posted on 15-Dec-2001 12:54:00 PM by Chrisken
I posted the beginning of this under a different title.

Title: A different kind of destiny
Author: Chris Kenworthy
Email: Chris_Kenworthy⊕yahoo.com
Disclaimer: Of *course* I don't own them!
Spoilers: Up to about two thirds of the way into Crazy.
Feedback: Would be nice. No -- would be *really* great.
Content: Very alternate universe, traditional canon couples. (That's right, CC. I won't be pulling any tricks in this one, I promise!! Well no, I'll be pulling a lot of tricks. But not on the canon couples hehe.)
Summary: What if the gang found a way to trust Topolsky? What if the new faces and changing roles of late season one changed, yet again? What if destiny was so completely, amazingly different than you could possibly imagine??

Section 1: Dreamstruck

(Liz Parker's diary...)

March 25th, 2000:

We met up at the Quarry again this morning. Alex was approached by a mysterious someone outside the Crashdown last night. Apparently, he claimed to be a friend of Topolsky. Personally, I think if she had any friends here in Roswell, she'd have mentioned them. Could that guy from the Crashdown be an *enemy* of hers?

Also, Alex met up with the sheriff, who kinda got rid of scary-car-guy. Alex and Max got into a bit of a difference of opinion about whether anyone else could be trusted. I tried to cool things down, pointing out to Alex that we had no idea what part of Topolsky's story might be true. He agreed, and the meeting pretty much broke up then. Max and I were in the middle, between Alex and Isabel, who had left first, and Michael and Maria, who were hanging back.

Until Alex came running back, waving Isabel to return too, calling out, "But we could, Liz! We could know what's going on in her head!"

That caused a bit of an uproar. It was a few minutes before Alex could explain his idea. "What we n-need, is to understand Topolsky's part in this. If she's trying to trap us, we need to know that for sure."

"Even if she wants to help us, she could get us killed," Michael warned. "If she's not lying, she's scared - scared of people that are probably our enemies too. If we try to help her, we could end up leading them right to us."

"Yes, Michael!" Alex agreed. "But if we know what Topolsky knows, we might be able to find a way around that danger too."

"Know what she knows..." I repeated. "Alex, what are you thinking ab--" I trailed off.

"Isabel knows, doesn't she?" Alex turned to look at her. Isabel was as pale as a ghost. "You *know.*"

"You... you can't be serious..." she murmured quietly.

"I am," Alex said confidently.

"Isabel is right, Alex," Max said, stepping between the two of them. "There's no way that... that we could do that, right now, to Topolsky of all people. If she *is* still an FBI spy, it would mean confessing everything we need to keep hidden."

"No!!" Alex was almost shouting now. I looked around to make sure that nobody else was anywhere near. "Did you forget that she used it on me? I know what it's like... she won't suspect anything more than an ordinary dream at first. And if she does..." Alex scoffed. "God, what does it matter?? They can't take this to a court... I mean, if anything, it would just frighten them."

"Wait a second," I broke in again. "What... Alex, what the heck are you talking about?"

"Don't you know, Liz?" That was Maria... I hadn't even realized that she had circled around and was standing behind me. "Didn't... didn't I tell you before?"

"Tell me what?" I was really confused by this point.

"Isabel can... can go into people's dreams!!" Maria explained. "She did it to me, way back when the sherriff was nosing around and trying to find out about Max from me... and to Alex, when he was so mad at you about the blood thing." Maria paused a moment, adding things up in her mind. "Hey, Isabel, how come you never visited Liz Parker dreamland?? She never freak you out enough??"

Isabel shrugged, her face a study in mortification by now. "It... it never came up," she said diplomatically.

"Well," Max said, trying to get things back on track, "I believe the proposal on the table is that Isabel try to dreamwalk Topolsky and find out more. Thoughts?" He sighed. "I don't know... I agree with Alex that it wouldn't be as dangerous as going up to her in person and demonstrating our powers..."

"No," Michael scoffed. "Because nothing *could* be."

"It's a good plan," Alex argued. "You're in the dark - so you need information. And the potential benefits outweigh the risks."

"I think I agree," I put in. "I still think Topolsky wants to help us. If this could be a way to persuade you guys of that, to let us help her, without endangering ourselves, I'm for it."

"I can understand that," Max said, stepping next to me. All over, it seemed like my hair stood on end as he got near. "But the big question... is for you, Isabel." He turned to his sister, and I could see the worry and concern in his eyes. "Do you think you can do this? Do you even *want* to??"

"I... I'm not sure." Isabel was looking from Max to Michael... the one of her brothers encouraging, the other frowning. "God, how do I decide??"

"Come on, Isabel," Alex said, stepping up to her, and dropping his voice to give the illusion of privacy, though I could hear what he was saying, and I think some of the others could, too. "I meant what I said, back in the Cafe yesterday. The only thing... that matters to me here, is keeping you safe. I know this might be hard, but I think it's the best way for you to protect yourself. Can you trust me on that?"

"No," Isabel said, and Alex's face fell. "I can't take that on trust alone, but I think I agree with you, Alex. I'll do it." And half of Alex's smile came back.

Michael stood in Isabel's way as she started to head back to her car. "You sure I can't argue you out of this?"

Isabel looked back at us - me, Max, and Alex. The implication was clear... according to the voting precedent we set yesterday afternoon, it was four to one... with one vote as yet uncast. Even if Maria threw her vote behind Michael, like she had yesterday, Alex's motion had carried. "No... I'm sorry Michael, but I'm convinced."

"Then you had better hurry," Michael said, sighing. "I think Topolsky will be doing her sleeping this afternoon, not tonight."

You could have heard a pin drop on the rocks after Michael said that... if anybody had brought a pin to drop. "And... and how do you know this, Michael?" Max said after a lot of seconds.

Michael groaned. "She was at my apartment last night, okay? When I got home after Senor Chows, she had found the orb, but she didn't try to take it out of the room. Yattered some nonsense about it being a communicator, or part of one, that she'd be waiting for us at Buckley point, but it'd be the last chance to make contact with her." A roar of backtalk was growing by now, but Michael drowned it out. "The *reason* I didn't say anything before now was that it didn't matter - we had decided not to fall for her mind games. But if you're going to do this dream thing, I thought you needed to know."

Isabel stepped up to Michael, smiling. "You're right." She reached up and wiped a little smudge off his cheek with her thumb. "Thank you, Michael."

* * * * *

ISABEL:

I looked around my room. My friends, all five of them, were *hovering.* I mean, I appreciate a little support, but this is getting ridiculous.

It's a good thing that Dad had to work this weekend and Mom has her Canasta game on Saturday afternoons. The six of us, coming into their house and immediately bustling up to my bedroom... it would've looked as if we were getting ready for an orgy or something. Oh my god, I can't believe I just thought that...

"Okay," I said aloud to everybody, trying to forget about that stray thought. "A lot of you are gonna have to leave - I'm never even gonna get to sleep myself with all of ya hanging around and watching me."

"Sure," Maria said. We've never been best of galpals close, and I think she was feeling as awkward about all this as I was. "Who do you want to go?"

"Um..." I tried to think. Was this tough choices day or something? "Two of you staying should be enough... Max and -" I *really* expected to hear myself say 'Michael' here, but... "And Alex."

Alex grinned so cutely when I mentioned his name. I'm not sure why I did it... well, I guess I have some ideas. This whole 'dreamwalk Topolsky' brainstorm was his in the first place, and...

And there's something so reassuring about having Alex around when things are getting sticky. I'd rather die than admit that to him, because Alex being Alex, he'd take it the wrong way. Sometimes I think the poor guy is so hot for me that he can't see straight.

Not that I don't like Alex. I've had a lot of guys drool over me in the past year and a half - the evidence is pretty conclusive that I'm a babe. No matter whether it's a macho jock, (mental shudder,) or a shy bookworm, nobody has ever approached me with the same combination of sensitivity and quiet intensity as Alex Charles Whitman. I don't feel the urge to leap into his arms with a great show of passion... (that kiss a few weeks ago notwithstanding,) but Alex... piques me. In a subtle but lasting way.

"Hey, Is? Is??" Max was almost shaking me, and I realized that I had really zoned out, just sitting on my bed and staring off into space like a zombie.

"Sorry." I shuffled up the bed so I was half lying down and half propped up by the pillows. "Give me the picture."

Liz, Maria and Michael had left already, I noticed with some surprise. I had been so lost in thought I hadn't even heard the bedroom door's creaky hinges groan. Alex was sitting over next to my desk, and Max was leaning against my hope chest, right next to the bed.

"Here it is," Max said, passing me an old sheet of glossy paper. Liz had managed to dig up a copy of the school newsletter that announced Miss Topolsky as the new guidance counselor, which was good. Without a decent color photo of her, this whole plan might have never gotten off the ground. I don't know why I need the picture to dreamwalk... I just do, somehow. I can't make the connection without that reinforcing image of who I want to make contact with, no matter how well I know them. That's why I keep last year's high school yearbook under my bed.

"Don't you need to..." Alex started, then trailed off, blushing.

I looked over at him. "What, change into my pj's?" Alex blushed harder, and I think I may have flushed a little harder myself. "It's not necessary. Come a little closer, Alex." I waved at the side of my bed that Max wasn't hovering near. Alex pulled the chair closer, sitting near enough to reach out and grab my hand. If he got up the nerve.

"So..." Alex said, clearing his throat. "What *is* necessary, Isabel? What do you have to do?"

I smiled at him dramatically. "I just touch the picture," I suited action to word, wondering if Alex could see the tingle I always noticed as my powers interacted with the photograph, "And drift off to dreamland..."

We waited. Nothing happened.

"What went wrong??" Max asked, a nervous tone in his voice.

"Relax," I told him. "No connection. She's not asleep yet."

"Are you sure?" Alex asked. He didn't sound like he was doubting me, just curious about the whole procedure.

"Positive," I assured him. "I've done this enough to recognize the busy signal. I can't tell what Miss T. is up to, but dreaming she definitely ain't."

That got a laugh from both of the boys. "So, what next?" Alex asked.

"It is not to worry, I have dream-walker auto redial," I announced. "As long as I stay here, relaxed and at least vaguely aware of the picture, as soon as Kathleen goes to sleep, I will too."

"Cool," Max opined. For a little while, silence swallowed my bedroom whole. "Should we stay quiet, or would it be better to talk?" my brother finally asked.

I laughed. "We can chat, as long as it doesn't turn into a shouting match or anything. So..." Another pause. "Anyone have a topic?"

Everyone thought for a second. "Well, there's, umm..." Max muttered.

"We could... no, that's no good," Alex whispered.

What had he been about to say? "How about that substitute teacher in English Lit??" Max tried vainly.

I was about to ask Alex what he had been thinking of, when it started to happen. A wave of exhaustion hit me, and I knew that Topolsky had fallen asleep... or started to dream, whichever it was. "Wait..." I managed to gasp, and then the bedroom faded into blackness.

* * * *

I 'arrived' in a long dark hallway. It's weird how the dreamwalking often works that way, introducing me out of sight of the dreamer. I mean, if Topolsky isn't in this hallway, why is she dreaming it?

Because it's connected to where her dream self is, I guess. Once, when I was dreamwalking my mom, I went the wrong way, trying to find her dream self, and almost fell out of the dream into blackness. There are limits to this thing, and I can't help the feeling that those limits are dangerous.

Luckily, there were no such problems this time. The second doorway I came to was Topolsky's, I could see part of her face through the little glass window.

I tried the doorknob, fully expecting the door to be locked. It was, but on this side it was just a knob, which I twisted and the door pushed in. I went through, holding the door open.

"Come on, Kathleen," I told her. "I'm here to take you out."

Topolsky looked at me with wild eyes surrounded by dark circles. I hadn't seen her myself since she came back to Roswell, but I remembered what everybody had said about how hurt and scared she looked. I had to agree. "You can't, Isabel," she said suddenly, surprising me when she said my name. I figured she might recognize me, but I hadn't expected it so soon. "The door isn't open for me."

"It isn't?" I asked, confused. As if to demonstrate, Kathleen stood up, walked towards the door, and the door jumped! No, not jumped, but *blinked* - one second it was in my hand, the next second the door was solidly closed again. I rushed to open it again, but there wasn't even a doorknob on this side, much less a way to unlock it again. I was strapped in here with Ms. T.

I turned to her, feeling the first pangs od fear myself. "What happens now?"

"*HE* comes to interrogate us," Topolsky said. Sure enough, the door was opening again, by a dark-haired, tall, broad man in a navy three-piece suit. The way he was holding the door made it absolutely clear that neither of us were getting out. Actually, he didn't give any signs of noticing me, but I still didn't think I could get out of the cell. Not that leaving Topolsky was the point - learning about her through this dream was.

Still, I couldn't fight all of the fear I felt inside me. "Agent Topolsky," the interrogator roared. "We know that you're hiding something from us about Roswell. You know that we're not afraid to kill you!! Why the fuck aren't you getting with the program?"

Topolsky blanched with obvious fear, but she recovered enough to smile a tight-lipped little smile back. I realized that this part of the dream was either a memory or a fear-induced nightmare. So far, it seemed to back up Topolsky's story - and Michael's sensible worries. "Why haven't you put me out of my misery already, Agent Pierce?" she bit back caustically. "Maybe because, for all your bluster, you *don't* dare kill me - until you know what I know, at least."

The Pierce figure stopped to consider that. "And what do you suppose we do once we realize that you're not going to tell us what you know?"

"You still won't kill me," Kathleen continued. "You'll deal first. It's a hell of a trump I've got up my sleeve."

"There are other ways, Kathleen," Pierce remarked with dangerous mildness. He made a quick gesture, and Topolsky gasped in horror. I didn't see it at first - I was looking at Topolsky myself, so I didn't see what she saw. And then there they were - masked and uniformed figures hurrying into the cell, holding Ms. T down, one of them getting a hypodermic out, restraining her arm so that it would be perfectly motionless while the needle broke through her skin...

Suddenly the scene changed. I jumped a little, though this sort of thing wasn't totally unexpected. At first it was just scattered imagery - Topolsky leaving an run-down apartment building in the south side of Roswell, noticing as suspicious characters started to tail her. Then forests surrounded the two of us, and Ms T was scurrying from tree to shrub, doing a great half-drowned rat impression, and talking out loud as she stalked along. I hurried over to walk next to her. "They *knew* what they were doing. No accidental escape. They want me to go find Max... see if I can spook him into blowing cover. But how can I not? If Pierce realizes that I'm really not going to play ball, he'll just have one of his flunkies shoot me in the head, and I'll be dead, and that'll be that."

"Okay, Kathy," I grumbled under my breath as I narrowly missed tripping over an ugly tree root. (Nature is *so* annoying.) "Not really encouraging me about your sanity here."

Suddenly there was a crash, not incredibly loud but easily heard from the woods not that far behind us. "It's *them!!*" Topolsky groaned, grabbing my arm and hurrying me along. "I think I can find a way to outplay them. Warn Max. Maybe... maybe he can protect me. It's my only hope."

Suddenly a face-painted figure in khaki fatigues stepped out of the trees ahead and to the side of us, grabbing for Ms. T. She yelped and ran away, and the guy ended up with a grip around my neck. "Hey, what have we here?" Suddenly there were others like him all around me. "Isabel Evans. Wonder if it's possible to break an aliens' arm??"

I screamed.

* * * * *

MAX:

I watched Alex watch as Isabel slept restlessly, caught in the grip of this dreamwalking thing she did. I didn't really understand the dreamwalking thing, and I didn't like that. Who could tell what the dangers might be?

Perhaps aware of my relentless stare, Alex looked up at me. "Do you think she's okay, Max?" He gestured at Isabel, as she tossed and turned, fear on her face. It was easy to see that Alex was as worried as I was.

"I don't know," I admitted. "I've never been here while Isabel did this, so I don't have any basis for comparison. From what I saw of Topolsky the other night though, I'd guess that her dreams will not be fun to visit." Alex's face fell further - this had all been his idea, and apparently he hadn't given enough attention to that detail. "So I'd assume that everything is going about as well as can be expected, until we get a new signal." Almost as if on cue, Isabel shuddered and gave out a wordless cry, which was followed by "Help, help! Let me go!!" Call it a signal to me.

Alex put a hand on Isabel's shoulder closest to him, and I took the shoulder closest to me, and we shook her gently, then not quite as gently, until sis opened her eyes. "Get your hands off me, you... oh, it's you guys."

"What was happening in there?" I asked severely.

"Topolsky's nightmare picked on me a little too," she said quickly. "Nothing to worry about. The point is... I got the dirt."

"Don't worry about that now," I grumbled. "Rest now, we'll talk about it later."

"No, we'll talk about it now," Isabel countered. "We may not have much time." She turned to look at Alex, who was staring at her with radiant interest, and began. "Topolsky's telling the truth. She wants to help us, and the FBI is watching her, trying to get the dirt on us when she makes contact. But I think I might know a way to make contact with *her* and the FBI couldn't watch."

* * * * *

I waited nervously in the dark hallway, too keyed up even to count the seconds as they passed by. How had my darling devil of a sister managed to talk me into *this*?! Well, she had kept riding on that time limit, for one thing. And Alex had been quick to take up the cause. Between the two of them and the ticking clock, I had agreed to play out my role here even though it seemed far from a foolproof plan...

My cell phone vibrated once softly and no more - that was the signal. Taking a deep breath, I stepped over to the door and opened it. At first I couldn't see anything but the bright sunlight. Then things became clear - Topolsky, wearing the ridiculous hat, heading straight past me, no more than six feet away. The menacing men in the dark navy suits were more than a block away. I smiled quickly in the direction of Alex's hideout across the street and waved Topolsky in towards the door.

She was obviously quite startled, but Kathleen Topolsky didn't hesitate. She hurried quickly past me and into the dark of the abandoned playhouse. I followed, rearranging the molecules of the door unobtrusively as soon as it was shut. By the time I caught up with Katy, she was standing near the middle of the old stage.

"This isn't the plan," she snarked with the twist of an upper lip. "I told your brother Michael - Buckley point. I was just heading there..."

"Right now," I finished for her. "We know, and we were worried that Buckley Point isn't safe - for either of us. So I arranged the meeting here."

"Okay, I guess," Katy muttered in response to that, shrugging carelessly. I waited for her to start talking again, but she didn't.

"Why did you call Michael my brother? He isn't, you know. Just a good friend."

"He's a lot more than that," Katy replied quickly. "You and your sister pretend that your relationship with Michael Guerin is purely casual, but we know better. The people I used to work for and I, that is."

In the silence after she had finished talking, a gunshot rang out!! After only a second and a half, it was followed by another. Then a loud thud - it was from the door that I had let Topolsky in through. Both of us kinduv froze, and you could faintly make out bits of speech from the agents outside.

"...I'm *giving* it the shoulder grease, I'm telling you, this thing won't budge."

"Well, it just opened a minute ago - he must have slid a bar across or something..." A few more gunshots rang out, and I couldn't help but snicker. If they had enough bullets to actually shoot open a hole in the wall, they might get somewhere. I didn't think they'd go that far.

"C'mon... there's gotta be another way into this place," the first voice said again, and I looked around quickly. The front door of the theater was locked, but not 'secured,' and the goons might be able to get in. Once through the foyer, they would be able to see us immediately if we stayed on the stage. Quickly I pointed Topolsky over to the ladder and started climbing up to the catwalk myself.

From that height, it wasn't easy to hear out of the building anymore, so I turned back to Katy. "That's... that's what I wanted to talk to you about," I stuttered, trying to get back to the old thread of conversation. "The people you used to work for. We've decided to help you against them, but I have to say that we -- don't know if some... ship is going to come and save us in the nick of time."

"One way to find out." Katy reached into a bulky pocket and pulled out a heavy metallic orb - obviously the mate of the one Liz and I had found underneath that radio tower, out in the desert. (God, remembering that night still seemed to make my blood flow warmer.) "Where's yours?"

"Umm... I didn't bring mine," I admitted. "Can I look at that one?"

She snatched the orb away. "You can't take it away from me," she snapped. "This may be the only leverage I have, and I'm not going to give it away. Not until you save me."

I thought about that a second. "Save you?"

"I'm under Pierce's magnifying glass right now," she clarified. "I can't get out from underneath it by myself no matter what I do, and one of these days he just might decide to fry me like an ant. If you and your friends can spring me, lose me, get me somewhere safe that his goons can't find me, then the orb is yours."

"Okay," I agreed. "That was the plan anyway. But we can't do it yet. Are you going to be okay, for a few days?"

This time it was Topolsky's turn to consider. "Yeah. They'll know I've made contact with you, and nobody's going to kill the lead - not until Pierce's paranoia gets pretty big, and that shouldn't be for four or five days. But you better not leave me in here to fry, Max Evans."

"I won't," I promised her. "Now, if making it clear that I found you will help..."

I watched as Katy climbed down a different ladder - trying not to be aware that the goons were just around the corner - until they stepped into plain sight, everybody spotted each other, and they pulled her down off of the wooden slats. "Where is he?"

Katy shook her head at first, playing the part.

"Don't make me hurt you, bitch!" As the large, strong man lifted up his fist to strike her, Katy let go a cry of fear and started to babble.

"He... he was so arrogant. He's headed back the way we came in - he knows how to open that door again.

The agents looked at each other, and then by unspoken agreement one of them stayed with Katy and the other hurried over to the side stage door.

Neither of them was watching as I slipped down the small staircase into the foyer and out the front door of the playhouse.

* * * * *

(LPD [Liz Parker's diary] again...)

March 26th, 2000. Just after midnight now.

Well, everything worked out for the best, it seemed. Isabel got into Topolsky's dream, learned what she needed to know, and got out without Ms. Topolsky even realizing she was more than a dream figure herself. Max seems to be none the worse for his meeting with Topolsky plus two special guests, though somehow I felt... worried in retrospect, once I heard about it. Isn't that crazy? I mean, he was fine and everything was done by the time he called me to check in, yet my mind can't help but crank out scenarios of what might have gone wrong. What if those agents had caught him? What if he'd tripped off one of those catwalks and broken his foolish neck? Well, I guess I'm being completely crazy now.

The six of us had a pleasant evening of 'staying under cover.' Nobody really felt like going out and 'pretending we had nothing to hide' again, so we all stayed in at my place. Pizza for dinner and a classic video double feature - "Monty Python and the holy grail" and "Return of the jedi."

By the time the credits had rolled up on the big victory celebration on Endor, Alex and Isabel were sitting *very* close next to each other on the floor between the couch and the tv in the living room. Maria and Michael were sitting on the couch, a little space between them like they weren't sure where they stood with each other yet, but I noticed that they'd each let a hand fall down next to the other one's hand in the space between them. As far as Max and I, he was sitting in the armchair, and I was sitting on one of the arms, with my legs crossing over his and he had wrapped one arm around my waist.

Isabel kind of stretch a little and noticed Michael's hand - the one that *wasn't* next to Maria's. "Why do you have that here Michael? We said we were going to be keeping it at your place."

Michael kinda shrugged a little. "Why the big deal, Iz? It's safer here with me and all of us than it would be in my apartment when nobody's there."

"But if you're carrying that thing with you wherever you go, Michael, somebody's going to notice and start to get curious," Maria pointed out.

"I know that," he replied with a touch of acid in his voice. "I'm not gonna 'take it with me wherever I go.' I just... didn't want to leave it there, tonight okay? Not after what Topolsky said to Max..."

"You still don't trust her, do you?" I put in.

"No, it's not that. If Isabel says she's good, I'm willing to go along with that. It's just... how the hell does she know what these things do when *we* don't."

"Maybe she's just guessing," Alex said. "These FBI types, they've probably been theorizing a lot about aliens, maybe even going back to the '47 crash, but if they knew all that much, wouldn't it have been easier for them to find you?"

"Thanks so much for *that* comforting thought, Alex," Isabel grumped.

"No, no, I get what he's saying," Max said. "These kinds of alien hypotheses probably get passed from person to person, but when they pass through enough people, sometimes they assume the status of 'facts.' We don't really know *anything* about the orbs, except that the two of them are related. Whether they're meant to work seperately or together, as a communicator, a tool, a weapon - that's for us to figure out."

"Well, have you tried *doing* anything with the one you've got?" Maria pointed out. "I mean -- start figuring, Maxxy boy. Hey Michael." She dug her elbow into Michael's ribs with a grin and a giggle. "Hand it over, spaceboy."

The orb was passed from Michael to Maria to me to Max. Max kind of held it dubiously for a few seconds. "What do I *do* to it?"

Maria sighed loudly. "I dunno, Max, this is your department. Try to connect with it. Use your czechoslovakian powers."

Max concentrated, then closed his eyes and his face somehow assumed an expression of deep meditation for almost a minute. Finally he opened his eyes and was back to his usual self. "I... I couldn't make it do anything," he admitted. "But I *felt* something - like a metaphysical dialtone almost. This thing *is* a link to soneone or something else, and I don't think it needs the other orb to work. We just need to figure out how the hell to use it."

"Hey, let me try," Isabel said, and Max handed the orb over. A lot of playing around with the thing followed. Isabel said she thought she could feel what Max was talking about, but she wasn't sure. Michael couldn't get any of it, (which he was pissed about,) and of course the rest of us couldn't either.

Everyone has gone home now. I should be going to bed. But I can't stop thinking about it all - about the orb, about Topolsky. I know I wanted to believe her from the beginning, to help her out, because she sounded so very frightened. But now that the decision's been made, I can't help but feel afraid myself. She's a dangerous friend to have, especially with this 'Pierce' person watching her.

I'd die if anybody took Max away from me now.

TO BE CONTINUED...

[ edited 2 time(s), last at 8-Feb-2003 5:43:37 PM ]
posted on 15-Dec-2001 8:05:07 PM by Chrisken
Thanks for the FB guys. I hadn't set out to do a suspense fic, but I think that's a good direction for it to lean in. ;-)

Hope I can get some of section 2 out before the weekend is out! That'd be good, huh?
posted on 18-Dec-2001 8:43:53 AM by Chrisken
"I have an idea where you might be going..."

Okay, now *I'm* curious. Where do you think I'm headed? E-mail me back if you don't want to post in on the board, okay?
posted on 11-May-2002 5:53:46 PM by Chrisken
Title: A different kind of destiny
Author: Chris Kenworthy
Email: Chris_Kenworthy⊕yahoo.com
Disclaimer: Of *course* I don't own them!
Spoilers: Up to about two thirds of the way into Crazy.
Feedback: Would be nice. No -- would be *really* great.
Content: Very alternate universe, traditional canon couples. (That's right, CC. I won't be pulling any tricks in this one, I promise!! Well no, I'll be pulling a lot of tricks. But not on the canon couples hehe.)
Summary: What if the gang found a way to trust Topolsky? What if the new faces and changing roles of late season one changed, yet again? What if destiny was so completely, amazingly different than you could possibly imagine??

Section two: Liberation, confusion, and her

(LPD - Liz Parker's diary.)

Sunday, April 16, 2001. 10:33 pm.

Been pretty dull today. Mostly just trying to pretend that nothing unusual is going on today, like an FBI agent turned guidance counselor turned renegade waiting for us to save her from the alien hunter. Plus all the usual weirdness.

Michael is insisting that it's his turn next to find a way to contact Topolsky. 'Stubborn' is a word I tend to think of often to describe Michael, but he's capable of some remarkable swings of attitude too. Once it was clear that Max and Isabel had committed everybody to this plan, Michael's only worry was making sure that it worked. He's been working on 'escape plans' for our favorite substitute geometry teacher too. (That's Ms. Topolsky too, by the way, just in case I wasn't being clear. The first time I met her, she was subbing in Mister Singer's class, before she'd even established her cover as the guidance counsellor. And 'favorite' might be sarcasm, I'm not quite sure.)

One kinda scary thing did happen tonight at the cafe. I was on shift alone, there isn't really a need for more than one person since Sunday evenings are dead for business. Max, Isabel, and Michael were all hanging around, and I was kinduv play-flirting with Max while giving him a refill - I mean, we're really past the flirting stage, but it's still fun. Isabel grumbled something about us giving her the creeps, and that's when it happened.

Sheriff Valenti walked in - he had his coffee thermos, which he sometimes gets refilled here, but I'm pretty sure he didn't come for the coffee. He asked me about Topolsky - right out of the blue. Said "I've seen her around town, and since her disappearance last November is still on file as a missing persons case, I'd like to be able to ask our Miss Topolsky a few questions. Do you know if she's gone back to counselling at the high school?"

Of course, that was an easy one, I could tell Valenti that I was pretty sure I hadn't heard anything about Topolsky working at the high school again, and that I hadn't seen her there. Then he asked me if I've seen her at all in the past month - and I wasn't sure what to say. I mean, it was a pretty clear thing that I didn't want Valenti to know all that we know about Kathleen Topolsky's return to Roswell, but I know that I'm not a good liar. So I blurted out a half-truth, that I think I remember seeing her within the past week, but she didn't talk to me. He asked me where, and I said Senor Chao's, just because I couldn't think of any other place.

"Well, at least that's a place to start," he told me. "I guess I'll go ask over at the Senor's, then. Been too long since I caught up with him anyway."

"You mean there really is a Senor Chao?" I asked like an idiot.

Valenti smiled at me, and in that second I could swear that his eyes were seeing right through me. "Oh, yeah." He put on a showy grin. "Helluva guy." And then Jim Valenti was gone, coffee thermos in hand.

Max said that I handled it find. I'm pretty sure that Michael doesn't think so, and I'd have to agree. Even if Valenti doesn't have any suspicions right now, if he asks around at Senor Chao's he might find out that Topolsky was seen at my table, talking to me, which means that he'd know I lied right there.

A little later, that Tess girl was hanging around the Crashdown. I don't know what to make of her. Isabel says that she's a new friend, but there's something about the way she looks at Max and me - and Michael, even Isabel when she thinks nobody's looking. Could it be possible that the flawless blonde teen queen is just the mask of another player in this crazy game?

Fortunately, I didn't have much time to worry about Tess. Soon after she showed up, Max got me alone in the kitchen, and as you might have noticed, he has some very effective ways of keeping me from thinking too much. I had a flash while we were making out; I didn't mention it to him yet...

* * * * *

ISABEL:

I walked up to my locker and worked the combination. Normal, Isabel. Concentrate on normal. Just act as if you aren't an accessory to conspiracy, effectively harboring a fugitive from the FBI...

"Hey, Isabel," Maria said. I jumped - I hadn't realized she was standing right next to my locker until the girl spoke. "I, uh, I gotta have a little talk with you, I think."

I sighed a little as I went over my morning schedule mentally and took the big thick geometry text out of my locker. "So... talk?"

"It's.... um... it's about Alex."

Now *that* registered. I closed the locker door and looked over at the other girl. "Alex?? Do you really think that Alex is someone that you and I need to discuss?"

"Well, in general I'd say no." Maria paused for a long moment. "But Alex... well, he isn't your average adolescent male. As I'm sure you've noticed."

I fought back a smile and nodded. "Go on."

"And, well... the current circumstances being what they are between you and our bassist friend, I was thinking that, all cliches aside, it would be prudent to..."

Enough of this. "Are you trying to ask," I interrupted, "what my intentions are towards Alex?"

Maria pouted. "Actually, I was trying very hard *not* to ask you in those words, but that's the gist nevertheless. So??"

I took a moment. "Well, I have to admit - a little bit caught off guard here, not sure what to say," I babbled. "I like Alex, I really do. But... well, you remember how it was with you and Michael, back last fall. How would you have..."

"Oh, whoops!" Maria interrupted me. In the sudden silence, I could hear rhythmic chanting coming from down the hall:

"...U!! Gimme an 'M'! M!! Gimme an 'A'! A!! Gimme an 'N'..."

"...The pep rally's started and I'm not in uniform!" Maria complained.

"But...." It took a minute to decide what the appropriate objection is. "But you're not a cheerleader or anything, Maria."

"Oh, that's just what I *wanted* you to believe!!"

I was still trying to figure that one out when Maria ran off towards the dopey chanting. That's when Max came marching down the hall, pounding one of those giant strap-on-in-front drums. The drum had a big picture of an ostrich on it, and...

And that's when I woke up, in my bed at home. It had all been just a kinda weird dream. Well... weirder than the usual, if less than full nightmare status. Groan. Looked over at the clock on my bedside table. 4:52 am.

Well, since I'm awake, might as well check in on Mrs. T-sley. I pulled out the picture from inside the ol' yearbook under my bed, centered my energy, and tapped it.

Quick fade to black and up goes the curtain to Topolsky's dreamworld. The first thing I noticed was that I was in black and white - in fact, everything around me was. I'd never really seen the pre-technicolor effect in dreams before, so that was interesting.

The second thing I noticed was that I wasn't in my pajamas. I was wearing an old-fashioned dress and sitting behind a desk in an empty office. That meant that I wasn't just an observer in this dream - I had been instantly drafted by Topolsky's subconsious to appear as a supporting character in her dream. That DID happen occasionally. Soon enough, Topolsky would be entering this room.

Well, might as well use the time getting familiar with this dream. A quick survey of my surroundings made it clear that I wasn't actually back in the heyday of shades-of-gray. This room seemed to be circa 1990, including the pre-Windows computer on the desk, and the clothes I was wearing seemed to be fasionable yet businesslike for that time period. I guess the lack of color was a film noir effect or whatever.

And then the office door opened. I looked up, expecting it to be Topolsky, but it was another of Topolsky's drafted-from-life dream characters. (Though this one hadn't been dreamwalking her, at least to god I hoped not.) It was Jim Valenti, wearing a conservative dark suit. Then Topolsky followed him through the door, also dressed in the people-in-black style. Hmm... did our Miz Topolsky have a thing for the sheriff?? Either way, she had probably drawn Valenti's face out of her subconscious to play whatever role in this dream.

"I'm telling you, Agent Tully..." Valenti's character was saying. "there are aliens living in the woods outside that small Wisconsin town!"

"And if I've told you once, I've told you a hundred times, Valder," Topolsky bantered back. "There's *no* such thing as aliens. Becky, any messages for me?"

"Then how do you explain all of the strange things that we've seen over the years?" 'Valder' pressed. Okay... so Topolsky's dreaming a very bad X-files ripoff. It's better than the Special Unit nightmares at any rate... and kinda funny actually.

"It's all right there in the case files, Valder... I'll admit we've been assigned to our share of unusual assignments with the Z patrol, but there's a reasonable explanation for each and every one of them... Becky?!" Topolsky turned to face me with a sever expression. "Did you hear me??"

Whoops. Obviously I was Becky, the receptionist. "Umm... no, nobody's called for you, Miz Tully," I ad-libbed back, then noticed something on the desk in front of me with the name 'Tully' on it. "Mail's come, though." I passed the envelope over towards her.

Valenti-Valder seemed to have hardly paid attention to that whole exchange - the secretary was beneath his notice I guess. "Well, we're flying out to Wisconsin this morning anyways," he told Topolsky. "This poor girl..." he was pulling a photograph out of his jacket, "the 'Cheese queen' of Arlington, was found dead her brain fluid drained." He passed the photo to Agent Tully, who looked at it. "Now, if this isn't a case for..."

"Just wait one second!!" I burst out. Valenti glared at me as I hurried out of my seat at the dest, and even Topolsky/Tully seemed confused, but I was past that now. I'd caught a glimpse of the photo when Topolsky took it, and... "Could I have a look at that picture, please??"

"Umm... sure, Becky," Agent Tully seemed quite confused as she handed the photograph over to me, and Valenti was quickly getting annoyed. (Sorry, I know I'm not even making an effort to keep the dream names and real names straight.) I took one look at the image and then I was sure.

"This is Tess! What is she doing in this picture."

"Her *name* is Sarah Martin, and I'll thank you not to spread speculation into our investi--" Valder started to rant.

"You're Kathleen Topolsky, and you're dreaming," I told Miss T, cutting him off. "Could you do something about *him* so we can talk??"

Topolsky blinked in that way that people tended to while making the transition to lucid dreaming. (I just hoped that she wouldn't be one of those people who wake up when they realize that they're dreaming.) She glanced over at the Valenti figure and he froze motionless, like he had been caught in a field of paused time.

"You -- you're Max's sister!" Topolsky said, making the connection for the first time. "And you... you were in my dream before, too. Were you the one who told him where to find me?"

"You can thank me later," I joked, and held the photo back up in her line of vision. "This is Tess Harding - a new girl at school. Did you see her there on campus, or at her home?? There has to be some reason why she showed up in your dream."

"Her??" Topolsky squinted as she tried to remember. (She was still in her costume for the dream, as was I, and I noticed idly that at least she hadn't turned her hair red for the Gillian Anderson role. Even in black and white, red hair wouldn't be quite as bright as hers was.) "No... no, I've neer seen this girl in Roswell."

"Then where have you seen her??" I demanded, starting to dread the answer.

"She... she was in the Special Unit headquarters in Santa Fe while I was being debriefed there. That girl... and an older man, could have been her father. Talking to Pierce and some of the other high-ups. Didn't seem like they were in trouble..."

"You mean, she's working with them??" I jumped to conclude. "Of course, it all makes sense. Why would she choose me, out of the whole school, to instantly befriend? Because that's her mission."

"Be careful..." Topolsky warned me as the office started to dissolve - she was waking up. "All of our lives are at risk..."

* * * * *

ALEX:

"The first step is that we need a communications system that doesn't incriminate us," Michael Guerin mused.

I looked up from my plateful of pancakes and took a thoughtful bite. "Sure."

"I mean, look at the situation for a moment. Where do we know to look for Topolsky? Onlt that old apartment building. The FBI had to have the premises under physical surveillance. Any of us so much as go near the place... BAM!" Michael clapped his hands loudly near my face, and I swatted him away with an (I think,) justified annoyance. "Same thing for the telephone line - wiretaps. There's no obvious way to make contact that isn't trapped. Now, I'm clever enough to work around the obvious, but we need to set up some channels so that..."

"Blueberry m--" I burst out, starting to use the look-out phrase we had agreed on, but "Oh, it's just Isabel." Like I ever thought I'd catch myself saying that. A lot of words sprang to mind thinking about Isabel Evans, but 'just'??

I can see how other people might think it. Isabel Evans. Just another stuck-up teen queen. Just another pretty face. Just my sister. Just a friend.

I never thought I bought into it, though. Even before I knew about the alien thing, I always felt that I could sense this incredibly passionate and caring spirit in Isabel - a true heart that she never let anyone else see clearly, behind her walls. Now I guess I know why she builds up the walls.

"Some kind of open signal might make sense," Michael wondered out loud, since he obviously wasn't aware of my wandering thoughts. "A pounding drum or something, which everyone in the area would hear but only Topolsky would understand the meaning of. Problem with that is that the FBI would make the connection soon enough too, and track the drum or whatever we were using."

"What's across the street from Topolsky's window, anyways" I asked, getting into it. "We might be able to do something with..."

"Hey, heckle and jeckel?!" Isabel burst out in a fierce hiss, cutting me off. "Could you keep quiet for just a moment?? We've got bigger problems here."

I decided not to point out that Isabel had to have joined us several moments before Michael started the conversation up again. "Yeah? What is it??" I prompted, and let Isabel take the time to sort out what she wanted to say.

"I think Tess Harding is an undercover agent for the Special Unit," she whispered. "Just like Topolsky was when she first showed up here."

"Who is Tess Harding??" Michael muttered, unable to hide his scowl.

Fortunately, (or was it?) I had a little information on that. "Tess 'your-new-best-girlfriend' Harding??" The girl who managed to twice get in the way of what I ever-optimistically hoped were 'moments' with Isabel, within the past four days or so?

"Don't remind me - I'm beating up on myself for that enough for all tree of us," Isabel sighed. "I know better than to trust a stranger right out of the blue." She sighed sadly.

"Okay, okay, let's not get bent out of shape here," I interjected. "First off, what makes you think she's FBI, or 'Special Unit' or whatever??"

"Topolsky I.D.'d her," Iz explained. "I saw Tess' face in one of her dreams, and asked her about it. She remembered seeing Tess in special unit headquarters two weeks ago. Didn't even know she was in Roswell until I told her."

"It makes some sense," Michael muttered pensively. "Whoever sent Topolsky already knew to look for aliens at the high school, or why else give her a cover as a guidance counselor?? And the most obvious reason she failed was that she couldn't get Liz or Alex to trust her. Because she was older. So this time they're sending in a teenager."

"Thanks for that summary, Sherlock," Isabel told Michael wryly. "But now that we know, none of us will trust her. We know better. Or her father - Topolsky said she was with an older man at the Special unit, so that could have been her father, or someone who was supposed to PLAY her father. Spread the word."

"Umm... uh, okay," Michael muttered, somewhat put out by Isabel's attitude. "Max will be in english lit right now. I can drop by to crash the end of class and fill him in."

"Wait a second," I burted out. "Aren't you in that class too? What were you doing out here all this time?!"

Michael shot me a withering glance from two paces away from the table. "Do you know me at all?" he asked, and then continued on his way.

"Umm." Awkward silence here, and it didn't help to realize that I was now alone with Isabel. (If you ignored the other high school students that surrounded us at a distance.) "So...." Lame attempt to inspire a new topic of conversation, I know.

Isabel kind of half-smiled at me. "So?"

"So... you went into Miss Topolsky's dreams again??" I asked, trying to keep the tone of my voice casual.

"Yeah... just woke up and decided on a check-in. Wasn't so bad this time - an X-files fantasy starring Valenti, until I spotted the picture of Tess that is. You know, I think Topolsky has something of a crush on Jimmy V. the second."

Alex couldn't resist a chuckle at the thought of that pairing. "No offense, I hope they don't hook up because of the sheer complication it would introduce in *our* lives."

Isabel laughed at that. "Yeah." Then, as the laugh died down, she kind of cocked her head, like a thought was occuring to her, and *blushed.* I've never seen Isabel blush before, but it was unmistakeable. A rosy pink covered her smooth cheeks, and traces of color spread out over half of the rest of her face.

I couldn't resist asking. "What... what is it, Isabel?"

"I, umm..." I think Iz was trying to fight off the blush, but without much success - she might have even *lost* ground. "I was just thinking of *my* dream." She probably caught my look of surprise about that. "I... I had a dream last night too. When I woke up from it... well, that's what gave me the idea to pop in on Katy."

"Uh, okay," I said. "So, this dream..." I took a wild guess. "Was I in the dream, by any chance??"

"Well, not as such," Isabel confessed with a shy smile. "But... well, you were mentioned."

"'Mentioned'??" I repeated. Now this was getting intriguing. "Mentioned by whom, might I ask," grinning back at her.

"Um... Maria." The blush got even more intense, (surprising but possible, it seemed.) "She asked me, in the dream that is, Maria asked me what my intentions were towards you. Or something along those lines." Isabel was looking down at the table furiously.

"Oh!!" I'm sure I blinked at least three times after that. "Umm... what did you tell her??"

"Well, I didn't really have a chance to say much..." Isabel waffled, "Maria had to run off to cheerleading practice and Max came by beating this big ostrich drums..." She looked up at me, a priceless look on her face. "The dream wasn't that weird until the very end, by the way."

"Got it." I sighed, then decided to try once more. "If you *had* had a chance to say something, do you know what it would have been??"

"Well, no!" Isabel replied. "I mean... I like you, Alex. But things are so complicated in my life to start with, and every time I even think about... well, you know, letting someone new in *like that,* a new reason pops up why it would be a bad idea."

My spirits fell like a quarter plummeting into a wishing well. "Right." I nodded, trying not to let my numbing sadness show. "Bad idea."

"Alex." Isabel's hand touched my knee gently, and I looked up to see that she was shaking her head at me and smiling. "But I think I've realized something lately - that I can't keep stopping from living my life because I'm scared."

Wow. "Umm... does that... does that mean -- what I think it does??" Not the best rejoinder in the world, but hey.

"Er-- yeah, yeah, I think it does," Isabel agreed, and then she kissed me. Quick, but soft and very good, on the lips.

"Oh, wow," was all that I could say. But from the way Iz was smiling at me, somehow I could tell that she knew how I felt. There wouldn't be a big enough website in the world to tell everybody how happy I was at that moment.

* * * * *

"So..." Liz said, coming over to her seat beside mine for art history, third period. "Rumor has it that you and Isabel Evans were spotted in 'Smoochville, the quad' this morning. Should I offer my congratulations?" Maria took her seat behind me.

"Actually, the tactful thing would be not to mention it," I joked. "A respectful silence is all the congratulations I need."

"Oh, come on, Alex," Maria chided me. "Is something wrong??"

"No," I sighed. "Just... well, things between me and Isabel are still up in the air a little... we're giving things a try, but I'd rather not make a big deal out of it and get my hopes up. Okay?" Liz nodded, and Maria murmured her understanding. "Oh, and you know Isabel's quote unquote friend, Tess Harding?"

"I'm... familiar with her work," Maria teased.

Alex looked around to make sure no one was paying attention before he continued, softly. "She's FBI. Topolsky ID'd her in a dream conference with Isabel this morning. Spread the... well, I guess now that you girls know, the only one who might not know... is Max." Yeah, I remembered that Michael had gone to tell Max. Just be patient.

"Ohh??" Liz said, perking up and getting that smile she always does when young Mister Evans' name is mentioned. "Well... I can fix that... he had study hall this period, yes?" She put up her hand and turned earnestly to the front of the class. "Miz Copperton? May I have a hall pass, please?" The teacher looked up from filling out attendance and didn't even give Liz the second degree before filling out the pass.

Maria tapped me on the shoulder as the lecture on the influence of Picasso on the art world during the last twenty years before his death began. "Alex, Max already knows, doesn't he??"

"Unless Michael was distracted by a white elephant on the way to English Lit then yeah, Max knows." I whispered back. "Hey... I like to spread a little happiness around."

We didn't talk during most of the rest of the lecture, and then Miz Copperton gave us some time for working on the answers to the questions at the end of the chapter and discussing them amongst ourselves. Liz had managed to drag herself back to class by this point, with fresh Max-Evans-glow (metaphorically) spread all over her face.

"So," Maria said after a little while, possibly groping for a topic that didn't involve aliens, "either of you interested in going to that 'Bandz festival' thing this weekend??"

"Hmm..." I muttered. "I've been thinking about it." Wonder if Isabel would like to go to something like that.

"I've seen a few signs, but... well, what exactly is the deal there?" Liz asked. "I don't think I get it."

"It's like a cross between a music festival and a big 'Battle of the bands' contest, over in Phillips park," I explained helpfully. "Wannabe music groups come around from all over to play a few songs each and compete for a cash prize. They'll probably have food vendors and games and a few rides set up too, like a miniature carnival."

"Hmmm... sounds cool. Maybe I'll ask Max to take me." Liz giggled, and I couldn't help but smile. Things seemed finally to be getting together for our odd love connections, if only we could keep from getting caught by the FBI or anything. "Hmm... how about this for number ten, Maria?" Liz passed Maria a note paper filled with with six long paragraphs, all under the number ten heading.

"Hmmm..." Maria scanned Liz's answer. "Yeah, that sounds about right." I couldn't help noticing that on Maria's worksheet, she had exactly two sentences for number ten.

* * * * *

MICHAEL:

We all met up at a lunch table out near the edge of the quad, where no-one tended to hang out. If anyone came near enough to listen in, we'd be sure to see them first.

"I think we should start taking a closer look at this Tess girl," Maria suggested. "Find out what she knews, What she's trying to find out about us."

"Good, go snooping around," Isabel cracked. "Give her a chance to catch on that we've made her."

"Easy, okay??" Max recommended. "Tess Harding is not the problem. If we stay clear of her, she won't have a chance to find out *anything* about us."

"Yeah, 'cause that worked SO well with Topolsky," Maria muttered. Alex blushed. "I'm sorry... I didn't mean..."

"Max is right," Liz commented. Oh, big surprise where. "Anyone sent here by the Special Unit is dangerous. We avoid her as much as we can."

"Meanwhile," I suggested, "what *is* the problem at hand is making the next rendezvous with Topolsky and figuring out how to get her away from the Special Unit for good." That queasy feeling was getting harder and harder to push down. If Isabel said we could trust Topolsky, then I had to have faith in that. "I have a plan."

Alex smiled. "Really?"

"Yeah. This is how it's gonna break down. Maria, you and I are gonna have to drive down to Hondo in the Jetta tomorrow afternoon. Isabel, Alex... I think you guys should make the meet. Topolsky will trust both of you. Max, Liz, the two of you are both too high profile. Go out, have dinner somewhere in a public place and get yourselves alibis. Oh, and Isabel, you'll probably have to dreamwalk Miz T sometime between now and tomorrow. It's the most secure way we have of communicating to her what she has to do. Now..."

"Blueberry muffins," Alex said out of thin air. What the...?? Oh, he was re-using the signal from this morning, which meant... someone was approaching the table, and not just any someone. I recognized the pretty blonde girl from the descriptions that had been flying everywhere since this morning. Tess Harding. FBI Mole girl.

"Uh, hey..." Tess said with inly a trace of embarassment, "I didn't mean to interrupt your talk, but... Isabel? My dad got some tickets to an acoustic set down at the radio station with a mystery guest artist, and I was wondering if you wanted to..."

"I'm busy tonight, Tess." Isabel snapped.

"It... the set isn't until Th-thursday night," Tess stammered out. "I just thought I should let you know as soon as,"

"I'm b..." Isabel started, but Max kicked her under the table. If Isabel cut ties with Tess too abruptly, she could start to get suspicious. After a second, Isabel realized the danger. "I'm gonna have to get back to you about that, okay, Tess?"

"Sure. Nice to see you again, Alex, Liz, Michael, Isabel... Bye, all." She waved cutely and left.

TO BE CONTINUED...
posted on 8-Feb-2003 5:42:55 PM by Chrisken
Title: A different kind of destiny
Author: Chris Kenworthy
Email: Chris_Kenworthy⊕yahoo.com
Disclaimer: Of *course* I don't own them!
Spoilers: Up to about two thirds of the way into Crazy.
Feedback: Would be nice. No -- would be *really* great.
Content: Very alternate universe, traditional canon couples. (That's right, CC. I won't be pulling any tricks in this one, I promise!! Well no, I'll be pulling a lot of tricks. But not on the canon couples hehe.)
Summary: What if the gang found a way to trust Topolsky? What if the new faces and changing roles of late season one changed, yet again? What if destiny was so completely, amazingly different than you could possibly imagine??

Section two: Liberation, confusion, and her (continued.)

Maria rolled the Jetta to a stop next to the curb, power-downed the window, and straightened her ray-bans. "Well, it's time. Let's go."

I smiled a little, walked suavely around the front of the car, and climbed into the shotgun seat. "Yo." As an afterthought I pulled the seat belt around myself and shoved the buckle in, since Maria's been known to get on my case and refuse to start driving until everyone's 'buckled up.'

She put the manual transmission down into first gear and pulled away. "So... Hondo, huh? What does that have to do with the plan?"

I looked around self-consciously. "I think it'd be better to wait until we get there to say any more. Just in case."

"Just in case what??" Maria shot back. I shrugged, and Maria let that drop.

The highway passed by in silence, and the silence became awkward, and then stifling. I groped for a top[ic of conversation, but couldn't seem to find anything.

"If it hadn't been for the fifty-third bicycle, he would never have died," Maria blurted out. I stared at her.

"Who the heck are you talking about??"

She shot a glance at me as best she could without losing control of the car. "It's a party game, stupid. One person starts with a cryptic statement or a mystery - that would be me - and everyone else has to ask yes-no questions until they can solve the mystery. You up for it??"

I considered a moment. It all seemed a little lame, but there was nothing else offering to relieve the boredom of this trip. "Okay, sure. Was he run over or hit by the bicycle?"

Maria paused only a second. "No."

"Was he killed by someone who was trying to steal the bicycle?" "No." "Was he killed becayse *he* was trying to steal the bicycle?" "No." "Was the fifty-third bicycle stolen by an... Did anyone try to steal the fifty-third bicycle?" "No."

I took stock for a second. "Is the fact that it was the fifty-third bicycle important?" "Yes." "Would his death be considered a murder?" "Yes." "Was he strangled with something?" "No." "Was he shot to death?" "Yes."

Okay, now we were getting somewhere. But the facts still didn't seem to fit together. "Was the fifty-third bicycle part of the motive for the shooting?" "Yes." "Did the shooter want the bicycle?" "Umm... I'm gonna say no." "Was he angry about something to do with the bicycle?" "Yes."

"Did the dead guy own the bicycle?" "Yeah, I guess so." "Was... was the bicycle the getaway vehicle for a robbery?" "No." "Did anyone ride the bicycle..." "No."

Whoa! Now this just got interesting. I'd been about to put on a time frame, but Maria answered while I was hesitating. "Just to clarify... this bicycle has never, *ever* been ridden?" "No, it hasn't," Maria agreed, and let a little giggle slip.

"Was it a showpiece?" "No." "Was it... used in some way that didn't involve being ridden?" "Yes." Okay, this was weird. And the shooter didn't want the bicycle but was angry with it for some reason...

Then it hit me. "Does the 'bicycle' refer to something other than a riding device with two tires?" "Oh yes!" "Does it refer to a playing card??" Hank was something of a gambler, so I did vaguely know that 'bicycle' was a brand of playing cards, though I had taken a while to clue in about that. "Is the fifty-third bicycle the joker?" Made sense, fifty-two cards in the regular deck...

"No." Darnit. "Does what card it is matter?" "No, not really." "Is it..." I racked my brain. "Was it a cheating card, slipped into the game from another identical deck?" "Yes!" "And the 'owner' of the fifty-third bicycle was shot because he was caught in the middle of his cheating!!"

"Yeah!!" Maria confirmed. "Not bad, spaceboy! That's... that was twenty-two questions, right?"

"I dunno," I admitted. "I wasn't counting. But I've heard a few of these, wanna switch places?"

"Sure," Maria agreed, smiling. "Gimme what you got, Guerin."

I thought a second. "Peter and Jane are lying dead, on the floor in a p--"

"Oh, c'mon, give me a little credit," Maria interrupted. "Heard that one so many times it's not funny."

I frowned and considered. "When the lights went out, he knew she was dead."

"Heard it."

Rack my brain a third time. "When the music stopped, he was doomed to die."

Maria blinked a few times. "Haven't heard it. Is this a real one, or are you just making up a variation on that last one?"

"I heard it from a girl at West Lake orphanage years ago," I assured her. "Are you scared to really take me on?"

"You wish!" Maria laughed. "Let's see... was it a murder?"

"Hmm... I'll say yes." "Was the music a signal to the killer?" Hehe. "No." "Umm... did the music..."

"Wait a second," I interrupted, "this is..."

"Are you gonna go and change one of your answers, spaceboy??" Maria counter-interrupted me.

"No!" I told her witheringly, and waved to a road leading off from the small highway. "That was our exit."

"Oh." For a second, Maria seemed properly humble, and then she retorted, "Well, you could have given me more warning! Well, I'll get off at the next exit - will we need to take the highway back the other way, or is there another way around?"

"Um... lemme see," I muttered, getting out the map I'd prepared while planning Maria's and my part of the mission. Thank god that Hondo actually *had* two exits on route 70 - it didn't seem big enough to deserve even one. (Except maybe by comparison to the desert.) "Yeah, head south on Riley street after we get off."

Maria drove on in silence for a few more moments. "Okay, so where were we?"

"'Did the music'... and that's as far as you got," I quoted. "Remember where you were going to go with that??"

"No." Maria pouted cutely as she drove up the exit. "I dunno, can I call this off without conceding defeat? You shook me out of my *zone* bach there."

"Okay, I guess, all right. Probably not a good idea for you to be trying to solve brain teasers and drive at the same time anyway," I teased her. Maria shot me a glare, but couldn't keep it up for long and broke into a wide smile.

"Keeping score is really important to you, isn't it?" I said as Maria turned onto Riley street.

"Well... huh." Maria got another one of her expressions. "I dunno, sometimes I guess. And what about to you??"

I thought about it for a second. "I'm not sure. Winning or losing can be important. Keeping the score is just a means to an end. Or something like that."

"Typical."

"What?"

"Oh, that it's all about winning and losing."

"I didn't say it was 'all about' that. I said that whether you win or you lose CAN be important."

"Well, here we are." Maria pulled into a parking lot.

I looked around. "How do you know? I didn't tell you where we were going?"

"It wasn't hard to figure out." Maria laughed softly. "Especially since I snuck a peek while you were looking at the map, after I missed the turn-off. Hondo train station. How does this fit into your big master plan??"

I grinned at her, took her hand as she shut off the gas, then opened my door. "You'll have to come with me to find out."

* * * * *

MAX:

The cell phone rang on the table three times, and both of us turned to look at it. After the third ring it stopped... or maybe in the middle of the third ring, I'm not sure. Isabel crossed over and looked at the caller ID.

"Michael," she confirmed. "That's the signal. He and Maria are in position. We'd better go rendezvous with our partners."

"Remember, you and Alex can't move too early," I told her. "God knows what Michael has planned, but he seemed quite insistent about that."

"I know, I know." Isabel leaned over to kiss me sweetly on the cheek, and smiled. "Have a nice romantic dinner with Liz, and remember your poor poor sister, mucking around in the woods with a crazy woman."

I just sighed a little, having had ten years to build up a resistance to Isabel's melodrama. "Tell Alex I said good luck." I sprinted out into the driveway to the Jeep,

I pulled in to park next to the back door of the Crashdown and when I poked my head in, Liz was waiting for me, looking sexy and adorable all at once in a simple green dress. We beat a quick retreat back out to my wheels. Liz's parents haven't been wild about me ever since that night we snuck off to find the orb - they know we're dating again, but neither of us really wanted to have a scene with them tonight.

We were halfway to the French restaurant when Liz casually said, "Michael was right. We *are* being followed."

"What??"

"Do you see that dark gray sedan one lane over to the left, two cars back?"

I tried to pick it out in the rearview mirrors, but couldn't. "No."

"It pulled out a block down the street when you left the Crashdown, and it's been keeping with us ever since. Not very obviously, but it's been there. Lucky thing that I happened to notice it way back then, or I'd never have guessed."

I didn't say anything, but I could feel an anger starting to build inside of me. How dare these people intrude on our lives? What if they weren't going to just follow quietly? Maybe their orders included hurting Liz... She must have noticed how I was clenching the steering wheel.

"Relax," Liz's soft voice urged me. "Remember the plan - we're decoys, which means we can't do anything suspicious, which includes letting on that we've spotted them. They're not going to hurt anyone tonight."

I sighed. "As always, the voice of reason."

"Hey, somebody's gotta do it," Liz wise-cracked. "So, what say you and I go enjoy a fancy dinner that we really can't afford, indulge public displays of affection, and generally make a spectacle out of ourselves?" She had on the goofiest grin I'd ever seen.

"I hope they enjoy the show," I whispered as I pulled into a parking spot, then whipped off my seat belt and leaned over to steal a kiss.

Dinner was great. I had a leak soup, chicken strips in roquefort sauce, potatoes and spinach. Liz had onion tartlets, escargots... (yeah, snails, believe it or not...) and a side salad. We each sampled bits from the other's plates... and I have to admit that the snails tasted great.

'Making a spectacle out of ourselves' turned out to be harder than one would have imagined. I'd never been to "Le coin sombre" before. (We'd decided not to go to Chez Pierre, the other french-themed restaurant in town, because it had been a stop on Liz's valentine blind dream date, and that was still an awkward memory for both of us.)

'Le coin,' on the other hand... well, the food was great, but it seemed to be getting as much mileage as it could out of being a "romantic French restaurant"... if you know what I mean. There's something deeply uncomfortable about sitting in the middle of a restaurant full of couples... some of them in their twenties, thirties, or... (mental shudder,) even older, making out like... well, like horny teenagers.

And then, of course, there were the guys from the special unit, watching us. They tried to be unobtrusive about it, but after Liz called my attention to the car she saw on the way over here, it was impossible to miss them. For one thing... they *were* guys. About the only three people in the entire restaurant that didn't have dates, they were spread out in a loose circle around our table, and every so often one of them was watching us. Oh, and all three of them wearing the snazzy dark suits. I had to fight off the urge to wave hello at them.

"Umm..." Liz said as she took what looked like it would be her third-to-last spoonful of the escargots. "D'you think we should... dunno, I mean... kiss or something??"

I looked around, as if this would really give me any new information. The FBI guys and Liz and I weren't exactly the only ones not taking advantage of the dim lighting and sexy ambience, but we were in the distinct minority. And we didn't want it to be totally obvious to our Bureau friends that we'd just come here to lead them astray, did we?? "Umm... it seems like the thing to do," I muttered, feeling embarassed about our little audience.

Then Liz shoved her chair partway around the table, and leaned towards me, looking into my eyes, and suddenly all the rest of the bistro melted away, and as far as I knew it was just the two of us. I brought one hand gently to the back of Liz's neck and brought my face forward to meet hers, and soon enough our lips we were sharing the perfect kiss. Her lips were so soft and so fragrant, and her soft hair fell down and brushed my cheeks and my shoulders as we embraced, and...

Flash. Something vague, and amorphous... shapeless, and a human figure talking to it. To *them*. An orb changing hands... I didn't know if it was ours or Topolsky's, who was giving it or who was giving it. Except... it was a girls' or a woman's hands giving, and a man's hands taking. Topolsky handing over her orb to me, after we saved her?? And one last image... Isabel and Michael and me, there on the desert road, as children. When I was reaching out my hand to Michael, and he would be too scared to take it.

I only realized the experience was over when I heard Liz's voice whispering softly in my ear. "How was it for you, lover?"

I looked up and smiled at her. "Great. I'll tell you later."

"Me too." Was that her way of telling me that she'd had a flash too? I couldn't wait to hear what it might have been of.

We ordered dessert not long after that... cheesecake for me, raspberry sorbet for her. We got involved in talking about safe, ordinary things like school and our parents - things that it didn't matter if the FBI guys overheard us, and I was so engrossed that I didn't even notice until it was happening. Neither did Liz, apparently.

"This is a dangerous game you're playing, Parker." The words were voiced low, but not a whisper. We looked up, startled, to see Tess Harding standing only a few feet from our table. She continued to stare at Liz for a few seconds, then turned and walked out of 'Le Coin sombre' without another word. It might have been my imagination, but I think she was trying too hard not to look at the FBI agents.

MARIA:

"Okay..." I took a deep breath. "We've slipped aboard a freight train in the Hondo train station. Care to fill me in on how the heck this is part of a plan?"

Michael grinned in that annoying way. "This train is going past Roswell. Hopefully, it'll provide the barrier that Isabel and Alex need to get Topolsky alone."

I thought about that. "A problem and a question. Problem: these special unit agent seem the uber-be-prepared type. They'll have the train schedules memorized and wouldn't let Topolsky get out of arm's reach near a train track when a freight train is scheduled. Question: why are *we* here? This train could serve as a barrier just fine without us being aboard."

Michael smiled again. "The answer to that question," he pointed out smugly, "is the solution to the problem. We've snuck aboard to try to find some way to speed this train up by six minutes in arriving at Roswell. Hopefully that'll be enough to throw our schedule-happy friends off."

I thought about it. "Could work. Any idea how we're gonna speed this baby up that much."

Michael paused a minute. "Not completely sure, no. I admit I had a notion of just pushing it ahead with my powers, but that doesn't seem to be working at all. Never really appreciated how heavy a train is."

I smiled - it wasn't often that Michael admitted he was capable of making a mistake. "Well, then the solution is up at the engine or nothing."

"Yeah, I'd figured that out too," Michael agreed, and led the way up the train. We had to crawl along the side of a basket car full of what seemed like hot ashes, a heart-jolting experience if I've ever had one. But soon we were inside another freight car, peering at the two train-operator guys in the engine through tiny peepholes courtesy of Michael's molecular mojo.

"So, now what??" I asked aloud. "We've got to assume that that diesel motor has a fair bit more oomph that it isn't using, or we don't have a shot. How best to tap into it?"

Michael considered the question, then stretched out a hand towards the engine in a dramatic Czechoslovakian gesture. I waited for a good thirty seconds, but the results of his Herculean efforts didn't seem to be apparent. "What are you trying to do?" I asked in a soft whisper.

"Just wait," Spaceboy grunted. I waited. Just when I was going to give up on waiting again, the chief engineer hmmed at something on his control panel and adjusted a lever. The engine strained hard and our car started to pick up speed.

"Hey... whatd'you do that for Phil?" the assistant engineer asked, taking the words right out of my silent mouth.

"Take a look," Phil said, tapping that something on the panel. "We must be a minute and a half behind schedule."

The co-engineer looked where Phil was pointing, which must have been a clock. "That's impossible," he pointed out petulantly. "We were okay the last time I checked, and we were doing fifty before you gunned the engine. That can't have been five minutes ago -- more like three."

"Check your watch, Andy." Andy did, but Michael had apparently taken care of that too. Andy looked none too convinced, but didn't speak again... until a few minutes later, when Phil cranked the engine to full. "Hey!"

"Well, what can I do?"

"I'm calling in," Andy declared, picking up a radio mike/speaker. "Central, this is two one three six nine. Can I get a confirm on the local time?"

"Copy that, three six nine, the time here in Las Vegas, New Mexico is..." At the last moment, the radio died in a shower of sparks. Andy yelped.

"You're right, something weird is going on here," Phil commented. "I'm going to slow down, maybe stop when we get to the outskirts of Roswell."

Thanks for the warning, buddy, I thought silently, as if I were really contributing here. Sure enough, by the time Phil actually tried pulling back on the engine lever, it was stuck fast and not budging an inch. So was the brake when Andy tried that.

"Is there some kind of emergency override on the engine?" I whispered to Michael in a sudden panic.

"Dunno," he muttered. "If you spot it, gimme a heads-up."

I scanned the engine compartment as well as I could from our limited vantage point. "Got it! High and to the right... Phil's going for it."

"Get back." I didn't understand why Michael was saying that, but I pushed away from the wall and stumbled away from it. As the train went over a small bump, the motion sent me sprawling. When I looked back up, Michael was looking through *my* peephole and making his czechoslovakian gesture. Oh, right. He probably couldn't see what he needed to from his position, so he needed to use mine. Can't use alien powers on something you don't know exactly where it is I guess.

"How're we doing?" I mumbled, picking myself back up and lurching forward unsteadily to Michael's peephole.

"Pretty good." Michael was right. As I'd guessed, from this position I couldn't get too good a look at the emergency override, but now Andy was trying to get to it, and he yelped in horror after touching something that was obviously incredibly hot.

"Uh-oh... look out." Since there was nothing much to be done in the engine, Phil was heading down into the rest of the train... presumably to look for the saboteurs that had hijacked his ride... us!! "Where do we hide?"

Michael turned around and scanned the compartment. "Up there." He pointed to a particular pile of metal boxes. I hurried over to it, but couldn't find any way to get started climbing. The first ledge was almost as high as I could reach with my hands above my head... I tried to pull myself up to it, but I had no leverage.

"Right here." Michael brought his hands together to give me a boost up. I scrambled up to the ledge, then reached back to help pull Michael up... he would never have asked for it, but he'd have had trouble with that first step by himself too. We both scrambled into a hidden tunnel behind some of the higher boxes, just as Phil climbed into the car. While he was poking around, I noticed Michael checking his watch.

"Got another appointment, spaceboy?" I whispered.

He snorted softly at me. "I'm not sure how fast we're going, but we should be getting near Roswell by now. Maybe even approaching the rendezvous point."

I nodded. "Should we get out? Take a closer look?" I pointed up to a trap door in the ceiling that was pretty near the highest peak of this mountain of metal boxes... that may have been why Michael chose it.

"Yeah. But that door is in plain sight, and the engineer looks like a stubborn cuss." Sure enough, he was still searching this car, and would spot us in a second if we went for the trap.

"Leave it to me." I picked up a screwdriver that was sitting nearby, judged the angles right, and tossed it across the freight car. Sure enough, Phil went for the diversion. "Go, go!!" From the direction I'd chucked it, Phil would *not* have a clear view of us going for the door. Michael isn't the only one who can be canny.

Soon enough, we were in the open air, just in time to see things play out. Isabel, Alex, and Miss Topolsky were skipping ahead of the train as it passed through the edge of Frazier woods. Topolsky's FBI handlers were stuck on the other side of the tracks, and Isabel waved discretely, making them fall down, (a neat trick in a moment of crisis, I had to admit.) And then the engine rushed between them.

"That's my cue," Michael muttered. He waved, and the brakes suddenly came on full... I struggled to keep from falling off the train at the sudden shift in momentum. Andy took the hint and shut the engine off, and now that worked too. The train started coasting to a stop, which would only increase the amount of time before the FBI guys could give chase. Our homeys (Alex, Iz, and Ms T,) were already high-tailing it deeper into the woods.

It was a few minutes before the train finally came to a stop, and Michael gave me a hand down the ladder on the side of the train. Without a word, he waved a hand in either direction -- into Frazier woods too, or back to where we could hopefully catch a ride into town. I led the way into the forest.

As we left the train behind and started following a footpath down into a small ravine, (me trying hard not to think of how hard it might be to find Isabel, Alex, and Topolsky in here and how likely it was thet the FBI guys would find us,) something fell into place. "He was a blindfold tightrope walker, right??"

I looked back, and Michael was blinking in confusion. "WHO was??"

"I'm talking about your mystery riddle," I explained. "'When the music stopped, he was doomed to die', right? 'He' was a blindfold tightrope walker, and the music was supposed to be a cue that it was safe to step off of the tightrope, that he had gotten all the way to the platform on the far side. But someone stopped the music too early, and so he fell to his death. Am I right??"

"Have you heard that before, and you're just remembering it now?" Michael asked.

"Actually, no. The answer just kinduv occured to me."

* * * * *

ISABEL:

"So, um..." I muttered as we hurried deeper into the woods, all too aware that the FBI-guys might be back on our trail by now. Alex pointed out a small, overgrown side path that led through a dark thicket, and I sighed and followed him through. "How are you doing??" It was weird to actually be face to face with Topolsky, so to speak. I'd dreamwalked her three times now since she'd come back to Roswell, but this was the first time I'd actually met her directly since last fall.

"Nicely executed with the diversion there," Topolsky mentioned with what sounded like professional appreciation. "What I can't figure out was how you managed to speed up the 4:20 freight train to Las Cruces by six minutes."

"Our friends have our ways," I said as mysteriously as I could. Michael hadn't even told me about the train, but I was sure that I had seen him and Maria as it came past. Certainly *I* didn't know what he could possibly have done to mess around with its schedule, but apparently they had done something. "Is the special unit giving you any trouble?"

"Haven't even talked to me since that time I met with your brother," Katy muttered, puffing a little as she followed me up a rise. "Getting nervous, though. Something's coming."

"We're still working on a way to get you out," I assured you. "Not quite sure what to do with you then, though. Springing you won't do a heck of a lot of good if we can't hide you someplace that Pierce and his cronies won't think to look."

"I was thinking that I give you the orb and hop on the next bus for Tijuana," Katy put in. "Not much that can go wrong with that plan."

Wait a second... what happened to waiting for the aliens with us? Then again, Max had told her that we didn't know whether to expect a mothership any time soon, so maybe Katy had changed her plans. Getting out of Roswell seemed like a smart thing for her. But I had hoped to have her experience on our side when it came time to the final showdown with the Special Unit... this Pierce wouldn't be forgetting about us anytime soon. And then...

"You disappear, and won't Pierce have every bus leaving Roswell monitored?" I pointed out softly.

"Hmmm.... Good point," Topolsky sighed. "I'll leave it up to your capable judgement. Don't think my brain is working too well these days, some of the time."

Which didn't help me in the reason I had brought this up, feeling Katy out to see if she had any ideas about a safe hiding place. Oh well.

"Ssshh!!" Alex said suddenly, turning around to face us with a finger to his lips. I stopped still and stayed quiet, listening, and Katy did too. Loud, tramping running footsteps were heading in our direction.

Alex looked around quickly. "In here," he whispered, pushing a shrub halfway aside on the edge of the path. "Hide under the brush." I hurried in, Katy following and Alex bringing up the rear, each of us trying to find as inconspicuous a hiding place as possible among the green growth.

I could only just see a figure dressed in black charge up the path, but he obviously wasn't searching to the sides, just trying to catch up with a quarry he still believed was in front of him. As his footsteps died away again, I turned to look at Alex questioningly.

"Not yet," he suggested. "This seems as good a place as any to lie low."

THUMP. Following the source of the sound, I eventually found the orb that Topolsky had set upon the ground, still holding it firmly in her hand. I guess the sound hadn't been that loud, I just felt the vibrations through the ground because I was so close to it. "Did you remember to bring yours this time??"

"Yes." Max had warned me that Topolsky had seemed offended by his failure to do that last time, so I'd been lugging the heavy little thing around in my purse. Quickly I brought it out. "Umm... how do you want to do this?"

"Do you know how to use them??" Katy asked warily, and I had to shake my head no. "Then I'll show you mine if you let me hold yours."

Sounded like a fair trade to me, all double entendre aside. We traded orbs, and I could immediately tell that there was indeed a difference between them. While the orb that Max and Liz had found in the desert gave off 'an alien dial tone,' as Max so quaintly put it -- an unmistakeable sense of the potential for communication... this one almost hummed with barely suppressed power. It wasn't a communicator, I was somehow sure of that. It was a weapon... or at the very least a potent tool. Which suggested that they weren't meant to be used together... or not jointly, at least. A matched set they almost undeniably were, but each had its specific purpose.

"Say, where did you get the stuff you told Michael about these orbs??" Alex asked softly. For a second I thought he was talking to me, but the question obviously made more sense addressed to Topolsky. "That they're communicators and only work when they're together??"

"I...." Topolsky's face twisted sideways slightly. "I don't remember. Did I really say that??"

"Yeah," I assured her. "Don't worry, it doesn't matter."

"Maybe we should get moving again," Alex suggested. I was only to happy to agree. Lying down in the underbrush is never anybody's idea of a good time.

"So..." I tried to think of another conversation of conversation as we switched the orbs back and put them away. "Where did you live before you came to Roswell the first time, Katy??"

"Maryland," Katy answered in a faraway voice. "I was a data processor in one of the FBI office complexes, taking agent training courses on the side. Then they tapped me for this mission - I'm still not sure why. I thought it was my lucky break. But that mission ruined my life."

"Not for long," Alex muttered. "We'll get you your life back, don't worry."

"Thanks, Alex," she told him. "You were always so sweet." Katy shot me a side-long glance. "I guess that someone else finally clued into that, huh??"

Huh. Okay, try not to think about that too much right now... oh, that reminded me. "Those career evaluations," I blurted out. "The ones you did when you were under cover as the guidance counselor... were they on the level??"

"What??" It took a little time for Katy to place my reference. "What do you mean, were they on the level??"

"The results... were they really backed up by some sort of authority or were you saying things trying to get us off balance??"

Topolsky turned and looked at me. "Of course they were 'on the level.' I chose a survey that I hoped might yield some deeper and more meaningful results than a typical career aptitude profile... and I was watching some of the results carefully. Yours, Michael's, Max's, Liz's, Maria's. Well, I was looking forward to Michael's, but he was cutting class again that week. But still... what I told you was the truth. And watching how each of you reacted to it... that told me other things."

I stayed silent, wondering how to react to that, when suddenly I heard something. Footsteps moving closer to us again. Two sets of them, much slower than last time... as if someone was picking their way carefully or looking for something. They were coming from the way we had been going, and on an intercept course. I turned to Alex to see what he thought.

We were all about to dive for cover again when a soft voice called out "Blueberry muffins!!" Damnit, how long is that stupid phrase going to be a code word?

But it got the point across. We hurried up to rendezvous with Michael and Maria, and needlessly introduced them to Katy. By this time, it was starting to get dark.

"So, ummm... not meaning to sound rude, but is there anything else we need to cover?" I asked nervously.

"Yeah, something I wanted to ask Ms. T," Michael volunteered. "Alex, remember when we were talking about open code systems??"

"Don't push her," I whispered to Michael. "I don't think she's at her best, spy-wise."

"It can't hurt to ask," he growled back under his breath. "I was hoping you could think of an easier way to reach you without being found out by the special unit - one that doesn't depend on you being asleep. Something where the actual message is... well, you know. Out there in public, but the meaning is only known to you and us."

"Hmmm..." Topolsky thought. "Open communique. It could work... but I have to admit I don't have any notion, and I don't think we can afford to stay and work it out right now. If I don't turn up soon they're gonna call in backup to comb these woods."

"How do we do this, the same way as before?" Alex asked. "If you go alone to those guys who were following you, you think they'll take you home and leave us alone?"

"I'm sure of it," Katy agreed. "Anyone have any idea where they are?"

"We saw someone heading thataway," Maria said, pointing off in a particular direction.

"Then I'd better get going," Katy decided. "Good luck, and remember... get me out!!"

"We will," I assured her. "So... I guess we wait until she's been picked up, and then hike back to where we left Alex's car?"

"Sounds good to me."

"Gonna be a tight fit," Alex pointed out. "And where the heck did you leave the Jetta, Michael??"

"Hondo!!" Maria exclaimed, as if she was only now realizing that.

"Don't worry," Michael told her. "Max can drive us out there tomorrow afternoon to pick it up. We'll discuss strategies for getting Topolsky out.

"I wonder how Max and Liz's dinner went," I commented.

"Compared with ours, must have been a pretty dull time," Alex laughed.