his naked skin burning her exposed midriff.
"Please, Max," she whimpered.

Max's hands again danced down her back, as they ground their tongues in an energetic dance of passion. Catching the edge of the smooth material of her shirt, he followed both his hands around and to the strips of cloth tied above her navel. With Liz crying her encouragement into his mouth, his shaking fingers grappled with the knot. At last it was free, and he moved on to wrestle with her shirt buttons. His frustration got the better of him. He couldn't cope with the small pearl-like fastenings. Grasping the edges of the shirt, he pulled fiercely. As he heard the fabric tear, he knew that fixing it later would be no problem. The friction of the material sliding between their pressed bodies shocked them both, but Liz groaned her pleasure when she felt him against her. Leaning heavily into her, Max's hands returned to her back, and fumbled with the catch of her lacy white bra. Losing their balance, they collapsed into the sand. Liz was underneath him, and if he hurt her in any way her passionate moans and her continued kissing suggested otherwise.
"Oh, Liz," Max mumbled as the catch came free.
Liz's breasts swelled against him now. He released his own moans that matched hers.
"Please, Max!" she pleaded.
Her own hands were fumbling with the button to Max's shorts, she groaned with pleasure when the Max's hands slid up and down her unfettered back.
"Oh!" she cried.
"God, Liz!" Max responded, sliding a hand around and to her front.
"Yes," she hissed with a passionate plea as Max's hand rested for a moment on her taut stomach and slid towards the aching swell of her swollen breasts. "Yes, yes, yes!"
She released a long low moan of delight; her body shaking with little ripples of pleasure as his hand followed her slight contours, and fully cupped one of her breasts. Max could feel her erect nipple pressing against the palm of his hand. Liz gave a sharp cry of desire.
"Oh God, Max! Please! Please!"

Max stopped. Gently, he moved his hand away from Liz.
"No," she cried with despair, and tried to lift herself, to place herself back into his tender touch. "Please don't stop!"
"Oh, God Liz!" Max cried in despondency. Stopping there had been the hardest thing he had ever done. "We have to. I don't have any protection, Liz. I don't want to make the same mistake."
She looked at him, her face a mixture of desire and confusion. She slowly brought herself down from the plateau on which Max has left her.
"Would it be a mistake, Max?" she begged, her breasts still heaving, her clothing still in disarray. "Making love to me, I mean? Would it be so terrible?"
"No, Liz," Max breathed heavily, the lust and desire that coursed through him still evident. "God no. Never! Nothing in this universe would give me greater pleasure than making... love with you. Not that. But getting you pregnant would be a terrible mistake. I care about you too much to destroy your life like that. I would never do that to you. I can wait, Liz."
"The problem is, Max," Liz snapped as she repositioned her bra and fastened it behind her back. She knew that what Max had said made sense, but what they did, what they were doing felt so good, so natural. So... right. "...can I?"
Max gave her a very shy smile, which seemed funny given how close they were to cementing their suddenly new relationship, and helped her back to her feet. Leaning forwards until their heads touched, he took her blouse, repaired the tear and created new buttons to replace the ones that had been ripped off.
"Let's get back Liz," he sighed. "It's getting late."
Liz heard the reluctance in his voice, and sighed. Just once, she thought, she would like Max to lose his Mr. Responsibility hat with her.
"Max?" Liz asked looking up into his eyes. Both pairs of eyes still burned with passion. It would take a long time for either one of them to extinguish those flames. "Will you spend the night with me? I mean... just... sleep."

***

*happy**bounce*
posted on 8-Dec-2001 3:34:53 PM by WR
Glad you all liked that part :rolling I was a little worried about it ;)

roswellluver - Still lots more to come out! *happy*
BLS40 - Another story? Are you sure ;)
Alien614 - Sorry, but you won't get to see that.
Mary N 008 - I think that Max will be laden with doubts for a long time.
JiggerSTGC - Glad you like it! *happy*
JO - Thank you *happy*
AJK001 - I guess he decided he no longer needed it :(
Strawbehry Shortcake - You (like others) seem to like a strong Liz ;)
Tabasco Liz - I thought the dreamers would like that *happy*



Part 26

It was late. In spite of the hour, and Kyle's obvious fatigue, Jim and the other three teens were sitting down, looking at Kyle with baited breaths. He was telling them of his ordeal.
"When I started to come 'round, I was disoriented. I could remember talking with Maria about Max..."
"What about Max?" Isabel demanded. Perhaps they had news she had not yet heard.
"We were discussing him and Liz," Kyle growled, irritated at the interruption. "Anyway, my head hurt, and at first I couldn't open my eyes because of this bright light..."
"What bright light?" Michael asked.
"Why don't we let him tell his story?" Jim asked the others. "We can ask questions later."
Kyle gave a look of gratitude to his father, and while glaring at Michael, continued.
"So I start to get used to it, and managed to open my eyes. I was strapped to this table in some kind of laboratory. Man, I was scared. I can't begin to imagine how scared Max was that time, but I know how scared I was. There were these geeks in there, you know, George Clooney face masks, oxygen tanks, scalpels... the whole nine yards. They seemed to think I was an alien," he scoffed. "Anyway, they must have run some tests when I was out of it, 'cause this other guy comes in and says how I'm human. I think that they wanted to um... get rid of me, but I convinced them that no one would believe me if I went blabbering about guys in white coats thinking I was some little green... oh, sorry guys. And anyway, I pointed out that something like that would hardly enhance my reputation, you know?"
"What reputation?" smirked Michael, determined to get back at Kyle's own dig.
"It must have worked," Kyle ignored him, "'cause they dropped me out on the highway, about ten miles down the road. I've been walking ever since, hiding from any car in case it was them, and they changed their minds."
"Can you remember anything that might indicate where they took you, or who these men were, son?" Jim asked.
"No, sorry Dad," Kyle shook his head. "They knocked me out both times. All I saw was inside the lab, and the guys in the white lab coats."
"Okay," Jim sighed. "Well, I better let Hanson know you're okay."
"You let Hanson in on this?" Kyle was incredulous.
"We had to tell him some things, yeah. But we only told him we thought some alien nuts had kidnapped you. He doesn't know anything about Max, Michael or Isabel."
"Dad, he'll want to question me. I can't tell him the truth! Not without..."
"He's right, Valenti," Michael growled.
Jim pursed his lips, his eyes staring into space. "Okay, here's what we will do."

**

Kyle sat by the window, peering through the curtains with a nervous twitch at each passing car or pedestrian. Even the shadows under street lights looked threatening. Michael had told him that it would pass, that Max had been the same for a while. Michael and Isabel had gone with Jim to implement the plan he had come up with. Behind Kyle, his babysitter, Maria, was talking about the day's events.
"All I need to hear now is that Liz didn't cave and give in to Max after all, and my day will have ended just about okay. Which is way... infinitely better than how it looked oh, say... an hour ago."
"Have you heard from them again?" Kyle spun around with his eyes blazing. The urgency in his voice was obvious. "Where are they? When will they be home?"
"Relax, Kyle," Maria was surprised by his reaction. "Why the sudden concern? I mean earlier on today, you seemed fine about giving them some time together. Are you coming to my way of thinking now?"
"No, no, it's not that. It's just..." he waved his hand in frustration. "These guys were looking for aliens. They thought that I was one. They mentioned this girl, and how someone healed her after a shooting incident. I think they're looking for Max. Maria, I think Liz might be in danger too."

***

Still yawning from her early rise, Tess busied herself with the task of trying to find something that she might have missed in the translation that she had forced Alex to work on. It wasn't the first time she regretted his death, although only in the sense that she had lost a valuable resource. Things had been hectic during the past twenty-four hours. Having heard that Max was on his way to Antar, and that he might actually arrive there a free man, free to unite the factions against Kivar, well, the thought of the position that would leave her in was less than pleasing. They needed a way home, and they needed it... yesterday. So far, though, she had found nothing. In sheer frustration, she grabbed the first folder containing Alex's translations from the time before he broke through the warp, and hurled it at the glowing blue pods that seemed to be mocking her. She sighed, crossed to the folder, and started to gather the loose leaves of paper. That was when she found it. A page from the so-called 'Destiny' book had come free, separated from the others, and had been wedged into the back of the folder. She checked the loose page of symbols against the typed notes that Alex had written, but there did not seem to be a corresponding page, it was as if Alex had missed it too. No, if the page was here in the first folder, the folder from before Alex broke free of his warp, then he would have seen it. He MUST have seen it. And if he had, he would have translated it. She searched through his notes. No, she decided. No, nothing. She pulled the second folder over to her, and double-checked the notes from this one. No translations there either. Unless he didn't look for the page a second time. No, it must be here, somewhere.

"Florida!" Behind her, Ed Harding had been working on a small portable computer, connected to the Internet through a cell phone.
"Excuse me?" Tess asked, looking around from her work.
"Florida. The Parker girl bought a ticket to Florida."
"Are you sure?" demanded the blonde haired girl. "How do you know?"
"I might not understand their emotions, as you so kindly pointed out," he sneered. "But I do understand their primitive computer systems. And they are telling me that the Parker girl flew out of Albuquerque to Orlando, Florida."
"Well, she has relatives out there, big deal. She ran away there last summer, too." Tess shrugged and returned to her translation.
Right now the whereabouts of Liz Parker were not Tess's concern. The translation was. And there were no two ways about it. There was a whole page that Alex had not completed.
"Shit!" her vehemence echoed off the pod chamber walls.
"What!" asked Harding, sensing her agitation. "What's up?"
"There is a part missing after all. There's a whole section Alex didn't translate."

Ed Harding rose from his computer, and started to pace around the cavern, his mind deep in thought.
"Do you know where in Florida the Parker girl's relatives live?" he asked her, pausing right in front of the girl.
"Nah," she shook her head. "Not really. Max only knew she was staying with her Aunt and Uncle. Only Maria and Alex knew where, and they weren't saying."
Again, Harding concentrated on something.
"Remember that parcel we think Alex sent?"
"To Florida!" Tess gasped.
"Right." Harding's features were worried now. He furrowed his brow. "And the shuttle launches from Florida."
"Oh no," Tess moaned. "This is bad. This is very bad. Who knows what that part says?"
"Well, we need to know. Is there anyone else capable of translating it?"
"Parker has the brains, I guess," Tess pondered, but shook her suggestion away. "But as she is probably on her way to Antar with Max..."
"No, wherever she is, she in not on the shuttle."
"How do you know?"
"Because she would not have had time to get from the airport to Cape Canaveral before the thing launched."
"Okay. Maybe Max doesn't know what the translation says either. Maybe Parker will bring it back with her."
"We can hope, I guess. When she comes back, I can..."
"No," Tess determined with narrowed eyes. "I think it's time Liz and I had that talk."

***

"Good morning, Liz," were the first words that she heard on the most magnificent of mornings. It was so hard to believe. She had spent the night wrapped in the safe-haven of Max's arms, not because he was protecting her from danger once more, but because he loved her. And she loved him. They had finally conquered all of the clutter that had been piled between the two of them ever since that day in May when she fled down the hill. She was finally reunited with her Max, with her... Destiny! She felt a soft kiss on her cheek.
"Mmmmmmmmmmm" Liz could only answer with a gentle moan of pure pleasure.
She rewarded the young man who she knew was leaning on one arm, watching her, beaming down at her with a huge, warm grin, and no doubt, a look of adoration. Part of Liz was afraid to open her eyes, afraid that she would wake up in her bedroom above the café, to another empty day without Max. Afraid that last night had been a dream, Liz opened her eyes at last. It had not been a dream. Max, the man of her dreams was there. He was really there.
"Hi Max." she answered in a warm, vibrant tone. "Did you sleep alright?"
"Yeah," he returned her smile. "You?"
"Mmmmm," she moaned again. "The best I've slept in a long time."
"Me too." Max gave the tip of her nose a tender butterfly kiss.
"Are we okay now, Max?" Liz asked gently. "I mean, are we together again?"
"I hope so Liz," Max stated earnestly. He raised his eyebrows. "That is, if you'll have me back. I mean, I..."
"Of course I will Max," Liz burrowed deeper into Max's protective care. "And don't worry. If I can put this behind me, I'm sure you can. So no more apologizing! Okay?"
"I'm sorry Liz."
"Max?" she reminded him. "No apologizing!"
"No ma'am," Max grinned.
"I'll give you 'ma'am!'" Liz laughed and started to tickle the defined features of Max's sculpted torso.

If she thought that Max would dissolve into a quivering defenseless jelly, Liz was sorely mistaken. Max fought back. His fingers caressed the base of her rib cage, which made her giggle. With a sweep of his hand, Max managed to capture both of hers, and holding them together, pinned her hands to the bed above her head. Max used his free hand to freely tickle Liz's stomach and sides, exposed by her raised limbs. Although she was squealing with laughter from that simple action, she was frantically trying to twist and turn from both Max's grip and from his assault on her unprotected abdomen. When Max lightly ran his finger across the spot that he had healed her, on that day that was both the worst and the best day of her life, Liz was defeated. Her laughter was hysterical.
"Okay, okay!" she shrieked with tears of laughter squeezing from her clenched eyelids. "Uncle, Uncle," she laughed.
Max stopped tickling her, and soon her quivering grew to a close. She finally opened her eyes, and gazed up at him, at his own goofy grin. It was as if he could hardly believe this situation any more than she could. He leaned down to her, and gently sucked her bottom lip into his mouth. He lightly nibbled at her, and together, they shared a gentle, loving kiss.
"Oh Max, that feels so good." Liz sighed, her breath absent for a moment. Breathe Liz, she ordered, breathe.
As had happened the night before, their shy innocent kiss seemed to ignite something from inside them, and the passion grew. Their tongues entwined until they were no longer two separate entities, Max and Liz's tongues, but one, 'MaxAndLiz.' Their hands were like butterflies, flitting from one part of their unified body to another, sending shivering pulses of passion through them. All too soon, Liz stopped, and pulled away from their kiss.
"Why don't you take a shower, Max," she encouraged him. "I'll see what I can find for breakfast."

Max stood beneath the pulsating power of the shower jets, and could not remove the face-splitting grin that he wore. His amazement at how things had turned out was absolute. He doubted that, in all seriousness, this day could get any better. He and Liz were together again. Not just as friends, not even as starting over. They had even gone to the verge of taking that next big step in their relationship. No, this was almost as though they had taken up from where they had left off, from before Tess had come to town. His smile faded rapidly. His son was still in danger. He would still have to find a way to help him; he still had that responsibility. Would Liz understand that? Would she consider helping him? Perhaps that was what had been bothering her. He knew that when Liz had broken from that amazing kiss earlier, that something had disturbed her. He couldn't quite put his finger on it but her look had been a little... off? Sad? Disappointed? Max sighed. Yeah, he knew that there were still far too many issues between them to just hope that they would disappear with a wave of a magic wand. Where had his euphoria gone, he wondered? It had vanished at the mere thought of Tess. How could Zan have ever fallen in love with her?

He had found more clean clothes for him pushed inside the bathroom door, and just as he had done yesterday, he carefully altered them to fit his smaller frame. He tried to picture Liz's aunt and uncle in his mind. He knew, without a doubt, that Liz was the same size as her aunt, but her uncle? He appeared to be three sizes larger, and a good five or six inches shorter than Max. Still, he had no doubt that they were happy together. Max envied them what they had, and hoped that one day, he too might have that. After brushing his teeth, and 'disintegrating' the stubble from his face, he left the bathroom. He found Liz in the kitchen again. She was sitting with her head in her hands; she looked as though she had seen a ghost. Max was at her side in an instant.
"Liz, what is it?" he demanded with a calm gentleness. "What's wrong?"
Liz gave him a smile, trying to convince him that she was okay. From her lap she produced a small parcel, the same size of a CD.
"Mr. Blumberg just brought this over," she croaked in a half whisper.
"What is it?" He eyed the parcel suspiciously.
"It's addressed to you," she mumbled.
"Me?" Max gasped in surprise. "But no one knew I would be coming here, and Isabel only found out last night... I mean it's kind of quick..."
"It's from Alex."
Kryptonite would not have stopped Superman as effectively as that one statement stopped Max. He slumped into a chair, the feelings of guilt rising in him.
"Oh," he whispered.
Liz laid her arm across the back of Max's shoulders and gave him a warm and gentle smile of encouragement.
"Hey, what did I tell you?"
"I know, but..."

"Look, Max, um... this is kind of hard to explain, but it's like I feel Alex, you know? Like he's still there... looking out for me like the big brother he was."
"But it still upsets you." Pure pain etched Max's voice.
"Yeah, it's just seeing his writing again. Mr. Blumberg just brought it over. It arrived last April. Just after my aunt and uncle left for Europe. He took it in for them, but forgot about it until I told him your name. He said it was delivered the same day my aunt's house was burglarized, and the day the postman was killed. Max? He said they found a sliver handprint on him."
"What?" Max reacted with shock. "That's..."
"Impossible, I know."
"There must be another one out there... somewhere." Max looked around wondering if he might be hiding in this very room. "The protector for the others maybe?"
"Why would he be interested in a package from Alex?" Liz shook her head, "I mean, why would he even worry about Alex?"
"Unless he was working with Tess, for the Skins, I mean."
"Yeah, that's possible. But Max? What if it was Nacedo?"
"Nacedo? But he's dead Liz. I saw it. He crumbled to dust right in front of us."
"Max, what if it was a mind warp. Remember when I told you about the flashes I had, the day those gunmen came in? Well they were the same flashes I got from Nacedo that time when he kidnapped me. Max," Liz paused. She wanted Max to understand clearly what she was saying. "I think Nacedo is still out there."
"You think one of the gunmen was Nacedo?" Max asked, his own mind trying to make sense of what he was hearing. "Time and again, Liz, you have been right, but that just doesn't make sense."
"No, Max, not one of the gunman." She was most insistent now, willing Max to believe her. "There was this other man, a youngish man, salesman type. He and Isabel made eyes at each other while we... talked. When she left, he seemed really eager to leave, and he grabbed me. I got the flashes from him!"
"So you think he was Nacedo?"
"Yeah, but Max? He tried to leave in a hurry. I think he was following Isabel."
"We've got to get back Liz." He accepted her statement, and was now acting on it. "The others may be in danger."
"We have time, Max. I've booked us on the first available flight, but it's not until early this afternoon."
"Liz, I don't have any money." Max's face fell.
"That's okay, Max. We'll sort this out later. Let's just get home first."
Max smiled at her, rested his hand on her arm, and used the other to pull her closely. He shook his head gently.
"Elizabeth Parker?" He kissed the top of her head. "What ever did I do to deserve you?"

***


posted on 8-Dec-2001 3:38:10 PM by WR
- and anyone else I may have confused. Although he knew Alex sent the parcel to an address in Florida - he did not know that it was to Liz's relatives. So it was Nacedo who killed Walt. Sorry for the confusion.



Part 27

Max stared at the small package that sat before him on the kitchen table. He looked as though he expected it to burst into flames.
"So are you going to open it Max?" Liz asked him with caution. "I mean, what if it's important?"
With deliberate care, Max tore the scotch tape that held the wrapping together. Using a slow, calculating motion, he unfolded the loose packaging, and pulled out the CD. The paper insert informed them that the CD was Alex's homemade collection of his favorite songs by the artist 'Sting.' Max narrowed his eyes, and then looked at Liz in confusion.
"Um..." Liz looked as blank as Max. "You know, Alex once told me he could make it so that instead of a music file, one of the tracks ran like a program. He said it would be neat way to hide stuff. Maybe...?"
"But which track, do you think?"
Liz peered at the CD over Max's shoulder as they both scanned the index of the tracks. They both read past 'When we dance', 'Every breath you take', and 'Fields of Gold'. At last they both stopped, and turned to face each other, both breaking into a grin.
"Englishman in New York!" They laughed together.
"Does your uncle have a computer Liz?" Max inquired.
"Yeah," she nodded her head. "This way."

Liz led Max through to the dining room, and pointed at the computer setup in the corner. She removed the plastic coverings, and switched on the power. The familiar cloud image appeared. Liz pressed the button to eject the CD tray, and Max inserted the silvery disc. After a short delay, the media player program started to run, Liz immediately cancelled it. She brought up the directory of the files on the 'D' drive, and using the cursor, selected the file titled "Englishman in New York." After a short delay, a similar version of the media player started running, but the title in the blue banner indicated that it was a different version. It was called 'Alex's Media Player.' An image of Sting with New York as the backdrop appeared, and he started to sing the words of the song.
'You drink coffee, I take tea my dear,
I like my toast done on one side,
You can hear it in my accent when I talk,
I'm an Englishman in New York,
See me walking down the avenue,
Walking cane here at my side,
Take it everywhere I walk,
I'm an Englishman in New York...

Just as the chorus was about to start, the image faded, and it was Alex that reappeared. Behind him was the unmistakable skyline of Las Cruces University. Alex took over the singing.
"Oh-o, you're an Alien... you're a regal Alien, you're a Martian man in New York."

The music stopped, Alex now appeared in a dormitory style room. Around him were his notes, and sketching from his work at translating the Destiny book.
"Hi Max!" Alex sounded so cheerful that it made Max groan and his shoulders drop. "How are you? Have you and Liz made up yet? I hope so, because I really think that you two will need each other if we're going to make it through this. There's some heavy stuff going down."
Alex's face went momentarily blank, which quickly passed with a shake of his head.
"I've managed to break out of the warp Tess has me in... oh yeah, I forgot to tell you that. Tess is warping me. Watch out Max, I think she's up to something. Anyway I've downloaded the translation of the book, well, the part you will want to see, I think. I mean, I can't really read it but I know I translated it. When I read it back, it's like I wrote it in a foreign language. Does that make sense? The real translation that is. Oh, the stuff that Tess has is right, it's just... I managed to hide a page. Don't ask how, but I somehow know that the page I hid is important. I hope I'm making sense, 'cause right now? I feel like my mind has been put through the blender. Sorry."
Alex gave a nervous little laugh, and his eyes darted around the room, as though he was afraid someone would turn up.
"Okay Max, here's the deal," Alex continued. "You have to type in a password. You only have one shot though, get it wrong and this whole thing will erase, okay? But if it is really you Max, and not some reptilian mind twister, or a psychopathic shape shifting maniac...oh yeah. Did you know Nacedo is not dead? Anyway, you can work it out Max. They won't be able to. Well, hopefully when you see me, I can tell you how wonderful Sweden is." Alex gave another nervous laugh. "Oh yeah, the password, Max? What nationality did I think you were?"
The image of Alex vanished, to be replaced by a small gray box. Beside him, Liz sobbed.

Max turned to her and swept the tearful Liz into his arms, his own sadness at Alex's torment placed to one side for the moment. Right now, Liz needed him.
"Oh Max!" she buried her face in her hands, pressed against Max's chest, and started to cry. She had wanted to do this for so long. Somehow she knew, only with Max to help her, could she finally give in to the grief that she had hidden for so long. Liz cried for Alex. Her hands clenched Max's shirt, her tears quickly soaked it through, but Max didn't care. He cared only for the girl he held in his arms while she allowed herself to let go.
"I'm sorry," she sniffed, wiping away the tear with her arm.
"Don't be, Liz," Max pulled a tissue from a box on a nearby shelf and gently dabbed the tears from her eyes. "I will always be here for you."
"I know Max," she laid her head against his chest and sighed, "It's just that..."
"She'll pay, Liz," he promised. "If I ever catch up to her... which is unlikely I know... but I'll never forget, and the first chance I get... I won't back down this time."
"No, Max," she looked up at him, her eyes a little bit brighter now. "You are not a killer. To do that after... how ever long, it would be cold blood Max. That's just not you. Don't do it for me. Don't even do it for you. Just don't do it, Max. Alex is worth more that that!"
"You're right Liz," Max sighed, and then smiled. "As always."
"Max? When we get home, would you come with me? To Alex's grave? So we can say goodbye."
"Of course, Liz," he held her again, and brushed the top of her head with his lips.
Liz looked up with a gentle grin. She then poked his arm. "Anyway, shall we continue?"

Max nodded, and pulled the keyboard to a more convenient angle. As he started to type, a little asterisk appeared in place of the letter in the gray box on the computer screen.
"'C', 'Z', 'E'," Max intoned as he typed each letter, "'C', 'H', 'O', 'S'..."
"Wait Max," Liz urged, laying her gentle hand over Max's. "That was Maria. She called you Czechoslovakian so she could talk about you, you know, in public."
"Oh, so Alex used a different word?"
"Sort of. Alex thought you were Canadian." Liz laughed, remembering her frightening experience that night in the cells with Alex.
Max looked at her blankly, unable to make the connection.
"You know..." Liz pointed upwards. "Up... North... Canada? Well, he thought it was logical."
Max gave a soft chuckle and deleted the letters he had already typed.
"'C', 'A', 'N', 'A'," Max typed again. "'D', 'I', 'A', 'N'..."
"No!" Liz grabbed Max's hand before he could press the 'Enter' key. "No, he actually called you 'Canucks'. Yeah, he said that."
"So if Alex wanted to know what nationality I was, I guess I should type Canuck?"
Liz screwed her face up. She did not want to be responsible for Max losing this data that her... their... friend had died for. It had to mean something!
"Yes," she confirmed, but she had her eyes squeezed tightly shut.
Again, Max deleted his previous entry, and started to type.
"'C','A','N','U','C','K', okay, ready?" Max asked, his hand hovering over the 'Enter' key.
With her eyes still shut, and her fingers crossed, she nodded her consent.
"I believe in you Liz," Max announced, and then struck the key confidently. "There!"
The gray box vanished, to be replaced by a large white one, filled with black text.
"It worked Liz!" he hugged her. "Thank you."

Liz opened her eyes, and turned to see Max grinning at her. She gave him a playful shove, and held Max while he started to read. After only a few words, Max's shoulders slumped.
"I've already seen this Liz," he sighed his frustration.
"Okay, Max? Alex said there was stuff here that Tess hasn't seen. Will you read it, please? For me?"
"Of course Liz. You are right, he did say something looked weird too, didn't he?"
Where would he be without her, he wondered?
"Read it out loud Max, maybe it will help." Liz leaned against Max, intending to just listen.
"You are the Royal four. Zan the king. Ava the queen. Vilondra his sister. Rath his counselor. You were created from the genetic material of your alien predecessors and human subjects. You were given human form so that you could live safely on the planet undetected until the time comes for your return. You have been given the Granolith, a transport between this planet and Antar. You have also been given communication technology, which will allow you to access information from your true home. The chamber containing your hibernation pods and the Granolith has been hidden away from human settlement. It can only be accessed by the four of you. You have been provided with a guardian who will protect you from danger and keep you hidden from your enemies, both human and Antarian."

"Go on Max."
"I can't read the rest, Liz. It's like a..."
"A foreign language? Like Alex said?"
"Yeah."
Liz was silent for a moment as she looked past Max, into the rest of the room.
"What does it mean, Max? I mean, we know all about that, right? But why tell you all this stuff that you already know or worked out?"
"What do you mean, Liz?"

Liz's eyes suddenly flared. It was like a great fog had been lifted from her.
"Okay, that first part, who you are and how you were created. We all heard that back at the Pod chamber that day. So it's not new, right? Except you didn't know about the Granolith then. I mean... Max, why duplicate the stuff you already know? Why two separate messages to tell you who you are?"
"Well, I guess..."
"And Max, they're not even the same!"
"What aren't. The messages?"
"Yeah. Max? What we heard that day in the chamber? It's like... burned in my memory forever. And the woman, your... mother, that's not what she said. Remember? She said Tess was your young bride. I don't know Max, but that kind of makes her sound special. More than just your... 'Queen.'" The word almost choked her. "And Rath? Your mother said he was betrothed to Vilondra. Again, emphasizing the relationship, Max, like you are supposed to be together. That's what I thought. That's why I... Anyway, the bit you read out? It doesn't say any of that. How come? I mean, if you're going to go to all that trouble to duplicate stuff, why not say the exact same information again. Especially if it's important."
"I don't know, Liz. Maybe that's what's in the section we can't read?"
"No, no! Why hide it? I mean, they tell you stuff in there that is more important than how you felt about each other. The Granolith, for instance! I know how important that is! Why not hide something like that behind an extra layer of security? Why hide the fact that Ava was Zan's young bride? And something else. Max, your Mother said Rath was your Second in Command."
"Yeah, she did. I know Michael was pretty..."

"But here, the translation says he is your counselor. Counselor, Max! That's a little different to a 'Second in Command.' I mean, one is someone you listen to, you know, advice and that, like the Irish guy in The Godfather, the 'consiglieri'. Marlon Brando trusted him, listened to what he said, but no way was he ever Second in Command. He has to take charge sometimes, like... run things. You know, in case the King is... unavailable."
"Liz, do you realize what you're saying? That one of these, either this translation, or the image we saw of my mother is a fake. But which one?"
"Max, Alex did this translation. I've never met your... real mother. I know which one I trust."
"I trust Alex too, Liz, I do, it's just that..."
"What about the rest of this, Max, what does it say? Those orbs are devices to get information from your true home. So why waste time with a personal message? Especially if that message is already in a book that you should have read ages ago. Max? I think the image we saw that day in the chamber was fake."
"Tess?" Max groaned.
Liz nodded, and stroked her hand across Max's shoulder. "I'm sorry Max. I mean, maybe I'm way off here. You know maybe it's just wishful thinking on my part."
"No, Liz," Max smiled gently. "No, you are probably more right than I have ever been. I mean, what you say sounds so plausible. If only we knew what the rest said."

Max again stared at the screen, trying to make sense of the jumbled characters stretched across the page. Alex said he had been able to translate this, without understanding it. Why couldn't Max? Perhaps it needed some key? Maybe it needed a human to look at it? Max suddenly realized that Liz had not once looked at the translation.
"Liz?" he asked gently. "What's the matter? This isn't like you?"
"Hmmm?" she asked. "What isn't?"
"You just dissected this first part of the translation without once referring back to it to check on what it said. You always do that, you always double check stuff."
"Oh, yeah, you know... it was easy to remember, and like I said, it's burned in my memory."
"No, you said the image from the chamber was in your memory. Liz? Why won't you look at the screen?"
"Because that's what killed Alex," she whispered.
"Oh," Max looked down with a groan. "I guess we all have so many scars Liz. Do you think this will work again? If I take this home, will it run in my PC? Or do you think Alex will have set it to delete itself?"
"Probably, Max. Alex was ultra cautious. If he was afraid that Tess or Nacedo would get their hands on it, yeah, he'd do that."
"So I don't have a choice Liz. I need to sort this out here, or I will lose that chance."
"Oh, yeah. Okay."
"But I think I need your help Liz. Alex said that he translated it though he couldn't understand it. Maybe it needs a human to see the changes. Maybe you will be able to read it, you know, so that Tess couldn't."
"You're asking a lot Max," she groaned.
"I know Liz," Max sighed. "And I wish there was some other way. But Kyle and Maria are too far away, and I'm not sure we want Mr. Blumberg to see what ever has been hidden in there. Liz, I don't even know if it will work." Max closed his eyes, and tried hard to resist playing his trump card. He did not want to hurt Liz again, but this was important. "Maybe it will make sense of his death."
Liz's eyes flared in momentary anger, but this soon vanished, to be replaced by resignation. "You're right," she capitulated.
"I'm sorry Liz," he murmured into her ear. "I really am."

Liz surprised Max by sitting in his lap. Together they looked at the incomprehensible squiggles on the screen. They both gasped when, as though the subject of some early virus, the characters started to march around the page like an army of ants, until it spelled out the massage.
"Beloved Zan,
"By now, you will be wondering why we selected Earth for you and the others to mature until the day that you may return to us, to free us from our enslavement. Doubtless, you are aware of the fact that the human brain is capable of much more power than our own, and we pray that you will learn to utilize this. You will have need of it if you are to defeat your enemies.
"But that is not the sole reason we have selected Earth. Although a barbaric race who turn to war at the slightest of provocations, there are two qualities that the Earthlings possess that make them so different from us.
"Ours is a planet divided by conflict. One that has spread across to our nearest neighbors, who for years, have been our friends. It has all stemmed from our past. You see, our lives are planned. Your original birth, for instance was planned the day I become betrothed to you father, a fact which was also planned before my birth. Your whole life had been mapped out before you were even conceived. Your day of birth was known, down to the precise second, as was your gender, where you would school, and who your friends would be. Even your queen, Ava, was selected for you. For the ruling houses, it was not so bad, for leaders always have a certain obligation to their followers.
"Until recently, all of these decisions were made by the priesthood, but the leading families were starting to complain, out of petty jealousies, or out of suspicion that they were somehow being removed from that which they all sought, power. So these families insisted that they have the right to determine their own futures. These decisions then, were removed from the domain of priesthood, and were used as bargaining counters between the families themselves. This led to even more jealousy, more suspicion, and more power-crazed fanaticism as families became embroiled in a game of statesmanship. Rebellion loomed, and in the ensuing conflict, you were all slain, the result of a betrayal.
"So we sent you to Earth. Using our advanced technology, you were combined, as we said, with human DNA to be reborn. It is your task to bring us the two weapons we need to save our planet; to save us. The weapons of 'Love', and 'the Freedom of Choice.'
"It would be callous of us to send you to this place to learn about these two weapons, and not allow you to experience them for yourself. To that end, we have not programmed any attraction between you and your partners. It is for you to choose each other, or not. The freedom is yours. But, my son, you are the King. Your choice will become our Queen, so please, choose wisely. Also, know that to safeguard our line, a choice once made may not be unmade. It is only with your chosen partner that you may propagate your line. Guard well the talisman of your choice, my son, for it serves a greater purpose than proof. It does not in itself indicate your choice, for that will have already been made, in your heart, in your soul. Only your choice, while wearing the talisman, may conceive your heir."


***


posted on 8-Dec-2001 3:39:46 PM by WR


Part 28

Max dropped his head on to Liz's shoulder with a deep groan.
"I am so sorry Liz," he mumbled into her dark hair.
"Max," Liz enthused. Her voice was upbeat, she was happy. "Do you know what this means?"
"Oh god Liz," he shook his head, clearly annoyed at himself. "It means I have made an even bigger mess than I realized."
"No Max," she squealed. "Think! Where was the pendant, before you gave it to me that night?"
"I hid it, Liz," he told her, his mind spinning. Why was she so happy? The fact that Tess now carried his son was proof that somehow he had made a bad choice. "After Topolski came back that time, and ransacked Michael's apartment, I hid it where only I would ever find it."
"Do you think that pendant is the Talisman this translation talks about?" Liz asked with a thoughtful expression. She remembered the flashes it gave her when she touched it the other night.
"Yeah, I think so," Max shrugged. "I mean, it makes sense, right?"
"But Tess never had it?"
"No," Max shook his head. "No, I don't know that Tess even knew of its existence."
"So she can't be pregnant?"
"Yeah, but..."
"Max?" Liz asked with a shy little smile. "Does that mean you chose me when you gave me the pendant?"
"No, Liz," Max shook after a short thought. "I chose you a long time ago."
"Max! She's not pregnant," she exclaimed, launching herself at Max, and hugging him with a tight ferocity. Her bubbling happiness could not be denied.
"But I connected with him, Liz. I felt him."
"Max, maybe she warped you," Liz would not give up. "I mean, you've hardly been yourself lately."
"I don't know, Liz," Max's shoulders slumped. "I know that I want to believe you so badly, but I am so afraid that you're wrong."

"Max, if she isn't pregnant, do you think she might come back and try again?" Liz ignored his pessimism. She could work on that later. There were more important things to think about. "I mean, I doubt she knows about this. Kivar wants your heir, Max. He might make her come back and try again."
"Liz, I know I gave you the pendant, but I think we need to hide it." Max spoke with a gentle caution, afraid that he might offend Liz. "We mustn't let my enemies find it."
"OUR enemies Max," she insisted. "We are in this together."
"But, Liz..."
"Listen Max, I am not going through this every time danger looms." Liz was angry. "Either I am with you, and we face it together, or we make a clean break right now. As much as it will hurt, I mean that. All or nothing."
Max gave it scarcely a thought, before he smiled.
"Okay, Liz, you win. But I don't want you taking any unnecessary risks."
"Yeah, I can live with that," Liz giggled.
"And no secrets," he continued. "Even if a future version comes back and tells us to do something, no secrets, ever."
"Yeah, I agree with that one, Max."
"Oh, and Liz?" his voice was tender again, apologetic. "Until we know for sure, can we keep this discovery about the pendant to ourselves?"
"Sure, Max. I can do without the jokes and comments from Maria." Liz started to giggle. "Boy, is she ever gonna be pissed."
"What about breakfast?" Max grinned.
"Oh, yeah... there's uh... nothing in the house."
"Well, why don't you go shower, and let's go see if we can't find somewhere to eat."

***

Isabel stood before the vanity mirror above her tall chest of drawers, with the drawer containing her organized makeup open. Moving along the rows of colored lipstick, she was passing her hand in front of her lips, changing the color she had 'applied' and checking to see it's suitability. Isabel was trying hard to forget yesterdays adventures. The knock on her window drew her attention away from the make-up. She looked over her shoulder, expecting to see Michael, but saw Venn instead. She waved him in.
"Hi, Venn," she smiled.
"You seem in a better mood than yesterday," he told her. "Why the smiles?"
"Oh, well, it seems my misguided brother didn't leave after all. It... ah...seems he just needed time to get his head together, you know? Things have been a little intense for him lately."
Isabel was so reluctant to admit that it had been Liz who had prevented Max from leaving, she did not see the huge sense of relief wave over Venn.
"But that is great news, Isabel."
"Yeah," she grinned. "I thought so, too."
"Isabel, we must get the three of you to the pod chamber. We must find a way to get us all home."
"Why? Michael doesn't want to go, he's already made up his mind, and Max, well, lets just say that he has too."
"But we must strive to reunite him with Ava, I mean Tess!" Venn urged.
"What? After what she has done?" Isabel's eyes were wide with anger. "You're kidding, right? Besides, she took the Granolith back to Antar. We're stuck here."

Venn walked from one side of the room to the other.
"Whatever Tess may have done, Isabel, it was in the best interests of Antar."
"Yeah? Since when is selling her King, us, out to our enemies the best interests of Antar? They certainly aren't our best interests. I mean, she did everything she could to get pregnant by Max and go scurrying back to Kivar."
"No, the Granolith would be programmed to return to the royal palace, not Kivar's stronghold. You would be safe there. Besides, Isabel, I don't think you understand the gravity of the situation we all face on Antar. If anyone but Tess bears the royal heir, the rebellion will be minor compared to the civil war that will breakout."
"Well, that's one problem we won't have to worry about then, will we? I mean, she has what she wants, Antar has what they want, why can't we have what we want? To live peacefully down here?"
"Because without Max, the royal heir's father, to guide the young prince, to rule until the prince is able, the barons will fall over themselves to become his regent. That will lead to intrigues, assassinations, faction building. Civil war would still be the inevitable outcome. Isabel, to save our people, to save our planet... we MUST get Max and Tess together again."
"Well, even if I thought that was a good idea, which I don't, we have no way home anyway."
"No, there must be another way."
Isabel thought back to her conversation with Nikolas, but said nothing.

"I am sure that between us, we can decipher the symbols. I cannot believe that we were not sent an alternative route home," Venn continued. "The situation is not irredeemable. Once Max is back on Antar, under his family's protection, he will see. He will realize. He WAS in love with Ava you know."
"Maybe," Isabel shrugged. "Except now he's in love with someone else."
Her words indicated that she was not happy about Max and Liz's relationship. She hoped that even though Liz had gone after him, had prevented him from leaving, that she would continue to step back from him.
"They must be separated," Venn affirmed.
"Tell me about it," Isabel shrugged. "I don't thank that will be the problem. I think your problem will be convincing Max to go home. I mean, if he didn't go this time when he had the chance, what hope have you got now?"
"If we can just get him to the Pod Chamber, he will listen. Will you help me?"
"I don't know, Venn," Isabel shook her head. "That would be kind of like betraying Max." She shuddered.
"He will destroy us, Isabel," Venn sighed. "If he does not return home, he will destroy us all. And not just our home planet, Isabel. Perhaps the very universe itself is at risk here."

***

For the rest of their morning together, Max and Liz had embarked upon the task of cleaning up the house behind them. Liz had also washed their own clothes, as well as her aunt and uncle's, which Max made sure appeared as though they had never been touched. When Mr. Blumberg had seen them emerge from the house with Max's bag, he had immediately offered to drive Max and Liz to the airport, an offer they accepted willingly, even though they had to endure a constant barrage of questions about their relationship. Max let Liz handle that. She seemed better suited to deflect questions that Max would have bumbled through. The kind old man had even offered to accompany them into the airport itself, to keep them company while they waited for their flight, but Liz had managed to dissuade him. After saying their good-byes, Max and Liz walked hand-in-hand through to the check-in desks, and sat in the departure lounge waiting to board their flight home.
"Southern Airlines is pleased to announce that passengers on Flight 285 for Albuquerque, New Mexico should make their way to gate 26 where the flight is now boarding."
The young couple rose. Max picked up his bag, and again holding hands, they made their way through the airport terminal.

"Thank you, Liz," Max gave her a tender smile, as he lifted her hand to his mouth, and kissed the back of it. "For giving me this second chance."
"You know, Max," Liz's big, bright smile was electric. "We need to do this more often."
"What?" Max looked worried. "Make up?"
"No," she droned, smiling as she nudged into him for being foolish. "Get away, just the two of us. It does you good."
"Yeah," he smiled at the thought. "But what would your parents say?"
"We'll think of something."
"Um, Liz?" Max's face fell. "It's gonna take me some time to pay you back, the money you spent coming out here, the dinner, these tickets, I mean. Wouldn't it cost a lot for us to get away?"
"Well, we can share a room. That will keep the cost down. You know? It'll be worth it. You need to relax more."
"Liz, I don't know about that. Sharing a room, I mean. I don't know if I could control myself like that again. Last night was different. I don't want to risk getting you..."
"Max, you can't, remember?" Liz treated him to her best 'bad girl' smile, while leaning in to him. "I have to wear the amulet. We can do it as often as we like, and I will never get pregnant unless I wear the amulet."
Max blushed, and then swallowed hard while Liz burst into giggles.

***

The day was dragging. Maria looked at the clock and again tried to calculate how long it would be before Liz arrived home. It hardly seemed five minutes since she had last checked it. Business was slow, which meant the day crept by.
"Ohhhhh," groaned Maria, stamping her feet in an impatient tantrum.
In a booth by the window, Jeff Parker was talking with a group of teenagers, college students by the looks of it. They were musicians, a band, and were discussing with Jeff the possibility of playing a gig at the café. From what Maria had overheard, they were not charging a fee. All they asked for was a free meal, a few free drinks, and the opportunity to pass around a hat to collect donations from the diners. They had also hinted that perhaps Jeff might like to make a contribution if his profits were substantially higher on the night they performed. Jeff was pondering the possibility. Naturally, Maria was intrigued by the idea of a band playing in the café, and wondered if she might get an opportunity to sing.
"Hey Maria," Kyle announced his presence, causing Maria to jump.
"Don't do that!" she scolded him, slapping him across his shoulders.
"Do what?" Kyle laughed. "Come into the café?"
Maria tilted her head sideways, and gave Kyle a sarcastic grin.
"So what's with them?" Kyle asked, indicating the group that Mr. Parker was talking to.
"A band. Want to play in the café," Maria informed him bluntly. "How are you feeling now?"
"Yeah, I'm okay," he shrugged. "Still a little shaken, you know? At least I don't think that they're hiding in the shadows any more."
Kyle gave a nervous glance over his shoulder, and then smiled.
"Jerk!" Maria grinned.
"My dad wanted me to spend the day at home, but I just had to get out. Thanks, for staying last night, with your mom being the way she is and all."
"Yeah," Maria sighed. "I hope Michael decides how to handle that soon. She is freaking out right now. There are ghosts around every corner."
"Yeah," Kyle chuckled. "I know how that feels. Any news from Liz... or Max?"
"Oh, yeah," Maria perked up a little. "Mr. Parker says she is at his brother's place in Florida, and that she'll be back around seven tonight. He thinks she needed to get away from everyone, to come to terms with what happened."
"Does he know Max is with her?" he asked with a wink.
"Listen!" Maria snapped in a sudden rush of anger. "Max is just 'there', okay? He is not 'with' her."
"Whatever, Maria," Kyle grinned.

"Hey, Maria," Sean called as he entered the café. Looking around, he looked disappointed and crossed to sit beside Kyle, nodding slightly.
"Sean," Maria looked at her cousin, knowing exactly what his next words would be.
"Is Liz back yet? Any news from her?" he asked.
"Yeah, uh, she's at her aunt's in Florida. But she should be home soon."
"Is Evans with her?" he asked through suspicious eyes.
"I have it on the best authority that Max is not 'with' her," Kyle interrupted.
"Oh, right," he smiled. He sat more upright now, and a huge smile spread across his face. "Good. There's hope for me yet."
"In a pig's ear," Kyle said under his breath.
"What was that?" Sean asked, looking at Kyle. "What did you say?"
"Oh, sorry. I said 'Be of good cheer,'" Kyle lied.
"Is that another one of your Buddhist comments?"
"Yeah, sort of," Kyle rose from his stool, and looked at Maria, as he started towards the back door. "Uh, Maria, I'm just gonna..."
Kyle was through the door before he had finished his sentence. Just as Kyle hurried through the door, a tall middle-aged man in a smart dark suit and sunglasses entered the café. In his left hand, he carried a briefcase. He paused at the door, pulled off the sunglasses, folded them and placed them into his breast pocket. He glanced around the café.
"De'Luca!" he barked. "I've been looking for you!"
Maria stared at the man, confused.
"Mr. Benson," Sean greeted him. "Good to see you too."
"Can the lip, wise ass. Get your butt over here."
"My probation officer," Sean apologized. "Could you bring over some coffee?"
"Sure," Maria nodded.

***

When Kyle burst through the back door of the café, he immediately collapsed into the nearest employee armchair. He managed to muffle his hysterical laughter. What a jerk that Sean was if he honestly believed that he had a chance with Liz. She ran halfway across the country to stop Max from leaving. That must tell the idiot something. But still he persists with the hope that he has a chance with her. Shaking his head, he climbed to his feet and went back to the door. He peered through the window in time to hear the newcomer summon Sean to him. His laughter dried up now, Kyle stared long and hard at the man. He turned away, and left the Crashdown through the back door.

***

Maria left Sean and his probation officer the two coffees, and turned back to the counter. As she passed the table where the band was having their discussion, they all rose, and were shaking Mr. Parker's hand.
"Okay then," he smiled. "I'll look forward to seeing you, day after tomorrow."
"Yeah, thanks again, Mr. Parker."
"No problem," he smiled. "Oh, Maria. Would you see if these kids want a refill?"
Whistling tunelessly, Jeff left through the back door.
"So," Maria smiled. One of the young men, very handsome, with medium length wavy blonde hair, smiled back. "How's it going?"
"Great," they all nodded, looking at each other. "Yeah, we have a really good deal. We might turn a tidy profit here. Will he get good crowds, do you think?"
"Oh sure," Maria smiled. "This is the most happening place in Roswell." Yeah, it all happens here.
"Mr. Parker tells us that you sing a bit," the young man told her.
"Oh, yeah, well, you know... I... it's just something I do a little of."
"Well, he said you were good. And you're cute, too."
Maria twisted away blushing, a smile spreading on her lips. "Oh," she shrugged. "Thanks."
"No, really. Listen uh... Maria. You have it all going for you. You can sing... you're attractive. Maybe you could uh... sing a number or two with us."
"Really? Me?"
"Sure, why not? You know, maybe if you do okay, maybe you could think about...joining us?"
"Me?" Maria shook her head. "No, not me."
"Sure, why not?" He handed her a card. "Why don't you drop by sometime we can talk about this some more?"

***

Nikolas stood against the wall, staring at the flaking patch of skin he had just pulled from his husk. Time was running out, and things were definitely stacked against him. He was desperate for some good news as he strove to find a way out of their current predicament.
"Can things get much worse?" he asked Grier who had just entered the room.
"I don't know, sir," he replied. "Maybe. We have an incoming transmission from Antar. It's Kivar."
"Well how interesting," Nikolas sneered. "I wonder what he wants? Oh yeah. The King."
Nikolas pulled out a small cell phone from his pocket, and flipped it open. He stood up from the wall, almost standing at attention, all traces of his arrogance vanishing.
"Excellency," Nikolas sibilated into the phone as Grier scurried from the room. "How may I serve?"
"Time is passing, Nikolas," Kivar's voice reverberated in his ear.
"I am aware of that, Excellency," Nikolas tried to placate him. "We are doing everything in our power to..."
"I expected to be in possession of the Royal Four by now. Yet you seem to have been unable to accomplish this."

"They are proving more resilient than I expected, Excellency," he apologized. "Zan seems far more able than we imagined. Also he had obtained help from some local people."
"I don't want excuses, Nikolas. I want results. Can you at least confirm Ava's pregnancy?"
"Oh yes, she is pregnant," he risked a wry smile. "It was an, uh... experience Zan will remember for the rest of his life."
"However long that may be," Nikolas detected Kivar's derision. "How soon do you anticipate their delivery?"
"We are having difficulties with our transportation, Excellency." Sometimes, Nikolas surprised even himself with the oiliness of his voice. "As you are already in possession of Ava and the Granolith, we have to persuade the others to transport us with their backup method."
"Why would you suppose that I am in possession of Ava, and of the Granolith?" Kivar asked, his voice strangely calm.
"Because she has already left, Excellency... in the Granolith... weeks ago." Nikolas' voice was less unruffled.
"Well guess again, Nikolas. Neither she nor the Granolith have arrived on Antar. Just what is going on, Nikolas? Do I need to replace you?"
"No sir," Nikolas barked, standing more upright. He resisted the urge to salute. "I am on it."

Nikolas snapped the cell phone closed, and stuffed it into his pocket. His face adopted a worried frown.
"Either Kivar is pulling something," he mused, "or Tess never really left in the Granolith."
Nikolas crossed the room, and opened the door.
"Grier, get in here!" he bellowed, turning back into the room.
"Yes, sir?" Grier asked as he entered the room. He was nervous, having sensed that Nikolas' conversation had not been amicable.
"That double crossing, mind-warping witch is an evil duplicitous snake!" he seethed through gritted teeth. "She didn't leave, she warped them, she made them think she left." He broke into a big smile. "Which means that she is still here. And if Tess is still here, then so too is the Granolith. I don't need to trick them anymore. I have the means to get home at my fingertips. Yes, this could still work out. All I need is a plan."
"Uh, sir? If she warped them that she had left, could her pregnancy be a warp too?"
"No, she wasn't warping when she was checked out by my physician," Nikolas dismissed the question with the wave of his hand. "Besides, you can't warp the scanning devices. They say she is pregnant. One hundred percent guaranteed."
"Right," Grier nodded.
"I want the Pod Chamber watched constantly. Lets make sure that I have the Granolith and the other three before I tell Kivar about Max."

***


posted on 8-Dec-2001 3:40:48 PM by WR
Part 29

Nikolas crept with a cat-like stealth up the rocky path to the crest of the rocky butte, and took the binoculars from the man who stood there, holding them out for him. He swept his mind across the surrounding rocks, checking the location of his men. Nikolas liked to know where his forces were.
"What have we got, Stinson?" Nikolas asked holding the binoculars to his eyes. He focused his vision on the strange outcrop half a mile in the distance, the Pod Chamber.
"Activity, sir," Stinson informed Nikolas in a quiet hush. "There are two men wandering outside the chamber."
"Where? What are they doing?"
"Talking, sir. They've gone down to the left. See that gully over there?"
"Any idea who they are?"
"One of them is the other protector, the shapeshifter that we have been keeping an eye on. We finally managed to track him here. I don't know who the other one is, though. He's been here a few times before. They look like they know each other, but it is difficult to determine if he is human or not. We have someone standing by to follow him when he leaves."
"What would the other protector be doing all the way out here?" Nikolas asked himself. "Now that we know the Granolith is still in there... Does he ever go in? The protector, I mean?"
"Yes, sir. All the time. The other guy never goes in, however. At least we have never seen him go in. They have only talked. Sometimes, he gets agitated, but he seems to be taking his orders from the other protector."
"Have you seen anyone else go in or out?"
"No sir. No one."
Nikolas lowered the binoculars, and stared into space with processing this new information.
"We killed those two punks in their rat infested sewers, so he would know that they are all gone now. So why would he come here? He's been seen talking with Vil... Isabel. He could be in league with Tess. Yeah, that would make sense. Maybe Isabel is too. Keep me informed. See if you can find out who that other guy is. And let me know who either of them talk too."
Nikolas' phone gave off a quiet chirping. He reached into is pocket, flipped open the phone and lifted it to his ear.
"What?" he hissed in a soft whisper.
"Sir? It's Grier. Thought you might like to know, we've just heard the Parker girl is with Max."
"What? She's on her way to Antar with him?" Nikolas was amazed.
"No, Max never left. She must have caught up to him. The others believe that she stopped him from leaving. They're on their way home... to Roswell, sir."
"Now this is a surprise," Nikolas raised his eyebrows with a smirk. "I think the time is rapidly approaching to give that girl a little reward for all of her efforts on our behalf. Let me know the second they are back."

***

The long white limousine cruised in a slow line down the main street, past the UFO Center, the Crashdown Café, and all of the other establishments with their variations on the alien theme. It turned left into a scarcely used street that continued towards the old derelict warehouses. Long before it reached them, the limousine stopped outside of a bar. Two men, both nicely dressed, wearing sunglasses, and carrying briefcases, stepped from the shade, and climbed in through the car door that opened as they approached. The car pulled away again, before the door was even closed behind them. It continued to cruise the back streets of Roswell. Inside the air conditioned, plush leather interior of the car, the two men sat and instinctually removed their sunglasses, looked around, nervous in the presence of the third man, also dressed in a dark suit.
"I must say, Mr. Alpha, Mr. Beta, that I am less than pleased with the outcome of our little venture. My boss was hoping for better results. Despite the cost, the preparations, and the faultless execution of our plan, our only significant lead has turned out to be nothing more than an average human teenager. What do have to say for yourselves?"
Both men looked at the floor, twisting in their seats. Neither man had been looking forward to this meeting.
"It was definitely the guy who went into the café to rescue the girl, Mr. Neptune," Mr. Alpha spoke with a tense voice. "It was the kid we all agreed upon."

"I spoke with our... agent... this morning," Mr. Beta announced after clearing his throat. He lifted his briefcase onto his knees and flipped the catches open. Mr. Beta pulled out a large photograph, and handed it to Mr. Neptune, who stared at it deep in thought. "He suggests that we turn our attention to this man. It seems the girl is strangely attracted to him, and we do know that he was seen near the girl after the initial shooting in '99."
"But it was your agent that was sure that the alien we seek was the Valenti kid. And our records show that this man was under surveillance by the FBI for almost nine months, but they just dropped the case. If they found no evidence to suggest this kid is an alien, why do you suppose we will? Why should we believe your agent this time? He is a less than reliable human being."
"He says that he is one hundred percent positive that we will not be disappointed," Mr. Beta defended himself.
"Well, he had better be. We can't keep killing off the teenage population of Roswell without someone noticing."
"Ah," an uncomfortable Mr. Beta shifted in his seat. "We didn't kill him. The Valenti kid, I mean." He was definitely embarrassed by his admission, and regretted allowing the Valenti kid to live.
"What?" If they had been in a room somewhere, Mr. Neptune would have leapt to his feet. The fact that neither man could see Mr. Neptune's eyes at that moment only added to their feelings of discomfort.
"Relax," Mr. Beta urged. "I mean, who would believe him? Right?" He looked to Mr. Alpha for support, and was not surprised by its absence. "I mean, such a wild tale in this town. Who would even listen?"
"Okay," Mr. Neptune's voice was like ice. "Pick this kid up, and if it turns out that he is not our alien, then I want to see a photograph of two corpses."
"Two, sir?" Mr. Alpha asked.
"This..." he checked the name stamped on the photograph, "Max Evans kid, and your... agent."

***

"Are you sure you're okay with working, babe?" Maria asked Liz as they closed up the café. Liz had only arrived a few hours ago, and after a few words with her parents, she had come down to help Maria. "I mean, you're not too tired or anything?"
"Yeah," Liz smiled at her friend. "Why wouldn't I be okay? I mean, I owe you so much right now."
"Yeah," Maria laughed, offering Liz her bowl of Space Fries, indicating for her to help herself. Liz took a small handful, nodding her thanks. "So like, you got there, and what? How did you stop him from leaving? Or was he like, waiting for you?"
"No, I thought he had... you know, gone. But he was sitting down, in the stands," Liz lifted a fry to her mouth, but a look of disgust passed her face, and placed the fries on an empty plate. "He was surprised to see me, actually."
"I'll bet," Maria snorted, and the paused, staring at Liz. "You gave in to him, didn't you?" she demanded. Her nerves erupted. "Oh god! You didn't! Tell me you didn't have... Tell me you never... No, you didn't have 's', 'e', 'x'!"
"No, Maria," Liz placated her friend by grabbing her arms. "As far as I know, you are the only human to have had a close encounter of an intimate kind."
"Do you have any idea how absurd that sounds?" Maria laughed. "I mean, there are newspapers out there that thrive on printing crap like that, and here we are, it's actually happening to us. Well... me. I could make a fortune selling my story. As if anyone would believe me anyway."
Liz paused, and looked at Maria with a worry. "Maria, when you... I mean you and Michael, you ahhh, you do use protection... don't you?"
"No, Liz," Maria's hurt tone ran with sarcasm. "Michael gets Max to set up his shield for him. What do you think? Of course we use protection. I mean, sheesh, this is me you are talking to, you know."
"I know, and I'm sorry," Liz apologized. "It's just, you know, sometimes..."
Maria looked at her, waiting for Liz to finish the question. When it became apparent that Liz had decided not to finish her thought, Maria continued clearing up.

While they busied themselves, Maria kept pausing, glancing over at Liz, shaking her head, and then resuming her duties. Liz knew that Maria wanted to ask her more questions. The silence between them grew.
"Okay..." Maria spoke at last, putting the cleaning cloth she was using down. "So if the two of you didn't... like... you know, what did you do?"
"Well, at first, Max was tired. Really, really tired. So he took a nap. Anyway, afterwards? We went and had dinner. We walked and we talked, Maria," Liz broke into a huge grin. "I mean, we really talked. Something we haven't been able to do for ages. It was... great."
"So what did you talk about?"
"Everything," Liz breathed. "We talked about, you know, Max from the future, about...Alex,... Tess, his... son, everything."
"You've let him back in, haven't you?" Maria asked with resignation. Somehow, Maria made it sound like she had let her friend down.
"Yes, Maria," Liz smiled. "I have."
"I don't know how you can. I mean, after everything! After... after what that little..."
"Maria, stop it!" Liz ordered sharply. "If you are a real friend of mine, you will support my decision, and not try to make them for me!"
"Well there's no need to bite my head off, Liz. I mean, okay already."
Together they completed their allotted tasks.
"You've changed, Liz," Maria pointed out after putting away the cleaning items.
Liz looked at Maria. "I'm sorry, Maria. I think I've had to. It's time I stood up for what I want. And right now? I want Max."

Liz went to the cupboard and pulled out six large cups, which she took over and placed them on the corner booth. Maria looked on with a question in her eyes.
"What are you doing, Liz?"
"Meeting," Liz informed her. "We have something to tell you."
"Nuh-uh," Maria snorted. "No one wants to hear about your exploits during your love fest."
"I told you, Maria," Liz reprimanded. "It wasn't like that."
"I bet you kissed."
"Well, yeah," Liz's grin ran from one ear to the other. "There was that. But there was no sex." She paused, and remembered last night on the beach. Her face flushed bright scarlet. "Well, hardly any anyway."
"I knew it," Maria squealed with disappointment. "I knew that you did more than just kiss."
"No, Maria. Nothing happened, okay? I mean, we were kissing, okay, and it got a bit..."
"Heated?"
"Yeah, but Max, you know, he put a stop to it," Maria could hear Liz's frustration, which caused her to raise her eyebrows. "He said he didn't want to ruin my life. He was looking out for me."
"Mmmm, I bet!" Maria sneered. "So now he becomes Mr. Responsibility."
"Maria!"
"You and me, Liz? We so have a date after this meeting. You, me and a tub of ice cream."
"Okay, Maria," Liz laughed. "As long you don't try to stop me seeing Max. I love him, you know? And I'm happy."
Liz bent down behind the counter to get some napkins for the table. She heard the door open.
"Oh... hi Sean," Maria announced.
Liz gave a soft groan, and remained crouched behind the counter. She looked up at Maria and shook her head
"No," she mouthed.

"Hey, Maria. Is Liz around?" he asked. "I heard she was back."
"Yeah, you heard right," Maria scoffed. "But she's, uh... upstairs with her parents. Being told off big time, I expect. You know, for just running out on her best friend like that, and leaving her to face everyone, and like... make excuses for her." She nudged Liz with her foot.
"Oh, yeah," Sean laughed. "I just want to reschedule our date."
"Well, she's probably gonna be grounded, like... forever."
"Okay, will you tell her I came by?"
"Yeah, I will." Maria gave a heavy sigh. "But Sean? A word of caution?"
"Yeah?" he asked in a slow cautious manner. "What's that?"
"Well... it's just... if she went chasing after Max like that, I guess that should give you a clue to where her heart lies. I mean, she must still love him, right?"
Sean paused, and seemed to think about Maria's statement.
"Yeah, I guess," he replied looking at the floor. He raised his eyes, and looked at Maria. "But don't count me out yet. He might not always be around, ya know?"

When Maria had indicated that Sean had left, Liz stood up again, making a careful check to ensure that he was not lurking somewhere.
"Thanks, Maria. I owe you."
"You owe me big time girl!" Maria huffed.
"What do you think he meant by that? About Max not always being around?"
"Oh, well... It's just Sean, you know."
"Yeah, maybe."
"He doesn't know anything, Liz," Maria comforted her. "Okay, so what's this meeting about?"
"Um... yeah, the meeting..." Liz was distant, as though her mind was somewhere else. "It's just that we found out some stuff."
"Oh," Maria smirked. "More flashes during heavy make out sessions with 'His Majesty?'"
"What?" Liz giggled at her choice of words, and then admonished her friend. "Maria! No, not at all." Liz looked around the room, and stepped closer to Maria. Her furrowed brow indicating that something was bothering her. "Actually, Maria? I don't think that I got any of those flashes. Not a single one. And things did get pretty intense. Why do you think that is?"
"Hmmm," Maria made a mock show of thinking up a reason. "Oh yeah. Because he has closed himself off. Probably doesn't want you to see his night of passion with the ho!"
"Yeah, maybe," Liz did not sound convinced. She released a heavy sigh as her shoulders collapsed. "I miss them, though."

***

"I don't know how many times I have to tell you, Tess. You are not going into Roswell. I absolutely forbid it."
"Do you realize who you are talking to?" Tess demanded.
Every time she and Harding got into an argument in which she knew he was right, she threw that in his face.
"At this moment," he raged, "I am talking to a silly little girl."
"Girl? Girl?" she grew furious. "I am the Queen of Antar. I demand that you show me the respect I deserve. I am going to pay that bitch in Roswell a visit, and you will not stop me."
"I will restrain you physically if I must," he growled. "Now stop behaving like a... a bimbo, and get off of your high horse."
Tess spluttered; she could not spit her words out.
"Think about it, your Majesty," sarcasm dripped from every syllable. "If anyone sees you, like Max... or Nikolas... the game will be up. If you are seen, we will end up having to fight both factions."
"I can handle Max and the others," she sneered.
"I'm glad to hear it. What about Nikolas?"
"Look, if you are worried about Max finding out, then I am the ideal person to visit Parker."
"Oh? How's that?"
"Because she's terrified of me. I can get more information out of Liz than you can, plus... I will be able to then erase her memory. Max will never learn that I have even been there until it's too late."

***

The door to the empty premises slammed shut. Empty that is, except for the collection of camp beds and sleeping bags. There were other signs of habitation, such as suitcases with strewn piles of clothing, and boxes with containers of food, but no indication that this was anything more than temporary. There were a few occupants inside the dwelling, trying to catch up on some sleep, but they instantly leapt into a state of preparedness.
"She's back!" a voice called from the corridor.
"Who?" barked Grodak.
"The dark haired girl, Liz." Layla entered the room. "She returned late this afternoon. Max was with her."
"Are they together again?" Alwiss asked. "Have they resolved their differences?"
"It looked that way to me," Layla confirmed. She crossed to a camp bed, and sat down.
"This could complicate things," Alwiss groaned.
"Perhaps," Grodak shrugged. "Their relationship will be new. It will not take much to break them up again. How are we progressing on the other fronts? Layla? Anything more from Michael?"
"Not yet, no. I do know he is thinking on it. He seemed... intrigued."
"What about Maria? Has she taken the bait?"
"She's interested," Alwiss nodded. "She hasn't made any commitments other than to sing one number when we play. But I can see that she is interested. I can easily engineer a situation for Michael to see. That will be that relationship over with."

***

posted on 8-Dec-2001 3:41:41 PM by WR


Part 30

Maria went to the locked door when she heard someone rap on the window. If they were having a meeting, she just knew the subject of 'Czechoslovakians' would crop up, and they did not want people snooping on them. To that end, Liz had deliberately set up a booth in the middle of the room, and had drawn the blinds to give them their privacy. Maria had no doubt that one of the three, either Max, Michael or Isabel, would do that new invisible shield thing that they had recently discovered, the one that made sure their voices did not carry beyond their table. It was a neat trick that they couldn't really do when other people might notice your lips moving, but no sound coming out, although her and Michael had often done that. She opened the door, protecting the opening to prevent any unwanted guest from entering.
"Oh, Kyle... hey." Maria stepped out of the way.
"Hey, Maria." Kyle entered the café, and Maria closed the door behind him. "Oh, hey, Liz."
Kyle crossed the room to Liz, and embraced her in a friendly hug.
"How are you?" he inquired. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah," she giggled. "I'm okay, Kyle. "How about you? I heard what happened. Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm... good," he nodded.
"I'm sorry, Kyle," she frowned. "I'm sorry that I wasn't here when you needed me. Max, too."
"That's okay, Liz. There wasn't much either one of you could have done. And besides, you two had more important things to do, right?"
"Yeah," she laughed.
"So, are you okay with Max now?"
Her smile told Kyle everything that he needed to know. It made him smile with her.
"I knew it was only a matter of time before you two found each other again."
"Thank you, Kyle, you know... for supporting Max like you did. For being there for him. It meant a lot. To both of us. He was kind of alone, you know?"
"What can I say?" Kyle shrugged with a grin.

Michael and Isabel were the next to arrive. Maria didn't bother to open the door for them. Michael had been getting better with his control now; he could open locked doors almost as easily as Isabel, or even Max. When she entered the café, the tension between Isabel and Liz rose perceptibly. The other three noticed how neither girl would look at the other.
"So where's Max?" Michael demanded with a trace of irritation in his voice. "I suppose he will arrive just in time and get all moody on us again?"
"No," Liz defended Max. "He's probably been held up by his parents. He has some major groveling to do with them."
"They aren't the only ones," Maria snorted with a laugh.
"Um, listen guys," Liz urged with an uncharacteristic firmness. "I have resolved any issues that Max and I had between us, okay? I suggest that you all do the same. This all ends here!"
Michael, Isabel and Maria exchanged startled looks, and then glared at Kyle, who was chuckling in the corner seat, next to Liz.

Maria went to fetch the assortment of snacks she had prepared earlier. Space Fries, Chili Cheese Saturn Rings, and some Asteroids, which were really deep fried pieces of chicken, while the others talked, waiting for Max to arrive. When the snacks were placed in front of them, the teens dug in. Liz grabbed some fries, but as she brought them to her mouth, she wrinkled her nose, and felt a little ill. She placed the fries on a napkin to one side and tried the Saturn Rings, as well as the Asteroids. Both of these made her feel slightly nauseous, so they joined the fries on the napkin. She watched the others attack their snacks with gusto, and smiled at them.
"Hey," Max announced his presence as he slipped in through the back door.
Everyone said their hellos to Max, while he and Liz exchanged longing looks at each other, along with shy, hope filled smiles.
"Hey, Max," Isabel scooted along the seat. Because Maria had elected to sit next to Liz when she returned, there was only one place left for Max to sit. "Mom and Dad okay with you now?"
"Yeah," Max removed his gaze from Liz with a great reluctance. He looked at Isabel now. "Starting tomorrow, I'm grounded for a while, and I'm going to be majorly busy most weekends, when I'm not at the UFO center. Um, assuming I still have a job there."
Max returned to look at Liz, and in the smile he gave her, he apologized for the lack of time the two of them would share. Her eyes told him that she was okay with it. She understood.

"So what are we all here for, Max?" Michael demanded, pulling Max's attention from Liz.
"An explanation," Max stated with a shrug of his shoulders. He was feeling nervous again. How do you begin to explain how miserable your life had been to people who were your closest friends? He reached into his pocket, and produced two of the healing stones. Holding these in his hand, he manipulated them into revolving circles around each other, on his palm. "I need you to understand..." he continued, "I felt lost and alone. Hopeless." Max emitted a deep sigh. "I'm sorry... for my behavior. If I said or... did... anything that hurt... or upset you guys, I'm sorry. I haven't been thinking straight for so long now. Anyway, after it seemed that I would never get Liz back, I decided to leave. I caught the greyhound to Florida. When I got to Cape Canaveral, I stole a guy's ID, changed my clothes, and gained access to the restricted zone. I... took a Jeep... right up to the shuttle. I was there, I could have gone, but I couldn't go through with it."
Max looked at Isabel, Michael, Kyle and then to Maria.
"I couldn't leave the friends I care about."
He looked at Liz now, his eyes misting over.
"I couldn't leave Liz," he said with a tenderness that was so... Max.
"So what about your son?" demanded Isabel.
"We'll get to that in a minute," Max placed his hand on her arm.

Liz watched Max struggle through his apology, and when he paused after Isabel's interruption, she decided to take up the tale. She looked at Max and remembered Mr. Forster's words, 'You may be the world to one person.'
"I was working," she started, "in here, sad and angry. Angry because I was letting what I wanted most in the world slip away from me. Isabel had said that Max had left, that he was on his way... to Antar." Not home. This was home. "I remembered how Larek told us that time, you know, with the Garandium, that we had to take the shuttle? Well Max had pictures and stuff, of the shuttle on his wall. And I remembered he had some information on his computer about it. So I checked, on the internet, you know? I saw how there was a launch, the next day, and I knew that Max was going to try and take it. But when I was in the taxi on the way from the airport..." Liz grew quiet now. She could still feel that sense of loss, that feeling of hopelessness. "I heard how it launched early. I thought Max had succeeded, that he was gone. I still went there, and just stared at the trail of smoke it left."
She whispered her last sentence, though the room had gone deathly quiet. The only sound was the friction from the stones in Max's hand.
"How did you feel, Liz?" Kyle asked in a gentle tone.
"I think you can guess, Kyle," she smiled, looking up at Max.

"Anyway, I could feel him," Liz continued, "and so I knew he hadn't left."
"What do you mean, 'you could feel him'?" demanded Isabel.
"Just that," Liz shrugged. "I could feel his presence. When I found him, he looked so tired, so I took him to my aunt and uncle's, who live nearby."
"What did they say about turning up with some strange guy in tow?" Kyle laughed.
"They uh..." Liz blushed. "They weren't there. They're on vacation...in Europe."
Michael and Kyle started to grin, and make sly comments to Max, while Isabel looked on in disgust.
"Relax guys, okay, we didn't do anything!" Liz yelled above the noise. She was trying to tell them something important, and their minds were in the gutter. "While we were there, a neighbor brought over a package. It was delivered back in April. On the same day, someone broke into my aunt's house and the postman was killed. Listen! He had a silver handprint."
Michael and Isabel both released an explosive burst of air from their lungs, while both Kyle and Maria jumped.
"You guys? That's not all. The parcel was addressed to Max."

It took Max and Liz some time to calm the others down. They wanted to know why someone sent Max a package to Florida, and why another alien had been there. Michael was convinced the sender was this Future Max Maria had told him about. The only indication that the truth might be less palatable was the uncomfortable looks exchanged between Max and Liz. Because she looked so upset, Max started to talk, bringing everyone's focus to him.
"It was a homemade CD. It was from... Alex."
"What?" demanded both Isabel and Maria at the same time.
"It had the translation on it, the one Tess made him do. Only he managed to get more information to me than Tess had received.
"What?" Now it was Michael's turn.
"What was on the message, Max?" Isabel asked in a hushed whisper.
Max repeated the message, almost parrot fashion. He stopped at the statement of the pendant acting as his royal birth control but Liz couldn't help herself.
"Guys!" she squealed with delight. "Tess isn't pregnant!"
As the words left her lips, she realized that she might have let out information best kept between her and Max. She berated herself, and dared not look at Max.
"How do you know that?" they all asked in one form or another.
"Oh, yeah," Liz blushed.
"We have it on good authority, that she can't be pregnant." Max helped.
"Convenient," Michael sneered.
"Well, good news for a change, eh Max?" Kyle laughed.

Isabel sat back. "You're wrong!" she announced.
Every face now looked at Isabel.
"Why do you say that, Isabel?" Liz asked, anger barely simmering behind her carefully pronounced words. Trust Isabel to spoil her happiness.
"The other day, the day we noticed Max had gone, Nikolas came. To... see me. He said... he confirmed Tess was pregnant. That he had had her checked out, and that she was pregnant. He even said that he witnessed you... the two of you... ah...."
"He could be lying," Kyle offered. "I mean, this guy, he could hardly be considered a friend now, could he?"
"Why didn't you tell me about this?" Michael demanded.
"Why don't we leave that one 'til later," Max asked, his face showing his concern. He continued to revolve the healing stones.
"Well, if she is, it's not by Max!" There was no doubt in Liz's statement. Her words let everyone know that she did not believe Tess's pregnancy.
"How can you be so sure, Liz?" Maria asked.
"I have my reasons," she answered. "I can't say just now, but trust me, I'm right."
"Yeah, okay, maybe... but they still did it!"
"Maria!"
"Maria, what?" Maria demanded. "Okay, you believe she isn't pregnant. But Liz, he still jumped her! He still betrayed everything you had between the two of you."
Max, rolling the stones in the palm of his hand, flinched with each accusation.
"Maria, that's not the issue here, okay?" Kyle interrupted. "Look, Liz has accepted that IF it happened..."
"If? If? What do you mean, if? You heard Isabel? That creep Nikolas, who can I say, must be an even bigger creep than Max, he watched them do it?" Maria ranted, but Kyle was no longer listening, he was watching Max. "Kyle? Kyle? Yoohoo, Earth to Kyle."
"Kyle?" Liz asked. She saw him staring at Max, so she too turned to look. She missed it at first, but then the realization hit her.
Michael too looked at Max, as did Isabel. Even Maria stopped her talking, and turned to watch Max.
"What?" he asked, noticing how everyone was watching him. No, not at him, at his hand. Max looked down and watched as he manipulated the healing stones around his palm.
"Oh my god!" exclaimed Liz.

***

"How long have you been doing that, Max?" Kyle asked.
"What?" Max asked in confusion.
"He's been doing it a lot," Liz answered for him. "He did it a couple of times in Florida, and on the plane home. Um, Max?" Liz held onto his arm. "It's how we knew Kyle had been warped. When Maria's mom was getting her memory back, she started drumming her fingers. Then when we saw Kyle doing the same... we just knew."
"I knew something wasn't right, man," Kyle smirked, slapping the table with his hand. "I just knew it."
"I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it," admitted Michael.
"Okay, so Tess warped him," Maria admitted, though with some reluctance. "So Tess' kid isn't Max's, if Liz is correct. So what are you saying? That she warped him into thinking they did it? That he's a virgin still?"
They all started talking at once, all that is, except Max. Max stared at the stones in his hand with a puzzled frown on his face. Liz seemed to be in a state of ecstasy. Max was as innocent as she was. But then she noticed Max's noiselessness. Liz too fell silent. As before, one by one, they all followed suit and watched Max struggle with some inner turmoil.
"I don't think Tess warped me." The anguish in Max's voice was terrible to hear. "It just doesn't feel right."

"What are you saying, Max?" Liz demanded. Only Max matched her distress. "What do you mean?
Max took a deep breath, and his shoulders slumped in defeat.
"I have made so many mistakes," he groaned. "I will not make another. I will not blame someone who might not be responsible."
"Oh, I get it," Maria sneered. "Max cherishes the memory of his one hour orgasm with the ho, I mean, what guy wouldn't? One hour? Come on! If it was a warp, it means that it never happened, and Max here is just the same as Michael."
Max looked up at Michael, who was shifting with embarrassment. The fierce glare warned Michael that they would discuss betraying confidences at a later date. Liz collapsed back into the booth, and held her head in her hands. She so badly wanted to ignore Maria, but what she said made so much sense. No! She believed in Max. She saw that he was merely taking responsibility for his mistakes.
"Max?" she mumbled from between her hands. "Could you explain that? Can you answer Maria?"

"Liz," he said in that calm and gentle tone he reserved for her. "It would be so easy to explain my actions away, all of them... with a warp from Tess. And I want to do just that, say it was all a warp. It would explain so much. But I know, deep inside, that she didn't warp me."
Liz burst into tears. She could not explain why, after all, she had accepted Max back in her life believing Max had not only had sex with Tess, but had gotten her pregnant. To discover she did not carry Max's child was incredible. But to discover that it had been a warp as well, that nothing had happened... But Max stubbornly refused to accept it.
"I don't believe it!" snapped Maria. "You've done it again!"
"Maria, I..."
"Nice one, Max." Michael growled. All you had to do was go along with it. You could have made things so much easier, but no... What is it with you?"
"Yeah, Max. I mean, come on." Isabel berated her brother.
"What about you, Kyle?" Maria demanded. "You haven't said anything. You've been rather quiet about all this. What's your take on this?"
"Max is right," he shrugged.
For the moment, Max found the attention taken away from him, as everyone looked at Kyle.
"Come again?" Michael asked.
"I know, and trust Max," he shrugged, looking at Liz as he said those words. "Sure, he could say 'Yeah, she warped me and I am still innocent ol' Max.' It gets him off the hook, right? Then you guys wouldn't be on his back now, and Liz... well, she wouldn't be upset again. But he wants the truth. I mean, don't you? The truth shall set you free."
"So, what?" Maria sneered. "Are you saying he really screwed her?"
"No, Maria. I don't think Max had sex with Tess."
"How can you just stand there and deny what happened between us, Max?" a voice laughed from the front door that they had all seen Isabel lock.
Six pairs of eyes spun to the blonde girl standing just inside the café.
"Tess!" Liz gasped. She leapt from the seat, and fled through the back door in a storm of tears.
Tess immediately gave chase, following Liz through to the back room. As the others hurried to Liz's assistance, a wall of flames surrounded them, penning them where they stood in the middle of the café. Liz was on her own.

***

:eek :eek :eek :eel :evil :lol
posted on 8-Dec-2001 3:42:38 PM by WR
Part 31

In a state of intense anxiety, Max tried everything he could think of to find a way through the flames, to the girl he knew would need him. He even tried to see if he could shape his shield into a protective tunnel, but the fire seemed to hold it back. Michael and Isabel also tried to find some way to defeat the blazing barrier that surrounded them. Kyle bounced from side to side, frustrated that he had no major powers of his own. Trying to help but failing was preferable to... being so helpless. Maria stared at the alien trio and their ineffectual attempts to breach the obstacle, and then at the solid sheet of fire. The first thing that she noticed was that the floor was undamaged by the inferno and that there was no sign of any burning on the ceiling where the flames licked at it. The fire sprinklers had not started up, either.
"Oh, come on!" she snapped in disgust. "This is Tess. It's a warp!"
Michael was so wrapped up in his efforts to defeat the unnatural barrier between them and their friend, that he missed her. Isabel and Kyle did, too. Only Max - and even then he was unable to stop her, although he did try - noticed Maria. Eager to rush to the assistance of her best friend, who was facing Tess alone, Maria ran into what she believed was an imaginary wall of fire.

There was an explosion. Maria flew backwards, past Max's arms, still outstretched in his failed attempt to stop her, past Michael, even now moving towards where she had tried to enter, and past Isabel. She flew into Kyle, together crumbling in a heap to the floor. With a groan, Kyle extracted himself from the tangled limbs, and rolled clear. Maria remained face down and motionless. Michael turned to her, intent on admonishing her for her foolishness, but rushed to her side instead. Even though Max's thoughts were elsewhere, he too moved to join them. Isabel knelt beside Michael and Kyle rose to stand behind her. All four gasped in extreme shock when Michael rolled Maria over and onto her back. Maria was burned. Badly burned. Her face was a black and red mess of scorched flesh, open wounds and heat blisters. Her body was no different, but with the addition of scraps of her clothing having fused with her damaged flesh. Kyle had to fight to retain the contents of his stomach when the smell of burnt flesh reached his nostrils. Without hesitation, Michael placed his hand over her, ignoring the feel of the cremated skin and tried to make the connection that would allow him to help her, that would save her. He was unable to do it. He didn't even know where to start.

"Max?" he begged looking into Max's eyes. "I can't. Please?"
Max didn't even think about it. He knelt by Maria's side, across from Michael, and placed his right hand over Maria's chest, just above her left breast. Forcing himself to remain calm, to hope that Liz would be all right by herself, Max pushed through the waves of pain emanating from Maria's consciousness. The others saw Max's face clench with agony, as if he were somehow sharing Maria's pain. He was in! Max ignored the images that assailed him, Maria's sisterly love for Liz and how she would do anything to protect her, her deep love and feelings of frustration for Michael, her friendships, and her sorrow over absent friends. He especially waved away the intense hatred that she had developed for him, the one man who had caused Liz so much pain. He ignored all of these and concentrated on repairing her damaged tissue. To help his friends, Max started with Maria's face. He called up every memory of Maria, and carefully reconstructed her features, her flashing eyes, her pouting lips, even remembering to replace her eyebrows, and her hair. Next, he concentrated on the rest of her. With great care, he separated the fused clothing from damaged flesh, and set about the task of making Maria whole again. As Max broke the connection, and collapsed backwards, Michael swept Maria up in his arms, holding her as though he would never willingly do anything else in his life. Max stood upright, took a step backwards, and would have collapsed to the floor had Kyle not been there to catch him.
"Whoa, take it easy, big guy." Kyle helped him down to the floor.
"Here..." Isabel urged as she extracted Maria from Michael, who was reluctant to let her go, "... let me."
Free of his grasp, Isabel set about Maria's damaged clothing. Soon, only the memory remained to tell them that anything had happened to her. Reunited in Michael's embrace, Maria stared in silence at Max over her boyfriend's shoulder.

"So where does this leave us?" Kyle asked Max kneeling down to be at the same level. "I mean... Liz."
"I know, Kyle," Max sighed with a weary frustration.
Max was rocking back and forth, clenching his palms together. Kyle remembered how Max had been doing that the night he had seen that image, the night Liz and Maria had been taken hostage. Kyle realized just how frightened Max was right now. His own agitation rose.
"Come on, Max," Isabel urged. "Do something!"
Part of Max wondered dryly if Isabel was concerned for Liz's safety, or was simply possessed with the desire to avenge Alex's death and somehow absolve herself of some guilt.
"Max!" Michael called from his embrace with Maria, whose own frightened eyes were still fixed on Max. "You can do it, man. Just remember who you are doing it for."
Who was he doing it for, he wondered? Max would walk over hot coals to save Liz, Max knew, indeed, he had considered trying to leap through the flames himself, before Maria had tried it. Why was Michael so concerned? Perhaps he knew Maria would not recover so quickly from another friend's death, especially if it were Liz's death. Were their motives purely selfish?
"And what about me?' Max asked himself. "Would I act just as selfishly if the roles were reversed?' He knew he had not acted honorably after Alex's death.
Max indicated to Kyle that he wished to stand. Kyle took his arm, and helped him to his unsteady feet. With his own fear and worry evident, Max gathered what strength he could, and tried unsuccessfully to push his shield through the flames.
"It's no use," he cried genuine tears of frustration and his shoulders dropped. He had used up so much energy healing Maria. Around him, the fear, the panic, and the agitation he himself felt was mirrored by his friends' faces.

***

Tess was back. With tears forming in her eyes, Liz bolted through the backroom doors, towards the stairs up to their apartment. Tess was back, Tess who killed Alex, and wants Max. With her comes the prospect of the end of the world and the deaths of Michael and Isabel. Liz's nightmare was returning. Worse, would Max carry out his threat, and kill her in cold blood? As she stormed up the stairs, Liz became aware of the fact that she was being chased. A quick glance over her shoulder revealed that her pursuer was the possessor of blonde locks. Perhaps Max killing her won't be in cold blood after all, she thought, realizing that it was Tess chasing her.
"Liz! No wait! Stop!" Liz's nemesis cried out.
Once safely through her door, she slammed it shut, almost in the blonde's face and turned the key. She crossed the room to her window, but before she could climb through it, Tess had already opened her door. She scrambled out through the window, crying hysterically, as Tess crossed the room. Liz hurried across her rooftop towards the fire escape, as Tess reached the window. Without warning, a strange yellow barrier appeared, preventing Liz from fleeing to safety down the ladder. As Tess approached her, Liz bit back her fear. She would not give Tess the satisfaction of seeing her afraid. She would stand up to her. Liz stopped struggling to break free of the barrier, and stood up to face Tess.
"Do your worst, Tess!" she barked defiantly. "I am not afraid of you."
"You should be, Cornball," Tess grinned. "Because Tess is a viscous monster."
"Ava?" Liz gasped.
"Hey, Cornball." Ava grinned. "Didja miss me?"
Liz flew into an embrace with her.

***

Max suddenly relaxed. Liz was no longer afraid. It wasn't that he could feel her exactly, he just knew that she was okay. He realized that she had been for some time now, only his own emotions had masked it. He was visibly calm now, a fact that did not go unnoticed. Kyle, Michael, and Isabel exchanged looks, but Maria, still staring hard at Max, relaxed too.
"She's grown stronger, hasn't she?" Isabel announced, perhaps trying to goad Max into some kind of reaction. Anything was better than his current state of inactivity. "Tess, I mean."
The flames started to fade. Barely noticeably at first, but more and more obvious now.
"At last," Isabel growled. "Now we can make her answer for what she has done."
They all stood by the flaming wall, looking at the door that Liz and Tess had vanished through only moments... at least it felt like only moments ago. As the flames thinned, they could see Liz, standing just the other side. She looked... relieved... and frightened, but happy... incredibly happy. As the flames finally died away, Max and Liz were in each other's arms. They seemed oblivious to everyone else.
"Max!" she exclaimed. "I felt... I thought... Max, I felt you. You were in pain. I thought you had been burned."
"No, I'm okay, Liz," he assured her, shaking his head in warning at the others. Now was not the time.
"Michael!" Isabel screeched as Tess walked in through the backroom door.
Michael turned from Maria, raising his hand.
"No!" Liz shrieked, throwing herself between Michael and Tess. "No! It's not Tess. It's Ava!"

***

Liz looked around at her group of friends, noting the differing looks on their faces. Kyle was looking at Ava with fascination and, understandably, not without a little pain. Isabel looked frightened, but that was no surprise. Isabel didn't like not knowing what was going on. Michael had a strange expression on his face. The only time she had seen that look on anyone before had been on Max. That was just after he had healed her the day she was shot. It was the look that said he had been so very frightened, but was relieved that everything was all right now. Max looked tired, almost as bad as the day she had found him at Cape Canaveral. Tired and relieved. She had no doubt that he had expended every ounce of energy in seeking a way through Ava's wall of fire. It was Maria that worried her the most. Since Liz had returned, Maria had not stopped looking at Max with that strange, unreadable expression, that looked a little like awe.

"So," Kyle announced, breaking the silence. "Does anyone want to explain just what is going on? And while you're at it, perhaps you can tell me who Ava is and why she looks like Tess. Well, a punk version of her, anyway."
Liz groaned, while the others, except Maria who seemed to be ignorant of anyone except Max, looked sheepish. They had not told Kyle about the duplicate versions of themselves. Max, in the spirit of his new comradeship with Kyle, told him the whole story, in as condensed a version as possible.
"Oh-Kay", slurred Kyle, as he turned towards Ava. He held out his hand to her. "I'm Kyle. Kyle Valenti. Um, Tess, she..."
"Yeah, I know all about it, Bhudda Boy," she winked.
Max and Liz exchanged a knowing smile, and grinned at each other.
"Okay, so what are you doing here? Isabel seemed somehow... offended. "And why is Liz so happy now?"
"Do you want to tell her, Cornball?" Ava smirked.
"Um, no, Ava. I want to kiss Max senseless. Would you tell them?"
"Uh, Liz?" Max laughed. "As much as I like the sound of that, I kind of think I might like to hear this?"
"Yeah...okay," Liz conceded with reluctance. "But after..."
"No way, Liz!" Maria snapped urgently. They were the first words she had spoken since she was hurt. "Afterwards? You, me and a bucket of ice cream. Remember?" Her words were more like a plea than anything.
"Oh yeah... Maria?"
"No way, Liz! We need to talk."
"Hey," called Ava. "You don't wanna hear me? No problem. I'm outta here."
"No, Ava, it's okay. Please, tell them," Liz urged. She then turned to Max, and wrapped herself in his arms. "And as for you, Max? You just wait!"

***

"Okay, I think I better say the whole thing. I only told Cornball what she needed to know. But yous guys needs ta know more 'n that. So this goes back, like after me and the cornball said goodbye.
"...Well, the bus eventually got me to New York, and let me tell you, the greyhound is a crappy way to travel. Anyway, I made my way back to our crib; I was a little worried, you know? I've always been afraid of Lonnie, but I figured if Max could stand up to her, I could too. When I got there, they were dead. It looked like they got shot in the back, you know." She held her hand out indicating that it was an alien that had killed them. "I might have hated them, but they were like family. So I buried 'em, where we buried Zan. No one'll find them there. I thought maybe you t'ree would be next, and, well, I didn't want that to happen, you know? So I came back. I've been keeping an eye on you. I was even inside the café that time the gunmen came in. It was me that pulled the gun from the second gunmen. I just knew you was gonna take the shotgun."
"Thank you," Max said.
"Can you shapeshift, Ava?" Liz asked with her eyes wide. "'Cause I never even saw you."
"Yeah," laughed Ava. "If you can call a wig and some makeup shapeshifting. Yeah, so anyway, I came back for one reason, specifically. You see, I have been spying on a few people. One person in particular."
"Nikolas?" asked Isabel.
"Nah, the one you call Nacedo. Your protector."
"What?" Michael erupted. "But he's dead!"
"Oh yeah," Liz smiled. "We forgot to tell you about that."
Everyone was giving Max and Liz a look of disgust.
"What?" she demanded. "Listen, it was kind of emotional, okay?"
"Yeah," snorted Isabel. "I bet."

"Jeez, do you guys do this to anyone who tries to tell you something?" Ava demanded. She paused, daring anyone to answer her. "Okay... it was back after Christmas. Before you guys had that trouble with the Garandium. Before you all took off for Vegas. I had found some stuff out. I had to let someone know. There was only one person I could trust enough to tell."
"Liz?" Kyle asked.
"No," she shook her head. "Max."
"Max?" almost everyone demanded. They all remembered that time. Max had not exactly been on the ball during that time.
Ava leaned in. "See, it was like this..."

***


posted on 8-Dec-2001 3:46:22 PM by WR

Part 32

As Ava explained what happened to the others, the scene played out in their minds as if they were viewing it through Ava's eyes.

She hurried through the shadows of the alleys with a confidence born from years of using them. Her blonde hair occasionally reflected the glow of the evenly spaced street lamps. She needed to see Max, and she knew that he would be on his way home from his job at the UFO Center about now. Unless he had taken a detour to visit Liz Parker, he would be passing the entrance to this alley any moment now. Yes, there he was. From his hunched shoulders, and the hands stuffed in his pockets, it was easy to see that he had had a frustrating day. Either that or the obvious attempts by Liz to avoid him were starting to depress him.
"Max," she hissed from her hiding place in the darkness.
He looked up sharply, and peered into the dark alley.
"Tess?" he asked, doubtless having sighted her blonde locks. "Is that you?"
"We needs ta talk, Max," she urged. "This way!" She turned away into the alley.
As she knew he would, Max followed her through the maze of allies and dark streets to a vacant lot with a clump of bushes at the back. It was behind these bushed that she led him. From the way he looked about, she knew he recognized where they were. He knew they were not far from the Valenti household.
"Why the secrecy, Tess?" he asked her.
"'Cause I aint Tess," she replied, "Yo, It's me, Ava."
"Ava?" She could hear his surprise. "What are you doing here?"
"I've come to warn you, Max. You got yourself a mess of trouble comin'."

"Tell me something I don't know," Max sighed.
"No. Dis is worse 'n your problems wit Cornball," she urged him.
"Cornball?"
"Liz."
"Oh," he smiled. "What is it, Ava? What's the problem now?"
"It's Tess," she hissed, wondering how he would take the news. "Tess and Nacedo've struck a deal wit Nikolas!"
"No," Max shook his head at her. "Tess would never betray me, and anyway, Nacedo's dead. One of the skins killed him. We tried to use the stones on him, but he just crumbled into dust. We told you guys all this."
"Nah, he ain't dead, Max. Tess musta warped you."
"How do I know this isn't some stunt of Nikolas'?" a suspicious Max asked. "That it's not you who has made the deal?"
"'Cause ya know, in your heart, Max." Ava shook her head. She knew from her experiences with Zan that Max would be difficult. "Ya know 'at Liz is afraid 'a Tess, but not of me. Why 'dja think that is? But I knew you'd feel loyalty to Tess. I have da proof you needs. Just stand still, yo."
Max did as she asked and as if on cue, the real Tess arrived at the vacant lot. Ava released a silent prayer of thanks. Tess was joined moments later by an old tramp. The tramp glowed with a bright yellow light, and another man now stood before Tess.
"Is it all set?" he asked.
"Yeah," she replied. "I start tonight. That thug you found will appear in the café tonight. The attraction should be instant because of the stuff you gave him. Let's hope he paid attention to his lessons."
"How long will it take? Nikolas is running out of patience, and we are running out of time."
"A few months," Tess replied. "I can't do it any faster. Someone might notice."
"Okay," the man said. "Keep in touch."
"Yeah," she nodded. "See you later, Nacedo."

***

"See?" Ava asked after the other two had left. "Dey's bin meetin' here for weeks now."
"Yeah," Max sighed. "How do I know you didn't just warp me?"
"You don't gotta trust me if ya don' wanna, Max. But for all our sakes, you'd better make da right choice here."
"Why?" He shook his head in disbelief. " Why is she doing this?"
"For da power. What else?" she shrugged.
"But back on Antar, she was the Queen, wasn't she... weren't you?"
"Yeah, an' what a hollow title dat was, Max. There ain't no power in dat. You're just some decoration da King hangs on his arm. Yo, no one respects you. A queen is the wife of the King, nothin' more."
"Was I that bad? As a King, I mean."
"Nah, not you, Max. Zan. King Zan, I mean. You're different. And Queen Ava? Well, she got what she deserved. Tess is more like her than you're like that Zan."
"Why did it all go wrong, Ava? On Antar? What did I do that was wrong?"
"I ain't really sure, Max. But I think it was 'cause ya didn't want to marry Ava, just because your ol' man selected her for you. I think you might 'a been in love with someone else. 'Cept dat's a foreign concept on Antar."
"Who was I in love with?
"Dunno. Sorry."

Max sighed heavily. Ava could see that he was struggling with some inner turmoil, probably connecting this lost love on Antar with his lost love from Liz.
"What does Tess have planned for me?" he asked with a solemn slump of his head and shoulders.
"She needs you to rely on her, to trust her. That's why dey faked da protector's death. Dey needed to remove da mentor you thought you'd have. Tess 'd become more important to you den. So she's gonna confuse you, trick you. She'll feed you memories that ain't true, or maybe what happened a different way to how she'll show ya. She'll warp ya into seeing, and thinking... what dey wants. Dey even fixing it so Liz ain't around to help you."
"Hah!" Max snorted. "I don't need them for that. I seem to be able to do that all by myself."
"Don't give up, Max," Ava could sense his desperation. "You need to be strong."
"But if I confront Tess with this, she'll just deny it."
"Well, I've warned you. Now you know, you can resist her. Then, as her plans unfold, you can catch her, red handed."
"No," Max shook his head. "Tess isn't stupid. Neither is Nacedo. What if I don't behave in the right manner? They will spot that straight away, and the game will be up. They'll stop whatever it is they are doing, and try a different strategy. Maybe someone might get hurt. I don't want that. I don't want to risk anyone except me." Max looked around, searching for a solution. "Ava? Can you erase a memory like Tess can?"
"Sure," she nodded with a grin. It was obvious that Max had come up with a plan.
"And are you prepared to help me? To help us?"
"Yeah," she smiled. "Cornball... I mean Liz... she was da only person to ever show kindness to me. I'll do dis for her."
"Then erase my memory. Make me forget we had this conversation. Then I want you to keep an eye on things, from a distance. When they make their move, you will witness it all. Get Michael, make him see or hear whatever it is. Once Michael knows, he will do whatever needs to be done. He might be a bit erratic, but I trust him to do the job."
"Max, der's more to it 'an that. Their plan includes you getting Tess pregnant. Max, dey want your heir."
"Oh," Max said and then fell silent. "No, I can't allow that to happen. I could never do that to Liz, even if we aren't together. Never. I mean, even if it is a warp, the fact that I had sex with someone else would still hurt her."
"It could still work, Max." Ava shook Max's reluctance away. "I could warp Tess when it happens, I can make her think you had sex."
Max gave her idea some thought.
"Okay, we'll do that. Ava?" She noticed the shake in his voice. "If it doesn't work, if things look like she's uh...? I mean, I understand... things might go wrong. There's a risk. Ava? If she succeeds, I want you to kill me, and any heir I produce!"
"What?" Ava was genuinely shocked.
"I could never to that to Liz. I would rather she mourn my death, than me destroying our... friendship."
"Yeah, sure, Max," she sighed.
"I don't want to hurt Liz."
"But this plan, this could destroy your relationship. I mean, even if nothin' happens, everyone will think it was real. And by erasing some of your memory, it'll make you more susceptible to Tess's warp. It might affect you in ways neither of us imagine."
"I have responsibilities, Ava," Max pleaded. "To Michael, to Isabel. To a whole planet of people I can't even remember. I have to do what's right for them too."
"What about your responsibilities to Liz?"
"I wish I could talk to her. I wish I could ask her what she thinks. Could you erase her memory, too?"
"No. She seems to be..."
"Special?"
"Yeah. An' she would know what's goin' on. And Tess would see that. We can't risk Tess finding out." Ava shook her head. "I'm sorry, Max."
"I love Liz, Ava. More than my own life. But this isn't about just me and Liz, is it? This is about the future of Antar, maybe of more worlds than we know. I cannot risk the lives of countless others because of a mere selfish whim. This has to be done. I believe in Liz. I believe in our connection. I have to hope that she will see through all of this, that she won't let go of what we have."
"I don't know, Max," Ava shook her head. She could not understand what he was talking about. What did he mean, connection? "You're takin' a lot on trust here."
"No, Ava. This is Liz. If I can't trust in her, who can I trust in? No, I have to do this. Besides..." Max looked up, the agony of his decision burned into his face. "Trust is all I have left."
"One more thing, Max. I don't know how you will react to a memory erasure. You might get your memory back, but ya might not. I mean, this might all blow up in your face. You might lose Liz for good."


***

"So how come you never came and got me?" Michael demanded. "You said Max told you to make me see it."
"Because dey played it clever," Ava shrugged. "Dey never actually did anything that I could show you and say, 'See? Deys traitors!' It weren't till Cornball came and forced her to admit she killed your pal. By then, you'd left."
"So nothing happened between Max and Tess?" Maria asked. "Is that what you're saying?"
"No," Ava shook her head. "Absolutely nothing."
Liz threw herself into Max's arms, and hugged him. It was as though all of her birthdays and all of her Christmases had come at once. She was delirious in her happiness. Maria looked at the two of them, and smiled.
"No, I don't buy it," Michael shook his head. "Ava, did you ever do the deed with Zan or Rath?"
"Michael!" Liz snapped.
"Hey, I thought we wanted the truth here!" Michael defended. "This is important!"
"Ava?" Max asked, though it earned a disapproving glare from Liz.
"No, not with them," Ava squirmed, looking around the room.
"Well," Michael continued. "What about that one-hour orgasm he experienced? I mean, I can kinda understand that, not an hour, more like fifteen minutes, but I thought, hey, she's an alien too... so..." Michael scratched his head, realizing that he was embarrassing himself and Maria, both. "What I'm trying to say is, how would he know about that if nothing happened? I mean, if it had been your warp, you would have only been able to relate from your own experience, right?"

Ava gave the question some consideration, while six pairs of eyes stared at her. Even Liz found herself wanting to know the answer now.
"I fed him back one of his own memories," she shrugged.
"What?" demanded five voices. Only Max remained quiet, though he looked puzzled.
"Ava, what do you mean by 'fed him back one of his own memories?'" Liz asked in a tense, nervous voice.
"Okay... you know I said about erasing his memory? Well, to do it right, I needed to access his memory, to make sure I erased the right stuff. Max had these memories, they were weird and I mean... really weird. Like he had this one, of him and Cornball getting married in an Elvis Chapel in Las Vegas. The other was of the two of them, together. They were supposed to go to some concert. Instead, they um... became, erm... intimate and... dey had dat one hour deal."
"One hour?" Maria demanded in an envious cry.
The others stared blankly.
"Gomez!" Liz smiled at Max with a twinkle in her eye. "The night of the Gomez concert. You came to persuade me to go with you, but we ended up... ah...cementing our relationship."
"That was the night I saw..." Even though he knew the truth, the memory was still painful.
"Yeah," Liz whispered.
Kyle fidgeted with nervousness.
"But it didn't happen," Max stated, "You changed all that. How would I have that as a memory?"
"The same way you remembered our wedding day, I guess," Liz smiled shyly.
There was an awkward moment as the young couple threw themselves into a very passionate embrace.

"I hate to burst your bubble here, guys," Isabel intoned. "But Tess is pregnant, Nikolas said he had her checked. So maybe Tess saw through Ava's warp?"
"Oh, yeah," Ava mumbled. "Look, I'm sorry, okay? I thought Nikolas would do something like that, so I took steps to make sure Tess really was pregnant."
"Wait, you said that nothing happened with Max and Tess," Liz demanded.
"No, nothing happened!" Ava confirmed. "Max is still cherry, though you might want to keep that quiet, I mean, man! How old are you?"
"Actually, Ava, I want to shout it from the rooftops," Liz enthused.
"I think Liz might take care of that problem shortly," Kyle winked to Michael. "I mean, 'one' hour?"
"Lucky dog," Michael smirked.
"Lucky Liz!" Maria complained.
"Um," Max blushed while Liz hid her face in his chest. "Can we move right along?"
"Okay, if Tess is pregnant, and it's not Max's, then who...?" Liz wondered. "Ah Ava? Who did you use?"
"I don't really know. But this is quite funny. I picked some deadbeat from town... and, uh, never mind. It gets complicated, I better tell Max in private. Everyone saw what they wanted to see, though."
"Everyone?"
"Yeah, that Nacedo and Nikolas sure are a pair of Peeping Tom perverts."
"But what about my connection?" Max asked. "I connected with him. I felt him, he was sick."
"No, Tess warped you. The whole thing, the connection, the sickness, it was all a warp. She is pregnant okay, just not with your kid."

***


Author's note
Ava felt a kind of loyalty to Liz, and so penned the others in so she could talk to Liz alone. How was she to know that Maria was so... Maria? ;)

Okay - this board is now caught up with the other. I am sorry if I have inconvenianced anyone, but after my initial problems early on, I kind of neglected this board. Sorry *happy*
WR
posted on 10-Dec-2001 3:45:50 PM by WR
So you all liked that explanation? *happy* Didn't I say Waaaayyyyy back that you would all like it? ;)

Thanks for reading, and thanks for the feedback *happy*

On with the story *happy*

Part 33

Liz and Maria sat cross-legged on Liz's bed with a large tub of Hagen Daaz' Rocky Road Double Chocolate ice cream resting on the bed between them. They each held a spoon and were helping themselves to the frozen delicacy.
"How come we never get to have vanilla?" Liz complained.
"Oh come on, Liz!" Maria smirked. "How can someone who has Max as a boyfriend really have vanilla as her favorite ice cream? I'm just glad to see you eating. I was getting worried about you, babe."
"What do you mean?"
"Liz, I haven't seen you eat since you came back. You keep picking stuff up, and then putting it down again, like it's poison or something."
"Oh, um... you know, sometimes, I think I'm hungry, but when I have the food there, I'm not so hungry anymore. It's probably the excitement of everything going on right now."
"Yeah, it's been pretty..."
"Mm Hmm," Liz sucked on the spoon, and nodded in agreement. "Intense."
"Oh, yeah. Especially with Ava turning up like that."
"Yeah."
"Oh! Oh! Did you see Kyle tonight? He wanted Ava to go home with him and meet his dad." Maria laughed with a mouthful of ice cream, waving her spoon in the air.
"Uh huh," Liz chuckled. "She said no, that it was a bad idea. 'Cause she can't afford to be seen. Oh! And did you see Isabel's face? I wonder if she has some kind of feelings for Kyle?"
"The Ice Maiden and Kyle? Nah! Oh, she hinted that she would like to join us for our ice cream date." Maria scoffed. "I told her she had to ask you."
"She never said a word to me," Liz shrugged. "You know, that could get awkward, what with Max and I together again. I don't care if she is his sister; it's up to her to apologize."
"You go girl!" Maria laughed. "How come Ava didn't come up?"
"She had some things to tell Max. I think he and Michael have gone to make the place she's hiding at more comfortable for her."
"Aren't you even interested in what she has to say?"
"Of course I am. And I know Max will tell me as soon as he can."
"Uh-huh. Love this new 'no secrets' rule," Maria grinned.

With her face a mask of seriousness, Maria stopped and looked at her friend.
"And talking about apologies, Liz, I'm sorry. About how I treated Max, I mean. About how I tried to keep the two of you apart. You know, he's always been there for us, me too. He even said he would talk to my mom about her memory coming back. I mean, did you hear what that boneheaded boyfriend of mine wanted to make out that it was all a bad dream. So I'm sorry, Liz. I'm sorry I never gave Max a chance."
Liz smiled, her eyes shining brightly.
"Yeah, well, I was just as bad."
"No, Liz, you weren't," Maria shook her head while scooping another helping of ice cream. "You never gave up on him. I did."
"Maria? Will you tell that to Max? He could really use hearing something like that right now. He feels so..."
"Ragged?"
"Yeah. It hurts, you know? That he went through all this alone. I know why he did it, I just wish he had some help."
"He had Ava."
"Yeah, I know," Liz exhaled, and dropped her shoulders. "But it's not the same. I was so caught up in losing Max that I nearly lost him. If you know what I mean."
"No," laughed Maria. She fell silent, distant, almost. She was staring at Liz.
"What? What's up?" Liz asked noticing her friend's mood had changed.
"You know when you... connect... to Max? How much of you does he see?"
"What do you mean?" Liz was cautious because she could see that something was bothering Maria. Something that was making her feel uncomfortable. "Maria? What aren't you telling me? What's this about?"
"Earlier, when you ran away, when Ava came, she warped us, she made us see this wall of flame. I got angry with the others, because they thought it was real. I walked into the fire, and uh..." Maria shuddered, "it was real. Max had to heal me."
Maria pulled the collar of her top to one side, showing Liz the iridescent imprint of Max's hand.
Liz's face dropped. Maria's admission answered so many questions from earlier.
"So it was pretty bad, huh?" she whispered in a hoarse voice.
"Yeah," Maria nodded. "How did you know that?"
Liz gave a secret little smile, but just shook her head.
"I saw him, Liz," Maria continued. "Well, no, not him specifically. All I saw was how much he loved you." Her voice tailed off to a whisper.
"Yeah?" Liz's eyes sparkled.
"Yeah. Liz?" Maria cocked her head to one side, a little frown of worry on her brow. "How can you stand it? Knowing that he loves you that much?"
Liz did not hesitate for even a heartbeat.
"Because I love him back, just as much."
"I can see now why no one stands a chance while Max is around," Maria shook her head in awe.

***

Amy carefully surveyed the group that had assembled in her front room. Through her sleep deprived bloodshot eyes she studied her daughter's friends. Maria's boyfriend, looking less frightening now that his hair was less... spiked, stood just behind Maria, who was leaning, against the wall. It was clear that her explanation would not be coming from either of them. On the opposite side of the room, the tall blonde, Isabel Evans, sat in a dining chair, looking anywhere but at her. She could see that Isabel wanted no part in trying to explain what she needed to know. Neither would Kyle, leaning into the room, while holding the top of the doorframe, as if he had planned on pulling some chin-ups. Next to her, Jim seemed far too calm to be the one to offer her a reason for her memory problems. She looked at Max. He looked frightened, nervous, calmed only by the cool-as-ever Liz, sitting next to him on the arm of the chair in which he sat. It looked as though she was with him again. She faced Liz, for surely it would be her daughter's best friend who was the brains of this outfit.
"Um, Mrs. DeLuca?" Max finally broke the silence. Amy was surprised, and after Liz nodded at her questioning look, moved her head in a slow arc to look at Max.
"This thing... with Brody, um..."
"Don't you dare try to tell me it was all just some nightmare, Max!" Amy commanded. She didn't notice Michael exchange an awkward glance with Maria. "I know it's a bit sketchy, but I do know what I saw, and what I saw was..."
"A mistake," Max interjected.
"Excuse me?" she blinked. "Are you trying to tell me that that man held you hostage by mistake? That his shooting that gun was a mistake?"
"Yeah, kind of," Max shrugged. He seemed more... confident now, as though every word he said gave him strength. "You see, Brody, he's been under a lot of stress lately. You know, running the UFO Center, his daughter being ill, and that mysterious recovery, and his... well, his past."
"Past? What past?"
"Brody has a few... mental problems, Mrs. DeLuca. He thinks aliens kidnapped him a few years ago. You see... he takes these tablets... to control it. Um, see, he sent me up to his office to get them, but I got caught by a customer, who kept me talking, kept asking me questions. Anyway, I got back later than I should have, and Brody was already showing signs of his illness. He thought the alien model we were putting together had come to take him away. It happens sometimes. He uh... grabbed it, but touched a live wire inside the model. He electrocuted himself. When he came to, he was delirious. He thought we were all aliens."
"Not all, Max. Just you. And that blond girl."
"Tess," Max said the word so slowly that he almost pronounced each letter individually. "Right. Anyway, as you can see, it all ended okay."
"It did not end okay, Max," she informed him. She turned to Jim. "I want him committed. He's a danger, Jim."
"I'm sorry Mom," Maria said from her position against the wall. "I could never do that. Neither could any of us. We already decided that we will stick by our stories. In the end it will be your word against ours."
"You would protect that man?" she demanded.
"Mom, you don't know him. He's a good man. He's just ill. It won't happen again."
"I wish I could believe that!" she snapped.
"You can, Mrs. DeLuca," Max assured her. "That will never happen again."
"So how come its only now I'm remembering this?" she asked Max.
"Post traumatic stress disorder," Liz butted in. "You know, like soldiers get. Your mind must have blocked it out, refusing to deal with it until you were ready. Um, Mrs. DeLuca? I think you're confusing yourself though. I think that you think things happened that didn't really happen. Are you sure you're not mixing up the ordeal that Maria and I had with this other one?"
Maria's face clearly stated that although she was unhappy with this solution, it was better than either the truth, or... any other idea proposed.

***

Max sat in the corner booth watching the bustle of the waitresses as they went about delivering alien-themed food to the starving lunchtime masses.
"Hey, Max," Kyle smiled, sliding into the seat opposite him.
"Oh, hey, Kyle," Max smiled. "What's up?"
"Not a lot, actually." Kyle picked up the menu, and started to scan down its contents, which he had memorized anyway.
"I'm sorry, Kyle," Max said in a quiet murmur. "You know, what happened the other day. I'm sorry that me being what... who I am causes so many problems for you."
"Yeah," Kyle chuckled. Then his face dropped. "I even had to wreck the mustang for you. You know, to give Hanson a reason why I was missing. We made out that I spun off the road, which is why no one saw me for so long. My dad even rolled it to make it look good."
"Oh... Kyle, I'll fix it for you," Max was earnest in his gesture. "I'll make it better than it was before."
"You don't have to do that, Max," Kyle told him. "Wait? Better?"
"Yeah, I can even fix that knocking in your offside wheel."
"Really? Man, I have spent too many weekends trying to get rid of that thing. Thanks."
Max shrugged.
"Max? With all that's going on right now? Me, Liz and Maria. Are we in any kind of danger?"
"Yeah," Max sighed. "I think that as long as you are involved with us, you will always be in some kind of danger. But if we look out for each other, if we work as a team, we can minimize that."
"Max? Why was Liz so positive that Tess wasn't pregnant? There was absolutely no doubt in her mind."
Max was surprised by the sudden topic change,
"Oh, it was probably, ah... our connection."
"Yeah, sure," Kyle smirked. He did not believe that explanation. "But as long as Liz is happy with it, then it's okay."

Kyle looked around the room, and leaned over the table, closer to Max.
"I didn't want to let anyone else know about this," he whispered. "Especially not Maria, or Liz. The other day, Sean's probation officer came in here looking for him. He called him a 'wise ass', and to 'get his butt over here'. Max! You know the creep that wanted to slice me open? He used those exact words."
"Are you saying that Sean is part of the group that kidnapped you?"
"Yes. No. Maybe. I don't know. What I do know is that you better keep your guard up, Max. It sounds like there is more than one group looking for you."
"Maybe he's the agent you heard them refer to."
"What do you think?"
"I want to think that Sean is okay, for Liz's sake," Max replied. "Thank you, Kyle. For always being there. For me, for... Liz."
"It's the word after 'loxodrome' in my dad's dictionary," Kyle winked.
"Excuse me?" Max laughed.
"Back in junior high, I was disgusted at not making quarterback. I mean, I felt that I was the best player, so I kind of rebelled. You know, a fumble here, a dropped catch there, a couple of missed blocks, anything to make the QB look bad. We were losing, but I was trying to prove a point. Anyways, my dad must have known. He told me to look up the word 'loxodrome' in his dictionary. I wondered what the heck for, but I did it anyway. So he says, what's the word after it? I look, and it's 'loyal.' Know what that word means, Max?"
"Sure."
"No, what it really means? What it says in the dictionary? I can still remember it. 'Showing firm and constant support or allegiance to a person or institution.'"
"You feel loyalty towards me, Kyle?" Max was surprised. "Why?"
"I guess it's 'cause I know that you are loyal to the rest of us. That you always look out for us."
"What about Alex?" Max's head dropped.
"Max? All of this destiny crap that you've been through has been forced on you. You never really had a choice, you know? You tried to make the best of it. But the rest of us? Maria, Dad, me... Liz, and yes... Alex? We could all choose, Max. We chose. Alex chose. What happened to him wasn't your fault. That was Tess. So stop beating yourself up over it. None of us blame you. More importantly, Liz doesn't blame you."

***
Isabel jumped when the SUV pulled up beside her.
"You need a ride?" Jim Valenti called from the window.
"Oh, Mr. Valenti!" Isabel breathed with relief. "You scared me. Um... yeah. Thanks."
She climbed into the passenger seat, and connected her seat belt. Jim checked his mirror and pulled out into the traffic.
"You seemed a little quiet back there, Isabel," Jim started when he was moving again. "Are you all right? Is there something bothering you?"
"Just stuff," she shrugged, looking out the window at the building rolling past.
"Stuff?" Jim asked. Sometimes, it was difficult to forget his sheriff's instincts. "Or people?"
With a snap of her head, her piercing eyes looked at Jim, studying him.
"Okay then, people."
"Anyone in particular?"
"Max."
"What's he done now?"
"I'm his sister. He never thinks of turning to me for help. He never comes to me. It's always... Liz! When it wasn't her, it was Tess. Now it's Liz... again."
"Is your problem with Max? Or with Liz?"
"Both! I guess."
"Are you jealous? Is that it? Are you jealous that Max and Liz are together again? Someone as close as those two, Isabel, it's only natural that he turns to her. I mean, even when they were farthest apart, they were always close. Surely you could see that?"
"Yeah. I guess." She turned to the window again. "He never has time for me anymore."

***

"Are you working later?" Michael asked, as he and Maria walked towards the Crashdown. After speaking with Maria's mom, they had taken a meandering route to get a little one-on-one time.
"No," Maria seemed to be elsewhere. "Liz is covering for me, to make up for running out on me like that.
"Are you okay, Maria?" His voice was full of concern.
"Hmmm? Oh, yeah." She pulled her collar back, and tried to peer at the handprint that was now fading slightly. "Yeah, Max did a good job."
"As usual," Michael sighed. He clearly had things on his mind too. "What about Max and Liz? Are you okay with them being together again?"
"Yeah," she nodded. "I mean, we know the truth now, right? You know, the poor guy was being warped twice. Maybe even three times at one stage. No wonder he seemed like such a jerk."
"But you think they should be together, I mean, after he basically lied to her?"
"What's up with you, Michael?" Maria demanded. "Weren't you listening? You heard why he couldn't tell her."
"Yeah, yeah, it's just..."
"We were all pretty horrible to him, weren't we?"
"Well, yeah, but making these decisions by himself. He could have at least told me. Am I his second, or what?"
"Well, you didn't exactly do such a good job, did you? Michael, we could have lost him. No one, not even his closest friends, his own people, not even you supported him. And he did it all for you."
"I never asked him to."
"What if he hadn't changed his mind, Michael?" Maria asked. "What if he had gone back to Antar, thinking Tess's kid was his?"
"Yeah, that would..."
"Oh my god!" Maria shrieked, as she stopped, and pulled Michael back.
"Michael! Antar! They believe that Tess' son is Max's heir! You have to warn them somehow."
"I don't think we can, Maria."
"Then Max went through all that for nothing," she sighed.

***




posted on 12-Dec-2001 3:50:15 PM by WR
Hi everyone,

As always, thank you so much for your feedback. I am glad that you are starting to like my characters again - well, except you're not happy with Michael or Isabel yet. ;) And you all like Kyle. I needed to give him someone on his side ;)

Well, on with the story...

Part 34

"Hey, Kyle," Liz greeted her friend with a bright smile when she brought a tray with two Will Smith burgers and two cherry colas over. She started to lay these out on the table in front of Max. "Can I get you anything?"
Kyle looked at the two meals Liz had just put down, then up at the goofy grin that Max was looking at Liz with and the shy smile that she was returning to Max. He noticed that she was not wearing her pale green waitress uniform.
"This is a date," he deduced with a smirk, "isn't it?"
Neither Max, nor Liz looked at him but they both nodded, smiling coyly at each other.
"No thanks, Liz," Kyle shook his head. "I'm good."
He slid from the booth and watched Liz as she sat down next to Max, never taking her eyes from his. Max whispered something to her, but Kyle could see his mouth form the word 'Hi.' With a chuckle to himself, he turned towards the bar, planning to make sure these two were not in his peripheral vision.

After a quick glance around the room to ensure no one was watching him, Max picked up the bottle of Tobasco sauce. Without needing to be asked, Liz kept lookout for him, making sure no one would see him spice up his cola with the sauce. While Liz added some ketchup to her fries, Max was liberally sprinkling chili sauce over his. Liz grinned at him, and wrinkled her nose.
"I wonder what kind of food you eat on Antar?" she laughed.
"Maybe we could export Tobasco sauce, Liz," he grinned back. "We could make a fortune."
While Max dug into his burger, Liz stared down at her meal. She fought down a wave of nausea.
"Max?" she looked up at her boyfriend, wiping his mouth with a napkin. "I know this sounds really weird, but can we go somewhere else? I'm suddenly not hungry."
"Sure, Liz," Max looked at her with concern. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah," she nodded reassuringly. "It's just..." She waved her hand indicating the food.
Max rose from his seat, and offered Liz his hand. He helped her up, and lifted both their hands in the air to form a bridge. Liz laughed as she spun herself through the arch, bringing herself to Max's side.
"Kyle, you can have my burger if you want," Liz smiled at him, indicating her meal as they walked past. "I haven't even touched it."
"But better not try mine, though," Max winked with a whisper.
Laughing with each other Max and Liz walked out into the New Mexico sunshine, watched by a smirking Kyle. With a happy shake of his head, he walked towards the booth.

Hand in hand, the young couple walked down Main Street.
"Have you seen Brody yet, Max?" Liz asked glancing across the road at the UFO Center.
"Yeah. I called him earlier. He's accepted my apology, and is going to give me another chance. I think Maria offering to personally deliver his favorite sandwich free for a week swayed him." Max was laughing and joking. "He must like those sandwiches, huh?"
Liz beamed at him. "Yeah, but it has nothing to do with the sandwiches, Max." She started to chuckle. "I think he has a thing for Maria. If she wanted to, she could wrap him around her finger. He's even coming to the Crashdown tomorrow night to hear her sing."
"That's going to please Michael," Max chortled.
"What about you, Max?" she pleaded. "Is there any chance you could make it? I mean, could you like, sneak out... maybe?"
Max stopped in front of Liz, and pulled her into the nearby alley. He took her other hand in his, and lifted both hands to his chest.
"You know I would be there if I could, Liz. But being grounded... If I sneak out, and my parents find out... Liz, I love you, and I want to be with you, and I don't like doing this to you, but if I show them that I can be trusted, then..."
"I know, Max," her eyes sparkled, putting him at ease. "Just checking."

He placed his hand on the side of her cheek, and leaned down to give her lips a delicate kiss. Liz's eyes closed automatically, and as Max pulled back, she unconsciously moved her head forward, towards him, running the tip of her tongue over his bottom lip. His lips were on hers again, trying to catch her tongue. She caught his instead, giving a playful bite. Max's hand slid from her cheek, and into her hair. He caught some strands in his fingers, and caressed the dark locks. His other hand pulled her tightly to him. Liz locked her arms around Max's neck, and started to return his kiss, becoming more and more passionate. While their tongues danced, Max slid his hand beneath Liz's shirt, and lightly stroked the smooth skin on her back. He could feel Liz tremble against him. They kissed. With their kiss Max received the firework extravaganza of their connection. Max saw Liz; all of her hopes and her dreams for the future. Their future. As he passionately embraced the woman he loved, he allowed her feelings and her desires to flow over him. As before, Liz abruptly ended the kiss and slowly eased away from Max. She appeared thoughtful, disappointed almost. Max frowned at her.
"Are you all right, Liz?" He asked in tender hush. "Did you see something... bad?"
"No," she shrugged. "Its nothing, Max."

She led him back to the street, and still holding hands, continued with their walk. Further up the street, they passed a pizza parlor. Liz pulled Max to a halt outside. Her stomach rumbled loudly.
"Max?" she asked, looking up at him hopefully. "Could we share a pizza?"
"I thought you weren't hungry?"
"Well," her eyes twinkled, "making out with you has given me an appetite."
"Sure," he laughed. "Of course we can, come on."
Liz followed Max inside, sitting at a table by the window. They could have watched the world go by, but while they waited for their pizza, there was only one thing they both looked at. Each other. Their outstretched hands held one another's over the table, while Max drew circles with his thumb on Liz's palms.
"Do you still do that thing with the stones?" she asked.
"No," he smiled. "I lost the desire for it after Av... we found out about the whole... thing."
Liz's face fell into a frown, and she leaned in intimately towards Max.
"Max? Is she all right out there by herself? I mean, couldn't she stay with me or something?"
"We've made her comfortable, Liz," he assured her. "She says it's better than anywhere else she's stayed."
"She lived in the sewers, Max," Liz wasn't convinced. "Anything would be better than that."
"She's fine, Liz, honest!"
Their order arrived. They each helped themselves to a piece of the pizza, and while Liz ate, Max explained Ava's living conditions, trying to convince her that her friend really was quite comfortable. Max watched in amazement while Liz ate piece after piece. She appeared ravenous. When the pizza had been demolished, Max slid the slice he had for himself across to her. After a quizzical look at him, she gave a grateful smile, and ate that too. Liz had devoured the entire pizza.

***

With great care, Nikolas lined the small putter behind the white golf ball, and with a short swing, propelled the ball forwards. The ball rolled up a ramp, leapt a small gap at the top, down the chute on the other side, bounced accurately off of two diagonal walls, through the small gap in a wall protected by a spinning windmill, and sank into the hole with a pleasing 'pop.'
"I should play this game professionally," he smirked. Looking up, he saw Grier approaching. "Isn't that right, Grier?"
"What's that, sir?" he asked.
"This game. I should play it professionally. I could give the big boys a run for their money."
"Another hole in one?" Grier rolled his eyes. Big Deal.
"Yeah, that makes three thousand and sixty four in a row." Nikolas stood above the hole, and caught the ball as it levitated upwards. "I hope you have some good news for me for a change."
"Ah, actually," Grier grinned. "Yes, I do. Max has resurfaced. He's been seen in town."
"Excellent. Keep an eye on him. I want to know where he goes. I especially want to know if he heads for the pod chamber. We need to think about bringing this sorry chapter to a close before we have no more soldiers left. Have we had any luck finding the Rebel faction? I know they're in town."
"No, sir. Sorry. We found where they were staying, but we were too late, they had moved on."
"They are very clever, Grier. It's almost as though they have a pair of eyes among us."
"We will find them, sir. Once we execute their ringleaders, the others will return to obeying your orders."
"I cannot afford to wait for that. Send them a message. If they don't return to me, I'll leave their stinking asses down here to die. It's a pity, because I need more soldiers."
"Talking of soldiers, we caught another one."
"What? A rebel?"
"No, sir." Grier waved a hand in the air. "Another Antarian. You know, with one of those receivers."
"Oh," Nikolas looked concerned. "How many men did we lose this time?"
"None. Now we know what to expect, after that last one, we can take precautions."
"So how many is that now? Two?"
"Yeah," Grier nodded. "How many more do you think are out there?"
"There will be three more," Nikolas though carefully. "That's the standard number for this kind of squad. All top class warriors. What I would give to have a squad like that under my control."
"Do you want to talk to him? You know..." Grier held his hand over his head, touching his scalp with his fingers.
"No, I got enough info from the last guy. I can do without seeing another 50 years of mundane existence while waiting for a signal."
"Maybe this one knows who he is meeting."
"Somehow, I doubt it. Anyway, that other protector is my number one suspect."
"What shall we do with them?"
"Hold them for now. Maybe these two we have can be turned."

***

"Okay," Liz smiled at the young couple sitting at one of the booths in the Crashdown, as she placed their orders in front of them. "I have got one Sigourney Weaver... that's for you. And one Will Smith. Can I get you guys anything else?"
A shake of her customers' head sent her away. As she walked back to the counter to check on the status of another order, Maria bounced in.
"Hey, Liz," she smiled. "Working hard?"
"Ha ha, Maria," Liz shrugged with a smile. "What's up?"
"Nada. I'm just waiting for Michael. We're running some food out to... you know."
"Oh, right. Tell her 'hi' for me. And Maria? Let me know that it's okay. Where she's staying, I mean. Max said it was okay, and I believe him, it's just that..."
"A guy's 'okay' is different from ours," Maria completed, pouring herself a cola.
"Right," Liz laughed.
Her face fell when she saw Sean's VW Bug make a slow pass across the front of the Crashdown, looking for a place to park.
Liz turned to Maria. "Maria? Could you...?"
"Nuh uh, Liz," Maria shook her head. "You can't keep putting this off. You need to talk to him."
"I know, but..."
"You can't let him keep thinking he has a chance, okay?"
"Yeah, you're right, it's just... Maria? Will you talk to him with me?"
"Sorry, babe. This is something you have to do on your own."
"Well, as I recall, it wasn't really me trying to hook us up all the time."
Michael rapped on the window.
"Saved by the bell!" Maria laughed, and dashed from the café, pushing past Sean as she left.
"Hey, Liz," he smiled. "Good to see you back."
"Hey, Sean." She liked Sean, she did. It was just that she loved Max. "Um, I'm sorry. About the other night, you know, cutting out on our date like that."
"Well, I'll forgive you, as long as we can reschedule," he laughed.
"You know, Sean," she sighed. "I can't do that. You see, Max and I, well, were kinda together now."
"Well, we could still date. I mean, it's not like you married him, right?"
"No, Sean. I won't do that to him."
"Why not? Didn't he do the same stuff to you?"
"Sean, that's all over with, okay? Max and I have sorted everything out, and we are okay with that. So no... sorry."
"Liz, I really don't think you can trust Max. You know, I wouldn't be surprised to hear that he has run off to be with Tess. You know?"
"I don't think so, Sean."
"Well, I am here for you, Liz," he winked "My door is always open."
"Thanks, Sean. And I'm sorry if you kinda think I used you. But listen, how about you drop by tomorrow night. There's this band playing, and even Maria's going to sing. I'll treat you to a meal, okay? On the house."
"Nah," Sean shook his head. "No way do I want to see you all cute and cuddly with that... with Evans."
"Oh, that's okay, Sean," Liz smiled. "Max won't be coming, he's...um, busy."

***



posted on 14-Dec-2001 3:48:19 PM by WR
Thank you for the feedback. I especially enjoyed the e-mails demanding to know if Liz is pregnant and if so, when it happened! ;)

And the reason why Liz goes funny when she kisses Max? Remember this from Chapter 29?

"Oh," Maria smirked. "More flashes during heavy make out sessions with 'His Majesty?'"
"What?" Liz giggled at her choice of words, and then admonished her friend. "Maria! No, not at all." Liz looked around the room, and stepped closer to Maria. Her furrowed brow indicating that something was bothering her. "Actually, Maria? I don't think that I got any of those flashes. Not a single one. And things did get pretty intense. Why do you think that is?"
"Hmmm," Maria made a mock show of thinking up a reason. "Oh yeah. Because he has closed himself off. Probably doesn't want you to see his night of passion with the ho!"
"Yeah, maybe," Liz did not sound convinced. She released a heavy sigh as her shoulders collapsed. "I miss them, though."



On with the story ...


Part 35

"Just look at this place!" Jeff Parker enthused at his daughter, as she walked past with another order to serve to one of the many customers that had packed the Crashdown Café. "It's rockin'!"
"Yeah, Dad," she was excited for her father, and laughed at the huge excited grin on his face. She knew that he was thrilled because everyone was having such a great time, in 'his' café and not at the fact he was making so much money. "It's great, isn't it?"
Liz placed the order on the table that had ordered the burgers, and collected as many empty plates and glasses as she could on her way back. The band had already been on for an hour, and were just now taking a short break, drinking from some large cups of cola Maria had taken them. There was absolutely no room in the café; people were even standing in the aisles, leaving only a narrow gap for all of the waitresses to serve the tables. It seemed as though every teenager in Roswell had turned up. Jeff had asked every waitress to work tonight, and had even taken on some casual help.
"Max coming tonight?" he called to her above the buzz of conversation. He was glad that he and Liz had resolved their differences. After she had returned from that short stay in Florida, she and Max had become as close as ever. He knew that all they needed was some time apart to realize how much they truly thought of one another.
"No, Dad," she gave him a sad smile while looking at the ground. "He's kind of grounded."
"Oh, right," he chuckled. He had heard through the grapevine that Max was in trouble with his parents.

"Are you going to get a chance to see Max at all tonight?" Maria asked.
"No," Liz answered with a slow shake of her head. "He really doesn't want to let his parents down, you know? I'm going over to see him tomorrow, though."
"Well, I hope that you manage to get at least some time alone, I mean..."
"Yeah, Maria," Liz laughed. "We spent this afternoon together, and yesterday..." Liz paused. Yesterday, Max had taken her to Alex's grave. They laid some flowers, thanked him for his parting gift, and promised that his suffering would not be in vain. "...we went for a pleasant walk."
Maria's smirk suggested that she knew Max and Liz did more than just walk. She shook her head, knowing full well that it would have involved plenty of lip-locking. Maria wanted to ask her if they had done the deed yet, but somehow, she guessed that they had not yet progressed to that level. Maria just knew that Max would want to make it extra special for Liz.
"Well it beats Michael and my dates," she sighed. "Alls we ever do now is head on over to his apartment and..."
"No, no, Maria..." Liz stepped next to Maria, and pressed her hand over her mouth. "Know what? Information overload! I so do not need to know that."
As Liz removed her hand, they both started to laugh.
"Here," Maria offered Liz a plate of fries.
Liz screwed her nose, and shook her head. Maria watched her carefully, her eyes narrowed in a worried frown.
"So what's with you and the lead guitarist?" Liz giggled at her friend.
"What?" Maria defended. "What do you mean?"
"I've seen you two exchanging 'those' looks all night," Liz smirked.
"We have not!" Maria protested. "You know, I'm just gonna sing with them. That's all."
"Uh huh. Is that so?" she laughed.
"Yeah, it is," Maria looked away. "Oh, and talking about making eyes? Stalker boy's here."
Sean was making his way through the crowds towards the two girls. The atmosphere around him reached them before he did. Liz was suddenly reminded of a plate of Space Fries, a thought she had to suppress because it was making her feel ill.
"Man," Maria waved her hand in front of her face. "Overdo it a little with the Aqua Velva there, Sean?"
"Funny, Maria," he tilted his head at Maria, and then looked at Liz, smiling at her. "Here for my date."
"Oh," Liz looked worried. "Sean, it isn't a date."
"Just teasing," he smirked. "Okay, I'm here for my free meal." He looked around the café. "Except there's no where to sit."
"Yeah, it's kinda busy, you know, with the band. You could always eat in the back."
"Sure, if you join me, so we can talk."
"Go ahead, Liz," Maria nodded. "You take your break now, I'll take mine after."
"Okay, thanks, Maria," Liz nodded at her friend, and led Sean into the back room.

***

"Not bad," Kyle was bobbing his body to the beat of the song being played. In front of him were the remains of his meal.
"I've heard worse," Isabel agreed beside him, also moving in time to the music.
Across the table from them, Michael just shrugged. "Too many people!" he spat. "I mean, any of these could be Nikolas' goons. Any of them, and where is Max?"
Isabel exchanged a look with Kyle.
"He's grounded, remember?" Isabel reminded Michael. "You know, for worrying our parents like that."
"Yeah, you should have heard my dad laugh when I told him," Kyle chuckled. "He said a simple teenage punishment is probably what Max needs right now."
"Yeah," Isabel agreed, "But he's missing out on a great show. He would love this music."
"He wouldn't even notice," Kyle winked. "He would have his eyes on Liz the whole night."
"I bet he'd've come if she asked him to," Michael growled.
"They seeing each other tomorrow?" Kyle ignored Michael. He hoped that Liz and Max would be able to talk together more, they had so much to catch up on.
"Not sure," Isabel added. "Tomorrow, he has to mow the lawn, clean out the gutters, and tidy up the garage." She started to laugh at the thought. "His Majesty will be busy all day with manual chores."
"He should be leading us!" Michael snapped. He looked wild for a moment, but shook that off. "I mean, Nikolas is still out there, and so is the gang that grabbed Kyle. He should be organizing something. What's he doing instead? He's playing 'I'm a normal teen!'"
"He doesn't really have a choice, Michael," Isabel stared at him.
"What's up with you anyway?" Kyle demanded. "You've been snappy all night!"
"It's this waiting," he sighed. "Sometimes, I think maybe if Max won't lead us, someone else should."
"Why?" Isabel asked with sarcasm. "Know any other good leaders?"
Anger flared in Michael's eyes, but he fought those feelings down. "Ignore me, I'm just a little edgy, you know? Like something bad is gonna happen."
"That's an attitude you should fix, Michael," Isabel stated with a shrug.
"Talking of fixing things," he retorted, "don't you have something to fix with Liz?"
"Yeah, Isabel," Kyle agreed. "I really think you should talk with her, you know, clear the air."
The look in Isabel's eyes was obvious. She was afraid of talking to Liz.
"You did say that the brother you love best is the one that's with Liz. And she did stop him from leaving, kind of."
"Shouldn't you be working?" she snapped.
"I'm on a break," he leaned back to relax.
"Well, if you want to see Max, it's going to be in Liz's presence, I think. 'Cause you just know that he's gonna spend all his spare time with her."
Isabel swung her head to the backroom door, her eyes distant.

***

"Here you go, Sean," Liz led him to a small table in the corner of the employee's back room. "You know, it's really crazy out there tonight. Of course my dad is really happy, but it's not somewhere you can talk right now. What can I get you?"
"Hey, I don't really mind how busy it is," he beamed. "Because it's just really nice to have you to myself for a while. You know... It's nice and quiet back here, cozy. I hope you are going to join me, and not make me eat back here all alone?"
"Well, I'm not really hungry. I had a big lunch."
"Aw, c'mon Liz. I insist."
"Okay then," Liz smiled with a shrug. "What will you have?"
"Apart from you, you mean?" he winked. "How about the Venus Platter, and a Blood of Alien smoothie."
"Okay, I'll be right back," Liz scribbled down the order, and went to place it at the kitchen. She returned with a smoothie for Sean, and a soda for herself.
Liz sat opposite Sean, and placed the straws in the drinks. "This is nice," she said with a smile.
"Yeah," Sean smiled, moving his chair closer to Liz. "Know what would be nicer? If we could go out on that date you promised me."
"Oh, yeah," she shook her head. "I'm sorry about that, Sean."
"So what do you say? I thought that maybe we could go over to that new club in Clovis. We could dance until the wee hours of the morning."
"Um, Sean? You know, Max and I have sorted everything out now, and it was all a... misunderstanding," Liz explained. "Max and I are together now, and I'm not going to hurt him by doing something that could cause another misunderstanding, okay?"
"So what were you playing at, Liz?" Sean demanded, his eyes flashing with anger. "Were you just using me to get back at Evans?"
"No, no," Liz was worried now. Sean had become angry so fast. "Not at all, it was just..."
"You owe me, Liz!" he rose from his chair and grabbed her, leaning into her, trying to pull her to him.
"Sean!" she cried out struggling to free herself from his grasp. "Let me go, you're hurting me!"
His face was uncomfortably close to hers. She twisted her head away, trying to avoid the lips he was trying to press to hers. And then he was gone.
"You'd best leave," Isabel snapped at the bundle on the floor where she had thrown him, "before I call Mr. Parker, Kyle and Michael and have you explain to them how you were trying to rape Liz."
Sean pulled himself up and glared at both Isabel and Liz.
"Bitches!" he spat, and stormed through the back door.

***

Liz sat in her chair, hugging herself tightly, as she fought the tears that formed in her eyes.
"Thank you, Isabel," she whispered.
"That's okay, Liz," Isabel responded, crossing to the door to make sure that Sean had left. "Are you okay?"
"Um, yeah, thanks," she confirmed. "It was just a shock, you know? He's always been so nice. I always felt okay around him."
"Well, I guess you can't be right all the time," she smiled, and then bit her lip, realizing how that had sounded. Liz simply nodded her agreement.
"I never dreamed he would do that," she mumbled.
"I only came in to talk," Isabel continued. "I didn't know you had a date."
"No, no, it wasn't a date," Liz leapt up. "I promised him a meal to say sorry for standing him up the other night. I told him, Iz. I told him how Max and I were together, and that I was sorry if he felt I was using him." Liz fell silent. "That's when he grabbed me," she whispered.
"Well, it's over now, Liz. I don't think he'll bother you again."
"I hope so," she sighed. "Um, Isabel? Did you want to see me?"
"Yeah, Liz," she nodded slowly. "I, uh, um, this is hard okay?"
"What is?"
"I've uh... come to say... thank you. And uh... I'm sorry. For how I treated you."
"Oh." Liz was surprised.
"It's just that I've always had him to myself, you know? And then you show up, and suddenly, I'm not the most important person in his life anymore."
"Isabel, he would never exclude you. And I would never let him."
"Yeah, but then you hurt him like that, and all I could see was Max on this downward spiral."
"I know it didn't look like it, Isabel," Liz urged. "But everything I did, I did it for Max. For you. And it hurt me so much."
"I think that's part of the problem, Liz. I know what it cost you, and I could never give up what you had. Not for anything."
Liz nodded and looked at her feet.
"I'm not very good at this, Liz," Isabel drew herself together. "Have we made up now?"
"Yeah, Isabel," Liz grinned. "We're cool now. We're friends."
"Okay, 'cause I'm gonna get back to the others."
"Yeah, I should get back to work. Uh, Isabel?"
"Yeah?"
"Just now? With Sean?"
"Oh yeah, don't mention it," Isabel waved the incident away.
"Um, yeah. You too please?"
"Excuse me?"
"Can you not mention this to Max?"
"I thought you guys agreed no more secrets?"
"Yeah, we have," Liz confirmed with a nod. "Will you let me tell him? I know how he will react, Isabel, and I don't want him getting in more trouble."
Isabel considered Liz's words, and smiled. "Sure, Liz"

***

While his friends were having fun at the Crashdown's party, Max sat at home with his parents. They were watching a documentary program on tv, about UFOs. Max watched the procession of theories and reported incidents with an uncomfortable but amused smile.
"It sure makes you think, doesn't it?" his mother asked.
"What's that?" Max asked with a smile.
"All these people claiming these things that happened to them. I mean, there must be some rational explanation, right?"
"Right, Mom," Max smirked.
"It's good though, isn't it?" his father chipped in.
"I'm surprised you watch cr... garbage like this when were surrounded by it." Max laughed a deep throaty laugh. He stopped to find both his parents looking at him. "What?"
"I must say, Max," his mom smiled. "Do you know how long it's been since we last heard you laugh? Over a year, Max."
"Well," Max waved a hand in the air. "I've not exactly had much to laugh at, really."
"I haven't seen that Tess girl around lately. I hope she's all right," his father inquired.
"She went home," Max's eyes darkened.
"I thought her home was with the Valenti's now," his mother added.
"No, her real home. She went back to her father. Do you remember Ed Harding?"
The telephone saved Max from further interrogation. His mother rose to answer the phone in the hallway.

"So these moods of yours, Max?" his father asked when his mother had left.
"Yeah, Dad, I'm sorry about them. I've just had some... stuff, you know? Problems."
"And these problems. Are they over now?"
Max pondered for a moment. "I still have some problems to sort out, but I am getting help with them now. Things will be different now. Better. But I still have some problems."
"Do you want to talk about them? Son, if you're in some kind of trouble..."
"No, no, nothing like that. Things will be different, Dad. Better."
"Why do I get the feeling that you are telling me only half of the story?"
"That was Mrs. Sandberg," Max's mother announced returning to the room, and thereby earning Max another reprieve. Diane Evans moved through the living room, and continued out into the kitchen. "She wants my Martha Stewart Frittata recipe," she called.
"Do you think she might keep it?" Max asked his father.
Both men started to chuckle. Softly at first, but their laughter became infectious and soon they were roaring with full-blown belly laughs.
"What's so funny?" Diane giggled when she entered the room.
"Nothing," Max smirked, causing his father to roar with laughter again.
"Will you run it over to her, Max?" his mother asked.
"Sure!" Max jumped up, his eagerness apparent. He took the recipe from his mother's hand, and headed for the door.
"Straight home, now, Max," his father grinned. "No detours via the Crashdown!"

***

The band's singer pushed her way through the seething Crashdown crowd, passing a metal pot around inviting the customers to contribute as much money as they could. The people were stuffing it with cash, and handfuls of loose change. While she was doing this, the band was playing an instrumental.
"It's been a great success, Maria," Liz shouted to her friend above the drummer's solo. "I just don't get why my dad agreed to it."
"There's your answer," Maria indicated the vast crowd, and the vast pile of empty plates. "And the tips have been... like, amazing!"
"Yeah. I mean, he's never done this before," Liz laughed. "We've had lots of bands asking. This is so not like him." She glanced over at her father, ringing up another check with a huge smile on his face.
The band suddenly stopped playing, and the silence lasted only a second before the room erupted into an explosion of loud applause and cheering. The lead guitarist stood by the microphone, waiting for the noise to die down.
"Thank you very much Roswell. You are an incredible audience!" His announcement was followed by another round of cheers and clapping. "And tonight, as a special surprise to the people of Roswell, New Mexico, I give you... your very own Maria DeLuca."
Maria received as great a reception as the guitarist did. She made her way through the crowd, and climbed onto the temporary podium Jeff had installed earlier. She stood by the microphone and composed herself.
"Last year," she informed the audience, "my best friend gave me a gift. A gift that was so valuable, you could never value it in dollars and cents. There is only a handful of people in this world who know what this friend paid for that gift. Believe me, there are few of you that would pay that price. She gave away something so valuable, so precious to her, just so that I could have this gift. Well, this last month, I had the chance to repay her generosity. I had the chance to help her find her own happiness again. I didn't take that chance. Instead, she managed to find it herself. If I had helped, she would have been as happy as I was much sooner. I let her down. I'm sorry, Liz. This is for you."
Maria turned, and nodded to the band. They played the intro, and she launched into the song.

When the daylight's gone and you're on your own
And you need a friend just to be around
I will comfort you, I will take your hand
And I'll pull you through, I will understand

And you know that

I'll be at your side, there's no need to worry
Together we'll survive through the haste and hurry
I'll be at your side
If you feel like you're alone, and you've nowhere to turn
I'll be at your side

If life's standing still and your soul's confused
And you cannot find what road to choose
If you make mistakes (make mistakes)
You can't let me down (let me down)
I will still believe (still believe)
I will turn around

And you know that

I'll be at your side, there's no need to worry
Together we'll survive through the haste and hurry
I'll be at your side
If you feel like you're alone, and you've nowhere to turn
I'll be at your side

I'll be at your side
I'll be at your side
You know that

I'll be at your side, there's no need to worry
Together we'll survive through the haste and hurry
I'll be at your side
If you feel like you're alone, you've got somewhere to go,
'Cos I'm right there
I'll be at your side, I'll be right there for you
(Together we'll survive) through the haste and hurry
I'll be at your side
If you feel like you're alone, you've got somewhere to go,
'Cos I'm at your side

I'll be right there for you
I'll be right there for you, yeah
I'm right at your side



Tears trickled down Maria's cheeks as she drew to a close. She looked at Liz, and saw that she had tears of her own welling in her eyes. Maria left the stage to the biggest applause of the night. She pushed her way through the cheering crowd towards her friend. When she reached her, Liz pulled her into a tight hug.
"It was beautiful, Maria," she congratulated. "Thank you."
"With everything that's happening, Liz, I think it's important to remember our friends."
"Yeah, Maria, I know. I agree."
"I mean, look at us. We're so happy that we have what we want, we've already forgotten Alex."
"No Maria, you're wrong," Liz held Maria by her arms. "We will never forget Alex."
"Liz, when you are with Max, you forget everyone."
"No, no, I will never forget Alex! He... he..." Tears flooded from her eyes. "He..." Everything went black. Liz vaguely heard Maria cry her name as the floor rushed up to meet her.

***

posted on 16-Dec-2001 4:54:36 PM by WR
As always, I love to read your comments and feedback. Now do you really think I would make Liz pregnant without letting all you dreamers witness the event? Aw c'mon. What do you take for? ;) LOL.

Part 36

Liz recognized him right away. Tall and skinny, wearing those ridiculously baggy pants with that chain he had his keys attached to, he stepped through the mist that seemed to surround her. That was the Alex she remembered.
"Alex!" she cried, but she was unable to run to him. Some force held her back.
Alex spoke to her, but no words came out of his mouth.
"I can't hear you," she cried. "You'll have to speak up!"
He again appeared to say something, but as before, Liz heard nothing.
"No, Alex," she shook her head. "I still can't hear you."
Alex's shoulders fell, but then he looked up and raised a single finger from his closed hand. His smile indicated that he had just had an idea. He clenched his right hand as though he were holding something, something in front of him, like a flashlight perhaps. He seemed to shake what ever it was he held. His left hand looked as though he held a cup. Something large and round. He tipped his hand over and shook it above what ever it was he held in his right hand. He put what ever he shook down, and reached into what his right hand held, lifted something out and up to his mouth. He pulled a funny face, and then he was gone.


***

The images around her started out as blurs. The blurs slowly coalesced into shapes. Two vaguely humanoid shapes. As the walls behind them grew more familiar, so do did their features. Liz came to in her bedroom, with Maria and Isabel looking concerned on either side of her.
"Guys," she groaned. "Alex was here. He was trying to tell me something."
Isabel and Maria exchanged a worried glance.
"Take it easy, Liz," Maria soothed her. "You fainted downstairs. You were probably dreaming of Alex because that was the last thing we talked about."
"No, he was here. If I had stayed out a bit longer, maybe I could have understood what he was saying."
"I tell you, Liz," Maria shrugged off Liz's babbling. "You scared the hell out of me keeling over like that."
"Has this happened before?" Isabel asked.
"No, but until recently, she was eating. Now the only thing I have seen her eat since she returned from Florida, is ice cream."
"I have too eaten," Liz was indignant.
"Yeah? The night you came home? You never touched those fries. Or the snacks we laid out. And the other day? You gave Kyle your lunch."
"I'm sorry," Liz shrugged, holding her head. "It's just that when I try to eat, I feel a little..."
"Sick?"
"Yeah."
"See, she's not eating."
"But Max and I went and had a pizza. He laughed, because I ate the whole thing."
"Liz?" Maria looked her straight in the eye. "Are you pregnant?"
"Pregnant?" Liz shrieked. "Maria, of course not. I mean, no, there's no chance of that. At all."
"What, still no...?"
"Yeah, still," Liz giggled. "You know Max."

"I so do not want to hear this," Isabel was disgusted. "Can't you save these conversations for later when I'm not around?" She turned to Maria. "Oh yeah, that lead guitarist? He wants to know if you are free to talk later. I'm going back down now."
"Okay, um, Isabel?" Liz called to her. "Would you like to join us? After the café closes I mean?
"Oh... we'll see." Isabel turned and left Liz's room.
"Well, if you're sure you're okay now," Maria rose, placing the antennae back on her head.
"Oh, yeah, Maria. Thanks. I'm gonna just..." Liz waved at her window. "I'm just gonna get some air. I'll be down in a minute, okay?"
"Okay, Liz. If you're sure that you can cope with it."
After Maria had left, Liz climbed out onto her balcony. It was the first time in ages that she had come out here feeling so good. It held some unpleasant memories, though, and she found herself wishing that Max might drop by for a secret visit. He hadn't been here since... that dreadful night. She heard someone's shoe scuff the dirt in the alley. Thinking it might be Max after all, she peered over the top. It was only Michael, taking a break from his duties in the kitchen. She was about to go back indoors when another person appeared. It was a woman.

***

Michael checked the kitchen equipment, and satisfied that he had left nothing dangerous switched on, he stepped outside into the alley for some fresh air. He somehow knew that she was there before he saw her. He had been expecting her, for some time now.
"Have you given any thoughts to our discussion, Michael?" Layla asked him.
"Suppose I did?" Michael considered. "Take over from Max, I mean. I don't remember anything. I don't remember how to lead."
"Your strength is a part of you," Layla urged. "With people to lead, with experience, you will remember."
"I didn't do so good the other night."
"The Earth boy? But he is nothing to you. Your heart was not in it. When the time comes, you will see. You will see why it is that more than half of Antar would follow you."
"I don't know," Michael shrugged. "I mean I..."
"Michael, you must take Max's place. You must take over. You must unite Antar against our enemies. Time is running out. The day is almost upon us."
"So if I took over... would I be King?"
"No, only one may take that title, you must bear the signs."
"So, what would I be?"
"Emperor."
"Like Napoleon? Cool!"
"So you will do it?"
"I'll let you know. I mean, there are... others to consider."
"Soon, Michael. There is much to do, and you may have need of us to... force Max into relinquishing his power. A few days at most. We will contact you soon."

Layla vanished into the shadows. Michael watched her go. A strange prickling sensation swept over him. He turned and looked the other direction, there was no one there. He lifted his eyes upwards, and groaned to himself when he saw Liz looking down on him from her balcony. Even from down here, Michael could see the disapproval in her eyes
"How much did you hear?" he called up, anger burning in his voice.
"Enough," she replied.
Her calmness worried him. He was used to Liz cowering when he showed his anger. He climbed up the fire escape, and onto her balcony. He tried to tower over her, but Liz stood firm. She showed no signs of intimidation. Michael was shocked to realize that Liz was standing up to him.
"So what are you going to do, Michael?" she asked in an unruffled tone that annoyed him. "Kill me?"
"I suppose you're going to tell Max what you heard?"
"Max and I have no secrets, Michael. You should try it. And something like this is kind of important, don't you think? But I'm not seeing him 'til tomorrow. You have until then to tell him yourself."

***

Despite Mrs. Sandberg's offer that Max try some of her home baking after he dropped off the recipe, or maybe because of it, Max told her that he had to get straight back. He thanked her for the offer but declined and turned homewards. His route home took him across Main Street. From up the road, he could see the sign of the Crashdown twinkling above the doorway. He could not hear the music, so he assumed that the gig was over. He shook his head and sighed. He would have loved to surprise Liz by turning up and wrapping her in his arms. But that would involve him in breaking his curfew. As much as he was in love with Liz, he did not want to disappoint his parents any further. He hoped that Liz understood how he needed to rebuild their trust in him. He blew a soft kiss towards the Crashdown, turned up the street towards his home. Up ahead he could see the familiar shape of Maria's car. An even more familiar figure was reclining on the Jetta. As he drew nearer, Michael watched him approach.
"Max," Michael nodded.
"Hey, Michael," Max climbed onto the hood next to his friend. "How did it go?"
"Okay," Michael shrugged. "They had enough people working there, we were getting in each other's way, so I baled a bit early."
"Oh, right," he sensed that Michael was nervous. "So what's up?"
"I called your house. Your folks said you were on your way home. I figured you'd come this way."
"Yeah," Max nodded looking up the street to the Crashdown.
They both fell silent.

***

"There he is," the man in the passenger seat of the black SUV pointed out, indicating a dark haired youth climbing onto the hood of a Volkswagen Jetta, talking to another teen. "That's the guy. That's Max Evans."
"He ain't on his own, though," the driver noted. "Who's that with him?"
"Don't know," the first man shrugged. "Don't care. Pull over yonder. We'll keep an eye on him."
"What if they don't split up? He looks like he's settling in for some kind of conversation. They only want the Evans kid, right?"
"If he don't split after five minutes, we'll pull the same stunt on these two as we pulled on them other two. You take that other kid, I'll take this here Evans."
"Why do you suppose they want him? I mean, first we nab the Valenti kid, and now they want us to nab this Evans kid. Any idea what's going on?"
"Nope. Not a thing. Alls I know is they paid me ten grand to grab the Valenti kid, and another ten grand for this one. Shit, I'll kidnap the entire teenage population of Roswell for that kinda dough. I'll be a rich man in no time."
"Do you think there's anything in them rumors that one of these kids is an alien?"
"Yeah, and my grandma's a linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys. Aliens, hah!" he sneered. "Just get up close, stick 'im with that needle, and pump 'im with that stuff. Alien or no, he'll be out like a light."

***

"How could she do that to us, Max? Tess... I mean," he asked, breaking the stillness. "If you guys were that much in love, like she said, how could she do that to you? I mean, I couldn't see Liz betraying you. Well, not for selfish reasons anyway."
"I don't know," Max shrugged. "Tess, I mean. Not Liz."
"Do you remember that time when Tess first came to town? That time in your kitchen? When Isabel brought her home when Topolsky was sniffing around? How come you never felt attracted to her then? I mean, the next time you saw her, you couldn't keep your eyes off of her. You said how you felt that pull?"
"Yeah," Max's eyes were dark, distant. It was clear that he did not relish that memory. "I remember that. And I don't know. I hardly noticed her that first time. Maybe I was just too... suspicious. I mean... what with Topolsky and everything."
"Know what I think? I don't think she knew which of us was Zan. Maybe you really weren't in love with her like she says, and she had to warp you. It would have been kind of embarrassing if she ended up warping the wrong guy."
"But what about those memories?" Max was shaking his head.
"What memories?"
"The ones Brody described. The ones he got from Larek. About me seeing Tess when we were swimming, and again at a party. How he helped bring us together."
"Maybe he was lying. Or confused. Max, maybe Tess placed them there herself."
"Maybe," Max nodded with a shrug. "But Michael?" Max looked around, as though to make sure no one else was listening. "I know they happened. They're a bit vague, but I do remember them."

Again, they fell silent, each lost in their own thoughts.
"So you came pretty close, huh?" Michael asked. "To leaving, I mean?"
"I guess. But I couldn't go through with it. I was at the scaffold, Michael. I could have easily got in, and I know I could have flown it. But I just knew, I couldn't leave Liz. She's too... important to me."
"Well, I'm glad you stayed, man," Michael admitted. "I mean, I really blew my chance at leadership. I didn't know what to do when those guys took Kyle. I mean, I totally lost it."
Max just nodded, looking at Michael with concern.
"So..." Michael continued, "I just wanted to say, you know, how sorry I am for being such a pain in the ass. Maybe if I had been there for you... like you've been there for me, we coulda sorted out that thing between you and Liz. You know, earlier."
"Well, maybe I could have helped you more," Max admitted. "Like, given you more support, more encouragement."
"Nah, I'd never have listened," Michael shrugged. "I was far too busy being... well, me. There was a time I wanted that from you. To be given the chance, but when I saw what this leadership deal was doing to you, to your relationship with Liz..." Michael waved his hands in frustration. "I just dumped it all on you. It was easier to blame you for any mistakes than risk making them myself."
"Why are you telling me this, Michael?"
"Loxodrome."
"Jim Valenti's dictionary?" Max laughed.
"Yeah," Michael looked surprised. "He do that to you too?"
"No, Kyle told me about it."
"Oh, right," Michael nodded. "I want to start fresh, Max. Be more supportive; be more your second in command than your court jester."
"I'd like that, Michael," Max nodded at his friend. "Perhaps it's time I started to share some responsibility."
"There's more, Max." Michael was very nervous, a fact that made Max frown with worry. "And you are not gonna like this."

***

"Did you even consider it?" Max asked Michael after he had explained the whole usurping power from Max deal the skins had put to him. "Even if only for a second?"
"Of course not!" Michael was too adamant in his denial. Max knew that he was not being truthful, that he had considered it a great deal.
"Did you ever consider how you might have put this to Liz? Or how Maria might have reacted?" Max chuckled.
Max's response told Michael that he not only knew he had just lied, but that Max had forgiven him. Michael's face dropped. He looked sad.
"I never once considered making a move on Liz, Max. You gotta know that. And anyway, I doubt Maria would have cared."
"What are you talking about, Michael?" Max asked, catching Michael's sudden mood swing. He knew something was up.
"Well, you know that band that played tonight?"
"Yeah," Max admitted. "Liz called me earlier, I could hear them through the phone."
"Okay, and you knew Maria sang tonight, yeah? Well, all night, she's been making eyes at the lead guitarist."
"So?"
"So, when I was getting ready to leave, I asked her... back, you know, to my place." Michael was clearly embarrassed. "She said no. She said she wanted more of a romance that just shacking up every night at my pad. Anyway, she said she was going to talk about doing more gigs with them."
"You never learn, do you, Michael?" Max shook his head with a rueful smile. "But I don't think you need to worry. I mean, I know she loves you."
"Yeah?" Michael demanded hopefully. "How? Did she tell you that?"
"Um, no, I saw it, the other night, when I uh..."
"Oh, yeah. You um, didn't see anything else did you, I mean... personal..." Michael's embarrassment more than doubled.
"No, nothing," Max said with a straight face. But then he broke into a huge grin of amusement. "Doctor Mike."

"Excuse me," a voice called from the darkness. "We're kinda lost. Can you tell us how to find 285 South?"
Max and Michael looked up at the two approaching men struggling with the large unfolded map. They exchanged a look of warning with each other, it was men asking for directions that had grabbed Kyle. They both slid off of the car's hood, and stood together in front of the Jetta.
"Sure," Max smiled, looking relaxed. "You need to turn around and follow this road all the way down until you reach the junction. That's Highway 285. Turn right there."
"Can you just show me on this here map?" the man asked.
Both of the strange men moved to stand beside Max and Michael. Under the cover of the map, they both produced hypodermic needles, and swiftly stabbed them towards the teenagers' arms.

***


posted on 18-Dec-2001 3:48:14 PM by WR
A-ha! *wink* So you want to find out about this 'Liz and food' thing? Does it signify Liz's changes, or is it something more sinister? And what about the gathering enemies at our group's door? What is to be done of them? And are Max and Michael okay?


Part 37

As the needle stabbed into Max's arm, he concentrated on the fluid entering his system, turning it into a harmless saline solution. He reached his hand up to the man's temple, and just as he did with the Air Force guard, lightly brushed his fingers across it. The man's gleeful grin changed to a stunned look of surprise, and then one of peaceful sleep as Max sent him into a deep slumber. Beside him, Michael was far less subtle. Avoiding the stabbing needle with ease, Michael slugged his assailant hard with his fist across the man's chin. He was out cold before he even hit the ground. After a quick look around to check that there were no others backing these two up, or that there were no bystanders to witness them, Max indicated that they should put the two men into the Jetta. They dragged the inert bodies to the back of the car where, after Max lowered the back seat, they unceremoniously dumped them into the back. Max slammed the hatch down on them. Michael and Max climbed into the front of the car.
"What do we do with them, Max?" Michael asked, still looking out of the window for signs that someone might have seen them.
"I don't know," Max shrugged, his eyes deep in thought. "Let's go and see River Dog. Maybe he can come up with something."
"Not Valenti?"
"No," Max shook his head. "I'm afraid that Jim might suggest he just kill them, Michael. I don't want him to have to do that for us. I don't want him to do something I couldn't do myself. I don't want them dead. Maybe River Dog has some kind of herbs, or something to help them forget."
"What about Ava?" Michael asked. "She could erase their memories. Make these two guys forget all about us."
"No, lets keep the others out of this. It would only freak them out. Besides, I don't want to risk Ava being seen. She's like our ace. No, lets take them to River Dog."
"Okay," Michael started up the engine. "You gonna keep this from Liz, too?"
"Um... no," Max shook his head.
Max reached over and into the back of the car. Leaning over the men, he started to rummage through their pockets, searching for some form of ID.
"Nothing," he sighed, collapsing back into his seat in frustration.
"What about their car?" Michael asked, indicating the black SUV that he just drove past.
"Good thinking, Michael," Max congratulated. "Pull over, I'll go back and check."
Max climbed out of the car, and jogged up the road back to the vehicle, which was, not surprisingly, unlocked. Their assailants had hoped for a quick getaway. Inside the car, he found a large brown envelope, but nothing else. Max took it back to Michael, now parked further up the street.

"Okay," he urged, strapping himself into his seat, "let's go."
They were soon driving through the dark streets of Roswell, heading for the nearby Mesaliko reservation.
"So, what's in there?" Michael asked, pointing to the brown envelope with his chin.
"It's a letter, and some receipts and stuff," Max answered, as he looked at the pieces of paper. "The letter says it's from Tess, begging me to join her in Washington. It's not her writing, but it's close. The receipts are for a Greyhound ticket to DC. One that left a few hours ago. This is troubling, Michael."
"I don't understand," he frowned.
"These guys wanted to make it look like I had skipped town."
"That much I got. Pretty obvious thing to do though, right?"
"But why DC? Why hint I skipped town to join Tess?"
"So they know about what's gone on with you? All that Tess stuff. I mean, everyone thought you were together. I still don't see the big deal."
"Who would it affect if I skipped town again?"
"All of us, I guess."
"Right," Max confirmed. "But I already did that once, and Liz came after me. Suppose we were all normal. Suppose Tess was just a normal girl who went to join her father. Say Liz thought I was going to join Tess."
"Yeah, I doubt she'd have followed you."
"Whoever did this didn't want Liz to chase me this time. It's like they wanted Liz to give up on me."
"But Tess isn't in Washington."
"They don't know that. We're the only ones who know..."
Both Michael and Max looked skywards.

***

River Dog was sitting in an old lawn chair by the stand with the Native American crafts and trinkets when Michael steered the Jetta into the reservation's dusty parking lot. His headlights picked out the old man.
"How did he know we were coming?" Michael asked.
"Maybe he didn't," Max answered, but the look they both exchanged suggested that neither believed that.
"It has been a long time," River Dog said as he stood to greet them.
"Yeah," Max apologized. "Things have been a bit... hectic, and you did say you had no more information for us."
"That is true," the old Native American confirmed. "I see that you have found more information about yourselves anyway."
"Some," Max shrugged.
"So how may I help you now?"
"We have a problem," Max indicated the two unconscious men in the Jetta.
"These goons tried to jump us, we had to defend ourselves," Michael informed him. "We don't know how much they saw, but we can do without people running around making accusations about us."
"But we don't want to kill them," Max was adamant.
"Sometimes," River Dog was deep in thought, "the white man gets drunk, and goes out into the desert to shoot off their guns. Sometimes, they get lost. They might be lucky enough to find just enough water to remain alive, but they come out after many hard days, delirious. These two that you have brought seem to be such men. You must bring me their vehicle. It will be left somewhere far from here for the authorities to find."

***

"It's time," Ed Harding called into the Pod Chamber as he climbed through the portal.
"Time for what?" Tess inquired.
"Time we got the others up here now, well, at least Max. The other's would be useful, but we really only need Max."
"We'll need a better setup this time," Tess pondered. "Something that won't need too much time."
"Well, while you're at it," a disgusted voice spat from the portal, "can you make that bitch fall in love with me?"
Tess spun round to look at the voice, fear evident in her eyes.
"Sean!" she exclaimed. "What are you doing here? How did you even get in here?"
"I left the door open for him," Harding shrugged.
"What's going on?" she demanded.
"Sorry, Tess," Harding shook his head. "When I set this up, I wasn't sure which way you were leaning. For a while, I thought you might actually be on Max's side. You looked like you were falling for that other human. I wasn't sure if you would agree to the deal, so I needed to take steps of my own."
"Set what up? Have you been playing me for a fool?"

"It was early this year, just after Christmas," Harding began his explanation. He walked past Sean, and waved his hand across his head. Sean appeared to have fallen asleep, his head slumped forwards, but he remained standing. "I was returning to the Pod Chamber, when I saw this green car, a Beetle, parked just by the turning. I thought that he might be one of Nikolas' spies, so I continued down the road until he was out of sight, and then I changed both the car, and myself. I came back, and pulled over, pretending to be a concerned traveler offering assistance. He accepted my offer of a lift into Roswell.
"As soon as he got in the car, I sent him to sleep. He really does have a weak mind. It was easy to find out what he was doing there. He really had broken down, but what he told me next was interesting. It seemed that our Mr. DeLuca had just been released from Juvenile Detention, and was on his way to his aunt's in town, where he would be staying."
"I already knew he was out of Juvie," Tess complained. "But you told me you selected him 'cause he had a thing for Parker."
"That much was true. He does have a... 'thing' for the Parker girl, but that was not the reason I selected him. I mean, the Valenti kid would have been as easily pliable. As you know, I used my knowledge of the girl's physiology to create that pheromone that would attract her. It's mixed in with his after-shave. The more he wears it, the more attracted she will feel."
"Yeah, but why did he just ask me to make her fall in love with him? Doesn't it work?"
"It does, but her attraction to Max, her connection will hold her back. To that end he has been lacing the food at the Crashdown with a neural blocking agent. It stops those images they get with each other. If there are no flashes with Max, there is no connection. And you said I knew nothing about emotions. Oh, and as a bonus, it seems to make Max more susceptible to your warps. That's why he crumbled so fast."

"But it's not working. They still seem connected, as evident by his rescue of her a while back, and her recent charge across America to stop him from leaving."
"A minor irritant," Harding shrugged. "He distracted Liz, thanks uh... to your lessons and my chemicals, enough to get what we needed from Max. No, the reason I chose this moron was not because of his attraction to the girl, but because of something else entirely. It seems that while he was being detained, Mr. DeLuca here struck a deal with some rather sinister men. In fact, it was how he obtained his release.
"He was approached by a lawyer, at least he thinks he was a lawyer, and he was offered a release, not parole, in exchange for acting as an inside man for them in Roswell. There was also some kind of financial transaction involved. All he had to do was to find out certain information about his cousin and her friends. It seems that there is someone else interested in the activities of our king. They would say it was parole, to give Sean an excuse to see his parole officer, otherwise known as his contact for the group. All he knows about them is that they represent some mysterious corporation interested in using some special talents one of the teens has. He thinks it's like ESP or something. You and I both know they are after the alien believed to exist in Roswell, probably to further some technological development of this mysterious corporation. DeLuca's job was to identify that 'special' person. As it involved getting close to Liz, he agreed."

"Wait! Wait!" Tess barked. "He knows what we are? Where we are from?"
"No!" snapped Harding. "No, he thinks we are part of a religious cult, and that we are trying to get Max back."
"Is he that stupid?" she snorted.
"Yeah," Harding laughed. "I will 'persuade' him that all these..." he waved his hand indicating the pods, "are religious artifacts."
"But he asked if I could make Liz fall in love with him. How does he know about my warping abilities?"
"He thinks you're a hypnotist."
"A hypnotist?" Tess started to laugh now. "Okay, okay. So by now, he knows that Max is the uh... special guy. If he identifies Max to these people, won't we be in some kind of trouble? Won't they try to grab him like they did Kyle?"
"No, he knows we want Max. He believes that we can give him the Parker girl, so he would rather stay allies with us, and double cross the others."
"So that hostage situation, the one that had you worried. You knew it was the group who hired Sean, right? So why were you so... annoyed? I mean, you must have known who it was, and what they were trying to achieve?"
"Yeah, I was angry for another reason. I didn't want to tell you then, but you should know now. When Max pulled his stunt, he reached out with his mind, and pulled the gun from one of the gunmen."
"So?"
"So someone else did the other. Someone else pulled the other's guy's gun."

"So is Sean the 'others' that you keep talking about?"
"No," he looked worried now. "I have some men down here. When you set off the orbs, one of them was mine. It sent them a signal. They should have been here by now. That reminds me. The image you all saw of Max's mother. Was that genuine?"
"What do you think?" Tess smirked. "I had to get rid of the bitch somehow. I knew part of who we were from that first line of the translation you were able to read. So I made them see what the first part of the translation said, I just embellished it a bit."
"But you were using both orbs, right?"
"Yeah. Max and I held one, Michael and Isabel the other."
"The signal was definitely sent then. I wonder where they are?"
"Brody has a device that activated the day the signal got sent. Max told me about it. A pentagon shaped thing."
"Well," Harding frowned. "I guess I only have four left then. Rath and Lonnie should have been here by now, as well."
"What do we need them for?" Tess demanded. "Won't they complicate things?"
"Because by using them, we don't need Michael and Isabel. We only need to concentrate on Max. Naturally, they will help. This way, they get to go home, which is what they want, and we hand over all three of them to Kivar."
"So where are they?"
"I don't know."

***

Sean scrambled over the dirt and rocks in the darkness, returning to his car. It seemed darker than it should have been. He had only been there in that strange cave, what, twenty minutes? He looked at the luminous face of his watch. An hour? Where did the time go? But then, it was always like that when he was with the Harding guy. He always seemed to lose time. And boy, did that guy give him the creeps. Tess was all right, though. Perhaps he and Tess could get together some time, when all this was resolved. Sure, he would have Liz, but what the heck? And it would piss Evans off. Regardless of how much he disliked that Harding, he appreciated the chemicals he had been given. It was these, and the lessons Tess taught him that got Liz to notice him in the first place. He just wished these two allies of his were a bit more active in helping him get her, now that she seemed able to resist him. Liz. He knew that once she had been with him, she would never look at anyone else again. Not even that Evans creep. He regretted not forcing himself on her that night she threw herself at him in his room. It wouldn't have been rape because she had come to him, right? She was asking for it. That was the closest he'd come to making her his. He thought, at the time, that she would soon give in, but it somehow marked a turning point. He wondered if Max had any hypnotic powers of his own. It would explain why Liz was so attracted to him, and why Harding and Tess wanted him back so badly. Still, he will soon be rid of him. He knew that tonight, Max was going to be grabbed by the guys who had sprung him from Juvie. Max would soon be long gone, his abductors leaving evidence that he was following Tess, who everyone believed had gone to Washington. Liz would not try to find him this time. Tomorrow, she would be in need of comfort again. He would deny any part in Max's disappearance to Harding, of course, and even accuse them of double crossing him. Oh yes. He was not as dumb as everyone thought he was. It wouldn't worry him if that old man tried to get physical with him, either. He had learnt how to fight while he was in Juvie. Sean formed a fist, and punched his open hand. And he didn't care if he was Maria's boyfriend. He would pound that Michael Guerin to a pulp.

***

They drove back from the reservation in silence. After parking the Jetta in front of the Evan's home, they sat down in the middle of the front yard, and looked up into the night sky. River Dog had said that they would leave the men stumbling around for a couple of days, and that they would probably remain delirious for another few days after that. This would give them a week to decide what to do about this situation. Then there was Nikolas and his skins, as well as the skins that supported Michael. Events, like a herd of wild horses, were starting to run away with them.
"Do the skins that follow you hate me, Michael?" he asked, breaking the silence.
"Not hate," Michael replied after a moments thought. "They said you made too many mistakes. That you couldn't defeat Kivar."
"Do you think I can do this?" Max asked. "Do you think I can beat Kivar?"
"I don't know, Max," Michael exhaled. "I mean, there are only three of us... well, four with Ava... seven if you include the others."
"How many skins has Nikolas got left, do you think?"
"At a guess? Fifteen, maybe twenty. No more than that, I mean, Tess took out a hell of a lot."
"We need more men, Michael," Max whispered. "Maybe we should give your followers what they want. Maybe I should step down and let you take over."
"Max, I..."
"Set up a meeting, Michael. Talk to them. I will go see Liz. I will explain to her about you... and the skins and... her."
"Max? Are you sure? I mean, Liz is in love with you. She wouldn't want me. She would never..."
"Max?" his father called out from the door. He sounded angry. "Is that you? Where have you been? It's late!"
"We've been out here, Mr. Evans," Michael covered for Max with a simple lie, "all evening. Just jawin'."
"Oh, okay. Well, you better come in now, Max." He turned back indoors, leaving the door open for Max.
"I think things are getting serious, Michael," Max urged him, while rising from the lawn. There was a look of intense sadness on his face. "It's not about relationships any more. We need to do what needs to be done, in order to stay alive. You set up a meeting with your skins. I'll talk to Liz. I'll make her see that it's for the best."

***

*sad*
posted on 20-Dec-2001 4:15:03 PM by WR
Well, it's all happening now!

Part 38

Max dragged the heavy chest out from the back of the garage and stacked it neatly against the other boxes he had pulled out, along with the lawnmowers, the garden furniture, and the old bicycles he and Isabel never rode anymore. He collapsed onto a nearby chair, pulled the front of his T-shirt up and mopped his face, which was dripping with sweat. It was too hot a day to be working like this. Already today, he had cleared out the guttering, and mown the lawns. Now it was the time for the garage to be cleared.
"Quite the busy beaver," his father called from the car as he was preparing to leave for the office. He was going in late that day. "You'll probably have that done by lunchtime, yeah?"
"Sure, Dad," Max smiled from the chair, looking at the stack of junk he had pulled from the garage.
"Well, in that case," Mr. Evans chuckled, "I'll call with some more chores for you, later."
"Gee, thanks, Dad," Max groaned. "Aren't you going to be late for work?"
"That's the good thing about being in charge, Max," his father laughed. "You get to schedule your day so you can spend time with the people you love."
"I'll have to remember that, Dad," Max smirked.
"You do that, son. You do that."
"Yeah," Max chuckled, watching his father climb into his car. With a wave, his father pulled out of the drive, and was gone.
Almost immediately, Max's mother emerged from the house with a large glass of iced water. As she crossed the driveway towards him, a car pulled onto the driveway. With a huge smile on her face, Liz emerged from the passenger seat carrying a large pitcher of lemonade. She walked towards Max, with a little hesitation when she saw his mother.
"Well," his mother winked. "I was going to offer you some water, but I can see which you would prefer. Hello, Liz."
Seeing that Nancy Parker was still in the car, Diane Evans walked towards her.
"Why don't you come in for some coffee, and a piece of cake, Nancy," she invited Liz's mother.

Liz watched her mother disappear into the house with Max's, and turned to him.
"Hey, Max," Liz smiled with affection. "I missed you last night."
"Me too, Liz," he smiled back. "I'm sorry that I couldn't be there. You know, it's just..."
"No, no, no, Max," she laid her hand on his arm. "That's okay."
"Did it all go okay?" he asked. "I mean, it was worth it?"
"Oh, yeah. Dad's really pleased. I think everyone enjoyed it."
Liz leaned in, and gave Max a gentle, loving kiss. Not moving away, they teased at each other's lips, nipping, and caressing until they were involved in a full-blown lip lock.
"I'm sorry, Liz," he grinned. "I must smell terrible."
"Yeah," she giggled, screwing up her nose. "Kinda. Oh, hey! I made you some lemonade. I thought it might refresh you."
"You refresh me, Liz," he replied, looking into her eyes.
Liz gave a bashful smile and poured lemonade into two plastic cups. She handed one to Max, paused and then looked down to the ground.
"Um... Max?" she murmured. "Promise you won't get mad?"
"Sure," he looked worried.
"It's just that, last night? Sean started to throw his weight around a bit. He kind got a little... rough on me."
"What?" Max leapt to his feet. "Liz, are you okay? Did he hurt you?"
"No, no, Max. Calm down," she urged. "No, he didn't hurt me, and yeah, I'm all right. Isabel was there, and she got rid of him."
"She never said," he narrowed his eyes.
"'Cause I asked her not to. I wanted to tell you myself, so you wouldn't go out and do something stupid. And Max? You are not to go out looking for him."
Max looked like he wanted to argue, but he saw the determination in her eyes.
"Okay," he sighed. "But I don't want him any where near you. I don't want him going to the Crashdown when I am not there."
"Yeah, I think he might avoid me now. But I told my dad what he did. I know that whatever my dad does won't attract the attention of another FBI alien hunting unit."

"Speaking of alien hunters, Liz," Max spoke with a gentle hesitation, "Michael and I had a run in of our own. We think it was the same two guys that took Kyle."
"Oh, Max!" her eyes widened with fear. "What happened? Are you okay?"
"Yeah," he smiled, holding his hand to her cheek. "We took care of them."
"Max, you didn't..." her eyes were wide, frightened.
"No, they're alive, Liz," he explained. "We just knocked them out. We took them to River Dog."
"River Dog? Why him?"
"Because he has non alien methods of making people forget what it was they saw," he winked. Max explained what River Dog was doing with the men.
"Oh," Liz' nose wrinkled once more. She didn't really approve. "I suppose it was the only way. Maybe you should have questioned them first."
"Yeah, but they're probably just some goons who didn't know who was hiring them."
"Okay, maybe."
"Liz?" The strain in Max's voice caused her to look up sharply. "We need help. We need the skins loyal to Michael, to help protect us. All of us."
"He told you about last night?"
Max nodded.
"We need those skins on our side, Liz."
"But, Max? That would mean you stepping down as leader. I mean, couldn't that cause all kinds of trouble? What about your people back home?"
"There's nothing we can do about the people back... on Antar. We need to sort this out down here. Liz? I don't think you'll like this. In fact, I know you won't like this. But it's the only way to ensure your safety. Our safety. Um...listen, it's like this..."

***

Michael looked troubled. He paced back and forth on the raised stage in the high school's auditorium, frantically searching for an alternative solution to his current dilemma. He glanced at his companion, seated on one of the two chairs placed on the stage, reminiscent of a pair of thrones. He had no idea what Max had said to Liz, but he was surprised, to say the least, when she appeared at his door with tear rimmed eyes to tell him to arrange this meeting with the rebel skins. Sitting quietly, she looked as sick as he felt, sick and disturbed at the thought of this betrayal of Max. It was no surprise to see fear in her face, as well. He wondered what these skins wanted from her, though it was amazing how regal she appeared just now. Did they think that Liz would follow them back to Antar, to rule by his side as his Empress? Although that thought was not all that unpleasant, he knew what title truly belonged to this dark haired teenaged girl that was so important to Max. And he to her. The situation must be bad for both of them to contemplate such a drastic course of action. The sound of an opening door drew their attention.

Two young people stepped into the auditorium, Layla and another guy Michael had not seen before. They seemed more cautious than nervous. In opposite directions, the two skins moved around the edges of the large hall, checking potential hiding places for any threat to them, or the others. It was how they had survived for so long.
"We're the only ones here," Michael assured them.
Layla nodded, but the two of them continued their search. Satisfied that Michael spoke the truth, the young man went to the door, while Layla approached the stage. Two more men entered, followed by another woman. They arrived a few at a time, twelve in all. While one man kept watch by the door, the remaining eleven formed a loose group in front of Michael and Liz.
"I am not happy with this, Grodak," one of the men announced. Around him a few others nodded their agreement with a soft murmur. "Who is watching Nikolas? He could be up to anything right now, and we won't know about it."
"I agree," another called. "We should be preparing for the last stand that must surely come, not here, talking to Zan's lackeys."
"Michael has indicated that he is ready to lead us," Layla admonished. "We have thoroughly checked the area for traps, we are in no danger. We have our spy in Nikolas' camp who will tell us what we have missed. Let us at least resolve this."
The skins eyes, filled with expectation, turned to Michael. He released a heavy sigh, and looked momentarily at Liz.
"We are ready to listen," he said in a voice that he wished held more authority. "We are ready to lead you against the others. But I... I don't know how."

The skins all shared excited looks and then look expectantly at Michael first and then Liz. They all appeared grateful, as though it was because of her that Michael was even there at all.
"We need a unified front, Michael," Grodak explained, "behind you. You were popular at court. Everyone admired you for your efforts to resist Kivar, and your determination to unite the factions opposed to him. Factions that had appeared as a result of Zan's rule.
"I'm not convinced," Liz stated, perhaps out of loyalty to Max. "Why is it that you would follow Michael, and not Max? No offense Michael, but you haven't exactly proved yourself, have you?"
"It is not who they are that concerns us," Grodak told her. "It is who they were, who they will become."
The skins all nodded their heads. Michael looked at Liz, clearly annoyed at her blunt appraisal of his leadership abilities.
"Then you're missing the point," Liz shook her head, and pointed at Michael. "This is who he is. He is different now. No one can say how he will turn out. After all, he's part human now. You're not exactly convincing me here. I mean, I have seen evidence of Max's leadership."
"Michael has the capability!" Grodak barked, perhaps trying to intimidate Liz. "Max does not."
"Why do you believe that?" Liz refused to be cowed.
"Because Michael has shown he can fight. He has killed."
"So what? That doesn't prove anything. Granted that in war, it's a useful trait, but wouldn't it be better to, say... capture your enemies without a single shot being fired?"
"Kivar is too clever for that. Even Nikolas is too clever for that. They are both powerful warriors, and will kill without hesitation."

"If this Nikolas is so powerful, so clever," Liz demanded, "why hasn't he already beaten you?"
"Because we are not without our own abilities, our own skills. We have proved to be more cunning than Nikolas."
"So it would take someone more clever than Nikolas to capture you? So anyone who captured you without a fight would be a great leader?
"Only Rath in his heyday had the skill to do that," Grodak smirked. Around him, his warriors were laughing. "It would take a mighty leader, perhaps Kivar himself, to capture us without a fight.
"Someone like me, perhaps?" Max asked, stepping through some invisible curtain that seemed to ripple with a strange light.
Isabel stepped through at his side, and motioned her hand towards the guard at the door. Before the skins could react, the guard felt himself pulled from his post, and tumbled into his comrades. Almost immediately, a ring of fierce flames surrounded them, a huge wall of fire that penned them in a tight group. They tried everything they could, but the barrier did not respond to any of their powers. When it became clear that Max had no intention of turning the flames upon them, they grew quite, their shoulders slumped in defeat.

Michael's jaw had dropped. He stared first at Max and Isabel, then at the skins trapped by the flames and then at Liz who was smiling at Max. Without a word, she threw herself into Max's waiting arms.
"What's going on, Max," he demanded, looking a little hurt.
"I'm sorry, Michael," Max approached his friend while still holding Liz. "I'll explain later okay? For now though, um... it was necessary."
"Did you know about this?" he asked Liz.
"Of course, Michael," she smiled. "No secrets."
"But how?" Michael pointed at the wall of fire.
"Dat'd be me," Ava laughed as her warp fell away revealing her to the room. "Sorry."
Michael shook his head in anger, and collapsed into the nearby chair. Max turned to the skins trapped by the fire.
"Your husks are nearly at an end," he informed them. "Soon you will not be able to survive any longer down here. Your part in this... war will be over. So I offer you a choice. Either you accept that your part in this is finished, that you leave this place and live out what time you have left far from here, and leave us to find a way to defeat Kivar. Or you can join us as our allies, under my leadership."
"How do we know that you won't just turn on us?" Grodak voiced everyone's' concern. "That you won't hand us over to Nikolas."
"If I wanted you dead," Max pointed out, "I would have Ava turn the flames on you. I could have you roasted."
"What about our husks? As you pointed out, they are nearly at an end."
"If you join with me, accept me as you leader, I... no, 'we' will do everything within our power to help you. And that includes finding a way to return you to Antar when all this is over."
"But you no longer have the Granolith."
"As you can see," Max smirked, "I have a few tricks up my sleeve."

***

Once again, Nikolas used the power of his mind to scan the surrounding countryside, carefully checking where each one of his warriors were positioned. He checked his watch, ready to give the order to start the assault.
"Vehicle coming, sir," one of the warriors guarding the track that led up from the main road warned.
Nikolas spun to face the road, and picked up the vehicle that was heading along the track towards them through his binoculars. It was too much to hope that it would be Max and the others. No, it wasn't them, it was VW Bug belonging to that human kid who had been hanging here lately.
"This could be interesting," he told himself. He sent his command to his hiding troops. "We go when the chamber door opens."
Ten pairs of eyes followed Sean as he parked the Beetle in a clearing below, emerge from the car, and start to walk up the slope to the pod chamber. They watched as he blindly groped along the rock face, as though he were looking for something, something it seemed that he expected to be there. His shoulders dropped in momentary defeat, before he started slapping his hand against the wall, and shouting.

Whether he had been heard, or not, a sliver hand print started to glow in the rocks. Sean stared at it, as did the ten men waiting. A rock boulder slid inwards, and then across, startling Sean. Nacedo stepped out and a look of surprise spread across his face. He sensed the others that suddenly sprang from their darkened hiding places and rushed at the door.
"Traitor!" he hissed, thinking that Sean had lead Nikolas straight to him. He raised his arm at Sean.
Sean did not see this, he was too busy looking with fear and surprise at the men swarming towards him. He felt his body fly through the air, past the balls of bright light that flew towards where he had stood. He collided with one of the approaching men, and bounced down a ravine, and into a gully. Nacedo, meanwhile, was putting up a stout defense of the chamber, killing three and taking out another four of the attackers with his own energy bolts before he was finally incapacitated. As he was pinned to the ground, he saw Nikolas stand over him, looking the same as he did those 50 years ago.
"You are on your own, Terped," he spat. "Rath and Lonnie are dead, and the only two men to respond to your call are my prisoners. Please give me an excuse to kill you now."
Nacedo stopped struggling.
"Shall we go in and make ourselves at home?" Nikolas smiled.
Nacedo said nothing, but one of the men holding him grabbed the back of his head, and forced it in a nodding motion.
"Thank you," Nikolas smiled, and stepped over Nacedo and into the Pod Chamber.

"You back already?" Tess asked crawling through the tunnel from the Granolith chamber. "Did you..." That was when she saw him. "Nikolas?" she exhaled. "What are you doing here?"
"Well, well, well," he smiled, with a fake bow. "Your highness."
"Don't you mean 'Your Majesty?'" she demanded loftily.
"Don't be stupid, little girl," he spat. "You were never ruler."
"Nevertheless, I am Zan's wife."
"Only because he was too stupid to see you for what you were. And he is still the same. How's that brat of yours?"
"The Crown Prince, you mean?" Tess held her hands protectively over her stomach.
"Yeah," he sneered. "The brat." He looked past Tess, and saw the tunnel through which she had emerged. He crawled through and stopped when he saw the Granolith. He smiled broadly, and backed his way out.
"The Granolith is here," he smiled to his men.
"A lot of good it will do you though." Tess sneered.
"And why is that?"
"Because it needs Max to operate it."
"Then we shall have to get him to operate it for us."
"Yeah, like he's going to do that."
"Bind him," he told his remaining men, indicating Nacedo. "Do I have your word that you will not try to flee?" he asked Tess.
"Flee? Where to? Who to? Do you think Max will voluntarily help me now? Listen, I don't care who holds power. I will get mine from the fact that I am the King's mother. I don't care who it is who really rules. As long as I get my rewards."
Nikolas laughed.
"The rest of you, search for that earth kid, Sean. He's probably half way to Roswell now. When you find him... kill him."

***

Okay, so you all saw that one coming right? Like Max would ever willingly give up Liz in MY world ;) (Rostrin - hmmmm - even Max and Liz had a hidden agenda! LOL)
posted on 22-Dec-2001 3:50:35 PM by WR
See? Do I ever let you down? *big*

Part 39

With a line drawn onto the auditorium floor, using all the chalk that they could find, Max, Isabel, Michael, Ava and Liz formed a pentagram around the remaining twelve skins. Each one of the five of them took a point on the pentagram, and each held one of the small healing stones in their hands. Their eyes were closed and, as instructed by Max, they were concentrating their minds on the glowing rocks. Max concentrated on all five of their stones, and gathered the energy from them. When he felt that he had absorbed all he could handle, he focussed that energy on the symbiotic husks of the skins inside the pentagram. He managed to use this energy to replenish them, even if only for a short while, giving them more time. As he felt the last of the absorbed energy leave him, his surroundings went dark. He started to sway.
"Max!" Liz shouted, trying to make him keep his attention focussed on her.
Max looked at her, her shape blurred and watery.
"Stay with me, Max," she urged, then turned to others. "Someone get me a chair."
At once, fifteen chairs appeared.
"Aliens!" Liz rolled her eyes, taking the chair from the person nearest to her. It was the one Michael had called Layla. She gently eased Max, who gave out a low groan as he sank back into the chair.
"Did it work?" his whisper was hoarse, almost inaudible.
Liz looked up to the man who seemed to be the Skin's leader, Grodak. "Has he done it? Has it helped at all?"
"Yes," Grodak nodded. "I believe that he has given us an extra month at least." Around him, the others nodded their agreement. They all appeared grateful.
Isabel arrived at Liz's side with a glass of water. Where she had obtained it from, Liz did not ask. She nodded her thanks, took the glass, and helped Max drink the refreshing water.
"Is there anything we can do?" Grodak asked. "Can we help in any way?"
"Thank you," Liz smiled. "But no, not really. He just needs to rest is all."
"Will you thank him for us?" he asked. "When he has recovered? Give him our thanks, and tell him that Michael knows where to find us."
Liz nodded, while Isabel and Ava escorted the skins from the building.

When the last skin had left the auditorium, Liz turned to Max, and slapped his shoulder. "Next time, Maxwell Evans, you take more energy from us, and less from yourself," she scolded. "You can't keep doing this to us. To yourself!"
"No, ma'am," Max smiled.
Liz blushed.
"Besides," he groaned. "I hope to find a more permanent remedy by the next time."
"As long as you don't kill yourself doing it, Max," she scolded. "We need you too, just as much as we need them." She paused. "I need you." Liz hugged him. His hands, still shaking with his weariness, caressed her hair.
"I love you, Liz," he smiled.
Liz blushed again, looking fiercely at Michael, daring him to comment.
"So it was all a trick?" Michael asked. "Liz coming to me, pretending she was prepared to ditch you for me?"
"Yeah, I'm sorry, Michael," Max mumbled. "We had to do it this way. If you knew what we were up to, you wouldn't have appeared so nervous, so... afraid. You would have seemed too willing. They would have spotted that."

"But what about Liz?" he demanded. "She seemed real nervous to me, too."
"I was, Michael," she confirmed. "Very nervous. I mean, anything could have gone wrong."
"Well, thanks," Michael at last mumbled after a struggle against some inner turmoil. "I mean for the skins. Helping them like that. I would never have thought of trying that."
"Sure you would have, Michael," Max slapped his back.
"Oh yeah? Why do you say that?"
"'Cause it was Liz's idea," Max winked.
Michael looked at Max in his chair, and then at Liz standing by his side, her arm draped over his shoulder. This looks so right, he observed. He nodded to them both, turned and left for home. It had been a long night.
"Maria's gonna be disappointed," Liz smiled, turning her body to sit down on Max's lap, and wrapping her arms around his neck.
"How's that?" he asked.
"You know that band? The one that played at the Crashdown the other night? Well, they were here tonight. They were skins."
"I guess they were trying to split Maria and Michael up," Max narrowed his eyes, "thinking he would find it easier to move in on you."
"I better talk to her," Liz laughed, and pulled herself closer to Max's face. "Right after I check to see if you have any after effects left."

***

After Sean had tumbled into the gully, he had but one thought. To get away from whatever was going on up there. If the newcomers didn't attack him, he was only too aware that Nacedo would, thinking that he had betrayed him. Not sure about how Nacedo managed to throw him backwards so far, or what weird weapons the others were using, he had to get away. He hurried along the depression he found himself in, and fled up a short slope. Over the top of a small rise, he scrambled down a cascade of loose shale, fell a short distance and crawled along the small gully he rolled into. He found a large flat rock that had propped itself against a wall, providing a place to hide. One thing Sean had learned in his short life of crime, was when to run, and when to hide. He would be a dead man if those people, a rival gang or cult, in all probability - though he would not put it past being the Ku Klux Klan - catch him. He had only one hope left now.

Safely hidden behind the rock, Sean waited for hours. When he felt sure that the others would have moved their search away from the area, he crept from his hiding place, and took a good look around. He knew that his VW would be watched by whoever it was that had won the earlier confrontation, so he headed across the desert, to the dark stripe he could just make out, that he hoped was the highway. Once he had successfully located the road, he walked along it, away from Roswell. He needed to distance himself from what was going on, needed to lay low for a while. While he hid from any cars that appeared on the road from behind him - it could be his enemies searching for him - he took a calculated risk that the first car to approach him from the other direction was just a traveler. Holding an old tree root, which Sean knew would look like a gun to the oncoming driver, he stood in the middle of the road, as though he would shoot if the man didn't stop. Fortunately for Sean, the man stopped.

"Get out of the car, now!" He shouted at the man, pointing the root directly at him.
The car door opened, the man started to emerge.
"Please, just don't shoot, mister," he begged.
"On the floor," Sean barked, and moved towards the man who was starting to lower himself.
"Just don't shoot," the victim whimpered.
"Shut up!" Sean started to search the man, and pulled his wallet from his pocket.
"Take it," the man on the ground begged. "Please, take it and go. I won't say a word."
Sean took the man's wallet, and after checking that the keys were in the ignition, climbed into the car, and started the engine. In a cloud of dust, and accompanied by the loud screeching of tires, Sean turned the car 180 degrees, and raced up the road away from Roswell, towards Midville.

A mile away from a cheap motel on the outskirts of the town, Sean turned the car off the road and into the desert. After hiding the car behind some rocks, he hiked the last part of his journey, keeping off the road, to the motel. Fortunately, the man he robbed had enough cash to pay for the room. After checking in, he walked into town, to an all night convenience store where he used the stolen credit card to purchase some food and drink, a clean T-shirt and some medical supplies. He then dumped the evidence that he had robbed the man in a nearby trash can, and returned to the motel. He would hole up there for the night, patching up his cuts and scrapes as best as he could. Tomorrow night, he decided, he would return to Roswell and use the after-shave with the pheromones. He would apologize to Liz for his behavior, and because she would be upset at Max's disappearance, he would persuade her to empty her savings account, and run away with him. They would go north, to Canada. He needed money to flee, he knew, and having a girl with him might make whoever was searching for him over look him. Sean knew that if Nacedo or the others didn't come after him, Neptune's mob would. He did not want to be captured by either.

***

"I see that the rumors of your demise have been grossly exaggerated, Terped," Nikolas grinned when his warriors had him bound. "I had originally thought that Whittaker had become over enthusiastic and really did kill you, yet here you are as large as life."
"You know what they say about keeping good men down," Nacedo sneered in defiance.
"Yeah, but you have to be a good man, first," his captor chuckled. "And to think, that I actually believed you to be the other protector. I knew that those rejects were lying when they claimed they never had one. That they grew up alone, guided by Ava's memories, which I might add are far more accurate than yours, my dear." He sneered at Tess. "I don't suppose you know what happened to their protector, do you Terped?"
"What makes you think I would tell you?"
"I don't know. Maybe for old times sake?"
"So what will you do now, Nikolas? Kill me?"
"That's a thought. Turn your fantasy into reality, perhaps?" Nikolas looked as though he were giving the thought some serious consideration. "Nah. I'll take you and the two men I have captured back to stand trial for treason."
"Treason?" Nacedo scoffed. "Whatever his claims, Kivar does not rule, so I could hardly be said to have committed treason."
"Oh, so betraying your king is not considered treasonous these days?" Nikolas asked through raised eyebrows. "Think of how many points I might collect, what prestige and power I might gain by claiming it was I who protected Max while you sought to deal with Kivar."
"And you think Kivar will let you live?"
"Well, perhaps I might be in a position better suited to fight against him. Or perhaps I will be his man on the inside. The possibilities are endless."
"What about her?" Nacedo indicated Tess, standing to one side looking quite apprehensive.
"All Tess desires," Nikolas shrugged, "is power, and the right to call herself Queen. I daresay that anyone who offers this to her would command her loyalty. Is that not right, You high... Majesty?"
"That's right, Nikolas," she stared at him. "Just don't try and double cross me, because I am not powerless, you know. How many men have you got left?"
A dark cloud of anger passed his face as he remembered the loss of so many of his men, and how he too almost died when she created that fireball.

A group of Nikolas' warriors entered the chamber. They looked worried and apprehensive.
"We couldn't find him, sir," their leader spoke. "The earthling boy. We lost him."
Nikolas spun, his eyes blazing pure fury, and hurled a ball of energy at the men. The ball missed them, striking the wall of the chamber where it melted a small hole.
"Idiots!" he spat. "He is just a earthling. No abnormal powers, and not too bright, and you lost him?"
"Seems you have inferior men," Nacedo chuckled.
Nikolas walked up to him, and kicked him. "When I want your opinion, I'll ask for it." He turned to his men again. "Place one man to watch his vehicle, and send three into Roswell. Keep an eye out for him. I want him eliminated. But stay out of sight and keep your eyes open. Remember there are still those rebel scum lurking around hoping that dumb ox they worship will lead them. The rest of you? It's time to gather what we need. It's time to think about going home."

***

Liz checked herself in the staff room mirror, making sure that her hair was satisfactorily tied in a ponytail before she carefully placed the bobbing alien antennae onto her head. She smoothed her apron and checked to make sure that she had her pad and pencil tucked in her pocket. In the reflection of the mirror, she saw Michael come into the room through the back door, ready to start his shift.
"Hey, Michael," she smiled, wondering if he might hold a grudge for the way she and Max had tricked him. "Are you okay? About last night, I mean?"
Michael looked at her, his mouth was a tight narrow line. Finally, his shoulders dropped, and he exhaled sharply. "Yeah," he sighed. "I mean, I know what you and Max did was for the best, but being left out of the loop like that... I don't even know if I'm needed anymore. I mean, you're more of a second in command than I'll ever be."
"Oh, Michael, I'm sorry," Liz placed her hand on his arm. "I never wanted you to feel like that. I mean, you know I love Max, right? It's just, I'll do whatever I can to help him. And I'm sorry if it sometimes looks like I'm trying to take him away from you. It's just..." she waved her hand in frustration. "A whole lot of this mess could have been avoided if we all trusted each other. If we all helped and supported each other."
"You mean me."
"No, Michael. All of us!"
"Even Tess?"
"Liz fell silent, a momentary anger blazed in her eyes. "No," she whispered while shaking her head.
Michael just laughed.
"Thank you, Liz," he said at last. "For everything you've done for us. You know, the future, the skins," he shrugged, "stuff."
"Yeah, I know I did it for Max, but I did it for you guys, too. I mean, I could have had Max to myself for a long time."
"Well, just know this, Liz. In the same way that I love Isabel, you know, like a... sister... well... I love you, Liz."
He stepped closer to her, and embraced her in a big friendly hug.
"Jeez, come on guys!" Maria snapped, entering the room as Michael and Liz quickly jumped apart. "It's chaos out there tonight, and I could use a little help."

***

After the initial rush had finished, the routine of the café had dwindled to a few customers ordering only drinks. Michael had finished his shift long ago, and Jose was now working the kitchen. Maria and Liz were tidying up the diner, getting ready to close up.
"Maria?" Liz called, "could I borrow your rag? I just had to throw mine away."
"Oh yeah, here," Maria threw the cloth a little harder than she would have normally. "You keep it. Why not?" She sounded off.
Liz had noticed that Maria had been snippy all night with her. She wondered what she might have done to upset her. But there were still customers in the café. It could wait. At last, the remaining customers left, leaving Maria and Liz alone.
"Are you angry with me, Maria?" Liz asked, walking up to her friend.
"Does Max know about this?" Maria demanded.
"About what? About you being angry?" Liz asked.
"No. About you and Michael," Maria's eyes were blazing. "How could you do it, Liz? How could you do that to me? To Max? After all you said about 'no secrets.'" She drew imaginary quotation marks in the air.
"What?" Liz shrieked. "Maria, what are you talking about? There is no me and Michael."
"I saw you, Liz!" Maria had her hands on her hips, and was leaning over slightly, shouting. "I heard Michael tell you he loved you and I saw you two hugging. And last night? I saw you, Liz. I saw you and Michael sneaking into the high school alone. Wanna 'xplain what that was about?"
Liz explained. She told her how Max had come to her with a plan that involved pretending to stand down, so that Michael would lead them, and bring the skins loyal to Michael into their sphere of influence. Only it had been a trick, and now the rebel skins had sworn allegiance to Max. Out of sympathy for her friend, and for Michael, Liz neglected to tell Maria about the idea that Michael dump Maria for Liz.
"Oh, and Maria? That band? The ones that wanted you to audition? They were the skins, well, the rebel ones. I think they were trying to isolate Michael from you, you know, to make him more... manageable, I guess. And it worked. Michael thinks you're not interested anymore. He told Max as much."
Maria looked around the room. "Liz? Do you mind if...?" She left the question hanging. "It's just... I need to go and see Michael."
"Yeah, sure. Get out of here, Maria."
Maria ran into the back room. A few moments later she emerged in her jeans and shirt, heading for the door. She stopped, and looked back a Liz with a huge smile.
"You know, Liz, I really think that this is over. I think were going to get our 'happily ever after.'"
"I hope so, Maria," Liz sighed as Maria left. "I hope so"

***

After giving a smile and a shrug to Jose, Liz turned her attention to the milkshake machine. As she started to clean the intricate mechanism, a new customer entered the café behind her. She pulled a frown, wishing that she had locked the door and flipped the closed sign. Taking her order pad, she approached the diner, now hidden by the menu he held in front of his face.
"Hello, my name is Liz and I'll be your waitress this evening," she tried to sound enthusiastic. "Can I get you anything?"
"Hello, Liz," the customer dropped the menu, revealing himself.
"What do you want?" Liz demanded through narrowed eyes as she stared at Nikolas.
"Uh, I just want a King Of an Alien Race on a Platter, please," he leaned back with a grin.
"Um, you know... I don't think we have that on the menu," she shrugged, looking out through the window hoping someone might be around. "How about a Rebel Without a Clue? To go."
"Oh very good," he complimented her wit. "So, I'll have a Blood of Alien Smoothie."
"Okay... I'll just go..." Liz spoke while backing away, "and get you... oh."
She had bumped into someone, someone that stood directly behind her. She looked around and saw the large bulk of Grier, and another skin.
"You can come quietly, little Lizzie," he sneered, "or you can try to kick up a fuss. I know which these two big strong men here would prefer."
Liz released her breath in a long slow sigh. Her shoulders slumped and her head dropped in defeat. She knew that she stood no chance against these three, and that they would somehow use her against Max.
"Sorry, Max," she whispered in her mind.

***
posted on 24-Dec-2001 4:09:32 PM by WR
Thank you so very much for your continuing support. I always enjoy reading your thoughts and guesses.

Part 40

Max sat in his room, staring up at the ceiling. His CD player remained silent beside him. Somehow, there was no music that seemed to match his buoyant mood. Although he was wishing that he was with Liz, he could not help smiling. It was only the fact that his parents had grounded him for his sudden disappearance that was keeping them apart this time. Beyond all hope, they had found each other. Max smiled at the thought of he and Liz together again. That and the fact that she had done so much for him, even when he thought she had been... betraying him, she had been working for him, for Michael and Isabel too. Working to protect him, to keep him... safe. And now they had allies. He had proved himself worthy to the rebel skins, who had now sworn allegiance to him. Max would have to admit that things were finally looking good.

He sat upright, quickly fighting off an intense wave of uneasy feelings. He could have sworn that he heard Liz whisper "Sorry, Max" in his mind. That, of course, was ridiculous. What had Liz ever done to be sorry for? It was he who should be apologizing to her. Nevertheless, he was suddenly possessed by an overpowering urge to visit her. It was so demanding that he knew he had to break his curfew, he just knew that something was wrong. Carefully arranging his bed to make it appear as though he was in it, asleep, he climbed through the window and hurried through the darkened streets to the Crashdown.

He felt quite relieved as he approached the Crashdown, still fully lit up. That relief faded as he drew near and could not see anyone moving inside. The door was unlocked, and the bell ringing above the door when he entered brought no one out from the back room. That was the first place Max checked. With panic rising in his heart, he turned towards the phone, when he saw the other cook, Jose, slumped on the floor in the kitchen. Max went to his side, and quickly spotted that he had been knocked out, in much the same way that Max had put the Air Force guard and that thug the other night to sleep. Whatever was going on was alien related. Max soon had Jose coming 'round.
"What happened, man?" Jose groaned after finding himself on the floor with a concerned-looking Max leaning over him.
"I think you must have fallen asleep, Jose," Max suggested, helping the cook up. "Um, I don't suppose you saw what happened to Liz, or Maria?"
"Well, Liz let Maria go home early. They had some kind of fight, I guess. But I never saw where Liz went. Maybe she's gone upstairs?"
"Maybe," Max looked at the back door. "Look, why don't you go home. I'll lock up for you."
"You sure?" Jose asked. "Okay, man. I'm, gone."

When Jose left, Max slipped upstairs into the Parker's apartment. Liz was not in her room, nor was she in the living room where her parents were asleep in front of the TV. After checking to make sure they were both okay, Max let them sleep. He fixed Liz's bed so that it looked like she was tucked in. There was no need to worry her parents just yet. He slipped back downstairs to the café, pulling out his cell phone. Brody was sitting in the corner booth, carefully watching Max as he entered the room.
"Brody," Max exclaimed. "I'm sorry, were just closing up."
"No," Brody shook his head. "It's Larek, Za... Max."
"Larek?" Max slid into the booth opposite him. "What happened here? Where is everybody? Where is...?"
"Liz?" Larek continued for Max. "Nikolas has her."
"What?" The panic in Max's voice was evident as he leapt to his feet again. "What happened? Is she all right? Did he hurt her?""
"Relax, Max," Larek urged. "She will be safe. Nikolas won't hurt her. He needs her as a bargaining chip and he knows how you will react if any harm befalls her. Trust me, Max. He will look after her as carefully as you would."
"What does he want, Larek? I mean, Kivar already has the Granolith..."
"Kivar doesn't have it."
"What?"
"He doesn't have the Granolith."
"But Tess left with it, she took it back..."
"If she did, she never arrived on Antar."
"A boy!" Max spat.
"Excuse me?" Larek asked, a look of confusion on Brody's features.
"She was right," Max waved with his hand. "I'm not a king, I'm a boy."

"You need to hold yourself together, Max. I think this is it. For your sake, for Liz's sake, for all our sakes, you've got to keep in control. You are going to need to be strong, stronger that you have ever been before."
"But Liz... she's my strength."
"I know, Max. But you don't need her at your side to use that strength. I don't know how, but it seems that you're connected. Use that connection."
"But this is just Nikolas. If I defeat him here, how will that help the people of Antar? Larek, will I have to return to Antar? Will I have to leave Earth?"
Larek rose from his seat, and crossed the café. When he reached the doorway, he paused, and turned back to Max who had been watching him, expecting an answer he did not want to hear, to the question that he did not want to ask.
"Trust your feelings, Max. Trust in everything you have ever felt about everybody. You will hear things... see things... They will trick your mind, they will fool your eyes. Believe in what you feel. Only your feelings cannot be deceived."
"How does this help Liz?"
"Don't worry. Nikolas needs Liz alive. He will be in touch. Remember, Max, feelings."

***

"I knew I should never have left her," Maria moaned. She turned to Michael standing next to her and slapped his arm. "This is all your fault."
"My fault?" he defended himself. "Hey, I didn't do anything."
"That's my point, duh!" she shrieked.
"I don't think this helps Liz very much," an agitated Kyle offered, stepping between Maria and Michael.
"Kyle has a point," Isabel commented. "Liz is in the hands of our enemy, and fighting about whose fault it is won't help rescue her."
"They're right," Max stated. "Maria, if you were here, either they would have knocked you out, maybe... worse, or they would have taken you too. As extra leverage."
"So what do we do?" Maria demanded.
"We wait," Max shrugged, though the look of agony on his face belied the calm stance he was trying to portray.
"What?" four voices demanded.
"We have no idea where they might have taken her. They could be anywhere, and we would have no chance of finding them. We are not chasing shadows across the countryside. Nikolas will come to us."
"I could dream walk her," Isabel offered. "Maybe she was awake when they took her. Maybe she know where she is."
"I somehow think Nikolas would have that covered," Max said quietly, sitting in the booth. "Sit down guys. I learned something else tonight."

Kyle, Michael and Maria slid into the seats opposite Max, while Isabel slid next to him.
"It's about Tess," he said, keeping an eye on Kyle. He saw him close his eyes to hide the pain. "Tess and the Granolith never reached Antar."
"You mean, it was destroyed, or something?"
"Well, I don't really know. All Larek said was that she never reached Antar. We can assume that she crashed or something, but my money is on another option."
"What option is that?" Maria asked.
"She warped us that day in the chamber, too. She never left. Everything we saw was an illusion. I bet if we go back to the chamber, it will be as if nothing happened."
"Do you think that might be where they have taken Liz?" Kyle asked.
"Maybe, but I doubt it. Though if the Granolith is there, so is Tess and Nacedo."

There was a sudden pounding on the front door. Thinking it might be Liz, Maria was up, and across the room before anyone could stop her. With a complete lack of caution, she threw open the door. Sean barged in past her, and moved towards the table, scanning the people.
"Where's Liz?" he demanded.
"You're not welcome here," Max said in a slow, quiet tone. "Please leave."
"Especially not drenched in that after shave," Maria held her nose.
The others waved their hands in front of their face, trying to somehow dissipate the strong smell of cologne emanating from Sean.
"Since when did you own the Crashdown?" Sean yelled. "I want to speak to Liz!"
Michael stood, and squared up to Sean. "He told you to leave."
"Not until I speak to Liz." Sean's stance was evident that he was prepared to fight. He looked around again, and a sudden realization hit him. "Oh god! She's not here. They've got her, haven't they?"
Kyle grabbed Sean by the collar, and started to pull him towards the door.
"I know about you!" Sean cried, his voice was on the verge of panic. "I know all about you. I also know a lot more than you do! Let me stay, protect me from those lunatics and I'll tell you everything I know! They're after you, Evans! They're all after you!""
"Wait!" Max called to Kyle. "Sit down, Sean. Tell us everything."

***

"So it was you?" Kyle demanded. "You set me up?"
"Well, only in a way. You see, that stunt with the gunmen was to lure whoever it was that helped Liz that time the gun went off. My employers think he has some kind of... um, abilities. Like one of those faith healers, or something. Anyway, they wanted him, for some reason. I think the head honcho needs those abilities 'cause he's sick or something. Because you came in, they decided it was you."
"But you already knew it was me." Max commented. "Why didn't you tell them that?"
"Because Harding told me not to. I even tried to stop Valenti letting you go in. How was I to know you already were inside, and that Kyle would play the hero?"
"What exactly did Harding tell you about us?"
"Just that you ran away from their cult, and that because of what you can do, they want you back. Can that Tess really hypnotize people?"
The five teens exchanged a look of amusement.
"Yeah," Maria laughed. "She can make you believe anything she wants."
"So why did those two goons come after you the other night, Max?" Michael asked. "You know, the letter and stuff."
"Because Sean decided to play the game on his own. He wanted me out of the way so that he had a free run on Liz. You thought she might turn to you thinking I had run off to be with Tess. Isn't that right?"
"God, Sean. You so do not know Liz," Maria snapped. "She would have seen straight through that."
"Well, let's just say, that I have me a little equalizer."
"You mean the stuff you put in your cologne?" Isabel asked.
Sean looked surprised.
"Stuff?" Max asked.
"Yeah, I can detect it, just barely," Isabel confirmed. She stepped closer to Max so that only he could hear. "I know the smell of the cologne he's wearing. Alex used to wear it. There's something else in there, probably a pheromone. I think Liz is supposed to be attracted to it."
"Isabel, can you, you know... find out how much of what he says is true, and how much he is hiding?"
"Yeah, Max. As soon as he is asleep."

The door to the café suddenly opened. All six teenagers turned to the newcomer, a burly looking thug.
"No!" hissed Max as both Michael and Isabel started to raise their arms.
"Kill me," the man sneered, "and kiss the girl goodbye. And that would be such a pity, because she is so accommodating right now."
"What does he mean, kill him?" Sean demanded. "Have you guys got guns? And what does he mean... accommodating?"
"He's just being melodramatic," Max smirked. "If Nikolas went to the bother of taking Liz, it's because he wants something. Nikolas knows that if any harm comes to Liz, he can kiss any cooperation from me goodbye. So, no. If we killed you, he would simply find another way to get the message to us. Simply put, as far as Nikolas is concerned, you're expendable."
The arrogant grin faded from the man, who looked less imposing now.
"Shall I?" Michael asked.
"No," Max sighed. "Let's hear what the message is. Let's get this over with."
"Nikolas says he will release the girl if you, Michael and Isabel return to Antar with him."
"We'll need to think about it," Max informed him.
"What's there to think about?" demanded Sean. "You get your mphmphmm."
Kyle pressed his hand over Sean's mouth, silencing him.
"You have till tomorrow night," the messenger continued. "Be at the chamber at 9. Don't turn up, and Niko will kill the girl. Then he will turn on everyone you are close to, and then finally, you three."

***

"Like I said," Sean demanded when Kyle released his mouth after the messenger had left. "What's there to think about? You just give your sorry asses back to this stupid cult of yours and get the fuck away from us. Leave us in peace."
"Shut up, Sean. This doesn't concern you." Maria snapped.
"But I..."
"She said 'Shut Up,'" Michael pushed Sean into a seat.
"Maria, Kyle? What do you think?" Max asked in a tremulous voice.
"Max, I can't stand the thought of you handing yourself over like that," Kyle spoke in a quiet, compassionate tone. "You know, I know what's going to happen to you. But I don't see what choice you have. This is Liz we're talking about."
"We could fight," Michael urged. "Now we have..."
"No, Michael," Max butted in, preventing Michael from continuing, and glancing at Sean.
Michael realized his mistake, and looked away.
"Maybe Michael's right, Max," Maria told him. "I mean, I know what Liz will be like if you're gone. Trust me, she would rather be dead."
"I can't believe I'm hearing this," Sean objected loudly. "I mean, jeez. You don't even belong here. How could you even think of risking Liz like that?"
"Do you really think Liz would turn to you, Sean?" Maria asked. "Forget about it."
"Your opinions mean nothing here, Sean," Max whispered hoarsely. The only opinions I value are Maria's, Kyle's, Michael's and Isabel's. Liz' too, but she's not here. And Maria is right. I know what Liz would say."
"You've been run ragged, Evans," Sean hissed. "They've played you for a fool, and have you beaten every which way you turn."
"But I'm still in the game," Max pointed out.
"It ain't over till the fat lady sings!" Michael growled.
"Well that fat lady is warming up in the wings," Sean snarled.

Max looked at Sean, not bothering to hide the contempt he felt for Maria's cousin. He then turned to Kyle and Maria.
"I'm sorry to have to do this to you, guys, but I think that this is something the three of us will need to discuss alone. I mean... seeing as you know what is in store for us."
"Sure, Max," Kyle agreed. "Take your time."
Maria nodded her assent.
"Will you keep an eye on Maria?" he asked, knowing the Kyle would do just that. He again glanced at Sean. "And..."
"Yeah, Max. Sure." Kyle glared at Sean with contempt. "You listen here, Sean. You give me any problems, and you will wish those... thugs you saw had gotten to you."
Sean looked at Max, and smirked. Treat me how you want, he thought to himself. Liz will be mine soon, and you will be history. Things could not be going better than if he had planned them this way.

***

The four of them had driven out to the cave that Max had at one time used to hide from the others in. He had not been there since that day Liz was held hostage. Max, Isabel, Michael and Ava stood in a square, facing each other, talking about the situation.
"I guess," Max said, "that it comes down to what you all think."
"Like all the other times, Max?" Michael demanded a little irritably. "Will you listen to our advice, to our suggestions, and then go right ahead and totally ignore them?"
Max remained silent for a moment.
"No," he sighed, "not this time. I will listen to what you have to say. I will consider your thoughts and your opinions. But you need to remember that I am the king. I have more responsibilities than just the three of you. I will make a decision based on what is best, for all of us... not just on what I... or you... want."

"You know, Max," Isabel began. "All this time we've lived with Mom and Dad, I've come to think of them as my real parents. That woman, who spoke to us, she was our past, who we were. Maybe she wasn't even real, I don't know. We are different now. I'd kind of like to stay. But we have let our friends down so badly. Look how their lives have all been affected. Alex, Maria, Amy, Jim, Kyle, our parents... and even Liz. We have hurt them all in one way or another. We can't keep an eye on all of them. As much as I would hate to leave them Max, I don't want their blood on my hands. I want to know that they will be safe."
Max absorbed this, slowly nodding at all of Isabel's points.
"Michael?" he asked turning to him.
"I know I belong here, and I so badly want to be able to stay, but I can't. Everything that Isabel said, I agree with. For their sakes, we need to deal."
"Do you think that the friendly skins could watch our friends and their families?" Max asked. His tone was neutral, indicating that he had not made up his mind. But everyone knew which way he would come out. Max would never leave Liz in Nikolas' hands.
"No, Max," Michael added. "That would be a 24/7 job. I know how much you love Liz, and I know how..."
"The question is," Max interrupted, "do you want to stay? I mean, 'really' want to stay?"
"Of course!" both Michael and Isabel answered immediately.
Max continued to think. His head dropped, and he gave a final sigh.
"Okay, I've made my decision." He looked so very sad. "Let's go see Nikolas. Let's get this over with."

***

HAPPY HOLIDAYS EVERYONE!


posted on 27-Dec-2001 4:14:53 PM by WR
Part 41

"I still can't believe you're doing this," Kyle said mournfully as they walked up the hill away from the Jetta and towards the Pod Chamber.
"Liz won't thank you for this," Maria sniffed. Her arms were wrapped around Michael and tears were streaming from her eyes. "You know she would rather you put up a fight."
Both Maria and Kyle had insisted on coming with them, although they had left Sean, in spite of his demands, back in town. As he seemed to be temporarily without his car, they knew he could not follow them. Max lead the way, followed by Kyle, then Isabel, with Michael and Maria bringing up the rear.
"Do you think I could live with myself if anything happened to Liz?" Max asked.
"That's one of those questions that don't need answering, right? Rhetorical, or something?" Kyle asked.
Max gave a wry grin as he glanced back at Kyle. He paused at the entrance to the chamber, waiting for the others to catch up.
"Now remember," he urged. "Don't get involved. If they pull anything funny, I want you to take Liz, and get the hell out of here."
Kyle and Maria exchanged looks.
"I mean it," Max stated. "If you won't agree to that, I won't let you in."
"Okay," Kyle nodded with resignation.
"Yeah," Maria groaned.
Max waved his hand across the rock, causing the silver handprint to glow. He placed his hand on the mark, and the door rolled open.
"We'll just take a look. Then I'll come back and get you."
Isabel stepped into the rock doorway, followed by Michael, and then Max.
"Okay," Max called.
Kyle and Maria climbed in behind them, and followed the three aliens into the chamber.

"Max, Michael, Isabel," Nikolas called. "How good of you to join us."
"Let Liz go," Max stated. "Now."
"I always knew she would be your downfall," Tess laughed stepping out from the Granolith Chamber. She looked triumphant, but this vanished when Max and the others hardly gave her a glance. It was as though they were not surprised to see her. She was already annoyed by the smug look Parker had on her. Like she knew something that Tess didn't. Nacedo joined her, holding on to Liz, who was looking very agitated.
"Are you all right, Liz? Have they hurt you at all?" Max asked, resisting the urge to rush to her side?
"Yeah, I'm okay, Max," she smiled at him. Then her face grew stony. "You're not going to go through with this, are you?"
"I'll do anything and everything to keep you safe, Liz."
"How touching," Nikolas sneered.
"Shut up, Nikolas," Max spat. "Let's get this over with so my friends can go home."
Nikolas looked stunned at the authority in Max's voice. He did not seem to be the defeated teenager he expected.
"Okay then," he shrugged. "Seems to be no point in waiting. So what do we do, hot shot?"
"You still have the crystal?" Max asked Tess.
"Of course," Tess stepped forward, and handed the crystal to Max. "Here you are, beloved husband." She threw Liz an evil glance. "But it took hours to initialize when we last tried this."
"That's because I didn't know what I was doing," Max looked at his one time wife with coldness. "But thanks to my friends, and my true love, I am stronger now."
"So how long do we need?" Nikolas demanded.

Max glared at Tess, then at Nikolas, and finally allowed his eyes to fix on Nacedo. Nacedo could not hold that stare of pure contempt, and looked away. Max smirked, and crossed the cave to the pods. As he passed Liz, he reached out and touched her hair, before Tess knocked his hand away. He crawled through, followed by the others. Max knelt before the base and with a look of concentration, inserted the crystal. As before, an illuminated timer shone on the chamber wall, indicating that the Granolith was not yet ready. Max twisted the crystal, and waved his hand over the base. The timer slid forwards, the Granolith was ready.
"How did you know to do that, Max?" Liz asked, as Tess pushed her through.
"I just did," he smiled at her. "I think I always did. Last time I was here, I guess I wasn't ready to leave. You know, unfinished business."
Max and Liz exchanged a shy, sad smile.
"Now what?" Nikolas asked.
"Now we get in," Max shrugged. "We go home."
Nikolas looked to Tess for confirmation. She nodded at him.
"You first," Nikolas ordered.
"Let Liz go," Max countered. "Give her to Kyle and Maria."
"You pull anything, Max, and I'll kill them all."
Max nodded. Nacedo released Liz from her bonds, and she stepped away, towards Maria, who swept her up in an embrace. She turned and fixed her eyes on Max.

"No good-byes," Nikolas barked. "You stay back from the humans or we will kill them all."
But Max did not need to be with Liz to say goodbye. Their eyes, their feelings, their connection, said everything in a fleeting glance.
"Okay, so get in, already," Nikolas ordered.
With a lingering look at Liz, he reached his hand up and touched the Granolith. "I'll come back for you," he promised. Max vanished, and reappeared, hovering inside the conic device. He placed his hand, palm outwards against the interior, looking lovingly at Liz. Michael looked back at Maria, who started to cry and followed Max. He appeared behind him, looking over his shoulder at Maria. Isabel gave a backward glance, and a small wave, and she too appeared inside the Granolith.
"You and Nacedo next," Nikolas ordered.
Tess and Nacedo complied, followed by Nikolas' skins, who all looked relieved to be going home at last.
"Should we get away?" Kyle asked. "Remember what happened last time?"
"No," Liz shook her head, staring at the image of Max in the Granolith. "That was Tess' warp. It doesn't work like that."
"How do you know, Liz?" Maria asked, between her sobs.
"I just do," she shrugged.
"Well, kiddies. This will be a tale to tell your grandchildren. You can scare them with stories about the boogie men who come from a distant planet. Maybe one day, when we come to conquer you, they will remember us."
"Just go, Nikolas," Liz ordered.
The young teenager reached for the Granolith, and soon appeared inside. The images blurred, and a strange sound filled the chamber. The Granolith started to rotate. With a final loud crescendo, the blurred images and the Granolith seemed to combine, and appeared to shoot upwards as a bright beam of white light, sailing through the rock, and disappearing into the atmosphere. The only sound that remained was Maria's sobbing.
"So it's all over?" Kyle asked a little subdued. "Just when I was starting to like the guy."
"Are you guys okay?" Liz asked wrapping her arms around both Kyle and Maria.
"Yeah," Maria sniffed. "You know me, I'm Teflon, babe. But how about you, Liz? I thought you would be devastated at the thought of losing Max."
"You can come out now," Liz said plainly. At the far end of the chamber, a shimmering wall vanished, showing a grinning alien foursome. Maria looked stunned, but after a quick glance at Liz, flew into Michael's arms. Max crossed to Liz, looking a little sheepish.
"Are you cross with me?"
"Why should I be?" she smiled. "As soon as I saw Ava, I knew what you had planned."
"So you knew?" Maria demanded.
"How?" asked Kyle. "How come you could see her when no one else could?"
"I just knew," Liz shrugged, pulling Max into a tight embrace.
"Nah, it's more 'n that, Cornball. There's somethin' special about you, yo. You can see through the warps. You see things as dey really are."
"But how come she didn't see the warp that Tess made that time, you know, when we thought she left in the Granolith?" Isabel demanded.
"Well, as I recall," Liz pondered, "I was wrapped up in Max's chest. He was protecting me, again, and I didn't see a thing."
The seven youngsters stared at the space that the Granolith had once taken up. Michael stepped up beside Max, and looked up at the undamaged roof.
"What do we do now, Max?"
Max looked at Michael, and laughed, slapping him on the back.
"I can't believe you just said that."
Max took Liz, and led her through to the main chamber, and out into the daylight. When all seven of them were together, they started to laugh and talk as they headed towards Maria's car.
"Whoa," Maria said. "There were six of us last time, and that was a tight fit even then. There is no way we can get seven in my car."
"Relax," Ava laughed. "How 'dja think I got up here?"
As they rounded the large boulder, they could see Kyle's mustang parked next to the Jetta.
"My car?" he demanded, hurrying down to inspect it for damage. "You brought my car?"
"Relax, buddy," she laughed. "If I dinged it, Max here'll fix it for ya again, wontcha Max?"
"Nope," Max laughed. "I already told you, you scratch it, you fix it."
"Come on, guys," Isabel snorted, "lets just get home."
"So it's over?" Maria asked. "I can look forward to my 'happily ever after' now?"
"Not yet, Maria," Max shook his head.
Everyone stopped and looked at Max.
"We have to take care of those people looking for us, you know, the ones Sean was working for?"
"Sean?" Liz asked. "What's been going on?"
"Well, Liz Parker. You sit with me on the ride home, and I will tell you all about it."
"Yeah, right," Liz's eyes sparked with mischief. "Like we're gonna talk on the ride home. We can talk later."

***

Max entered the Crashdown Café, paused at the door to take in the scene, gave a big smile, and walked towards the booth that had become a sort of home away from home. He slid into his seat, and picked up the menu. With a huge self-satisfied smile, he started to read down the list of food items while he waited for his favorite waitress to come over and serve him.
"Hi," she smiled, and kissed Max on the lips. "My name is Liz," she breathed sensuously as she slid onto his lap, wrapping her arms around his neck. "And I will be your waitress today." The kiss was deep, and loving. "Can I get you anything?"
"Only some more of those," he smiled. He quickly trapped her bottom lip, and started to devour her. She returned his kisses, and things were rapidly warming up.
"Um, Liz," Maria hissed. "Maybe you should save it for somewhere else."
Liz became aware that she was now the center of attention. As she blushed a deep crimson color, she slid off of a disappointed Max.
"Wow," he chuckled. "No wonder this place is popular. Do you greet all your customers like that?"
"Only the ones I know aren't supposed to be here. Only the ones who break a curfew to come and see me."
"Oh, well I guess that excludes me, then." For a moment, Max looked crestfallen.
"What do you mean?" Liz asked.
"I mean we can go out on proper dates now. We can get together in the evenings. My dad said I had done such a good job, I'm not grounded anymore."
"Oh that's great, Max," she smiled. "I'd get Maria to cover for me, and we could go out, but I got everyone kinda working hard back there. They might lynch me if I skipped out."
"Yeah, I noticed that you had more people in the kitchen than normal. What's up?"
"Max, I don't want you to take this the wrong way, or anything, okay? And I want you to know that it's not the reason why I love you."
"What isn't? Liz, maybe you should start at the beginning."
"Okay. You know when we were in Florida? And we started to kiss, that night on the beach? When we almost..."
"Yeah, I remember it."
"Okay, and then the next morning, when I tickled you..."
"I seem to recall that it was me tickling you."
"Yeah," she giggled. "Anyway, all those kisses, Max, which were really, really intense, and I didn't get a single flash from you."
"You should have said, Liz. I was kind of worried about you then."
"Okay, I missed them, but that's not important. What was important was that we were together again. But I couldn't understand why I never got them. Maria thought you had closed off, but I knew different. Anyway, when we got back, all the food made me feel sick. I couldn't eat anything."
"Yeah, I remember, but you ate that pizza."
"Uh-huh. Maria thought I was pregnant," Liz laughed. "The night that the band played, I passed out, remember?"
"Yeah, was it because of hunger?"
"I don't know, maybe. Anyway, Alex came to me, in a dream. He couldn't speak, so he mimed. I couldn't work out what he was saying. When you told me about the stuff Sean was using in the after shave, it made me think. Max? What if he put something in the food here in the Crashdown? Something that would stop us getting flashes with each other. Maybe they thought that if I didn't get the flashes, I would think we weren't connected anymore."
"But I have been getting flashes with you Liz. All the time."
"Yeah, but Max? You hadn't been eating here, had you? Not for ages."
"But our connection is deeper than that, Liz. I don't really understand it, but it is."
"Yeah, I know, Max. And one day, we'll work it out."
"So all this activity? You are...?"
"Throwing out all the food that has been opened, changing the oil we fry in, and scrubbing everything down."
"No wonder you are popular," he grinned.
"Yeah. What with cleaning, and still trying to cook, they don't like me too much right now."
"Well, Liz Parker? I still love you. And I always will."

***

Persuading Sean to set up another meeting with his 'Parole Officer' was easy. They threatened to let Liz loose on him. When she emerged from the kitchen with a very sharp knife, he agreed all too eagerly.
"What do you know about the two guys we hired to snatch Evans, DeLuca?"
"Nothing, M-Mr. Benson," an apprehensive Sean replied.
Michael had been concerned how Sean would behave with Mr. Benson, that the older man might pick up on Sean's nervousness. Max has assured him it would be all right. It was clear that Benson assumed Sean was worried about his latest failure.
"Well, my boss, he's not going to like this. You assured us that the Evans kid is the one we want, and when we..."
"It's n-n-not him."
"What?"
"The one you're l-looking for. It's n-not him. It's a girl. T-Tess. Her n-name's Tess."
"You're sure this time?"
"Yeah. I'm sure. I've seen her d-do things. Look, I w-want out now. She lives out in an o-old shack. Just outside of town. But she's leaving. She's gonna leave this afternoon. You gotta get her t-today. Please, just g-get her, and let me go."
"You stay put till I tell you that you can go. Draw me a map."

***

It was ridiculously easy. Mr. Benson himself, aka Mr. Beta, along with another man, Mr. Alpha, approached the old shack that Sean's map had lead them to. From a distance, they saw the blonde haired girl going in and out of the building. They approached it with caution, and burst through the door, straight into a large net. From behind the doorway, Max put both men to sleep. After Isabel wandered through their minds, they obtained the necessary information. Ava then wiped their minds clean of any and all dealings with the residents of Roswell, and with Mr. Neptune. Max and the others sorted through the few documents they could find.
"Man, I don't believe this," Kyle called from the file he was reading. "Remember those two gunmen? They were hypnotized. Mr. Alpha and Mr. Beta hired a hypnotist to set them up. Then they used him to hypnotize the deputy to release them."
"Well, that's that little mystery tied up," Max chuckled.
From the laboratory at the back of the abandoned warehouse, they called Mr. Neptune and arranged the meeting for the hand over of the goods. The only surprise came when the bonus Mr. Neptune had promised them were two armed thugs whose intention was to fulfill Neptune's desire to remove any loose ends, and silence Mr. Alpha and Mr. Beta. Ava easily taught them how to forget their life of crime, and anything that that had to do with Roswell, after Isabel extracted the details that Mr. Neptune would be meeting with a Mr. Jupiter at a rather exclusive restaurant in Albuquerque. Max angered a lot of people, including Liz, when he said that only he and Ava would be visiting the city. After a long and heated discussion, Max found that he had to agree to let them all come. He did manage to win the concession that only he and Ava would wait for Mr. Jupiter at the restaurant.

***

The tall dark-haired young man in the immaculate dark suit entered the foyer of the restaurant as though he ate his lunch at this type of establishment every day. On his arm was a ravishing young blond woman in a dark blue dress, plunging in the front to reveal her cleavage.
"May I help you?" the maitre'd looked down his long nose at the pair, which was difficult as he was shorter than the man.
"We have a reservation," the man stated as though he was not used to being contradicted, "for two, name of Evans."
"No," the maitre'd said as he ran his finger down the names of the people who had reserved a table. "No Evans here. I'm sorry, you must have made a mistake."
"It is you who have made the mistake," Max informed him with an uncharacteristic bluntness. He moved his hand down the list, shielding the changing name beneath it. "See, here it is. Evans, 2, eight o'clock."
The maitre'd looked devastated that he had made such a glaring mistake.
"Of course," he smiled. He snapped his fingers for a bus boy. "Take Mr. Evans and his guest to..."
"That table over there looks nice," Max said, pointing at a small table near the back, close to another table that was half hidden by the drapes, and a huge potted palm.
"But, sir!" the maitre'd started to object, but he broke into a smile when Max passed a hundred-dollar bill into his hand. He nodded to the bus boy, who took him to the table Max had pointed to.

"I bet he doesn't tell the IRS about that one," Max quipped, when he had taken his seat after Ava had seated herself.
"Well, seein' as it was really only a buck, I wouldn't be surprised."
"You warped us both? Here?" Max demanded.
"Nah, I just changed it. Like you did that name."
"Oh," Max smiled, a little nervous. He felt a little exposed, as the rest of the gang was waiting in the hotel across the road. With luck, they would finish up this mess, and be home before their parents missed them.
"Dis is nice," she smiled. Ava reached across and laid her hand over Max's. "I wondered when I would get the chance to have you to myself. Dis is destiny, Zan."
Max looked up at Ava, his face a mask of terror. Ava burst out laughing.
"Oh, man! Your face, Max. You really gotta learn to lighten up."
"That's not funny, Ava," he scolded, but started to smile.
"Nah, I know Liz is the one for you, yo."
"Here he is," Max hissed when he saw the dark business suited man enter the restaurant. Just as Mr. Neptune had said, he was wearing dark glasses, even indoors. Max waited for the man to take his seat, just as he had suspected, at the half-hidden table.

With as blank a face as Max could muster, Max slid from his seat, across the small gap, and into the seat opposite Mr. Jupiter.
"Can I help you?" Mr. Jupiter asked.
"No, but I believe I can help you. I believe you are looking for me."
"Son, right now I am looking for a waiter to have you thrown out of here."
"Why would you do that? When you have gone to all that trouble, paid all that money, endangered all those lives, just to flush me out?"
"What did you say your name was?" Mr. Jupiter asked, tilting his head slightly. If Max could see his eyes, he would see them narrowed in suspicion.
"I didn't. But as you seem to like using the names of Planets, and you have angered me somewhat, you may call me Mr. Mars."
"Now look, son. Don't get yourself all riled up. I was only looking for you. Anything the people I hired did that might have upset you, well, that was their doing."
"Well, thank you for that lesson on how not to be a leader, Mr. Jupiter. So?"
"So, what?"
"Why did you want to find me?"
Mr. Jupiter stared at Max, as though trying to gauge how best to deal with the man. Perhaps a partnership with him would be better than trying to force him into working for him. He had managed to defeat his plans at every turn, so perhaps honesty would be the best policy.
"Well, Mr. uh... Mars," he began. "See, I know who... or rather, what you are. You see, I have had spies in just about every federal authority around, and I heard about the presence of a... visitor a while back. Now I am an industrialist. Granted, a somewhat dishonest one, but what I produce is for the benefit of Uncle Sam as well as my pocket. I believe that you can help me. I have acquired some 'extra terrestrial' technology, but I can't make it work, and I can't replicate it. With the knowledge you possess of these technologies greater than ours, perhaps you can help me. We can become the wealthiest men on the planet. We can live like kings."
"So that's it? You sent gunmen into a café full of innocent people, you put my friends at risk, you nearly killed someone who means more to me than... You did all this for money?"
"Money is power."
"I have power, Mr. Jupiter. More power than you could ever imagine. And as for the life of a king?" Max waved Ava over. "I've been a king, and let me tell you, it sucks."
"Pleased ta meetcha, Jupy," Ava grinned. "You can call me whatever you want, 'cause you ain't gonna remember me."
She placed her hand on the back of his head, and concentrated. At last, she pulled away with a wicked grin on her face.
"What?" asked Max. "What did you do?"
"I hope he likes going through high school again," she laughed.
"You didn't..."
"Yup," she smiled. "And he won't be able to remember who he is, neither."
"Come on," Max shook his head. "Let's get out of here."

The journey back to Roswell was almost a celebration. They stopped at a convenience store and bought soft drinks, and potato chips, candy bars and ice cream. They held a mini party in the parking lot, while Max and Ava retold over and over the meeting with 'Jupy'. Everyone laughed at the story, no matter how many times they had heard it. It was over. The skins had all gone home, except the ones who were now loyal to Max, and the latest threat to their safety had been safely neutralized. Sean, grateful that he had been taken off the hook he had found himself dangling on, would forget all about the Roswell gang, helped a little by Ava, of course. The alien nightmare was over, and Maria looked forward to her storybook ending. The gang was exhausted when the two cars pulled into the parking lot at the front of the Crashdown. They had agreed to share a coffee before they all said their goodnights. With Max and Liz, arm in arm as though they planned to spend the rest of their lives like that, lead the way.
"I'm glad you're back, Max," an agitated, and exhausted Brody announced leaping from the seat he had been sitting in. "I don't have much time. I have been here too long already."
"Larek?" Max asked. "Larek, what's wrong?"
"Nikolas, Kivar!" he gasped. "Ava and the one you call Nacedo! Max, they'll destroy Antar. You have to return. You have to come back and save us, Max."
Brody's body collapsed to the floor. Max picked him up, and carried him through the crowd of curious customers to the staff room in the back. He laid him in the chair, and stood to face his friends. His face was a mask of agony.
"Don't ask it," he groaned through clenched teeth. Tears rolled down his cheeks, and with tears of her own, Liz went to embrace him. Everyone else just seemed stunned. "Don't even think it."

***

End of Book 1
TBC.


Well, I have some of Book 2 planned out, but I havn't started work yet. As soon as I get a few chapters under my belt, I will start to post again.
Take care everyone,
WR