posted on 9-Sep-2001 5:19:57 AM by Psyche G
Chapter 41 is on page 27


Ok everyone, now that this board seems to be working ok, I'm ready to post the next part. I just hope you all like it.

The Prologue through Chapter 18 is on the repost board viewthread?forum=repost-fan-fiction&id=452

Angela and Hip, thank you for the B-day wishes!

And since I'm not all that witty this morning, I'm gonna just cut to the chase. Here's what you've been waiting on:


Title: Altered Perceptions - Chapter 19
Author: Jenna Kay
Feedback: sparkle_ball⊕hotmail.com or sparkle_ball⊕yahoo.com
Archive: Anywhere, just ask me first
Rating: PG-13 or a light R just to be on the safe side
Keywords: M/L, CC
Spoilers:Anything and everything from both seasons is fair game
Summary: After Departure, everyone bands together to uncover secrets, reveal the lies, and make some startling revelations.
Disclaimer: They're not mine. Blah, blah, blah.




Chapter 19



The late-afternoon sun was warm on Liz's back as she made her way down the street to Maria's house. She could feel the sweat trickle down her back underneath the T-shirt and cardigan she had on. It was really too warm to wear layers, but she didn't want to call attention to the bruises on her arm.

In the back of her mind she wondered if it was possible that the sweating wasn't induced by New Mexico's climate, but was actually caused by her fear of how badly things could turn out. She didn't know what she'd do if Maria refused to hear her out. All she could do is hope that Maria would be able to look past the pain that Liz's hurtful words had inflcited.

She was well aware that way she had treated Maria was deplorable. Liz had thought long and hard about it the past couple of days. Self-recrimination consumed her waking thoughts. The memory of the pain in Maria's eyes was never far away. Just like a restless spirit it haunted her, tormenting her slowly in the process. That was only fitting though, because it was the least that she deserved. She hated the fact that she had hurt her best friend so badly.

Liz knew that it was time for her to make things right again. A very vocal part of her conscience wouldn't let another day go by without trying. That's why she was walking over to see her, despite her fears that any apology would be too little, too late.

She prayed that wasn't the case, Liz really missed having Maria around. She'd always been such a fixture in Liz's life. And after the argument, it was so strange to not turn to her friend for comfort. Liz never realized how much she relied on Maria and her unique way of dealing with the world, until now. With Alex gone, Maria was the only one who could make the strain of living a life in this town easier to bear.

Liz needed the most vital part of her extended family back.

She was prepared to do what ever she had to to get back into her good graces. And boy did she ever have something to atone for. Liz didn't realize it at the time, but she had made the same ultimatum to Maria that Max had made to her. And while his threat didn't dissuade Liz from doing just as she'd planned, the circumstances had been different.

Firstly, Maria wasn't her. She reacted differently to things than Liz would have. Maria was the emotional one. She displayed her emotions for the whole world to see. Whereas, Liz kept things more internalized.

When Max pulled the king card on her, in retrospect, she could see that it wasn't completely unwarranted. From Max's point of view, her determination to find the truth was a potential threat to their safety. Liz couldn't say the same. She behaved the way she did because she was hurt, scared, and not thinking too clearly, if she were to be honest with herself. And while Liz may consider what happenend with future Max to be almost sacred, Maria didn't know that. Liz had purposefully kept silent how much it meant to her.

Maria had been right. She was tired of all the secrets. It took so much of her energy to keep them to herself. The strain of doing so had made her life begin to fall apart. Now was the time to pick up those broken pieces.

She may not be ready to unveil her secrets to everyone, but she could open up one more time and share them with Maria. If she'll let her.

That disturbing thought crossed her mind as she made her way around the perimeter of Maria's house, heading toward the back door. She was only a few steps away when the door opened and Amy DeLuca stepped out, a bag of garbage in hand. Liz stopped suddenly to avoid bumping into her.

Maria's mom's eyes widened at the sight of Liz. But other than that, her face remained impassive. There were no warm, friendly smiles for her. No hugs. Nothing.

It took Liz a moment to get past her surprise at the lack of response. She knew things were bad between her and Maria, but a part of her didn't realize how bad. Not until that very moment. That was the moment when, with sudden clarity, she realized how much she stood to lose.

"Elizabeth." she said to Liz in a stern voice.

Liz was a little taken aback by that. She could count on less than one hand all the times that Mrs. DeLuca had used her full first name. Liz knew that was the way she, like all parents, showed her displeasure with something she'd done. Although, Liz was relieved that Maria's mom didn't resort to addressing her by her full name. That meant that she hadn't completely fallen out of her good graces.

"Um... Hi, Mrs. DeLuca."

"Take a walk with me." She said it casually, but there was no mistaking the commanding tone. It was obvious how upset she was with her. And Liz wasn't stupid enough to upset her further.

"Sure." Liz said awkwardly. Then she followed behind Maria's mom as they began the short trip to the garbage can.

"I don't know what exactly happened between the two of you, but my little girl was crying her eyes out. I could only make out that the two of you had words." She lifted the lid and dropped the bag of trash into the garbage can. Then she paused and brushed a stray sweat-dampened hair out of her eyes with her free hand. "Liz, you know I think of you like a daughter, but I gotta tell you that hearing my baby cry like that broke my heart. All I could do was hold her. I couldn't help her. But you can. I don't care if you have to swallow pride, or eat crow, or get raked over hot coals, but you're gonna march on in there and fix this." She slammed the lid down onto the can, punctuating her words.

All Liz could do was nod her head in accquiescence. She didn't want to fight Maria's mom. She agreed with her. Plus Liz knew that she was doing this because she was really worried about Maria's well being.

"I can't stand to see my two girls like this. You're like sisters. I didn't think anything would come between you two." She paused as though a thought suddenly came to her. "This fiasco wasn't about a boy, was it? No man is worth losing your best friend over."

"No. Not really. It was over something I told her in private, to keep private."

"Liz, even the best kept secrets have a way of biting you in the ass."

Liz sighed heavily. "I know."

"Well, what are you waiting for? An engraved invitation? You're not gonna fix anything just standing out here."

"Yes, Ma'am."

Head cast downward, Liz made her way to the back door. She opened it and stepped inside. As she crossed the threshold she heard Mrs. DeLuca's close the door behind her.

In a hushed voice she said, "Maria should be in her room. Good luck."

Silently, Liz walked the path to Maria's room. It was as familiar to her as was the back of her hand. But something this time was different.

It was too quiet. Maria wasn't the type of person to be still and quiet. Like molecules, she was always in motion. Even when she was alone she kept the radio on, danced, and sang. But now, there was no sound coming from the room. It worried Liz to see yet another sign of how hurt Maria was.

As Liz reached the doorway to Maria's room, the unnatural quiet seemed to grow louder. It was so pervasive that Liz felt as though she were trespassing in a tomb.

She took a deep breath and entered the room. The only light in the room was the small ammount that entered through Maria's window. It was gloomy to say the least. Although the lack of lighting was a bit disturbing, what made her inhale sharply was Maria's appearance.

She stood solemnly by the window, looking out. She was wearing baggy, frumpy, clothing that were a few years out of fashion, if not older. The only other time Liz could remember Maria being so careless about her clothes, was the day immediately following Alex's death. But even then, her look was more put together than this.

Eventually, she noticed Liz standing just inside the doorway. Maria turned and faced Liz, stepping directly into the light. Her blond hair was pulled haphazardly into a ponytail where there were more stragly strands left outside of the scrunchi than there were captured in it. There were tearstains on her cheeks. Her eyes, bloodshot. The area under her eyes were puffy and dark, obviously caused by too much crying and not enough sleep. And the most disturbing was the fact that without make-up she looked more like a troubled ghost, than one of the living.

Maria stared at her unblinkingly. Wariness, desolation, and hope were vying for dominance in her eyes. She looked at her as though Liz were a wounded animal who would just as soon attack her for trying to help. Which Liz was ashamed to admit, was exactly what she'd done to Maria.

"What do you want?" She bluntly asked Liz. There was an undertone to her voice that Liz had never heard before. She couldn't describe what it was, but it frightened her. She didn't want to hear it ever again. Not from Maria.

"I... I wanted to talk to you."

Liz waited to see if Maria would be willing to hear her out. But she didn't reply at all. Maria just looked at her with eyes filled with hurt. Liz knew she had to be careful. Their friendship was on the line, and she really didn't want to do anything to blow it. There was too much at stake.

"Maria, when we were out at the pod chamber, I said some really horrible things to you. I was wrong to lash out at you. I am really, really sorry for the way I treated you that day.

"I know you were just trying to be a good friend to me. And I can't honestly say that I've been a good friend to you. I wish I could say that I had a good reason. As I walked over here I tried to tabulate a list of them. All I did was make myself feel worse, because in the end they were only excuses. They made me realize that the things you said to me were a lot closer to the truth. More than either of us knew."

"What are you talking about, Liz?" She asked in a less standoffish manner.

"I do push people away. I did that to Max, and I did that to you. I hurt you intentionally. I wanted you to leave me and that topic alone. That's why I did what I did."

"But why? Why would you want to do that?" Maria said, sounding more like herself.

Liz could tell that the icy walls that Maria had built up around her heart were starting to melt and thaw. "It was partly a diversion, so you wouldn't tell them. I didn't want them to know about it. Because you were showing me sympathy. I don't deserve it. And I didn't want you or any of them near me when you realized the truth. I couldn't stand for you to look at me like I was a hideous freak. I didn't want you to hate me. I couldn't stand for my best friend to feel that way about me."

"Oh my god. Are you on drugs? Did touching the Granolith scramble your brain? Don't you know by now that I could never hate you? I mean, yeah I'm really upset by what you did, but it'll heal... How could you think that?"

"I saw your expression after your fainting spell, when you realized that I was developing powers. You were afraid. Of me."

Maria's shoulder's sagged as soon as she heard that come out of Liz's mouth. "Oh chica, I wasn't afraid of you, I was afraid for you. It isn't fair that you carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. You didn't need alien powers and the problems that come with them to add to that."

"No. You were right to fear me. You should be afraid. You might be the next person to get hurt or killed. Because of me."

"I can't believe this, you're almost as messed up as Michael was last year. Shoving me away in order to protect me? That's crazy!. You're wrong, Liz. You can't blame yourself for what happened. None of it is your fault. "

"Yes, it is! I'm a killer. I killed Alex."

"What?! NO! Tess did that. Not you. You're no more a killer than I am."

"If I didn't change the future, Alex would still be alive. So would Max."

"You don't know that for sure. There is no way of knowing all the possible ways your choice could have turned out. You're not God, Liz. If Alex wasn't dead by 2014, then the end of the world would have killed him. It was beyond your control... And what's this about Max? He was very much alive when I last talked to him."

"Not that Max. Future Max. I... I..." Liz choked out a sob as tears started to fall from her eyes. "I killed him, Maria. I killed him just as sure as if I had shot him with a gun. My words and actions poisoned him. And then I held him in my arms moments before he died."

"Chica, Max is Max. Past, present, or future versions are all the same man."

"No, you're wrong. Future Max was the love of my life, and I was his. Time and again, he risked it all for me. He was the one who jumped off a bridge with me. Who saved my life. Who swore that all he cared about was me. That he was coming for me... I killed him. Being with Kyle in my bed, killed that Max. And this one took his place."

"Oh Lizzie, he's still Max. Max did all of those things with you. You shared that deep, stare into my eyes, soulmate connection. What you two had doesn't go away."

"But it did, Maria. I look at him and think of what will never be. He isn't the same as the future Max. I want the Max who was willing to risk everything just because it was me. He's the only one I'll ever love. And it kills me to know that I'm never gonna marry him. I'm never gonna be happy. All I'll ever know of that happiness is the borrowed memories of the grown up version of the boy I killed."

"Your Max isn't dead. He's still alive. He may not wear his heart on his sleeve anymore, but he does love you. I've seen it in his eyes."

"He's not the same. My Max would never sleep with Tess, yet alone get her pregnant. My Max wouldn't have done half the things this one has done."

"Sweetie, your fixation with Future Max isn't so healthy. I've told you this before. You're clinging to the past. And the memories you're holding on to aren't even yours. You need to make some memories of your own. I know Max has had some questionable judgement when it came to that blond-haired thing. I'm not saying go hook up with him. You know, it's perfectly all right for you to go out and find somebody else. There are lots of other fish in the sea. You could hook up with one of them and find happiness."

"I can't. Don't you get it yet? That's what I was trying to do with Sean. It didn't work. I tried... to be with him... and all I could see was Max's face. All I could feel were these hands on me that weren't Max's. Remember when you first found out about them? You were worried that they put a thing on you, spoiling you for other guys." Liz waited for Maria to nod her head before continuing. "Well, I think Max did ruin me for other men. All that Sean and me have is a flirtacious friendship. That's all it will ever be. That's all I can ever have. With anyone."

Liz sank down on the bed completely drained and dejected. She sat there vehemently wiping away the tears that refused to stop. All of the sudden she felt the bed sink down next to her and the warmth of Maria's slender arms as she gathered Liz into a hug.

The two girls held on to each other, crying and shaking with emotion. Several long minutes passed as they continued to comfort each other without any words. Sometimes being a best friend meant being there for the other without recrimination. Sometimes the greatest solace could be found in a hug. One that was long since past due.

After what seemed like an eternity, they stopped hugging. Side by side they sat, while Liz leaned against Maria's shoulder.

"Have you had all this running through your head since it happened?"

"Pretty much. Although the Alex part came later."

"My god, I would have gone crazy. Why didn't you tell me? I would have helped."

"How could I? You had enough on your plate. Problems with Michael, and that whole Brody thing. I couldn't saddle you with this. I just couldn't..."

"What are you trying to say? That you didn't trust me? That I couldn't handle it?" Maria pulled away in outrage. Liz had to quickly right herself, or else topple over.

"No. No. Don't put words in my mouth. I know I'd said that I couldn't trust you. But that's not true... I was the one I couldn't trust."

Maria's mouth dropped open in stunned shock. "What are you...? How can that...? I don't get it."

"I loved Max with every fiber of my being. But I was still able to stab him in his back and watch him die. If I was able to hurt him like that, who's to say that I wouldn't be able to do the same to you? The other one of the two people I care for most in the world."

"Oh Lizzie, see what keeping secrets does to a person? It makes you act all crazy and do stupid things. If you were thinking clearly, you would have known that it hurts me more when you don't fill me in, than it does if you do."

"I'm uh, starting to realize that." Liz said with a tearstained smile.

"So we're ok now. We've cleared all the air about everything."

"Well, almost everything." Liz whispered quietly.

Maria heard that and let out a growl of frustration. "Didn't we just go over this? Telling me equals good. Keeping to yourself equals bad. Very bad. If you don't tell me, I'll drag it out of you. Don't think I won't. Dealing with Michael has perfected my technique."

"Ok, ok. But I'm warning you that it has to do with Ava, visions from the granolith, crazy puzzle filled dreams, and the alien type powers I'm getting."

"Is there a lot to tell me?"

"Yeah, you could say that."

Maria turned around and lunged for the pillows at the head of her bed. She grabbed them and brought them to the foot of the bed where she placed them side by side. She proceeded to lay down on her stomach and rested her head on the pillow. She raised her eyebrow slightly at Liz as if to ask "Are you gonna join me or what?".

Liz took off her sweater in order to be more comfortable. She noticed Maria noticing the bruises on her arm. But she didn't say anything. She just sat there patiently as Liz dug out her index cards from the sweater's pocket, and flipped through them. When Liz finished, she laid down almost identically to Maria. The difference was that she propped her head up on her bent arm.

"Ok, babe. You're set? I'm set. It's all good. Lay it on me."

They lay there as Liz began to explain in detail everything that had happened to her since the day they realized what Tess did to them. Hours passed as Liz tried to get everything out. It would have gone much quicker, but Maria kept interrupting.

She seemed to have a comment to make about everything. "Me and Michael were discussing poetry? Yeah. Right, like that'll happen. ... I can just see her in a Burger King crown. So trashy. ... I think you saw them how they were on their home planet. My god, it sounds so alien. ... I'm so sorry you had to see that future happen. Poor future you and Max. And that blond tramp keeps popping up like bad penny."

And then there were the questions Maria had. Liz didn't mind them so much. She just felt bad that she didn't have answers to most of them. Plus, her questions brought into focus just how little Liz understood about what was happening to and around her. Liz didn't know why all this was happening to her. Or how. Or even if there was a way to stop it.

When Liz finally finished up explaining everything, she felt exhausted. Maria had done a pretty good job of keeping up with all the weirdness in her life. At least until Liz got to the Kyle part. It was obvious that she was getting riled up by his reaction.

Liz didn't exactly say what Tess had done to Kyle, but Maria had always been good at reading between the lines. That talent had made her very valuable when it came to gossip. And now it served her friend well. Liz could honestly say that she didn't tell Maria Kyle's secret.

"The more I hear about what that tramp did, the more I'd like the opportunity to pull each and every hair out of her head. Slowly. Then when her head is tender, sore, and oozing blood, I'll let her try a lemon juice and salt scalp treatment. And that's just for starters."

"Ye-ouch, that sounds painful. You got such an evil mind. Remind me to never become your enemy."

"Don't worry, Liz. I promise to only use it for the forces of good."

"That's a relief... But seriously, what do you think I should do? I'm tired of sitting around and having this stuff just happen to me. I need more control than that. I want to actively persue this. Find out for myself what the clues are leading me to."

"If that's what you want to do, then we should go to that cave at the reservation. I think Ava had you go there in the dream for a reason."

"I don't see why. I'd been there a couple of times before. Other than the obvious alien writings on the wall, there was nothing remarkable about the place."

"But you got to admit that you didn't know what to look for and where."

"I still don't know what I'd be looking for."

"Ah , but you got clues. And solving that mystery will be an adventure. I'm thinking... Road trip. We haven't had one of those for a while."

"I guess we could. Do you mind if we invite Kyle to go with?"

"Sure! It can be a Human's day out. But before we do that we got to do something else."

"Maria... I'm not sure I trust that tone of voice. That's the one where we seem to end up living out part of an 'I Love Lucy' episode."

"Oh come on, Liz. You say that like it's a bad thing."

Liz chuckled slightly. "I didn't say that... exactly... I'm just wondering what you're gonna get us into."

"Nothing really. I just figured that if we're gonna follow up on that dream, we're gonna need supplies."

"Supplies like what?"

"Didn't you say that Ava used the healing stones in the cave?"

"Yeah. But I don't know what happened to them."

"Then it's a good thing I'm here. I know who's got them."

Realization dawned on Liz as soon as Maria said that. She knew then what her friend was thinking about doing. And her next words confirmed her suspicions.

"Ugh. I feel so grubby. I'm gonna catch a quick shower. Feel free to find something more practical to wear. Like something in black. And try and find my flashlight."

"Maria." Liz said in protest.

"Don't 'Maria' me. You need those crystals... It's time we go snooping by Michael's. Again."

Maria ran out of the room and into the bathroom nearby. Liz could faintly hear the clanking of the pipes as the shower started. Maria's voice, loud and true, was belting out one of Mariah Carey's early hits.

Liz couldn't help but smile. This was the way her friend should be. Happy, joyful, and noisy. Such a startling contrast to the way Maria had been when she first saw her today. Liz was so glad that at least something was back to normal in her life.

Liz was startled out of her thoughts when Maria's mom stepped into the open doorway. "I'm so glad the two of you were able to smooth things out. It is such a relief to hear Maria singing again. Now that that crisis is over, I'm going over to see how Jim is doing, then possibly go out for dinner. Let Maria know I may be home late. If I'm lucky... You know, the two of you should go out tonight and do something."

Liz nodded at Mrs. DeLuca who then left the room. A few minutes later, the sound of the back door closing reached her ears.

Her and Maria were going to go out. Only, Liz didn't think that Mrs. DeLuca would be too appreciative of what was on the agenda. They were going to do something all right.

They were going to Michael's apartment and commit a felony.






Edited by - Psyche G on 09/15/2001 12:28:31

Edited by - Psyche G on 09/25/2001 06:04:22

Edited by - Psyche G on 09/30/2001 22:58:20

[ edited 25time(s), last at 1-Feb-2003 4:16:49 AM ]
posted on 14-Sep-2001 12:26:06 PM by Psyche G

Hey all,

With the events of this past week, I've held off on posting the newest part of my fic. It seemed kind of irrevelant in the greater scheme of things. A part of me still feels this way. My story can't compare to that of the loss of so many lives and our nation's innocence. The terrorists took something from us that we'll never get back.

At some point during the continuous news coverage, someone made the comment about making the best of the time you have because you never know when it will be over. So here's my attempt to make the best of the here and now. Lord knows I needed a little escapeism from this reality. I hope the rest of you feel the same.

Without further adieu, here's chapter 20. As for the next part, bear with me, I haven't been in much of a writing mood, but I'm trying.


~~Psyche~~

Chapter 20



"Uh... Maria, I don't think this is such a good idea." Liz said as she huddled closer to the front door of Michael's apartment.

"Relax, Liz. It's a brillant idea, if I do say so myself. Just keep an eye out for anyone."Maria said as she tried for the umpteenth time to get her credit card to jimmy the door open. "Why isn't this working? It worked the last time."

"Maybe it's a sign that we shouldn't do this. We don't even know when Michael will be home. He could be back any time." She said as she scanned the area around her. Luckily, so far there were no people passing by, yet alone noticing the two of them.

"No he won't. He told me he was planning on hanging out at Max's. They probably are going to watch 'Braveheart', 'The Matrix', or 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon'. They'll probably watch either of the first two. Those are more of Michael's kind of movie. He doesn't really go for those deeper ones." Rolling her eyes, she added. "He can be such a guy at times."

"Look, we can just wait until he gets back here. We'll have you ask to see the healing stones and I'm sure he'll agree." Liz tried to nudge Maria out of the way. As she moved her slightly, they both heard the sound of plastic snapping.

"Damn it! Look what you made me do. Part of my credit card broke off in the door. That was the only one I had with me. Do you have something else I can use instead?" Maria struggled to pry the broken part of the credit card away from the doorjam. She muttered in a low voice, "Yeah, sure, I'll ask Michael. And if he doesn't laugh his head off, then he'll want to be there and be part of it. And if we do find anything, he's gonna manage to take credit for it. No thanks."

"All I have on me is my old school ID. I didn't exactly plan on doing this when I went to visit you."

"Ah-ha! I got it out." Maria looked sadly down at the broken bits of what once was a credit card. "I don't know how I'm gonna explain this to Mom..." She then placed the remains in her purse. Maria turned to Liz, held out her hand, and demanded, "Let me have the ID."

"Here, take it. I just don't feel comfortable breaking and entering. I don't think I'm cut out for a life of crime."

"Crime? What crime? I'm the girlfriend who left something very important over here. I had you come with me because I'm such a weak and frightened girl who didn't feel safe coming here alone."

"You're weak and timid? Yeah, right." Liz gave an unladylike snort.

"Well, how about... it's not a crime unless you get caught."

"You know, your cousin said the same thing to me."

"Ooh. I can't believed you just insulted me like that. I am nothing like him. He's a hoodlum. He lives to get into trouble. I'm a good person. I try to stay out of trouble."

"Except for when you go breaking and entering. And cut class to go to Vegas. And help extort money and power from the Dupree's. I understand." Liz started to laugh at the expression on Maria's face. It was a combination of concentration at the task at hand, and righteous indignation. "Hypocrite. You are, you know."

Maria said poutingly, "I'm not even going to dignify that with a reply... It's a shame that you didn't develop the power to lock and unlock doors like the others. Now that would come in handy right about now."

"I could try and see if I can do it."

"Nah. I almost got it..." Maria suddenly let out a little cheer as the door swung open. "Voila! There's something to be said about good ol' fashioned human ingenuity. After you, Liz."

Liz walked past Maria and into the apartment. As she did so she took back her ID. Maria followed her and closed the door with a quiet click. She pulled a small flashlight out of her pocket and turned it on. The tiny beam of light did little to alleviate the darkness of the room. She threw her purse onto the couch, not noticing that it had opened slightly.

Liz paced restlessly, back and forth. "So where are they? Let's just get them and go."

"We're gonna have to look around for them."

Liz stopped in her tracks and glared at her friend. "Wait a minute. You said that you knew where they were."

"Oh no, I didn't... All I said was that I knew that Michael had them."

"This is great. Just great. How in the world are we gonna find them?"

"Don't get all worked up. I saw them here the night before they were gonna leave. He was probably going to take them with him. He hasn't had much of a chance to get back here lately. So the way I figure, they can't be hidden too well."

"How can you be so sure about that?"

"I know Michael. Besides, look at this place. It was clean only a few days ago. These are fresh layers of stuff. All we gotta do is check under the mess."

"Fine. But I refuse to touch his dirty clothes."

"Ok, ok. I'll take care of checking around the clothing and the bed. Why don't you check the kitchen area?"

"I guess that's as good a place to start looking as any."

Liz pulled out her flashlight and turned it on. She used it to look through the drawers and in the lower cabinets. She only found some cleaning supplies, a few pieces of cookware, and laundry detergent in the storage space under the counter. Not the pouch containing the stones. She even went so far as to stick her head in the oven in order to try and find the stones' hiding place.

She straightened up to her full height and then tried to look inside the upper cabinets. Liz was able to easily see what was in the lower shelves. Dishes and cups were on one side. Canned goods and Tabasco were on the other. From her vantage point, she could see cereal boxes on the uppermost shelves. But it was entirely possible that they were hidden behind the innocuous boxes of overly sweetened cereals.

Unless she was able to grow several inches in the next few seconds, she would have to find a way to look up there. Seeing as there were no stepladders for her to use, she went over and dragged a chair over to that area. She climbed up onto it and began to search the cabinets thouroughly. Liz went so far as to grab the boxes and shake them just to be sure that there was really cereal inside them.

Liz was putting the last box back into place, when she began to lose her balance. Her arms flailed wildly as she tried to regain her equilibrium. She felt herself start to fall. Amazingly, she was able to steady herself against the refrigerator. She held on to the fridge for support as she managed to get her feet on the floor.

Her arm slid across the fridge's door. Out of nowhere a flash came upon her. The room as it looked right then faded from her view. Maria was gone. The bed that she had been searching near was now occuppied by Michael.

He was tossing and turning as if he was caught in a nightmare. Mumbling occasionally as his movements became more and more agitated. All of a sudden, he lurched upright in bed with an anguished yell.

He sat there on the edge of his bed, breathing heavily. Suddenly, Michael lurched to his feet and strode over to the fridge. He threw the door open, grabbed a carton of orange juice, and took a good long swig from it. He grimaced as he swallowed and placed the open carton back inside.

Liz thought that he was going to close the fridge and go back to bed. But he surprised her. He reached into the freezer and fumbled around until he pulled out a crumpled paper bag. He stuck his hand in it and brought a handful of money out of the bag. He stared at that money as if it were the root of all evil.

He threw the money back in the bag and forcefully shoved it back into the freezer. He slammed the fridge door with his foot and proceeded to give the refrigerator a sound beating. The fridge shook with the force of his attack.

It was almost as though she was shaking along with the fridge.

Liz blinked and found herself standing in front of the fridge while Maria was shaking her by the shoulders.

"What the hell was that, Liz? I heard you almost fall. Then it was like you were in a trance or something."

"I just saw something."

"What do you mean? Saw, like in a flash? What did you see?"

"I saw Michael. He had a nightmare and came to the fridge for something to drink. The weird thing is he pulled this paper sack full of money out of it and stared at it as though it were the devil incarnate."

"The Dupree money."

"What?"

"The fifty thousand that we used in Vegas. It came from Laurie Dupree's evil family. Michael told me that the Vegas trip was to get the tainted money off of his conscience. I think he said it gave him nightmares."

"I didn't know that. So do you think that that might have been what I saw."

"It's a possibility... But I can't believe that Michael would be stupid enough to store that much money in the fridge. That's like one of the first places burglars look. At least according to Sean."

The two girls fell silent. They were both contemplating one of the last comments made.

"Maria, are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

"I don't know. Do you think Michael would be that stupid? Hiding something like that in the fridge."

"There's only one way to find out."

Maria reached out to and opened the door to the fridge. "Let's see what this puppy is hiding. I got dibs on the bottom half of the fridge. You get the upper half."

"Gee, thanks a bunch. Stick me with the freezer."

"Try and think of it as payment in full for how rotten you were to me."

Liz grumbled at that. But she didn't bother to push the issue. It was the least she deserved for the way she'd treated her best friend. If facing the cold from the freezer was her punishment of sorts, then so be it.

Maria squatted close to the ground next to Liz. She could hear her friend commenting to herself about the state of the food inside the fridge. Meanwhile, Liz began to look over the items in the freezer.

The freezer had a lot of typical things in it. There was an ice tray, half empty. A couple of frozen pizzas, the oven rising kind. There were a few small packages of what looked like some kind of meat. Possibly ground beef. Near the back she found a couple of ancient looking TV dinners. Plus there was a small carton of vanilla ice cream, which was a kind of odd. From what she knew about her alien friends' taste, simple flavors like vanilla weren't really popular.

"Hey Maria, do you know what kind of ice cream Michael goes for?"

"He seems to like ice cream with combinations of flavors. I know he liked 'Chunky Monkey' and any thing with either strawberries or caramel. Of course he takes perfectly good ice cream and ruins it with all that hot sauce. Let me tell you, there is nothing more disgusting than watching someone pour Tabasco over rainbow sherbet and then eat it. Do you have any idea how awful that tastes together? I mean I tried..."

"Ssshh. So in your opinion, he isn't into plain vanilla ice cream."

"No. Why?"

"There's a pint of it at the back of his freezer."

"That is so definitely out of place, Chica. Get it out."

Liz reached into the freezer and grabbed the cold container. As she lifted it and took it out of the cold she noticed that it wasn't heavy like ice cream. She shook the container and heard the sound of something moving around inside.

Liz pried the lid off and dumped the contents of the container into Maria's waiting hands. They both stared at the drawstringed pouch made of dark fabric.

"Fantastic. We found it." Maria said as she undid the drawstring and shook out the contents of the little bag into her hand. "I told you we would."

Liz smiled. "Once again, you were right. But don't get too cocky... Let's hurry up and put things back the way we found them. Then let's get the hell out of here. I really don't want to be here when he comes back."

The two girls hurriedly straightened things back to more or less the way they found it. They started for the door when Liz noticed something that the beam from Maria's flashlight glanced over. Wordlessly, she was compelled to investigate it further.

"Maria, what's this?"

"That? That's a painting Michael started a few days ago. I think. At least it wasn't here when I was with him."

"It looks so familiar for some reason."

"It looks weird. A pink sky and the perspective seems off. Looking at it reminds me of the dreams in 'Twin Peaks'. I hate this style of painting. It looks so alien. I mean I know he is, but..."

"Oh my God. That's where I know it from. The vision from the Granolith."

"You mean you saw this when you touched it?"

"Yeah. This was the place where that alien wedding ceremony took place. I remember the strange pink sky and those symbols on the walls of the chamber."

"Do you know what this means?"

"That this corroborates what I saw when I touched the Granolith. I saw them. It was their people that attended the ceremony."

"Well, yeah, there's that. But I was thinking that he got the idea for painting this after we connected. Maybe he saw it in the flash he got from me. He never did tell me what he saw."

"You got flashes?"

Maria reacted sheepishly. "Yeah I got them from Michael. The night we... well, he really opened up to me."

"I'm really happy for you. I am. But I think we have a lot to talk about though. Let's get out of here and go grab something to eat at the Crashdown."

"Sure. It's been killing me not to talk to you about it. It was so... wow." Maria said with a slight smile. She cast her eyes downward quickly.

Even so, Liz was able to sense the depth of emotion her friend felt. And for a brief moment, she felt a twinge of jealousy. She may have been happy for Maria, but Liz couldn't help but feel that it wasn't fair that Maria and Michael were able to be together without causing the world to end. It hurt knowing that she'd never get an opportunity to know what love like that was like. But she didn't hold that against Maria.

They headed for the door. Liz stepped outside and waited for Maria to follow. Maria had stepped out the door and had started to close it behind her. Liz noticed that there was something Maria forgot.

"Don't close the door! You left your purse inside."

Maria quickly ran back in and snatched the purse off the couch. She was in such a hurry that she didn't notice the small item that fell out of her purse.

She silently closed the door behind her, unaware of the broken half of her credit card lying on the sofa's cushions.




posted on 24-Sep-2001 6:01:57 AM by Psyche G

Hey all,

I'm sorry it took me so long to get this part out. I was having a lot of trouble with this part. The muse kinda left me and my earlier drafts of this were not a pretty sight.

But I do hope you all enjoy this new part. And for everyone who needs it:

WARNING! Max Evans ahead

I promise it's not as bad as the last time we saw him. So without further adieu, here's the story.



Chapter 21



"What's with all this stuff, Liz? When you called, you said that we were only going near the reservation. I thought it would just be a day trip. Am I missing something?"

"I thought we needed supplies. To be on the safe side."

Kyle sounded sceptical. "What exactly do you think we're gonna find? 'Cuz I can only think of one reason three attractive teenagers would need a sleeping bag. And I know I'm not gonna get lucky like that."

"Damn straight, you're not! Hey Kyle, quit with the yacking and help load this stuff into my car." Maria said as she shoved a heavy backpack full of stuff at Kyle.

"The sleeping bag is just a precaution. If we happen to find anything, it might behoove us to be able to cover it up if anyone starts snooping. We can spread it out and look as though we're having a picnic of sorts. Besides, if we do find something, who's to say that it will be small and easily hidden? The laws of probability are against that," Liz said as she looked over everything that they'd brought. Liz certainly didn't want to make it all the way out by the cave only to realize that they'd forgotten something.

"The spade you had me bring, is for... what exactly?" Kyle was certainly full of questions that morning.

"Well Kyle, most people use them to dig." Maria said playfully before she stuck her tongue out at him.

"No. Really? Wow. I didn't know that. Thanks for telling me." He sarcastically replied.

Liz interrupted them before they started to bicker like two immature siblings. "The shovel is needed on the off-chance we have to do some digging. The way I see it if anything is hidden there, it is either in the walls or the ground. If it is in the walls, it stands to reason that there would be a secret cache or even possibly a hidden room. But if it's the floor, then most likely we'd have to dig. And we certainly don't want to take the chance of one of us having another gandarium incident."

"Gandarium?" Kyle asked as though he never heard the word before.

"The blue crystals you and Alex were trapped underground with."

"Oh yeah, gandarium. Right... Liz, don't you think you're going a little overboard? We can't possibly use or need all this stuff."

"Kyle, that's probably true. But it's better to be prepared than to get out there and discover that you don't have what you need. Especially since we are going to be so far from home."

"I guess so." He sounded less than convinced.

Maria put her arm around Kyle's shoulder as she lead him to where there was a large cooler on the ground in front of the Crashdown Cafe. "I keep forgetting you haven't gone on these little excursions with us before. See, Kyle, you and me kinda think alike. Sort of. We're both doers. If we were in charge of this expediton, we'd grab only what we knew we needed and hightail it out there. You know how Liz is. She's more... methodical. And usually her approach actually gets us places."

"What are you getting at?"

"We were in remedial science for a reason. I for one could care less about following scientific reasoning. That's her strong suit. Trust me, it helps with all this crazy alien stuff. Also her grandma, Claudia, was an archeologist. She used to tell Liz all about her work and how she did it. I'm sure that that's gonna help us today."

"Yeah, yeah. Whatever. I'm just in this so we can get the goods on Tess. I want to see her get what's coming to her."

"So do I. We all do. That's a given. If we put our heads together, I bet we can come up with some real interesting torture... I mean punishment, for that skanky blond haired witch. Or would that go against your religion?"

"I don't think Buddha would be offended by a little well deserved revenge. Not in this case. I'd just be helping her achieve her karmic rewards."

Maria and Liz both chuckled at that.

"I like the sound of that. So why don't we just get the rest of this in the car and get going. So you grab that end of the cooler and I'll get this side." Maria told him.

"I can manage it by myself."

"But Kyle..." Liz interjected.

"You don't think I can carry this?" He asked cutting Liz off before she could voice her objection.

She knew this obstinate tone he was speaking in. It never failed to annoy her. When they were dating, he would use that attitude whenever his jock friends were around. Liz thought of it as his showing-off voice.

She hadn't heard it from him in a long time. Not since he finally stopped stalking her, trying to get her back. Not since he felt he had something to prove to himself and or to the world. She could only assume that he was being like this because he was still trying to deal with what Tess did to him. Liz reminded herself that even though he looked ok, that didn't mean that he was ok inside. It would be a long time before that wound would heal.

She also knew from experience that there was no trying to reason with him like this. So she told him, "Be my guest."

Maria gave her a questioning look. Liz just stared back at her with a wry twist to her lips. She could see the moment realization bloomed in her friend's eyes. Maria blinked once and nodded slightly in return.

Kyle bent down and reached for the hand grips on the cooler. Started to lift it up, only to stagger under the weight. "What the hell do you got in here? Rocks? How can food be so heavy?"

"I got three different kinds of sandwiches, cold fried chicken, some cans of pop, bottles of water, some apples, and a whole lot of ice to keep it all cold. I might have over did it with the ice. I just didn't want the food to spoil."

"Well that's great. Why didn't you warn me?"

"It's not like you would have listened to me." Liz told him, in a matter-of-fact way.

"Yeah... well, I..." He stammered. He didn't have a ready reply to what she said, that was obvious. He ended up doing what most people do when faced with topics they are uncomfortable with. He changed the subject. "Where do you want me to put this?"

"I don't think there's enough room to fit that in here. Maria?"

"I don't think so either. How about we put it in the back seat next to you?"

"Whatever. Let's just get going. My dad has gotten a little nuts with the news that Tess is still around. He tried to talk me out of going today. Hell, I'm half expecting him to show up here any minute to drag my butt back home like he did in Vegas." He said while stowing the cooler on the backseat of the passenger side of the car.

"Did you tell him what we were planning on doing?"

"Nah. I don't think he'd handle it too well. He wants me to stay away from anything that has to do with finding Tess. I just told him I was going to be hanging out with you two."

"Do you think he's gonna try and follow us?" Maria asked as she looked up and down the street, trying to see if he was surveilling them.

"I doubt it. When I left, he was snoring away in front of the TV."

"That may be for now, who knows how long that's gonna last. We should get on our way and not push our luck. I have a feeling that there's something out there we need to see," Liz commented.

"Well then, Let's get going. As of 8:37 AM, I declare that 'Human's Day Out' has officially started." Maria said as she looked at her watch.

The three of them looked at each other as each began to grin.

"Last one in my car is an alien."

Time seemed to stand still for a moment as they all stared at each other like it was a showdown at high noon. All of a sudden, the three of them erupted in a flurry of movement. Liz, Maria, and Kyle scrambled for the doors of the Jetta.

Liz made a mad dash to her usual spot of riding shotgun. She was the first into the car. Maria elbowed Kyle out of the way and ran to the driver's side and cursed as saw that the doors were locked. Barely stopping, she ran around the car to where Liz was seated and climbed in over her to settle into the drivers seat.

Meanwhile, Kyle reached the car door behind Maria. He groaned slightly as he noticed the doors were locked. But he didn't let that stop him, making use of the partially open window, he stuck his arm through the opening and struggled to reach the door lock. He managed to unlock the door and climb inside.

Only to find Maria and Liz sitting comfortably in the front seats.

"Took you long enough... well Kyle, it seems that you're it," Maria smirked as she started the car and put it in gear.

As the car pulled away, Kyle's voice was easily heard through the Jetta's open windows. "That isn't fair, you cheated. Both driver side doors were locked. You knew that. You also shoved me out of the way. You should have been the last one in the car. Climbing in over Liz doesn't count."

Maria and Liz looked at him, snickering over his petulant tone. Then they looked at each other. As soon as their eyes met, the two girls started cackling.

"Don't be such a big baby. You lost fair and square." Maria said with a smug attitude.

"Fair and square, my ass," Kyle grumbled.

Maria met his eyes in the rear view mirror. "Hey babe, if ya snooze ya lose."

Liz turned around in her seat so she could look at him. "I promise we won't torture you too much." She said with a innocent smile on her face.

"What are you... ? Liz? What are you not telling me?"

For a few fleeting moments silence reigned supreme. Then the radio was turned on. The girls started singing along with the song that was playing. Their singing was reminiscent of the yowling a cat makes while they are in heat.

"Buddha, no. Not that, Anything but that." Kyle said, under his breath. He then leaned forward and told them, "You guys are cruel. Forcing me to listen to the Backstreet Boys. And that singing... Are you trying to kill me?"

Liz stopped singing long enough to answer his question. "What? No. Of course not. Its just that this was a bit of a tradition when the three of us were going somewhere."

"The three of us?"

"Yeah. Maria, me, and Alex." Liz said in a solemn voice.

"Oh..." he said as he apparently realized the importance of the way they were including him. In the same way that Alex had been. "In that case, I guess I can deal with hearing the one song."

"One song? Oh no, no, no, mi amigo. This is only the begining." Maria said as the song ended.

Kyle's eyes widened in horror. He turned his head to the window next to him and looked up at the sky. "Buddha, help me."

Maria and Liz's laughter faded from earshot as the car made their way out of town.

The road trip had begun.




****************************************************




Michael quickly made his way to Max's window. He could see him sitting on his bed staring deeply into a candle. So he tried to get Max's attention by pounding on the glass. Still Max sat there, not moving even a little bit. He was completly ignoring his knocking.

That left him little choice but to use his powers to open the window. After he did so, he swiftly climbed inside the room. Max paid him no mind. In fact, now that he was closer to Max, he could see that he was unaware of what was going on around him. It was as though he were in a trance.

Which was just great. On top of everything else he was worried about, now he had to snap Max's ass out of whatever la-la-land he was in.

He felt anxious and unsettled. An uncomfortable feeling nagged at him in the back of his mind, warning him that something was about to happen. Normally Michael wouldn't act on his anxieties so quickly, but this time he sensed that Maria was at the heart of whatever was going on.

The mere thought of something ever happening to Maria, frightened him to no end. Michael refused to even consider the possibility. He needed her. He wouldn't allow anything to happen to her. He'd do whatever he could to prevent that from happening. Anything at all.

Which was why he was there in the first place.

"Max."

He didn't answer Michael. All he did was continue to stare at the candle. Michael didn't even think that Max knew he was in the room with him. Which wasn't like him.

Normally, Max would've noticed him immediately and start grumbling about how he didn't know how to use a door. It was almost a tradition between them. Michael would never admit it, but a lot of the time he enjoyed yanking Max's chain. He always got a perverse ammount of pleasure in infuriating his friend.

Michael walked over to him and tried again.

"Max... Hey Max... Earth to Maxwell." He said as he shook his shoulder. When that didn't work, he waved his hand in front of Max's eyes. And still got no response. Starting to get more worried than he was originally, he placed his hand on his shoulder and shook him harder.

Still nothing. He just kept staring at the flickering candle flame.

Michael had enough. He had more important things to do than to waste time on Max's crap. He had to find Maria. He reached over him and viciously waved his hand over the candle, using his powers to extinguish the flame.

Suddenly, Max lurched forward with a gasp. He moved forward so quickly that Michael nearly got knocked down. His eyes slowly came to rest on Michael, his confusion evident in his eyes.

"Wha'? Michael? What are you doing...? How...? You weren't here a moment ago."

"Whatever, Maxwell. You were out of it. Didn't even notice me here. And you know what? I don't really want to get into it. I'm sure whatever's going on with you is important. But I'm not here to help with that. I got something bigger on my mind."

Max was very groggy and slow to respond. "Huh? What's going on? Why are you here?"

"I can't find Maria."

"Huh? Why did you come to me? It's not like I'm hiding her here."

"I'm sorry I'm bothering you. I thought you would help... Never mind. Here, go back to your damn candle watching." Michael said angrily as he waved his hand toward the candle. The wick suddenly erupted in a high, and wildly dancing flame. "I'm outta here." He sharply turned on his heel and stormed back by the window.

"Michael, wait." Max snuffed out the candle using his fingertips.

Michael paused in front of the window. He turned around and gave Max a look of total insolence. "What?" Michael bit out.

"Look, I'm sorry. I'm just a little disoriented. It seemed like it was a short time ago that you went home. Now what were you saying about Maria?"

Michael relaxed his stance a little. He told him guardedly, "Maria's missing."

"What? Are you sure?" Max asked, suddenly concerned for his friend.

"Yes... Maybe... I don't know. I can't find her anywhere. And I know she's been talking to you lately."

"I haven't talked to her since yesterday morning. But you know Maria... Isn't it possible that she's gone shopping? Or maybe she's doing something for her mom."

"I admit it's possible, but not very likely. I think she's getting into something, and with Tess still around its not bound to be good."

"Do you think Tess has her?"

"No... But you know how I get those gut feelings, well something is gonna happen today. And Maria's right in the thick of it."

"Oh, ok. why don't you tell me everything."

"I left here, went home and decided to work on a painting I'm almost finished with. Then I flopped down on the sofa to relax. I felt this poking me." He reached into his pocket and pulled out the broken half of a credit card with what would have obviously been Maria's name on it. He tossed it to Max. Then he continued, "I didn't know how it got there. I tried to think about what it could mean, and I figured it was a threat. Either Tess or the Skins left it there to tell me that they are going after the ones I lo... I care for. Maria's at the top of that list. I figure if someone wanted to get my Achilles' heel, the best way would be to take Maria out... I can't let anything happen to her."

"Let me get this straight. You go home, find her credit card, and immediately assume that she's been kidnapped?"

"What are you getting at?"

"Was there any signs of a struggle? Anything else to support your concern?"

"No. That's the weird thing, My apartment is cleaner than it was when I left."

"Like how?"

"Well... My clothes were picked up off the floor. And my bed was made. Things were definitely not how I left them."

Max stared at him as though he didn't understand him at all. "Ok... It still doesn't make sense. Wouldn't they be more likely to trash your place? Not clean it."

"It's called psychological warfare, Maxwell. Which you would know if you read the books I reccomended."

"Well it's certainly something psychological. But not warfare. Sounds like Maria more or less did the same thing she did for prom."

"What are you talking about?"

"DIdn't you ever wonder why she was so pissed off at you?"

"Not really. It's just par for the course with us. She gets riled up over the littlest things."

"Be that as it may, I heard that she broke in to your place to find out what was up with you. And then she found a paper that made her wonder if you were cheating on her. What was the name she called her... hmm, Whoreita, I think it was."

"Whor..." Michael's eyes widened as he realized who that name refered to. "Juanita. So 'Ria broke into my place to snoop around. That's how she found out. What I don't understand is why you know about it."

"I just happened to overhear her and Liz talk..."

Before Max could finish his sentence, Isabel burst in through the door. She had the cordless phone in her hand and was punching the off-button with annoyance. She strode past Michael, completely ignoring him, and moved toward her brother.

"Oh good, I don't have to wake you up. I need Liz's parents' number. No one is answering her phone. And the Crashdown would only tell me that she was off today. And since you, little brother, were the authority on most things Liz, I figure you know the Parkers' number too." Isabel paused for a moment, and said in a somewhat flat tone, "Oh. Hi, Michael."

"Is." Michael nodded his head in greeting. "I don't think Liz is home. I got up onto her balcony to see if I'd find Maria with her. On the off-chance they made up. No one was there."

"What? Maria's missing? Do you think she's with Kyle? The sheriff said that he was going out with friends. Maybe Liz is with them."

Isabel and Michael were too caught up in their attempt to figure things out to hear Max say, in a panicked whisper, "I can't remember the number."

"Liz is with Kyle? I'll bet you anything, the three of them are in the Jetta as we speak."

"What do you think they are trying to do?" Isabel asked Michael.

"I don't know. Maria must have broken into my place for a reason. I think we should start there. Maybe we'll find a clue."

"Michael, that sounds like a good idea. Just give me a minute to throw on some other clothes." She said as she ran out of the room.

Michael turned back towards Max who was still sitting on the bed. It was startling to see the look of fear on Max's face. Most of the color had drained out of his face. His eyes were wide and scared. Something was wrong, seriously wrong.

"Max..."

He turned his frightened eyes on him and said, "I can't remember. Some of the things I should know about Liz are gone. Like her parent's number."

What he said disturbed Michael greatly, but Max didn't need more to add to his fears. "Maxwell, it's not uncommon to forget things after a while. Especially when it's not something you use everyday. Relax."

"No. You don't understand. I've had her parents' number memorized since I was nine years old. That's almost nine years, and suddenly it's gone. Now I'm afraid to look too closely at what I remember, because I have a feeling that there are a lot of gaps when it comes to Liz."

Michael didn't know what to say to that. There was little doubt in his mind that Tess had done a number on Max's brain. What was scary was that they had little way of knowing how bad the damage was. Although one thing was certain, Tess had been none too kind when it came to Max's memories of Liz.

"Look, Max, why don't you go throw some clothes on. There's something important we need to do."

"What?"

"We're gonna go and find Maria, Liz, and Kyle... We've been sitting on our asses too long. I think they're trying to do what we should have been doing."

Max got up, grabbed a pair of jeans, a T-shirt, and headed out toward the bathroom. Just before he left the room, he turned to Michael and said, "Yeah. It sounds to me like they're on a fact-finding road trip. At least they have Kyle. He'll look after them. That's better than nothing."

Michael hoped they weren't on a road trip. What were they thinking?

All their other road trips had a bit of danger. And with Tess on the loose, the level of danger increased. There was no way three humans could withstand Tess's abilities. He wasn't even sure if they would fare much better.

If Tess could mess up Max's mind, what hope was there for the rest of them? How could he protect Maria from that? There was nothing he could do.

Maria, Liz, and Kyle were out there, unprotected like sitting ducks. And he didn't even know where to find them.



posted on 29-Sep-2001 10:45:48 PM by Psyche G
Hey all,

Thank you so much for all the encouragement. Usually I have more faith in my writing but to be honest, writing for so many different characters in one chapter is really hard. And you would not believe how confusing it gets. This part would have been written so much quicker. With any luck the next part will come out much sooner.

Angela- You're on the right track with the HOM candle reference. And the same goes with the remembering Liz part. You've picked up on things pretty well. And by the way, I know how you feel about Max. I can't seem to make myself write him too often, even though I don't hate him as much as others do.

As for all the people worrying about Max, lets just say that he has a lot of issues caused by the evil-mindwarping-hell-beast.

And now let me stop babbling so you can get to what you came here for:



Chapter 22



It seemed as though they were driving forever. The trip was passing that slowly. They were little more than 20 miles out of town before tediousness settled in. And that was many, many, miles ago.

The sing-a-long of torture had lasted only about 30 minutes. It wasn't the same without Alex. He would have dished it out as good as he got. Kyle, on the other hand, didn't seem comfortable retaliating that way. Needless to say, the fun wore off rather quick.

Maria was quiet, focusing on the traffic around her. Kyle had zoned out a while ago, watching the familiar scenery zoom by. Liz was looking over all the note cards that had to do with the second Ava dream. She wanted the memory of it to be fresh in her mind when they reached the cave.

"Hey Kyle, could you reach in the cooler and grab me a bottle of water? Singing with the windows open was not one of my finer ideas. The dusty air is killing my vocal chords."

Kyle groggily paid attention to Maria's request. He reached into the cooler and fished around with his hand until he eventually found the bottled water. He took out two bottles and then tapped Liz on the shoulder. "Hey Liz, do you want one?"

"No, thanks. I'm good. If I get thirsty I'll just take a sip of Maria's."

"Hey! Who said that I'm willing to share?"

"You mean you wouldn't share your bottle of water with your best friend on one of the hottest days of the year? I'm shocked..." Liz feigned a look of horror.

"I didn't say that. Then again, I didn't not say that either. What I am saying is I'll share... But it's gonna cost you."

"Oh really? I don't have much of anything with me that you'd want. I could pay you in index cards. I got plenty of those."

"I don't want that kind of payment, girlfriend. I want information."

"You want information? Hmm... let's see. The earth is 93 million miles away from the sun. It takes light approximately 8 minutes to travel from the sun to the Earth..."

"No, no, no. Not that kind of information. I want you to fill me in on what happened to your arm. Don't think I didn't notice it yesterday in my room."

"I don't know what you're talking about." Liz said defensively.

"Yeah, Maria. What are you talking about?" Kyle sounded confused by the turn in the conversation.

"Liz got these big ass bruises on her arm. I want to know how they got there."

"Ignore her, Kyle, she doesn't know what she's talking about. And Maria, I want to make a counteroffer. You can have this water..." Liz turned around and snatched a bottle of water out of Kyle's hand. She opened it and took a loud drink. "...Aaah. This is so cold. You can have it if you don't press me on this subject. Just leave it alone."

"I don't care about the damn water. Keep it if you want. You're more important. You've gotta tell me who did that to you. I can help. I was too young to help my mom, but I can help protect you."

"I don't need protection. I can take care of myself. Besides, I'm not going to let it happen again."

"There's no guarantee that will be the way things end up. Why won't you let me help you? I'm your friend."

"Yes, you are. That's why I hope you'll respect my wishes this time and let this be."

Indignantly, Maria huffed, "Fine."

A thick tension settled over the two girls in the front of the car. Neither girl wanted to push the subject too much, the argument over Future Max still fresh in their minds. They'd managed to patch up their friendship less than a day earlier. No one wanted to tempt fate twice.

They drove like that for a while, The two girls were sullenly ignoring the other. And the bottle of water that caused the disagreement lay forgotten in the cup holder, beads of sweat trickling down its sides.

All the while, Kyle was left to his own devices. All of a sudden, he lurched forward, grabbed the back of the front seats, and said angrily, "It was that bastard, Evans! Wasn't it?"

"What... Max? He loves her. He wouldn't do that to her. I mean he's been acting weird lately, but..." Maria's voice trailed off as she turned her head slightly to look at both Kyle and Liz. She apparently lost her train of thought as she caught sight of the truth in Liz's eyes. Liz quickly looked away.

"Jesus..." Maria muttered under her breath. "How could he?"

"Easily. That's how. I've known he was trouble from the get go. All those damn aliens are. And none of them give a damn about you unless you are one. I don't see how that could suprise you, Maria."

"Michael's not so bad. I know he cares about me."

"Well, bully for you. You must have gotten the pick of the litter."

"Just because you have issues with Max, doesn't mean that all of them are bad. I used to think you were just a dumb annoying jock back when you hung out with the Junior Varsity crowd."

"Look guys, I really, really don't want to hear this right now. We'll have this discussion later. I'm not up to it right now." Liz interrupted Maria's tirade.

She knew her friend long enough to know that her argument with Kyle would go on and on if given the chance. That was the last thing she wanted. Listening to two stubborn people was not high on her list of things to do.

Wearlily, Liz decided to distract them with part of what she believed. "I don't know for sure what's going on with Max, but I think Tess messed with his mind. And it's no secret that she did not like me. Nor I her. Draw your own conclusions."

"Are you saying that she did to him, something like what she did to me?" Kyle asked, all traces of his earlier anger gone.

Liz couldn't bring herself to actually say her answer. So, she simply nodded.

"Oh, Lizzie..." Her best friend said.

"Shit... That almost makes me feel sorry for him. Almost. But I don't care what his sob story is, nothing's gonna stop me from kicking his ass. He's been hurting you one way or another for far too long."

"Kyle, please..."

"Ok, ok. I'm not gonna say anything else, Liz. Just know he's gonna get a karmic reward of his own."

"Can we just drop this? Please. Let's just go and do what we came out here to do... Maria, do you remember where the turnoff is to get to the cave? It'll be coming up soon, I think."

"I think I do. But you might have to remind me. And Liz, I'm sorry about earlier. I can imagine how hard this all is on you. Just remember you can talk to me if you need to."

"I know, and I will, but not now. I need to stay focused on what we came out here to do... And by the way, the turnoff is just up ahead."



************************************************



"So what are we looking for? This is like searching for a needle in a haystack."

"I'm not really sure, Is. They broke into my place for a reason. We just don't know what it was yet."

"God, Michael. That was just a roundabout way of repeating what I said."

"Whatever, Isabel. How about we focus here? Maria... and Liz, and Kyle, are out there somewhere. Defenseless."

"I know. I'm focused..."

"Ok, why would they come here before going on a trip to find information. It's not like I have a lot of stuff."

Isabel picked up a couple of shirts lying haphazardly on the bed and folded them. "You are such a slob... So what do you have that the girls couldn't get anywhere else? And what's with Max... he is acting so weird lately. Do you think it's safe to have left him out in the car? By the way, do you have hangers I can put these on?"

"He'll be fine. I left all the car's windows down, he won't overheat... If I knew what they were looking for, we wouldn't be standing here...Yeah, there are some right there in the closet... Cleaning Nazi." The last part Michael grumbled under his breath.

"I heard that... And you know that's not what I wanted to know? What's the deal with him?"

"The long and the short, of it can be summed up in one word. Tess."

"Are you saying she... she... she... She didn't... Not like Alex... Not to Max. How could she do that?" Her face paled with Michael's revelation. Denial soon gave way to stunned disbelief as she realized that that explained Max's erratic behavior. "Oh God, she did. Didn't she?"

"That's what me and Liz believe. She brought up a lot of good points when I actually paid attention to what she had to say."

"You and Liz... Since when do you get along with her?"

"Since when do you call her up to shoot the breeze?"

"I just wanted to see how she was doing. We talked the other day, and I told her I'd try and help her with the powers she's developing."

"What do you mean? Like at the pod chamber?"

"I'm not sure exactly, but I think she brought a dead flower back to life or at least to full bloom. And then the other night I was dreamwalking Kyle, when suddenly Liz appeared. She was dreamwalking him all on her own... What about you, Michael?"

The two of them started to sift through Michael's belongings. She started on one side of the room, while he took the other side.

"We had a little chat while we were working. She roped me into helping her fill out little index cards with things she was puzzled by. She had me work on the Max pile while she worked on the Ava..." Michael's voice trailed off.

"Ava? What about her?"

She waited for him to answer. When he didn't, Isabel turned and went looked up at him only to discover that he was concentrating very intently on something. His eyes were fixed on an imaginary point somewhere in the distance.

"Michael?"

"That's it! Ava!" Michael strode over to the refridgerator. He yanked the door open, and started rummaging through the freezer. He pulled out a container of ice cream and wrenched the lid off of it. He looked inside it and said, "I knew it."

"You knew what? What's so important about ice cream? And the connection to Ava?"

Michael threw the container on the ground and started striding toward the door. As he passed Isabel, he grabbed her by the wrist and started to pull her toward the door. "We're outta here."

"Michael! Let go of me!" Isabel snatched her arm out of his tight grip. "I'm not going anywhere until you tell me what's going on."

He began to pace in frustration. "The healing stones. In Liz's dream Ava had her do something with the stones in River Dog's cave. That's where they are. Let's go already."

"Ok, they'll be at the cave, but I don't get why they came here first. And what do the stones have to do with ice cream?...Unless ... Tell me you're not so stupid as to store them in the freezer?"

"Like who's gonna steal my stuff? Are you satisified? Can we go now?" Sarcastically, he asked.

Isabel nodded at him.

Together they hurriedly made their way out the door. Once outside, they ran the entire way to the car.

They now had a destination where they could find their friends. And several speed limits to break along the way.



************************************************



"There's nothing in the walls, Chica. Its just rocks, rocks, and more rocks." Maria pulled her hair back into a loose ponytail as she leaned against the wall in question.

"Yeah. That was a unique waste of time. There's a whole lot of nothing on this side too... So what now? Do we get to eat yet?"

Liz shook her head in answer to Kyle's question. "I didn't really expect to find anything there anyway, but it was worth checking out."

"If you didn't expect us to find anything, why the hell did you have us pounding on walls for hollow areas?"

"Kyle, don't get agitated. We checked the walls because I needed some measure of control. I'm going so far out on a limb as it is, by letting these dreams guide me as much as they have. I couldn't suspend disbelief entirely. I needed assurance that we're on the right track. Kind of like a control group."

Liz sank down onto her knees near the pile of backpacks in the center of the room. She rummaged through one of them until she found the pouch with the healing stones. She motioned for the others to join her on the ground.

"Why don't you guys dig out the bottles of water and the apples I brought. There's one thing I haven't tried yet, and I have to do this myself."

"The apple sounds good. But I think I'll pass on the water. I just know that if I drink it I'll have to go, and I doubt the aliens equipped this cave with indoor plumbing. And seeing that we are nowhere near even a port-o-potty, I'm not gonna risk it. I draw the line at squatting behind shrubs and peeing."

"Too much information, Maria. There's good naked and bad naked. That's definitely bad naked. Especially since our parents are doing..."

"The next word out of your mouth better not be 'it'. That's just really gross. That's definitely not an image I want in my head. Your dad and my mom...ewwww."

"... things together. They're doing things together. That's all I was going to say."

"Sure it was. All guys have sex on their mind. It's a known fact, mi amigo."

"That's not true. I think of plenty of things other than that. Buddhisim, football, politics, and ways to kill evil mind-warping aliens."

"Uh huh. Then how come in the few hours we've been together, you've mentioned it several times. Face it, all guys are ruled by what's in their pants. That must really suck."

"At least I don't got to worry about taking a leak. Just one of the many benefits of being a man. It must suck sometimes to be a girl. I'm glad I don't got that problem." Kyle picked up a water and opened it. He took a long swig from the bottle. "You never got to drink your water. You should drink some. It's so thirst quenching."

"Oh, put a sock in it, Kyle."

"Why don't you make me?"

"Don't tempt me."

"Could the two of you stop your bickering for a while? I think I'm gonna have to concentrate on this. I can't do that if you two keep acting like a brother and sister."

As soon as she said that, Liz turned and headed toward the wall with the symbols. Inexplicably, she was drawn over there. She didn't know if it was because that was where things happened in the dream, or if the area just had an almost magnetic pull all its own.

She remembered the last time she had actually stood in the cave. Michael had been dying and needed everyone's help. Only she had been too conflicted to help. At the time, she thought it was because she was afraid that something would happen to Max. But here she was again, holding the stones and feeling the same conflicting feelings just like before. But this time there was no reason for it.

As much as she wanted to find what secrets the cave hid, she had the feeling that once those secrets were exposed nothing in her world would be the same. She just knew that this was as much a turning point in her life as was the day she'd died and Max brought her back to life. Change was coming, and she had to decide whether she would face those changes passively or meet them head on.

Liz looked at the wall. Then at the stones in her hand. The vaguest memory of Ava in her dream, ran through her mind. It moved so quick that she couldn't grab onto it. Instead it left an fleeting memory of Ava saying, "So you in or you's out?" That was the question at hand

In a sudden moment of clarity, Liz remembered that she felt this way outside the cave in the dream. And just like in the dream, she knew there was only one answer to the question.

Taking a deep breath, she stepped forward and began to place the healing stones in the V formation on the wall. Once she did that, she took a deep breath, put one hand in her pocket so she could feel the ancient pendant. She closed her eyes and faintly felt the familiar tingle in her arm as she waved her hand in front of the stones.

Faintly, from somewhere not too far behind her, she heard the hiss of Maria's indrawn breath, and the muted "Woah." that came from Kyle.

Liz opened her eyes to see that she had made the healing stones glow, just like Michael did the previous year, and Ava did in the dream. All the stones were glowing, but for some reason, that didn't seem right. Something was not the same. She didn't remember all that much from the end of the dream, but she had the faint memory of Ava doing something different with the stones.

Liz lifted her hand and started to touch each of the stones in the wall. All of a sudden, a clear and vivid memory of the dream flashed in her mind.

She was standing near Ava in the cave, trying to concentrate on rearranging the molecules of the dead flower. Ava ran her hand over the stones, making them glow. Ava took away the bottom-most stone. She told Liz,"Hey Cornball, pay attention to this. When the stones are like that, its the lost ruler formation. Don't forget." Ava then waved her hand over the ground at her feet. The silver handprint appeared. She pressed her palm against it and it opened up to reveal a slab of rock.

As quickly as the memory hit her, it disappeared again. But this time she had a clear recollection of what Ava did differently.

Time seemed to move slowly as Liz reached out and took the stone at the base of the V away. As she sunk to her knees, she heard Maria's voice calling to her, as if from a distance. Liz waved her hand over the ground before her. Just like in the dream, the handprint appeared. Trembling slightly, her hand hovered over the silvery symbol as Liz gathered her resolve. Her hand sunk onto the handprint with an audible noise.

All was quiet in the room save for their breathing. It seemed like the entire universe was waiting to see what would happen next. They didn't have long to wait.

A low rumbling and groaning noise rose up from where Liz had rested her palm only moments before. The three teenagers watched in fascination as the fascade of the floor slid away into the ground. In its place was a somewhat flat and roughly hewn rock set in the ground. It was rectangular, more or less, and approximately one yard across and a little over one and a half feet from top to bottom.

Liz knew there was one more thing she had to do. She cleared her mind and waved her hand over the slab of rock. The surface of the rock changed right before her eyes. A crudely carved face appeared in the rock. It was the face of the young Tess from the destiny book.

Just like in her dream.

A wave of dizziness crashed over her, causing her to slump forward. Suddenly, two sets of hands pulled her backward into an embrace. She felt herself being carefully placed against Kyle.

"Liz? Lizzie, are you ok? You got really pale and started to sway on your knees." Maria began to pat Liz's face with a water-dampened napkin.

"What the hell just happened? You made that stuff appear and suddenly pitched a header toward the ground. If this is what using these alien powers does to you, then quit it. Getting even with Tess isn't worth it."

"I hate to say it but I agree with Kyle on this. You nearly fainted. If we hadn't been here you would have fallen and hit your head."

"Maria, Kyle, I'm ok. I just got a little woozy because..."

"Of them. They made you like this. This wouldn't be happening to you if it wasn't for them."

"But I..."

"Sweetie, I know. I want that blond bitch to pay for this. But not at the cost of you. We lost Alex, I won't lose you too." Maria motioned to Kyle to pass Liz over to her to take care of. "Hey Kyle, gather up the bags and stuff. We're leaving."

"No we're not!" Liz yelled, finally getting a chance to get a word in edge-wise.

"You almost passed out. Even if it wasn't because of those powers, it could be a sign of something else. Like sunstroke. Coach had to warn us to take it easy when we practiced outside. The heat can get to you and take you down like that." Kyle snapped his fingers to emphasize his point.

"Maybe I got dizzy because I was so anxious to get out here that I kinda skipped breakfast."

"Liz, you didn't?"

"So these powers use up energy, and you were low on that to begin with. I can't believe you were that stupid. I mean you're Liz for crying out loud. You used to plan everything out ahead of time when we were dating."

"Guys, I'll be fine once I get some food in my system."

Maria and Kyle exchanged a look. Kyle nodded and went over to the cooler. Meanwhile, Maria spread out the sleeping bag, and made Liz sit on it. Then as a team, Liz's friends piled a paper plate high with food and set it in front of her.

"You are going to sit there and eat this food. All of it. You are not doing a thing until that plate is clean." For a moment Liz was stunned by how much Maria sounded like Mrs. DeLuca.

"But what about that? We're going to have to dig. I can't just sit here."

"You can, and you will." There was little use arguing with Maria. At least not while she was channeling her mom.

"Eat. Don't worry about the digging. Me and Maria will take care of it. When you're done You can help again."

"Lizzie, don't pout. It's for your own good. I'm about to do hard, menial labor. Would I risk my manicure for no good reason?"

"I guess not." Sullenly, Liz said.

"Ok then. So eat, drink, and be merry, while we dig." Maria picked up the small shovel that Liz brought while Kyle made use of the one he contributed. "Uh, Liz, do you have any idea what we are looking for?"

"Nuh-uh," said Liz through a mouthful of cold fried chicken.

"Wonderful. Just wonderful. Come on Kyle, lets get to work."

The two of them dug for a while. Eventually, Liz pitched in and they made a lot of progress. At one point, Maria was taking a rest while Kyle stood in the four by four foot square, digging. Liz stood outside the hole, dispersing the dirt to make it easier to get in and out of their hole.

Kyle's shovel made a dull thudding noise. It sounded a little like the shovel had hit something solid. Almost like it had hit cardboard or something similar in resilience.

"Hey Liz, look at this." Kyle gestured with his shovel.

Liz leaned in, in order to see what Kyle discovered. Her eyes widened as she saw something purple-ish shimmer with iridescence underneath the dirt. "Kyle, finish digging up as much of the loose dirt as you can." She turned to Maria and asked her, "Could you go and get the hand broom from my grandma's old backpack?"

Maria quickly brought the broom to Liz. She squatted down next to her and peered at what was being uncovered by Liz's sweeping motion.

It was purple and pretty much flat, from what they could see. There were faint wrinkles in it, almost like a tablecloth gets if it hasn't been smoothed out. And Liz's broom swept over the center and revealed a marking on it. It was the symbol of the V formation. And near it was the symbol that looked like an embrace, except it was really large.

"My god, what is this? It looks solid but it's soft like fabric. Liz, how can it be flexible like cloth but hard and unyielding too?"

"I don't know, Maria. Be careful with that, who knows what could happen."

"How bout we chalk it up to the 'because it is alien' catagory." Kyle stopped digging to get a good look at it.

"I'm open to any ideas you might have about what this could be."

"Liz, I may sound crazy, but from where I'm standing it looks kinda like a flag," Kyle said as he looked at it from the other side of the hole.

She got up and walked over to see it from Kyle's perspective. It struck her as odd that as she moved, the symbols seemed to shift and rearrange themselves into a distinctive alignment. The sprial symbol rotated a bit, and dominated the center of the field of purple. The V formation moved to overlay the other symbol. The triangle at the heart of the sprial perfectly aligned with the V formation. From this new angle, the conjoined symbols seemed to shimmer and glow.

"It is a flag right? Some kind of weird alien-holographic-magic-eye kind of flag?" Kyle turned to her and waited for an answer. One that she didn't give. She was too busy thinking.

Liz was trying to figure out what the flag was doing there. Why would such an important thing be buried in the cave? As soon as that thought passed through her mind, she remembered what the other items were in the cave in the dream with Ava. Her eyes widened as she thought of the other way a flag is used.

As the truth of what was covered dawned on Liz, she noticed that Maria had found one of the edges of the flag. She seemed to be fascinated by the unusual properties that it was made of. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see her friend give an experimental tug to the flag.

Liz started to run over to where her best friend was standing. "No! Maria, no!! Don't lift it..."

Maria let out a bloodcurdling scream.

"...up."



**************************************************



Isabel, Max, and Michael had just reached River Dog's cave. They stopped just outside in order to catch their breath. After a couple of deep breaths that he forced himself to take, Michael was chomping at the bit to hurry in there.

"Michael, calm down. We're only a few steps away. Nothing's gonna get past us." Isabel tried reasoning with him.

"Yeah that's a great plan. But what if they are already in there with Maria? We could be too late."

"They? I thought you were all worked up about Tess going after them. Who's they? Besides, if Maria was in any trouble, you know she would be screaming her head..."

The sudden sound of Maria screaming reached them at the mouth of the cave.

"...off." Max's voice trailed off.

Michael looked pointedly at Max, "That's Maria."

Then Michael was off and running, his hands at the ready to blast an unknown enemy. Isabel and Max quickly followed suit and took off running into the depths of the cave.

Their friends needed them.




posted on 12-Oct-2001 3:06:33 PM by Psyche G
Just so you all know, I'm just reposting this part. Which I posted on the old board while waiting for this one to be up and running.

Also I am hard at work on the next chapter. It should be done soonish I hope.



Chapter 23




Maria's scream seemed to go on forever. It was an ear-piercing shriek, that made Liz wince at the sound. It was made doubly worse because it seemed to echo and rebound throughout the walls of the cave.

Or at least it felt like it did. Liz wasn't sure which was really the case. Not that that really mattered.

What did matter was the fact that her friend was freaking out. From the very second that Liz realized what was under the flag, she had tried to stop Maria from discovering it the way she had. Only she hadn't figured it out fast enough.

Liz stood there and watched with equal parts of horror and fascination as the secret of the cave was revealed. And while one part of her immediately started to ponder and theorize on what she saw, she could also see Maria standing there trembling, looking downward. As Liz moved to comfort Maria, she noticed absently that the once stiff and solid flag slipped out of Maria's hands and pooled at her feet like a chiffon scarf fluttering to the ground.

"Oh, Buddha..." Kyle whispered. "No one said this was on the tour."

In a voice filled with panic, Maria spoke as she clung to Liz. "Oh, God. Oh, Lord. Do you see that? It's a... a... a skeleton. Sweet Jesus, it looks like it's the size of a child. How can that be? What kind of monster would bury a child here? Liz, please tell me this is some kind of sick joke. You gotta tell me that this isn't real."

"I can't. I wish I could..."

Liz stopped talking mid-sentence, as all of a sudden, Michael barreled into the room. His eyes were wild and furious, quickly scanning the room for potential threats. Both his hands were held out in front of him, palms up and glowing at the ready. He relaxed his stance a second later, as there was no threat of any kind in there with them.

"Maria!" He sounded so relieved to see Maria safe.

Liz watched him as his obvious relief turned into concern for her shaken friend. She motioned for him to come over and take care of Maria. Luckily, he didn't argue as he hurried over and gathered Maria in his arms.

It was a good thing he moved when he did, because no sooner had he taken a couple of steps, Isabel and Max came rushing into the cave. They too entered with their hands up just like Michael had. What for, Liz didn't know, it wasn't as though they could shoot out blasts of energy the way Michael could. At least she didn't think they could. Surely she would have heard about it.

"Max. Isabel..." Liz whispered, stunned.

Isabel looked up at her and gave her a very relieved look accompanied by a slight smile. That took Liz by surprise. Liz nodded back stupefied. Despite Isabel's seemingly heartfelt plea from a few nights before, Liz hadn't really thought much about it. She had thought that Isabel had felt the same way.

"Oh great. First Moe comes in with hands all a-glowing, ready to blast us into the next plane of existence. Now the rest of The Three Stooges show up." Kyle muttered in a low voice. He stopped leaning against the shovel and let it fall to the floor. He looked directly at the latest arrivals. "Didn't you guys get the memo that today was 'Human's Day Out?' Which you guys aren't. To put it into simple words that even you could understand, we didn't want you here. Especially you, Shemp." The last part was said very softly, almost imperceptibly, and directly at Max whom he was looking at.

"What did you call me?" Max questioned in an imperious tone. He sounded as though he was surprised that no one was bowing down before him and supplicating to his every need.

"Shemp. He's the Stooge that was the most useless. You know, a waste of space. I'm sure you can relate."

"Kyle, you got a problem with me?"

"What gives you that idea?" The sarcastic contempt in Kyle's voice was off the charts. "I'm just giving you all the respect you deserve. Get used to it."

"Why should I? What gives you the right to judge me?"

"A little thing you know nothing about... human nature. I know what you did, Evans. You're going to get what's coming to you." Kyle said in a low tone for only Max and him to hear.

"Is that a threat?"

"I don't make threats. It's a promise."

"Is that so, Kyle?"

"Count on it."

By this point, the shock of seeing the podsters, in addition to everything else, had finally begun to dissipate. Liz noticed that Max and Kyle were facing each other. Their tense posturing, was a sign that things would escalate quickly if given a chance to. She also didn't like the way that Kyle was resting the shovel against his shoulder. She could just imagine him swinging it like a baseball bat at Max. Both of them had unmitigated anger in their eyes.

Someone had to stop them before they acted on that anger. If Kyle went up against Max, he could get seriously hurt. Max could always take care of himself, but who know what he would do against someone else? Max's actions and reactions were an unknown variable. And as confident of his abilities as he was, Kyle had limitations of his own; he wasn't an alien. Not to mention he wasn't an alien whose brain had been tampered with in ways that they did not know.

No one else in the cave seemed to notice the boys' behavior. She knew from the sounds of Maria's deep breathing, Michael's sharp inhalation of air, and Isabel's startled gasp that her friends' attention was elsewhere. Obviously, they had seen the remains that had been uncovered. That left it to her to break things up.

"Max... Kyle. What ever it is you're doing, quit it. This isn't going to help any."

"Break up what? Me and my friend Ev... Max. Me and Max were just clearing the air."

"You know, I'm not stupid. I don't believe that for a second. And really, I don't care about the reasons, I just want to nip it in the bud before you two get out of control."

"Liz..."

"Max, don't. I don't want to hear it." She turned to Kyle and added, "And you, I know you are pissed at him. But now is not the time. Remember what we found right before they stormed in?"

"Oh crap. I'm sorry, it kinda slipped my mind."

Liz looked at the two of them, shook her head and sighed. "Come on, we're not done yet. There's still more we have to do."

Isabel called out, "Max, get over here. You need to look at this."

Liz and Kyle walked over to the less crowded side of the pit they'd dug. They stood facing Isabel, Michael, and Maria. Kyle jammed the shovel into the ground securely, and rested against it.

Eventually, Max came to stand at the far end of the pit. It seemed kind of strange to Liz that he didn't go by his sister, and Michael. Normally the three aliens usually stood together, with the underlying message that it was them against us. She had a feeling that something was really wrong with him to make him stray from his habits at this point in time.

And as much as she wanted to piece together the puzzle of what was up with Max, there was a greater mystery to solve. Who was this... this... child? How did it come to be here? Even as those questions popped into her head, on a subconscious level she was processing what they knew as fact and what they could infer. Already, a theory was taking root in her mind.

"My God. This is... And you found it... How did you know where to look?" Isabel was pale, trembling, and a bit in shock. Her voice sounded every bit the way she looked.

"At the cemetery, you woke me from another Ava dream. I was given clues."

"Wait a minute, Chica. I think we still need to work on our communication skills. You never said anything about finding a really dead body, Liz. It's kid-sized, for crying out loud. I would have remembered this coming up during our talk."

"I didn't say anything about it, because I didn't know. All I remembered was bits and pieces. Nothing concrete. It only came clear to me when I saw you remove the flag."

"What flag?" Michael turned to Maria and asked.

Maria bent down and picked up the material that was once solid like a sheet of metal. It was now limp and fluttery, like the finest and sheerest silk curtains imaginable. "This was covering the skeleton. Which I didn't know as I picked it up. 'Cause if I had, I never would have touched it." The latter parts were said pointedly at Liz.

Michael took the flag from her and unfurled it a little so he and Isabel could see what was on it. Max stayed where he was, but he craned his neck to see what they had in their hands. The three of them studied it intently for a time.

"I know this... I feel like I've seen this before. You guys... do you?"

"Yeah, I know it. It's something out of my nightmares. I don't like it." Max turned away and kicked the ground in anger.

His tone of voice, was disturbing. Liz and Isabel noticed and gave him, then each other a long look. It was a comfort to know that Liz wasn't imagining things. Something was odd with Max. Very odd.

"I don't feel the way Maxwell does... But yeah, I recognize it. Only it's different somehow..."

Michael took the flag and looked at it backwards and forwards and then he ran his fingers over the edges. It looked kind of like he was using one of those food storage bags that had an easy zip slider. All of a sudden, it sprung out in front of him, turning back into the stiff flag that had been before Maria disturbed it.

"How did you do that?" Maria asked in wonder.

"I don't know. It just came to me how to do it, ok?"

"Nice trick. Know any others? Or was that all they could train you?" Kyle asked.

Michael's reply was silent. All he did was glare at him.

"Kyle." Liz reprimanded.

"Okay. Okay. I'll try and play nice."

"That's all I ask," said Liz.

"But what about the body? As if we didn't have other things to worry about." Michael covertly glanced at Max while he spoke. He turned back to face Liz and continued, "What the hell is Ava dragging us into? How can we be sure that she isn't jerking us around? We don't have the resources to handle this. This could be just what they want, to have us lose our focus, wasting time on something that has nothing to do with us."

"I hate to admit it, but he's got a point." Kyle grudgingly admitted.

"You don't know that for sure, Michael. This could be another situation like when Agent Pierce's body was found. And that had to do with us." Isabel countered.

"All the more reason for us to not get involved. We barely got out of that jam unscathed." Michael replied.

"I don't get how this is important. This has nothing to do with us."

"You're wrong, Max. I think this has everything to do with you guys."

"Lizzie... How can that be? ... Unless..." Maria's voice trailed off. Her eyes widened, and she quickly looked back at the remains in question. "You mean..."

"I believe that that is the real Tess."

"What?" chorused everyone in the room except herself and Maria.

"How is that possible? She was one of us. We knew her. That body isn't Tess."

"As much as I hate her, that isn't Tess. It can't be... She couldn't... Buddha, wasn't it bad enough?" Kyle said the last part to himself. His voice was panicked and he began to shake slightly. Not that anyone noticed, other than Liz. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see that he was reeling from that news and that he was withdrawing into himself. At least that's what it looked like to her.

"You're wrong." Max said in a deadly quiet voice.

"No. I don't think I am. I think this is all that's left of the Ava that was supposed to be part of your royal four. I think the dupe Ava knew that somehow."

Everyone silently tried to digest Liz's theory. It was so eerily quiet, that it was almost disturbing. The only sound was their breathing as they each stared at the tiny, frail skeleton.

Out of the blue, Michael blurted out, "The damaged pod. When I talked to Hal Carver, that old army guy last year for that report, he mentioned a leaky, damaged pod. If that's true and she died, then that means that Tess was..."

"... an impostor. Exactly." Liz finished for him.

"But how is that possible? Tess looked like the girl in the destiny book." Isabel pointed out.

"Yeah, Chica. I don't doubt you at all. I got your back, you know that. But I got to agree with Isabel. Tess and Ava, same face there."

"I'm not sure how it all fits together..."

"Well then maybe you should keep your big mouth shut until you know all the facts." Max suddenly spat out at Liz.

"What the... ?" Maria muttered, shocked by Max's venomous remark.

Liz sighed in frustration. "Here we go again."

Isabel tried to placate him. "Max, take it easy. Liz was just trying to..."

"I know what she was trying to do. She was just using her petty jealousy to get you on her side with one of her asinine theories."

"Max, you need to back off." Michael placed his hand on Max's shoulder.

Max shrugged off Michael sharply, sending him stumbling backwards, as Max stepped away from him and moved closer to Liz. He started ranting like a lunatic, "I can't believe you're all turning on me. How can you all be so blind? Can't you see what she's doing? She's trying to divide us. That's all she's ever done. She doesn't care who she hurts along the way. She doesn't care about us..."

He took a deep breath and continued, "All she wants to do is expose us, that way they'll lock us up and she could be in charge of experiments. Isn't that true, Liz? You want to jab us with needles and drill into our bones? Shoot us so full of drugs that we can't even see straight. And then at the end you'll dissect us while we are still alive, leaving us to die a slow painful death."

As he talked, he kept moving toward her. By the time he finished, he was standing in front of her. His heated breath was hitting her directly in the face. Liz refused to back down. She stood before him toe to toe, and unflinchingly looked him in the eye.

"That's not true and you know it. There is no way I resemble the picture you painted. That's not me. That's Tess. She's the one who wanted to divide you up. She's the one who didn't care who got hurt. She's the one who sold you out and was ready to condemn you to death. Tess did that. Not me!"

"Quit fucking lying, Liz! It was all because of you. We all know it. Tess isn't the one to blame. You are... You hate her because she's everything good that you'll never be..."

"Max, are you crazy? Tess good? She's an evil tramp. Liz's the good one." Maria yelled. Liz was vaguely aware of Maria attempting to run over to her, only to be restrained by Michael and Isabel. Liz wasn't sure, but she thought Michael told Maria that Max could hurt her.

The next thing she knew, Michael ran up behind Max, and tried to restrain him. Max quickly slipped out of his grip, turned around, and put his hand up to shield himself. She watched in horror as Max used his shield as a weapon of sorts, and repelled Michael. He sent his friend flying through the entrance.

Time seemed to slow down as Michael's body thudded against the wall outside the chamber. Maria wailed his name. As if from a distance, Liz heard the sound of footsteps heading in his direction. Max grabbed her bruised arm sharply, causing her to whimper in pain. He started to tighten his grip while shaking her viciously.

Suddenly, time itself seemed to stop. All she could see was the unbridled fury in Max's eyes. There was no sound. Not even a single heartbeat disturbed the stillness of the room.

Then it happened.

Liz was bombarded with image after image.

A pink sky. Two moons. A red lake. The smell of sulfur. Two creatures on a rocky ledge. The ones from the Granolith vision, Zan and Ava. Their bodies melded into each other, becoming one. Frightening streaks of blue-green flaming sparks. A banner, like the flag they found but larger, covering an inert body. Horrible grief. The tossing of what looked like a coin, but it wasn't. It was the broken half of the pendant Max gave to her. A burst of white light so painful and blinding that it was unimaginable.

Then there were stars, millions of them rushing past her. The Earth. Bright lights. Sounds of yelling. Confusion. Then finally darkness. Emerging from the pod. A horrible sense of mournful sorrow. The little blond girl who held on and the sullen boy who ran away. Healing a bird. Getting off the school bus and seeing a young Liz. Hundreds of images of herself at various ages passed through her mind at the blink of an eye. Then Max saved her life. Their first kiss. The times they'd shared together passed in a matter of seconds.

Then Tess appeared. Disturbing dreams, whispers in the mind. Nasedo. Agent Pierce. The white room. Restraints. Needles of all shapes and sizes. Drills. Bone saws. IV's with unknown solutions dripping, working their way inside. Blinding lights. Searing hot pain. Agent Pierce whispering threats. A whispering voice in the darkness of the mind. Pierce coming closer. Pierce flickering like a candle. Each flicker a hazy figure appeared in Pierce's place, slowly coming into focus.

Pierce... Figure... Pierce... Figure... Pierce... Figure... Liz... Pierce... Figure... Liz... Pierce... Liz... Pierce... Liz... Pierce... Liz... Pierce... Liz... Liz... Liz... Liz... Liz...

Now Liz was the one who came closer carrying a scalpel so red hot it glowed. Unbelievable pain.



As quickly as the flash started, just as quickly, the connection was broken. She was left reeling by this set of flashes. Liz was only partly aware of Kyle prying Max's hand off of her arm, while at the same time he shoved her behind him. He was protecting her from Max.

"Kyle..." Liz tried to get his attention. To no avail.

"What's a matter Evans? Too chicken to pick on someone your own size? Or do idiot-alien-boy-kings like you just enjoy tormenting those not as strong as you, like Liz?"

Max scoffed at that. "You mean, like you?" He had the audacity to laugh at Kyle.

"Yeah. I may not have alien powers, but I can take you down. I've been waiting for a chance to do this for a long time. You've been a pain in the ass for too long, Evans. You're overdue for an alien smack-down."

"Go ahead and try. Nothing's stopping you."

"Man, you are so going to regret saying that."

"No. I think I'll enjoy it. I've wanted to mop the floor with you since I saw you in bed with her."

"Max... Kyle. Don't do this. This won't solve anything."

"Maybe not, Liz. But it'll be fun to bring him closer to his karmic reward. You can't stop this."

"Shut up, Liz. Let lover boy here fight for your honor." Max laughed sarcastically. "Your honor. That's a joke. A slut like you doesn't have any."

"Ok, that's it! If it's a fight you want Evans, then that's what you'll get."

"Kyle, don't. I think I know what's wrong with him. Please... Stop this now."

Kyle kept his eyes trained on Max as he replied to her. "I'll stop as soon as you apologize to her."

"I have nothing to apologize for."

"Then... Bring it on!"

Everything happened next in a blur of motion. Liz thought that Kyle rushed Max and slammed him into a nearby wall. She saw fists flying. Liz heard the impact of those fists against flesh. There was no way of telling who was winning. Sometimes Max was getting his ass kicked, then it reversed itself and Kyle was taking the brunt of the hits.

Liz tried to run over to them and force them to stop, when a familiar hand held her in place. Maria was preventing her from intervening.

"Lizzie, are you all right?"

"I'm fine. We got to go stop this."

"No. At least not yet. Let them work some of that testosterone out of their bodies. You know how they get, too much of it and they get all loco en la cabeza."

"But Maria..."

"Chica, you know that this has been building up for a long time. They need to get it out of their system. I swear we will jump in and pull them apart, when the time comes. Just let them be..." Maria scrutinized her closely. "Are you sure you're ok? That scene with Max was kinda intense."

"I told you, I'm fine. I don't want to go into detail but I am more sure than ever that Tess tampered with Max's mind." As an afterthought, Liz asked, "How's Michael doing?"

"He'll be fine. Isabel is taking care of him. I came over here because you..."

Maria was interrupted by the sight of Kyle knocking Max to his knees. He then began kicking him in the kidney area. After a few well aimed kicks, Max rolled over and did to Kyle what he did to Michael. Kyle was flung with a lot of force into the wall near where Maria and her stood. The girls watched in horror as Kyle slumped to the ground like a limp rag doll.

"Oh my God." Maria whispered, shocked.

"You know this would be a good time to get the cavalry back in here... Go!" Liz shoved Maria in the direction of where Michael and Isabel were. Liz hoped that they wouldn't be necessary. Sadly, she had the feeling that she was wrong.

Her fears came true as Max slowly got up off the ground. His face was bruised and a trickle of blood was running down from the side of his mouth. What really disturbed her, was the look in Max's eyes. He never looked more like a stranger to her than he did at that moment. There was nothing of the Max she knew in their brown depth. That total lack of compassion was what frightened Liz the most.

It was so strange, as much as she was estranged from him, she was still connected to him. That affinity that had always allowed her to understand Max was what was scaring her now. She knew that this fight was far from over.

Kyle's groan snapped her out of her thoughts. With one eye trained on Max, she moved quickly and cautiously towards Kyle. "Are you ok?"

"Yeah. I'll live." Kyle struggled to get up on his feet. "Did you get the name of the truck that hit me?"

Liz helped support him on his feet. "That didn't quite make sense. I think you're more stunned than you let on."

"You might be right about that." Kyle's legs gave out on him as he said that. He slumped forward, knocking Liz off-balance, and the two of them tumbled to the ground. Kyle's barely conscious form pinned her down.

Instead of immediately struggling to get out from under him, Liz just happened to look up at Max. He was grinning evilly down at them. He started to run towards them. Liz knew that this wasn't good. He was going to hit Kyle while he was down and out for the count.

"No, Max!!"

He kept running toward them. Liz struggled to get out from under Kyle. She made little progress with her efforts.

Where the hell was everyone else, she wanted to know. Now would be a good time for the others to get back in and help.

Max was only a few steps away when Liz saw him make a fist. He started to swing it back. She knew that he was capable of almost anything at this point. Anything at all.

With all the force she could muster, she was able to shove Kyle half off her. Freeing her bandaged hand.

The thundering sound of Max's footfalls were virtually on top of them.

"NO!" Liz yelled.

Her hand reached out in front of her in a feeble attempt to protect them from Max.

The pendant in her pocket started to grow warm.

She closed her eyes as Max swung his fist at the small of Kyle's back. She couldn't bear to see how she failed her friend.

A surge of anxious energy rushed through her.

She held her breath waiting for a muffled impact that never came. She opened her eyes and saw a shimmering shield comprised of purple with jade green flecks, encompassing Max's hand. It didn't deflect him, but was slowing down the speed of motion as if he were trying to swim through molasses.

But the part that made her breath catch in her throat, was the fact that it was coming from her.

The sound of many footsteps rushing into the cave reached her ears.

She never thought that she would be so glad to see Michael and Isabel. Maria had brought in the cavalry.

Darkness started to rush in, overwhelming her. The last thing she saw before passing out was Maria by her side. Liz smiled slightly as oblivion claimed her. The shield collapsed as she lost consciousness, her hand fell as gravity prevailed.

Her final thought before she fell unconscious was that Maria would make sure everything would be all right.
posted on 16-Oct-2001 12:27:19 AM by Psyche G
Chapter 24




Moments like this called for cedar oil.

Maria didn't know why she ever stopped using it to calm her down, she must have been crazy. If there ever was a time that she needed the benefits of aromatherapy, this was it.

She felt like she was going to hyperventilate. Her heart was racing. It was beating so hard that she was half-afraid that it was going to leap right out of her chest. She was shaking all over like a poorly built building during an earthquake. All she wanted to do was sit down, put her head between her knees, and will this to be all over.

As much as she wanted to, she couldn't. Liz needed her to get help.

Once they saw with their own eyes how serious the fight was, Maria felt horrible. She'd convinced Liz that Kyle and Max were having one of those testosterone reducing, clearing the air, kind of fights like most teenaged boys get into once and a while. But what she'd told Liz was a lie.

While it was true that the bad blood between the two boys had escalated over the past year, in all honesty, she wanted them to fight. It's not like she was encouraging them, she just didn't want to stop Kyle. After what Max did to Liz and to Michael she wanted to see Kyle kick Max's ass, especially since the opportunity had presented itself. She believed that when Kyle was finished, then she could get in some well placed kicks of her own and make Max hurt all the more.

But then Liz had wanted to intervene. And she had to try and stop her. So she said what she'd said. Liz had believed her, and all was good. For a few moments, at least. But then all hell broke loose. All too quickly she realized that it wasn't merely just a fight, the two of them were out for blood.

She never, never meant for Kyle to get hurt in the process. But he did. The moment she saw him flying through the air to crash against the wall of the cave, she knew that things were going horribly wrong. Never in her worst nightmares did she imagine that this would happen.

And then Liz told her to go get the cavalry. There was no way that she was going to abandon Liz at that point. With the way Max was acting, she wouldn't have put it past him to go after Liz next. Liz overrided her decision by giving her a really harsh shove toward where Michael and Isabel were. And since she ended up being closer to them than she was to where Liz was going to check on Kyle, getting back-up wasn't such a bad idea after all.

So here she was, heart pounding in her ears, gasping for breath as she ran up to where Isabel was helping Michael to his feet. The moment that Michael saw her, he immedately shook Isabel's arm off and ran over to Maria. He gently grabbed her by the shoulders, and tried to get what was wrong out of her.

"Liz...Kyle..." Maria took in a panicked gasp of air. She needed to tell them as quickly as possible. "... need help."

Right on the heels of that gasping statement, they heard Liz's voice yelling, "NO!"

The three of them ran back into the main chamber of the cave. What they saw when they got there made them skid to a dead stop right in their tracks.

It was one thing to know that Liz was developing powers. Powers that had progressed way beyond the simple silver handprint door opener, or so her friend had told her. Despite the detail that Liz had gone into, it was something else entirely to see those powers in living color.

It was the most frightening and beautiful thing she had ever seen.

It was beautiful because of obvious reasons. The vivid shimmering shades of purple with jade green accents were some of the most gorgeous colors she had seen outside of being connected to Michael. The deep grape shade alone was to die for.

But as breathtaking as this... this shield was, it was also as frightening as hell. This barrier that was coming from Liz's hand was the only thing that was keeping him from pummelling her and or Kyle. And while she was all for anything that kept her best friend out of harm's way, she couldn't help but wonder what the hell was causing Liz to be able to do it.

It wasn't fair. As deeply as Liz was tied to the aliens, she just kept getting sucked deeper and deeper into their situation. How much more could she take? Was this insanity ever going to end? What effect would all this have on Liz?

Maria shook off these troubling thoughts when she saw Liz's head turn slightly toward where the three of them stood. For just a second, dark eyes met light eyes and she saw so much relief in them, that it was humbling.

Despite all the new powers that her friend was developing, Liz needed her.

With all the talk of these new abilities, Maria had been a bit fearful that she would be cast aside in their wake. That was why they snooped at Michael's. That's the reason she convinced Liz of the need for today's expedition. She wanted to help her friend find things the old fashioned way. To prove that she could contribute too.

Maria elbowed Michael in the side and told him, "Go pry Max away from them."

Without waiting to see what they did, she quickly made her way to her friend's side.

Kyle's body was half covering Liz. From the way he was making pain filled noises, Maria guessed that he wasn't unconscious, just somewhere in between la-la land and being awake. Maria tried to reach out and roll Kyle off of Liz. But just like Max, her hand could not get past the shield either.

Maria could see the toll this was taking on Liz. She was barely able keep her eyes open. Liz shifted her unfocused eyes to meet Maria's once again. And like before, she felt humbled, but for a different reason. Her friend's eyes were full of trust. Trust in her.

Then Liz smiled. And Maria wordlessly understood what Liz expected of her. So she nodded slightly to her friend, but she doubted Liz saw it. Already, her eyes were drifting closed and her hand falling slowly to the ground. The moment Liz was out like a light, her hand hit the floor with a thud, and the shield vanished into thin air.

She heard Michael and Isabel struggling with Max. Isabel was trying to reason with him. Maria couldn't stop herself from rolling her eyes at that. Like that would really help.

While they were busy dealing with Max, she struggled to roll Kyle's body off of Liz. As she did so, she heard Kyle say weakly, "Hey! Take it easy."

Maria smiled slightly in relief, "I'm so glad to hear you say that."

Gingerly, he was attempting to sit up, but he'd hiss in pain, hold on to his side and lay back on the ground. And like all men, he was too stubborn to ask for help. So she gave him a hand whether he wanted her help or not. It took more patience than she had, but working together, she managed to help him sit up and lean against the wall.

"Kyle are you sure you're ok? You keep wincing and you've been holding your side."

"It's not too bad. I think I got a couple of bruised ribs. That's all. I've had worse."

"But Kyle..."

He changed the subject. "How's Liz?" Kyle asked worriedly, as he noticed their friend laying on the ground less than an arm's reach away.

"Um. She's ok. I think she just wore herself out. You remember how she was near exhaustion earlier? I think she used up even more energy trying to protect herself and you."

"What did she do?" He sounded fearful as he looked down at Liz. "Evans tried something, didn't he? What the hell happened, Maria?"

"I wasn't here the whole time, so I'm not completely sure. I know she went to help you after Max threw you. I went to get the others. we came back to find you collapsed half on top or her, and Max was trying to attack. Liz somehow created this force field type thing that slowed him down until we got here."

"And she's like that because she ran out of energy?"

"I think so... Maybe... I'm not the one who was the science geek. Liz is. Personally, I think it's exhaustion. She gets focused on things and works herself to the point of exhaustion. Then she crashes..."

"Maria! We could use some help over here!" Michael bellowed.

Maria looked over her shoulder and saw both Michael and Isabel trying to hold Max back. And they didn't seem to be winning the battle.

"Kyle, keep an eye on Liz. Holler if there's any change."

"You bet."

"Maria!!!"

"I'm coming."

She hurried over to the other side of the cave where the two aliens were struggling to restrain Max. They had managed to bring him to his knees. As she moved closer, they managed to pin him face down to the ground. Michael used the bulk of his weight to keep Max on the ground with his arms pinned behind him. Isabel held down Max's legs the best she could, but still she nearly got a foot to the face for her efforts.

Maria stood across from Michael. Max's struggling form lay between them like a line drawn in the sand. She made sure to keep a good distance from where Max was. She didn't want to take any chances. "What do you need me to do?"

"We need you to go through those bags and see if there is anything we can tie him up with."

"I can save myself the trouble. There isn't anything like that in there, Michael. It's just Liz's reasearch stuff."

"Well that's just great. Why couldn't you come up here prepared?" Isabel snapped in frustration.

"Hey we were! It's not like we came up here to get our freak on. Besides, no one told us that Max, psychotic alien guy would be here attacking the people I care about."

"Maria, Isabel, focus. We need to think of some way to subdue him."

Max kept struggling against the two sets of hands that held him back. All the while they tried to think of some way to resolve the situation.

Suddenly, Maria exclaimed, "I know! Isabel remember when the whole school was talking about how you sent that boy flying down the hall? Well, if you do that and send Max over by that wall, Michael could do the thing with his hands and blast him."

"Maria!" Michael looked at her as though he couldn't believe she said that.

"We are NOT blasting my brother. You can just forget that plan."

"What? I meant he would just stun him. You know, like in Star Trek?"

"You know I can't control my powers like that. I could kill him."

"I'm willing to take that risk." Kyle called out from the other side of the cave.

Everyone glared at him. Michael said in a low and serious voice "No."

"Fine, vote me off the island. What say do I have? I'm only the guy who nearly got killed by your idiot psycho king." Kyle grumbeled as everyone ignored him once again.

"Well then, I got another idea. Maybe you could... you know, just knock him out?" Maria punched her fist against her palm to get her point across.

"I am not going to punch Max. Get that thought out of your head."

"I don't hear you coming up with any ideas of your own, Spacecase."

"Maybe you could yak at him to the point that he knocks himself out. I know I'm almost there myself."

"Michael Guerin! Are you trying to say that I'm annoying? My talking, it annoys you? Well let me tell you something, buddy. There are lots of things that bug me about you. That hair for one. Jesus called, he wants his hair back. And that shirt... don't you own any others?"

"Don't knock the hair. At least mine's real."

"So is mine. Do you know how many hard-earned paychecks it cost me? I paid good money for this. It better be real."

"Hey guys..."Isabel tried to interrupt Michael and Maria's bickering, but without luck.

"I don't want to argue with you Maria. In case you've forgotten, I'm kinda busy trying to hold Max down."

"You wouldn't have to hold him back if you hadn't brought him here in the first place."

"Guys!" Isabel tried once again to interject. Her voice was drowned out by Michael's frustrated shout.

"Damn it, Maria! We came here to protect you."

"We were doing just fine, Pally, until you showed up."

"We thought you were in danger." Michael's voice rose as he spoke.

"We weren't. But instead you brought danger to us. Which was really convenient. Thanks a bunch... You know Max could have really hurt Kyle, and he nearly hurt Liz."

"That's not my fault."

"Oh, like that's a big surprise. Nothing ever is. Is it? Someone else is always to blame. Why do anything? It's not your concern."

"What? I didn't say that... Remember? I tried to stop him."

"I don't care! He tried to hurt Liz again."

"WOULD THE TWO OF YOU JUST SHUT THE HELL UP!!!" Isabel resorted to shouting at the top of her voice. Immediately, Maria and Michael quieted down. She took a deep breath and continued in a more level tone, "I think Maria was on to something."

And like the mature person she knew she was, Maria smiled widely and then stuck her tongue out at Michael. She turned and asked Isabel, "What was I right about?"

"About knocking him out... I think that might be doable."

"I can't believe you said that. This is Max we're talking about."

"I'm well aware of that fact, Michael. I don't want to see him in pain any more than you do. That's why we're not going to hit him."

"Damn." Kyle was heard saying from across the room, where he'd been watching the argument unfold.

Isabel and Michael heard his comment. Almost in unison, they turned their heads and glared at him. Maria on the other hand, shot him a brief smile. She could relate. Max's well-being wasn't very high on her list of priorities either.

"So if we don't slug him, how are we gonna knock him out?" Maria queried.

"Ok... Remember when the two of you went to bring Laurie Dupree back to her home? During that time we had that Gandarium scare. We needed information so we had a clue what we were dealing with. I was able to use Brody to connect with Larek. I um... I think I might be able to do something similar and make Max unconscious."

"You really think you can pull this off?" Maria had the impression that Isabel was keeping something back. Actually, she thought Is was lying her ass off. She didn't seem all too confident with what she said she could do. In fact, if she didn't know better, she would go so far as to say that Isabel was nervous. Extremely nervous. Like she was trying not only to convince them, but also herself. In her opinion, that was not a good sign.

"I think so. Maria trade places with me." Isabel relinquished the holding down of Max's legs to her.

Isabel moved over by Max's head, and knelt there. She looked at Max, his face contorted with rage. Softly, she whispered, "I'm sorry, little brother."

With shaking hands that betrayed the confidence she'd presented to them, she reached out to Max. She placed her hands on both sides of his head near the temple. The moment she did so, her hands started to glow. Quickly, it grew in intensity until all of a sudden, she was propelled backward several feet. She landed right on her butt, with a loud thud.

Max's struggles stopped at about the same time. Much to everyone's relief.

Gingerly, Isabel got to her feet. She proceeded to dust off the back of her jeans. It was apparent to everyone that she was, for the most part, ok. Apparent to everyone, except Michael.

"What the hell was that? Are you all right?"

"I'm fine, Michael. I didn't expect that. Although maybe I should have. Last time Brody was the one who went flying..." Isabel's eyes widened as she remembered something. "Oh god! Max! Brody's heart stopped after the last time. Did you, either of you, notice if Max was ok?"

Maria stood up and looked down at the unmoving Max. "Don't worry about it. He's still alive, just out like a light. For a raging psychopath, he sure looks peaceful. Go figure."

"When I just connected with him, his mind is in chaos. Anger and hatred were everywhere. Especially for Liz. But it didn't seem right... The feelings didn't seem natural. There was so much confusion... Love was mixed in there too. It was all jumbled together. Love and hate and... and... fear... He was scared to death about something... I think this behavior was calculated and manufactured to occur. And I think we all know by whom."

"Tess." Maria spat out the word as though it was the most vile curse that she knew.

"Yeah..." Isabel wearily sighed.

Maria could see how hard it was for her to do what she did. It was unfathomable how she managed to do that. Maria may not have siblings, but she did have Liz. And what Is was going through emotionally, was probably similar to what she went through with Liz a few short days ago, even though the situations were a bit different. No matter how hard you try, sometimes doing the right thing still feels an awful lot like betrayal.

"I'm so glad that crisis is over. What the hell do we do now? We have two unconscious people. One of us is hurt. And we found a skeleton buried here. And I'm still ticked off at you, Michael... I just wish we could ask Liz. She always has good ideas. We could sure use one of those right now."

"Well Michael, you're supposed to be his second in command. What do you think?" Isabel asked.

"That this day is going to only get longer." Michael said as he ran a hand through his hair.

"Since the alien brain trust can't put their heads together and create a thought without Evans, I say we clear the hell out of here. Pack everything up, and take Liz somewhere we can watch her and make sure she's ok." Kyle paused and met Isabel's tired eyes. "We can also try and figure out what to do about Max."

"We should all go to Michael's apartment." Isabel added, nodding in aggreement.

Maria disagreed with that plan. "Nuh-uh. No way. I say we all go to Kyle's house."

"No. We don't need to drag Valenti into this. The less people who know about this the better." Michael stated obstinately.

"We need him. We did find the remains of a body. If it isn't an child-sized Ava, then we would need the sheriff's help." Maria tried to appeal to his reasonable side.

"But what could he do? He isn't sheriff any more." Isabel commented.

"And whose fault is that? He lost his job protecting you guys." Kyle shouted, startling them all.

"That's different." Isabel said half-heartedly defending her position.

"Really? You turn to us when it suits your purposes. And now, when we could use some of my father's expertise, you want to keep him out of the loop? I don't think so. We are not your lackeys waiting at your beck and call. Me and my dad are trapped in this for the long haul, and if you won't include him... then I will." When Kyle finished speaking, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a cell phone.

"You tell them, Kyle..." Maria noticed the look Michael was giving her. "I happen to agree with him. The way you guys do things is crazy. You all raced out here to 'save' us, but did it even occur to you to try calling me or Liz on our cell phones? Of course not. You rush in here and put us all in danger..."

Maria took a deep breath and spoke with a determination that was eeirly reminisent of her mom at her most stubborn. "Listen closely, I'm only going to tell you this one time. There is a new world order. We all have to work together. That's it! No more aliens versus humans. We are a team. We need to act like one. And we will work together. Today is a big reason why we should. We can't have this happening again. Do you all understand me?" Maria paused and looked her boyfriend directly in the eyes, and spoke to him in a lower, more vulnerable voice. "I love you, Michael. But I refuse to take chances with my friends' lives. I can't lose Liz like that... I can't."

Everyone in the room was shamed into silence. Even Michael had the good sense to not do or say anything to counter what she just said. It was probably the smartest thing he'd ever done. Messing with her when she was channeling her mom was not a good idea.

Kyle rose to his feet and did something that surprised the hell out of not only Maria, but the others too. Kyle limped over to stand next to Maria. He extended his hand toward Michael and Isabel. "Let's get this straight. You are not my favorite people. But I'm willing to go along with what she said. For the greater good... Are you?"

Maria never thought that Kyle would be the one to extend the olive branch. A part of her always believed that he would be the one most likely to be dragged into this kicking and screaming. It made her wonder just how badly Tess messed with him to make him go to such an extreme.

Maria honestly didn't know what the 'Czechs' would choose to do. Would the limb that she went out on hold up or would she just crash and fall? She held her breath to see what would happen.

"I will." Isabel hesitantly volunteered. "Maybe if we had been working together all along, Alex wouldn't have had to die." Isabel shook Kyle's hand and then turned her eyes on Maria. The two girls both sported equally teary eyes. Teary eyes that were soon trained on Michael.

"Yeah. Whatever. I know when I'm outnumbered." Michael said as he shook hands with him.

"I'm glad that's settled. Now Isabel, why don't you and me start bringing the stuff back. We can get the air conditioning going in the car, mine must be like an oven... Michael, could you..." Maria's voice trailed off.

"What?" Michael asked. He looked at Maria who was looking down into the recently dug pit. "You can't be serious. You want me to disturb the grave and bag up the bones? Do I look like a grave digger?"

"No, Michael. You look like a fry cook who is in hot water with his girlfriend. A soon to be ex-girlfriend if you don't get it in gear. You got some serious making up to do."

"Guerin, if I were you, I'd quit while I was ahead."

Michael grumbled out a terse, "Fine." He then went over to the pit to begin the process of moving the remains so they could take it with them.

Kyle slowly and carefully picked up the shovel that he'd been leaning on earlier. He carried it over to near where Max was laying on the ground, where he sat facing him. Max was looking so calm, completely unlike the raging jerk he'd been earlier.

"You guys do what you got to do. I'll sit here and keep an eye on Evans. If he starts to act up, I'm gonna introduce him to Mr. Shovel."

"You don't need to do that. He's gonna be out for a while. Besides Michael is going to be right here..." Isabel was cut off by a well placed jab in the side caused by Maria's elbow. Maria gave her a glare that was nearly identical to the one Michael gives when he wants someone to shut the hell up. So Isabel did.

"Thanks, Kyle. That is a welcome load off my mind." Maria said with a warm smile.

The two girls made short work of bringing things to the cars. Working together, they even managed to carry the relatively full cooler back to the cars. While the girls transported the cooler, Michael finished transfering the bones to the sleeping bag. He then rolled it up so it just looked like a rather lumpy and uncomfortable bed roll to sleep on.

When all other things were brought to the car, it was time to leave the cave. Isabel helped Kyle hobble out of the cave. He was still limping and using the shovel as a sort of crutch to lean on. Michael followed them carrying Max in a traditional fireman's carry. Maria stayed behind to watch over Liz until Michael came back.

She crossed the room to kneel by her friend's side. Tenderly, she brushed back a few stray hairs from Liz's face. "I hope you wake up soon. I hate seeing you like this. It makes me afraid that you won't be all right. I can't lose my other best friend... You put a lot of faith in me, I only hope that what I did was good enough. I tried to follow my inner Liz, and accomplish the things you would have recommended if you'd been awake."

The sound of Michael's footsteps echoed in the cave as he made his way to the chamber. So, Maria cut short what she was saying. She whispered quietly so that only Liz would hear. "Wake up soon, Chica. I can't lose you too."

Maria finished speaking just as Michael entered the chamber. Quickly, she stood up and stepped away to end up standing near the wall with the symbols. Michael made short work of lifting the unconscious Liz in his arms. He moved toward the exit and paused to catch Maria's gaze. In that moment, she realized how well Michael knew her. Without words being said between them, Maria knew that he was aware of how worried she was about her friend. And that he'd heard what she'd said to Liz.

Maria followed Michael as he carried Liz out of the cave. Maria was on the verge of leaving, when she turned and ran back inside. The healing stones were still in the wall. She snatched them out of there and shoved them into her pockets. Including the one Liz removed from the bottom of the V formation. That done, she hurried to catch up with Michael.

You could never know when the stones would come in handy. After all, they did live in Roswell, the alien capital of the world, and home to all things strange.

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 16-Oct-2001 12:29:11 AM ]
posted on 25-Oct-2001 6:19:16 AM by Psyche G
Hey all,


Just wanted to bump this back near the top.

I haven't forgotten you all. I'm almost through with the next part. I just need to fix a few things before posting.

I should be posting it Thursday night. Which would actually be tonight. But in my mind the day doesn't start until the sun comes up, and I fall asleep. My sleeping patterns are so out of wack. But I digress.

Any way, it's taken a while because of several things, one of which is the fact that some parts are harder to get out of my head than others. And this will be my longest chapter to date, so that kind of makes up for it.

Its chock full of dream sequence-y goodness. So you know what that means... Actually you don't. *big* But I promise you it will not disappoint. *wink**angel*



~~Psyche~~

posted on 25-Oct-2001 11:14:36 PM by Psyche G
Ok here you go, the next part. Woo-Hoo! Some questions are answered, while others are raised.

Enjoy!



Chapter 25



The sense of smell was the first thing to return to her. Liz could faintly smell vanilla scented potpourri, just like the kind she used to keep in her room. Before that night happened. The night that not only changed the course of her life, but that of so many others. Liz did her best to shove the memory of it, back to the corners of her mind, where it often lurked.

Liz swayed a little, and she realized that she was standing. But for some reason she thought that she should have been laying on hard uneven ground. She was also certain that she shouldn't be smelling vanilla wherever it was that she was supposed to be.

That worried her. As did so many other things, that she was only just starting to notice. The air around her was cool, just like the way it is in late fall when the days grow shorter and the nights longer.

Suddenly, the smell of ozone permeated the air, reminding Liz of a lightning storm. Lightning... A flash of lightning. A sense of unease sank into the bottom of Liz's stomach. It couldn't be...

Then she felt it. Something lightweight and gossamer fine brushed against her cheek as she turned her head. That sensation stopped her dead in her tracks. That sinking feeling in her stomach turned into the Titanic.

She knew exactly where she was. If she opened her eyes, Liz knew that she would find herself reliving her worst nightmare, once again.

Ever so slowly she opened her eyes. The world was grey and misty, obscuring most everything. Liz blinked several times. The silvery fog in front of her parted like a curtain, leaving Liz to be confronted with the image of herself staring back at her with wide, horror-filled eyes.

What she saw in the mirror she stood in front of confirmed her terror. She was standing in front of the mirror with a make-shift veil draped over her head. Just like she stood that fateful night. Only one thing was different, dark brown eyes that were once so full of hope, were now replaced by eyes dulled with pain.

She was having the nightmare again. The one where she knew it was just a dream but was powerless to change anything. She should have known better than to think it wouldn't reoccur again. Deep down she had hoped that her guilt-filled nightmares about Alex had permanently taken their place.

Obviously they hadn't.

It always started the same, she stood in front of her mirror pretending that she was marrying Max. There was a crack of thunder and a flash of lightning. Then Future Max would appear and she would end up feeling the pain of losing both Maxes all over again.

He was bound to show up any moment now. Liz waited and waited, but there was no thunder, no lightning. And most importantly, no Future Max at the window.

She didn't understand why he didn't show up. As much as she dreaded seeing him, his absence disturbed her more. Even if the arrival of Future Max brought her nothing but heartache, it was one of the few constants in her life. The fact that he wasn't there, made her world tilt and shift on its axis once again.

She dropped her pretend veil onto the ground, and stepped cautiously over to her windows. Liz looked out onto the rooftop and immediately noticed that things weren't the way they should have been. Her lounge chair was positioned wrong. It was turned so that if someone was sitting there, she wouldn't be able to see them from inside. Also someone went to the trouble to light the candle she kept out there and leave it on the little table near the chair. In the darkness the candle's light shone like a beacon.

Cautiously, she climbed out her window and onto the rooftop. She made her way slowly toward the chair. Her eyes searched left and right, always on the look-out for anything suspicious. As she neared the chair she heard the faint sound of sniffling. Liz was close enough to get a look at who was there with her.

She relaxed when she saw a pink-tinted head of hair tilted downward looking at something in her lap. It was only Ava.

She spoke softly, so as not to startle the girl, "Hey there."

"Liz." Ava looked up at her. She looked vulnerable and heartbroken. Almost as much as the few times she would talk about Zan. Her eyes were red from crying, and her face streaked with tears. As if suddenly realizing how she looked, Ava reached up quickly to wipe the tears off of her cheeks.

Liz reached over and grabbed a tissue out of the nearby box and handed it to her. "Here, use this. It's a lot more absorbant than hands are." She gave her friend an understanding smile.

"Thank..." Ava blew her nose. "...you."

"Don't mention it. You'd do the same for me."

"How can you be so sure? I am one of the 'dupes'. I could be just doing this to lull you into a false sense of security. So I can sell 'ya out to Lonnie, Rath, and Nicholas."

"You could do that. But you're not. You're a good person, a good friend. Why are you so down on yourself?"

"I just... I was reading your diary ok? It just gots me thinking."

"About what?"

Ava sat there quietly for a moment. She was quiet so long that Liz thought she better pull up a chair and make herself comfortable. So she did. Several minutes passed and still she said nothing. Liz started to wonder whether her friend was going to speak anytime in the near future.

Out of the blue, Ava asked in a small voice, "Do 'ya wanna hear the story of how the original Ava got together with Prince Zan? It's so cornball, right up your alley."

"Uh sure. I guess so," She wasn't sure if she wanted to hear the story. It all tied in with this destiny that Max was supposed to have with someone else. She still had issues about it...

But it seemed to mean a lot to Ava to tell this story. Besides, despite her streetwise attitude, there was a tone of wistfulness in her voice.

"It all happened at Demarra's rock. The royal family wanted to celebrate Vilandra's betrothal to Rath with a day at the lake. All the relatives from the nearby planets made the trip to Antar'a. Ava was forced to come along and show support for Rath. Their father was the king's most trusted advisor and strategist. It was her duty as her father's daughter, and as Rath's sibling. It was important to show the royal family that although their family was small, it was prosperous and of good lineage..."

"Hold on... Do you mean that Rath was your brother? And Michael?"

"Yeah, well... I guess that makes me and him related... kinda. Not by a lot, though. I don't think there's much of a genetic connection anymore. When they made us, only a small percentage of the original familial genetic markers were left in the reconformed DNA. They were like half-brother and sister, in the other life. So I don't thinks theres much of anything left of those family ties from before."

"But, still it's something... If you're related to Rath, why were you so scared he was going to help Lonnie get back at you? You're family."

"He don't see it that way. He acts the way he did on the old world. Him and Ava didn't really get along. I also gets the impression that he blames the original Ava and me for the war with Kivar."

"But I thought Isabel, I mean Vilandra, was the one..."

"...that betrayed them and got Zan, Rath, and herself killed? She did, sort of. But Rath and Lonnie hated me because the original Ava was the first victim of the war. Her death made everything go to hell."

"Oh." Liz didn't really know what to say.

"Anyways, where did I leave off?"

"The betrothal party at the lake. You said her father made Ava go for appearances sake."

"Rhyming? You're so cornball... Anyway, she was studying to be a scholar and didn't want to be torn away from her studies. So she brought her research with her. She didn't really know anyone there at least not closely, not even the couple of honor. So she kept to herself and went to a secluded spot by the water, to continue her work. While trying to study at the lake, she noticed two men on the rock above and knew that one of them was the king's son, since that view was reserved only for the use of the King and Queen and their children.

"Everytime she'd try and focus on her studies, she felt eyes on her. She looked up and saw that one of them kept looking at her. The attention bothered her. Ava decided to take a swim in the nearly empty lake, so she could look at the different fish at the bottom of it and escape the man's stares. Which wasn't a wise decision.

"She waded into the thick red water, and swam away from the beach. She'd been so busy noticing all the aquatic life, that she didn't see the people leave the lake. She never saw the twin moons rise as the sun set. She didn't know how dangerous the tidal undertow was. She surfaced only to be sucked under like that." Ava demonstrated what she meant by snapping her fingers.

"What happened next?" Liz asked, not liking where the story was going.

"Im's gettin to that. Prince Zan wasn't watching when Ava was sucked underneath the water. He knew the danger of the lake, and tried to spot where the girl he had been watching was. He thought she got out of the water, but he couldn't see her. He looked out onto the lake, and a form started to rise to the surface.

"He didn't think about his being the only male heir to the throne. Or his own safety. All he knew was that he had to save her... He dove into the lake from the top of the rock and swam to her. He grabbed onto her and dragged her to safety. Only he was too late. There was nothing the royal healer could do to revive her.

"Zan refused to let her die. He placed his hands on her and willed her to live. Bystanders watched in horrified amazement as Zan transfered his own life energy to Ava. He brought her back to life. He was the first and only thing she saw when her eyes opened."

"My God. He saved her just like Max saved me."

"Uh-huh. That's why I gots a little down."

"I have a thousand things to ask you. But not until you tell me why you're seem depressed about that."

"It's just that Prince Zan saved Ava. Your... Max saved you. My Zan never saved me."

"Oh, Ava... And you feel that since he didn't save your life, that he didn't love you."

Ava nodded hesitantly. She seemed to be surprised by the insight that Liz had. "Yeah. Somethin' like that."

Liz knew that she needed to say something to the poor girl. It was heartwrenching to see how distraught she was. She thought about it for a moment or two, and she realized something. That realization gave her an idea of what to say.

"Were you with him from the moment you came out of the pod?"

"Yeah. Why you wanna know?"

"I'm getting to that. Just answer this first, were the two of you ever in a situation where you could have gotten hurt? Or did get hurt?"

"There were a few close calls. But we did a'ight."

"I see. Rath and Vilandra, did Zan let them mess with you or try and hurt you?"

"Naw, they knew better than that. 'Sides, when Zan was around, if that pack of jackals tried somethin' he'd make them back the fuck off. Wanna tell me why you're doing the scrunched forehead thing again? Or are we gonna sit here playing 20 freakin' questions?"

"I was just putting it all together. I think I know why he didn't heal you." Liz paused to look at Ava. She seemed to be hanging on her every word. "He didn't have to. He didn't need to save you because he already did. He loved you enough to not let you get hurt in the first place. Don't you see?"

"I thought he was just showin' off. Building his rep. Letting everyone know that 'Zan's 'da man'."

"That might have been part of it, but I think deep down, he wanted to be someone's hero. That someone is you, in case you haven't guessed." Liz said with a smile as she poked Ava's shoulder to drive the point home.

Ava smiled right back at her.. "Ha. Ha. It's not like I'm stupid. I just honestly never thought about it like that. I always thought he was waiting to share himself with someone else. That I wasn't good... You really think he did love me?" She asked Liz in a very small and insecure sounding voice.

"I'm sure of it. If the others hadn't... If the two of you had a chance to be alone, I don't think you'd be so unsure now. I think Zan and Max had a lot of things in common. Max used to try and protect me too. I think he had a case of hero-itis, himself."

"Max used to? You mean... Oh... Did he stop after..." Ava paused, as though she were looking for the right words to say, but was unable to find them.

"He stopped after he thought I betrayed him."

"I'm sorry, Liz."

"What for? It's not your fault."

"I 'saw' what happened today."

"Today?" Liz was confused. She wasn't sure what Ava was talking about.

"At the cave."

All of the sudden, memories came crashing down on her. Human's day out. Finding the headstone. The flag. The skeleton. Isabel, Michael, and Max. The other Ava? Max yelling that she'll experiment on them. The flashes. Max and Kyle fighting. Kyle thrown against the wall. Her helping him. Max about to attack. The shield that slowed Max down until the others came.

Liz gasped sharply for air. She remembered everything that happened out there. She couldn't believe that Max tried to attack her. She knew it was true, but it didn't make it any easier to believe. She never thought the day would come when she would fear for her life against him.

She didn't understand why.

Why would he yell and threaten her at one moment, and the next moment act like the boy she fell in love with? It just added to her certainty that he'd been warped like Alex. And what exactly was with those flashes? Why did Max associate her in the same catagory as Agent Pierce? Who was the whispering voice? Was that the proof she'd been looking for that showed that Tess was somehow behind it all?

"Do you know anything about mind-warping?" Liz asked bluntly. There was no better time than the present to find out what Ava knew on that score.

"A little. I've heard things. I've run into the skins. I've seen what they can do. Why?"

"Well I know without a doubt that humans can be mind-warped. Can you guys be?"

"To an extent. But it ain't happened to me. I'ms the one who gets to see through them. Remember?"

"What about erasing memories or at least altering them?"

"That they can't do. Well... maybe... I thinks that the average Skins ain't able to do that. But I know Nicholas can, sort-of. Mind-rapes are his specialty. But that's just a way to inflict pain and get information at the same time. I know he managed to do that and make Rath cry like a little girl, when he was complaining that Nicholas was hittin' on Lonnie. But I don't think he can erase or implant anything. At least not in us hybrids. Human's are another story. The human brain isn't developed enough to resist all those little brain games."

"Are you sure?"

"Not really. We tried to not get ourselves into that kind of trouble. Why'd you want to know?"

"Because at the cave, I got flashes from Max that made me think that someone messed with his mind and made him believe things that could never happen would or did happen."

"I can't imagine it being possible. Our life-energy I think would prevent that. The only way that could happen is if the balance of our essence was..."

"What? Ava, was... what?"

"Chill for a sec. Didn't you tell me that Max healed your friend Kyle?"

"He was shot in the chest. He would have died without Max's help."

"Well that would have weakened the strength of the life force, but not to the extent I saw in my vision."

Liz chewed on her lip. A troubling thought occurred to her. If healing the dying weakens Max... "What if hypothethically, let's say he managed to heal about... oh, say, 5 terminally ill children?"

"That'd do it. Our protector explained to us why Zan shouldn't use that power. Only if it was an emergency, only to one of us. He drilled it into our heads. He needed to be strong. Not vulnerable. Healing someone who is dying would weaken the essence. Enough times and Zan'd be easy prey in a sitch like you mentioned." No sooner had she said that, Ava's eyes grew wide as realization dawned on her. "Tell me he wasn't that stupid... Oh, fuck. He was, wasn't he? Fuck, fuck, fuck. Do you have any idea how badly this complicates things?"

"A lot, I take it."

"You's could say that. You wrote in your book that he broke up with you 'cause he needed to regain his balance. He understood that back then. When did he get to be so God-damned stupid? How could he do that to himself? He didn't seem to be all that off-balanced back when I met you all."

"Max didn't save those children until a month or so later. He blamed himself for not saving a man who was killed while he did nothing. All he planned to do was atone for his guilt by healing a girl dying of cancer. Once he did, he couldn't just leave the other kids to suffer that same fate. He was so happy to have been a part of a Christmas miracle. He told me he wished he could have saved them all."

Ava massaged her forehead with her hands. Her brow was furrowed, and she looked like she was beginning to feel the pain of a stress-induced headache. "That is so cornball. No doubt he's the real king. None at all. That is exactly the kind of stuff the original Zan woulda done. He was stupid like that too. Couldn't stand to the side and not do anything. Luckily he had the first Ava. She was his voice of reason. With her by his side, they accomplished great things in a short time."

"Is there any way to undo what was done to Max? You saw how he was. I'm really afraid that he's going to hurt someone. Possibly me. I know that if that happens, Max could never live with himself. It would destroy him. I don't know what he'd do, but it wouldn't be pretty. And I've got to admit that I'm not all too keen on the idea of me getting hurt either."

"I... I don't know if it's possible." Ava looked over at Liz. Her worry for Max was the prevailing emotion displayed on her face. "Yo' I can try and find out for you. It's a long shot, but I's might be able to locate my protector, we call him Sweets. If there's any ritual that can be done, he'd be the one to know."

"I don't know. I'm a little leery about that. Nasedo made a deal with the skins to have Tess turn Max, Michael, and Isabel over to Kivar. And he was supposed to be their protector. You know?"

"Yo' I don't blame you at all. From what Sweets told me, their protector... Nasedo, was one of two guards sent to protect the pods. When the craft went down, and the others died, he had to become responsible for securing the pods. And when the four broke out of them, there was no choice but for him to guide and train them, prepare them for their destiny. But Nasedo wasn't trained to do anything but be the royal's guard. Sworn to protect the Royal four at all costs.

"Sweets, said they split up in order to protect the pods. Sweets took us to New York after gettin' the Roswell crew stashed somewhere safe. Sometime in the late 50's, my protector went back to Roswell to try and find Nasedo. He wouldn't tell me what happened when he did find him, but I could tell it wasn't good. He never said anything about the time from then to when we's broke out of our pods, but I gots a vibe that he was following Nasedo and doing damage control."

"So he's not evil and twisted like Nasedo was?"

"Ain't no way. Sweets was a sweetie. He's the closest thing I've had to a family."

"If you say he's okay, then I trust your judgment. I don't know why you are bothering to help me with all this stuff that's going on, but I'm really glad you're on our side."

"You are the only real friend I've had. It's the least I can do to help. I only wish I could do more. Now that I'm outta the sewers, I kinda like this planet. I'ms in no hurry to leave."

The two girls sat there in companionable silence. It was nice have a moment of calm. A moment where no one was trying to hurt her. Where Liz didn't have to worry about the powers that she was developing. And she didn't have to be on her guard with an eye out for Tess her her mind-bending illusions. This was a Tess-free, alien-free moment. Which was kind of ironic, considering that she was sitting next to the girl who not only was an alien, but happened to be a near duplicate of the one that had caused her so much grief.

Since it seemed that this dream with Ava wasn't happening quite like the others had, Liz felt that this was the perfect opportunity to ask Ava the other question that had been plagueing her since all of these dreams started.

"Ava, why is all this happening to me? I mean that I know you said this was all because I was changed. But why me, and say... not Kyle?"

Ava sighed wearily. "I can tell how hard this is for you. All I can tell you is that this was set in motion from the moment he saved your life. Oh Liz, I's really wish I could make this easier for ya'. I can guide you to the answers you need, but this is something you gots to do for yo'self."

"Do you know what those answers are?"

"More or less. I saw some of it in a vision. Depending on how ya' look at it this could be a good thing."

"A good thing? Tess is on the loose. I've lost Max. Being around him is painful because I keep remembering the boy I love. And this Max, is just a pale imitation of the love of my life. And even though I'm pretty sure that his violent behavior was implanted by Tess, it hurts me everytime he acts that way towards me. Yet I'm still getting drawn in deeper and deeper into their cause. I'm so tired of this crap! Why can't it all stop?" Liz's voice had risen to a near shout.

"Is that what you really want?"

Liz looked up sharply at Ava. The girl looked stricken. As though someone told her that her favorite pet had been killed in a hit and run accident. It was the same kind of look that little children get when someone tells them that there is no Santa Claus.

"Yes!... No!... I... I don't know." Liz slumped wearily in her chair. "Everything is happening so fast. I'm having a hard time processing it. I've been trying to avoid thinking of this and what it all means."

"Look, I know that things are spinning outta control for you. I don't think anyone else would've been able to deal wit' it half as well. You've done good. The history of the future is changing as we speak."

"History of the future? You mean the present, right?"

"Yeah. Mostly."

"Then why didn't you just say that?"

"Because what you're doing affects more than the here and now. It's like the chicken and the egg combined with the bird in China who flaps its wings, changing the weather here... And I can tell by your confused expression that this talk has gotta wait. It's too complicated to get into now. And we ain't gots much time left here. There's still some stuff you need to know."

"Like the dead child you had me find? Stuff like that? Why didn't you warn me? That's the kind of vital information that I need to know. I know you're holding back on me, Ava. Just level with me. What are you getting me into?"

"I can't tell you. It's not my place. Anyways, if I did there ain't no way in hell that you would believe me."

"We're friends. Why don't you try me?"

"Look, it's kinda like that second 'Star Wars' movie. When Luke went to that swamp world in order to learn to be a Jedi. I can help ya', point ya' in the right direction, but I can't do it for ya'. If I did, it wouldn't mean as much. Sometimes you gotta find things out yourself."

"Funny, you don't look like Yoda... But I think I get what you mean though. Not that I'm thrilled about it, mind you."

"I'll keeps that in mind."Ava looked around as if she was expecting something to happen. "Damn, we ain't gonna have much time. You're gonna be waking up soon. I don't know if we'll have time for everything. Shit... We're gonna have to hurry."

"Hurry for what? Ava... Ava..."

The candle's flame went out with a hiss. Enshrouding them in the pitch-black dark of night.

Suddenly, out of the darkness, there was a bright flash of light. Liz blinked furiously in order to focus her eyes. She felt herself being pulled toward the edge of the rooftop where it overlooked the alley below. The spots before her eyes cleared enough for her to see.

Ava was nowhere to be found.

Future Max was there instead. He had a firm grip on her arm as he steered her the few remaining feet to the railing. Just like in her nightmares.

"... In approximately 10 seconds, I will show up outside your window and begin singing to you...accompanied by a mariachi band." Future Max told her.

"A mariachi band? Max wouldn't do anything that cheesy." Liz found herself saying almost by rote. Every time she had the dream she always replied the same way. She had always been incapable of changing the events of that night.

"... 3 ... 2 ... 1."

And just like the first time, nothing happened at his cue.

Once more she was compelled to repeat what she spoke the first time she lived through it. "Well?"

"I said approximately." He said once again.

Liz waited and waited. Suddenly a lone figure walked over to stand underneath where she stood by the railing. It was Max. He was alone and not too subtly hiding something behind his back.

Liz didn't understand what was going on. This was not the way things had happened before. Why was it different now?

She didn't realize she was able to stray from what she would have said in all the other nightmares, until she heard herself speak. "Where's the damn mariachi band?"

"Shh. I had to go all the way to Artesia to learn this."

"To learn what? Nothing's happening."

As soon as the words left her mouth, the Max on the street below her started to speak to her:


¿Qué es la vida? Un frenesí.
¿Qué es la vida? Una ilusión,
una sombra, una ficción,
y el mayor bien es pequeño;
que toda la vida es sueño,
y los sueños, sueños son.


At the end of the poem, Max brought his hand up from behind his back. He was holding something purple-ish that shimmered. It was folded up into a small and compact pile, no larger than a six-inch Subway sandwich.

Max made a big display of throwing what ever it was up to her. As if in slow motion, Liz watched the object hurl toward her. When it was just about a yard or two shy of her grasp, Max stared intently at it and did a little wave of his hand towards it.

Suddenly, in mid-flight, it opened up right before her eyes. She watched with baited breath as it unfolded to a great deal more than quadruple its size. It spun and rotated, allowing Liz to finally make out what it was.

It was the flag that they had found out at the cave.

It was now completely unfurled and stiff like the way it had been originally found. The flag with the conjoined symbols sailed through the air, completely breaking every law of aerodynamics. It flew toward her in a straight line, although she would have guessed from its flat shape that it would list to one side or the other as it fluttered to the ground like a feather.

But it didn't fall to the ground, nor did it stray off course. It sailed toward her, just now starting to begin its arc's descent. Like a kite that lost its wind, it plummeted downward. The flag settled neatly into Liz's out-stretched hands.

"What is this? Why did you throw me this banner?" Liz asked of Future Max.

He never answered her.

She turned around to look at him, but he was gone. Liz spun back around to see if she could ask the Max in the alley below her. He too was gone.

She was all alone on her roof once again. This time she didn't even get to have her wedding dance. Instead, all she had left of his time here was the flag she was still clutching onto.

She was holding onto it with a desperation that confused even her. It was the symbol for the destiny that Max had, which would never have room for her. It stood for all that she'd lost and all that she'd never have. She should be dropping it like a hot potato.

The reason why she hadn't, was a mystery that she couldn't solve.

"That's the royal crest for the House of Zan. It has only been used three times in two millenia."

Liz whirled around once again and found her friend leaning next to her telescope. "Ava? What? Where did you... Where did Future Max go?"

"He accomplished his mission. The world doesn't end."

"But... before, it all happened differently..."

"Yep, the future's changed. Things are different now. Don't sweat it... Why don't you come over here. There's something I need you to see."

Extremely confused, Liz made her way over to the telescope. Still holding onto the flag, she squinted into the eyepiece.

"What am I supposed to be looking for? All I see is a big blur. I think we need to adjust the focus."

"Changes like that won't help. It's sorta like Hubble. You know about Hubble, right?"

"Of course. I watch the Discovery channel. They had a program all about it some time ago. NASA spent all this money building it and sent it into space. Only they goofed. When they tried to look at faraway stars, it was all blurry and out of focus. One of the engineers had miscalculated, and the telescope's mirror was too flat. The curve was off by only four microns. That's less than one fiftieth of the width of a human hair. A few years later, they sent the first of several shuttle missions up there to try and correct what was wrong. In the end NASA had the shuttle crew install the equivalent of corrective lenses to compensate for their screw-up. At least untill they came up with something better."

Liz finished speaking, only to notice Ava smiling down at her.

"That wasn't quite what I'd been asking you. Shoulda' known you'd answer wit' all of that. You're so cornball. What'd ya' do, write a report on that for school or learn all that for fun?" Ava said with a warm smile, guessing Liz's answer. "Science geek."

"Yeah, well, I am what I am... "

"If you only knew..." Ava mumbled under her breath.

Liz heard her friend mumble something unintelligible. "What?"

"Nothing. The thing with Hubble, that's what's happened here. They planned it all out, but the unexpected happened and they had to do their best to salvage what everyone worked so hard on. If they didn't, so much would have been lost. It would have been a tremendous waste."

Liz listened to her and was struck with the feeling that Ava was talking in layers. On the surface, she was referring to the Hubble telescope. But underneath that, Liz got the impression that Ava was telling her something of great importance. But she didn't know what it all meant.

"Hey... Yo! Earth to Liz. Pay attention. Save the scrunchy forehead thing for later, we ain't done yet."

"Wha?"

"We're outta time. You gotta remember this..." Ava waved her hand over the telescope, fixing it. "Look through it now. It should become clearer to you."

Liz squinted into the lens once more, not knowing what to expect. Her eyes widened in surprise at the sight before her. She lifted her head to see if she were imagining things.

"It's ok, Liz. Just watch. Its important. Try to remember..."

Liz didn't hear the last of what Ava said. She was too engrossed in the images that she saw. They hit her every bit as quickly as had the flashes she got from Max at the cave.

She saw space. From the distance, a giant red star came into focus. It zoomed in and she could just make out the planets circling the star. There were 5 of them, orbiting the star in syncronicity. Never straying from the now-familiar V formation.

Then her focus centered on the planet at the bottom of the V formation. It had bodies of water and land masses just like Earth, only the colors were much different. The land was violet-hued in varying shades. The water was a crimson red.

Hundreds of bright flashes of light suddenly broke out around the planet. It looked like some kind of war. The light reoccurred with greater and greater frequency moving it's way to one location. The light flashes were at it's peak, when all of the sudden, they stopped. All was still. Faster than she could blink, an object, maybe a ship, hurtled away from the planet. Different, slower ships followed in its wake.

Stars sped past her. Nebulas, clusters, an innumerable amount of stars went by. Then it slowed. She could see planets now. Three of them passed by, looking vaguely familar. The fourth one had rings like Saturn. The next one was big with red-ish swirling atmosphere. Jupiter, perhaps?

Then there were chunks of rocks, an asteroid belt. A shuddering impact. Desperation. Worry. Things moved faster. The craft floundered.

Another red planet. Smaller, drier, and quickly passed over. Then the shining blue and green planet. Earth. They were coming too close, too fast. It loomed larger and larger until ... Mass confusion. Pain. Bright lights. Sounds of pain. Shouting. Being moved. Then nothingness.

Liz gasped as what she saw came to a stop. The assault on her senses had been immense.

"No! Don't stop now. Ya' gotta follow this through to the end. It's important. Remember..."

Once again the images started. Only curiously enough, they were devoid of color.

The pods. Two sets of four. A military base. In a room. Frosted windows and a lamp. A tray for medical equipment. The bodies of two men in white lab coats on the ground. Two glowing creatures in the mirror. A man with a camera saying something unintelligable. The man leaves, causes a distraction. An alarm goes off.

Saving the pods. Escape to the desert. Leaving the pods with the other creature. The crash site. A well-hidden Granolith. The rock formation. Creating a secret chamber for the Granolith behind the one to store the pods. Bringing the pods there. Leaving the other to secure his four.

Journey to New York. Hiding the pods out of sight, below the sewers. Avoiding Skins. Back in Roswell. The pod chamber. No protector to be found. A sick pod. The dying queen.

Danger approaching. Must keep the pods safe. Protect at all costs. Must lead away from chamber. Can not let them die...

The dying child. Honor. Duty. Cannot abandon. Have to try and save her majesty. May not all be lost.

Opening the pod. Removing the child. Wraping her in the royal flag, laying her on the floor. Unsealing the Granolith chamber. The healing stones. Both halves of the pendant. Seal the chamber. Carry the queen out. Hide the entrance.

Running. Footsteps following. Skins attack. Hide the child queen. Six against one. Wounded. Pain. Take out four of them, damaging one. Another Skin runs to get reinforcements. Must get the queen to safety.

More running. A Skin in pursuit. More Skins sure to follow. The child's failing rapidly. Try to keep alive. A truck comes out of nowhere. More pain. A man, Atherton, gets out of the truck. The Skin arrives, takes aim. Then explodes into dust. A helping hand, gives them a ride. Takes them to safety. The cave near the reservation.

The queen's breaths are shallow and weak. Not much time. Sends Atherton away to get supplies. Alone at last. Watches over the child. Almost over. Places healing stones on the ground around the girl in the V formation. Waves hand over the stones. They glow. He places one hand on the queen's stomach, the other on the stone at the bottom of the V. Intense concentration. It grows brighter. Brighter. A flash of blinding light. Being thrown backward.

So weak. Drags self over to the child queen. No respiration. No pulse. Dead. Checks the stones. All stopped glowing, except one. The one at the base of the V pulsates. Picks it up. Atherton returns.

A sack of hard candy is offered to him. Takes a piece. Regains energy. Turns to Atherton. Needs his help. Places his hands on his head. Knocks him out. Places crystal on Atherton's chest. Covers it with hand. A bright glow.

Atherton wakes up. He panics. Levels with him. Agrees to help. The royal burial. A new ally. A friendship begins. Time passes. The writing on the wall. Gives Atherton the royal necklace. River Dog. Another ally. Sickness. Healing. Recovering.

Danger. The other protector's near by. The essence. Healing stones. Atherton. A close call. Atherton's death. On the run again.

Scores of nameless faces. Men. Women. No one host for long. Years pass. Always on the move. A small town. Oil wells. Medical clinic. A plan in motion. A dark-haired woman with the name Sheila on a key ring. A crowded waiting room. Plaques on the wall.

The vision begins to fade.

A diploma? Doctor... B ... something...

The vision is almost gone. Liz strains to see what the last name is.

B ... something... Cas ... Castillo.

The last thing she saw in the vision was front page of a newspaper from Bitter Lake, dated 8-29-70. There was a picture of the woman with the dark hair. She had been murdered.

The vision ended. Darkness rushed in, smothering her.



Liz shot up to a sitting position, suddenly wide awake. The dream fresh in her mind. She gasped out, "Oh, my God."

She'd seen that woman before. She was the woman that she saw in the flashes she got from Nasedo.
posted on 29-Nov-2001 10:54:29 AM by Psyche G
Hey all!

Sorry about the lack of updates. I haven't forgotten the story. I was just really really sick. My doctor came thisclose to puting me in the hospital. Lets just say that infections are a pain in the butt. And sometimes the treatment is worse than the illness itself. But I digress.

I am currently working on the next part of the story. it's just going slow at the moment. But I promise you, it will be worth the wait. So please everyone bear with me. I will come through for you all.


~~Psyche~~
posted on 15-Dec-2001 11:12:47 AM by Psyche G
Thanks for all the feedback. I'm feeling better than before and am trying to get out as much of this story out of my head as fast as I can so there should be more coming soon.

Anyway, here's the new part!!


Previously in Chapter 25


Scores of nameless faces. Men. Women. No one host for long. Years pass. Always on the move. A small town. Oil wells. Medical clinic. A plan in motion. A dark-haired woman with the name Sheila on a key ring. A crowded waiting room. Plaques on the wall.

The vision began to fade.

A diploma? Doctor... B ... something...

The vision was almost gone. Liz strained to see what the last name is.

B ... something... Cas ... Castillo.

The last thing she saw in the vision was front page of a newspaper from Bitter Lake, dated 8-29-70. There was a picture of the woman with the dark hair. She had been murdered.

The vision ended. Darkness rushed in, smothering her.


Liz shot up to a sitting position, suddenly wide awake. The dream fresh in her mind. She gasped out, "Oh, my God."

She'd seen that woman before. She was the woman that she saw in the flashes she got from Nasedo.


Chapter 26


Liz was disoriented. Confused. What she had just seen had overwhelmed her.

Whose flashes were they? They were as devoid of color just like the ones she'd gotten when Nasedo kidnaped her. That alone made Liz almost certain that they belonged to one of the protectors. But which one? Nasedo's? Or were they from Ava's Sweets? And why was she receiving them? Was Ava some how passing them on to her? If so, why? What was so important about a woman named Sheila? What did that dark haired woman have to do with Nasedo? Why was she murdered?

After yet another mind-bending encounter with Ava, Liz was left with more questions than answers. If that skeleton was the fourth member of the Roswell royal four, did that mean that their Ava was dead? Or was the vision right? Was it possible that the life-force of the Roswell Ava, still around? Was there yet another alien-human-hybrid out there, fated to be with Max? And what part if any did Nasedo or Tess have to do with the events in the flashes? And the biggest question of all... If the Roswell Ava, or at least her body, was dead, then who in the hell was Tess?

And then there was Max... Was there any hope for him? Did Tess destroy his mind irrevocably? Max's behavior could not have been anything but Tess's handiwork. Especially after what she saw when connected to him. She had never imagined just how chaotic and fragmented his mind was. That was evident by the way he snapped in the cave. Turning on his alien family, was the last thing she ever expected to see him do. But then again, she never expected Max to really fall out of love with her and then get it on with Tess.

Liz honestly didn't know what to think. The Max that attacked her and Kyle in... The cave... Kyle... Oh God, she had completely forgotten about him. Was he ok? And Max? Where was she now? This was definitely not the cave.

She cautiously took stock of her surroundings. The room she was in was dark. Shadowy. She had been laying on something soft. A bed of some sort, she guessed. The blanket covering her was somewhat scratchy. Liz pulled the blanket up toward her face, and inhaled. The smell kind of reminded her of the night she dreamwalked Kyle.

As soon as she thought that, things clicked in her head. She knew where she was. This was Kyle's house. In fact, this was the room that Tess had taken over. The same room where Maria and she confronted Kyle about the finger tapping. No wonder she didn't recognize where she was right away. She could count the times she'd been in there on one hand and still have several fingers left over.

Now that she was awake, she didn't want to take the chance of losing the information that Ava had shared with her in the dream. Already the memory of it was starting to get a little hazy. She needed to write down what she learned while it was still fresh in her mind. Liz had a feeling that this dream was vitally important. She'd never had flashes like that unless she was connected to the person at the time.

Until now.

Every time she'd had flashes, they all occurred the same way, never fail. This sudden change in that pattern went against everything she knew about logic, reason, and scientific principles. Changes in well-established patterns don't just happen spontaneously. In most cases, outside forces that are acting upon them is the catalyst behind the changes. For that reason alone, she was certain that the flashes would lead her deeper into the truth about Tess. And with that, possibly a way to undo whatever harm the mindwarping witch, had done to Max.

But none of that would matter if she didn't record it all down.

Liz stood up and patted down the pockets of her pants. She was hoping that she'd find her note cards and could get started writing it all down. Only, they weren't there. With all the commotion in the cave, she'd lost track of them. The last time she remembered having them in her hand, was before she'd unveiled the headstone in the floor of the cave. But she was now at Kyle's, and not in the cave. She knew with certainty that she didn't bring them with her. So where were they now?

She moved over to the door and opened it up a little wider than it had been. Liz heard the sound of voices in the other part of the house. It sounded to her like they were having another big group meeting, only they were trying to keep the noise level down. Unfortunately, they weren't succeeding. Liz could plainly hear Michael and Isabel squabbling over something.

She headed toward the sound of their discussion. If Maria and the others had the presence of mind to bring her here and make her comfortable, then they might know where her cards were. If not, then she was sure that Kyle had some paper and something to write with instead. Once Liz got the dream onto paper, she'd be able to focus on making sense of things with the group.

Which, if Liz were going to be truly honest with herself, was something she wanted to delay as long as possible. She knew everyone wanted to know how she was able to do the thing with the barrier that held Max back long enough for them to come to her aid. Hell, if she were them, that would be on the top of her list of questions. But she still didn't have answers. And in all truthfulness, her mind was so preoccupied on the dream, Ava, the flashes, and what was wrong with Max, that she couldn't begin to formulate theories or a hypothesis as to the why's and how's of what's going on. All she knew for sure was that these alienistic powers that she had no say over, really came through for her this time.

No one could have been more surprised than she was about the shimmering barrier that appeared. She didn't understand how or why it appeared. She was just thankful that it did. Things could have turned out much worse. She'd never seen Max so enraged before. Even his behavior a few nights ago on her rooftop balcony was tame in comparison.

Shaking off the memory, she turned the corner and saw Maria, Michael, and Isabel. Michael and Maria had commandeered the sofa. Isabel sat on a wooden chair, facing them. Her back was toward Liz. Next to her was a large recliner type chair, and Liz got the impression that someone was sitting there. One of the Valenti's perhaps. None of her friends noticed her silent approach to where they all were seated around Kyle's sofa. Liz was able to overhear clearly, the disagreement that Michael and Isabel were having. She entered the room just in time for Michael to volley his next verbal attack.

"Hey. You're the one who was so smart and graduated early, why don't you prove it. You don't seem to like any of the ideas that I've had. Why don't you play leader and I can sit back and shoot down all your ideas? Sounds good to me."

"Michael, your plan is to pretty much to wait until night, and bury it in the desert. I can't just do that, I need answers. I need to know if that was one of us. I gotta know whether or not they sent us here with someone who was willing to destroy Max's mind, deliver us to our deaths, and kill my Alex. If those remains aren't one of us, then that means that Tess was. If that's true, I could be as nasty as Lonnie or Vilandra were. You used to need answers, Michael. Now I do."

"I don't have a problem with you trying to find answers. You go ahead, and you personally do the tests. But we are not sending anything out. It's not in our best interests to get anyone else involved with this. It's bad enough that Mr. Valenti knows."

"You know science isn't really my best subject. I'm smart enough to admit it. We need to defer to someone who knows a lot more than I do."

"Well then, we wait for Liz to wake up. She likes that kind of crap. We'll let Little Miss Scientist do everything and make all our decisions too. How's that for a plan?" Michael said sarcastically.

Maria jumped into the conversation and tried to censure her boyfriend, "Michael, mocking my best friend is not the way to get back in my good graces."

It was time for Liz to make her presence known. "Personally, I think that plan kinda sucks."

Four pairs of eyes turned to look at her. "Liz." They chorused.

"Oh Lizzie, I was so worried about you. You did that thing with the shield and left me in charge and I tried to take care of things, but I was so worried... It's been hours and you wouldn't wake up, and Isabel couldn't reach you, Michael's being Michael, I didn't know what to do, and they'd been arguing like this since we got here, I was worried about you, and they wouldn't quit yapping, and I'm so glad you're awake... have I mentioned how worried I was?" Maria sprang to her feet, ran over to her, and caught her up in a big hug.

"I kinda got that idea." Liz said, chuckling softly as she returned the hug her friend gave her."But can I make a suggestion? Take some deep breaths, because even my Maria filter was having trouble keeping up with you."

"I promise to slow it down if you promise never to scare me like that again."

Just as Liz knew that she couldn't guarantee that nothing was going to happen again, she knew that Maria would be hard pressed to not react the same way under similar circumstances in the future. But she'd try. "I'll do my best."

Maria then dragged Liz back over by the sofa where she'd been sitting. Michael was sprawled out over half of the sofa. Maria plopped down next to him and elbowed Michael to move over. When he didn't move quickly enough for her, she gave him a hearty shove, creating just enough room for Liz to sit.

As she sat down, she happened to notice Kyle. He was the mystery person sitting in his father's recliner. He was partially smothered with pillows. They were propping him up with what looked like all the pillows they could find, sofa and otherwise. She caught his eye and smiled at him. She was so glad to know that he was ok.

"Hey." Kyle's eyes met hers as he spoke.

"Hey yourself. You're looking a lot better than when I last saw you. I was worried that Max had really hurt you badly."

"Max hurt me? Yeah right. He hits like a girl... Although he throws like Randy Johnson of the Diamondbacks." Kyle smiled at her briefly. His smile hovered on his lips for a few moments then faded as he continued, "I'm not much worse for wear. Just got a few bruises, that's all. I've had worse when I was doing the 'Johnny Football Hero' thing last season."

"A few bruises? Don't believe him, Liz. He's got a nasty sprained ankle and bruised or even fractured ribs. As far as I can tell. He's been refusing to go to and get an x-ray." Isabel turned to Kyle who was shifting his positioning on the chair as though he was trying to get comfortable. "Kyle, stop that. If you keep this up, I'll take you to the hospital whether you want to or not. So sit back and get comfortable or I'll use my powers to freeze you in order to get you to stop squirming."

"You're kidding right? You can't really freeze people... Isabel? Isabel?" Kyle asked with a touch of panic rising in his voice. Michael laughed at that.
Liz stared at everyone around her in shock. What was going on here? Isabel seemed to be watching over Kyle. At least in her own standoffish way. And then there was her posturing. Liz found it very telling that she was sitting across from Michael and actively disagreeing with him.

So was this the end of the whole us against them thing? Or was it now us and them against some of them? None of this was making sense. She didn't like the feeling of waking up to find things topsy-turvy once again.

Neither Maria nor Michael were in any way surprised by this little exchange. Why didn't anyone else act like this was bizarro world. Dissension amongst the alien ranks. Isabel taking care of Kyle with threats. Well actually, the threat part wasn't too surprising. Isabel wasn't the type to coddle someone. Just how long had Liz been asleep?

But the strangest thing in her opinion was Maria's lack of response to Isabel's picking on Kyle. Normally, her friend would have jumped in to defend the rights of the human members of the 'I know an alien' club. Why was she just sitting there rolling her eyes at them like this was a common event?

Liz was about to get up and defend him even if no one else would. Kyle had been through enough abuse at the hands of aliens. Just as she was about to speak, her eyes made contact with Isabel's. Is winked at her. Liz stared at her in amazement. Isabel wasn't being serious, she was just messing with Kyle. Not entirely unlike how Maria and she had done earlier that day with the sing-a-long of torture.

Only that didn't explain this sudden change of allegiances. "What the hell is going on?"

"You mean them? They were like that on the ride back. It's crazy, you'd almost think they were friends." Maria said with a shrug of her shoulders.

"No. That's not what I meant. When did this happen? I feel like Rip Van Winkle after waking up. How out of the loop am I?"

"Well, after you did the thing with the shield, then we took care of Max..." Maria was cut off by Liz.

"Took care of Max?" That didn't sound too good in Liz's opinion. "What did you guys do? Where is he?"

"Don't worry about that jerk. We stashed him in Mr. Valenti's room. Max isn't in a position to hurt you. We knocked him out something good."

"You hit him?! I can't believe you did that. It's Max you're talking about. They..." Liz indicated toward Isabel and Michael. "...just stood there and let you hit him?" Liz asked incredulously.

"Maria didn't knock him out. Isabel did. It wasn't as violent as I would have liked, but still... I didn't think she'd really do it." Kyle said with a smirk.

"Isabel?" Liz turned to face her. "You hit him? He's your brother. I can see Michael doing that to him..."

"Michael refused to. And they wouldn't let me or Kyle have that honor." Maria pouted.

"I still think you yackking at him would have worked."

"You know Michael, this is not the way to keep a girlfriend." Maria continued in a quieter tone, "I don't think that there's a big line of girls willing to put up with your alien ass. And you might wanna keep that in mind, cuz no girlfriend equals no nooky."

The expression on Michael's face as that sunk in, was priceless. Liz didn't think that he was gonna jeopardize that any time soon. Not that she believed that Maria would carry her threat out. But still, Michael didn't know that, and that gave Maria the upper hand.

And despite how amusing it was, none of this cleared anything up for her. Liz was still more than just a little confused. Isabel knocked out Max. And sometime during the chaos before that, Michael and Maria found the time to have a spat. As much as she cared for her friends, sometimes she really wished they would get to the point already. She could feel her memories of the dream fading slightly. Liz didn't want to chance them fading to the point of no recall.

Isabel interrupted Liz out of her reverie. "I didn't hurt him. At least I don't think I did. Remember when I tried to contact Larek through Brody? It was along those lines. We have him resting in Mr. Valenti's room." Isabel paused and looked her in the eye. Liz was surprised to see the concern in them. But what she said next, floored her. "Please don't hate Max for what he's done. I know you have a lot of reasons to, but I hope you can find it in you to look past that. It's not his fault. Tess tried to do to him what she did to Alex. You have no idea how messed up his mind is."

"Actually I do. I've seen some of it. And I think I know how this all happened."

With those words, Liz suddenly felt every pair of eyes lock on her. She knew there must have been a more tactful way to let them know that, but she honestly didn't care at that point. It may have just been aftereffects of her encounter with Ava, but she had a feeling that things were nearing the boiling point. And she really needed to write things down in her index cards. She just knew that the dream was too important to risk forgetting.

"What?"

"You know? How?" Isabel asked in a sharp accusatory tone.

"And you just chose to tell us now? I thought we were working together. " Michael challenged in an angry voice.

"Hey! You better back off. If and only if, Liz was keeping something from you, I'm sure she had a good reason. Actually, the more I think about it, if I were her, I wouldn't tell you either. Remember the last time she tried to point out something that none of you wanted to hear after Alex's..." Maria's voice trailed off as it was apparent what she was thinking about. She shrugged slightly and continued talking. "Besides, look how you're overreacting right now. We don't know any details and you're jumping to conclusions again, Michael. What is with you? God, sometimes I wonder why I even bother."

Kyle leaned forward in his chair and began speaking passionately. "I'm with Maria on this. You all need to cut her a little slack. Liz has been the only one to figure things out, and none of you can say the same. You all would be dead several times over if it wasn't for her. She didn't need to help you. So jumping on her back isn't the best way to get her to explain. Just because your leader is Evans, don't mean that you gotta be as big an ass as he is." He let his words sink in before he sat back in the recliner, grimacing in pain.

"You don't need to defend me. I can stand up for myself..."

"We all know that, after what we saw earlier. You went toe to toe with Evans, nobody doubts that. I just get so pissed off at them when they start in on you. How could you not? They're not the most grateful of species."

"Kyle, what about the truce? Is it too much to ask for everyone to lay off each other for a few hours?" Maria said with a frustrated sigh.

"No, Maria." Isabel replied, much to everyone's astonishment. "He's right. We... or at least I haven't been the most cooperative. I'm trying to change that, but it's not so easy. I didn't mean to imply you were holding back on us. I just reacted without thinking. I'm sorry. I know what you've given up to help us. I just wanted to know how you knew. That's all."

Liz looked at Isabel in surprise. The hybrid kept surprising her. She never would have expected such candidness from Isabel. And to be honest, this was the first time Liz ever understood what Alex had seen in her, other than her annoying model-like looks. She actually seemed to be genuinely sincere. Liz didn't know what brought about the change in attitude, but maybe it was time to try to be her friend in return.

"I talked to Ava again. Some of what we talked about, explained what was going on with Max."

"Is that why we couldn't get you to wake up? We were so worried when Isabel couldn't even dreamwalk you, Chica."

"I guess so. I'm not sure really... What's this about dreamwalking me?"

"I tried to dreamwalk you, but I couldn't make a connection. It was almost like you weren't there to connect to. Which as far as I know is impossible. Right?" Isabel asked with a shaky voice. "Right?"

"Not unless your idea of impossible means that it can happen." Kyle said with a touch of sarcasm.

"Wait a minute." Michael said, finally speaking up. "How could she not be there? We all saw her. Hell, I carried her in from the car. If her consciousness wasn't here, where was it? No one can be in two places at..." Michael's voice trailed off as he studied Kyle's expression. His face paled as he came to the startling revelation of what that meant. "...You mean that Liz was in two places at once? That's... She's discovered another new power? Un-freaking-believable." Under his breath he muttered, "She gets a new power and I'm still blowing up rocks. It ain't fair."

"I accidentally did it once with Kyle. Twice I guess, if you count this last talk with Ava. Maybe... I don't know how I did it, but I did." Liz sighed heavily. "You're right. It is pretty unbelievable... and very unfair."

Everyone started to pummel her with a barrage of questions.

"So what did Ava tell you this time?" Kyle beat the others to the punch, and got in the first question.

"Did she spill the beans on what kind of thing Tess put on Max?" Maria threw that in, right on the heels of what Kyle asked.

"Well? You gonna tell us or what? We need to know everything you can tell us about what you learned. What you know will help us strategize how to help Maxwell."

"Does she know if Tess was really one of us? God I hope not." Isabel entered the fray.

"Did you ask her if this kind of stuff is going to happen to me? Max did save my life too." Kyle asked a little nervously.

"Did she know how to help save my brother?"

"I'm still waiting. Anytime now. Why aren't you telling us what you know?" Michael snapped at her.

"Maybe because none of you have given her a chance to get a word in edgewise, Michael. Why don't you lose the 'tude and let her speak?" Maria came to her best friend's defense.

Everyone quieted down at those words, at least for a moment. That gave Liz an opportunity to reply. "Look, I'll be more than glad to tell you everything I found out. But I need you to give me time to write it down on my note cards first. I don't wanna risk forgetting any of the details. It won't take long."

"Don't sweat it. Those note cards were a good idea. Is there anything I can do to help you this time?" Michael paused then added, "I didn't mean to snap at ya'. I'm just worri... um... concerned... about Max's behavior.

"Oh my God! Did you all hear that? Michael sort of apologized. And he's being helpful?" Maria's mouth dropped open in shock. She looked at him and muttered, "Who are you? And what have you done with my boyfriend?"

"Can it, Maria. I'm trying to do what you yelled at us in the cave. That whole bit about working together."

"We all appreciate the effort. But that's ok, Michael. I don't need help. At least not right now. Thank you, for the offer though..." Liz paused for a second and changed the subject. "I was wondering if someone knew where my note cards were? It would be great if anyone could tell me where they are."

"No problemo, Chica. I'll even do ya one better, I'll go and get them from the bag I packed them in. You just sit there, I'll be right back."

Maria got up and went over to the dining table and started rummaging through some of the backpacks from the cave. Which surprised Liz, because she hadn't noticed that they were even in the room. Normally, she was much more aware of her surroundings. To think that she was so preoccupied to not be aware of something like that was a little disconcerting. Her only excuse was that she'd had other things on her mind.

Isabel's voice startled her out of her train of thought. "... you tell me what happened? I never imagined that was possible. I always thought astral projection was just the stoned fantasy of those new age psychic wannabes."

"Well I can guarantee you that I wasn't on anything..."

Michael snorted loudly at that as he tried to hold back the laughter that was barely contained on his face. He failed. In between fits of laughter, he managed to choke out, "You can say that again. I'm trying to picture our moralizing do-gooder getting high on something. And I can't. That is so not a Liz Parker thing to do."

"Anyway it was after you stopped dreamwalking with me. I just knew that Kyle needed someone, and I was in a position to help..."

"Ok Lizzie, here you go." Maria presented her the stack of note cards. Liz looked at them and noticed that the pen she'd had holding some of them together was missing. She was just about to ask Maria what happened to the pen, when she pulled it out of her pocket with a great flourish and handed it to her. "Ta-da!"

"Thanks, Maria." She said to her friend as she settled back on the sofa next to her. Liz turned back to Isabel and continued speaking. "Me and Kyle talked about it the next day. I'm sure he'd be more than glad to fill you guys in on what we came up with. And while he does that, I'll get started on my cards."

Liz met Kyle's eyes and gave him a slight wink. She had noticed his bored expression and knew that he'd been unintentionally excluded from the conversation. She was glad that she had inadvertently given him the opening to contribute some valuable information. She knew he hated not being valued for the knowledge that he possessed. And she'd seen it happen many times, that the others didn't always take what he'd said seriously because he'd bluntly said the truth usually with a sarcastic quip.

As everyone's attention turned to Kyle, Liz started to sort through her stack of index cards. All she could find were about five blank cards. That wasn't nearly enough for her to capture the details of the dream down to the minute detail.

She would have to sacrifice thoroughness in order to get the most important things written down. So she did what she would do in school when a teacher was lecturing and talked too fast to take clear, concise notes. Liz had her own kind of verbal shorthand to get the main and minor ideas written down fast, which she decided to utilize.

It really wasn't her first choice, because taking these kinds of notes always resulted in loss of information. She really would have preferred to take her time and get every single detail that she could remember out of her head and onto paper. But she didn't have time for that luxury.

Most of her friends were not known for their patience. Kyle's story would only pacify them for so long. And Kyle was already halfway through his retelling of what had happened. She didn't have much time left. So, she made sure that she wrote just enough down to jog her memory about each part of the dream.

Liz finished scribbling in the last remaining space on the last note card, and suddenly noticed how silent it was. Nobody was talking, not even Maria. It was so quiet that if a pin were to fall, the sound would echo loudly in the room. It was unnerving, to say the least.

She wondered how long it had been since Kyle finished speaking. Liz didn't need to look up in order to know that four pairs of eyes were boring into her. Anxious to hear what she knew. She was the sole focus of everyone's attention, whether she liked it or not.

They were waiting on her. She knew they were counting on her to give them what answers she had. Liz also knew that they needed her to be the brains in charge and to figure out what actions to take next. She wondered if they realized that she didn't really know what to do herself.

Liz stopped pretending to write and put the cap on the pen with an audible click.

She couldn't stall any longer. And there was no time like the present to get this over with.

Even if her heart wasn't really in it.
posted on 7-Jan-2002 10:30:49 PM by Psyche G
Happy New Year, everyone!!! I'm really sorry about the delay between updates, but I hope this post makes up for it. This is the longest chapter of A.P. yet. It's almost like getting two chapters in one. I hope you enjoy it!


Chapter 27



She felt like Alice did when she fell into the rabbit hole and ended up in Wonderland, where nothing made any sense. Only in her case, the white rabbit was replaced by a pink-haired alien. And there were no cute cartoon creatures to help her along the way. Everything fell onto her shoulders, to figure out.

There was great pressure that she placed upon herself to try and ensure that she didn't come to the wrong conclusions and make an already bad situation worse. Liz was well too aware that you can't undo the choices that you make, and second chances were few and far between. Life held no assurances of a happy Disney-movie-type ending.

Liz took a deep, steadying, breath. She was trying her best to not let the anxious stares of her friends get to her. She knew they meant well, but it did nothing to ease her nerves. Already, her neck muscles were tensing up in anticipation of what they were about to discuss. There was no logical reason to be so wary of the conversation, but for some reason she couldn't seem to help herself.

Maybe she was just uncomfortable with the timing of things. She had only just started to process the information from the dream, not to mention even begin to deal with any of it emotionally. She didn't have any thoughts or theories constructed yet. Perhaps, her fear stemmed from the fact that what little she knew was extremely important because she didn't have any clear cut answers for them.

For the most part, all she had were pieces to the puzzle. A puzzle that she had no picture of what it was going to look like to use as a point of reference when putting the pieces together.

Even when she was trying to unravel the mystery behind Alex's death, she had known it wasn't an accident. At that time, she didn't know where her investigation would lead her. Just like now. The only difference was that she'd had an unwavering belief that Alex would never kill himself. This time, she didn't even have that.

To put it simply, maybe her anxiety was because she didn't like feeling ill-prepared for anything.

On top of that, there was Max... Liz knew in her heart that Tess tampered with his mind. And even though in Liz's mind he wasn't the same boy that she fell in love with, but her heart didn't know any better. It would always think of Max as nothing less than the love of her life. And knowing what Tess did to him, tore her up inside.

She may not be able to be with him any more, but no matter what, she'd always care for him. She loved him. If his psychotic behavior couldn't squelch that, then nothing could. Even now, she wanted to take care of him, and do whatever was needed to help make him better. Despite everything that had happened between them.

But she couldn't. All she could do to help was to relay what she knew to the group and hope that they all can put their heads together and come up with something that will help matters. She tried to cling to the belief that everything that was happening to her was happening for a reason. Unfortunately that was getting harder and harder to do.

She'd be fine if she could just separate her thoughts from her feelings. If there was a way to compartmentalize everything into its own little corner in her brain, she might be able to concentrate. As it was, she was having trouble figuring out what Ava was trying to get her to understand, while at the same time her senses were reeling. Future Max had been in the dream with her.

It didn't matter if it was real or just merely a dream, it was real to her. He was the Max that she'd fallen so hard for. It didn't matter to her if he was a few years older. It was HIM.

She could still remember the warmth of his hand on her arm as he steered her to the edge of the roof. She'd forgotten how the slightest touch from the Max that she'd loved could make her heart beat fast and make the blood sing in her veins. That brief touch made her long for the very thing that was forever lost to her... the Max that had risked his secret, his entire life to save hers, all for love.

She had no idea what she was going to do when she got to relating that part of the dream. It was too close to her heart.

Instinctively, Liz understood that that part of the dream was important. Everything that occurred in the Ava dreams had some sort of significance. It was just a matter of figuring out what it was. And to do that, her friends would be invaluable for their different perspective on things. She honestly didn't know what to make of it. Maybe Maria would have better insight.

Despite the fact that she didn't feel ready to talk about the dream, she knew she had to. All she had to do was get through the next few hours.

She could do that.

She had to.

After what seemed like forever, but was only a few moments after she put the pen down, Liz looked up in order to meet her friends' expectant gazes. "So... um, I'm finished with my notes. For now." She said self-consciously. "How should we do this? I know you've got a bunch of questions. I think it would be easier if I just told you what I knew, and let you jump in with questions as I go."

Michael looked like he was just itching to start with the questioning. Surprisingly, Isabel didn't give him a chance to. She shot a look at Michael and then at Liz, and spoke, "I think I speak for all of us. Just do what you feel most comfortable with. We'll be patient."

Maria elbowed Michael in the ribs. "Right, Michael?"

"Ow! Yeah. Yeah. I guess so. Sure."

Her best friend turned to Liz. "The floor's all yours."

"Okay then... Well I don't think I'll tell this in chronological order. I know it's important to let you know what Ava said that applies to Max. So I'll start there. Well, actually there is something else I need to tell you first...

"At the cave, when Max was yelling at me and then grabbed me, I saw things... Flashes... but they were a little different from the ones that I'm familiar with. I'm not completely sure, but some of what I saw, I think came from before..."

"Before? Before what?" Kyle asked, looking completely confused.

"Before he was Max."

"Huh? What do you mean before he was Max? I thought we straightened it all out at my house the other day. Past, present, or future, its still Max. You really need to get over that hang-up... What?" Maria's voice trailed off as soon as she saw the expression on Liz's face. Liz flashed her an extremely anxious look.

As much as she loved Maria, she really wished that her friend came with a mute button. Not only did she entirely miss the point, but Maria was unintentionally on the verge of spilling the beans about Future Max. Liz quickly looked at the others. Kyle and Michael had equally perplexed expressions. Isabel on the other hand, her expression gave away nothing about the secret she knew.

Liz needed to come up with a way to get Maria back on track without drawing anyone's attention to the near slip-up. And fast. Before either boy considered Maria's words very closely. "Maria... Think about it..."

Maria was quiet for a moment. Then, all of a sudden her eyes grew as wide as saucers and Liz could almost imagine a light bulb above her head turning on, as it came to her. "Oh! You mean before, before. As in the old world. Back when he was a king. Not that whole mind-bending, time alt... Uh... Never mind. I guess I just spaced out. Um... So Liz, those flashes. What did you see?"

"Well, some of it was like what I saw when I touched the Granolith. Except it was all from his perspective. A few random images mixed with emotions. There was a pink sky, moons, Zan and Ava having a private moment. They were so happy. Then there were angry flashes of light and horrible gut wrenching anguish. There was a larger version of the flag we'd found and it looked like it was covering a body, maybe. Then the scene shifted. He was tossing the missing fragment of the necklace Isabel found at Atherton's place. Just like they toss a coin at football games. I remember how cold and distant he seemed. Like a part of him was dead inside. And he was so angry. Then there was this big blast of intense white light. And I... I ... I think it was a memory of the way he died."

"Oh my God." Isabel was looking tearfully at Michael. "He remembers his own death... You know how sensitive he is. That must have devastated him."

Michael was nodding at her. "I know, Is. I know. I think that's one memory that he could have lived without. And that comment about the coin, it was just like Nicholas said." Turning to face Liz, he asked, "So his problem is that he's remembering the bad moments? And that what... screwed him up that badly? I don't buy it."

"You're wise not to. I wish it was something as simple as that. You see, I brought that up first because I believe that Tess somehow found those memories and preyed upon that vulnerability. Then she tried to turn them around and use them against what he felt for me." Liz paused to take a deep breath. She needed all the strength she could muster in order to face what she still had to tell them.

"After Tess came to Roswell, a whispering voice haunted him in his mind. Like it was trying to influence him. Then I saw his nightmares or memories of what happened to him when he was captured by Agent Pierce. It was chilling. Hideous. The pain was unfathomable. Then the whispers started again, and Pierce would advance on him in order to 'experiment' on him. But with each step he took, the image of him flickered like a candle, only to reveal a little more of a person taking Pierce's place. That person was me. Tess twisted his mind into thinking that I'd do that to him."

"That bitch! That skanky, no good, deceitful, little whore! No wonder Max is so fucked up. What I wouldn't give to be able to..."

"That's ok, Maria. When we find her, she is going to pay for every ounce of harm that she had inflicted on the people I love. First Alex, now my brother. She'll never be able to hurt someone again." Isabel paused for a moment, and said in an even more icy tone, "I knew in the cave that he had conflicting feelings for Liz. I never imagined it would be as bad as this. I will NOT let Tess get away with this."

Liz looked sharply over at Isabel. She'd never heard that tone of voice from her before. The only words she could think of to describe it were murderously calm. It was as every bit as chilling as most of Hannibal Lechter's lines in 'Silence of the Lambs'. This side of Isabel was more than capable of killing Tess and not feeling any remorse. More so than when she killed Congresswoman Whitaker. For just a moment Liz could see a similarity between Isabel and her dupe Lonnie. Liz hoped that that's where the similarities stop.

"I think its safe to say that we are all on the same page. She'll get her karmic rewards. Count on it." Kyle said as he reached over and gave Isabel's shoulder a gentle squeeze.

Isabel nodded slightly at him. A mere ghost of a smile flittered across her lips, then vanished. "Thank you, Kyle."

"Liz, you said the images flickered. Was it like a candle? Or was there a candle?" Michael asked very intensely. Liz could almost see the gears turning in his mind as he was trying to connect the dots.

"I'm not completely sure, but I think there was some kind of candle flame. Nothing tangible looking. It was more like it was almost superimposed on what I saw. Why do you ask?"

"Earlier today, I went to get Max to help me find you guys. When I got to his window, he didn't notice me. I could have snuck up and killed him and he wouldn't have noticed cuz he was staring at this candle. I put it out and he snapped outta it. It strikes me as more than just a coincidence."

"I think you're onto something. Just a few days before Prom, I went over to see Max. Maria dropped me off and I went around to knock on his window. But he and Tess were there sitting on the bed. There must have been like at least ten candles lit. And he was hugging her... And before anyone says anything, the two of them were completely dressed."

"That was the same time he started remembering things from a past life. He tried to tell me about it. He said the memories were hazy, ephemeral. He couldn't give any details. But he kept raving about it."

"It was also shortly after that, that everything went downhill. After Alex's funeral, Max became hostile toward me." Liz added.

"That's around the same time he and Tess got... He turned away from me and Michael. He trusted her above us. He acted like such an ass. Forbidding me from going to college, threatening to ruin my life. He didn't even care that his actions were smothering the life out of me. It's safe to say he definitely wasn't himself."

"So you're saying that Tess scrambled Max's brain, and none of you noticed? She'd been doing this for what, a month or so before she disappeared? And you guys didn't pick up on it. I can see why the human half of our team wouldn't have known. But you guys were right there around him. How could you not see her doing the 'Bewitched' thing to him? If that's the way kings are treated on your planet, I am so glad that I'm just a guy. I at least know my friends got my back."

"Hey! It's not like either of us knew that she was gonna stab us in the back. She was one of us." Michael snapped back.

"Oh? And that makes everything ok? If someone's alien like you, that automatically makes them good. Get fucking real. What is with you guys? Not all aliens are good. Did you forget about the jerks who made everyone in town vanish? And what about the ones that killed the New York Max? They were just like you, right? The other set was bad. Or did you conveniently forget about it? You need to take off your God-damned-alien blinders." Kyle shot back at Michael.

"Guys. Guys! You all need to shut up." Maria shouted at the two boys. She sounded so much like Mrs. DeLuca that it startled Liz. "Both of you are right. There was no way you could have known." Michael smirked at Kyle, gloating over being right. That smirk faded very quickly with what Maria said next, "The three of you should have been more cautious. But your suspicion flew right out the window the moment she told you she was one of you."

Michael started to open his mouth to protest that comment. But Isabel cut him off and began to explain things from her perspective, giving Michael no choice but to be quiet and let her speak

"It's true. We accepted her at face value. I know I was just glad to know that we were not alone. It was nice at first, having someone who understood what I was going through. I don't think I wanted to jinx that." Isabel added in a quiet voice.

"You know that Liz, never ever liked or trusted Tess. She had some kind of sixth sense that the tramp was up to no good. If you had listened to her back then, we wouldn't even have to have this discussion." Maria said smugly. She didn't need to say 'I told you so', it was evident in what she said.

Liz couldn't believe how off the subject they'd gotten. Not to mention how quickly the truce that Maria mentioned, turned into a heated disagreement. Between what Kyle said and Maria's somewhat incendiary comment, it was almost certain that another argument would start.

Well, she was going to stop it before it started. Maria had been right in thinking that they had to work together. And they couldn't work together if they were at each other's throats.

"Look, we could sit here and argue about this until we are blue in the face, but it's not getting us anywhere. I don't know about you guys, but this has been a long day and your squabbling is just making it longer and longer. Pointing fingers doesn't matter. If my hunch is right, there was nothing we could do. I think that from the moment she set foot in Roswell she'd been insidiously trying to get at Max. Tess probably was trying to mind warp him from the get-go. Relentlessly trying to get him to fall for her or at least get control of his mind. I don't think he stood a chance. And we played right into her hands."

No one had anything to say to reply to that. Not that there was anything to say. In their own way, each of them was in some part responsible for what happened with Max. When he was at his weakest, his most vulnerable, none of them were there for him. Even if they had a good reason, they were the ones who left him alone with Tess.

Everyone remained silent for a few moments. Their culpability in what happened to Max weighing heavy on their heads. It was one of those harsh truths that was hard to face. Although they wished they didn't have to.

Kyle was the one who broke the silence. "Ok. I don't get it. What was so important about whether or not Liz saw a candle flicker?"

"I figure that part of what Tess did was like brain washing. He was conditioned to respond to a trigger. The candle. I saw something like that in a movie." Michael clarified for Kyle.

"Ooh, ooh. It's just like that boring movie you made me watch. The one with Frankie. And the 'Murder She Wrote' lady." Maria said, eager to be part of a constructive conversation again.

"Who's Frankie?" A confused Isabel asked of Maria.

"Ol' blue eyes... You know, Sinatra?"

"He made you watch a Sinatra movie? Why on Earth, why? You don't even like him, Michael." Isabel turned toward Michael in surprise.

"The movie was a good example of how to turn your enemy against itself. You can learn a lot about the art of war from movies. It was good, although it doesn't hold a candle to Braveheart."

"Which movie was that? Grandma Claudia had a bit of a thing for Sinatra. We watched a few of his movies together when I was younger."

"Didn't it have a kinda Chinese name? Something like... The Mandarin Conspiracy? Right, Michael?" Maria volunteered.

"It was 'The Manchurian Candidate'." Michael corrected her as he rolled his eyes heavenward.

"Potato, po-tah-toe. Whatever. Didn't the movie have something to do with a deck of cards and a Kennedy type assassination?"

"Maria, I don't wanna sit here and correct everything you say about the movie. Why don't you just be quiet and let me tell them about it. If I remember correctly, you weren't focused on the movie... You know, I could tell them all about that."

"You wouldn't... Michael?" Maria didn't sound very certain at all.

"Maria, just let Guerin tell the story. I really don't need to know what you two do to each other." Kyle commented.

"I'm with him. Eww... You're like my brother. I don't want to hear about your sordid sex life. That would be almost as bad as those stupid dreams we had last year. Let's not go there." Isabel's distaste for that topic was plain to see on her face.

"Yeah, fine. These guys were POWS' in the Korean war. And their captors used brainwashing tactics to turn them into assassins against a key figure in the US government. They were programmed to remember their instructions via code phrases used over the telephone. The deck of cards was the key to the code phrases. Not only did 'the queen of diamonds' give the guy orders, but the guy played with the deck of cards and it reinforced the commands that he'd been given. Which reminds me of Max and the candle. The guy in the movie even killed the only woman he loved, all because he was ordered to."

Liz thought about that for a moment before replying. She had vague memories of some black and white video that she watched with her grandma. What she remembered about it, seemed to be along the same lines as Michael's synopsis.

"I think I saw that one a long time ago. The assassin's target was like a senate or presidential candidate, right?" Liz paused in order to see if she was on the same page. When he nodded, she continued, "So... You believe that Tess brainwashed him and that he's conditioned to use the candle to reinforce whatever mental manipulations she did to him? Which is very similar to the way the movie showed how the deck of cards were used in playing solitaire. The red queen gave the guy instructions, just like Tess did to Max."

"Something like that. It's probably more like whenever her hold on him starts to slip, that's when he has to break out the candle. Like this morning. That's the reason he flipped out in the cave. Tess's instructions were fresh in his mind. That's my guess."

"I think that's close to the truth. Now that I think about it, each time he went crazy on me was after I made comments about how the less than sterling quality of her morals. It's possible that he's set to go off each time I try to point out that Tess wasn't one of the good guys."

"It's a good strategy. I've got to give Tess credit. I wouldn't have expected her to think of something worthy of Machiaveilli. Alienate him from his people and then keep him misinformed and distanced from his strongest ally. Especially if that ally is the one most likely to point out that something's going on."

"And that's you, Liz. You've been the only one to get past my brother's thick skull. He listens to you. He's a better leader... a better person... when you're at his side." Isabel spoke compassionately.

"So... let me get this straight. Tess programed him like a VCR? He's supposed to turn into 'the ass from another planet' whenever Liz mentions the bad things that the bitch did to us? Doesn't that mean that all you gotta do is not let Liz talk to Max about it? It seems pretty simple to me. But then again, I'm not part of the sacred alien brain trust."

"Yeah! That sounds like a plan. All we have to do is keep the two of you away from each other. At least until Ava can get back to us with what we need to do to fix Max." Maria smiled widely and leaned over to give Kyle a big hi-five.

"Actually, it kills me to admit it, but that sounds like a good idea. I like that better than leaving him in the state he's in indefinitely. And when he regains consciousness, me or Michael could try and explain what's happening to him. What do you think?" Isabel, sounding hopeful, turned and posed the last question to Michael.

"It might work..." His voice trailed off. He seemed to be more than just hesitant to agree with that game plan. Michael wouldn't even look Isabel in the eye.

But he managed to catch Liz's. Her dark eyes bored into his and she was surprised to see an agonized look there. If she was reading him right, he was torn between his self-appointed job as protector and his loyalty to the closest thing he had to family. To put it simply, he didn't wan't to hurt Isabel with the possible truth.

The very same truth that Liz herself had just thought of. She had a sneaking suspicion that he was worried about the very same thing. If she wasn't the only one who had reservations about leveling with Max, then that meant that the situation with Max could be a lot more precarious than they'd previously thought. It might be more dangerous to tell Max than it would be to keep him in the dark.
posted on 7-Jan-2002 10:32:47 PM by Psyche G
Chapter 27 continued


Liz took pity on Michael and tried to break the truth to Isabel and the rest of the group as gently as possible. "I'm not so sure about that. Every time Max went crazy on me, it's gotten a little worse each time. First, he grabbed my arm and shook it so hard he bruised it. The second time he assaulted me on my rooftop. Then this last time... well we all saw how that turned out. It's escalating. And I'm not sure if the next time he snaps, it won't have tragic consequences."

"Surely he wouldn't. He's my brother. You know him, he wouldn't let that happen. Once he knows about it, he can fight it." Isabel said in a desperate tone as if she were trying to convince herself of that.

"If Max hadn't been manipulated by Tess, then I'd agree with you. But Isabel, he did turn on both you and Michael. Remember at the cave? The things he said? He believed that you were taking my word above his. I don't think we can count on him to fight it on his own." Liz finished speaking.

The hope that had sprung to life on Isabel's face faded a little more with each of Liz's words. It was almost painful to see how concerned about her brother she was. There were only a few other times Liz could remember seeing the bond between the Evans siblings. The most notable time was when Max was captured by Agent Pierce. Only this was much more emotional.

"I don't want to believe that. All we have to do is break it to him gently. I know my brother. Max is stronger than you give him credit for. He can fight this. He will fight this." Isabel said defiantly.

Liz wasn't sure what to do. Isabel didn't seem too willing to hear much of what she had to say at this point. Liz didn't blame her. If it was her family and she only knew part of the story, she herself might react the same way. She just wished that there was some way to get Isabel to understand what she did.

Almost as if in answer to her silent prayer, Michael reached across and took Isabel's hand. He spoke to her in a soothing tone that Liz never expected Michael to be capable of. "Is... Izzy... Max knows what's going on. Maybe not the Tess part, but he knows something is wrong with him."

"What do you mean?" Isabel asked sharply.

"Remember this morning when you wanted the Parker's number? He couldn't remember it. Max told me it scared him because he didn't know how much of his memory was missing."

"He told you that? Why didn't he turn to me? I'm his sister. He should have told me..." Isabel's face fell as she realized that Max was much worse off than she wanted to believe. She lowered her eyes for a few moments. When she raised her head, Her eyes were bright with tears that she refused to shed. She began to speak in a wistful tone, "I remember when we were about nine-ish, he swiped mom's PTA phone tree list just so he could have Liz's number. I thought he was such a dork, because he told me that having the number memorized was almost as good as having Liz as a friend." Isabel's eyes filled with tears as she continued speaking, "I can't believe Tess took that away from Max. And poor Max, knowing that some of his most valued memories are gone...You knew that already? Didn't you?" She turned to Liz wide eyed.

"That night you dropped me off, Max was waiting for me on my rooftop. We talked, and he kinda snapped. Afterward, he was frightened by his actions. He couldn't remember doing what he did. He was really scared. Just before he left, he said that he wished that he could get away from himself and that he didn't think he knew himself anymore... So he does have a clue that something's wrong."

"So what can we do?" Isabel asked in a defeated tone.

"I'm not sure. Let me think about it for a while, we don't need to make any decisions about it just yet. Besides, there is still more to tell you about the conversation with Ava."

"My god, Liz. How much more is there? Cuz' you know, me and Kyle didn't get a chance to eat out at the cave, and you know how I get when I skip meals... Which reminds me, where is your dad, Kyle? Shouldn't he have been here with the pizzas by now?"

"He was about half-way to Clovis by the time we got a hold of him. It'll take him a while to make his way back to town. It's not like he could put on the flashing lights and go really fast any more. My guess is he'll be here soon. If Guerin hadn't ordered the deep pan pizza, he would be back by now."

"Well, we'll just go over what we can and when your dad gets here we'll take a short break in order to eat. Lord knows we don't want to starve anyone." Liz said with a smile, as her eyes met Kyle's briefly. They both were remembering her visit the other day.

Michael's voice suddenly interrupted that private moment. "Any day now, Liz. We're waiting."

"Okay... Ava was able to tell me what little she knew about mind warping. She didn't know a whole lot, but some of what she said is useful..."

"What do you mean 'what little she knew'? Isn't that her power? I know that was Tess's ability." Isabel ended angrily.

"Ava swears that she can't. She says that her ability is to see through them, and not be fooled. I think she also gets something like visions. That's pretty much the extent of her powers... I believe her. As for what Tess does, Ava says that mind warping is closer to what your enemies can do.

"What?!! You mean the Skins?"

"Duh! How many different enemies do you have, Michael? Athough I am constantly surprised that despite your oh so charming personality and unique way of dealing with people, that you don't have more enemies than you do." Maria said with a smirk.

Michael replied to that with a simple, "Bite me."

"Bite yourself. I'm still upset with you." After she said this, Maria scooted closer to Liz to punctuate her point.

"Hey! Can we keep this thing moving? I don't want to hear them start up again." Kyle said with a wince as he shifted slightly in his seat. He made a little grunt of discomfort, which drew Isabel's attention.

"Stop squirming. You could hurt yourself more." Isabel said sharply.

"Hey! Quit nagging at me. I'm just trying to get comfortable. You're not the one who got thrown across the cave like a frisbee."

"If you're not comfortable, you should have said something. I could've..."

"What? Stick some more pillows down his back? Leave him be, Is. I know you don't feel like there's anything you can do to help Max. We're all feeling that way. Just give the Nurse Nazi bit a rest. Ok?"

"Whatever." Isabel gave a haughty sniff and turned her focus onto Liz. "What else did she have to say?"

"I got her to tell me what she knew about mind warps and that memory altering thing Tess did to Alex and Kyle. There's some good news and some bad news."

"How bad is the bad news?" Maria asked with concern.

"Well, it's mostly confirmation of things we'd already figured out. Like... that humans have no resistance to being mind warped. Something about our minds not being strong enough to fight against them."

"That sucks."

"I know, Kyle... But it's not like it changes anything." Liz said calmly.

"No, it don't. But it doesn't make it suck any less, either." Maria grumbled out in agreement.

"What else did ya find out?" Michael interrupted.

"Ava said that she was 100% certain that Max's problems are because Tess messed with his brain... She um, really wasn't sure if anything can fix what she did."

"Wonderful. Just fucking wonderful." Michael said bitterly under his breath.

"You mean Max will be like this forever? We can't keep this up that long. What would I tell our parents?" Isabel said, begining to panic.

"Calm down, Isabel. We don't know that. Not for certain, at least. And don't forget Ava is going to try to contact her protector. Supposedly he knows a lot of things about your people's ways."

"You really believe she'll come through for us? What's in it for her to help us? What's her angle?" Michael asked neutrally.

Too neutrally. Liz suddenly understood that he was just as worried about Max as Isabel was, only he wasn't letting those feelings show.

"I know she will. Ava's concerned for all of us. She likes us, and she likes this planet. That's all. She didn't have an angle when she helped us the last time."

"Wait a minute. I just thought of something. You said that we were easy prey to the 'Bewitched' mind crap that Tess does, right?" Kyle waited for Liz's nod of confirmation before he continued, "So... that's because we're humans. Does that mean that they are immune to her handywork?" Kyle asked, referring to Isabel and Michael.

"Or..." Maria jumped in excitedly, "... Are they in the same boat as we are? After all, Michael is part Grandpa Dupree. And that man was as human as they come. His family was nuts, but very, very human."

Four sets of ears, equal parts human and equal parts not, waited eagerly for Liz's reply.

"The answer is both yes and no. According to Ava, you guys are succeptible to basic mind warps and mind rapes like Nicholas does. Like when she first came here. Those dreams the two of you had, may have been some extention of that ability. That isn't so good, but there is some good news. She said that the whole erasing and implanting of memories can't be done to hybrids like you. Something about your brains being more developed..."

"Can't be done? Um... Hello! What about Max? She did it to him." Maria cut in sarcastically.

"Yeah! Does that mean that Evans is slow? Kinda like an alien Forrest Gump?" Kyle barely got the last part out before he started snickering with barely restrained laughter.

"Shut up, Kyle. This isn't funny. How can it affect Max and not us?" Michael's voice rose accusingly towards Liz.

"I'm trying hard to stay calm, but I don't get how my brother got this way. He's one of us. You said it yourself, he should be immune."

Liz took in a deep, steadying breath. She knew that she'd have to explain it to them in a lot more detail. This was the part that she had been dreading.

The irony of the situation was not lost on her. She, a mere human, had to explain to the aliens a bit about their own biology, for lack of a better word. Her whole life was spent believing that if and or when the aliens did come, she would be the one with questions. She never imagined that the aliens would come to her, Liz Parker smallest of the small town girls, and ask her to tell them about themselves.

Sometimes life in Roswell truly boggled the mind.

"I don't understand it completely myself, but it has something to do with your life-force. That essence they made you from. It needs to be kept in a sort of balance, so that you are at your best. Max's need to regain his balance was the cause of our first break up..."

"Get to the point already. We all know what happened with the tragic Max and Liz love fest. Been there. Done that. What does all this balance crap have to do with what's wrong with Max?" Michael demanded to know.

"What did I tell you before, Michael? Stop acting like a jerk toward Liz. They were soul mates. The two of them had something beautiful. It's not like you'd ever understand when I'm talking about." Maria hit him in the shoulder. She then turned to Liz and spoke, "Go ahead, Liz."

"This balance 'crap' is important because when he uses his healing ability to save someone's life, it upsets his balance. Healing someone on the brink of death takes away from his essence. He didn't know it, but it weakens him. Like he loses a part of himself."

"You mean that when he..." Isabel cut herself off before she said the unspeakable thing on everyone's minds.

"When he healed me, and then Kyle, it affected him. But healing us didn't cause this downward spiral that Tess took advantage of. Things wouldn't have gotten so bad if he hadn't saved Brody's daughter and those other terminally ill kids. He did a great thing, but it had unforseen consequences. It wasn't long after he healed those kids that his attitude started changing. That's the same time that Michael told me that Max started to act like a robot. And then everything went to hell in a handbasket."

"You mean his 'miracle' last Christmas is what's tearing us apart now?" Michael asked incredously.

"It just goes to show that no good deed goes unpunished. I swear that in that past life when Evans was Zan, he must have been a total bastard to deserve this kind of karmic reward. It almost makes me feel sorry for poor Maxie boy. Almost."

"That's so unfair. All Max was doing was trying to help those poor kids. He didn't know..." Isabel choked up, and was unable to continue.

Maria tried her best to comfort her. "There was no way he could know. Nasedo wasn't there to help you. And it's not like you guys got shipped here with a set of instructions tattooed to your asses. Believe me, I've checked. Cuz' you know it would have really helped to have some on Michael."

"Ava said that their protector taught Zan the dangers of using that ability..."

Michael interrupted Liz, and said bitterly, "That's just great. They get taught things that we should have known. They had someone to turn to for answers. What do we get? Unanswered questions and a shapeshifter that was willing to sell us out to our enemy... I'm not so sure we're not the dupes. If we're so important, why train them and not us?"

"I don't know, Michael. We may never know the details of why we were abandoned here. At least we still have each other. And we never would have made it this far without our friends." Isabel said in a quiet voice.

"Actually, I think Ava gave me some insight on that. The circumstances didn't give them any choice. The crash forced them to alter their original plan. Things kinda went downhill from there." Liz informed them.

"How do you know that?" A stunned Isabel asked.

"What do you know about the crash? Did Ava tell you something, Liz? You have to tell us." Michael demanded.

"I saw some things in the dream. I was planning on telling you all about that after I finished relating what I knew about Max. I know how important it is to all of you to get some answers about the past..."

The sound of footsteps on the porch outside stopped Liz in mid-sentence. Everyone quieted, straining to make out who was outside. Inside the room, the six teens turned almost as one to face the door. Michael and Isabel readied themselves in case there was trouble.

He turned to Liz, and said in a sharp and hushed voice, "We're not through with this." Michael then placed his finger to his lips and motioned for everyone to not make a sound.

It was uncommonly quiet for what seemed like an eternity. It may have only been a few minutes, but it was almost as though time was standing still. No one moved, not to blink, not even to breathe. Everyone waited with baited breath to see what would happen next.

They didn't have long to wait. All of the sudden, there was a sharp pounding on the door. Everyone jumped a little at the sound. In one swift motion, Michael stood and faced the door his palms outstretched just like he did out at the cave.

At the same time, a somewhat irritated voice reached them through the door. "Could one of you kids get off your asses and open the door? How many hands do you think I have?"

It was Kyle's dad. And he didn't sound very happy at that moment. Of course that could be because he was carrying everyone's dinner and no one was hurrying to assist him.

Michael got up and went to stand by the side of the door assuming a defensive stance, while Maria and Liz rushed to the door to help Mr. Valenti. They opened the door, and found Kyle's dad loaded down with four pizzas of varying sizes. The two girls each removed a pizza from his load, and turned to carry them to the dining table.

Michael relaxed once he was sure that it was only the former sheriff. Maria glared at him as she walked past him to the table. He shifted uncomfortably, and asked, "Um... Is there anything I can do to help?"

Mr. Valenti turned to look at him and gave him an assessing glance. Apparently satisified by what he saw he nodded and said, "Yeah there is. There are a couple two liters of soda in the truck, you could go get them. Do you need the keys?"

"Nah. I got it covered." Michael said with a smirk as he went to retrive the bottles.

"I'll go get some glasses." Isabel got up and started for the kitchen. She was on the threshold of it, her back facing Kyle, when she stopped. "Don't you move from that spot. I mean it, Kyle." That said, she disappeared into the small kitchen.

"It's not like I'm an invalid. It's only a couple of bruises for crying out loud." Kyle protested even as he settled back into the chair. "How in the hell did she know what I was doing?" He muttered under his breath.

As the three people set the pizzas on top of the table, Mr. Valenti spoke, "Thanks for the hand, ladies." He then turned to Liz, and continued, "I'm glad to see that you're up and about again. When Kyle called me, he mentioned that something happened to you. He was vague about the details, but he did say that you got knocked out. Are you sure you're ok? Do you need some asprin or something? I'm sure I have some with all my other supplies."

"No. No. No. That's ok, Mr Valenti. You don't need to go to any trouble, I'm feeling fine." Liz hurriedly assured him. She did not want him to get out his first aid supplies and make a big to-do over her.

"Yeah Dad, she's fine. So am I. Thanks for asking."

"Kyle, son, I knew you were ok. I talked to you and Isabel on the phone. When I heard about what happened, I didn't worry. I knew you could take care of yourself. But Liz..." The former sheriff's voice trailed off as he noticed the looks everyone gave him. "What?"

"Liz was the one to save him. You should have seen her. She rocked. She made this force field thing appear and protected Kyle and herself. It slowed Max down enough to let us restrain her. " Maria said, praising her friend.

"Don't make it out to be more than it was, Maria. I didn't even know what I was doing. Kyle is the one who deserves the accolades. He was defending me from Max."

"Why would Max attack you or my son? Just what happened out there? And where is Max now?" Mr. Valenti spoke in his authorative voice.

"My brother is in your room. I think he's unconscious, at least for now. We couldn't take the chance of him waking up before we knew how to help him." Isabel said as she came out of the Valenti's kitchen. Her arms were full of cups and a stack of paper plates. She set them on the table, opened them up, and began to serve the pizza.

"You see... Max snapped. Completely flipped out. He accused everyone of turning on him. He threw Michael and then turned on Liz. Kyle stepped up and took the brunt of Max's anger. All because of that deceitful blond witch." Maria said as she handed Kyle a plate full of pizza. She then took her plate and settled back down on the sofa

"What Maria means to say is that Tess was controlling Max. Whatever she'd done to him, that's what caused Max to lash out at us. After we eat we'll be glad to fill you in on everything we discussed. We just needed to take a break." Liz explained.

Mr. Valenti nodded his understanding and dragged a chair near his son to sit on. Once he was seated, Liz handed him his share of the food. Isabel followed after her carrying a box of pizza with two full plates balanced on top of it. Isabel took one of the plates and handed Liz the box and the remaining plate. Both girls sat back down where they'd sat during the discussion.

Liz handed the warm pizza box to Maria. Who then looked at it in annoyance and dropped it in the space that Michael had occupied. "Where the hell is he? How long does it take to grab a bottle of soda and bring it back in?"

Michael's voice reached them from the doorway. "Getting the drinks didn't take long at all." He went over and deposited the soda on the table. The was just about to flop back down on the sofa, when he noticed the pizza box in his spot. He rolled his eyes in a near perfect imitation of Maria as he lifted it up and sat down with the box on his lap. "Nice try, Maria. Like I would fall for that a second time."

"So what took you so long?" Maria said as she swiped one of the toppings off of his pizza.

Michael lifted a very sloppy slice of pizza to his mouth, and took a bite. He answered her with a mouth full of food. "I heard a noise out back. So I checked it out. It was nothing. Just a stray dog knocking over garbage cans for food."

"What are you... stupid?" Maria shrieked as she started hitting him upside the head. "It could have been Tess out there. You could have gotten hurt. Damn it, Michael. Working together means we don't go off alone and get ourselves killed."

"You're overreacting. I'm fine. It was a stupid stray for crying out loud. Go sniff some cedar oil or something."

"I am not overreacting! That dog might not have been a dog, it could have been Tess. How do you know it wasn't a mind warp? I don't wanna lose you too."

Michael just stared at her as what she said sunk in. He blinked at her as though he suddenly understood what had upset her. Michael gathered Maria close to him, resting her head on his shoulder. He pressed a kiss to the top of her head, in an act of surprising tenderness.

He then ruined the moment by asking, "Where'd you guys keep the Tabasco?"

"I didn't find any in the kitchen." Isabel added.

"That's because we don't have any." Mr. Valenti answered, confused.

"But Tess..." Michael started to say, but was cut off.

"She told me she didn't really like it. But man, oh man, could she eat Funnyons by the truckful. Why does that matter?" Kyle interrupted. He looked as confused as he sounded.

Tabasco was a staple of their alien friends' diets. Liz's eyes widened as she realized that this was a bit of proof that Tess wasn't who or what she claimed to be. Maria and Liz looked at each other, similar thoughts ran through their minds. Maria though, was the one to comment, "It's just that they go through bottles of that stuff as though it was water. They put it on almost everything. Haven't you ever watched them eat?"

"Not really. I've only eaten with them a few times. I didn't pay attention to their alien eating habits. So what?"

"It's just that it's a little odd to find that out now. On top of everything else, it makes me feel more certain that she's not what she appears to be." Liz said as she met Michael's startled gaze.

"Does this have to do with the stuff Ava told you about the crash?" Michael asked sharply.

"Yeah. It does. In a roundabout way, I guess." Liz replied as she picked up and took a bite out of a piece of pizza that she no longer had an appetite for. "But let's still wait until we're done eating and Mr Valenti's caught up."

When Michael spoke next, he sounded like he was issuing an order. "Yeah fine. When we're done, you'll tell us everything else you remember about the dream."

Wispy, fragments of the dream ran through Liz's head. She still had no idea how to tell them about the dream and not mention the Future Max part. She didn't want to accidentally leave out something that might be important, but she couldn't just lay all her cards out on the table. She was too close emotionally to some of the things in the dream. There were some things that wasn't their business.

Liz struggled to swallow her pizza. Her stomach was twisting and churning into a tight knot. Anxiety made that knot feel as though it was on fire. She couldn't help but wonder if she was too young to be developing an ulcer. She longed for some antacid. Although she knew that even if if it helped settle her stomach, it wouldn't do a thing for the problem that caused it.

Liz was so caught up in her own worries that she never noticed how silent everyone was as they ate. The little bit of enjoyment that had been gotten from the arrival of food, dissipated as everyone contemplated what they knew so far, and feared what they would soon find out.


posted on 4-Feb-2002 12:57:05 AM by Psyche G
ok I just noticed that it seems that chapter 28 was a casulty of the board problems we had in January. So here it is. If you read it already then just scroll down to chapter 29.



Chapter 28


Their meal had been a quiet and somber affair. For the longest time, the only sound to be heard was the sound of six mouths eating unenthusiastically. Even the sound of the carbonation in the soda sitting in their glasses was louder than they were.

Eventually Maria began to explain what Liz had found out. As she retold the story to the sheriff, Maria was quiet, subdued. At least for her. She was definitely not her normal effervescent self. None of the others were acting like they always do. Even Kyle remained silent, not a single disparaging comment about the alien influence in his life, was made.

This sudden change of attitude startled Liz, she understood why she would feel trepidation about what she would have to tell them. What she didn't understand was why the others seemed to share in her anxiety. She knew they were concerned about Max. And also the possibility of Tess lurking out there, somewhere, had everyone on edge. If Tess could destroy Max's mind the way she did, what horrors would she inflict on the people that she didn't love?

How far would Tess go in order to exact revenge? Liz doubted that there was anyone in that room who didn't believe on some level that they were at risk. It was obvious how little regard Tess had for human life. And it wasn't beyond the realm of possibility to believe that she would go so far as to turn Max into the instrument of his greatest fear. To lose those that he loved most as a result of his own actions.

When Liz told Ava that it would destroy Max if something happened to her, she wasn't kidding. Max could never live with himself, knowing that he was the one to harm her. Liz had no illusions as to the level of animosity that Tess held for her. If anyone was to be the focus of her ill will, Liz knew that it would be her. Tess hated her that much.

The only thing that was a bit of comfort to Liz was that it was becoming apparent that Tess had never been part of Max's 'destiny'. She had no more of a prior claim on him than Liz did. That meant that only the one who Max loved in this life, mattered. None of them had a preordained fate. Their destiny would be the outcome of their decisions, good or bad.

But there was still the possibility that the essence or spirit of the Roswell Ava was walking around in someone's body. But unless the protector played leapfrog with her from body to body all these years, then there wasn't much chance that Liz would have to compete for space in Max's heart. The Roswell Ava would have to be a good twenty years older than them, if not more so. And honestly, if that Ava was supposed to be by Max's side, wouldn't she have been there already? If Liz were in her shoes, she would have been by Max's side even if it was only on the peripheral edge of his life, where they shared a quasi-friendship.

All of which led Liz to believe that somehow or another, the Roswell Ava was no more. If that Ava was still alive, she certainly wouldn't have sat idly and let Tess wreak havoc on his life. The New York Ava didn't let the other dupes kill Max, indirectly she saved his life. Liz couldn't imagine the other Ava to behave any differently.

Maria's sing-songy voice startled Liz out of her train of thought, "Hey! Earth to Liz. Requesting your presence on your home planet..."

Michael cut her off. "Are you gonna tell us more about the dream, or what?"

"Yeah. Sorry. I was just... thinking."

"Yeah. Yeah. Enough with the small talk, how about telling us what Ava told you?" When Michael wanted to know something, he was extremely persistent. Impatience was another one of his strong suits.

"Well she didn't say anything about the crash. Well, not directly. She did mention that there were two survivors. The one who came here as Ed Harding, and the dupes protector. She calls him Sweets. The Nasedo we knew was supposed to have been part of the Royal guard. That's all he was trained for. And since the two of them were the only adult survivors of the crash, they split up and hid you and the dupes separately. Sweets never went into detail about what he did between the stashing of the pods and when they broke out of them. She got the impression that he was following Nasedo doing damage control."

"That explains a lot about his attitude. We put our faith in a guard. He really didn't know anything. That's why he didn't have answers for us." Isabel said. She sounded stunned by the small kernel of information that Liz revealed.

Sometimes Liz forgot how little her friends knew about where they came from. She couldn't imagine what it must be like to live not knowing her family history. Everyone from her mom, her dad, down through Grandma Claudia, had contributed to her existence. There were times she'd look at her dad and she'd see a faint trace of Grandma Claudia in his expression. And even though Liz was hard pressed to see any similarities when comparing her own features, it was a great comfort to see that Grandma Claudia lived on in Liz's father.

Isabel, Max, and Michael didn't have that assurance that comes from knowing who you are and what kind of people you come from. The closest thing to that was when Max and Isabel's alien mother assumed a form and appeared to them the year before. But that didn't really count, they may have seen their mother, but that wasn't how she really looked. Of course, that was only assuming that the information they found out from the orbs wasn't a Tess-induced mindwarp.

If it was, Liz was definitely going to have to stock up on aspirins and antacids. Because that would open a whole new can of worms to deal with instead. She couldn't begin to face the possibility that she'd given up so much for nothing. Everything started going wrong a year ago when she walked away from Max leaving him to his 'destiny'.

"That was it? That's what you found out from Ava? I hate to tell you this Liz, but we already figured that out for ourselves. He acted more like a soldier than a protector. And we all knew about the trail of victims he left. What I don't get is, what the hell was so important about that, that you had to tell us this now? Like that matters at the moment. We've got other things to worry about." Michael ranted.

His agitated comments thankfully took Liz's mind away from her disturbing thoughts. But that didn't mean that he had a right to take his own frustrations out at her. This situation wasn't easy for any of them, not just him. She just wished someone could get that to sink into his thick skull.

"Michael, if you would let me explain..." Liz said, her own frustration rising.

He cut her off. "Explain what? I get that we can't do anything at the moment for Max. We shouldn't be just sitting around discussing old news. We should do something with what we found at the cave. We need to take action because this sure isn't getting us anywhere."

"Michael!" Maria and Isabel chorused.

Michael glared at them and crossed his arms over his chest. "No! I'm not going to back off. I'm right this time. You know she isn't the only one who knows what to do. I say we go out by the pod chamber with some shovels and take care of things. There's no point in listening to this she's just rehashing stuff we already know!"

Liz had had enough. After everything that she had been through today, she was in no mood to put up with Michael's pissy attitude. She didn't ask for any of this to happen to her. She didn't ask for one of her closest friends to be killed. And Max, she never wanted him to go through what he'd been through. She had tried so hard to distance herself from being caught up in their alien dilemmas. Yet some how she always got caught in the thick of things.

None of this had anything to do with her, it wasn't her fight, but still Ava and new powers kept popping up. Besides, Liz wasn't the one to make a mess out of everything, she was the one they always turned to, to fix it. Where did Michael get off saying those things? Why should she bother to talk if he wasn't going to listen?

"If you would just shut the hell up and let me speak, I'd be able to tell you that I had flashes in the dream just like the ones I got from Nasedo!" Liz angrily snapped back at him.

Everyone fell silent, including Liz. She was all worked up and trying hard to calm down by taking deep cleansing breaths. A part of her half-expected an argument to start. Liz blinked in confusion when it didn't occur. Everyone was staring at her in shock. Liz didn't understand why. They had to have heard her get angry before at some point or another.

But that didn't explain why everyone was gaping at her. In fact, Maria, Kyle, and Isabel looked as confused and startled as the former sheriff. Their mouths hanging open in surprise. Michael was the only one who was looking at her with an indescribable expression.

Faintly, she heard Kyle's dad echo, "Flashes?"

Liz didn't understand why they were looking at her so oddly. She knew Maria wouldn't look at her like that because of Liz simply saying something in anger. So that meant that it must have been what she'd said, that startled everyone. But what was it about it that everyone reacted strongly to?

She replayed in her mind what she'd said, and groaned inwardly as she realized her mistake. In her anger, she had blurted out one of her greatest secrets. And now there was no taking it back. She couldn't believe she'd been so stupid as to say it out loud.

Then the interrogation began.

Maria was the one who regained the ability to speak first. "You got what from who?"

"When did this happen?" Isabel asked shakily.

"I can't believe that you never told me. Chica, you should have told me. Remember our talk? We agreed to not keep things from each other."

"Why would he share something with you and not us?" Michael asked in an eerily calm voice.

"He didn't... Share, I mean. He didn't know that I saw things from him." Liz stammered, uncomfortable with the topic.

"But how could that have happened? He died shortly after you came back from Florida. It's not like the two of you had ever been alone together..." Maria stopped talking and stared at Liz as she put two and two together. After a few seconds, it was obvious from her expression that she knew when and approximately where it happened. "Oh Chica, you should have told me," she said in a resigned voice.

Michael was apparently on the same wavelength as her, because the next thing Liz knew was that he had started in on her. "Why the hell didn't you tell us? If you had, we wouldn't have put so much trust into him and Tess. We would have been better off."

"Don't say that! Michael, we don't know that for sure. Try and calm down." Isabel said pleadingly.

Maria grumbled quietly to herself as everyone else had their say. "And I thought I had made so much progress with him." She looked up at the ceiling and added, "I didn't need a 'perfect' boyfriend. All I wanted was for him to ease up with the 'tude. You know?"

"You lay off of Liz." Kyle said angrily toward Michael.

"I'm with my son on that. Leave her be. Hasn't she gone through enough for you guys?" Mr. Valenti said with authority.

"You're wrong, Michael. If I had told you guys, Max might not be here now. You and Isabel might have gotten captured too. You needed Nasedo's help in getting Max out. You had to trust him in order to do so. You wouldn't have gotten him out on your own. Don't be stupid."

Isabel spoke up before Michael could even open his mouth. "But once we got him out, why not tell us then?"

Liz sighed heavily. "How could I? After you freed him, we split up remember? Max and me were busy running for our lives. I couldn't tell Max, not after everything he'd been through. And then, once you all found us, there was the crisis with Kyle being shot, and then there was the whole thing with the orbs and the message from your mother. What I could tell you about Nasedo was insignificant in comparison."

"We should have been the judge of that." Michael said bitterly.

"I'm sorry. But you gotta keep in mind that those were a hard couple of days for me too. I was trying to deal with things the best way I could." Liz admitted hesitantly. "What I saw from Nasedo wasn't informative. All it was, was disturbing."

"What did you see?" Maria asked as gently as she could.

"The flashes were odd. They were in black and white kinda like an old movie. And there was lightning and a desert. And then I saw this poor woman. She was dead with the silver handprint on her body. I'm almost sure he killed her... Once I saw that, I pulled away from him. I'd known that evil like that existed, but I never was that close to it before."

"That was all?" Michael asked in surprise. He was waiting for her answer. Once she nodded, he continued, "I guess I was out of line earlier. With everything that's been going on, we gotta be straight with each other. All these secrets and lies are gonna be the death of us."

"My god, Michael, that has to be one of the most amazing things I've ever heard you say. It was brilliant, if I do say so myself. Of course that's what I'd been saying all along." Maria said smugly.

"What does any of this have to do with what you learned from the dream? Cuz' this keeps getting longer and longer, and I'm starting feel each and every place where Evans managed to get in a lucky punch." Kyle added with a slight grunt of pain.

"During the dream, I received flashes while looking through a telescope. I saw a planet circling a red star. It had red oceans and purple land, yellow clouds swirled around in the atmosphere. There were bright flashes of light, and it looked as though the planet was under siege. Then this strange spaceship of sorts, sped away with a second ship trailing after it. When it reached this solar system, there was some kind of accident and they crashed."

"Wait a minute, I thought you said that it was in black and white. How could you know what the colors were?" Isabel asked pointing out the discrepancy.

"Well it was like I was seeing things from two different perspectives. The flashes from after the crash were in black and white. There were these glowing creatures in some room. Both sets of pods were there too. Then there was this man he had a camera, and he said something but it didn't make any sense. He left the room and an alarm went off and things went chaotic..."

"Hal Carver. That man, you're talking about Hal Carver."

"Who?" Liz and Maria asked at the same time.

"That old guy I wrote that report on." Michael turned to Maria "You remember him, he's the banana split guy."

"Oh, ok. I remember him. How an old guy like that could digest all those banana splits, is still beyond me. Old people are not known for their dairy tolerance. But then again, that could be why they wear diapers."

"What a lovely mental image. Thank you, Maria..." Isabel's voice was dripping with equal parts sarcasm and revulsion. "Any other inane comments? I really want to hear what Liz found out." She stated in her own special imperious way.

"No. I'm good. Liz, you may continue now." Maria said in a similar tone, mocking Is good-naturedly.

"Um. Ok, anyway... The creatures made it out to the desert and one of them guarded the pods, while the other went and secured the granolith and made the pod chamber. Once the granolith was hidden, the creature left the other one to secure the pods here while it went to New York to secure the other four.

"When this protector returned to Roswell, the other one was long gone, and this Ava's pod was damaged or something. She was dying. He sensed danger was getting closer, and so he freed that Ava and covered her with the flag, then he got the healing stones and both pieces of the pendant from the Granolith chamber. He carried the child while he ran from the Skins.

"But he got hurt while fighting them and then hit by a truck. And when one of the enemy was about to move in for the kill, the driver managed to kill him. It was Atherton. He helped get the protector and the child to a safe place..."

"The cave on the reservation. Atherton took them there. Didn't he?" Michael, caught up in the story, blurted out.

"Yep. He sure did."

"That's how that guy fit into everything. My father knew there was a connection, but he never said anything about it. Everyone thought he was a few cans short of a six-pack. Who would believe him? I never did." Mr. Valenti said. His voice was heavy with regret.

"I'm sure that if grandpa wasn't senile he'd be really glad to know that." Kyle said quietly to his father.

"What happened next?" Isabel inquired.

"I bet I know! He took them to the cave, right? That's where the little Ava died. He buried her there, right where we found her. I knew it! That bleached blond little tramp wasn't one of them.. Didn't I say that in the cave? Didn't I?" Maria said excitedly.

"Were we in the same cave? I remember you going on and on about you not getting how Tess could look like the Ava from New York."

"Kyle. Kyle. Kyle." Maria shook her head at him. She then continued speaking to him in a slow and placating tone. "You hit your head in the cave, and you were out of it for a while. I don't think you're remembering things too well."

"You know, Maria, that's not the way things happened. Kyle's right. You were yacking on and on about that. I remembered hoping that somebody would show mercy and put me out of my misery."

"That can still be arranged, Pally." Maria snapped at him. "You're not that great a boyfriend."

"Maria, Michael, could you all be quiet long enough for me to finish?" Liz leaned forward and took a sip of her now warm and semi flat soda. "...Thank you. Hmmm... Where should I continue? You are right about her dying... well, sort of. I am pretty sure that the remains we found were hers. But I'm not so certain that she's dead."

Isabel's eyes grew wide at the idea of that, "What do you mean?"

"The protector, he did some ritual with the healing stones right before she died. Afterwards, only one of the stones remained glowing, when Atherton returned, the protector pressed the stone against his chest. The stone glowed brightly, then darkened completely. When Atherton regained consciousness, he freaked. The protector leveled with him, told him everything. They formed a friendship of sorts, and he entrusted Atherton with the pendant."

"Ok, Liz, what do you think that ritual was for?" Michael asked cautiously.

"I believe it means that the protector was somehow able to capture her spirit or essence and transfer it to Atherton. And he was like a custodian of it for a while. At least until the Nasedo we know, came back into the picture. The Ava's protector, Sweets, was barely able to get himself and the essence away before being seen."

"Oh my God, you mean..." Isabel was barely able to choke out.

"...Atherton was the first of many to carry Ava's soul." Michael finished for her.

"Why would they play hopscotch, hopping from body to body like that?" Maria asked. She sounded a little bit creeped out by that idea.

"It might have been dangerous to keep it in one body too long. Didn't you say that Ava told you that she thought her protector went around for years doing damage control? What if the dude, Tess's protector, was hot on their trail? Kinda like the Terminator, and the only thing they could do to slow him down was to throw a few false Sarah Connors in Nasedo's Path." Kyle added proudly to the conversation.

"That would explain the pile up of bodies over the years, dead, with a silver handprint on it's chest. My father always wondered why those people were killed. He always complained there was no rhyme or reason to the murders. The only thing they ever had in common was the handprint." The former sheriff sounded stunned.

"That went on for years. So many different people contributed to the Roswell Ava's survival. It was extremely important for her to live, for some reason. I think Nasedo was hell bent on ensuring she stayed completely dead. Sweets had some plan to take care of things, but I don't know what it was. The last things I saw in the flashes were of a small town with oil wells, some clinic, with a bunch of people in the waiting room. There was a dark haired woman. She was the same one I saw in the flashes from Nasedo. She had a key ring with her name on it... Her name was Sheila.

Mr. Valenti drew in a sharp breath. "My god... Hubble."

"What? Did you say Hubble? How could you know that?" Liz asked in shock.

"What are you talking about, Chica?" Maria asked, noticing her friend's reaction.

"In the dream before the flashes started, Ava called me over by my telescope. She asked me if I knew anything about Hubble. I told her everything I could remember about the problems NASA had with the space telescope. I remembered thinking at the time, that what she was saying had a secret meaning."

"Dad, didn't you have to kill that old guy last year? The one who helped make Grandpa an outcast? His name was Hubble, wasn't it?" Kyle asked.

"You mean that guy who almost made swiss cheese out of Max last year during the UFO convention?" Michael asked, then continued, "If I hadn't distracted him. He would have shot Max. And then he would have turned his sights on me."

"You're right on all counts. Everett Hubble was about to kill Max because he believed that Max was the one to kill his wife in 1970. Her name was Sheilia... Sheila Hubble."

"Ok, things are getting decidedly creepy." Maria commented, sounding shaken.

"She died up near Bitter Lake in August of '70. Didn't she?" Liz half feared the answer to her own question.

"I'm not entirely sure. I think so, but I'd have to check the few records I managed to smuggle out when Agent Pierce demanded all of my UFO related files."

"So does this mean that she died because Nasedo thought she carried our Ava? And what did Sweets have to do with it? Because I don't get why Nasedo would kill her if she hadn't had contact with Ava's essence." Isabel wondered aloud.

"I don't know. But I think the way to find out is to find that small town. If we can do that, we'll be one step closer to unraveling this mystery."

"But Liz, that could be anywhere in the Southwest. Oklahoma, Texas, even this state, has hundreds of small towns with oil wells. It'd be like looking for a needle in a haystack." Kyle added with a barely concealed grimace.

"I'm pretty sure we can narrow down the possibilities better than that. Sheila Hubble went to that clinic in my dream. My guess is that it's somewhere nearby. I remember seeing a newspaper in the dream whose headline said that a local woman had been murdered. We could go and start there... Also I think the clinic's doctor's name was Castillo. B something Castillo."

As Liz said that final comment, the former sheriff's face visibly paled. He muttered to himself, "No. It can't be."

Nobody heard him though, because Michael spoke much louder than him. "Do you have any idea how hard it would be to find him? That's assuming that the guy is still alive. The only thing we know is that he had some kind of practice over thirty years ago. That's not a lot to go on."

"We could look through the phone book. We could check the local ones first, then head to the library to look up the ones that are further away." Maria added, glad to be able to volunteer for a task that had nothing to do with alien powers.

"I was thinking I could check online. That helped when I was tracking down what happened to Alex. There has to be some kind of list or directory that I could use to facilitate my search."

"If that doesn't work, I could casually ask my mom. She gets to hear all the gossip where she works. Even dad might have some information or at least know where to begin searching."

"You don't need to." Kyle's dad said with a shaky breath.

"What do you know?" Michael asked brusquely.

At the same time, Liz asked gently, "Why not?"

All sets of eyes fell on the former sheriff. He looked shaken, defeated. Within the space of a few moments, he seemed to become older right before their eyes. What could he have to tell them that would age him so rapidly?

Whatever it was he had to say, was going to be difficult to hear. She had an ominous feeling that what was said next could possibly devastate both generations of Valenti's, and might bind their connection to the aliens forever.

It seemed like an eternity passed before he finally spoke to them. When he did, Liz's fears were confirmed.

"I can tell you this, Dr. Castillo was from around these parts. Before we got married, he was Kyle's mom's doctor, ...a gynecologist."


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 4-Feb-2002 1:06:47 AM ]
posted on 4-Feb-2002 12:58:59 AM by Psyche G
Thanks everyone! It makes me feel so good to know that you like the story as much as I do. Here's another double long chapter. I hope you enjoy this new part!!!



Chapter 29



There was a pregnant pause after the former sheriff's startling announcement. Liz couldn't speak for the others, but she was trying to piece together how exactly this fit into everything. Because in some way, she was sure there was some unforeseen connection. She was no longer naive enough to believe that this was just merely a coincidence.

That being the case, then it was startling to realize that there were unforeseen forces at work tying them together somehow. Liz's brain was working furiously, formulating and then rejecting possible theories as soon as she thought them up.

"Woah. I certainly didn't expect to hear that," Maria exhaled in a rush.

"You don't think that she..." In a not-so-common act of kindness to the Valentis, Isabel let what whatever it was she was going to ask drift away. Only she and Liz were aware just how badly the Valenti family took the abandonment of its matriarch.

"Dad, quit kidding. I know you've been going through a weird, mid-life crisis since you got fired. First was the thing with you wanting to be a carpenter. But that sucked. All you know how to make is a baseball bat. At least that's what you call them. Nobody wants a bat like that, and I got a closet full of them because of it. Then you got the crazy idea to start up a country band in order to earn enough money to live off of. That's not gonna happen. Now you're starting up with this? I've been having a hard enough time as it is. Don't start dragging Mom's name into this. She has nothing to do with this!" Kyle said vehemently.

"Son, I didn't mention this in order to alleviate this God awful boredom that's settled in. I'm only telling the truth. He was your mom's doctor. I only remember the name because I remember hearing it and being more scared than I ever was my life."

Kyle's father closed his eyes as if he was trying to gather or garner his strength. When he was ready, he continued. "We were a little older than you are now, more or less. And me and Shelley had been... um..."

Mr. Valenti stammered slightly as he tried to find a more delicate way to explain that he and Kyle's mom had been two horny kids. It was one thing to discuss security and strategy with these kids, that came easily. But describing the moment that changed how he viewed life, was not only a bit embarrassing, but also difficult at the same time.

"I don't think I want to hear this." Kyle said with a groan.

"Don't be such a big baby. It can't be any worse than my mom telling me how she and my dad got together. Now that was embarrassing. Trust me, you don't wanna hear words like 'free love' and 'so stoned' when it comes to your parents." Maria commented wryly.

"I don't know about the rest of you, but I really want to hear this." Isabel said pointedly at Maria, as if willing her to shut up. She then turned her attention onto Kyle's father. "Mr. Valenti, do you think you could continue?"

"Yeah. Skipping ahead, I was at Shelley's house waiting for her to finish getting ready. We were going to a party that this guy we'd known from school, was throwing. She was taking forever in the bathroom when the phone rang. Her mom was outside, taking out the garbage, and Shelley couldn't get to the phone, so I answered it. It was Dr. Castillo's office and they said the results were in on Shelley's pregnancy test. I hung up the phone in a state of shock. Let's just say that was the first real fight that the two of us had. It almost broke us up."

Michael asked the question that was foremost in Liz's mind, "When did all this happen?"

"What? What are you trying to say, Guerin? Why would when it happened matter?" When no one answered Kyle, he quieted for a moment. It was obvious that he was trying to answer the question himself. All of a sudden, his eyes widened, his face paled, and he let out a sharp breath as something occurred to him. "You don't mean... There's no way in hell that I... Dad, tell him how wrong he is. Dad! Tell them." Kyle began to panic.

Michael saw his reaction, and smirked. With a mischievously twisted smile on his lips he got up, leaned over, and clapped Kyle on the shoulder. "Welcome to the family."

"Maybe I should have been calling you 'Girlfriend' all this time." Maria added, just as mischievously.

"Kyle relax. Don't mind them. They're just messing with you. I sincerely doubt that you have anything to do with the missing Ava. Well, that is unless you've been having feelings for Max that I don't know about." Liz added with a wink.

"What?...NO! Hell no! Me and Evans have a nice healthy animosity between us. That's all."

"That's enough of that. We're losing sight of what's important. We have no idea what happened to our fours' Ava. Hell, we're not even sure if the bones we found are hers or not. And on top of that, there's this Dr. Castillo mystery and we don't know how or even if Kyle's mother fit into the picture." Isabel said, sounding both weary and irritated.

"I just wish Ava would tell me what she knew. It would save us so much time. Everything is a riddle wrapped up in an enigma and trapped in a puzzle box... We don't even know if there is a correlation between Mrs. Valenti and them. It could be nothing." Liz admitted rejectedly.

"You're wrong. This isn't just a coincidence. I'd bet my hands on it." Maria blurted out.

"'Ria, how can you be so sure?"

"God, did you learn nothing from the X-Files? Like Mulder said, 'If coincidences are just coincidences, why do they feel so contrived?' ...There are no coincidences. It is so apparent that there are greater forces at work here. My mom would call it synchronicity."

"So what do we do next?" Michael turned to Liz and asked.

"Well, it's not like anything's changed. We still need to see what we can find out about this Dr. Castillo. That means that we will have to pick your brain for whatever leads you can give us. Also, if Tess wasn't one of the four, then who was she? I think we need to see if she left any clues regarding her true identity. And finally, we need to examine the remains. But I guess that part will have to wait until the morning, it's a little too late to go back to the cave tonight." Liz said, getting back into a logical mind set.

"We don't have to go to the cave. We brought it with us. I had a feeling that you would want to look it over when things were much less hectic. Michael packed the remains up for me," Maria informed her.

"I didn't realize that. That's a good thing, it means that we can get started on some of that right now. Maria, how about you and Kyle, if he's up to it, search Tess's room for clues." Liz replied, beginning to delegate responsibility. Kyle and Maria nodded in agreement.

Why should she be the one who always finds new information? If they were going to be a team, that meant that everyone was equally important. No one, especially the non-aliens, should be left on the sidelines with nothing to do. Besides, Maria had a rare and unusual talent for snooping. If there was dirt to be dug up on Tess, Liz had no doubts that Maria would sniff it out.

"Hey, Isabel. Do you think you can manage looking up anything you can online about Dr. B... something... Castillo? You could use my laptop."

"I'm not as good as Alex was with that kind of stuff. But I can hold my own. I looked up all the colleges that I was interested in online, back when I wanted to get away from Roswell... It's a Mac, right? Like Alex's?" Isabel paused and waited for Liz's reply. Once she nodded at Isabel in the affirmative, Isabel continued speaking. "Good. I know how to work those. Alex taught me. I only have one other question about it. Do you know where it is?"

"It should be in the padded black knapsack. At least that's where I packed it this morning... Michael, would you set out the remains on the table? I can try taking a scraping from the bones and looking at them under my microscope. It may not tell me anything, but it's the only test I can do right now. While I do that, Michael you can try picking the sheriff's, oops, Mr. Valenti's brain for what he can remember about Doctor Castillo. That is, if Mr. Valenti is willing to have his brain picked."

"I guess that'd be fine, Liz. After all the times I've had to question Michael, it should be interesting to see how much of the process he remembers."

"Ah yeah, those were the days. You'd bust my ass just because you didn't like me. Didn't you used to call me 'a spiky-haired punk'? Look at us now. We're all on the same side of a nice little alien conspiracy and cover-up. Now I get to be the one asking questions. Kind of ironic huh? I think I'm gonna enjoy this."

"Michael..." Maria and Liz said at the same time.

"Yeah. Yeah. The two of you don't have to say it, I'll be good... Let's get started, time's a' wastin'." Michael said as he got up and went over to the pile of supplies and got out the bulky sleeping bag. He unrolled it on the dining table, displaying the small and fragile-looking bones. He then proceeded to rearrange the pieces into their original formation.

Maria leaned over slightly and whispered into Liz's ear, "I swear sometimes he is so Grandpa Dupree. Makes me wonder how much of his personality is Michael, or the alien soldier guy, or really dead grandpa-man."

"That's an interesting question. Let's see, he's rude and surly, not to mention crankier than hell. Sounds like a lot of the old men who come in on Sunday morning for the senior special... Well, except for the butt-pinching." Liz whispered back at her.

"Speak for yourself..." Maria said, thinking out loud. "Hey, forget you heard that. You know what, you are so not helping. You're supposed to be telling me that I'm not dating an old geezer."

Stifling a laugh, Liz barely managed to get out, "Sorry... Would you feel better if I told you that you're not dating an old geezer... just a young one?"

Maria's eyes were sparkling with laughter as she stood up in a mock huff. She spoke with all the theatrics of a top-rate drama queen, "Fine, Chica. Be that way. I know when I'm being mocked." Maria tossed her hair back and walked past Kyle. She sounded eerily like Isabel when she said to him, "Come on, Kyle." Her voice softened and became less scary with what she said next, "Let's go search the hellbeast's room... You can stretch out on the bed if you need to. I'll do the searching."

Kyle slowly and gingerly got up with Maria and Isabel's assistance. His gait was a little unsteady. Maria noticed and put her arm around him to steady him as they walked out of the living room, heading toward Tess's room.

Michael finished arranging everything on the table as he watched Maria leave the room. When he was finished, he turned to the remaining people in the room. "This is all set up. I'm pretty sure this is how they were laid out back at the cave. If you need a hand, I'll be in there." Michael gestured behind him toward the kitchen. He then looked around the room and noticed that there weren't any extra things to sit on "Damn, Valenti... don't you believe in chairs?"

"It's just been me and Kyle, and then came Tess..." the former sheriff said as he stood up. "I think Kyle dragged her chair to the garage, but... I don't think there's much left of it to sit on..."

"Yeah, well never mind. Just drag your chair with you. I'll sit on the counter top. It might give me an edge during the interrogation." Michael said, starting to warm to the idea. He leaned against the table as he waited for the older man to go in the other room first.

"It's not an interrogation. All you're doing is asking him a few questions. Don't go overboard." Liz cautioned as she watched Mr. Valenti enter the kitchen. She wanted to be sure that Michael was clear on that.

"You mean I can't shine a bright light into his eyes? No using a rubber hose? I bet you'll even nay say me roughing him up a little... all in the name of information gathering, of course."

"That goes without saying. He's on our side, remember? No funny business."

"You are such a killjoy."

"I guess so. But hey, I'd be willing to trade with you. I'll ask Mr. Valenti questions while you try and do the 'science geek' stuff. I know how much you love science projects. Deal?" She asked smugly. Confidently.

She was 99.99 percent sure how he would answer. And Michael being Michael, he didn't let her down.

"Ok. Ok. You win this round. I'll do this your way." Michael turned and headed to the kitchen. "... has to go and suck every bit of fun out of my life..." She heard him grumbling under his breath. "... almost as demanding as Maria... Women..." was the last thing Liz heard him say as he disappeared into the other room.

Isabel had dragged her chair over to a small, free corner of the table nearest the kitchen. She got out the laptop and set it up on the table, and angled the screen to what would be a good angle. Isabel then turned to Liz who was rummaging through the pile of bags for her grandmother's old knapsack.

"Um, Liz how am I supposed to connect to the internet? Is it a wireless connection or do I have to use the Valentis' phone line? I'm sort of at a loss. Alex or Max always had this stuff set up ahead of time." Isabel admitted quietly.

Liz stopped what she was doing and looked up at the other girl. During most of the earlier conversation, Isabel had kept herself together pretty well. But now that the crowd had dissipated, it was easy to see just how not well she was really doing. She looked as distraught as she had in the days following Alex's death. Only she seemed more likely to break under the strain.

It startled Liz to realize how much she and this girl had in common. The both of them were dealing with the situation the same way. As long as they kept busy and didn't allow themselves to think about everything that was happening, they were fine. But in moments like this when things shifted pace and slowed down a little, that's when it hit them. That's when the enormity of the situation became overwhelming.

Liz knew that Isabel needed a friend at that moment. And Liz didn't want Isabel to get all upset, they really needed her help. That meant that Liz was going to have to try to be her friend. She knew that they had agreed to try and do that, only Liz had thought that she would have had more time to get used to the idea. Apparently, that wasn't to be the case. So now she had to try and come up with a way to do that that wasn't too awkward.

"I had been planning to use my cell phone to connect out at the cave. But since we're here, why run up a large bill. I don't think the Valentis' will mind if we borrow their phone line for a little while. There's a cord in the bottom of the bag, but..."

Isabel reached into the bag and pulled out a phone cord that was barely 3 feet long. "... but it's not really long enough to reach. But that's easy enough for me to fix." The blond girl concentrated intently on the cord and started to stretch it out. When she was finished, the cord was a little more than four times the original length. "I think that should be enough. Don't want to trip anyone walking by... The phone is in the kitchen, right?" she asked Liz as she stood up.

"Yeah. I think it's on the wall." Isabel nodded at her and turned toward the kitchen. Before she completed the few steps needed to cross the threshold, Liz called out to her once more. "I know how hard all this is for you. Believe me, I know. I promise you that I will do whatever it takes to help Max. This is only temporary... I can't stand to see him this way either."

"I know, Liz. If anyone could bring my brother back to us, it'd be you."
"Yeah, well..." Liz stammered.

Liz wasn't as confident as Isabel was in her ability to do so. She and Max hadn't been that close to each other for a long time. She honestly wasn't sure how much of a hold she still had on his heart. She loved him, but sometimes love wasn't enough.

Changing the subject, she said brightly, "I'll let you get back to work. That way we can get one step closer to helping Max and finding Tess. But anyway, all you gotta do is turn on the computer and click the icon to go online. If you need any help, just let me know. Ok?"

"Sure..." Isabel scrutinized her for a moment and then smiled a slight but heartfelt smile at Liz. "Thank you."

"Don't mention it. That's what friends do, right?"

"Yeah, they do. You're a good friend, Liz Parker." And with that, Isabel left the room.

As Liz turned back toward the pile of assorted gear that they'd brought to the cave, she couldn't help but smile. Knowing that in spite of everything she was actually well on the road to being real friends with Isabel. Alex would have been so proud of them. If he could only see them now.

Liz's smile faltered at that thought.

If Alex was still alive, none of this would be happening. Their lives would never have gotten so fucked up if Tess hadn't killed him. And Tess wouldn't have done that, if Liz hadn't changed the future.

As soon as she thought that, she was overwhelmed with a wave of anguish so strong that it left her weak and shaking on the floor. The only thing that had stopped her from falling and drawing attention to herself was the fact that she was already on her knees.

Her eyes welled up with tears that she stubbornly refused to shed. Liz knew that if she allowed herself to break down now and give in to despair, it would take a long time to get back out. She couldn't afford to do that now. With Max out of commission, someone had to bring a sense of reason to the situation. Even though the last thing she wanted to do was try and play leader, if she didn't try and guide them, they'd get nowhere fast.

She heard the soft footfalls of Isabel as she returned to the room. "Liz, is everything ok? What's wrong? Are you crying?"

"No. It's nothing. Nothing's wrong." Realizing quickly that that wouldn't deter Isabel, Liz quickly made up an excuse. "I accidentally bent my fingernail backwards. It just really hurt for a few moments... At least it didn't break... Like I said, it's nothing."

"If you say so." Isabel said, without any conviction.

Liz could tell just by the sound of her voice that she had her doubts. Luckily, Isabel didn't act on them. After giving Liz a long accessing stare, Isabel dropped the subject and settled herself in front of the computer. Liz let out a small sigh of relief when she did.

Wiping the back of her hand against her forehead, Liz surveyed the pile of stuff in front of her. She knew she couldn't afford to waste time dwelling on her contribution to Alex's death. That would come later. So would dealing with guilt she felt. She couldn't allow herself to think about that at the moment because if she did, she'd never get anything accomplished.

There was so much she had to try and take care of. She couldn't afford to slack off right now, she had a strong feeling that things were gaining in momentum. Almost as though a counter or a clock was ticking down. And Liz had a feeling that when it reached its end, all hell would break loose. When it did, she wanted to be as prepared as could be.

So she resumed her search for her Grandma Claudia's backpack. She found it at the bottom of the pile, underneath everything else. Liz frowned when she saw that. She hoped that the microscope that was in it wasn't damaged.

Quickly, Liz tugged the backpack free from where it was buried. She opened it up and sighed in relief when she saw that the box it was stored in wasn't damaged. She used it a lot and it had a special meaning for her, her grandma gave it to her on her ninth birthday.

Grandma Claudia always encouraged her to examine the world around her. Liz doubted that her grandma ever imagined that she would be using it to try and verify if a skeleton was the remains of an alien-human-hybrid-queen. Somehow Liz didn't think that that was what her grandma had in mind when she said to follow her heart.

Liz took out the microscope and set it up on the far end of the table, away from where Isabel was hunched over the laptop. She then fiddled with some of the slides and made sure that everything was in order. After a few minutes of wasting her time doing that, Liz realized what she was really doing.

She was stalling.

It wasn't that she didn't want to find the answers, but she wasn't sure this was the way to do it. If she were to be totally honest with herself, she wasn't sure what she was doing. The kind of tests she would have liked to perform were beyond her capabilities.

All she had was this relatively low magnification microscope. It was almost ten years old and it wasn't all that fancy. It was just a plain one like what her elementary school had. Liz was well aware that she was very limited in what she'd be able to accomplish with what little equipment she had access to. Now that school had let out for the summer, she didn't have access to the science lab's equipment. And after the trouble she'd gotten Sean into, she wasn't too keen on taking the chance of being caught illegally in the school building.

So that meant that she had to make do with what she had. Even if it meant that, at best, her microscope would only be able to shed a tiny sliver of light on things. It wouldn't be able to reveal much, a microscope with a higher level of magnification would be much more useful. What she wouldn't give to have access to an electron microscope. Now that would be the ideal way to unveil the skeleton's origins.

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 4-Feb-2002 1:08:51 AM ]
posted on 4-Feb-2002 1:10:29 AM by Psyche G

Chapter 29 continued



Liz was realistic enough to know that even if she had access to those kind of testing capability, she wouldn't be able to solve this mystery. She wasn't a forensic scientist or pathologist. She might have seen a few shows on the Discovery Channel and took out a few books on that subject from the library after the other skeleton was found at the beginning of the school year, but that didn't make her an expert. Even if her circle of friends thought she was.

She honestly didn't have any idea how to go about testing the skeleton. In order to use the microscope, she'd need a sample of the remains. And not only was she not sure about getting a sample small enough to fit on a slide, Liz didn't want to desecrate the remains of the child any more than she had to.

Every time she looked at the body, she couldn't help but imagine the Ava that she knew in her place. Only a lot younger. Ava was her friend, and she couldn't help but feel a similar affinity to the little hybrid queen that she'd seen in the flashes. If the remains did belong to her, like Liz suspected, her heart went out for the poor child. To be the last hope of an alien species under siege with so much riding on their survival, then to have her die without ever having a chance to live... was the most horrible thing she could imagine.

That child may have been destined to be with Max, but she certainly didn't deserve the fate she ended up with. Even if she would have looked like Tess.

If she were to accomplish anything tonight, she would have to find a way to stop feeling for the child. Liz knew that she would have to distance herself emotionally. Imagining a little Ava with pink hair lying in place of the bones won't help her find the answers that everyone else was counting on her to find and verify.

Liz needed to at least try to discover what she could. The thing was, that she was reluctant to do anything to the bones. So she had to try and find a way to accomplish her goal without harming them. That didn't leave her with many options to choose from. In fact, the best way she could think of to go about that, would be to closely examine them and see if there was any way she could find a sample suitable for testing. She didn't hold out much hope for a simple solution like that, but at least it would keep her busy. At least until she had a brainstorm and could come up with something else.

Looking down at the small form on the table, Liz noticed just how dimly lit the Valenti house was at night. The lack of sufficient lighting would only make what she was going to do all the more harder to accomplish.

So, with a plan of action in mind, Liz went back and started searching through the bags on the floor. She stood up abruptly, the object of her search firmly grasped in her hand. A slight movement of her thumb, and suddenly a beam of bright light shone from her flashlight. It momentarily blinded her.

She aimed the beam toward the skeleton. As she did so, she accidentally flashed the light in Isabel's face. Isabel looked up at Liz and glared at her as though she was an annoying bug that she wanted to squash.

Liz couldn't help but smile. She was so glad that some constants remained constant, like Isabel's oh-so-warm and friendly attitude. "Oops... Sorry 'bout that."

Absently, she lowered the angle of the light so that it shone on the skeleton. She'd been expecting her to reply with some kind of scathing remark. But Isabel remained silent, a look of startlement on her face. Her eyes, transfixed on the skeleton at the other end of the table. And Liz couldn't fathom what had changed.

"Liz. Do you see what I'm seeing?" She asked Liz in a hushed voice.

Liz looked at the remains between them. The light was partially hitting the skull on the table. What was amazing was that the area that the light hit seemed to glow slightly. Everywhere the center of the light touched the bones, became illuminated as if from within.

"Yeah." Liz said as she exhaled heavily. "It's glowing where the flashlight is hitting it."

As she moved closer and the beam of light grew stronger, the bones seemed to almost become partially translucent. Almost like when you take a flashlight and shine it directly under your hand and you can see the outline of your bones in the hand. This was similar to that.

Sort of.

Except for the glowing.

She was pretty sure that normal, non-alien, plain old human bones did not glow like that. Actually she was more than sure. Liz was certain. The bones had to be part alien. That was a safe bet.

Liz laid the flashlight right up next to one of the bones of the arm. The light made it glow even more strongly. "Isabel, its glowing almost as brightly as the healing stones... I've never seen anything quite like it before. It's amazing." Liz said in awe.

"It is. The others have to see this." Isabel tore her eyes away from the sight and called out in the direction of the others, "Everyone, come here. You've got to see this."

As the others filed into the room, Liz reached out with a slightly trembling hand toward the remains. Vaguely, she heard the sharp intake of air as they saw what was in front of them. She on the other hand, was utterly focused on carefully lifting up the femur, or thigh bone if she remembered correctly. The moment her hand closed around it, she felt a shiver run through her body. Almost like the phrase 'someone walking over my grave.' She didn't understand why holding it bothered her, though.

It wasn't like she was a squeamish person. Whenever they had science lab work to do, Liz never had any qualms doing what needed to be done. Disecting things didn't bother her. Neither did dead things. Grandma Claudia used to take her with to some of her local archeological digs. On occasion she got to handle some of the things her grandma found.

It didn't explain why touching this sent shivers up and down her spine...

"Hey Chica, are you ok?" Maria asked.

"Um... yeah. I was just thinking."

"Did you even hear Michael's question? It's like you zoned out for a bit there. Like the lights were on but Liz wasn't home." Maria gave her the look that Liz was very familiar with. Maria could tell that she wasn't telling her everything. "Are you sure you're all right?"

"I'm fine, Maria. I was just trying to um, puzzle out what the science was behind this." Liz fixed her eyes on Maria's, silently pleading with her to drop it for the time being. Hopefully Maria would leave it be for now, she just didn't want to get explain it in front of the others. When Maria nodded almost imperceptibly, Liz was greatly relieved.

"What's so puzzling? I think everyone here can tell that is not one of the home team. It looks like one of us, but it's gotta be a member of their intergalactic team. Even I can see that." Kyle said, nodding toward where Michael stood next to Isabel.

"I agree with my son there. I've seen skeletons before while I was sheriff, normal people's bones don't glow when you shine a light on them. That's definitely not a local."

"That's the conclusion I came up with. I could try doing some further tests, but I think we know what the results would be." Liz looked over at Michael and Isabel. They were staring at the glowing bone with strangely similar expressions of fascination on their faces. "Michael, I'm sorry I didn't answer your question. What did you want to know?"

"We just wanted to know if that's what we look like inside?"

"I'm not sure. Maybe. There's a few things I need to ask the sheriff about before I can tell you my theory."

"What do you want to know, Liz?" Kyle's dad asked.

"You've handled bones a few times when you were sheriff, right?"

"Not a lot, just a couple of times when I was part of the force. Only a few times in over ten years, Roswell wasn't exactly a hot spot for crime."

"Also, have you ever had to handle any this size before?"

"Once or twice." The former sheriff's expression turned very grim. "It was enough to leave an impression. Why do you want to know?"

"You're the closest thing we have to an expert on the subject. And I need your opinion on something."

"What?"

"Does this feel kinda lightweight to you?" Liz handed the leg bone to Mr. Valenti. "I only know how the adult skeleton they have at school should be. But I think there is a difference."

"You're right about that. These look like normal bones but they sure don't feel as heavy as they should. I'm not a forensic pathologist, but these bones aren't human. At least not completely."

"They kinda reminded me of bird bones in the way they are lightweight. But if yours were were less dense than normal bones, then there's no way they should be able to support your weight. They'd snap and break like a dry twig."

"So how do you explain this, Liz? If she's one of us, how can she be more fragile than us? Me, Max, and Michael are perfectly fine. So were the New York ones, other than their obvious attitude problems. How can this be?" A completely confused Isabel asked her.

"I don't know. I don't have all the answers. I don't know why the rest of you came out of your... pods..." Liz's voice trailed off in mid sentence as an idea occurred to her. "How could I be so stupid. Staring me in the face, I don't know how I didn't think of it. It's the most obvious answer. That has to be it!"

"What are you babbling about? Are ya gonna tell us already or do we have to play 20 questions to get it?" Michael asked, exasperated.

"It's the pods. You guys all were released when your bodies were matured enough to survive. This Ava wasn't. She was taken out ahead of time. I always wondered why you gestated in the pods for at least 42 years. My guess is that it took that long to get your bodies strong enough to survive outside of them. That's why your bodies aged only one year for every seven that you were inside the pods. It must be a complex process to create a hybrid. Do you realize what that means?"

"Well, no. I think I can speak for myself and Kyle when I say, 'What are you talking about?" Maria said with a slight smile. It was good to see Liz sounding like her old self.

"It means that it gives us a clue as to their alien origins. It took a long time, because there must be some important differences between the two species. Major enough to warrant their physical development to only advance in seven year intervals. And apparently this child must have been a lot less developed before she died. In fact, she could have died because of a tiny flaw during the process, especially if your home world had an ecosystem that was toxic to humans or vice versa. And if your people can't breathe on Earth, it would explain why they possess people like Brody instead of coming here to meet with you in person."

"If it was toxic to humans, would it be toxic to us? If we had used the Granolith would we have died from exposure to the atmosphere? We may be hybrids, but we do breathe air." Michael wanted to know.

"I'm not sure. But you guys are hybrids. They may have designed you to be able to survive on both worlds. That might explain why your blood is different from ours. If it was engineered to have a dual purpose, to be able carry both oxygen and or whatever the planet's atmosphere consists of, it would make a lot of sense."

After Liz finished talking, Maria called out to her. She was over by the skeleton and closely looking at the glowing caused by the nearby flashlight. "Hey Liz, did you look at this up close? The bones bend light like the way mom's crystals do. Take a look."

Liz stepped over to her and looked down trying to see what Maria had seen. It was very faint, but she could just make out the spectrum of the rainbow in the center of the glowing area. She then looked at where the light from the glowing part landed on the table. No little dazzling rainbows showing there.

"Yeah. I see that now. Only these don't cast little rainbows of refracted light everywhere."

"Well yeah I guess so. But there's a bunch of them inside. Kinda like the chunk of natural quartz that mom has in the kitchen window. It does the same thing."

"Quartz?" Liz repeated as her mind began to whirl with possibilities.

"Yeah. She's had it forever, and in the light there are a bunch of mini rainbows trapped inside it. I always thought it was so pretty."

"Maria, you're brilliant! I think you discovered something very important about where they come from."

"I did? Well... I always thought I was. What did I discover anyway?"

"Well first," Liz said to the group. "Crystals have been important to them. That's what the healing stones are, and there was the crystal used for the Granolith that we found in Las Cruces. When Maria said something about quartz, it reminded me of something. Quartz is a crystal found on Earth. It consists of silicon dioxide. Silicon is an element very similar to carbon. So similar that scientists debated for a long time about whether or not a silicon-based life form was possible. It's possible that the world you came from originally was such a place. Since silicon is a semiconductor, that might also have something to do with why you're able to harness energy to do things that humans are incapable of."

"Am I the only one who just had a really bad science class flashback just now? You started saying something about quartz and then I zoned out. You sounded like the teacher talking to Charlie Brown on those holiday cartoon specials. Would someone translate the 'blah blah blah's' into English?" Kyle said as he leaned against the wall, letting it support him.

"Basically she just said that they come from people mucho different than us. And that Michael comes from a long line of crystals. Insensitive crystalline bastards who don't seem to appreciate their girlfriends." Maria added with a smile.

"Very funny, Maria. She didn't say that at all. Who died and made you narrator to the slow?" Michael complained.

"It would go a long way to explain your personality, or lack of one, Guerin. Thanks, Maria," Kyle added with a nod and a smile.

"Don't you start in on me, Valenti. I take it from her 'cause she's my girlfriend..." Michael said with irritation.

"Boys." Mr. Valenti used the same tone of voice he used to use when he was sheriff and gave someone a warning to stop or else.

"I'm not afraid of you either, Guerin. I can't help it if you can't take a joke."

"A joke? I'll tell you what, I'll use my powers to blow up your secret stash of nudie mags that that jerk Malamoot loves to talk about. You know the ones you'd read while drinking your dad's beer. We'll see who's laughing then." Michael said with a smug grin. It was obvious that he knew the trouble Kyle'd get into.

"Michael, don't threaten my son. Go back in the kitchen, I'll meet you there. Go!" Mr. Valenti ordered. He then turned to face his son with the same look as when he rounded Kyle and Tess up in Vegas. "Wipe that smirk off of your face right now, Kyle. You and I will be having a father/son chat once everyone goes home. And grounding is very likely."

"Uh...I think now would be a good time to get back to what we were doing before. I don't have anything else to tell you about the remains. Hopefully, we'll be able to finish up and go home at a reasonable time. I know my parents will be stunned if I do. So, let's get back to work." Liz cut in as she realized that they've gone as far as they could as a team. It probably wasn't a good idea to push it too much in one day. She was surprised that they had gotten along as well as they had.

The group dispersed almost as quickly as they had come together. Michael had the good sense to leave the room before Mr. Valenti could lecture him. Kyle sulked out of the room with Maria in tow. Kyle could be heard complaining all the way out of the room. The same for Maria. Isabel settled down back in front of the computer. And Kyle's dad shook his head and gave Liz a weary smile.

"Is it always this bad, Liz?"

"You mean their attitude? Actually, as scary as it sounds, today was a good day." She answered with a shrug of her shoulders.

"And here I thought that things would be less stressful now that I'm no longer sheriff." Kyle's dad turned and headed for the kitchen. "I think I'm getting too old for this." He grumbled as he disappeared from sight.

Liz looked over at Isabel, catching her eye. The two of them shared a small smile.

After a few moments, Isabel frowned slightly and began to speak, "So do you think Kyle's in big trouble?"

"I don't think so. You know how his dad is... his bark is always worse than his bite. But I'll say this though, I'm glad its not me. I wouldn't trade places with Kyle for anything. Like I need anyone else to lecture me."

"You can say that again." Isabel concurred with a heavy sigh.

"Yeah." Liz perched herself on the edge of the table. "So how was your search going? Find anything?"

"Not really. I'm no Alex. He always made this kind of thing look so easy. You know?"

"Uh-huh. He taught me everything I know about computers and online searches... I miss him too."

"So Liz, you really look like you're hard at work. Don't you actually have to be near the bones in order to test them?"

"I guess so. But I can't really do much with them. Besides, I think it's pretty clear that that's not entirely human."

"I didn't think that Liz Parker even knew how to slack off. Have you been taking lessons from Michael?"

"Very cute... I just got a lot on my mind."

"Well, I don't have a lot of experience being a friend, but I'm here for you if you want to talk."

"I know. But it's hard to explain. Everything is happening so fast. I'm struggling to keep my head above water. And on top of everything else..." Liz's voice trailed off.

"... you're worried about Max."

Liz looked over at her in surprise. "Yeah." She replied simply. That one word was heavy with meaning.

"What? Why do you look so stunned? I can't be perceptive?"

"Sorry. I guess I'm not used to us getting along like this. It's going to take some time."

"It's kind of strange to me too... Look why don't we just sit down and try and figure out what to do about Max? It's not like I can take him home the way he is. Maybe we can come up with something."

"I'd like that." Liz said as she stood up and headed over to the couch.

Isabel joined her there. And they began to talk, mostly about how to make Max able to go home without being a threat to anyone. And once they came to a decision about Max, the conversation drifted to other topics as they waited for Michael to finish up with the former sheriff.

That's when the seeds of real friendship between them took root and began to grow.
posted on 6-Feb-2002 7:27:30 AM by Psyche G
Hey everyone!

Don't faint. Yes I am actually posting a second chapter this week. I can hardly believe it myself.

Try not to get too used to this. I'm working twice as hard to get as much of the story written by the time I go have an operation next Tuesday. Because once I do that, who knows how long it would be before I'll feel up to completing the story. Or be clear-headed enough to try and write new parts.

Btw, I promise they will be leaving the Valenti house in one or two chapters. That part kinda lasted longer than I planned

Thanks to everyone who replied. I'm so glad you like this story.

Sablaine- I gotta tell you that I didn't even realize that I did that. It could just be luck but I think it's because I reread the previous chapter right before I start on the next part so I bet it was a subconscious thing. My mind is funny like that. Just so you know what maria and kyle find will be the next chapter.


So without further delay, heres the next part:




Chapter 30




"I'm against this plan. It's too dangerous." Michael's voice rose with each word he spoke.

"We're doing this. Nothing you say will change our minds." Isabel countered hotly.

"We've taken everything into consideration. Isabel and I talked about it and we're certain this will work, Michael." Liz stated calmly as a counterpoint to the tempers flaring around her. As an afterthought, she mumbled in an almost inaudible voice, "Well, mostly."

"Did you hear that? Even she isn't convinced this is a good idea. You should listen to your little co-conspirator, Is. She's supposed to be the smart one."

"I did. Liz came up with the plan."

"I take back what I said about being smart. How'd you come up with something so foolish and risky?" Michael turned the focus of his temper at Liz.

Liz paused for a minute before admitting the truth. "There is a small... tiny really, element of risk. We can't be 100% sure that nothing will happen..."

"That is exactly the reason why I won't let you do it! What if you set him off again? Have you thought of that? We were barely able to restrain him the first time. I can't believe you're even considering this!" Michael paced frantically in front of the two girls. It looked to Liz like he was forcing himself to move so he wouldn't be so tempted to try and wring both Isabel's and her neck.

"What do you want us to do, Michael? I can't leave him like this. What about my parents? If they saw him like this they'd put him in a hospital. Can you imagine what would happen if they did? We can't let that happen. No one is going to hurt my brother again."

"You could tell them that he's crashing at my place tonight. He's done it before. I'd cover for him. They'd be none the wiser."

Isabel rolled her eyes at him. "Brilliant plan, Michael. And what do you think we should do with him? Huh? Stick him the trunk of my mom's car? This is my brother we're talking about."

"Who said anything about moving him? We could just leave him here."

"Michael, are you for real? Leave Max here. Alone. With the Valentis. Have you lost your mind? What if he snaps again? He could hurt them and they'd be totally defenseless. You can't do that to Kyle and his dad!" Liz yelled as her temper got the better of her.

"Butt out, Liz. This is a family discussion. Why don't you go back to your science stuff and shut the hell up?"

"Don't you tell Liz to shut up. She has a good point. Besides, you can't just order them to keep Max. This is their house."

Liz stepped between the two arguing aliens. She looked Michael unflinchingly in the face and said, "I'm part of this. Whether you like it or not... If it has to do with Max, you have to deal with me. All I want to do is help him, not hurt him."

"Have you been listening to what I've been saying...at all? I want to help Max too, but the two of you might just rile him up more. He could hurt you two. If he knew what you were planning, he'd forbid it."

"I know, Michael. But that's a risk that Isabel and I are willing to take. I wouldn't let Max pull the king card on me before, I'm not gonna let you try to do that now."

"I don't do orders." Isabel's voice was steely and cold. "We're not the Mafia, Michael. You and Max can't run my life. We've had this conversation before."

"That's not what I'm trying to do. I'm just trying to protect you. Max would kill me if I let something happen to you or Liz."

"Michael, there's a difference between protection and what you're doing. Trust us, we don't want to take unnecessary chances any more than you do." Liz tried to appeal to Michael's sense of reason without much luck. At least judging by the scowl on his face.

So she decided to try a slightly different approach, "I have no idea if Ava will be even able to get help for Max. We can't leave him like this indefinitely. All we're suggesting is a temporary measure, so he can go home and not be a threat to his family. You and Is will take shifts watching him. It's simple, really."

"It's not simple. Its complex and dangerous. Your plan is like a house of cards. One wrong move..."

"We'll just have to make sure that we don't." Liz interrupted Michael before he could finish.

"Are you crazy? Suicidal? I can't guarantee your safety... You're not doing this."

"This isn't a matter for debate. We are going through with this!" Determination filled Isabel's voice.

If Liz were Michael, she didn't think she would push it. If the two aliens actually fought, it would end up being very nasty. She could easily see Isabel fighting dirty in order to win. Michael wouldn't know what hit him.

"Do either of you have any idea how dangerous this is? We already established that Liz saying anything bad about Tess sets him off. And you want to be the one to talk to him and explain everything? Am I the only one who sees the flaw in that reasoning? Why do you insist on doing this, Liz?"

If he was expecting her to be level-headed and completely rational, he was in for a wait. Liz couldn't separate herself from her feelings for Max. Ever since she learned that healing her and the others had weakened him, she had felt responsible for this trauma that Tess was able to inflict on him. If it wasn't for her, he wouldn't have been vulnerable. It near killed Liz to know that she was the root of these problems.

"It's Max... I can't leave him like this... It hurts too much." Liz stated simply, unfathomable emotion behind her words.

Liz could see the faint signs of weakening in his eyes. All she had to do was find the right thing to say to sway him. She quickly ran the possibilities through her mind, and she knew what the most persuasive argument would be. "Could you, if it was Maria in there?"

Michael's eyes widened as he ran a stress-filled hand through his already messed up hair. Liz could almost hear the gears in his mind turning frantically. All of a sudden, he sighed heavily and all of his bluster faded rapidly. "You don't fight fair, Parker."

"Not when it means so much to me."

"I get that." Michael paused as though he were trying to make a tough decision. "I'll agree to this on a few conditions."

"Name them." Isabel said as she took over negotiations.

"First. You're not waking him up completely. If you could knock him out, then you gotta be able to bring him to a groggy, not-quite-awake level."

"Why do you want him semiconscious?" Liz couldn't help but ask.

"I'm still not sure he won't go loco on us. If we leave him groggy, that gives us a chance to stop him if he loses it. I don't want a repeat of the cave. No one gets hurt if we can help it."

"Fine... Done." Isabel said definitively.

"Liz, you can't... I repeat... can NOT mention Tess. Don't say her name. Don't refer to her. Keep it nice and vague. Don't say anything confrontational. We don't know for sure what the trigger is."

"I guess I can work with that. It's not too much different from the original plan." Liz conceded.

"Ok. Fair enough." Isabel conceded.

"And finally, since you're so determined to go through with this harebrained scheme... The door remains open. Isabel, you stay in the room and monitor him. I'll be standing right in there with you."

"I expected you to do nothing less." Isabel agreed with a nod of her head.

"I can't talk to him with you all hanging over my shoulder. Some of what I say may be personal. I can't do it with you guys listening. You'll make me too nervous with your eyes drilling into my back. I might slip up."

"You know you're as difficult as Maria?" Michael bit out in frustration.

"I'll take that as a compliment." Liz said with a slight grin.

"It wasn't meant to be one." Michael grumbled under his breath. "Fine... we'll do it your way. Door stays open. I stand outside. You can whisper sweet nothings to your heart's content. But Is stays in the room. Take it, or leave it."

Isabel and Liz looked at each other. For the most part, they'd gotten everything that they had wanted. Liz was surprised that it wasn't as difficult as Isabel thought it would be. The two of them thought that Michael would've given them a harder time. They hadn't counted on how much Michael cared for Maria.

"I can live with that."

"Me too," echoed Isabel.

"I still think this is a bad idea, so lets get this over with before I change my mind."

Isabel quickly went over to where Kyle's dad was sitting on the couch, massaging his temples. Liz had no doubt that they'd given him a headache with all the arguing. She saw Isabel lean down and whisper something in his ear. The former sheriff nodded quickly and stood up and followed her like he had a purpose.

The four of them moved quickly toward the elder Valenti's bedroom. Liz and Isabel led while Michael and then Mr. Valenti trailed behind. Once outside the door, Isabel reached out to turn the knob only to be stopped in mid-turn by Michael's hand closing over hers.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" Michael asked Isabel in a low voice.

This was one of the rare times that he actually showed how much he cared about the closest thing he had to a sister. It shouldn't have surprised Liz, but it did. Maria had commented about this side of him, how caring he could be, but Liz had never really seen it before. To be honest she'd always thought it was wishful thinking on Maria's part. But here it was, as real as can be.

"I... we... We have to try."

"Good luck." Michael grudgingly grumbled. The next instant he stiffened as he realized Liz and Valenti had witnessed that private moment. "Well, what are you waiting for? Go and get this over already." He said, removing his hand.

Isabel grinned a relieved smile at Michael. Then she nodded slightly at Valenti. She finished turning the knob and cautiously swung the door open. Slowly, warily, defensively, she entered the room. When Isabel ascertained that it was safe, she signaled to Liz.

Liz started into the room, but stopped in the doorway as a thought occurred to her. "What about Maria and Kyle? Shouldn't we warn them?" Liz turned to face Michael and Mr. Valenti.

Maria's voice hollered out from somewhere inside Tess's room. "Oh, that's ok. We might not have been able to see the show, but we heard it loud and clear. At least the part Michael bellowed... Good luck, Chica! Be careful!"

As silly as it was, it felt good to have Maria supporting her on this. Despite her best efforts, Michael managed to plant a few seeds of doubt in Liz's mind. What she and Isabel were about to do was dangerous, foolishly so. And while there was a part of her that was screaming for her to be cautious, the rest of her had long-since come to the decision that she'd help Max however she could. Despite the risks.

She took a deep breath to help her gather her courage. Then she crossed the threshold praying she was doing the right thing.

And as she turned her head, she saw Max laying on the bed. She stared at his sleep-slackened face. The sight of him tugged at her heart. And she knew in that moment without a doubt that this was where she belonged.

Isabel turned from where she was standing, facing her brother, to see Liz standing nearby with a secret smile on her lips. "What are you smiling about? There is nothing remotely positive about this situation."

"I know. It's just that I have a feeling that this isn't as bad an idea as some people thought it was... I really think this will work."

"How did you know I was having..."

"I didn't. But for a while there, I had a few doubts myself." Liz admitted quietly so Michael wouldn't hear from the open doorway.

"And now?" Isabel asked in an equally secretive voice.

"I'm sure we can reach him."

"If you believe that then so do I," Isabel said warmly.

As quickly as it had come, the warmth in Isabel's attitude was replaced by a no nonsense attitude. It was time to get to work. "Ok. Liz, remember the plan. I'm gonna try and make him partially awake. I don't know how long it will last, so try and hurry with whatever you were planning on saying to him. And to quote our illustrious second in command, 'be vague' when it comes to her." Isabel said the last word venomously.

"I'll keep that all in mind."

Isabel nodded and moved over to the free side of the bed. She placed her hands on either side of his forehead, closed her eyes and concentrated. Liz watched her in fascination. She could count the number of times she'd witnessed Isabel using her more serious powers, on the fingers of one hand.

Isabel's hands glowed and she started to tremble under the strain of what she was doing. That seemed to go on for a while, long enough to start making Liz worried. Suddenly, almost in reply to her thoughts, Isabel violently shuddered as if she were in the throws of a seizure, then came back to normal.

Isabel turned to face Liz and she must have seen Liz's concern on her face, because she tried to allay her fears. "Don't worry. This was nowhere near as bad as it looked. This was very subdued compared to the cave. I didn't get thrown backward this time. I think I'm starting to get the hang of this."

"So it worked?"

"Yeah. He should start to come around in a moment. I tried to make it gradual, so he doesn't get agitated right off the bat."

"How long will it last?"

"I'm not too sure. Five, maybe ten minutes. If we're lucky. It's not much time, but it has to be enough. Anything else?"

"How will I be able to tell that time's almost up?"

"He'll start to doze off right in front of you, at least I think he will. Just let me know and I'll check on him. It's the best I could do."

"I'm sure it will be fine, Isabel."

"Yeah, well I'll be over here by the window if you need me. I'll try not to listen in." Is said as she got up and moved to the window at the far side of the room.


posted on 6-Feb-2002 7:35:57 AM by Psyche G
Chapter 30 continued



Liz was as alone with Max as she was going to get. So Liz stepped up and stood right next to where he lay on the bed. With a cautious hand, she brushed the hair off of his forehead.

As soon as her hand came in contact with him, he seemed to stir. She swept her hand lovingly down the side of his face, and Max seemed to nuzzle in closer to her.

It touched her to know that even in sleep he still sought her out.

"Max... Maaaaaxxxx... It's me, Liz. I need you to wake up, for me."

No response.

So she tried again.

"Max, I need you to open those gorgeous eyes of yours and look at me." Liz said as she gently smoothed her thumb over his eyelids.

Her hand hovered there for a long moment, she was about to move it when she felt the fluttering of lashes beneath the pad of her thumb. It could only mean one thing.

Max was trying to wake up.

She pulled her hand back and looked down at him. His eyes were wild. Frantically searching for something familiar in an unfamiliar place. He calmed down a bit once he saw her standing there by him.

"Liz?" Max said, shaking his head as if he were trying to clear the cobwebs from his head. His eyes widened in panic as he began to realize that he couldn't.

"Yes... It's ok, Max. Isabel had to leave you like this as a safety precaution."

Fear, the likes of which she'd glimpsed in his eyes only a few days before on the rooftop, filled his eyes. His sleep filled voice asked haltingly, "It happened... again?"

"Yeah." Liz said, lowering her eyes. No other words were necessary.

"Is ev'ry one... all... right?" He asked, worry and sleepiness vying for control of him. She knew Max well enough to know that he was beating himself up inside. Max never really wanted to hurt anyone. "Did I hurt... ?" The fear behind Max's words compelled her to look at him so he could see the truth in her eyes.

"I'm ok. You didn't hurt me." Liz decided that telling him that he almost had, would only hurt him more. Not help him get better. "Some of the others got a few bumps and bruises. Nothing that won't heal."

"Why's this keep happening to me?" Fear and horror colored his voice.

Liz knew that what she had to say wouldn't be easy for him to hear. She wished there was some other way to break it to him. But there wasn't.

"It's not your fault. Your enemy did something to your mind to try and drive a wedge between the group. This behavior isn't you. You're better than that, Max."

His eyes grew moist with emotion. "No. I'm weak... let this happen."

"No, Max. No. That's not true. There was nothing you could do. I found out that each time you heal someone from dying it makes you more susceptible to outside influences. Your enemy knew that, and used it against you."

"... can't stand this." He slurred his words sleepily. She could tell that he was stuggling to remain coherent.

"I know. None of us do. We're all worried about you. We're trying to find a way to help you."

"Why..."

"We care about you. I care about you."

"No." Max shook his head from side to side in rising agitation. "Why... don't... you... hate... me?" He struggled to get his next words out. "I do."

Her heart broke all over again when she heard him admit that.

Sure, she was hurt and furious with him for not believing in her after Alex died, and that whole Tess incident. He betrayed her love and her trust. But she couldn't hate him, not for this. This was something that he had no say over. He was merely a pawn in Tess's evil agenda.

She couldn't let him remain thinking that way. "I don't hate you Max. You'll always be the love of my life. I hate that someone would do this to you. This isn't your fault. This is the handiwork of... someone truly twisted."

He yawned loudly as he slurred his words together. "Thank you... for sayin' that."

"I'm not gonna lie to you. It's the truth." Liz bit her lip as she realized that he didn't believe her.

When did he lose his faith in her? In himself? What did he believe in now? Was there anything she could do to help restore his belief in her? She wasn't sure what could give him hope.

Liz gave herself a moment to try and think of something. Her mind quickly created and rejected many ideas. Then she stumbled upon it, as she remembered the group conversation that they'd had earlier. Where Isabel and Michael talked about Max's memories that were stolen from him.

"I want to give something back to you. 555-7292."

"Wha...?"

"My parent's number. Michael said you can't remember it. They may have tried to ruin your memories about me, but just remember that I'm always in your heart. Just like you are part of mine. They can't take that away. I won't let them." Liz said as she intertwined her fingers with his.

"But..."

She rested her free hand gently over his mouth. "Shhhh... If you feel like you're losing me up here." Liz leaned down and pressed her mouth lovingly against his brow. "Just look in your heart. I'm in there." She placed their entwined hands right above his heart, to emphasize what she said. "You can't get rid of me that easily. Do you know why?"

It took him so long to answer her that she thought he'd fallen asleep. As his eyes drifted closed and sleep started to reclaim him, Max said, "You're Liz."

"Yes... I am." A bemused tone colored her voice. The way he said it made her sound like she was some kind of super hero like Wonder Woman. Sometimes the way he saw her was amazing. Even now it was hard to believe that he thought that of her.


Max opened his half-closed lids and warm brown eyes met rich dark ones. His eyes were pure and clear and they seemed to be fully aware of her.

Only her.

Liz inhaled shakily.

These were the eyes of the Max that she had jumped off the bridge for. The one who had sacrificed himself to the FBI just to help save her. This was the Max that she loved the most. This was her Max.

Time seemed to stand still as she leaned down over Max, irresistibly drawn to him like a magnet to a refrigerator door. She couldn't stop herself. And honestly, she didn't really want to. Not that she believed that anything could stop what she was about to do.

Her eyelids lowered to mere slits as her her head came closer ... and closer... and closer still to her destination. Her nose bumped lightly against his as she found the familar angle best suited for kissing Max.

She'd come home.

Her mouth parted slightly and she breathed in the same air as him. It was warm, moist, sweet, slightly spicy, and a thousand other things that she couldn't label. The only way she could describe it was essence of Max. She was breathing in Max. She inhaled his breath, and he, hers.

It felt incredibly right to her to have her lips barely grazing against his as they breathed into each other. It was almost elemental. Like they had been meant to complement each other. They were sharing the very thing that makes life possible, but not what makes them survive... love.

The love they shared, kept them going. Pulled them through the bad times. It's the very reason they lived.

It gave them hope.

And now she was merely a hair's breadth away from her goal. Slowly she let her eyes drift open, his face was the only thing she could see. It encompassed her vision. Those eyes of his looking at her with so much love in them that it made her breath catch in her throat and her heart skip several beats. She could see herself reflected in them and couldn't believe Max could love her so purely and so fathomlessly deep, after everything.

The love he felt for her was so intense that it seemed to wash over her like waves. Enveloping her. Becoming a part of her, then flowing back into him. Soon it was if their love was like a whirlpool deep at sea, whipping around and around. Feeding off its own energy, only to make it stronger. A never-ending circle.

And through it all, Liz wasn't scared. She looked deep into his eyes, letting him see all the love she had for him. The love that wouldn't go away, she displayed for him. Instinctively, she knew that he needed to see his love returned. And there was only one way to do that.

She bridged the gap as she looked into his eyes.

She pressed her lips gently against his, allowing herself to get reaccustomed to the feel of him. Not that she needed to. How could she forget his beautiful lips. The taste. The feel. The sensations that only he was able to make her feel. If breathing him in was like coming home, than this was everything. All that she loved, all that she desired, and all that comforted her was to be found in this kiss.

Liz felt his hand snake his way into her hair and he stroked the dark strands as his mouth urged her on. His tongue begging for her to let him in for more.

So she did.

The connection flared up as soon as the kiss deepened.

It was nothing like any that she'd ever known before. In an instant, it went to a place beyond the realm of the flashes she was used to, to a place beyond articulation.

The world. The universe. It all faded away until the only thing left intact was Liz and Max. And for a single bright shining moment, they were as one. Complete. Everlasting. Eternal. Whole.

She looked into eyes as familiar as her own, and knew there had never been a time that she hadn't known them. They were as they had always been.



With a muffled gasp Liz pulled her head back from Max.

What the hell was that all about? 'They were as they had always been,' what was that supposed to mean? Why were the flashes like that? She'd never experienced anything like that before.

Did any of it happen? Was it all a dream? What was real? She would have sworn that she'd kissed him.

But looking down at him on the bed, she wasn't so sure.

He looked as sound asleep as he had when she was talking to him before things got kind of weird. Plus, it wouldn't be like Isabel to not make some kind of comment about how she didn't want to hear her brother's love life first hand. Is didn't seem to notice anything. Liz looked up at the doorway and neither Michael nor Mr. Valenti had heard anything amiss, as they were both standing in the hallway.

She could have easily put the idea that the kiss had really happened, out of her mind. But then she saw the expression on his face.

If it was just her imagination, why did Max suddenly seem much calmer than he had been? He had been so upset and full of self-loathing. He was blaming himself even more than she blamed herself. How could he look so peaceful and worry free? It didn't make sense

Was that a slight smile on his lips?

"Max, are you asleep?"

Max turned his head and snuggled his cheek into the pillow. He mumbled something that sounded suspiciously like 'five more minutes, Mom'.

"Max," she said as she lightly shook his shoulder "What are you smiling about?"

"Mmmm," The smile on his face grew wider. "My... Lizzzz." Max slurred her name as he drifted completely to sleep.

She didn't know what to think bout what happened, but she knew she couldn't do it in here. She was too close to Max. Add to that, knowing that Isabel and Michael were right nearby waiting to see how things went. All things considered, she felt kinda claustrophobic in the room.

She needed to get some air. And fast.

She walked over to Isabel and tapped her on the shoulder. "He's asleep now."

Without waiting for a reply, she walked over to the door and slipped past Michael. As she walked into the living room area, she heard Michael call to her. But Liz ignored him and kept on walking. She stepped out onto the porch and collapsed bonelessly onto the steps.

She had a lot to think about.



No one ever saw the faint glowing silver imprint on Max's chest under his shirt. The silver mark glowed for about a minute and then disappeared.

It was located right over his heart in the very place where Liz and Max's hands had rested together.

posted on 1-Apr-2002 3:32:01 AM by Psyche G
Hey all,

I just wanted to let you all know that I'm still alive and kicking. In fact, my doctor says I'm healing incredibly well. I've finally recovered to the point that I'm off the pain meds for the most part and I'll finally be clear-headed enough to continue this fic.

As it stands, I've written about half of the next chapter. So with a little luck, I'll be posting by the end of the week. Give or take a few days. It's taken me longer than I thought it would to get back into the swing of things.



~~~ Psyche G ~~~

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 1-Apr-2002 3:32:56 AM ]
posted on 5-Apr-2002 12:46:27 AM by Psyche G
I hope you enjoy this part as much as I did writing it =^)



Chapter 31





"... can ya blame me for getting so annoyed with him? And it's not just him...What the hell is wrong with all you guys? Do you have a stupidity gene or something? It's the only thing I can think of to explain Michael. Why does he always do something to provoke a fight? I don't get it. Sometimes he can be so caring, almost thoughtful even. Then there are times like these when he's the biggest jerk in the universe... well maybe the galaxy... or at the very least, this planet. Of course that's not counting that little evil Nicholas dude... Or, you know, any other enemies he might have. Which knowing Michael, could be in the thousands..." Maria indignantly ranted on and on as she crouched on the ground in front of the small closet. Only her back and rear were visible as she pulled out a large box of Tess's belongings and seemed to get swallowed up by it as she hastily rummaged through the box.

So far she was having about as much luck finding clues going through the boxes on the floor of the closet as she'd had with the searching the dresser. Which is to say, not any luck at all. And that was very discouraging to say the least. And the more discouraged she became, the more cranky she grew. By now, she was long past complaining and half way into bitchy mode.

All Maria had wanted, was to feel like she was contributing something important to the group's plans. And this seemed like a simple task, snoop through Tess's stuff and find what she was hiding. No one could out-snoop her. It should have been easy. And it would have been, if she had any clue what she and Kyle were looking for. It's not like Tess left a glowing neon sign that said 'Tess's secrets' with a big arrow pointing downward.

She heard Kyle absently mumble a reply. She could just tell from hearing that, that he wasn't paying any attention to what she was saying.

She didn't know what was up with Kyle; he'd been like this ever since they'd came back to Tess's room after that whole crystal skeleton discovery. All he'd been doing was sitting on the bed and occasionally riffling through some papers. Meanwhile, she was the one doing almost all the searching. Why did she have to lug all the boxes? Why did she have to do the dirty work? She'd had to go through Tess's dresser drawers, search through the skanky-ho-bag's lingerie while he just sat there.

It just wasn't fair.

Not only was that not fair, but she made the supreme sacrifice and went through Tess's dresser for nothing. There hadn't been much stored there other than panties, bra, sweaters, and socks. Which really sucked because she didn't want to even touch Tess's unmentionables. Who knew what kind of nasty things they'd had contact with. Considering how skanky Tess was, she wouldn't doubt that she had some kind of alien VD. And that, was too gross to imagine. Yet alone touch.

She had spent a lot of time searching the drawers from all angles. She'd even pulled the drawers completely out and checked that Tess hadn't stashed anything underneath or behind them. After she had done that, she'd used a comb that was lying on the dresser to move the lingerie around.

She certainly hadn't wanted that task. But then again, neither did Kyle when she asked him earlier. Of course, Maria could understand why. Liz may not have said anything exactly, but she could read between the lines of the relationship of what Kyle and the blond bitch from outer space really was. Maria figured he'd had things bad enough.

And even though she understood Kyle needed to be cut a little slack, this had to be harder on him than it was on her, she couldn't just sit there and let him walk all over her. Maria DeLuca was nobody's doormat.

"Men!" Maria vented her frustration under her breath. If she lived to be 100, she would never understand them. And since Kyle was one of them, his actions were beyond understanding at times also.

"What now?"

"You're a guy, you think like them. Tell me, why does Michael act that way? For that matter, why do all men act so stupid?"

"You're asking me? Isn't that like consorting with the enemy?"

"No, because I don't think of you as one of them... At least not entirely."

"Oh gee thanks." Kyle's spoke quietly but his words were dripping with sarcasm.

"You know what I mean. You're not stupid like them. All I wanted to do was pick your brain a little." Maria finished searching the current box and raised her arms up high and stretched her weary muscles. She continued speaking as she turned to face Kyle. "Come on, you gotta help me. Why do you guys got to go and ruin a good..." Her voice trailed off and the words died in her throat as she actually looked at him.

Maybe it was just the fact that the room was brighter than living room, or maybe it was the fact that there was no one else around to distract her. Or maybe she had been too caught up in her annoyance with Michael to notice how Kyle was. But looking at him now, she couldn't deny how worn out and tired he looked, slumped over there on the bed. Every time he tried to take a deep breath, he grimaced slightly. So he resorted to short shallow breaths. If that wasn't bad enough, he also seemed a little pale and tiny beads of sweat dotted his forehead.

"You don't look so hot. Are you sure you're ok?" She asked in concern. How could she have not noticed that he was that ill?

She didn't know a lot about first aid, but even she could see that he wasn't doing too good. She wasn't certain what was wrong. But she'd seen enough TV shows to make her wonder if he was going into shock.

No matter what was wrong with him, Maria was sure that whatever it was, was not a very good thing.

"Were you lying to Isabel about how bad things were? 'Cause from where I'm standing you look like you're gonna pass out on me. That's one of those things that would be good if you gave me a heads up on ahead of time. So like I don't go screaming and panicking when you fall *splat* onto the floor." Maria smacked her hands together to emphasize her concern.

"I wasn't lying, Maria. I just selectively edited out some of what I felt. It's not that bad."

She didn't buy that for a second. Oh yeah, he looked like the picture of health.

Not.

"Sure it isn't. So you won't have a problem if I go out there and tell your dad and Isabel just how not bad you're doing?" Maria turned and headed towards the door.

Kyle's voice pleaded with her as his hand reached out and latched on to her wrist. His surprisingly strong grip stopped her from leaving the room. "No! Don't. You can't do that." Urgently he whispered, so that no one else could hear.

"Why not? If you're in that much pain the doctor could help. You could be seriously hurt. Besides the doctor could give you the really good drugs. After what you've been through, you deserve it."

"I don't want my dad to know. Ever since I got shot last year, he overreacts when I get hurt. The minor things don't faze him really. It's just things like this he don't take well. And after Tess... and me going catatonic on him...well... He's a little more manic than usual."

"Oh." Maria began to understand his reasoning. He didn't want to worry his dad. Not that she blamed him.

Parents were funny creatures, they flipped out over the strangest things. And even though Kyle's dad was pretty cool about all the alien craziness that went on, he was still a parent. And honestly, he had more than enough reason to flip out. It was a wonder that he hadn't already.
"I can see where that would be a problem. Man, that's gotta suck. He must have drove you crazy during football season."

"You can't imagine how bad it was. One day after practice, I came home limping any he took me to the emergency room. It was only a minor sprain for crying out loud. He acted like it was a broken leg. He wanted me to drop wrestling and take up track. I told him he was crazy. We've been in a battle of wills ever since." Kyle ended with a shrug.

"I had no idea things were so stressed around here. You never said anything." Maria crossed her arms and gave him a probing look.

"It wasn't too bad. Tess managed to take some the focus off of me. Besides, who would I tell? I didn't hang with you guys that much. It wasn't until after Alex and me were trapped together that things started to change."

"I'm sorry about that. You are one of us, we should have noticed. No one tried to see if you're doing ok with all this stuff... We never thought of how you were handling things. And..." Maria trailed off as a thought occured to her. "...between Tess and her Max, Max, Max, agenda and the fact that everyone seems to get way more focused on the alien problems than on the human ones. It's easy to forget that life doesn't revolve around them in this bizarre Roswellian melodrama. Then Max goes and screws everything up with that trashy Ava wannabe and left it on us to help fix it... Is that why you really hate Max? Cuz' acutally now that I think about it, I totally get why you would."

"Nah. I don't hate him. I just really don't like him much. Besides, hating him would only knock me off my spiritual path. Buddha is big on forgiveness. Turn the other cheek, that sort of thing."

Despite what he said, she had a feeling that her guess wasn't all that far off. But she wasn't going to call him on it. "Well, you're a better person than I am. I'm still pissed off with him. I know that it probably wasn't his fault, he was manipulated by that witch. But he hurt Liz, and I don't see myself getting over that anytime soon." Maria stopped talking and let out a long frustrated sigh.

She was just so mad at this entire situation. With Max not being responsible for his actions, it didn't feel right to just go up to him and kick him in his royal alien jewels. Of course, that doesn't mean she'd let him get off the hook that easily. She just wasn't stupid enough to start something with a semi-psychotic mentally damaged alien. At least not without proper back-up.

"I sure didn't plan on having a conversation about Max right now. We both don't need it. It'll just rile us up and leave us more pissed with him than we already are. Besides you need to focus on getting better." Her hand raised up to absent-minedly push some stray hairs back off of her face. Maria took in a deep breath to help calm herself down. She held it in while she counted to twenty and then let it out slowly. There wasn't much she could do to help Kyle, but she could allieviate some of his stress. "Look... I won't say anything to your dad. This will be our little secret, as long as you don't take a nose dive to the floor... Besides, you're starting to get your color back." She fudged the truth a little to put a positive spin on things.

"I think the moving around wore me out. I should be fine as long as you don't make me go lifting and moving stuff out of the way."

"I'll do you one better, you sit on the bed and look at this stuff next to it. There are a few boxes that I didn't get around to. I'll bring some of that stuff over here for you to go through." Maria informed him, determination in her voice. She wasn't about to even give him the chance talk her out of it, for the sake of his pride.

"If you insist... I think I'm getting used to the idea of women waiting on me. I always knew I was irresistible... Hey, do you think I can get you, Liz, and Isabel to wear skimpy leather slave girl outfits?"

"You are such a pig." She couldn't contain her laughter. "Now I'm sure you're feeling better. I know your ego's healthy. If not your imagination."

Kyle looked up at her and gave her what she assumed was supposed to be his most charming smile. She vaguely remembered seeing it back when he was trying to get Liz to go out with him a few years back. Funny how she couldn't stand him back then.

Maria smiled slightly at how times had changed.

He noticed her grin and returned it with one of his own. "So that's a yes to playing slave girl?"

"In your dreams, pal." Maria rolled her eyes at him. He was being such a guy. "No. Wait. I'll tell you what, Kyle, I'll wear that costume. But you gotta wear the skimpy matching loincloth."

"Forget it. There's no fun in that."

Did Kyle just whine a little? If she didn't know any better, she'd swear he was trying to pout.

"Typical male. If they don't get what they want, they all act like big babies."

"I am not acting like a baby." Kyle protested strongly.

"I never said you were. We both know you didn't really want the three of us to dress like that for your viewing pleasure."

"Maybe..." Kyle said hesitantly. "But you guys would have looked hot."

"Duh! Tell me something I don't know. But it ain't gonna happen... Besides, I got Michael."

"I thought you were pissed at him. I caught that loud and clear. How could I miss it? You complained non-stop for about twenty or so minutes about him."

"I am! Well, sort of," She weakly protested. "You know him, he has the ability to push people's buttons. I swear, sometimes, he makes me wanna pop him one. ...But hey! This isn't about me. We were talking about you." Maria shifted the focus back on Kyle and his problems.

"No, we weren't. I was about to um... go through the crap Tess kept near her bed. But if you want, we could talk more about you and your conflicted feelings for Michael. It's not very healthy to keep it all inside, you know."

She was not about to have that conversation with Kyle. When did he become the Buddhist relationship expert? There was no way she was going to talk about her boyfriend with him. Nope. Not gonna happen.

"I feel a sudden urge to go through her closet, myself. Guess that talk will wait 'til later." Maria told him, knowing full well that she had no intention of doing so.

"Guess so." Kyle said with a slight grin.

It was obvious to Maria that the two of them were on the same page. Neither of them were ever going to bring up those subjects again. At least not with each other.

Maria slowly walked back over to the small closet, and looked inside.

"Tacky. Tacky. Tacky..." Maria gave a running commentary on the clothes she found inside. "What'd she do... shop at Sluts 'R Us? I have never seen so many lycra-blended outfits in one place before. It's like looking at those catalogs they keep sending my mom."

Shoving the clothing to the side, Maria made a tsk-tsk noise and shook her head as she pulled out a low cut top and held it in front of herself. She turned and posed in front of the mirror. "I can't believe she thought these clothes would help her get Max. I mean they may have a certain trampy appeal. But Max didn't care about that..."

"Yeah, but he is a guy. And it did work. She did get Max." Kyle pointed out.

"Only after she scaled her clothing back. Remember, she was wearing a lot more classic clothes these past few months. Less trashy, more classy."

"I can't believe you said something nice about her, Maria. Even if it was back-handed."

"I didn't mean to, Kyle. I can guarantee that'll never happen again." Maria flashed him a smile as she turned back to searching the closet. Her eyes glanced on something a little unusual hanging near the back of the closet.

"But ya know what? Maybe she let herself go because she knew she had her mental hooks into him. She didn't have to work for his attention so she let her looks slide."

Maria answered him absently, "I think you might be on to something... Hey! That's odd." She said as she pulled something out of the closet. An old faded pair of jeans were folded on a hanger. Maria quickly looked at the label on the jeans and commented, "Sergio Valente."

"Sergio who?" Kyle asked confused at the sudden change of topic.

"Valente. They make jeans. Mariah Carey wore some in her video that came out just before freshman year. You'd remember them. They were those really tight jeans commonly referred to as butt huggers."

"Oh yeah. I remember those. She looked so hot..."Kyle smiled as he seemed to get lost in the show replaying in his mind. after a moment or two, he shook his head and focused on Maria once again. "So Tess owned a pair of jeans. What's the big deal? Everyone owns at least one pair." Kyle still sounded confused.

"You don't get it. These jeans weren't bought in the last few years. They are way too soft and faded to be new. Jeans only get this way with years and years of wear and care. Besides, My mom has a pair just like these, right down to how faded they are. They're older than I am. These kind of jeans were like the all the rage back around 1980. They didn't have jeans with a lycra/spandex blend like they do now. So to get that painted on look, they had to stuff themselves into them, comfort be damned. Mom used to tell me how she'd lay on the floor and suck in her stomach just to be able to zip her Sergio Valente jeans up. She's had hers since before I was born, in fact, after she had me she was so proud to be able to wear them again. She still has them hanging in the back of her closet... just like Tess had these."

"I can hear the wheels turning, what are you getting at?"

"Why would Tess have a pair of ancient jeans? It doesn't make sense."

"Maybe she bought them at a second-hand store. You know, to get the authentic retro look."

"Maybe..." Maria replied skeptically. "But Tess didn't seem like the kind of girl to go out and buy someone's cast-offs. The funky retro look wasn't exactly her style."

"I guess. But she wasn't entirely against cast-offs. After all, she did want Max." Kyle said with an evil smile.

Kyle must have been feeling better. He was back to making snide comments about Max. It wasn't one of his best quips, but it was a start. Maria couldn't help but smile along with him. "Well you're sounding like you're back to normal. But seriously, it doesn't make sense to me. These jeans are so out of place here. There has to be something behind that. Why would she keep a pair of jeans in the back of her closet, neatly on a hanger, with some of those anti-moth cedar rings on the hanger with it?"

"What I don't get is why you keep going on and on about a pair of jeans. Maybe she didn't want them to get full of moth holes. Why is that such a big deal?" Kyle asked as he flipped through a stack of CD's.

"You're such a guy... Why did I even think you would understand? Kyle, when a woman cherishes something that she has fond memories of, she goes to a lot of trouble to preserve it. Last year Michael gave me a napkin holder he made for me, and I have no use for it, and it's not the most beautiful thing I've ever seen, but I have it on display on my dresser because it was the first attempt Michael ever made on his own to work on the relationship between us..."

"What's the point already?" Kyle interrupted Maria

"The point is... I display the napkin holder because it has sentimental value. Just like these jeans were so well taken care of. They don't look like they're over twenty years old. The question is, why did she preserve them?"

"Beats the hell out of me. But I think I get what you're saying. It's like my dad and Mr. Squishels."

"Mr. Squishels?" Maria asked, her voice muffled as she put the item in question back into the closet.

"Yeah. He was my toy when I was little. After my mom ran out on us, and I got over being catatonic, I noticed how hard my dad was taking things so I gave him my toy to keep him company. He still has it somewhere around here, I think in the garage."

"Exactly! People keep things that mean something to them. But that leaves us back with the question of why does she have these jeans? And if Tess wasn't the Roswell Ava, then who the hell was she?"

"I don't know, Maria. Let's keep searching. Maybe we'll find something useful."

"Maybe... I'll try and put it out of my mind. I just know it's gonna bother me unitl I figure this out. But I guess I could go through more stuff until I do." She turned back toward the closet and dragged one of the more sturdy storage boxes over to stand on. "Kyle, don't startle me if you find something. I'm going to be trying to look at whatever is up on the top shelves. Just put it to the side until I get done with that."

"Yeah. Yeah. Has anyone ever told you how bossy you are, Maria?"

"You just noticed that? Michael used to say that all the time. Now he knows better." Maria said with a huge grin. That was one personality trait that she was proud of.

"Man, oh, man. I never thought I'd be saying this, but Guerin has my sympathies."

"Shut up... Just go back to work." She got the final word in edge-wise.

Several minutes passed as the two of them once again got engrossed in their work. Dilligently, they went through all the boxes they could. They worked in silence for the most part, even as Michael, Isabel, and Liz could be heard through the thin walls of the room.

Personally, she was glad to hear Liz and Isabel standing up to Michael. He was acting way too domineering in her own opinion. He needed to be taken down a peg or two. And when it was obvious that Liz won the argument, Maria did a little cheer.

"Go Liz!" Maria chanted as she did a little victory dance. She wasn't sure what she was cheering, but if Liz felt it was the best thing to do about Max, then it had to be a good thing. And the fact that Michael was against it, was just icing on the cake.

"You know, if they are going to try something dangerous with King Psycho in there, the least they could do was to give us lowly humans a warning." Kyle bitterly grumbled out. He was finally starting to sound like his old self.

What happened next, made Maria laugh at the timing. No sooner had he said what he said, the two of them heard Liz ask, "What about Maria and Kyle? Shouldn't we warn them?"

That was so perfect. Maria couldn't stop herself from smiling. Her friend wasn't about to forget them. She knew she was grinning so broadly that it carried over into her voice when she replied to Liz by shouting in her direction, "Oh, that's ok. We might not have been able to see the show, but we heard it loud and clear. At least the part Michael bellowed... Good luck, Chica! Be careful!"

"You might as well have yelled 'Have fun storming the castle'," commented Kyle.

"First. You know lines from 'The Princess Bride'? This is a side of you I never expected. But oooh, I'm so going to have fun sharing this with Liz. Second. What would you have me say to her? 'Have rotten luck, Liz. I hope you fail?' I don't think so. I trust her judgement."

"So do I. It's just that I don't trust them any farther than I can throw them. And since we both witnessed how I was the one getting thrown around, helps prove my point."

"I still say we should have faith in Liz... But that doesn't mean that we stay here like sitting ducks if we hear the sounds of any trouble. The first signs of things going loco again and we hightail it out of here. Is that a deal?"

"Deal."

"Well I don't know about you, but I am so done with this. There's nothing here. This was a collassal waste of time. We know nothing more than we did before."

"That's not true, Maria. We know that Tess had a pair of jeans older than we are. And... she had the largest collection of lycra-blended clothes probably in all of Roswell." Kyle said snidely. Maria sat down beside him on the bed. "We suck at this investigating crap."

"Yeah, kinda. But I still wonder what the point of keeping those jeans was. It's gonna drive me crazy."

"Ha-ha. Short trip."

"Real funny, Kyle."

"That's me. I'm full of laughs."

"You're full of something."

"Hey! You know you can't resist the Valenti charm."

"Is that what you call it?" Maria commented as she shoved a stack of CD's away from jabbing her in the back. "Hey, what's this?"

"Oh, those are just her CD's. She has some really crappy taste in music. I think her CD-player and headset are at the foot of the bed."

"CD-player? Why would she have one of those?"

"What do you mean, 'why would she have one of those'? Why else? To listen to music with. I've seen her listen to it a hundred times."

"Why didn't you tell us? If we had known about this, we would never have gotten into this mess."

"Hold on. What are you talking about, Maria?"

"Isabel, Michael, and Max don't need a CD-player to listen to music. They can just use their powers to make the CD play."

"Why didn't I know about that?"

"You said it yourself, you didn't hang out with us much until after you and Alex were trapped in the cave."

"Oh, I see... Holy Crap! I think we just found a clue."

"Yes we did! Could you hand me her CD-player?" Maria quickly shuffled through Tess's small CD collection. "These are like greatest hits of the late seventies and early eighties. You were right, these are crappy." Kyle handed her the disc player, and she opened it and looked inside. She let out a startled gasp. "New Kids On The Block- Hangin' Tough? I haven't seen a collection of music so bad since..."

An idea started to form in her head. The last time she encountered such bad taste in music was when she was snooping in Courtney's place with Michael. Was that just a coincidence? Maria tried to think back to that night, she had to try and remember what the other clue was that they'd found. Then it hit her.

"Kyle, did you happen to come across a large amount of bottles of lotion in any of your boxes?"

"No. She only had a large, almost empty bottle of doctor perscribed moisturizing creme. I think it came from a dermatologist. Why'd ya ask?"

"It's just a hunch I had. Could I see it?"

"Yeah. Whatever. Here you go." Kyle said as he rummaged through a box the size of a VCR to find the bottle and when he did he passed it to Maria.

Cautiously Maria examined the bottle. The name on the perscription was Tess Harding. Her address on the bottle was for the house she'd stayed in when she first moved to Roswell. It said 6 refills available before 9-12-01. And while in Maria's mind that seemed like a lot of lotion to go through, it couldn't be counted on as hard proof.

It was only when she turned the bottle slightly that she noticed something. The area where it would normally say where the perscription was filled at was mostly scratched away. The only part that was remaining was a C at the beginning and a MIT at what would have been the end of that line.

Immediately her mind tried to supply the missing letters. To her rising fear the only thing that she could seem to make fit was Copper Summit. And that was the home of the skins.

The only thing that kept her from flying down the hall and into Michael's arms to tell him this news, was the fact that all her proof was circumstancial. It was highly suspicious, but bad taste and lotion from what might possibly be Copper Summit did not hard evidence make. All she could do was hope that she could find something more incriminating.

"Kyle, what other kind of things were in that box?"

"Not too much. Some make-up, lipstick, perfume. Her shampoo and conditioner are there. A stupid notebook with Max's name scrawled all over it with little hearts. And... um... a large box of... um... tampons."

"Can I look through it anyway?"

Kyle placed the box on her lap. "Be my guest."

Just like Kyle had said, there was nothing much of interest in the box. It was full of mostly personal hygene-type products. As she shoved the large box of tampons to the side, its contents shifted and made a muffled thud against the side of the box. It sounded as though there was something heavier than tampons inside.

"Did you look in the box of tampons?"

"No... I... uh... thats... you know... girl stuff."

"Girl stuff? You do know that opening the box won't give you a case of cooties... I'll say this about Tess, whatever it was she stashed here, she had you pegged so well. The one place the Valenti men would never snoop through."

"What could she have hidden in there?"

"I don't know. But I'm about to find out." Maria openend the box and a bunch of photos fell out. Pictures with Tess's face smiling at the camera looked up at them. "I never thought Tess was an egomanic. Maniac, yes. Egocentric, no."

"Why would she have a picture of herself dressed up as a hooker?"

"She's not dressed as a hooker, she's dressed up like Madonna in the early days. See the belt she has on... 'BOY TOY' was her most fameous accessory, next to crosses."

"Oh, I see. Maria, look at that... Her hair is sprayed so high that it could poke an eye out."

"Big helmet hair. Now that's a look I'm so glad to have missed. I wonder when she took this picture. She doesn't look much different than when she first came here."

"If you think that's scary, take a look at this one. The guy she's with looks like he stepped out of 'Saturday Night Fever'. Man does that guy look like a young John Travolta."

"Um Kyle, that doesn't just look like John Travolta. I think that is him.

"How can that be?" Kyle looked to her the way she would look to Liz to have answers. It was disturbing.

With a slightly trembling hand she turned over the next picture. All doubts about what Tess was, left her in that moment. "Oh my god," she whispered.

"That's Tess. Is that a poodle skirt? And next to her, isn't that..."

"... Congresswoman Whitaker."

"She's the one who Isabel killed to save Tess. Right?" Kyle asked in confusion.

Maria never heard his question, as she was speaking over him. "This is it! This is the proof we've been looking for. Do you know what that means?"

Maria didn't give Kyle a chance to speak, she answered her own question.

"Tess... She's a Skin!"
posted on 3-May-2002 3:24:44 AM by Psyche G
I am so glad you guys are enjoying this story. I'm sorry for the wait, but I've been having trouble with getting back into the right mindframe to continue. Plus it seems like everyday I get to do battle with the hospital or with the evil health insurance provider. Ack, what a headache.


and now on with the show =^),




Chapter 32


"Isabel, what happened? Did she reach Max or not?" Michael asked as he ran his hand through his hair in frustration. Judging by the way Liz had just stormed out of the house, he'd gotten the impression that things had not gone as well as he had hoped. Even though he had told Isabel and Liz that this was a hair-brained idea, he had been covertly crossing his fingers that Liz's plan would work. He had to admit that it was a better plan than any he would have thought of.

Sometimes, if he were to be honest with himself, he had some major doubts regarding his ability to lead even as second in command. Every time that Max was incapacitated and he had to step into the role of leader, it always struck home how much he was not cut out for it. And what always seemed to happen, is him deferring to Liz for her judgment call. After everything they'd all had been through Michael couldn't help but acknowledge that she had what it took to make a an effective leader for their group in Max's absence.

Which was why he was so worried by this sudden change of attitude. Liz was usually the most level headed of them all. If something upset her, then it didn't look good for the rest of them.

From where he stood in the doorway, he could see Isabel leaning over and checking on her brother. She made a sshhhh-ing motion with her hand and very quietly left Max's side and headed to the door. Michael stepped out of the way as she crossed the threshold and silently closed the door behind her. She used her powers to weld the lock shut along with the hinges on the door as an extra precaution.

"I didn't want to disturb him. He seems to be sleeping. As far as I can tell, everything went just like we planned. In fact, I'd forgotten just how sappy they can be around each other. I can't remember the last time I heard Max talk about Liz like..."

"Wait a minute," Michael exclaimed. "If everything went fine, then what the hell is up with Liz?"

"I don't know." Isabel shrugged. "Everything seemed to be going to our plan, back in the room. A little sickeningly sweet at times, but nothing that would cause her to react like that. The only thing I noticed, was that right before she left, the two of them got real quiet. I thought they were just staring at each other like they used to. And the next thing I know, Liz was storming outta here."

"So Max didn't say anything to get her all riled up?" Mr. Valenti asked, easily slipping into the familiar role of questioning people to get all the facts.

"No. Not at all. If anything, he was more upset with himself than with her." Isabel answered the question, her concern was obvious in her voice.

"So what the hell went wrong? Why did she storm outta here like she did?" a very anxious Michael asked.

Mr. Valenti cleared his throat and interrupted the two aliens. "Now I might be wrong about this, considering the fact that I'm just getting caught up on the idea of Liz developing powers like you guys. Is it possible that her behavior has to do with that? Maybe she had one of those... uh... flashes like she said..."

The former sheriff's voice and whatever he was saying at the end of his sentence was drowned out by Maria screeching Michael's name closely followed with her throwing the door open and racing out of Tess's former room. Kyle slowly trailed in her wake.

"Michael! We found something! We didn't think we would, but then... and we did... And none of you guys are gonna believe it." Maria bellowed in a rush as she ran to Michael. She barreled into him, nearly knocking the both of them down to the ground. Luckily, they stumbled into the wall which supported them as Michael tried to pry her off of him.

"Huh? What are you talking about?" Michael grumbled as he set Maria back on her feet. He put his hands on her shoulders in an attempt to try and get her to calm down. Or at the very least, get her to slow down a little so they could understand what she was saying.

It didn't quite work.

"Oh my God. We did it. Me and Kyle. We were going through her things... And we found stuff, but it didn't add up. Then we found more stuff... Added it on top of the other stuff... and it started to become clearer. And you know I never really trusted that little tramp. I always thought that she was up to something and I was right. She duped us all. Tess was playing us for fools from the very get go." Maria gasped, trying to inhale all the air she didn't breathe until her long, fast-paced speech was finished.

Maria stood there wheezing for breath watching everyone with an expectant look on her face. Isabel, Michael, Mr. Valenti, and Kyle each looked at each other. A similar expression of confusion was shared among them.

"You know, Maria, I was there searching through Tess's stuff with you, and just now you almost lost me." Kyle spoke up from where he was leaning against the wall.

"Yeah. I have no clue what you're talking about. All I could make out was something about stuff and stuff and Tess being a tramp." Isabel nodded in agreement with Kyle.

"What are you guys? Deaf? What I said made perfect sense."

"Slow it down, Maria. You're going too fast with your mouth again." Michael snapped at Maria. As the words came out of his mouth, he just knew she would take it the wrong way. He didn't mean for it to come out the way it did, but right now he wasn't prepared to deal with Maria. Not when it seemed like things were on the verge of falling apart.

"Oh, that is just it! I've had it up to here with you. All day long you've been working my one good nerve. Know what you can do? Put a sock in it, Michael. I thought you liked how fast my mouth goes. I never got complaints from you before." Maria snapped back at him.

Michael couldn't believe she said that. Well... ok, he could believe it. He just never expected her to say anything in front of anyone. Especially not Isabel and Mr. Valenti. Isabel for obvious reasons, she'd never let him live this down. Just like the Christmas gift incident with the bumper for the Jetta. And as for Mr. Valenti, even though he had proven himself to be trustworthy, he was dating Maria's mom. It would be too easy for him to let something slip and have Mrs. DeLuca find out that Michael had slept with her daughter.

He still had occasional nightmares about her finding out about it and coming after him. Mrs. DeLuca may not have any alien powers but she scared him.

And now, on top of everything else, he had to worry about that possibility. Unless... Was it possible that no one caught that last part?

Michael looked at the people around him. Judging by their expressions, he just wasn't that lucky. Isabel's eyes were wide with surprise. It was hard to believe, but Mr. Valenti was looking at him even more sternly than usual. And to top it all off, Kyle was leaning coolly against the wall with a big smirking grin on his face. Michael knew that he knew that the hot water that he'd landed in was only going to get hotter.

"Maria... That's not... You know I... That's not what I meant and you know it." Michael pushed his hair back off of his face. He was beginning to wonder if it were possible for the day to get any worse.

Maria shrugged his hands off of her shoulders and turned her back towards him. Her only reply was a muffled "Hmmph.".

"Ewww. That was too much information. I really could live without knowing details like that about your sex life. Can't you keep it to yourself?" Isabel said disgustedly.

"I'm with her. It's bad enough knowing that our parents are dating and doing..." Kyle faltered as he noticed the look his dad was giving him. It was an even more stern expression than the one he had been giving Michael. "... um... who knows what together. I don't wanna hear about your kinky alien love fest."

"Kids, I know you all got a lot of stuff on your mind, and from what I've heard it's been a hectic day, but that's no reason to get upset with each other. Maria, why don't you tell us what you discovered. It sounds like it was an important piece of evidence. This time just try and calm down and be a little less exuberant about it." Mr. Valenti said in a low, calming tone of voice.

"Well, ok. It was kinda important." Maria said grudgingly. "Me and Kyle found clues as to who Tess really was... Tess is a Skin."

"What? How can that be?" Isabel paled as she realized that they'd let one of their enemies into their group.

"A Skin? Those are the enemies, right?" Mr. Valenti sounded slightly confused.

"Yeah Dad, you remember those jerks who made the whole town disappear. Them."

"That's impossible, Maria. What kind of proof do you have?" Michael had no doubt that Maria believed what she was saying. He just needed a little bit more to go on than that, before he reached the same conclusion.

"Well, Maria was going through the closet and she found something she thought was suspicious. I still don't exactly get why it tipped her off, but I'll let Maria explain." Kyle nodded in her direction as he said that.

"You're such a guy, Kyle. Isabel will understand the significance. You see, I found an old pair of Sergio Valenti jeans hanging up in the closet."

Isabel's eyes lit up with the knowledge that she knew exactly what Maria was getting at. All those years she'd spent with her nose in a fashion magazine finally paid off. "Let me guess, they were pre-spandex." Isabel waited for Maria's nod, then continued, "Tess never wore anything like that here in Roswell. I would have remembered those. So would most of the men in Roswell."

"Is there a point to this?" Michael snapped. He just didn't get the importance of it.

"Of course there is. Those jeans Maria found were old, very old. And considering that it wasn't Tess's usual ensemble here in Roswell, I think she held on to them because they meant something to her." Isabel tried to explain to Michael.

Michael's skepticism was written all over his face. "That is some majorly flimsy evidence. A pair of old jeans. If that's all you got, then it doesn't really prove anything..."

"Did I say that was all we had? ...No... Didn't think so. If you'd just shut up and let me continue... Ok... Kyle found a whole stack of really crappy CDs. Michael, think crappy like Courtney's taste in music. Remember? Only Tess's is even worse."

"Yeah, I remember. So what? You're not gonna bring up that whole jealousy thing again. I never did anything with Courtney. And before the thought crosses your mind and you get started, I swear I never thought anything about Tess."

Maria rolled her eyes in irritation with her boyfriend. "That's not what I'm getting at. No one our age has so many different CDs of greatest hits of the seventies and eighties. Not out in the open. Not without a balance of modern hits. The most recent disc she has was of the New Kids. I mean who the hell listens to that bubble gum pop any more? I got over my fascination with them by the time I was 9."

"Tess was into them? I just can't see it." Isabel murmured under her breath.

"Maria forgot to mention an important part of that discovery. I found her CDs along with her Discman. Apparently, the last thing she was listening to was that group."

"Wait a minute. She was listening to CDs with a CD player? We never needed one. Maybe you are on to something." Michael had to admit that that gave more credence to Maria's claim.

"Maybe its just me, but I find it slightly ironic that Tess plotted the demise of the alien brain trust while listening to the suckiest group ever. I can see it now..." Kyle's made a bad attempt to mimic Tess's voice. "I got to turn Max's mind into swiss cheese and make him believe that I got the oh-oh oh-oh-oh oh-oh oh-oh, oh-oh oh-oh-oh... the right stuff." He was so badly off-key and tuneless as he attempted to sing. Kyle finished singing and collapsed onto his knees, doubled over with laughter.

"Kyle that isn't funny." Isabel scolded. "You of all people should realize that. After what she did to you, to Alex, to all of us, there's nothing about that, that's laughable."

"You're wrong. I deserve the right to mock her. After all the ways she screwed me over, the things she made me do, gives me that right. Besides I'm not really making fun of you guys. Just the fact that we're finding out that she was way more lamer than you guys... New Kids on the Block... I can't believe that I..." Kyle started singing under his breath bits and pieces of some of their hits.

Even Michael could tell that Kyle was starting to snap under the stress and strain of the situation. And it struck Michael as yet another reason to worry. The question of who would be next to break echoed in his head.

"Um... Kyle, I think you're getting punchy. I told you that you needed to take it easy." Maria went over to him and tried to help him to his feet. Isabel rushed over to his other side and together the two girls managed to get him on his feet.

"I'll go get Kyle settled into his old bed." Mr. Valenti stepped up and started to guide Kyle away to his former room.

Once the two Valentis were out of the room, Maria finally showed them what exactly she was holding in her hand all this time, a very lightweight and almost empty bottle. She released her grip on it and handed the large bottle over for Michael and Isabel to inspect. "We also found that stashed away in her stuff."

"Michael, this is prescription moisturizing creme. The kind you get at a dermatologist. Grandma Evans had to apply something like that. It's really heavy duty."

"So you're trying to tell me that this stuff is like equal to all those bottles of lotion Courtney had?" Michael directed the question at Maria.

"Not only that, but think about it for a moment. To get a prescription she had to go to a doctor. Any doctor worth his weight would have picked up on the fact that she wasn't exactly flesh and blood. But look at where she got it filled at. It's mostly scratched off but read what's left on the label."

Michael turned the tube so he could get a better look at the label. "C something something ... MIT."

Isabel's voice was shaky as she filled in the blanks. "Copper Summit."

"I know there's a slight chance that isn't from there. But once you take a look at these..." Maria pulled a few pictures out of her back pocket and handed it to her friends. "I think you'll come to the same conclusion I have."

Quickly Isabel and Michael flipped through the photographs. Their expressions were eerily similar as both of them shared an equally stunned look on their faces.

Mr. Valenti came back into the hallway and rejoined everyone. "Sorry about that, kids. I had to clear off the bed for Kyle. Now what did I miss?" His voice trailed off as he noticed Michael and Isabel's expressions. Then he saw the smug told-you-so look on Maria's face as she watched them flip through some old photos. He stepped behind the two aliens so he could look over their shoulders at what they were looking at.

The three of them closely scrutinized snapshots of what looked like to be an unusually long and eternally youthful life. There were photos of her with popular hair and fashion styles from over the past thirty to forty years. They paused as they found a picture of her living it up in the disco scene.

"Is it me, or does that look kinda like a young John Travolta next to Tess?" Michael absentmindedly asked out loud.

"That is John Travolta. And look there in the background the guy with the wild hair... that's Epstein. And the guy with the nose played Horshack."

"Who?" slipped quietly out of Isabel's mouth.

"His co-stars on Welcome Back Kotter. Back in the mid to late seventies Travolta was the biggest star. Everyone wanted a piece of him. Women loved him, men copied him, kids had his picture on their walls."

"So you think that's really him with Tess?" Michael asked.

"Before I got involved with you guys, I would have said no, it must be a look-a-like. But now... After everything I've seen, I'm positive it is." The former sheriff admitted.

Ignoring the men, Isabel continued flipping through the photos. "Oh my God. Look at this one."

"What is it? What'd ya find?"

"Michael that's Tess. She's with Congresswoman Whitaker. They knew each other. Do you get what that means? She is a Skin."

"Yeah, and I don't like it. It changes everything. That whole scenario on your birthday. That might have all been staged."

"No! That can't be. I killed her. I saw it with my own eyes." As soon as Isabel said this, her eyes grew wide with a horrifying realization. She looked up to meet Michael's worried expression. "If Tess is a Skin and she was working together with Whitaker, then..."

Liz's voice spoke up from where she was standing over ten feet away, startling everyone. They had been too engrossed by the evidence against Tess to hear the sound of the front door opening and closing again. Nobody noticed that Liz had been standing not ten feet away listening in on their conversation.

"...then that means we have no idea if any of the Skins were actually eliminated. Not only do we have to be on the look out for Tess, but Skins may be out there." Liz took a deep steadying breath and continued. Her eyes met and held the gazes of both Michael and Isabel as the next words fell out of her mouth, "So might Nasedo."

"What?!!" Maria, Isabel, and Michael exclaimed in unison following the bombshell Liz just dropped.

"We saw him die. Michael, didn't we see him die and disintegrate."

Liz stepped forward and tried her best to convey sympathy in her voice to Isabel even if the words she spoke weren't all that sympathetic. "Did you? Are you willing to bet your life on it? And the lives of everyone you love? It wouldn't surprise me to find out it was all a mindwarp."

"I'm beginning to question it. But why do you believe that it was?" Michael really wanted to hear Liz's take on things.

"Mostly because of lack of evidence. Max told me that you used the healing stones but Nasedo died anyway. Then he turned to dust. And of course all of that dust got scattered so that there was no way to even examine it under a microscope. It always struck me as a little too convenient."

"So you think that Tess let Nasedo escape and faked his death? If that's true, then how do we know if things that happened were real or not." Isabel asked shakily.

"We can't. That peroxide haired little 'ho, she put the whammy on us again. You know, this really sucks."

"It's bad. I'll give you that, Maria. But I don't think she'd been manipulating us the whole time she was here. Only when it suited her purposes." Liz said, trying to soften the blow of her earlier words.

"I think you're on to something. It would make a hell of a lot of sense if Tess mindwarped us during critical events. Like Nasedo's death. The whole deal with the Skins. If I were in her shoes and her and Nasedo's attempts to sway us had fallen flat, I would try to engineer a way to get him out of the picture. That way I would be able to infiltrate the group, and attempt to find a subtle way to gain control of the leader of the group." Michael paused as an idea occurred to him. "You know, I get this because I was supposed to have been a military leader in my other life. Makes me kind of wonder what or who Tess was back on Antar. I certainly didn't expect her to be able to carry out a subterfuge like this."

"None of us did. We were so eager to find someone else like us, to find someone who had some answers. I know I didn't want to question it. I wish I had. None of us would be in this situation. Alex would still be alive. Max would still have his mind intact. This is all our fault." Isabel admitted shamefully.

Michael shot a warning glance at Maria, urging her to keep her comments to herself.

She noticed the look he gave her and replied defensively, "What? I didn't say a thing. Who am I to kick someone when they're down? God! What kind of monster do you think I am?"

"Isabel, try not to think that way. What Tess did isn't your fault. You guys reacted the way any person would have in your shoes. Besides, if you had confronted Tess, who knows what she would have done to you. She could have succeeded in killing all of you off." Liz tried her best to console Max's sister.

"Wouldn't that be better? If she'd killed us back then, Alex would be alive now. Mr. Valenti would still have his job. You all would be doing better without us."

"Somehow I doubt that, Isabel. If she had done that then I might not have ever gotten to know what a good bunch of kids you are. The way I see it, there's a line drawn in the sand. Either you're for this planet, or against it. Those Skins don't give a rat's ass about this planet. They would have let Roswell disappear forever. You guys didn't let them. And you also saved my son. That counts a lot in my book. That's why, sheriff or not, I'm honored to help out any way I can."

Liz was quiet for a moment, as she was making a tough decision, but finally she spoke. "Isabel, the one thing I learned about the end of the world, is that no matter what, our home here is in danger. Your powers, may be the only thing able to fight Kivar's forces. If it was important enough for him to travel back in time, thereby breaking or at the very least bending the very rules of physics governing time and space, just to prevent the destruction of our world... then that's enough for me."

"Now I know I don't know much about this end of the world stuff, but don't we have the same problem? Tess isn't one of the good guys. She's in the enemy's camp. Didn't your visitor say we needed her?" Michael spoke with an air of resignation about him. "I'm sorry, Liz, but it looks to me like we're back to square one."

"What about the missing Ava? There has to be some reason why Liz had that flash. If she's still alive, maybe we could find her and add her to the group."

"Mr. Valenti, that's it!! You're a genius. Liz has contact with the NY Ava, right? What if we convince her to move here to Roswell? Problem solved!"

"That is a good idea, Maria." Michael said with astonishment.

"Hey! Don't sound so surprised, Spaceboy. I got brains. Besides, I wasn't the one who had the bright idea last week to shove Max's jeep off a cliff. Now that was just stupid."

"Hey! It was a good..." Michael started to defend himself, but he stopped in mid-sentence as he heard a familiar voice call out from the bedroom.

"Michael? Is that you?" Max's muffled voice came through the nearby door.

Everyone turned toward the bedroom where Max was. Isabel looked so relieved to hear her brother sounding normal. Same for Michael. Maria and Mr. Valenti both had guarded, almost unreadable expressions on their faces. But Liz knew her friend long enough to know that she was really worried about what Max was going to do next.

As for Liz, she made sure she left a very neutral expression on her face. She didn't want anyone of her friends to be able to see the tumultuous emotions she was feeling. She wasn't exactly scared of him. That was only a small part of it. She was still disturbed by that weird flash she'd had with him. A part of her was mentally kicking herself for not leaving earlier when she ran out of the house. But her heart wouldn't let her abandon them, not like this.

Things were too serious for her to keep running away. She had no idea how long it would be before her and her friends would be called to take a stand. The way Ava talked in her dreams, Liz didn't think that they had the luxury of time anymore.

Max called out again, interrupting Liz out of the worried turn her thoughts had taken. "Michael? Isabel?" Max tried turning the doorknob. He paused, then tried calling out to her in a low sexy voice. "Liz... are you out there?"

The sound of his voice sent tingles through her. That was the voice of the Max she loved. She was torn between going in there to comfort him and keeping her distance so that he would definitely not have another episode.

Liz quietly moved over near Michael, and whispered in a low voice, "You should let him know you're both out here. You don't want him to get worried and agitated."

Michael nodded his agreement. "Maxwell, we'll be right there."

"We're at the Valentis'. Do you remember what happened to you?" Isabel called out to her brother.

He sighed heavily on the other side of the door, "Yeah. I remember." His voice was full of disgust and self loathing.

Isabel and Michael started toward the door. With every step they took toward the door, Liz took two in the opposite direction. Maria noticed her trying to slink away and gave her a questioning look.

Trying to be as silent as she could, she half mouthed, half whispered, "No. I can't... I can't face him. Not now."

Maria's face melted with sympathy for her friend. She looked at Michael for a long moment then she turned back to Liz. She looked at her boyfriend one more time as she made the only choice she could. Her decision made, she nodded once and started toward the exit with Liz.

Michael whipped around as if he could somehow sense Maria was leaving. He gave the two of them an accusatory glare.

"I can't do this. Not right now... I... I don't think I can handle it." Liz whispered in a low tone.

It seemed impossible for Max to have heard her speak. But somehow he did. "Liz! Don't go... Please... Don't leave..."He pounded at the door as he pleaded. "...I'm so sorry... I'm so sorry."

The sound of him slumping against the door, sobbing her name, brought tears to Liz's eyes. "Go to him... Take care of Max... I just... I'm sorry. I gotta go. Maria?"

Liz allowed herself one more moment to stare longingly at the door separating her from Max. She then turned and ran out of the house like a bat out of hell.

Maria gaze swept over everyone with her apologies in her expression. She hurriedly backed her way to the exit. "I gotta go after her. She needs me right now... I'll be back for our gear tomorrow, Mr. Valenti. Bye." She yelled out just before she slammed the front door shut behind her.

"Look, kids, I'll be over there if you need me. Just holler." Mr. Valenti said as he headed toward the chairs left in the dining area.

Isabel looked at Michael for confirmation that she should proceed to release the door from the seals she created. He nodded at her, then closed his eyes as he hoped they were doing the right thing.

Isabel opened the door slightly and slipped inside. She could be heard speaking to Max in soft tones. Michael paused at the partially open door. He could hear her guiding Max away from the door and back to the bed.

It was time for him to deal with Max.

As he crossed the threshold, he hoped, almost prayed, that he could reach his friend and help him keep his cool. Michael may not love him like Liz did, but he was like his brother and he would be damned if he'd let Max slip through the cracks again.
posted on 13-May-2002 10:01:07 PM by Psyche G
Ok here you go, a brand new chapter. I had a lot of fun writing parts of it. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Just so you know, I split it into two posts because of length.

And now on with the show:



Chapter 33




Liz stared out the window of the Jetta all the way home. She didn't notice the houses that passed by. Or how long it took to get back to the Crashdown. She was barely aware of her surroundings. It was only absently that she noticed Maria's attempts to get Liz to talk.

She knew how upset Maria would be if Liz didn't tell her what was going on her mind. Especially after their whole argument only a few days ago. It wasn't that Liz didn't want to tell Maria. She just didn't know how to explain what happened to her back in the room. Hell, she wasn't even sure what had happened in there herself.

One moment Max was drifting off to sleep, the next thing she knew was that he was looking at her with the old Max in his eyes. What happened next she couldn't have prevented even if she had wanted to. It had felt like there was no force in the universe greater than the magnetism between his lips and hers.

That was only one of the small things that freaked her out. It was unnerving, but it wasn't like she had no experience with feeling like that. She'd felt it before, a little over a year ago, before Tess ever came on the scene. But even back then on the night they found the orbs, the pull she felt towards him was never as strong as this.

When she and Max were losing themselves in each other's eyes, it started to feel as though she couldn't tell where she stopped and he began. And when their lips touched, it had felt so right, so natural to be with him like that. Almost like she was a part of him, and he her. And all of the love that she'd done her hardest to keep dormant far from the surface, had erupted with a primal intensity that still left her shaking.

Then she was bombarded with those weird flashes that weren't flashes, that lasted a moment and felt like forever. When they stopped, all that was left was her and Max. Alone. Together. In unity.

What happened next, was what had pushed her over the edge.

She had stared into Max's eyes thousands of times before, but never like this. Liz didn't know where it came from, but when the thought came to her that in some way or another, she had always known Max. And even though that thought simultaneously confused, frightened, and gave her a slight thrill, she could deal with that.

What she couldn't face and/or deal with was the idea that she and Max "were now as they had always been." It wasn't possible. She wasn't meant for him. She wasn't a part of his 'destiny'. That role belonged to the poor little girl who never had a chance to live. Max was meant to be with her, not Liz. And no matter how much a part of her longed for the situation to be otherwise, Liz was much too pragmatic to delude herself into thinking she could compete with that destiny and win. Especially if the Roswell Ava was out there waiting for him.

Besides, that phrase brought to mind the idea of forever. A love match that could stand and weather throughout eternity. During both extreme hardships and sorrows, and times when all was right in the universe.

That phrase made her long for something that she could never have. A joy so profound that it made her heart ache and her eyes tear. A love so true that it couldn't be swayed by any means. Those were the very things that she could never have with Max.

If she and Max were to be each other's destiny, then haven't they already proven it would never work? They hadn't been together for a long time. And even when they had been together, the good times were quickly overshadowed by the horrible events that served to keep them further apart. They hadn't even managed to last a season while dating. There was no way that they were in the running for eternal lovers.

Liz was startled out of her thoughts by the abrupt way Maria slammed on the brakes as she pulled into a parking spot near the Crashdown. Liz turned to look at her to try and see if she could guess what was on Maria's mind. Liz didn't have to wait, because Maria couldn't keep silent for long.

"Ok, Chica. I've been trying to do the good friend thing and give you space. You know how hard that is for me. It's not my nature. But I was trying to give you a chance to open up to me first. But you didn't. So I gotta know what's going on with you. I know something's bothering you, and I figure it has something to do with what you did to help Max. What is it? Liz, please..."

"It's nothing really. I just... Got a little confused... Something happened and I don't know where it came from, or what it has to do with me. Hell, Maria. I'm not even positive it really happened. It might have been all in my mind."

Maria looked at her sympathetically. "It must have been something big, really big, to rattle you the way it did. Look... Why don't we go inside and grab a couple sodas, sit down, split an order of fries, and you can tell me what the deal is."

"Yeah. Who knows, maybe talking about it will help. I could use your perspective on things." Liz nodded in agreement as she opened her door to get out.

Maria opened her door and climbed out of the car, speaking the entire time, "Isn't that what I keep telling you? That's what I'm here for. I always got your back, that's what best friends do."

Liz closed the car door behind her with a nudge of her hip. "I know... You're right."

"I'm always right, you should know that by now." Maria said with a smile as she fell into step with Liz as they approached the Crashdown.

Liz couldn't help but snort at that. "As if! You have a long history of being wrong... Remember the Johnny DiMarco incident? I told you I had an interest in him..."

Maria interruped her, "A crush."

"...A slight intrest in him. And you made me go up to him and tell him I liked him. You told me that quote 'you could tell he liked me too' unquote. Do you remember what happened when I did at lunch time?"

"How was I to know he liked you better with vanilla pudding splattered on your face?"

"And on my shirt, and in my hair. Then the next day I find out that he had a thing for Pam Troy."

"Hey! I offer no guarantees. Besides, look at him now. He's not exactly breaking hearts anymore."

"That's not the point. Sometimes when it comes to predicting matters of the heart, your track record isn't so good."

Maria reached the door first and pulled it open. "But I was right about Max's feelings for you. And vice versa."

Liz walked past her and into the restaruant. "I know." Whatever little merriment this discussion had brought to Liz's face, faded as her thoughts once again were drawn back to Max and their ill-fated love. She looked at Maria over her shoulder and said, "That's what I need to talk to you about."

The impish grin on Maria's face quickly turned into a concerned frown. "I see I got my work cut out for me. Come on, Chica. Lets grab a booth and you can tell me all about what's bothering you."

The two girls made their way to one of two empty booths and sat down on opposite sides. For once Maria sat still while Liz fidgited with the menus and the silverware on the table. She took one of the napkins and began to twist it until it was a shredded mangled pile.

Eventually she stopped, and when she did she looked up at Maria quite seriously, "What would I do without you?"

"I don't know Liz, but you're never gonna have to find that out." Maria answered just as seriously in reply.

They sat there silently as they each contemplated the truth behind that comment, at least until Maria couldn't take it any more. "Ahhh... spill already. I'm dying to know. What happened between Max and you?"

"No one ever died from lack of knowing about crazy alien-related happenings, Maria."

"And you're still not answering my question, Elizabeth."

So Liz did.




**************************************



Max could feel Michael and Isabel's stares weighing down on him. He knew they were worried about how he was going to react, but he felt as though he was a bug under a microscope. Like he was more alien than alien to them.

And the one person in the world who he knew would never look at him like that, was gone. He could sense that she had been running away from him. Away from this monster that he had become. And even that was too kind a word to use to describe what he'd done.

Despite what he did, and tried to do, Liz refused to stand and pass judgement over him. He may be a little foggy on what she'd said, but he knew that he hadn't imagined her compassion for him and her outrage at his being used as a pawn.

That made Max think... He sort of remembered Liz telling him that one of his enemies was trying to turn him against everyone he cared about. How could he be so weak as to let himself get used and manipulated like this? How could he let himself be used as a pawn to hurt Liz and his friends?

He had so many questions. But he wasn't sure if he was ready for the answers. Or even if he was brave enough to face everyone to get them. He knew he couldn't be able to look himself in the eye, yet alone the others.

He didn't know how could they all stand to be in the same room as him. He assaulted Liz. Attacked Kyle. He'd even turned on them. His family. He didn't deserve them.

Max didn't deserve any measure of kindness. After this 'episode' he was cursed with remembering every moment in excruciating detail. He had to live with the memories of what he did, in vivid technicolor clarity.

And to think he'd thought that living with gaps in his memory was hard to deal with. How wrong he had been. Being able to replay it in his head made Max feel as far from kingly as it were possible to get. He felt lower than pond scum, and undeserving of anyone's sympathy.

He attacked Michael. The memories of himself using his shield to repel Michael far away, felt like a knife twisting in his heart. And what he did to Kyle... made him sick to his stomach.

Max had no idea where such rage had come from. Kyle may not be his best buddy, but he certainly didn't hate him. Not like that. Not anymore. The only time he had hated him to such an extent was when he'd been led to believe that Kyle and Liz had slept together. He knew now that wasn't the case. But for some reason he'd reacted like he had a long time ago.

And then there was his blinding hatred of Liz, that was something he thought he'd been incapable of. Looking back, he could see and feel everything through a hazy red glaze of anger. That confused him, because he loved her. That never changed. So how could he attempt to hurt her? He would willingly hurt himself if that meant that Liz would be safe.

And yet he did what he did.

He couldn't deny it. And for that reason alone he wondered, not for the first time, if this is what it felt like to be going insane.

Only a lunatic would say such mean, cruel, hurtful things to Liz. Not to mention physically assaulting her. But he had done both, in less than a week.

He was afraid of what would happen next. Who would be next to get hurt? Or worse? He was a potential danger to everyone. If there was no way to stop him, then somebody would be injured, who knew how badly. If he didn't restrain himself and control his powers, and he used them against...

That thought scared him all the way down to the marrow in his bones. He could do some serious damage with his powers. Especially if the other person was just human.

Max blanched as his mind touched on what would happen if he turned his powers against his loved ones. Unbidden, the ghastly images appeared in his mind's eye. The image of his family broken and bloody made him ill. But it was the image of his Liz lying in a crumpled heap, head at an unnatural angle, her sightless eyes watching him in shock, as her blood formed a crimson halo around her head; that made his bile rise up in his throat. His heart broke a thousand times over.

He be damned if he let that happen. He didn't want to hurt her. He didn't want to hurt anyone. He didn't want to live with someone's blood on his hands. Not again. Last Christmas almost broke him. If it hadn't been for Liz... he honestly didn't think he could make it through without her help.

But he'd needed her, and Liz left him there.

Now he wasn't sure if he could do this alone. And he couldn't put her life in jeopardy by asking her to help him. If he had to force himself to stay away from her, then that is what he'd do. He couldn't risk losing her again. If something happened to her, it would kill him. Maybe not physically, but he doubted he would survive the loss. Especially if he caused it to happen.

It was weird how quickly everything could go to hell.

He'd woken up from the nicest, sweetest dream of her, that he'd had in a long time. He awakened feeling as though maybe it were possible to have forever with Liz. Just like he used to dream.

But then the memories of what had happened came crashing over him, and he didn't know where he was. He had been scared. Frightened by what he'd done. He still was, as a matter of fact. But once he heard Michael's voice outside he knew that Liz wouldn't be far away.

He could sense her outside the room. She seemed skittish, as though she wasn't sure about staying or going. He heard her whisper that she couldn't do it, and then he felt her leaving. He begged her to stay, but she kept on going. Leaving him once again.

Why was this happening to him? He'd always tried hard to be non-descript. He never asked to be king of another planet. But they said he was, and he went with it. And now he felt as though his whole world was slipping away from him. Both of them. And all his hopes and dreams were crumbling right before his very eyes.

He was damaged. Defective. He didn't know how much of his mind and memories were missing. He was just like Alex. And he sincerely doubted that the neurological damage was correctible. What kind of man would he be if he can't trust himself? Certainly not the kind fit to save and rule over an oppressed people. Certainly not a man worthy of Liz's love.

So where did that leave him?

His family was watching him with hesitant and wary eyes. It as though they thought he might suddenly grow another head. Or suddenly go postal on them. Not that he could blame them. If he were them, he'd be on his guard too.

It just didn't make the situation any easier to face.

"Why don't you guys leave me alone?"

"What? You want me to take it easy on you just because you outrank me? No dice." Michael said crossing his arms.

"No, that's not what I meant. How can you bear to be around me? Doesn't what I did sicken you? It makes me want to puke."

"Max, you're my family. It hurts me to see you like this. Knowing that Te..."

"ISABEL!" Michael shouted, cutting her off.

Max noticed the look that Michael was giving her, talk about shooting daggers. It was apparent that Michael was very adamant that Is didn't finish saying what she had started saying. And curiously enough, Isabel wasn't fighting him on the issue.

"Max, no matter what, we love you. What you did isn't really your fault. They did this to you. It's not you." Isabel tried to comfort her brother.

"You're wrong. It was me. My mouth said those horrible things about her. My shield knocked you down. And it was my fists that tried to rearrange Kyle's body. If you hadn't stopped me, I might have killed him."

"But you didn't. Kyle's ok. We got there in time to prevent it. I won't let anything happen to you, little brother."

"You don't get it, do you? What about the next time? What's gonna stop me then? You gonna babysit me around the clock? Face it. I'm a danger to everyone. If something were to happen, I couldn't live with it on my conscience."

Michael passed a look to Isabel. It was a 'let me handle this' kind of look that he shot her and she nodded her head once in reply. And Max would have missed the whole exchange entirely if he hadn't glanced up at them at that moment.

"We're not gonna let that happen, Maxwell. We're gonna take turns keeping an eye on you. We won't let you hurt anyone."

"You can't guarantee that. You have work, Michael. And I can't see Isabel hovering over me 24/7."

"We'll take rotating shifts. She'll cover you while I'm flipping burgers. Don't worry, I got it all planned out."

"Why are you willing to go to this trouble for me?"

"Max, we love you. We just want you to be ok." Isabel said sniffling.

"Yeah. And we also are partly responsible for what happened to you. We didn't watch your back. We should have been paying attention, but we left you wide open."

"Wide open for what?" Max looked at Michael directly. "What did they do to me?"

Once more his friend shot a look at Isabel, and then Michael ran a hand through his hair, "Our enemy... they brainwashed you."

"Are you sure?"

"Pretty much." Isabel answered. "Liz was the one who put the pieces together. Her and Michael."

"Big deal. We still don't know for sure what the triggers are."

"Triggers?" Max asked in confusion.

"What it is that sets you off. The way we figure it, it's not us..."

"It's Liz isn't it?" Max's voice was small and shaky as the truth dawned on him.

Isabel and Michael stared at him in surprise. "How did you..." Isabel had the courage to ask.

"I keep hurting her. I don't even know when I'm doing it... I just keep hurting her." Max sobbed into his hands.

Michael turned to Isabel with a helpless look on his face as she gathered Max into a hug to comfort him. "We know. We know... Shhhh... It's ok."

"No, it's not. Nothing will ever be again. She can't stand to be in the same room as me."

"Maxwell, we are doing everything possible to fix this. To fix you. Liz is trying to get you back to normal. There might be something... but she's waiting on more information."

"Is what she's doing dangerous?" Max's voice trembled with apprehension.

"I don't know." Isabel admitted.

"She's trying to get hooked up with the Dupes' protector. Ava's taking care of that for her."

"Michael, you got to promise me that you won't let her do anything dangerous, on my behalf."

"Max, it's only a protector. It's not like he'll hurt her."

"You don't know that... Our protector threatened her, she wouldn't talk about what happened when he took her."

"But Max, she..." Isabel tried to get him to listen to her, but was cut off.

"Give me your word, Michael... I need you to give me your word."

"I promise, Maxwell. I think you're overreacting about all this. But if it helps you keep your cool, then yeah. I swear."

"You're not just saying that?" Max asked him pointedly.

"No, man. I'll babysit her too." Michael looked away and muttered to himself, "Who needs sleep?"

"We'll both keep an eye on her. Don't worry, Max." Isabel assurred him. "We won't let anything happen to either of you." She reiterated again but this time she sounded like she was trying to convince herself.


posted on 13-May-2002 10:11:38 PM by Psyche G
Chapter 33 continued



************************************


Liz slurped the last of her soda as she waited for a reaction from her friend "You haven't said a thing yet. You being silent is never a good thing."

"Uh I know... It's just I can so totally get why you were freaking out. I'm freaking out and it didn't even happen to me." Maria downed the rest of her cola like she was throwing back shots.

"And?? ... This is the part where you tell me I'm overtired and that this is all in my head."

"I'm not so sure that I can, Chica. I wish I could. I hate seeing you get sucked deeper and deeper into their mess."

Liz never expected to hear that from Maria. Half-heartedly she'd hoped her friend would tell her what she wanted so desparately to hear. As soon as that thought crossed her mind, she realized that that wasn't the reason she opened up to her friend. Liz wanted Maria's honest, no-holds-barred take on things.

And to get her take on things, Liz would have to try and keep an open mind and not let her fears hold her back. She had to be brave in spite of her fears. So Liz took a deep breath and asked about the thing that troubled her so, "Why can't you? Do you believe that me and him are somehow fated for each other?"

"Geeez, I knew you'd be asking me this. It's not so simple to answer. I think that you and Max have a long and painfully complicated relationship..."

"Maria, don't give me that song and dance. I know you. What is it you're not telling me?"

Her friend sighed as she pushed a few stray hairs out of her eyes. "I just... You and Max have always had this sort of weird connection between the two of you. And no, I don't just mean after he healed you. Even before that there was this weird kind of symmetry between you. How many years did he hang around here nursing a drink and watching you when you weren't supposed to be looking. And you, don't think I ever missed the times you did the same thing to him."

"But Maria..."

"No, Liz. You wanted my opinion, let me finish it... Then he saved you. Everything changed after that. It was like watching a soap opera or one of those Grimm fairy tales come to life. I've seen you two come together, then fall apart, then come together again. It's like an endless circle. And everytime you're on the outs, I've seen how miserable you are. There's something to that.

"I love Michael, but when me and him are at the off-stage of our on-again/off-again relationship, I don't get nowhere near as off-balance as you do. That scares me, Chica. Because when you're not together with Max, you withdraw and the life goes out of you. Like you're 'Dead Girl Walking'."

"What does that have to do with what I saw?" Liz didn't get what Maria was heading towards.

"It's just that I believe there has to be a reason for it. You keep getting drawn into his life time and time again. You can't cut the cord even though not doing so hurts you even more... Maybe it's fate that keeps you close to him. I don't know. But I do know you're tied to him, somehow. And so far nothing, not even my stupid cousin could sway you away. Not that Sean's all that tempting." Maria cringed and made horrible faces at the thought.

Liz chuckled at her friend's expression, which caused Maria to glare at her as she continued to tell Liz her thoughts. "But that's not the point. Look at it this way, Max is supposed to be a king, right? Kings need to have a queen. Most of the time that kind of thing is determined by breeding and social position, right? But what if these powers and all this freaky stuff you've had to deal with is to prepare you for being Max's queen. Like a big 'ol test to see if you are worthy. Maybe the scary message is like the aliens stupid way of saying 'Hey! You've passed! Max is yours forever!'... Cuz' you know that Max's people are not too big on the rational thinking. Like Michael's proven on many ocasions."

"Maria, that's so crazy. Did you hear yourself? I'm no queen. There's no way I could ever fit the bill. There is nothing remotely regal about me. I think you're way off-base about this."

"I could be so wrong about this. Hey, I admit it. On the other hand, I might be on to something. I wouldn't go selling yourself short. What you did to prevent the end of the world was a great sacrifice. A nobel sacrifice. It's the kind of thing great leaders would do, putting the needs of the people above the needs of their self. And that's what you did, Chica. You acted more brave, more regally under all this strain, than even Max. In my book that makes you more worthy of the title than him."

Liz sat there stunned. Of all the things she expected to hear from her friend, that was completely unexpected. She'd never seriously thought about preventing the end of the world like that. She'd only did what she had to, because Max asked her. "I... I don't know what to say." It was only starting to sink in that her friend held her in such high regard. She felt humbled.

"That's ok. Just try and think about what I said. I'm gonna go and make myself a very strong and chocolatey milkshake. You want one?" Maria continued on without waiting for her answer. "By the way, personally I think they should all bow down and make you the all-mighty-supreme-ruler of them. Kinda like The Big Giant Head from 'Third Rock'. Except not so old and Captain Kirk-y"

Before Liz could reply her friend got up and went behind the counter, leaving her to her thoughts.

Liz wasn't sure she wanted to face up to the possibility that Maria was on the right track. It wasn't that she wanted Maria to be wrong. It's just that she had trouble believing that 'Destiny' had no influence over Max's life.

As for the other part, despite Maria's comments, she didn't think of herself as queen-like. She was just small-town Liz, caught up in extraordinary circumstances...

The annoying chime of a cell phone jarred Liz out of her thoughts. She checked her friend's purse to see if Maria changed the ring of her phone again. She half emptied the purse in order to find it, pens and make-up littering the table. When she did find it at the bottom of the purse and took it out and looked at it she realized that it wasn't ringing.

Liz heard the person sitting in the booth behind her begin talking, "Hello? Oh... hi, Janice. I know. I know. I'm running a little late. You know how I get when I don't eat... Yeah. Exactly... So I stopped at that little restaruant that you go to for lunch... Yeah, there. Lots of little alien memorabelia... Well, I don't know. I've been sitting here waiting on a stupid hamburger for almost twenty minutes." The woman said the last part very loudly, drawing the attention of several patrons and Liz's dad who was by the register chatting with Maria.

Liz hoped that her dad would do something about Agnes. She was slower than molasses and refused to put the customer first. Maybe this would be the impetus needed to finally bring about some change at the Crashdown.

Meanwhile, Liz picked up one of the pens and began to doodle stick figures on the corner of a napkin. Her artistic abilities were questionable as she completed two of them, one she labled 'Liz' and the other 'Maria.' She had barely started on the next one when once again Liz's attention was drawn to listening in on the woman's conversation behind her.

"Look, I think they finally are bringing my order to me, so I can't talk right now. I'll try and swing by you before I hop on the 285 south. I still have to go all the way to Artesia... John and the kids worry when I come home late..."

Liz didn't hear any more of the one-sided conversation. She was frozen in place, completlely in shock.

In an instant, she had a flash of memory of the Ava dream she had earlier that night. The Future Max said the same thing to her.


She was standing next to the long-haired version of the boy she loved, waiting for things to happen the way they did before. But they didn't. Max came down the alley alone, without any musical accompaniment.

"Where's the damn mariachi band?" She heard herself speak.

"Shh. I had to go all the way to Artesia to learn this."

"To learn what? Nothing's happening."

As soon as the words left her mouth, the Max on the street below her started to speak to her:

¿Qué es la vida? Un frenesí.
¿Qué es la vida? Una ilusión,
una sombra, una ficción,
y el mayor bien es pequeño;
que toda la vida es sueño,
y los sueños, sueños son.

At the end of the poem, Max brought his hand up from behind his back. He was holding something purple-ish that shimmered. Max made a big display of throwing what ever it was up to her.

As if in slow motion, Liz watched the object hurl toward her. She watched with baited breath as it unfolded to a great deal more than quadruple its size. It spun and rotated, allowing Liz to finally make out what it was.

It was the flag that they had found out at the cave.

It sailed toward her, just now starting to begin its arc's descent. Like a kite that lost its wind, it plummeted downward. The flag settled neatly into Liz's out-stretched hands.

"What is this? Why did you throw me this banner?" Liz asked of Future Max.

He never answered her.

She turned around to look at him, but he was gone.




The next thing Liz knew, Maria was shaking her shoulder. She was staring at her with a worried expression on her face.

"Liz... Chica, what happened? You were spacing out. Total trance-a-rama. I tried to reach you but I didn't have any luck. It was almost like when we were in Michael's apartment. Did you get another freaky flash? Did Ava contact you? Do we need to get a hold of the others?" Maria's voice started to rise in the beginings of panic.

"What? ... Oh. Um... No. It's ok. I was just remembering something."

"It had to be more than that. Girl, you were out of it for like at least five minutes. Maybe longer. I don't know how long you were like that before I came back here."

"Really? It didn't seem like all that much time had passed. Weird."

"Uh-huh. Really weird. What was it you were remembering?" Maria asked as she snatched the last couple of fries on the plate in front of them and dunked them in ketchup.

"I remembered something about that Ava dream I had earlier."

"What did she tell you?" At least that's what Liz thought her friend said. It was kinda hard to tell, with her talking with her mouth full.

"She didn't tell me, Future Max did."

"Hold up. He was there? You didn't mention anything about him being there before..."

"I know. I know. I just kinda put that part of the dream in the back of my mind. Besides, it's not like I could mention him when everyone was listening. I admit that you were right about them needing to know about the one possible future. But they do not need to know about him. It's bad enough that Isabel figured it out."

"Wait a minute! Isabel knows? About Future Max?" Maria waited for Liz's nod before continuing. "Let me get this straight... You don't want the aliens to know about him, but you let her in on the secret? Isn't that kinda like defeating the purpose?"

"I didn't let her, Maria. I accidentally let something slip, and she was able to put all the pieces together. That's all."

"Ok. I'll buy that... But don't you think that it might have been a good idea to clue me in that she knew?"

"I just didn't think... with everything else that had happened in the past few days. Sorry about that.... Now, do you want to know what I remembered?"

"What was it?"

"He told me that he had to go all the way to Artesia to learn something."

"To learn what?"

"I dunno. It was some kind of poem. I think it was in Spanish."

"A poem, you mean like the one you were scribbling down when you were all trance-like?"

"I was what? I don't remember doing that at all."

"Look at the napkin in front of you. Is that the poem from your dream? Oh, and by the way, nice drawings. Is that one supposed to be Michael? It may be only a stick figure, but you got that scowl he does down perfectly." Maria leaned in close, twisting her head to get a better look at the napkin in question.

With wide eyes, Liz looked down at what she had written. "Oh my God. That's it. Max recited this poem to me while Future Max stood by my side." Liz whispered, stunned. "Can you translate it for me? I can't make it all out. I know it starts out with 'what's life" and something about good and large and small, then it has something about all of life."

Maria rolled her eyes and cringed at Liz's translation. "Give me that. You live in the heart of the southwest. I can't believe this. I mean you've known me for how long? You haven't picked up any of what I said? I know you took Spanish freshman year, you sat next to me in class. This is like textbook, in fact, I think it was in one of them. I've seen this poem before."

"So what? I also live in the middle of an alien struggle, that doesn't mean that I got antennae growing out of my head... Look, if you asked me to conjugate verbs, I could still do that. But this is a bit beyond me. And none of the stuff you'd say over the years ever sounded like that."

"That's the problem with learning Spanish in school, it's rarely is useful in real life. But yeah, I'll tell you what it says. Just give me a moment." Maria took a new napkin and started writing on it. After about a minute, she put the pen down and slid the napkin over to Liz. "Here you go. There is a couple parts that I'm a little unsure about. But for the most part, I think I got it right. I sort of remember it from class this year."

Liz picked it up and began to read:

What is life? A frenzy.
What is life? An illusion,
a shadow, a fiction.
And the greatest good means little,
as all of life is a dream,
and dreams are dreams.

A chill ran down her spine as she read the translation. "Maria, I don't like the sound of that."

"I didn't want to mention it, but it did sound a lot like it was talking about a deception of some sort. And since the Future Max in your dream wanted you to know this, I gotta wonder if the deception has something to do with him."

Liz's eyes shot up to meet Maria's head on. "What are you getting at?"

"Just that the poem is talking about illusions and fictions and dreams and it sets off these warning bells in my head. Maybe it's referring to Tess. I don't want to be the one to ask this, but are you certain that the whole Future Max thing wasn't just a really clever and horribly cruel mindwarp?"

"No. It's not possible. That's the only thing I am certain of. The Granolith confirmed it for me. He was real. The end of the world did happen."

"Oo-kay. Well then there's only one thing we can do to find out why that was so important for you to know..."

"You mean..."

"That's right. We're gonna have to go to Artesia. You and me are gonna go on another road trip."

"I don't know." Liz said uncertainly. "My dad expects us to work the next couple of days. You know how he is about coverage on Friday and Saturday nights. That was part of the deal I made to get you and me off so we could go to the cave this morning."

"That sucks. Maybe we can go on our next off day?"

"I helped dad make the schedule, we don't have the same day off until the middle of next week. Maybe we can go during the day on Sunday? If I remember right, I'm off and you work from four to close. Otherwise, we'll have to wait until Wednesday."

Maria sighed, "But you think we need to hurry on this, don't you?"

Liz nodded her answer. "I get a sense of urgency about this from Ava. She always curses about the fact that we're low on time."

"Well, that settles that. Doesn't it?"

"I guess so." Liz shrugged. She took a sip of the milkshake that Maria brought for her. Her eyes widened in surprise. "Woah! This is potent. What did you put in it?"

"I used some of your small stash of coffee ice cream with a double dose of chocolate and extra whipped cream. I figured that after the day we had, we deserved this." Maria took a sip of her shake and sighed blissfully. "This is almost as good as sex."

"I wouldn't know about that. But you're right. This is good."

Maria raised her glass up, "Here's to hoping that our next road trip goes much smoother than today's."

Liz clinked her glass against Maria's. "I'll drink to that."

posted on 22-May-2002 11:19:41 PM by Psyche G
I'm so glad you like this story. It starts getting real good from here on out.



Anyways, here you go:



Chapter 34



"Quit putting your feet up on my bed, Isabel." Max grumbled as he shoved his sister's feet off of his bed.

"Fine." Isabel said sharply as she sat up straight on the chair from Max's desk. "I don't need to rest my feet there. God, Max, you don't have to be so touchy. Where else was I supposed to put my feet?... You know, you could really use a foot stool in here. Maybe a small ottoman. This room could be so much more inviting if you would only..."

"I like my room the way it is, Is. It's not like I invited you in here in the first place. Why won't you go away and leave me alone?" Max took the book he was idly flipping through and slammed it shut in frustration. He tossed the book near the foot of his bed that Isabel's feet had just vacated.

"No can do. You know why. I promised to keep an eye on you. That's all I'm doing."

"You're driving me nuts is what you're doing. Everywhere I go you're right there. Even Mom is starting to notice."

"Don't worry about Mom, she's not gonna bother us."

"Why not? We can't raise her suspisions. She isn't going to buy that you're just hanging in my room. I can't believe you're gonna jeopardize everything..." Max's voice started to rise.

"Relax, little brother. Unless you start shouting like a maniac, she isn't gonna check up on you."

"Why won't she?"

"I told her that you were having nightmares and panic attacks again. She remembered how I was the only one who could get you to calm down back then."

"Oh." Max said in a small voice. He remembered what Isabel was talking about.

There was a brief time, not too long after the Evans adopted him and his sister, where he'd been plagued with horrible nightmares and uncontrollable panic attacks during the day.

Every time he had tried to sleep, the nightmares would begin. He never did remember what those horiffic dreams were about, but the memory of the anguish he experienced in them had haunted him. It wasn't until he'd lived there several years that the nightmares diminished gradually. After he saw Liz for the first time, he never had one again.

"I guess that was a good idea." Max said softly to his sister as he reached once again for the book he'd discarded earlier.

Isabel's only response was a muffled "hmmmph." She seemed to be engrossed in an issue of Marie Claire.

The two siblings sat there quietly for a while. Eventually Max admitted to himself that trying to read was just a pretense that he'd created to delay the talk he wanted to have with his sister.

Ever since they had that talk over at the Valentis', there were many questions that have plagued him ever since. How did this happen to him? Where did they do this to him? Was it in the White Room? If not then, when? Why didn't anyone notice? And if they did notice his frightening behavior, why didn't anyone stop him until now?

And there were three questions that he was hesitant to voice aloud. Two of which, he was afraid of the answers to. He knew that a lot of memories about Liz were stolen from him. Just how many Liz-facts were obliterated from his mind, was a very important question. So was, why did they make him turn against Liz? What good would that serve to anybody?

Which leads to the question of who exactly would do this to him? Michael and Isabel had been deliberately vague about that. All they would say is 'our enemy'. That didn't exactly do him a lot of good.

He wanted to know who was to blame. Who made him hate Liz almost as much as he loved her? Who made him hate himself for hurting her? Who hated him and Liz enough to try and destroy them like that? Who did this? Who?

All Max wanted to know was who to hate for causing all this.

And it wasn't as though he was able to try and figure it out himself. Every time he tried to piece what he knew together, the answer seemed to slip further and further away from him. He knew he should know the answer, but everytime he tried to put a name to it, it disappeared. Something was holding him back from the truth. Depriving him of that one 'Eureka!' type moment which would be followed by an accute crystal clear grasp on the whole situation.

Maybe if he pressed his sister now, she'd be able to supply some of those missing answers.

"Hey, Is. Can I talk to you for a moment?" Max asked softly. He wanted this to be subtle. He really didn't want to raise her ire and have a confrontation with her.

She took the time to raise her head up from what she was looking at, and answered, "Sure. What do you want?"

"I was wondering, didn't you guys notice me acting oddly? Michael talked yesterday about leaving me wide open, but I..."

Isabel sighed heavily. "Oh, Max. We were hoping you would just leave it at that. I don't know for sure what is safe to tell you. This is for your own protection."

"Izzy, I know that, but I need to have some answers. I can't come up with them on my own. Whoever did this stole a piece of me. And now I don't know if what I do know is fact or fiction. The only things I'm certain about is that I'll never stop loving Liz..." Max lifted his head up at his sister and gave her a pleading look. "And that you and Michael will always be there for me. That you'll always tell me the truth."

Isabel looked wraught with indecision. Torn between her duty to protect him from himself and her sisterly duty to try and help him. He knew this wasn't easy for her. Thoughts of what happened to Alex must be running rampant in her head. So, Max gave her the time she needed to make up her mind.

As he watched her struggle with herself, Max began to have doubts. Maybe he shouldn't be pressing her on this issue. He knew he hadn't made a lot of wise decisions as of late. Was this need to find out about the truth leading him in the wrong direction? Maybe he was making the situation more dangerous than it already was. Maybe finding out at this point in time was too risky.

"I'm sorry, Isabel. Forget it. I should never have put you in this position..."

"It's ok, Max. We should never have let this happen to you in the first place. We let you down."

"What do you mean?"

"Neither I or Michael noticed what was happening to you. It was all gradual... until suddenly you became this overbearing tyrant. By then it was too late, and your behavior only managed to drive us further apart."

"Which was who-ever-it-was's plan all along."

"That's what Liz came up with."

"I know how I treated Liz, how did I manage to alienate you?"

"Don't you remember?" Max shook his head no. Isabel paused for a moment in surprise before she continued, "I wanted to go away to college. You wanted me to stay here. I said I was going, and that's when you flipped. You threatened me. You said you would ruin my academic standing by saying I cheated on every test I ever took. You went so far as to threaten to tell Mom and Dad that I was on drugs. That was the only time I ever really hated you."

"I can't believe I did that," he replied in shock.

"Trust me, you did." Max could hear the bitterness beneath the even tone of her words.

"I'm really sorry, Is. I was a real bastard to behave that way. Especially considering how you were barely holding it together after Alex... I'm sorry."

"I know. It's ok now. I understand that you being manipulated just like Alex. The person who did this to you tried to destroy your mind the same way Alex's was."

There it was again. The feeling that he was so close to finding out the truth that he could almost taste it. If he just kept pressing on with this same kind of questioning, he would finally know who was at the heart of all this.

As soon as he realized how very close to the truth he was, he could feel the anxiety rise within him. It rose unbidden, just like the stirrings of anger that trailed after it. He felt like he wanted to lash out at something or someone. And that feeling was growing stronger with every heartbeat.

"Max... Max... What's wrong? My god... tell me what's going on."

He couldn't stay there another minute. Who knew what he would end up doing? He couldn't risk hurting Isabel or his mother. He needed to get away from her until he could get himself back together.

"I... I'll be right back." Max said as he ran out of his room, and made a beeline for the bathroom.

Quickly, he rushed in, slammed the door behind him, and used his powers to securely lock it. Now there was no way for Isabel to enter until he was prepared to face her. Hopefully he would have himself under control by then.

"Oh god. Why does this keep happening to me?" He asked the stranger who was looking back at him in the mirror. The one with his own face.

He felt hot with anger that wasn't exactly his. He needed to cool down, calm down before things got out of hand.

Max peeled off his shirt and laid it on the counter next to the sink. Then he reached out and turned the faucet on. He let it run for a few moments so it would get as cold as possible. He then cupped his hands together under the stream of water and brought it up to his face. The cold wetness of the water streamed down from the top of his hair, down his face, and further downward to his chest. He repeated the action several times until he once again felt like himself.

He stood there dripping wet as he stared at his reflection in the mirror. "Who did this to you? You know, don't you? Somewhere deep down you know the answer to this."

Max sighed, and pushed his damp hair off of his forehead. "I know you're smarter than I am. Aren't you, buddy? Not like me, I'm such a mess. I can't even figure out who hated Liz enough to wish her dead. Whoever did this, had a thing against her. And I'm left here helpless to put it all together.

"I'm worse off than Alex. At least in some ways. His brain was destroyed little by little, but he never had to worry about being a threat to his friends and family. I don't know how he managed to deal with this. He lasted so long... I wish I could talk to him. This is the first time we ever had something in common."

Max paused as he felt wave after wave of anxiety rush through him. He knew then that he was close to the truth. Closer than he'd ever been. What was it he had just said? Max struggled to remember what had just come out of his mouth.

He had been talking about Alex... something about having something in common... Something in common... They had what had happened to their minds in common...

In horror, Max whispered, "I wasn't brainwashed... I was mindwarped."

The moment he said that, everything fell into place. He now knew the answers to his questions. The person who hated Liz was a jealous person. Jealous of the feelings he had for her and her alone. A woman who felt that she had every right to do as she pleased without repercussions. The very same person who Isabel had almost mentioned the other day when she said "...Knowing that Te..."

He started to feel anger rise within him. He didn't know if it was his own or if it was a conditioned response. And at that moment it didn't matter to him.

"Tess." He spit out venomously. "Tess... did this to me." Max choked out in a low gutteral voice.

As though from a distance, he heard a soft knock on the door. Isabel asked gently, "Max, are you all right?"

The rage he felt earlier in her presence, resurged with a vengance. "Not now, Isabel. This isn't a good time." He said through clenched teeth as he struggled against the hatred coursing through him.

He had barely been able to keep himself from going over the edge, his self-control, tenuous at best. Max could tell that even a little push would send him careening over the edge.

Isabel chose that moment to voice her concerns a little more loudly. Her polite knocking earlier became more insistant. "Max, you're worrying me. Please talk to me. Why did you storm out of your room?" She paused as if she were expecting an answer. Isabel waited several long moments, when she didn't get one, she continued speaking at him through the door. "Fine! Be that way. I'm gonna get Michael."

And so over the edge he went.

The rage washed over him. Encompassed him. It saturated him to the point where he was rage. He hated everyone and everything. Isabel. Michael. Liz... Especially Liz. The feeling kept getting stronger and stronger. He saw everything through a murderous red haze.

Max looked up and saw himself in the mirror. The person in the mirror was alien to him. It seemed as though he was smiling at him. Mocking him. A demented smile from a demented person. He wanted to wipe that smile off that face forever.

Max raised his hand and used his powers against the smiling enemy. The mirror cracked and shattered under the demand of his power. Shards of glass flew through the room propelled by the force of the blast he used.

At the sound of the breaking glass, Isabel's fading footfalls stopped, then pounded the floor as she raced back to the bathroom. "Max!" Isabel yelled from the other side of the door. Her fists, frantic against the door. "Why is this door sealed? What's going on? Tell me!!"

Max smiled an evil little smile at the frustration he heard from her.

"Oh god! It's happening again, isn't it? I've got to get Michael."

Max couldn't let that happen. So he reached down and touched the floor by the closed door. On the other side, he heard Isabel's futile attempts to extricate herself from the floor her feet were now stuck to. Just like his were the day they had the false alarm at shcool.

"Max! What have you done? Whatever you're going to do, don't do it. You're better than this, Max."

Max just kept silent as the evilness of his smile spoke volumes. It was a shame that there was no one to appreciate it. He raised his hand and aimed it at the door. His palm started to glow as he began to build up a substantial amount of energy.

As he stood there moments away from letting the blast shoot out of his hand, he happened to notice one of the shards that had been the mirror. Max could see part of his reflection in it. His bare chest was the only thing visible. That wasn't what that made him pause. Right there over his heart, there was a small oddly shaped glowing mark.

All of a sudden, he felt like he was spinning round and round at a dizzying pace. Max closed his eyes reflexively. He knew he was standing still, but his equilibrium protested otherwise. Out of nowhere Liz's voice came to his mind. And he opened his eyes and found himself watching a hazy transparent scene unfold before him. Max saw Liz talk to himself when he was in a stupor laying on the former sheriff's bed.

"If you feel like you're losing me up here." Liz leaned down and pressed her mouth lovingly against his brow. "Just look in your heart. I'm in there." She placed their entwined hands right above his heart.

The very same place that he now saw a faint glowing mark, right where their hands had been. An imprint that they had made together.

That's when it hit him, the mark was giving him the chance to see what he'd been about to do. His eyes trailed down his arm to his hand, which was poised to blast the door. His eyes widened in complete and total fear as he realized that Isabel was still on the other side of the door.

He almost blasted his own sister.

Max tried to lower his arm to his side and found to his horror that he couldn't. He was barely able to get it to move even an inch. He struggled and fought against the the energy that was begging for release.

But he could feel himself weakening. It was getting harder and harder to stop himself from giving into the rage he felt. He cursed himself for losing the precious little control he had just regained.

He sank to his knees and began to pray to a god that he didn't quite believe in for the stength he lacked to fight. He looked at the hand that was glowing a bright red. It was still aimed at his sister.

"Please, God... Don't let me hurt her... Please... nooooo." Max whimpered as he felt his last grasp on his control completely slip away.

It was at that moment when he once again had a dizzying flashback to when Liz talked to him the day before.

"I want to give something back to you. 555-7292. My parent's number. Michael said you can't remember it. They may have tried to ruin your memories about me, but just remember that I'm always in your heart. Just like you are part of mine. They can't take that away. I won't let them." Liz said as she intertwined her fingers with his.

And he understood why those particular memories were haunting him now. Even though she wasn't there, Liz wasn't letting him lose himself. She won't let him do something he'd regret for the rest of his life. He may be weak, but his Liz was strong. She was a part of him, she'd said so. All he had to do was draw his strength from her and he'd be ok.

He just didn't know how to do that.

Liz's voice echoed in his mind. "I want to give something back to you. 555-7292 ... 555-7292 ... 555-7292..."

Max began to repeat the phone number in sync with her voice inside his head. "555-7292 ... 555-7292 ... 552-7292 ..." Over and over he chanted this as he slumped against the wall. Tears streamed down his face as he said the phone number. He kept on doing so until he managed to calm down.

With a hand that was shaking horribly, he reached down and used his abilities to release his sister's feet. The moment he did so, he heard her footsteps as she ran to call for help.

His chanting that number continued long after the sourse of the rage disipated. He didn't want to take any chances.

Slowly he got to his feet and took a good look around him. The room looked as though a bomb went off. Fragments of glass from the mirror littered the floor and the counter. There were even some shards embedded in the wall. Bottles were knocked over or broken altogether. The smell of several different perfumes combined to make a scent that was so cloying that it was starting to make himself ill.

Max extened his shaking hands and steadied one with the other. He focused all of his attention on fixing the mirror. The pieces worked their way out of the wall, and up off the floor to go back to where they originally belonged. It took several tries but he managed to eliminate the evidence of what really went on in there.

Except for the broken perfume bottles. Those he left intact. He had to be able to tell Isabel that he broke something. Max didn't want her to know just how close to the edge he had been. If she knew, she'd never leave him be.

And if she never let him be, then he would have no chance to put into effect the plan formulating in his head. Besides, she wouldn't be too thrilled with what he was planning to do. Not thrilled to the point that she and Michael would never leave him alone to do it. And that, was unacceptable.

Now that he had a grasp on the truth, he needed to know it all. Or at least more than he did now. He knew who, and he understood the why. All he had to do now was figure out what was real. When did this all happen?

There was only one way he knew to get an objective look at what had happened. The UFO Center. Brody's surveilance discs might be able to help him since he was there a lot working. Not to mention that Tess used to visit him often. It may not be much, but at least it was a place to start.

All he had to do was convince Michael and Isabel to let him go there. Max didn't have the slightest idea how he was going to accomplish that. But one thing was certain, neither of them needed to know how close he came to going over the edge.

Thank god Liz helped him.

Now it was time to try and help himself.

It was good to have a plan to focus on. Max finally felt like he was starting to wake up.




posted on 11-Jun-2002 10:09:45 PM by Psyche G
I'm glad that people are still reading this story and liking it still. Believe me, I never expected to take on a life of its own. I know at times, I write and post kinda slowly but I think that its gonna move a lot quicker now that I'm past this hump.

Btw-- Mary N- You brought up some very good points about the surveilance systems and max being in public. I did my best to resolve some of those concerns in this chapter.

So everyone... Read. Enjoy. And hopefully leave feedback.



Chapter 35




Michael was finishing up his lunch break when the the Crashdown's phone rang. The moment the shrill ringing began, he cringed.

He didn't know how it was possible, but he swore that the ringing became more and more insistant and annoying each time Isabel called. And Michael just knew it was her calling. This was only the... what?...the tenth phone call to him since he started work that morning.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Maria hurry over to answer it. Michael called out to her, "Hey! If that's Isabel, tell her I'm not here."

Hoping beyond hope that it would be as simple as that, he doused the last bite of his burger with Tabasco. All he wanted was just a few moments of peace. That wasn't too much to ask after the past twenty-four hours. He felt he deserved at least that much.

Michael was just about to devour it when Maria's voice intruded on his thoughts. "Hey, Spacecase, she's not buying that. And I quote 'I can hear him all the way from here.' ... So, what'cha gonna do, Mikey G? I don't wanna hold the phone forever."

"Just tell her that if she's calling to tell me that Max is looking at her funny, tell her to can it until I get off shift."

"Amazing. Such warmth. Such concern." Maria muttered under her breath. She then put the phone to her ear and spoke into it. "Isabel, did you get that? ...Mmm-hmm... Ok... No problemo, hold on."

"Well first, she's getting sick of you blowing off her concerns. Frankly, I don't blame her. You can be so..." Maria paused in mid-sentence at the look Michael was giving her. "Never mind, that's an argument for another time. Anyways, Isabel sounds really worried about Max's behavior. You need to talk to her before Mr. Parker notices how much she's calling."

Michael sighed heavily as he realized that Maria had a very valid point. His shoulders slumped in resignation. So much for a few moments of peace and quiet.

He carefully placed the remains of his burger back onto his plate. He then got up off the stool at the counter and strode purposefully over to where Maria was standing.

"Gimme that," he said as he snatched the phone out of her hand.

"Hey! Rip my hand off, why don't you? All you had to do was show some manners and ask me. Is that too much to ask?"

Michael put the phone to his ear and gave his girlfriend a little smirk. "Ahh, Maria... May I please have the phone?"

Maria rolled her eyes and threw her hands up in the air in exasperation. "Too little, too late, Spacecase." She went back to what she had been doing before the phone rang, filling salt shakers; muttering as she did so. "Jerk. Why do I bother?"

Michael turned his attention to Isabel on the phone. "Is, I said it yesterday when you had me rush over during my shift, and now I'm telling you again... You're overreacting."

He heard her sputtering with indignation. "I can't believe you're not taking me seriously. I am not overreacting! Something is up with him. He's been acting oddly ever since he locked himself in the bathroom yesterday. I don't know how you don't see it..."

"That's cuz' there's nothing to see. I camped out in his room the whole night and he seemed normal to me. A little quiet maybe, but still... what do ya expect? We're talking about Max here."

"That's the thing, he's too quiet. I know he's planning something."

Michael groaned, exasperated. "What is with you? You flipped out yesterday because Max made too much noise, now you're freaking because he's not making enough. Isabel, make up your damn mind."

"I swear, I believe he's planning something. We just don't know what. I don't like this, Michael. I don't like it at all."

"I know you don't. If Max is acting weird... Which I doubt... But on the off-chance that he is, it's probably because you're driving him nuts like you're doing to me... Look, Isabel, I gotta get going. Mr. Parker will ream my ass if he sees me on the phone again. Don't call here unless it's an emergency. A real one." And with that, Michael hung up the phone.

He walked back to his stool and sat down. He looked at his now cold sandwich and groaned.

His life sucked.

"Hey, what's a matter, Spaceboy? Why is Isabel on the warpath? Is it serious? What happened now? It's Max isn't it? Is everything ok?" Maria's voice gained speed as she began to panic.

"Yes... No... The hell if I know. I don't even know what the hell I'm doing. This past week has been so fucked up. Nothing has gone the way I thought it would. I wish I could do it all over..."

Maria's eyes widened with pain. Her body stiffened up as she faced him. "Oh... I get it... I see... You know, you're not the only one who was disappointed..."

"Wait a minute. What?" Michael furiously struggled to remember what he had just said. It's not like he was paying attention. He was just venting. Why the hell was Maria taking it so personally?

He replayed the brief conversation in his head. As he did so, he realized how what he said could be interpreted. And apparently Maria latched on to that.

"Oh crap." Michael muttered under his breath. Was it possible for things to get any worse? It's not like he ever meant to hurt Maria like that. It was just the Michael Guerin charm rearing its ugly head.

He had to make things right. He loved her. As much as she insisted to people that she was like teflon, he knew just how sensitive and insecure she really was.

He reached across the counter and grabbed a hold of her wrist so she wouldn't walk away from him. Maria being Maria, naturally put up a struggle to free herself.

"Let me go!" She hissed at him through clenched teeth. Maria glanced around the room furtively, trying not to draw the attentions of the few customers in the restaruant.

"Damn it, Maria! Let me explain..."

"You don't got to explain anything! I'm not stupid. I know what you meant." Maria yanked her wrist free, and stumbled backward slightly as she did so. She stood her ground and stared at him. Her whole body, from her face down to her posture showed her struggle to be strong and not give in to the pain she was feeling.

"You're wrong. I didn't mean it like that."

"The only mistake that I made was giving my heart to you. We are so wrong for each other... Madam Vivian was right, you and me... not meant to be."

"No. Maria, that's not true. You're right for me. I wanna think that I was right for you... I know I'm thick-headed, and I screw things up at times, but it's not intentional... Opening up was hard, but I wanted you to see what I felt for you. And when we made love, it was the most amazing experience I ever had."

"Then why did you say what you said?" She asked him in a small hurt voice.

"I wasn't talking about you. Our relationship is the only good thing to come out of this past week. I was just spouting off. This whole thing with Max, Tess still being on Earth, and the changes happening to Liz, is what's all fucked up.

"I feel like I screwed up, Maria. I failed Max. Tess screwed his mind over and over and I never noticed. What kind of fucking friend am I? I can't do anything to fix him. Hell, I can't even protect us from Tess. And the thing going on with Liz, I don't even know how to help her." Michael looked up into Maria's light colored eyes which were sparkling with unshed tears. "What's happening to her could happen to you. I can't let... I'm... I'm..." His eyes pleaded with her to understand what he was trying to say.

And she did. Realization dawned in her eyes, then spread all over her face. "... you're scared."

"Maybe... yeah. Just a little."

"Now you know what I've been going through. Sometimes I feel like a fifth wheel. I can't do anything about Tess. And Liz... She's my best friend and all this crazy stuff is happening to her. I wanna help her... Then I worry that it could be me next. Then I feel awful for hoping that it stays with her. What kind of friend would wish that?" Maria admitted, ashamed.

"A good one. With all the stuff she dumped on you, you've been a better friend than she has." Michael's voice lacked the derisiveness that it used to have when talking about Liz.

"That's not true, and you know it. You can't pull that crap anymore. You know she's more selfless than any of us."

"Yeah, yeah. I know. I know. I'm trying to adjust to all that. Maria, you know how I don't like change."

A slight smile appeared on Maria's face. "Tell me about it. It took me this long to get you to point you're at."

"Hey! I've grown, matured..."

Maria let out a cackling laugh that drowned out what he was saying. "Sure you have, Pally. Keep telling yourself that. We both know that you need me."

"More than you know." Michael mumbled under his breath. "So are we ok now?"

"Yeah. I think so." Maria stepped closer to the counter. She was still smiling at him.

"That's good..."

Michael was distracted by the look on Maria's face. He knew that look, she'd looked at him like that the night before he was supposed to leave. And just like that night, he couldn't tear his eyes away from her as she came closer to him. He heard her say something, but he had no idea what. His attention was focused on her full mouth.

"Uh-huh." He muttered absently as he took a hold of her wrist again and pulled her closer to him.

"You're not listening to what I'm saying, are you?" Maria said breathily. Her face was now just mere inches from his.

"Not a chance." Michael brought his face up and drew her mouth down to his. The kiss they shared was brief, but it took his breath away. God, did he want her. They pulled back from each other, breathing heavily. "I could eat you all up" He muttered to himself.

Maria looked startled and her eyes sparkled with mischief. "What did you say?"

Ok, he'd play along with her. "I said, could you heat this on up?" Michael flashed her what he considered to be his most charming smile.

"Oh... I could have sworn you said something else. It's a shame..."

"Why?"

She quickly leaned down and nibbled on his ear. "Because I was feeling a little hungry myself."

Michael couldn't hold back the ghost of a smile that appeared on his face because of her. She was so perfect. ...Well at least perfect for him.

"Wanna come over after work? I changed the sheets."

"Let's not even discuss why you'd need to change them again."

"So is that a yes?"

Maria had a wicked little smile on her face when she replied, "Well, it's not a no, Spaceboy. It's a date."

Once more they leaned toward each other, and their mouths came together to seal the deal.

Just when the kiss was starting to get good, the sound of the restaruant's door being furiously flung open distrupted them. They separated at the sound of someone yelling at him.

"Michael Guerin! How dare you hang up on me!"

Isabel. What perfect timing. Why did this not surprise him?

Michael didn't understand how she did not get the point of what he said. What part of 'not unless its a real emergency' did she not comprehend? Was she out to get him fired, or at the very least, drive him completely insane?

He didn't want to go into it right there with all the people around. Especially since Is didn't seem to get the concept of maintaining a low profile. But it didn't sound like he had much of a choice now.

Michael shot a quick glance at the clock and groaned inwardly. His break was just about over. No chance he'd get to finish his burger now. And of course Maria chose that moment to back away to supposedly take care of customers. Leaving him to deal with Isabel. Lucky him.

He spun around on the stool to face her. "Izzy, nice of you to visit, don't let the door hit you on the way out. I told you we'd talk about it later."

"That's unacceptable. We're going to talk about it now. I won't let you blow me off so easily."

"It can wait. I'm about to go back to work. Besides, you're supposed to be busy babysitting Maxwell. Which you're not." Michael glanced around as he realized that if Isabel was here, then she wasn't with Max. "Damn it! Where is he? Why can't you follow a simple direction? All you had to do was watch him."

The door behind her opened and Michael watched in shock as Max cautiously came in and stood next to his sister. Michael couldn't believe Isabel would do something so incredibly stupid. This was even more foolish than leaving Max all alone. How could she bring him here? Didn't she realize just how dangerous things were?

Michael glanced back over his shoulder toward the back room of the Crashdown. Liz was due back at any time. Although at the moment, the fates were working for them, not against them. All he could do was hope that their luck held out and nothing would get out of control.

He turned back and nodded to Max in greeting. "Isabel, what the hell were you thinking? This is not a good place for him to be right now. The whole point of keeping Max away from Liz was to, you know, keep Max away from Liz." Michael sarcastically spit out.

"I know that. You don't have to talk to me like I'm an idiot. Mr. Parker said on the phone that he'd sent Liz to the store to get a few things for the restaurant. Something about a delayed shipment. That's why I thought it was safe to bring him here."

"I'll stop talking to you like that when you stop doing idiotic and selfish things. Just because you can't deal with Max, doesn't mean you can just foist him off on me. I got a job, remember?"

"Max, just stay here. I gotta go and tell Michael something." Isabel turned to tell her brother before stepping over to where Michael was sitting. She sat down on the stool next to him and spoke to him in a low voice that only he could hear. "Look, I know you think I'm PMS-ing. But I swear that something odd is going on with him."

"Don't start with that bathroom thing again. He locked you out and accidentially broke a bottle of perfume. So what?"

Isabel gave him an indecipherable look. "Did you even listen to me yesterday? Max locked himself in the bathroom. I heard the sound of something crash and break, something large like a window or a mirror. He wouldn't answer me, I couldn't get in, then I told him I was calling you... next thing I know my shoes were fused to the floor. I don't know what he did, but I couldn't get out of them."

She took in a shaky breath as she continued. "Michael, I was standing there like a sitting duck. I knew it. And I swear to God, Max knew it too. I don't want to say it, he's my brother, but I think he was going to attack."

"If that's true, why didn't he?" Michael hated to admit it, but maybe there was more to the story than he originally thought. If Isabel's suspisions were right on the money, then things fell into place.

If Max had come that close to hurting his own sister, Michael could imagine what kind of guilt he was feeling. And knowing Max as well as he did, his friend would have been wallowing in it all night long. Which would explain why Max had been extra-silent the night before.

"Maybe he had an attack of conscience. I don't know." Isabel leaned in closer and confided in him with a barely audible voice. "But I never thought I'd be afraid of being alone with my own brother. And his behavior right now is so much like he was before things all went to hell that I don't know what to do. I want to trust him. I wanna believe he's being nice because he is nice, not because he's lulling us into a false sense of security before he attacks us... Michael, what are we gonna do?"

It was moments like this when he didn't like being second in command. He was no good at these kind of decisions. In a weird and twisted kind of way, he would almost prefer if Max was acting psychotic. Then at least he would have a clear idea of what he should do. But with what was going on with Max, things weren't so cut and dried. Max wasn't the enemy to take down, he was just an unwitting pawn.

Why did things have to be so complicated?

"Ok... Um... Isabel, I think we should... um..." Michael stalled as he desparately tried to come up with some kind of plan.

Max's voice coming up behind the two of them cut off what Michael was saying. "Look, I know you're both worried about me, and so am I. But whatever you decide to do affects me too. I think I should have a say in what course of action we take." Max finished humbly.

"M... M... Max." Isabel stuttered in surprise. "I thought I told you to stay over there. How much did you overhear?"

"Nothing."

"If you weren't eavesdropping Maxwell, then how do you know what we were talking about?"

"I'm not stupid. I've been able to piece together some of what's been going on. And it's not like you guys were being very subtle, considering the two of you kept looking over at me."

That was just great. Michael glared at Isabel. It's not like he was the one who had been glancing at Max over and over during the conversation. He only looked at him a couple of times. It wasn't his fault.

"I don't think that's such a good idea." Michael said with a firm shake of his head.

"Michael's right, Max. We have to do this for your own protection."

"And I want to protect you guys also. That's why I think my idea has merit."

Michael thought about it. It wasn't like Max didn't have a point. Their lives weren't the only ones on the line, so was Max's. It couldn't hurt to at least hear him out.

"Ok. I'll bite. What's your idea?"

"I was thinking... I think the three of us could use a day without having to continuously be in each other's presence. Well, you know how Brody closes down the UFO Center on Sundays so he can go spend time with his daughter? He told me a few weeks ago that if I ever wanted extra hours I could work on Sunday setting up displays and helping him organize the storage areas. It would give me something productive to do, and it will keep me and Isabel from driving each other insane. Also since we'll be closed we won't have to worry about me hurting anyone."

Max finished and looked at his alien family. Michael could tell that he was anxious to see what their reaction would be.

Neither Michael or Isabel said anything. This was something they had to discuss alone. Max, as if he somehow picked up on that need, excused himself to go to the bathroom. As soon as they were sure that the bathroom door closed and locked, Michael and Isabel started to discuss Max's idea in earnest.

"So what'd you think, Is? Was this what Max was plotting?"

"I don't know. It might be. Or he could really be on the level. Some of it sounds like a good idea..." Her voice trailed off into nothing.

"...But... you're not sure if it really is."

"Exactly! Although it would really be nice to not have to be in the same room keeping an eye on him. This stress is going to give me grey hairs."

"I wouldn't have to put up with you calling me every 5 minutes to tell me 'he's too quiet' or 'he's not quiet enough.' I might even be able to work the closing shift and actually focus on what I'm doing."

"So Michael, you're sounding like you're in favor of his plan. Are you?"

"Maybe. I like the fact that there will be no one else there. That means there are less chances of collateral damage."

"Now why do I feel like there's a big 'but' coming from you?"

"Because there is. I don't like the idea that he could be there doing who knows what without any of us having a clue until it was too late. Brody does collect alien devices. I'd hate for Max to use that pentagon-shaped thing against us. Hell, he could leave there with that gadget and who knows else without any of us knowing."

"That's true." Isabel frowned, deep in thought. When she finally looked at him, she had a hopeful look in her eyes. "Couldn't we set it up so we can keep an eye on him from a distance. Like Mr. Valenti did during the hostage crisis. Max would never know."

"That's a really good idea, Izzy. If we can place a few hidden cameras to keep surveilance of the exits and main room, this plan just might be do-able."

"And remember, there are only two exits. If we make sure that the one in back doesn't open at all, then we could focus our attention on the one in front. We could watch it from Liz's rooftop like we did that night." Isabel added helpfully.

"That way we can give him some space, but not enough to endanger us. Is, Do you remember what happened to the blueprints we used that night?"

"I think the Valentis have them. Or we can just get them from wherever Kyle swiped them from."

"That sounds like a plan."

"Yeah... I just thought of something, Michael. I don't know much about tech stuff like Alex did. And your knowledge goes as far as DVD's and video games. Maybe we should ask Mr. Valenti for his help. He managed to come through for us with that camera gadget that he had Liz wear that night."

"I don't know. I don't think we should be dragging them into it. They got enough to deal with right now."

"Now that Alex is..." Isabel choked up, unable to complete the sentence. Several moments passed before she was able to take a couple of deep breaths and continue, "Without him, Mr. Valenti is the only one who might have an idea of how to set this all up. I'm sure he had to do that sometime during his career."

He grudgingly admitted to himself that she had a point. But he wasn't about to tell Isabel that. Her head was big enough already. Why bother adding fuel to the fire?

"I guess it wouldn't hurt to get his advice." Michael relunctantly agreed. "Ok, here's what we'll do: After work, I'll go home. You meet me there with Max. I'll keep an eye on him while you go visit Valenti. We'll set things up in the morning at the UFO Center."

"Wait a minute. Remember the disc Max gave you after the crisis was over? Doesn't Brody have some kind of security system? He does have a lot of expensive computers in there. I don't think we should just be breaking in."

"Shit. I forgot about that. The door lock isn't a problem, I can take care of that easy. An alarm system may be a different matter. Unless we get the code from Max and disable the security cameras, we might have a problem."

"How else can we get it? It's not like we can go to Brody and get it from him."

"Isabel, you're a genius! We may not be friends with Brody, but I'm dating someone who is."

"Maria?" Isabel swiveled her stool around to look at the girl in question. She was smiling and talking to an old married couple as she refilled their coffee cups. "I can't believe you're willing to use her to get information."

"I won't be. She's gonna know the whole plan from the get go."

"How can you be so sure she'd do that, Michael?"

"She'll do it. Maria hates not being able to contribute anything to the cause. Besides, this way something good can come from the relationship she has with him."

"How completely cold-blooded of you. All that Machievelli has gone to your head." Isabel said snidely.

"That's not it at all."

Isabel scrutinized him closely. Her eyes widened as a thought occurred to her. "It's not like you're jealous... Oh my God, you are. That's it isn't it? You're jealous of Brody? Brody? How is that possible? You can't seriously believe that Maria has a thing for him."

"I'm not... She doesn't. At least not now. But there was a time last winter when he might have had a chance. He lost out. Maria's mine."

"You really are a Neanderthal." She observed with a slight smile.

Just then, Max came out of the bathroom, causing Isabel's smile to falter. He strode over to the two of them with an expectant look on his face. Hesitantly, he asked, "What do you guys think?"

"It sounds like it might be do-able. We'll have to check it out." Michael glanced at Max and was startled by how haggard he looked. Whatever demons Max was fighting, it was clear to see that they were taking their toll on him. Michael hadn't realized the strain his friend was under. And once more he wondered what kind of friend was he? "Maxwell, are you all right? You're looking a little... shaky."

"I'll be better once I get out of here. There are too many reminders of Liz. What with everything, its kinda hard to keep focused. You know?"

"Yeah. I hear ya."

At that very moment Michael saw through the windows the Parkers car drive by with Liz at the wheel. It would be only moments before she pulled into the alley to unload. They had to get Max out of there now.

"You guys got to get out of here."

"What? Why? What's going on?" Max asked, confused.

"Michael, I won't let you give me the bum's rush. We haven't settled anything yet."

"Isabel, we don't have time to go over all the details. Liz just pulled up outside. She'll be inside any moment now."

"She'll what?" Max's voice rose in concern or perhaps panic. Michael wasn't exactly sure. "Isabel, you said that we wouldn't have to worry about Liz. I can't be here. We've gotta go. Now!"

"I didn't think she'd be back this soon. Come on, Max." Isabel stood up and turned to ask Michael a final question. "Which way will she be coming in?"

"Go out the front. She'll be taking the stuff in through the alley."

Upon hearing that, Isabel grabbed a hold of Max's hand and hurriedly dragged him out the door. Michael could swear that as Max was was leaving he was mumbling to himself a set of numbers. And for the thousandth time Michael wondered just how badly Tess scrambled up his mind. All he knew for certain was that he'd never let Tess get her claws into Max's mind again.

"Michael!" Mr. Parker called to him through the order window. "I want you to go out back and unload the supplies from the car."

"Yeah. Fine." Michael replied. He wanted to take a moment to talk to Maria about Brody. He guessed it could wait until later. "I just gotta clock back in."

For the next several hours Liz's dad kept Michael busy either behind the grill or doing a bunch of menial tasks. Then the dinner date and movie crowd hit them, and there were no chances to pull Maria aside and discuss things. It wasn't until most of the dinner crowd dispersed that he finally got a chance to talk to his girlfriend.

Maria came into the back room and flopped down on the sofa. "Man, am I beat. Is it closing time yet?"

"No, 'Ria we got a few more hours to go. Could you come over here."

She grumbled as she got up and made her way toward him. "I guess." Maria stepped up behind him and wrapped her arms around him from behind. She pressed herself against him and asked, "So what's up? Are we still on for tonight?"

"Yeah, we are. Maria, there's something I need to ask you to do."

She let go of him and turned him around so she could try and figure out what was on his mind. Maria gave him a puzzled look. "What?"

"We need you to talk to Brody. You're friends with him. Maybe you could get him to help us. We need to be able to get in there and secure the place before we can let Max work there by himself."

"Oh, right. Like he's really just going to let us do that. I'll need a damn good reason. What should I tell him? It's not like I can tell him that."

"It doesn't matter what you tell him. We just need to get in there without any problems. Brody's the only one who knows what kind of security systems he has installed in there."

"So... If I go there and find that out for you, what exactly are you gonna do? He's a good friend. I don't wanna jeopardize it by having any kind of alien smackdown kind of fighting going on in there."

"That's not gonna happen. Me and Mr. Valenti will go there in the morning to set up hidden cameras so we can keep an eye on Max."

"Let me get this straight. If I get you access... you're gonna be busy all morning setting things up." Maria waited for him to answer, which he did by nodding. She then smiled broadly and for a moment Michael glimpsed a hint of deception in her eyes. It disappeared so quickly that he didn't know if he imagined it or not.

That didn't sit well with him. She sounded way too interested that he'd be out of the picture for the morning. He had the strangest feeling she was up to something. And knowing Maria, that was not a good thing.

"Okay, I'll do it. Michael, you know me, always up for some alien intrigue." Maria said brightly.

Too brightly.

This from the same girl who complained more times than he could count about the alien related stuff they'd been through. Hell yeah, he knew her. That's why he was trusting his instincts. He would bet good money that she was planning to do something dangerous without telling him.

"... okay? Look, I'm gonna run over there right now while I still got a little time left on my break." She reached up so she could pull his head down and plant a brief kiss on his lips. Then she sped out into the restaruant, nearly knocking down Liz.

Michael stood by the order window and and pretended to aimlessly stare out at the quieting down restaruant while he covertly watched the two girls from the corner of his eye. Maria said something to Liz then the two girls glanced at him. Then they quickly talked to each other, Maria smiled, then they both looked at him again. Once more they huddled privately, while Maria talked. Liz nodded in reply and then she smiled broadly as she playfully shooed Maria out of the restaruant.

Michael watched the byplay, fascinated. Well that answers that. It was worse than he thought. It wasn't just Maria scheeming something, but Liz too. Roswell's very own Lucy and Ethyl were up to something... again.

And knowing them, it was bound to be dangerous. Just like the last time.

Michael headed over to the phone to call Isabel. It was time for a slight change of plans.

He'd be damned if he let Maria and Liz go through with their scheme without any back-up.



[ edited 1 time(s), last at 11-Jun-2002 10:11:15 PM ]
posted on 21-Jun-2002 3:30:53 AM by Psyche G
Hey all-

I hope you enjoy this new chapter. Just so you all know, lots of things are going to be gaining momentum from here on out in the story. Kinda like a snowball rolling downhill. And I'm really glad that you like the story so much. It means a lot to me that you've stuck with it all this time.

So without further delay:



Chapter 36



"So here's the deal," Maria said as she blew the hair out of her eyes. A warm early morning breeze whiped her hair right back in front of her face. She took off her headband and repositioned it on her head as she continued speaking. "Brody is letting you do this because he believes that we all are pulling off a big birthday prank on Max. So keep that in mind. I don't think he's gonna stop by, but if he does, you can cover your butts."

"You're not gonna stay and help?" Michael asked as he planted a kiss on her cheek. He had to be sure Maria had no clue that he was on to her.

"Nah. My mom's been complaining that I come and go all hours of the night. She caught me sneaking in at three this morning. I gotta spend some time with her to get her off my case."

"When your mom insists on something, I've never seen anyone more determined to get what they want. You be sure to tell her that I said hi."

"Sure, Mr. Valenti."

Maria used the code that Brody gave her to unlock the doors to the UFO Center with the electronic key pad. She then stepped inside to punch yet another code into the alarm system. Once the alarm was safely shut off, Maria stepped back and let the two of them enter.

"Okay it looks like you're all set. Is there anything you need me to do?"

"That's all right. You better just get on back to Amy. We've got everything under control." Mr. Valenti said in passing as he lugged some heavy looking boxes into the UFO Center.

Michael watched him disappear down the stairs. Now that they were alone, he turned to Maria and moved in close. It was time to make her think he was disappointed. "Are you sure there is no way I could convince you to stay and help out? The sooner we're done we could go back to my place." He murmured near her ear as he planted kisses near her earlobe.

"Oh, Michael." She moaned quietly. "Stop that. You're making it hard to think straight."

"Don't think. Stay here." A part of him was hoping that she would give up whatever her and Liz's plan and stay with him. At least that way he could be sure of her safety.

She disentangled himself from him and took a step back. "I can't." Maria glanced quickly toward the Crashdown, and to where Liz was probably waiting on her. Her shift of focus did not go unnoticed by Michael.

Just as quickly she turned to face him again, wearing a smile that did not meet her eyes. "You know how Mom is. She's declared that this morning is mother-daughter bonding time. There's nothing I can do to get out of it."

"Yeah, Maria. I understand." Michael didn't need to fake the hurt sound of his voice. Maria was keeping secrets from him. The last time she and Liz were planning a road trip, Maria at least confided in him. Now, she was just trying to deceive him.

And that deception only strengthened his resolve. She wasn't going to confide in him, fine. That just meant that they wouldn't have to argue about him protecting them. "You should get going. You don't want to keep your mom waiting."

"Okay. Now Michael, you try and play nice with Mr. Valenti." She pressed a brief kiss on his mouth as she handed him the paper with the codes. "Be sure to set the alarm when you're through." Maria then walked to her car, got in, started it up, and then pulled away.

Michael stood there in the doorway watching as the Jetta went down the street and then turned at the corner. Once she was out of sight, he went back inside the UFO Center, away from the windows' line of sight.

Mr. Valenti was waiting for him at the top of the stairs. "Are you sure you want to go through with this? Maybe she really does have to spend time with Amy."

Michael shook his head firmly. "I'm going. It was all a lie. I talked to Mrs. DeLuca while waiting for Maria to pick me up. She's having Sean take her to Albuquerque to pick up some new t-shirts to sell... Is Kyle in place?"

"He should be." Mr. Valenti reached for a small walkie-talkie he had clipped to his belt. He brought it up to his mouth and spoke into it. "Kyle, do you copy?"

A few moments passed before the walkie-talkie squawked to life. "Yeah, Dad. I hear you. The damn thing startled me. Made me spill my coffee."

Michael snatched the device from the former sheriff and talked into it. "Do you see Maria over there?"

"Nope. There's not a sight of her... Hold on... She just pulled up by the main entrance to Liz's apartment. She's getting out of the car... Now she's ringing the doorbell... And here comes Liz. Guerin, how did you know she'd do this?"

"I'd do the same thing if I were in Maria's shoes. What are they doing now?"

"They just got into the car and are now turning the corner, heading towards you. Should I follow?"

Mr. Valenti took the two-way radio back from Michael. "No, Son. Just drive the truck over here."

"Sure, Dad. I'll be right there." Then the little radio turned silent.

Michael and Kyle's dad watched from the shadows of the UFO Center's entrance as the Jetta drove past them. Less than thirty seconds later, Kyle pulled up in the Valentis' truck. Kyle climbed down out of it leaving the engine running and driver's door wide open.

Michael brusquely shoved the folded piece of paper into Mr. Valenti's hand. "Here's the alarm codes. " He felt uncomfortable with what he had to do next. So he took a deep breath and said in a rush, "Um... Thanks for letting me borrow your truck. And for all your help." He added in an awkward mumble.

Mr. Valenti just smiled at his discomfort. "You best get going. You don't want to lose them. We'll be fine here. Me and Kyle will have our cameras set up in no time."

"Yeah. The hardest part of it is laying the cable. We got it all under control." Kyle said as he passed Michael on his way to the truck. "I just filled her up this morning so you don't have to..." The sound of the truck squealing it's tires as it sped away interrupted Kyle. "...stop for gas."

Kyle silently walked over to where his father was holding the door open for him. They entered the building and started down the stairs in silence. Each man was keeping their thoughts to themselves.

They reached the landing before Kyle broke the uneasy quiet. "Do you think the girls are gonna need Michael to save them?"

Kyle's father looked at his son with a worried expression on his face. "I hope not, Kyle. I sure hope not."



**************************************




"Okay, Chica. We're officially on our way! Woo-hoo! It was damn lucky for us that Michael and the others are busy trying to take care of Max. By the time he figures out that we're gone, it'll be too late to track us down. Now when we reach Artesia, do we have any idea what we are looking for?" Maria said in a exuberant rush, not once stopping to take in air to breathe.

Liz sighed deeply. "Not really. I've been through my note cards of the dream several times. Future Max told me where to look, but not what to look for." She wished she had a better answer to give Maria. Liz didn't like having so little to go on.

"Oh well, I guess that means we get to drive around and see if you can use 'The Force'."

"This isn't 'Star Wars,' Maria. I'm not a Jedi. And there's no such thing as 'The Force'."

"Loosen up a little. I didn't mean literally. Although, if you think about it, what's going on with us kinda parallels the whole 'Star Wars' trilogy."

"How so?" Liz couldn't stop herself from staring at her friend like she was insane. Where did she come up with these things?

"For instance, Luke was a small town boy stuck in the middle of the desert, then all of a sudden his life changes and he goes on a quest to find his place in the universe. You're a self-proclaimed small town girl, stuck in the middle of the desert, who all of a sudden starts developing powers and goes on a quest of her own."

"So what? I'm not interested in finding my place in the universe. I just want to find out how we can protect ourselves from Tess."

"Luke wanted to protect his friends from Darth Vader in the second movie."

"So you're saying Tess is like Darth Vader?"

"I guess. She is evil. Personally, I always thought of her as more like Jabba The Hutt."

The moment Maria said that, Liz's mind ran off and had a field day with that last comment. Her imagination conjured up Jabba with Tess's blond hair wearing her trademark tight clothing while swallowing one of those frog like creatures like in 'Return of the Jedi.' The image was too damn funny. She couldn't stop the roar of laughter that came out of her.

"I hope you know that I'll never be able to get that image out of my mind."

"But at least you're laughing. That's a start."

"Yeah. But now, Maria, if I ever see her again, I'll probably bust out laughing right before she kills me."

"Nah. I'm sure that if it does happen, we'll be too busy kicking her ass to start laughing."

Liz and Maria fell silent as they watched the mile markers pass by. Liz was hoping that they would not have to have a confrontation with Tess. Since it was clear that she was one of the enemy, it was foolish to assume that she would be alone.

Who knew how many Skins were still out there? Liz had her doubts that they went up in a Tess induced fireball. They knew for a fact that their leader, Nicholas, survived. There was a good chance that most, if not all, of the others survived too.

If they had to face off against the Skins, she was hard-pressed to believe that her and her friends would have any kind of advantage. Tess knew their strengths and weaknesses. Tess knew what Max, Michael, and Isabel was capable of. The only things Tess didn't know about were Liz's own newfound abilities. But they were too new and uncontrollable to rely on. Not to mention that for the most part these powers wouldn't really be helpful if they were in battle.

"Liz, what's wrong? You looked so... so... morose. What's going on in your head?"

If Maria really understood what they could be up against, she wouldn't be asking that question. And if Maria didn't realize that yet, she didn't want to be the one to tell her. Not now. And not without Michael around to help keep her calm.

What Liz really needed was some more light-hearted conversation. "Nothing really. But I was wondering, if I'm Luke and Tess is Jabba The... I mean Darth Vader, then who would you be?"

"Oooh, I'm really glad you asked. I'd be Han Solo." Maria said proudly.

"You what?" Liz exclaimed between peals of laughter. "You are so not Han Solo."

"I would so too be him. Think about it, he was hip and world-wise, a definite heartbreaker, real quick with the banter. And he was not so easily dragged into the whole rebellion movement. That is so me. I'm hip and savvy, a heartbreaker in my own right..."

"Are you out of your mind? Who's heart have you broken? Name one. Cuz I sure don't remember you being the breaker of hearts. The breakee maybe."

"My heart doesn't get broken. Teflon coated, remember?"

"I'm still waiting for a name, Maria."

"Fine. You want a name, I'll give you a name." She retorted hotly.

The car was silent for a good half of a minute.

"I thought you were gonna give me a name."

"I am. It's just taking me a moment, that's all."

"If you can't come up with one, it's all..."

Maria interrupted Liz. "Steve Rodriguez."

"Steve Rodriguez? You came to me and Alex sobbing because he dumped you and broke your heart. Alex even threatened to go beat him up because he hurt you."

Maria straightened her spine and held her head up high. "He did not dump me. I dumped him right before he broke up with me. Therefore I was the one to break his heart."

"Sure you did." Liz was trying her best to contain her laughter.

"I did."

"Uh-huh. Name another one."

"I will not. I know what you're doing. You're trying to make me get off the subject. Well it won't work on me... So anyway, as I was saying before someone so rudely interrupted me. I'm a heartbreaker. I got the witty repartee down pat. And you know I've never been too enthusiastic about all this alien-related stuff that's been going on."

"If you were Han Solo, then who's your Chewbacca?"

"Come on, Liz, you should know this. Think about it."

Liz thought of all thier friends and tried to picture each of them in that role. And just like on the show 'Survivor', she quickly eliminated all but one of their closest friends. "Alex." She said in a near whisper.

A wistful smile appeared on Maria's face. "Yeah. He was just like Chewie. Brave, loyal, caring, sweet, a little awkward, and kinda funny."

"Don't forget, always thinking with his stomach." Liz added smiling.

"How could I forget? It was like a bottomless pit." Maria chuckled fondly in recollection. "Remember the time we bet him that he couldn't manage to eat all of the two pies that my mom had cooling in the kitchen? The ones for the bake sale?"

"Yeah. He was all 'Bring it on.' It took him an hour and a half to eat them both."

"And when he was done, he looked kinda green around the gills. But that didn't stop him from strutting around the kitchen ten dollars richer gloating in victory."

"Then your mom came in and saw the empty pie pans on the table and saw Alex holding up two five dollar bills, waving them in the air as he did the 'I won the bet' dance. Boy, did she go through the roof."

"She laid in on him but good. 'Do you have any idea how long it took me to make those from scratch? I should tan your hide, Alexander.' " Maria said in a near-perfect imitation of her mother's voice.

"And we were quietly sneaking out of the room when she zeroed in on us. 'Maria. Liz. Where do you think you're going?' I still don't know how she could tell what we were doing with her back to us."

"Tell me about it. It's like some kind of sixth sense. Remember our punishment?" Maria had a soft smile on her face as she reminisced.

"Like you have to ask. Making us use that ten dollars and go get more ingredients and then bake two whole new pies all by ourselves didn't exactly go over the way she planned."

"Yeah, but the look on her face when she came in to check on us later was priceless."

"I don't think your mom expected to see the three of us covered with flour. Not to mention the whole kitchen was dusted with it."

"It's not my fault she walked in on a food fight."

"Oh, come on. You were squealing because Alex took some of the pie filling and put it down the back of your shirt."

"Well, I'm not the one who started the food fight, Elizabeth."

Liz's mouth started to raise mischievously. She quickly turned toward the window so Maria wouldn't see. "I have no idea what you're talking about. I didn't do it."

"That is such a load of bull and you know it!" Maria said laughing. "Every time the three of us got caught doing something, you would pull that sweet and innocent act and get off scott free."

"I can't help it if authority figures trust me."

"I still don't know how you do it. Every time I'd try that schitck I'd get grounded."

"I don't know what to tell you, Maria. I just show people respect."

"I've done that. And it never worked for me." Maria stuck out her bottom lip and pouted for all she was worth. Liz could tell that her friend wasn't really upset that she couldn't handle people the same way.

"I'll tell you a secret." Liz said playfully. Her voice dropped down to a mere whisper. "It's an old Jedi mind trick."

"Ha! I told you you were a Jedi. Now, if you had only used that mind mojo on the poor suckers who shelled out money for those pies."

"Ugh! Don't remind me. I never knew anything could taste that bad." Liz cringed at the memory of how horrible their pies were. Both the crust and the filling had been inedible. Styrofoam and floor polish would have tasted better.

"Everyone started complaining. And then some jerk started spreading the rumor that it was done on purpose to make people sick."

"I still don't know how they came to the conclusion that it was one of Alex's pranks."

"I told you that it was one of those bonehead jocks. Kyle, or maybe one of his buddies. But nooo, you didn't wanna believe he would do that to him. Either way, whoever it was, they made a big enough stink to get the assistant principal to do something about it."

"Yeah. She refused to hear our side of it. And when she started to assign punishments to us for being his accomplices, Alex stepped up and told her that he did all by himself, that we tried to stop him."

"The old battleaxe gave him two weeks of detention. Alex never complained about it at all."

"I know. I think he used that time to plan how to be the biggest joker of all. That was the beginning of his outrageous practical jokes."

Both girls fell silent as the scenery passed them by. Liz knew that Maria was thinking the same thing she was. They were thinking about the boy who never failed to make them laugh. Alex should have been with them now.

Maria sighed sorrowfully as she proved that once more they were on the same wavelength. "I really miss him."

"So do I." Liz agreed as she blinked back tears.

The small car was silent once more as they made their way to their destination. Through a haze of tears, Liz watched solemnly out the window as they made their way closer to their final destination. Her guilt was weighing heavy on her soul.

The logical part of her mind knew that she wasn't to blame. But her heart still refused to believe it. Her choices made this happen. Her choices brought Alex to his death.

"No. No. No. No. No." Maria's rushed words startled Liz out of her reverie. "This is all wrong. We shouldn't sit here all weepy because of him. He would have hated that."

Liz sniffled slightly before speaking. "If he were here, he'd make fun of us and say we were acting like a bunch of silly girls."

"Then he'd either play something truly obnoxious on the radio, or he'd say 'There's no way I'd be Chewbacca.' Alex would probably compare himself to C3P0 or R2-D2."

"And he'd have been so wrong. He's nothing like them. Chewie yes. Them no. Honestly, I think that Kyle is a lot like C3P0."

"No way."

"Well he sure does have a way with a put-down. And he is less into all this adventure than I am, if that's even possible."

"Maria, that is really, really stretching it."

"Okay. Okay. Moving on... Isabel, you know who she'd be?" Maria waited for Liz's shake of her head before she continued, "Lando Calrissian. They both are vain, full of their own self-importance, and considered charming by some people. And they'd both cover their asses by making a deal with the enemy only to get double crossed later on."

Liz just stared at her friend, mouth agape. Maria had no idea how close to the truth she was. Liz was pretty sure that she was ignorant of the Vilandra/Kivar scandal. That being the case, her friend must have an amazing talent for guessing.

"How did you..."

"Come on, Liz. You don't think she would? She is more into style than substance. Look how she always treated Alex. He would have died for her..." Maria broke off and laughed bitterly. "And the damned thing is he did. He probably thought what he was doing was to help Isabel."

"You know that's not entirely true. I think she might be a good person deep down. And as for Alex, that's all on Tess"

"I guess you're right, Chica. Somewhere deep, deep, deep down she probably is. I know I judge her way too critically. It's just... Alex had a crush on her for the longest time. And she never allowed anything to really develop between them. They wasted so much time, Lizzie." Her friend said so sorrowfully.

"I know. But they were trying to make up for that. Alex loved her. And I think that she only just realized that she felt the same way. I can't hold that against her."

"I'd like to..." Maria's voice drifted off.

"But you cant." Liz observed wisely.

Maria glanced at her friend then back at the road, and sighed. "No. I can't... And it kills me to say this, but she's not as bad as I always thought she was. Maybe in the future, we may even end up as friends. Real friends. Not the 'I'm a part of an alien conspiracy' kind that we are now."

"You know, I think Alex would really have liked that."

"Me too."

Liz happened to look out the window and she realized how close they were to their destination. "We're almost there. Once we're in Artesia, I guess we'll just drive around until we find something."

"Okay. Operation: Needle in a Haystack is underway."

"Nice. Really nice... You've been hanging out with Michael way too much. Which reminds me, you do realize that with your 'Star Wars' theory, you left out some people."

"Oh, them."

"Yeah, them."

"Max is kind of hard to fit into this. But here goes... Obi Wan." Before Liz could get a chance to dispute her claim, Maria continued talking. "I know it sounds strange but it makes a lot of sense if you look at it a certain way. If Max hadn't saved you then you wouldn't be here. None of these things would be going on. And none of us would know how close to danger we really were."

"What does that have to do with Obi Wan?"

"If it wasn't for him, the droids wouldn't have ended up in the desert, Luke wouldn't have ended up with them, he'd never meet Obi-wan, learn about his Jedi heritage, or go and save the princess. Obi Wan set in motion the downfall of the Empire. Knowing him transformed Luke. Just like loving Max has transformed you."

"If you say so." She couldn't see Max as the wise old Jedi. No matter how hard she tried, she just couldn't.

She'd been able to go along with Maria to an extent on all the other ones. Tess as either Jabba or Darth Vader made sense. So did Alex as Chewbacca. Isabel as Lando. Maria as Han Solo. Kyle as the insult hurling robot. Even herself as Luke, she could kind of understand the reasoning behind it. But not the Max one.

She realized then that there was someone missing from Maria's placements. "Okay, Maria, who's Michael?"

Maria blushed slightly and immediately looked embarrassed. She tried to stall, but Liz would have none of that. "Grumble pizza" it sounded like she said. It was hard to tell because it was said in a mumbled rush.

"I didn't get that. What did you say?" From the way Maria was acting, it was bound to be good.

"Princess Leia, all right? Michael would be Princess Leia."

Liz howled with laughter. She was laughing so hard that tears were running down her face and her stomach was starting to hurt. Even Maria joined in on the laughing.

It had been a long time since they had laughed so heartily. Joyful moments had been few and far between. They deserved this lighthearted moment. Liz had the strange feeling that they wouldn't be laughing much from here on out.


**************************************


The two girls never noticed the truck following them from a distance. Michael made sure of that. He watched as the Jetta got off of 285 South. He mimicked their actions, and as he continued to tail them, he saw a sign on the side of the road.

He read the sign as he passed it. His eyes grew wide with confusion.

"Why the hell would they wanna go to Artesia?" he murmured to himself. "At least they didn't go too far from Roswell. I swear, once I find them, Maria and I are gonna have a little talk. This is not my idea of avoiding danger."

The sound of Liz's laughter reached him where he followed on the relatively quiet road. He was a little surprised. They were walking into who knows what and they were laughing their asses off. "What the hell is she laughing at?"

Michael shook his head as he let the distance between him and the Jetta increase even more. He couldn't risk them spotting him. Maria and Liz were too stubborn for their own good. Turning on the radio to keep him company, he sighed. "I don't think I'll ever understand women."


posted on 13-Jul-2002 7:08:41 PM by Psyche G
Sorry about the delay with this chapter. You know how when it rains it pours? Well in my case it flooded. Stupid city sewer system. Anyways, I've spent the better part of over two weeks without my computer. I was too busy cleaning up the mess. So I've finally got my computer all hooked up and I'm writing again.

So, without further babbling, here you go...



Chapter 37



"We've driven this way at least three times already. I'm getting dizzy from all this driving around, and around, and around in circles. Are you sure you haven't seen anything?"

"No such luck, Maria. I still have no idea what it is we're looking for. I'm hoping that if we keep driving in concentric circles, we're bound to find something." Liz's voice came rom behind a fold-out map of the area that she found in the glove compartment.

Her blond friend sighed heavily in frustration. "I remember why I always hated coming out here. This town makes Roswell look as busy as New York." Maria tossed back her hair and thumped her fingers on the steering wheel.

They were stopped at a red light in the heart of Artesia's bustling downtown area. Liz looked around at the wide sedate street. Maybe bustling wasn't the best word to describe this area. Sleepy was probably more fitting. But if she were pressed to give a word that described the way the town seemed to her, the best description she could come up with was desolate.

She didn't know why she felt that way. The town didn't look abandoned. In fact, the neighborhoods had been quite lively. They passed a lot of people going to Sunday services. There had even been several people enjoying the good weather at a park.

As far as she could tell, everything changed when you reached the shopping and financial hub of the town.

The store fronts were nicely maintained. No chipping paint. No graffiti. Trees lined the streets. Colorful banners were hanging from the streetlights. All in all, downtown Artesia was a shining example of their civic pride.

The only problem was that there were no people on the sidewalks. From her vantage point from inside the Jetta, Liz didn't even think the stores were open. There were certainly no customers, and she doubted there were even any clerks in them. No lights were on, and a few of them had their 'Open' sign flipped to 'Closed'.

Why then, did Liz have the eeire feeling that they were being watched?

If it weren't for the occasional car passing them by, she could almost believe that the area was deserted.

"Come on, Maria. This place isn't so bad, really." She was trying hard to convince herself of that. Her imaginaton must have been playing tricks on her. Although, Liz was sure that it wouldn't do any harm to be cautious.

"Yeah, right. This is a one Mc Donalds kind of town. I'm not comfortable with a town with less than three golden arches. Besides, do you get how quiet it is here? It's a little freaky. It's like I walked into a bad suspense movie from the Eighties. I'm half expecting someone to cue the tension-filled music."

"I know. I thought I was the only one who was feeling like that. I was begining to wonder if I was overreacting. I felt a little silly for thinking like that."

"Nah. It's not just you. I keep remembering the day everyone in Roswell disappeared. The streets were that quiet then too." The light changed and Maria stepped on the accelerator. She cast a worried glance at Liz. "You don't think..."

Liz knew what Maria was trying to get at. She didn't think her friend wanted to actually say the words. "No. I don't think the Skins are behind this. Remember we saw all those people in the park and going to church. This is just a small town that stays pretty quiet on Sundays."

"You're right. Of course you're right. God, what kind of life do we lead that when we encounter something weird, the explanation we find strange is the one that is totally harmless and normal?" Her friend's head shook with the irony of it all. She glanced at Liz and smiled. "You know, Chica, we really need to get a life."

"Yeah, yeah." Liz replied, a smile in her voice. "Been there done that, doesn't seem to work."

"Dating my cousin doesn't count. Ewwww... I still don't get what you like about him. He's a total reprobate."

Liz folded up the map to a quarter of its original size so it wouldn't be quite so unweildy. There were three rings drawn on the map, two of them she'd shaded in. They still had the peripheral edges of the town left to search. If they couldn't find anything there, then they'd have no choice but to go home and abandon the quest.

"Sean's a good guy. His only problem is that he's..." Liz caught her self before she said it. She didn't want to imply that she was using Sean. The situation was more complex than that.

"...not Max." Maria, on the other hand, had no such problems with saying that particular truth. "I was kind of hoping that he was just the rebound guy. That's a load off of my mind... So, where to next?"

"When you pass the Baskin Robbins, make a left. I think we should head out toward their airport. It's probably mostly an industrial area, but if we start there we can cover the outskirts of the town."

Maria scrunched her face up and groaned. "Let me guess, more circles? Don't answer that. I already know the answer."

Maria got into the left turn lane and turned onto the street Liz had instructed her to. They drove down several blocks, soon leaving the unnatural stillness of downtown Artesia behind. Each girl looked out their respective windows, Maria to drive, and Liz to see if anything caught her attention.

Maria turned her signal on and turned into a lot on the corner that had a small taco stand and several picnic tables around it. A handful of people were seated and eating some food. She pulled into a vacant space and turned off the engine.

"I don't know about you, but I'm starving. I'm not driving any further until I can get some food inside of me. You want anything? My treat."

"Well, since you're treating, I guess I'll have a taco, or whatever. Something small like that. You know what I like." Liz said with a shrug of her shoulders.

"That's it?" Maria asked incredulously. "That isn't a meal. That's a snack."

"I'm just not very hungry. I'm too anxious about looking to have much of an appetite."

"Ok, I guess I should be happy that you're gonna stop for a bit and eat without me dragging you kicking and screaming."

Maria reached behind her seat for her purse and climbed out of the car. Her hair bounced as she merrily made her way to the order window. Liz soon followed suit.

"Hey Maria," Liz called out. Her friend hadn't realized that Liz had gotten out of the car too, Liz could see Maria's surprise as she turned around to face Liz.

"What?"

"Don't get me anything to drink. I'm not really thirsty. I'll just have some sips of yours."

"How about I get a large soda and we split it?"

"That's fine. I'm gonna go and stretch my legs."

Maria nodded and once again walked toward the taco stand. Liz turned and headed toward the far side of the lot, past where all the cars were parked.

Now that she was away from people she stretched and tried her best to work the kinks out of her muscles. She'd been sitting in that car for what seemed like forever. It felt good to be able to walk around again.

All of a sudden, the feeling that she was being watched came over her again. Liz stood there, her back straight as a shiver went down her spine. Quickly, she looked around but didn't see anyone taking notice of her. The people at the tables were engrossed in their own food and conversations. Maria was still waitng for their order. Who then, was watching her?

She looked at the cars in the parking lot. They were empty. There were no cars driving by, or at least none that were taking notice of her. The only vehicle she saw was a truck parked on the far side of the road that reminded her of the one owned by Kyle's dad. The owner of this truck was apparently taking a siesta with a cowboy hat pulled down low over his face.

It was obvious that he wasn't the one watching her. She felt a little better as she decided that her mind was overly apprehensive. It was a relief to know that her imagination was running away without her.

For a moment there, she was almost tempted to go to the pay phone and call Michael. She knew that if there were any danger, he would be there as fast as humanly possible, so to speak. He had come through for them in a big way, back in Las Cruses.

Doubt began to take root in her mind. Sure, they had joked about their good fortune at having Michael too busy with taking care of Max. They didn't need him on this. Or so they'd thought. Now Liz wasn't so sure.

What if they went up against one of their enemies? What if the Skins were there? Or worse, Tess? Liz didn't have the confidence that her newly accquired abilities would be able to defend Maria and herself from an attack. Was it fair to put Maria at risk just because the two of them didn't want Michael to come in and try and run roughshod over them?

And if Liz were to be honest with herself, she wanted to find the answers herself. It was her dreams that led her here. If she found something, she wanted to be the one to get recogniton for her discovery. When they found the translation and the crystal, Michael quickly confiscated everything. Her and Maria did all the hard work and he just swooped in and took credit for it.

As soon as that thought flittered through her mind, she froze in shock. Was the only reason that she didn't want to even inform Michael of this expedition was that she was afraid that he'd comandeer everything? The fact that she'd allow something like petty jealousy put Maria into possible jeopardy, staggered Liz.

She was apalled by her own behavior. The way she'd acted was wrong. But there was one thing that she could do to set things right.

With a purpose in mind, Liz strode over to the pay phone at the far edge of the property, right up against a chain-link fence. She reached out and picked the phone up off the hook to see if it was working. When her ears picked up the sound of the dial tone, she hung it back up.

Liz stuck her hands into the pockets of her pants. She knew she had change somewhere. After a few moments of searching, she withdrew her hands in victory. She had just enough loose change to call Michael back in Roswell.

She once again lifted the receiver and cradled it by her ear as she fed the coins one by one into the phone. As she was about to put the final coin in the slot, somehow she misjudged the distance. The quarter bounced off the rim of the slot and fell to the ground.

"Damn it." Liz cursed under her breath. She turned to see where it landed on the ground. Of course, it wouldn't just land on the ground making it easy to complete her call. She cursed again as Liz saw the coin go rolling in the direction of the fence.

"Oh, no you don't." The phone fell from her shoulder and she left it there to dangle as she started to give chase to the coin. Liz caught up with it by the fence. It had rolled underneath, and luckily it didn't go much further.

With one hand holding on to the fence, she dropped to her knees and used her other hand to reach under the edge of the fence for the quarter. Her arm reached as far as she could possibly could. Even with her arm extended, she was barely able to touch the coin. Slowly, she managed to drag it closer.

Liz had just managed to get a firm grip on it when she just happened to look up.

She froze in her tracks, all thoughts of the coin and what she was going to use it for, forgotten. Her heart started to pound in her ears. And the world seemed to spin around her with an almost dizzying euphoria.

She'd found what they'd been looking for.

Through the chain link fence she could see a little bit of the street behind the taco stand. There it was, as plain as day, the medical clinic she'd seen during the flashes she'd gotten during the last Ava dream.

There was no mistaking it. It was the same squat, ranch-style building that she had seen flashes of.

Shakily, Liz stood up. She could scarcely believe that it had all been real.

She had to go and tell Maria.

Quick as a flash, Liz raced back to the front of the taco stand desperate to find her friend. She rounded the corner of the building and saw Maria sitting at a picnic table happily munching away on her food. Liz ran to her and stopped in front of the table.

"You won't believe this..." Liz panted out.

Maria glanced up at Liz and excitedly cut her off. "Oh, I know. Can you believe it? I got all this for five dollars. And I know what you're thinking, that there's gotta be a reason that the food is so cheap. Like it tastes bad or something. But it doesn't. It is so good. You have got to try some of this. Sit down already and dig in. I'm gonna be done before you even start." Maria took a gigantic bite for emphasis. "Even Michael would like it here. I can just see him now, 'It's cheap and its good. What's not to like?'"

Liz remained where she was. "Maria, forget about the food. We don't have time for it. I found it."

Her friend looked up at her and quirked her eyebrow in Liz's direction, as if to say 'I'm not giving up my food'. But she did respond with, "Found what?"

"The thing that we didn't know what we were looking for until we found it. Well, I found it."

Maria sputtered and nearly choked on her food at the news. "You what? It's here? As in here here? You found it? What was it?"

"Come with me by the fence. I'll show you."

Liz watched her friend as she looked longingly at the food she had amassed in front of her. She then stood up faster than Liz could blink, and gathered a few of the unwrapped foods into a brown paper bag that it apparently had come in. Maria looked up at her sheepishly and said, "I can't let it all go to waste." She then shoved a styrofoam cup filled with soda in Liz's hand.

The two girls quickly made their way over to the rear fence. Liz pointed toward the building from her flashes. "That was the building that Shelia Hubble was at. The one where Dr. Castillo's name was on the wall. We might find answers there."

"Yeah, but you do realize that was over like thirty years ago, Chica? There might not be anything there to find."

"I know." Liz's face clouded over slightly. She quickly steadied it in determination. "But it's a place to start."




posted on 13-Jul-2002 7:11:10 PM by Psyche G
Chapter 37... continued




******************************************



"What the..."

The unexpected sound of a cell phone ringing startled Michael, causing him to bolt upright in the driver's seat of the truck. The hat that he'd donned as a disguise slid off of his face and landed directly on the the horn on the steering wheel. Quickly, he fumbled to stop the blaring noise before it drew the girls' attention. He grabbed the hat and shoved it back on his head as he slouched down, trying his best to be inconspicuous.

Michael used his right hand to try and find the source of the annoying chime. After searching the glove compartment, and the space underneath the seats, he finally found the cell phone jammed down on the side of the seat. It had gotten wedged in right next to the seatbelt release.

He grabbed the phone, and swiftly answered it in annoyance. "What?" he barked.

"Such great social skills. Maybe Maria was right about you needing to get some." An amused voice spoke to him.

"Isabel, is there a point? I'm kinda busy here."

"I know you are. How is it going? I'm assuming you were right about them. How far did you have to go this time? Are you even still in New Mexico?"

"I followed them to Artesia. They've been driving around like they were looking for something. Who knows what? Right now I'm trying to avoid detection by Lucy and Ethyl. Your phone call isn't exactly helping to keep up a low profile."

"I just needed to know what time you'd be back. Max is getting really antsy. I don't know how much longer I can put him off."

"Look, I don't know. All the girls did was drive in circles and stop to eat at a little taco stand. Who knows where they're gonna go next? Knowing them, if there's trouble to be had, it'll find them."

"You think they're in danger? In Artesia?" Isabel's incredulity could clearly be heard from not quite forty miles away.

"If there's any trouble to be found, my girlfriend is bound to be right smack in the middle of it. Along with Liz... I have a gut feeling. Something's not quite right here. I don't know what, but I'm keeping my eyes out."

"Oh..." Isabel fell silent. Michael figured that she was thinking about the last time he had that kind of feeling. The morning of the incident at the cave. "Well, if that's the case, they're going to need you there. Don't worry about me and Max. Just make sure that Liz and Maria return safe."

"I'm on it. If anything goes awry and I need backup, I'll call you." Michael paused as he considered something. "You know, Isabel, you don't have to wait until I get back. Take Max now, just be sure that Valenti and Kyle have cleared out. All you gotta do is give the place a once-over before you lock him in there and join the Valentis' on Liz's rooftop."

"Are you sure?" She paused as though she were waiting for an answer. When Michael remained silent, she continued speaking. "Then that's what I'll do. I'll take care of Max, you take care of the girls. They're our friends, we really do need them... I'll talk to you later." With that, Isabel hung up on him.

Michael heard the sound of the dial tone and turned off the phone as he tossed it on the passenger seat, a scowl on his face. The thought of Maria in any kind of physical danger made his stomach clench painfully. He vowed to not let anything happen to either of them. Isabel was right, he needed Maria. More than Isabel could possibly imagine.

He looked out his window to see what the girls were up to at that moment. He was surprised to not see Maria and Liz eating at the table Maria had commandeered. Not only that, but it looked like Maria left half her food on it. And that was something she simply did not do.

Michael knew very well how his girlfriend hated to waste food that she'd paid for. How many times had Maria claimed to be stuffed before finishing up whatever food was on her plate. Hell, when they stopped at that little diner and his sort-of cousin Laurie Dupree had snuck off, Maria had sat there calmly finishing up her shake, refusing to leave until she was done.

So maybe Maria had been right, Laurie had been heading in the wrong direction. And they did catch up to her easily once his girlfriend had eaten her money's worth. The point was, that Maria wouldn't abandon her food unless something was up.

His eyes quickly scanned the area. The girls weren't in front. He could see no sign of them toward the back. He was just about to get out of the car and try and find them on foot when he finally saw them. They were in the Jetta. And the car was quickly pulling out of it's parking spot.

Michael slouched down in his seat and covertly watched the small red car as it sped past him. The Jetta reached the corner and turned left, where it disappeared from his line of sight.

He reached out to start the car up, once the car came to life he started to count to thirty. Michael wanted to give them a bit of a lead so that they would remain unaware of him tailing them. He knew that if he followed too closely, they might realize that he was there. And he didn't want to have that confrontation with Maria just yet.

At the count of thirty, he put the truck into gear and swiftly made a U-turn so he would be heading in the direction Maria and Liz had traveled. He turned the same corner they had moments earlier, and started scanning the street further ahead. He was so focused on trying to see where the girls could be, that Michael almost missed where they actually were.

He had just passed a short and stumpy looking building, and thought nothing of it. It wasn't until he was past the building and glancing in his rear and side view mirrors that he saw the blond and the brunette get out of a red car parked in a tight parking space in front of the building.

Michael decided to circle the building and try and get a better look at what the girls were up to. He rounded the block and saw Maria with Liz in the lead standing in front of the non-descript building he'd passed earlier. Liz was knocking on the glass door while Maria stood a few steps back, her hands on her hips, shaking her wavy blond hair.

He knew that stance well. Although it was strange to see it directed toward someone else. Michael wondered what Liz was doing that was causing his girlfriend to do that. What the hell could the two of them be disagreeing about?

His curiousity gnawed at him as he made another turn around the building. At the nearest alley, he turned the truck around and headed back onto the street where Liz and Maria were so he could see what was happening. He pulled into a parking space and watched a heavy-set older woman let the girls into the building.

Michael took off his seatbelt and tried to get comfortable. He had a feeling that he would be sitting there for a while. If there was some kind of information there for them to find, then Liz would try and uncover everything she could. Liz was nothing, if not thorough. Annoyingly thorough, at times.

He lowered the windows to get some fresh air, and he was bombarded with the scent of what was being cooked at the taco stand. Whatever they were making smelled really good.

He sat there for several moments savoring the aroma. It smelled so good to him that it made his stomach growl. Michael was reminded that he hadn't eaten breakfast that morning before meeting up with Maria.

Michael looked at the building that the girls had disappeared into, then he looked in the direction from which the delicious scents were coming from. He had no idea when he'd get another chance to eat. And man, oh man, was he hungry.

His decision made, he put the idling truck into gear and pulled out onto the street. Guiltily, he looked back at the building that the girls had disappeared into. He wouldn't be gone long. It would only take a few minutes to grab some food, then he'd be back. Michael doubted that anything would happen to the girls during that short duration.

He drove past the building as he headed for the taco stand. His eyes lingered on it with an intensity. "I'll be right back. No problem." He muttered to himself.

A part of him wasn't sure if he was trying to convince himself of that.




********************************************



"Liz, look, I know we came all this way to find out what your dream meant. We're not gonna find any answers here. The hours are posted on the door. Doctor's offices are closed on Sundays."

"We are not leaving. Something happened there, Maria. I saw it in my flashes. It's not a coincidence that there is a different Dr. Castillo working here now. We're close, really close to finding out what's going on. I can almost taste it."

"I want to find out why all this alien craziness is happening to you, almost as much as you do. But Chica, I draw the line at breaking and entering."

Liz gave her friend an incredulous look. "That is such a load of crap. I seem to remember you saying that it isn't a crime unless you get caught. Or are you going to deny that us breaking into Michael's apartment ever happened?" Liz leaned toward the glass and put her hands up near her eyes to block the glass's reflective glare.

"That's different. It was Michael for crying out loud. It's not like he would press charges against me." Maria frustratingly waved her hand toward the building. "This is another matter entirely. If we get caught breaking into someplace like this, we'll go to jail. My mom would kill me. So would yours."

"Relax. No one is going to jail."

"Oh really? And just how are you going to manage that? You've got powers, but its not like you can... Hey! What are you doing? You might set off an alarm."

Liz kept on pounding on the glass door. "There's someone inside. I saw someone moving around. Maybe we can get them to let us in."

"Are you sure you're not mistaken? I didn't see anyone. And honestly, Chica, I think you're losing it. We're not gonna find out anything here. Not today. We can come back another time." Maria shook her head at her and put her hands on her hips.

"No, we can't." Liz said a little more sharply than she'd intended. Her fist pounded against the door insistently. When she next spoke to her friend, she let the weight of her worries shade her voice. "We're low on time remember? If we don't find out now, we may never get another chance."

Maria visibly deflated at that. "You're right. But what if no one comes to find out why we're knocking?"

No sooner had Maria said that, then an overweight, middle-aged woman cautiously came to the door. She looked out at the two girls and asked through the door, "What do you want?"

"Hi there. We're doing a report on local twentieth century medical pioneers. I was told to come here to find out about Dr. B. Castillo."

The heavy-set woman's eyes widened in startlement. She scrutinized Liz and Maria closely. After several long moments the elder woman's expression softened. She smiled widely at the two girls and unlocked the door and ushered them inside.

"Come in. Come in. So you want to do a report on Dr. Bernard? Can't say that I'm surprised about that. He was a really good doctor... Now who was it that you were doing this report for? You two are a little young to be reporters."

"We're not. We're doing this for our... um... school." Maria chipped in.

"That's funny, I thought schools were out for the summer." The woman observed schrewdly.

"Well, you see..." Liz started to come up with an explanation off the top of her head, "... they are. But me and my friend Maria are part of an advanced placement collegiate class. If we work on this report over the summer, we will get college credit for it."

"I see." The woman's stern expression softened. "A.P. classes can be handy. My son was able to skip a semester of college by earning credits in high school. It really saved on his tuition." The woman paused for a moment, "What can I do to help you?"

"We were just wondering if you knew of somewhere we could find out more about him. We know he's no longer here..." Liz was interrupted before she could finish talking.

"It's a shame how tragic things turned out. He was such a good man," the older woman said, shaking her head.

"Very tragic." Maria agreed. Then she went out on a bit of a limb with the next statement. "We know he's been gone a long time, but no one would tell us what exactly happened to him."

The woman nodded her head. "The police did a piss poor job investigating his death, if you ask me. And if you read the newspaper, they knew less than the police."

Liz picked up on the small deception that Maria had started. If her suspicions were correct, then he probably met the same fate as most of the people who had encountered Nasedo. "All we could find out was that he died under unusual circumstances."

"That's an understatement. They never did come up with a cause of death. I remember how he disappeared for several days, and when they found him, he was dead. The word on the street was that he had some kind of silvery mark on his chest. His poor wife and child never found out why. I know it bothers Dr. Rafe that they never found out who killed his father and why."

Liz and Maria shared a look. She knew that her and her friend were on the same wavelength. The moment the woman mentioned a silver mark, most likely a handprint, Liz knew that these unfortunate people's lives had been irrevocably changed by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. They both had a good idea who killed Bernard Castillo and why. Not that they could give his son any information. And there was definitely no way to ever bring Nasedo to justice.

Now more than ever, she hated that creature for all the pain he'd inflicted.

Maria's voice interrupted her mental reverie. "So do you know where we could get more information about him?"

"Well, you could try his widow. She used to be his nurse. When she retired about ten years ago, I took over her job here. Mrs. Castillo might be able to help you."

"That would be great." Liz said earnestly. "Could you give us directions to where she lives?"

"Sure. No problem." The woman opened the door and followed the two girls outside. "All you got to do is go three blocks that way, make a right and go down about a block. She lives at the end of a cul-de-sac."

"Thank you. We appreciate all your help." Liz shook the woman's hand.

Maria, then Liz, turned toward the Jetta. They walked to the car and started to open the doors when the elder woman called out to them one more time.

"You might not want to take the car. Parking's always at a premium over there. There's never any where to park, not for several blocks."

Maria looked at Liz with a question in her eyes. Liz shrugged in reply. They both closed their car doors and locked them. Maria walked around the car and fell into step with Liz. The two of them started walking in the direction of their destination.

For a final time, the helpful woman called out to their retreating backs. "When you get there, be sure to tell her that Mrs. Jones sent you. And don't let her odd behavior put you off..."

Without breaking her stride, Liz spun around and waved at the woman in thanks. Then she and Maria continued walking down the block. They both were eagerly anticipating the next leg of their quest.

The heavy-set Mrs. Jones watched the two girls walk away. When they dissappeared from her sight, she went back in the building. She then took one last glance in the direction the two young women had walked.

"I just hope Mrs. Castillo is having one of her good days."

She locked the clinic's doors with a firm twist of her wrist, then disappeared further into the clinic.

posted on 5-Aug-2002 10:58:08 PM by Psyche G
*** AUTHOR'S NOTE***


Hey all,

I just wanted to let you know that I'm sorry for the delay. I'm trying hard to get this next part of the story just right, but it's being stubborn. On top of that, reality chose to rear it's ugly head and point out that I gotta hit the bricks and find me a job. So I've been pulled in different directions. What fun.

I think I should be able to get the next chapter out sometime this week. Keep an eye out for it.


Thanks for all the feedback and bumping!!!


~~~Psyche G~~~
posted on 13-Aug-2002 9:06:49 PM by Psyche G
Hey guys *happy*

Again sorry about the delay, but I just got this part finished to my satisfaction. This chapter was the hardest to write so far because many elements that comprise it came from my memories of my grandma.

But enough about me. Let's get to what you've been waiting on.

By the way don't forget to vote if you like the story!

And now on with the show:



Chapter 38



"This has got to be it." Liz said to Maria as they stood in front of a somewhat modest house. It, not unlike all the others around it, was a split-level ranch-style home that had the look of houses built in the sixties.

Maria reached for the sunglasses that she had put on during their walk from the clinic. She lowered them slightly, and peered over the rims at the building in front of them. "It doesn't look like much. You sure this is the right place?" She took off her sunglasses and stashed them in her purse.

"I think so. We followed the directions the lady..."

"Mrs. Jones," interrupted Maria.

"...Mrs. Jones from the clinic gave us to find Mrs. Castillo. This is the house at the end of the cul-de-sac. This should be the place."

"Then why aren't you running up there to check the name by the doorbell? What's the deal, Liz? If I didn't know better I'd say you're stalling."

"I'm not exactly stalling." Liz answered, worrying her lip. "I just... It'll sound silly, but now that we're here, I'm just... a little apprehensive... about what we'll find. It might be something really bad. Or, we might not find anything at all. Or..."

"...Or... I might go crazy listening to you come up with a thousand 'what if' scenarios." Maria said in an exasperated rush. "We won't know what we'll find until it's found. So come on..." She grabbed a hold of Liz's arm and started to drag her toward the shaded front door.

"Maria!"

"Don't 'Maria' me. You not only owe it to yourself to find out what's happening to you... you owe me too. I got to know why all this stuff keeps happening to you. It's not like you signed up to be part of the alien psychic dreams network. I wanna find out why they keep picking on my best friend." Maria rang the doorbell, and waited. "Besides, everything we want to know could be on the other side of this door."

The door squeaked and a hunched-over old woman swung the door open. Her faded blue eyes swept over Maria then turned their clouded gaze on Liz. The muffled sound of barking reached them from somewhere deep inside the house.

"Mrs. Castillo? We were at the clinic..."

The old woman's eyes widened as they seemed to focus on Liz. "Sheila? Is that you? It's been ages since I've seen you. You've been away too long. Who's this?" Mrs. Castillo trained her gaze on Maria. "She must be that friend of yours you keep mentioning to me." Mrs. Castillo opened the door wide and stepped back so the girls could come in.

Liz glanced at Maria, who was giving Liz her 'is this woman for real' look. Liz shrugged and cautiously entered Mrs. Castillo's house, Maria was right on her heels. "But I'm not. You must have me mixed up with someone else. I'm Liz Parker, and this is Maria DeLuca."

"Liz Parker? Is that a character in one of the plays you're in at the community theater? I never could keep up with which role was what." The woman laughed. "God, I've missed talking to you. Just shut the door behind you, and follow me." Mrs. Castillo said over her shoulder as she hobbled over to, and disappeared into a nearby room.

Maria leaned in toward Liz and whispered to her, "So maybe I was wrong about what was on this side of the door."

"I'm not so sure. I agree that she seems... confused... about things. But that doesn't mean that she doesn't know something. I say we play along and see where that gets us."

"'Confused' is putting it lightly. If you ask me, she's not playing with a full deck."

"Be that as it may, the dream led us here. Besides, I don't think she's that bad. She's just old, it's not her fault that mental clarity fades as a person gets older."

Maria shivered. "Ugh. Remind me not to let myself get that old."

"Oh, but you'd be so cute. Mumbling to yourself as you push your walker around. I can see it now."

"That is not going to happen. Don't even think it." Maria said in a low, sharp tone as the two of them stopped at the threshold of the room Mrs. Castillo had entered. The girls entered the room, and Maria managed to get the last word. "Not that it will happen, but if it did, I'll be hitting you upside the head with my walker."

Liz never got a chance to reply.

Mrs. Castillo called out to them as Liz and Maria stepped into the center of dim and gloomy parlor. "Make yourself comfortable, I gotta secure my dog out on the sunporch. I'll be right back with some lemonade." The woman left them standing there as she left the room as quickly as her old, frail body would seemingly allow.

"Do you think she has heard of electric lights? Because this place is giving me the creeps. It's all dark and shadowy. And between that and the way the streets we walked down were as desolate looking as their downtown... I swear it's starting to get to me."

"Ok. Calm down. I can't do anything about the town, but ... I think I see... Yeah, there is... Here we go." All of a sudden, the room brightened as a table lamp was switched on. "Does this help at all?"

"Yeah it does. Thanks, Liz."

The small shaded lamp didn't give off a lot of light, but it enabled the girls to take stock of the room they were in. They were in what appeared to be a parlor or sitting room that was connected to a dining room. And just past the dining room, was the swinging door that Mrs. Castillo escaped through.

Maria let out a low whistle. "Can you believe this place?"

"It's like we traveled back in time or something. This furniture has got to be at least twenty years old." Liz replied in a low voice.

"No. Not twenty. I'm thinking like closer to my mom's age. I swear I've seen this kind of furniture in pictures from when she was a little younger than us. It's like 'Brady Bunch' chic."

"You're right. That's what the furniture reminded me of. I couldn't think of where I'd seen something similar."

"So, Liz, do you think that would make her a creepy Mrs. Brady? Or is she a crazy Alice?"

"You're the one who came up with the Brady analogy. You tell me."

"I think the jury's out on..." Maria paused as Mrs Castillo came through the swinging door carrying a tray with a mustard yellow tupperware pitcher and burnt orange tumblers, upon it. "...that one," She ended in a whisper.

Maria and Liz started towards the woman to relieve of her of the tray she held precariously in her arthritic grip. "Let us take that for you." Liz offered.

"Oh, no... No. I can manage. Just sit. You're my guests. I'm just sorry to have kept you waiting. The damn bastards who live behind my refrigerator rearranged my pantry again. I wish they'd leave me alone." Mrs. Castillo turned her head toward the room she had come from, and yelled, "You heard me. Go home! Stop touching my food!"

Liz looked at Maria with wide eyes. Maria just looked back at her with another smug expression on her face that she stole from Michael. The one that said 'Ha! I told you so.' Liz knew that expression very well, and Maria mimicked it perfectly, right down to the smirk.

Maria glanced at their host, then back at Liz, then at the host again. She quietly whispered to her dark haired friend, "Should we go? Or do we stay?"

Liz looked at the old woman, and tried to evaluate if she was any kind of threat. She didn't seem dangerous. Senile, yes. But a threat to her and Maria's safety, no. Although, Liz qualified, it was probably a good idea to remain cautious.

"We'll stay." Liz replied with a shrug. "Just be on your guard." Maria chose a spot on a nearby sofa, and sat down. Liz settled in next to her.

Mrs Castillo slowly made her way past the dining area while Liz looked on with wide eyes. She took notice of how the elder woman's hands shook as she carried the tray. She watched the liquid slosh over the edge of the pitcher. Idly, Liz wondered if there would be anything left in it by the time she made it over to them.

All she and Maria could do was sit and watch as the woman eventually reached them. With slightly less shaky hands, Mrs. Castillo set the tray on the lacquered coffee table. She didn't even acknowledge her guests as she set out the tumblers and filled them. She finished her preparations by setting a small paper plate with store-bought chocolate chip cookies in the center of the table.

She looked over at Liz and Maria as she sat down in a high-backed chair. Her eyes widened in startlement and she nearly fell off the chair.

"Are you ok?" The girls chorused as the two of them rushed out of their seats intending to help Mrs. Castillo back on to the chair. Liz reached her first and reached out to steady her. The elderly woman shrank back from her, confusion written on her face.

"Who are you? Where did Sheila go? She was just here a moment ago."

"No she wasn't. That was me. I tried to explain as you hurried us in."

"That was you? I must have..." Mrs. Castillo murmered shakily. Then she sighed. "My eyes aren't what they used to be. When I opened the door, I really did think it was her."

"That's ok. Liz just happens to have one of those faces..."

"She doesn't really look like her, now that I can see a little clearer. She has similar coloring and features, but..." Mrs. Castillo's voice trailed off in thought. "So what brings you here?"

"Mrs. Jones, from the clinic, said that you might be able to help us with our report for school." Maria replied.

"We're researching local pioneers in medicine. We want to know what it was like when Dr. Bernard Castillo practiced medicine here."

"Yeah. We heard that he was ahead of his time."

"He was. He definitely was." The elder woman's eyes misted over with emotion.

"Well then, we were hoping that you would be able to share with us his concerns, goals, anxieties, and his philisophy regarding medicine. Anything at all that might help us with our... report."

The older woman was quiet for several long moments. She seemed to be losing herself in her memories. She began to talk reverently about the past, sounding as though she was more caught up in that than the here and now. "It's like it was just yesterday that he swept me off my feet. He was so suave and charming. He was the sweetest thing that ever moved to this town. All we ever wanted was to work in our clinic and help as many women as we could."

"How so?"

"Too many woman's ailments went undiagnosed. Most gynecologists treated menstral related problems like figments of the imagination. My Bernie was on a one-man mission to end that. But where are my manners? Please have some lemonade and cookies."

Liz picked up her glass and brought it to her mouth and took a polite sip.

It took all her effort not to spit it back out. It was so tart that Liz doubted that there was even a pinch of sugar in it. And for some reason, if she wasn't mistaken, it tasted like it was made with pure lemons and saltwater. It was so utterly undrinkable that she had to force herself to swallow the sip she had already taken.

Next to her, Maria sputtered and coughed as her face started to pucker from the sourness. Apparently she had just had her own sampling of Mrs. Castillo's lemonade. Liz lightly elbowed her friend in the side and gave her a pleading look. Maria was not the type of girl to hold back what she thought, and this was definitely a moment where discretion was the better part of valor.

And even though Liz agreed that the beverage was one of the most awful ever created, she didn't want to alienate Mrs. Castillo at this stage of the game. Liz hoped that if they got her talking about the past, they might be able to steer her towards what happened in August of 1970. Although, the woman seemed a few cards short of a full deck, she might have information they could use.

Maria nodded at her in acquiescence, much to Liz's relief. Now all they had to do was get Mrs. Castillo to talk about what happened to her husband. Casually, Liz set her glass down on the coffee table and reached for one of the cookies.

"Could you please tell us more about your husband." Liz said between polite nibbles.

"It's a shame things ended so tragically for him." Maria chimed in.

"We had been married for several years and we still acted like newlyweds. Even in the early days of the clinic, we never lost sight of that. We had some lean times, but we survived and began to fulfill his dream."

"What dream?" Maria asked Mrs. Castillo.

"His momma, God rest her soul, had been plagued all her life with excruciating pain that he believed was tied in to her menses. He grew up listening to her wimper in pain, so he devoted his life to finding out why and how to cure it."

Liz's mind started to whirl with the possiblilities. If Dr. Castillo specialized in treating patients who had symptoms that other gynecologists left undiagnosed and untreated, then it would make sense if the good protector came to Castillo's clinic to do tests, or even possibly find a suitable host for the essence of the dead Ava.

That being the case, it would explain a lot. It would make sense then, for Liz to have flashes that would eventually lead her to where she was right now. Maybe Sheila Hubble was murdered, not because she had been an important element at the very heart of this desparate alien conspiracy, but because she had the unfortunate timing to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe Nasedo thought that she was the one carrying the essence of Ava.

And if Sheila wasn't the one carrying it, and was in essence just a decoy, it would stand to reason that the good protector might have left some kind of clue or lead to follow. And if Liz wasn't mistaken, then the mysterious death of Dr. Castillo could give them some insight. All they had to do is find a subtle way to bring it up to his widow.

"So Mrs. Castillo, we read that the circumstances regarding the death of your husband were controversial. But we couldn't find out why."

Liz groaned inwardly as she heard Maria's idea of subtlety.

"That's all right, dear. It's been a while since anyone has asked me about that. I remember when I was asked that several times a day. You see, at first no one believed me. I saw him on the floor, dead. I left the building and called the police to check it out. They came to check it out, but they didn't find anything. Every day I called and insisted he was dead, they thought I was losing my mind. One day I called them, panicking, they came out and when Bernie answered the door to let them in, they never believed me again."

"Wait a minute. Dr. Castillo answered the door?" Maria asked, incredulousness filling her voice.

"Yes, he did."

In a very confused voice, Liz commented, "I thought you said your husband was dead."

"He was. An angel came down from heaven to help keep Bernie's dream alive."

Maria leaned over to Liz so only she could hear, "Oh yeah, the jury's in. She's nuts."

"I'm not so sure about that. Let's hear her out." Liz whispered back. She had the feeling that this wasn't just dementia talking. She turned to Mrs. Castillo to prove her theorum right. "An angel?"

"He was so handsome, just like my Bernie. Traveled all the way from the heavens just to watch over me and little Rafeal. He stayed with us until his body was found."

"His body?"

"My husband's"

"Your husband stayed until his body was found? I don't get it." Maria's confusion was clear upon her face.

"Maria, the angel stayed until her husband was found." Liz hissed, trying to get her friend on the same page as she was.

The feeling that she knew what exactly this poor woman was talking about, settled in Liz's stomach like a lead balloon. This "angel" could only mean one thing. And Maria, she didn't pick up on it. She was too busy trying to take what what was said at face value.

Liz was almost certain that Mrs. Castillo was one of the few people to have contact with one of the alien shapeshifters and not die afterwards. Although she believed that was the case, she needed a little more information to corroborate that.

"How do you know he was an angel? Did he tell you that?"

"Of course he didn't. Angels don't tell us lesser beings what they're doing, it isn't our place to know. He wanted me to think he was my Bernie. I let him think that I thought he was. I didn't let him know that I knew he wasn't the Bernie I know. But I think he knew that I knew he wasn't the same."

Maria, impatient to for the woman to get to the point, asked, "So if he didn't tell you, how did you know what he was?"

"I could tell he wasn't like the rest of us. He was a being so pure that his goodness shone. Just like an angel. I secretly watched him work in our makeshift lab at the clinic, and he made the light of God shine out of his hands."

Liz could tell that, with what Mrs. Castillo just said, Maria had finally reached the same conclusion she had earlier. Maria quickly looked at her and mouthed "Nasedo?"

Shaking her head slightly in reply, Liz mouthed back, "Sweets."

Mrs. Castillo continued rambling on without even noticing Liz and Maria's temporary shift of focus. "He tried his best to convince me he was my Bernie, but a woman knows her husband. And Bernie, not my Bernie, the other one, spent most of his time in the lab."

"Why did that draw your attention?" Liz found herself asking.

"My Bernie hated doing labwork. He usually left it for me to do. He was more comfortable diagnosing the results. When he spent all of his time in the lab, I knew my Bernie was lost to me forever."

"When did this all happen? Your husband dying, I mean." Maria asked gently.

"1970. Bernie died August 17, 1970. He came back. Then he left my life for good on the 28th. of that same month."

"So was that when your husband was found?" inquired Liz.

"No. His body wasn't found until a few days later. I remember it clearly because I had just returned home from the funeral of my friend Shiela, and the sheriff was standing outside my house waiting for me. He tried to break it to me gently, but I... Anyways, they found him at an abandoned oil well on the outskirts of town."

"I'm sure I speak for Maria when I say how sorry we are that you had to go through so much heartache. We know how hard that can be."

"Thank you for your understanding." Mrs. Castillo murmurred in reply, her eyes cast downward with unshed tears. All of a sudden, she snapped her head up and stared penetratingly at both girls. Eventually her gaze came to rest on Liz. "You do understand. Don't you?"

"Understand what?" Both girls chorused.

Liz didn't like the strange and sudden turn the conversation had taken. She felt for a moment as though she were living out a deja vu moment, as impossible as that may be. As far as she knew, she'd never had this conversation before either in reality or during her dreams. And the fervor with which Mrs. Castillo made that comment, made her feel decidely ill-at-ease.

"You know. You understand about the angels. He said you would, but I didn't understand then."

"I don't mean to sound rude, but what are you talking about? Could you try and focus on making sense?"

"Maria!" Liz chastised. She couldn't believe that Maria would be so rude. Ok, she could believe it and agree with the sentiment, but that didn't make it appropriate.

"That's all right. Sometimes things I say don't come out right." She took a deep breath to steady herself and continued, "You understand about the angels. You've seen them too, haven't you?"

Maria glanced at Liz to see what she would do. Liz wasn't sure either. Somehow it didn't feel right to lie to this woman who had lost so much over time. The poor woman deserved at least some kind of confirmation that she wasn't just an old and senile old lady. Liz didn't want to endanger her friends, but she could acknowlegde the woman was right with a simple gesture. So, Liz nodded her head and Maria joined in with her.

"I knew it!" The older woman cheered. She turned her head in the direction of the kitchen and yelled, "I told you I wasn't crazy! You were wrong! Go back behind the fridge where you came from! And stop stealing my food!!!"

"Um... Mrs. Castillo, you mentioned something a few moments ago about not understanding something. What were you talking about?" Liz said cautiously, trying to find a way to divert her attention from the imaginary peoples she was yelling at.

"The Bernie who's an angel, not my Bernie who's in heaven, but that Bernie came back to me and told me that a believer would come and I should help them any way that I could. But all this time, no one ever came. Not until the two of you."

"How did he know you would help us?" Disbelief colored Maria's voice.

"I have no idea. Maybe God told him."

"Did he say how you could help us? You know, like tell you anything specific we should know for our report?"

"No. That was all he told me. He slipped out of the house like he had never been there in the first place. I didn't really believe it happened until today."

"Oh." Liz said dejectedly. It was kind of disappointing to have come so far only to be stopped by this. She had been so sure that she would find answers here. She never expected to only find more questions.

Maria obviously picked up on her friend's train of thought, and put her arm around her for a quick hug to cheer her up. "It's not over yet. I'm sure that there is some important information out here, we just have to hunt it down." Maria then turned toward Mrs. Castillo and asked, "You wouldn't have any of his old files or stuff that we could take a look at?"

"Maria, only doctors and their patients have the legal right to look at medical records."

The old woman shook her head sadly. "Your friend is right. I couldn't keep any of the files my husband poured so much of his life into."

Now it was Maria's turn to sound dejected. "I see."

Liz remained silent as she tried to figure out what they should do next. Her instincts were telling her that they were really close to finding something. But sadly, she could tell that they had all but exhausted Mrs. Castillo as a source of information.

Maria and her shared a look. It was time to leave. They both stood up, and offered Mrs. Castillo a smile. "Well we should get going. You've given us a good deal of information. Thank you for your hospitality..."

Mrs. Castillo looked up at them. Her face lit up, as though a light bulb went off above her head. "I should still have my husband's journals. I put them away years ago. If you want to look for them you can, it's up to you."

Liz couldn't keep the smile off of her face as she learned that Dr. Castillo kept journals. This had to be the ever elusive something that they had come all the way to Artesia for. Their search wasn't over. She looked to Maria to see if she was agreeable to go hunting for the journals. Her dazzling smile that shone back at Liz was her answer. Liz smiled wider in return.

"That would be fabulous!" Maria answered for the two of them.

"Then let me get up, and I'll show you where they are." Mrs. Castillo said as she struggled to get up off of the chair. She made several attempts, but they were in vain as she sagged weakly in the chair, breathing hard from her efforts.

Liz rushed over to the the woman's right-hand side while Maria positioned herself on the left. "Let us help you. On the count of three, we'll pull you to your feet." Liz instructed as she positioned her arms so she would be able to help lift her onto her feet.

"One... Two... Three."

The two girls worked together to heave the woman upright. They managed to get the woman standing on her own, albeit a little wobbly.

Mrs. Castillo looked at Liz and Maria and smiled warmly in appreciation. "Thank you so much. You girls are really sweet to help me up. Now just follow me."

The hunched over woman led the girls past the dining area and through the swinging door to the kitchen. As Liz and Maria stepped into the kitchen, they both stopped dead in their tracks as they took in the sight before them.

Everywhere Liz looked she saw shades of avocado green and harvest gold. The counter tops and cabinets were that shade of green, including the refrigerator. All the other appliances were gold-colored. The walls were an eye-straining mustard yellow and green square pattern. A round formica table with little speckles on it, was against one wall. The floor that everything rested on was a neutral color linoleum floor with coordinating green and gold flecks in it.

Everything in the room belonged to another era. The appliances looked decidely less than modern. There were no signs of any kind of current technology anywhere in the room. It was odd to Liz to see a kitchen without even a microwave oven.

The screen door on the opposite side of the room banged against the door frame. Loud barking came from a vicious-looking Doberman from the other side of the door. The dog was snarling at them as they approached. Liz could see spittle flying as the dog barked at them.

The dog was frightening. Liz had the feeling he would gladly attack her or Maria if given a chance. And as much as she liked animals and didn't want them to locked up against their will, she would feel easier if this dog was tied down.

Mrs. Castillo walked past the dog by the door unflinchingly and stopped in front of a door next to a small pantry. She noticed the girls' hesitation regarding the dog and commented on it. "Don't worry about Duchess. She just doesn't like strangers. My son thought that I needed something to keep me company and for protection. The door is sturdy, she can't hurt you from there."

Cautiously, Maria and Liz stepped past the screened door and stopped behind Mrs. Castillo as she unlocked a door. Opening it wide, she motioned for the two girls to go ahead of her. Liz, then Maria stepped into darkness.

"Mrs. Castillo, where's the light switch?"

"It's kind of hard to see the stairs," Liz added.

"Oh my goodness, I'm sorry. I forgot about that. There's a switch on the wall right behind... Here, let me get get it." The woman reached behind Maria and suddenly the stairs were illuminated by the light of a bare bulb dangling from the ceiling.

The girls reached the bottom of the stairs and surveyed the area before them, in silence. What had they gotten themselves into? The basement was full of boxes. Some were stacked almost as tall as they were.

"I know I labeled the box I put the journals into." Mrs. Castillo said from the top of the stairs. "I wish I could help you, but I have trouble going down these stairs. Last time I did I slipped and broke my hip. I'll be up here if you need me. I have to feed Duchess and then I'll make us all some nice grilled cheese sandwhiches."

The faint growling of Maria's stomach made Liz's lips curve upwards in a grin. "That would be great."

The door closed behind Mrs. Castillo with a soft click. She could be heard through the door. "I'll get your food in a minute, Duchess. And you! By the fridge. Don't think I don't see you there trying to steal my food!!"

Down in the basement, Liz turned to Maria and said, "You know, you were right about her being a little crazy."

"That makes us even. She did have some useful information." Maria shrugged with a slight smile.

"I guess that's why we make such a good team."

"Chica, that's why we are best friends."

"You're right.... So, where do you want to start?"

"Like it really matters. Just pick a spot and we'll go from there." Maria said as she opened a box near her and started rifling through it. She looked over at Liz and commented, "Let's get cracking. The sooner we finish this, the sooner we get to eat."

"Let's get cracking?" Liz mocked as she read the labels on the box. "Oh yeah, I can see that you get along fine with the Grandpa Dupree side of Michael."

"Don't sass me." Maria said jokingly.

Liz couldn't stop herself from laughing. "Where do you come up with this stuff?"

"Oh, just get back to work."

The girls' laughter echoed inside the basement as they worked.

These were the kind of moments that Liz wished would last forever.
posted on 23-Sep-2002 3:43:21 PM by Psyche G
Hey all!

Sorry about the extremely long delay. I haven't given up on the story, I just had to take a step back from it to regain my perspective. I am 3/4ths finished on the latest chapter, but I can guarantee that it will be equal to two chapters.

So for everyone who likes this story, thank you for not giving up on it. I love hearing your comments and questions, and I especially love reading all the feedback.

I should be posting the latest chapter sometime by the end of the week whether or not I get a hold of my beta reader.


~~Psyche G~~~
posted on 19-Oct-2002 9:34:28 AM by Psyche G
Hey all,

I know I said that I would have posted sooner, but I was so unprepared for the backbreaking quality of my new job. I litterally come home, eat dinner, then pass out. With that kind of schedule it's been hard to find a moment to write. This is the first part of a long-assed chapter, but I decided to break it down into two chapters.

Oh yeah, one last thing... My beta reader kinda disappeared on me, so please don't hold it against me. And if anyone wants to volunteer their services, I would gladly appreciate it.

Anyway, the story now continues...




"Chapter 39



"... in these trying times, it is hard to remain righteous..."

"... fresh and full of life. Mentos, the freshmaker..."

"...Debuting at number eight, snagging their first top ten hit..."

"...And that's... The rest of the story."



Michael switched the radio off with a sharp twist of his wrist. "Why is there nothing to listen to?" He pounded the steering wheel in frustration.

He looked over at the building where he had last seen Maria and Liz. He'd only been gone for a few moments getting himself something to eat, when he'd come back they were no longer talking on the sidewalk. He didn't know how they did it, but he was sure that somehow his girlfriend and her best friend conned their way inside.

That had been almost two hours ago, and there was no sign of them. Maria's car was still parked across the street, and he knew she wouldn't have left her car behind. Although he had gone around the corner to get some food, he would have heard Maria put up a fight if someone was trying to harm them. But all had been quiet.

"What the hell are they doing in there?"

Michael didn't like this. He feeling he'd had ever since he set foot in this town kept getting stronger. There was something something definitely not right about this town. The sooner the three of them were back in Roswell, the better he'd feel.

His gut was telling him to be on his guard. Something was about to happen soon, he could feel it in his bones. And Maria and her little partner in crime had no clue that they were in the middle of something potentially dangerous.

He had no idea what the hell they were doing in there, but he wished they would hurry up and finish it already. He didn't like sitting on his ass doing nothing. He was a man of action. Maybe he was influenced by who he used to be in his previous life, but he didn't feel comfortable with waiting for things to happen. He felt calmer, more in control when he had an objective he was carrying out, or an enemy to fight.

Michael smiled to himself as the realization struck him, that maybe that was the reason why he always got a rush from sparring with Maria. He loved the firey side of her. No matter what, she always gave as good as she got. And to be honest, she'd come out on top more offen than he did.

That was only part of the reason he loved Maria. She didn't have problems dealing with the alien side of him. Well, actually, she did. Whenever there was an alien related crisis, she'd freak out. Honestly, even if he wasn't an alien he was sure that she would still have problems dealing with him.

But as much as he loved her, at that moment he was more likely to try and strangle her. No amount of pouting with her full, reddish-tinted lips will stop him from giving her a piece of his mind. What the hell was she thinking?

Ok, maybe it was possible that he might get a little sidetracked if she turned those sweet lips against him. But he wouldn't let it get out of hand. This was important. He wouldn't be put off from having this discussion with her.

She's only a human, he reminded himself for the hundreth time, she needs some alien-powered back-up. Especially when she gets it set in her mind to road trip for clues. He loved her too much for her to take stupid risks like this. Especially with all the crap Tess had put them through lately.

And therein lay the problem.

Tess could be anywhere. Maria would be easy prey to her. And she would be the best way to strike a blow and cripple them. Maria was important to all of them, and Tess knew that. What better way to demoralize the enemy, than to rip out it's heart? Just like she managed to do with Alex, only with Maria it would devistate everyone.

This could all be a set up to bait a trap that has his girlfriend's name written all over it.

"I don't like this."

Michael picked up the phone from the seat next to him and considered calling Isabel to bring in the cavalry. He got so far as to punch in half of the phone number before he muttered a curse and savagely turned it off. Isabel and the Valentis' had their hands full with Max. There was no way he could get them to help. The responsibility of protecting Maria and Liz fell soley onto his shoulders.

The problem was that he didn't feel like he was living up to his responsibility. He should be out there with the girls in case something happened to them. Not sitting in Mr. Valenti's truck, eating a luke-warm burrito, waiting for the girls to appear.

What if they ran into another one of those explosive devices? He had saved their lives the last time. Who would save them now? Liz may have gotten some strange new powers, but they couldn't be counted on to save the day. They were too uncontrolled at this point. Not that that would stop Liz from trying. The two of them would probably end up in deeper trouble than they had already been in.

His gaze shifted to the clinic or building across the street. "What the..." Michael sputtered as his food went down the wrong way.

The overweight woman that Maria and Liz had talked to, had just come out of the building. She slung her purse over her shoulder as she locked the doors, and tested them.

Her appearance stuck Michael as odd. He could understand her stepping outside for a smoke, but she wouldn't need to lock the doors. If he didn't know better, he would guess that she was going home for the day. But that didn't make sense. Why would she lock the doors to the building and go home if the girls were still inside? Unless...

Fear, panic, and anger vied for dominance in him as the truth became clear. They weren't in there. The woman was locking up because the girls had never been there in the first place. They'd given him the slip.

"Fuck!"

Michael was out of the truck and running across the street before the uneaten portion of the burrito hit the ground. He raced over to the woman and spun her around to face him. Frightened, she drew back from him.

"Let me go! Help! Help!... Fire!"

"I'm not going to hurt you." He assured, releasing her arm. "Look, I just need to know where my girlfriend went. You talked to her earlier. She's a blonde, and her friend was with her..."

"Why should I tell a hoodlum like you where she went? I watch tv, I've seen the Dateline specials. You're probably stalking her. You'd probably go and beat up that sweet, helpless little girl. And don't even think about taking another step. If you come near me again, I'm gonna get the police."

Michael couldn't believe this. Maria could be in danger and this woman thinks that he's trying to reenact the Ike and Tina story. Were all women out to drive him insane? This was almost as bad as trying to get Maria to do what he said.

How could he get the woman to help him? How the hell would he be able to get the woman to trust that he only looking out for Maria. He would be wasting valuable time if he had to go into a long explanation. And even if he did try to explain, he would be hard pressed to come up with some kind of cover story that had nothing to do with aliens.

The last time he had been in a somewhat similar situation was when Maria and him had just caught up with Laurie. Maria had told him he had two options, either do the unthinkable and forge an emotional bond, or come clean and explain the whole alien situation to her.

As soon as that memory came to him, he knew what he had to do. He only wished Maria could see it happen. He could be sensitive if he wanted to.

"Look, lady, you're wrong about me. I love Maria, I would never hurt her. But there are people out there who would."

"Then call the police. In fact, let me. I told you not to come near me again. I..." The woman made the mistake of looking up into Michael's face. She saw his eyes and lost track of what she had been about to say.

Never had she seen eyes so full of worry and fear, and love for the girl in question. And for just a moment she envied a girl more than half her age, who was loved in a way she could only dream of.

"... I... I believe you. I told them to head in that direction. Go three blocks... Hey! Where are you going? I'm not done giving you directions!"

Michael was already running in the direction the woman had pointed out. He was running as though someone's life depended on it. Which it did.

He slowed down as he turned around and yelled back, "That's ok, I'll be able to find them."

Once more he turned around and was racing, following the same path the girls had taken. He was on a mission to save his girlfriend. He only hoped he would reach her in time.

No one better lay a hand on his Maria, or there'll be hell to pay.




****************************************



"Ugh! That has got to be the fifth spider I've seen so far." Maria said as she stomped her foot down on the eight-legged creature.

"Actually, that's the seventh." Liz could feel the look her friend was giving her. She could feel her eyes boring into her back. "What? I've been keeping track." She shrugged sheepishly.

"First, we really need to get you a hobby. You need to loosen up. Second, two of them don't count. They were already dead."

"You mean going through some elderly woman's basement doesn't count as a hobby?"

"For most people it doesn't. But then again, we seem to keep being drawn to alien-related basements, so it could go either way."

"Well, at least this one is less dusty than Atherton's."

"Yeah, but that one didn't smell all moldy and ancient."

"This time we know what we're looking for, Maria."

"I guess, but it doesn't make the journals any easier to find."

"I know," Liz sighed. She tried to put a bit of optimism into her voice even though she felt as demoralized as her friend sounded. "Try and think about it this way, we've been through about a third of the basement. We're bound to find them soon."

"If she even put them down here in the first place. We can't be certain that she's sure about that. But then again, it seems like Mrs. Castillo never threw anything away either. And if that's the case, then we should probably get back to work. We won't know for sure until we go through every single stupid box... Besides, I'm really getting hungry." Maria commented as her stomach growled just loud enough for Liz to hear.

"Still? After all you ate at the taco stand?"

"Hey! I didn't eat that much! And most of it I had to bag up because someone dragged me off to go searching for clues." Maria stopped her little tirade all of a sudden. Liz could tell that her friend just had some kind of startling revelation.

To Liz's surprise, Maria started to stomp her feet and say a few well-choiced muffled curses. "Damn it! My food! It's been sitting in my car in the hot sun for all this time. It's gotta be going bad in this heat. Don't laugh at this, Liz. It's not funny."

Trying hard to stifle her laughter, Liz commented, "It's just that you're getting pretty worked up over this when there are plenty of alien and Tess-related issues still hanging over our heads. Oh yeah, you got your priorities straight."

"You, of all people, know how I get when I'm hungry." Maria whined the last part playfully. "And I wasted all that money on it... Madre de Dios! My car is gonna smell by the time we get outta here. My mom is gonna kill me. You remember how she was last time, she flipped out just because after I returned the car it smelled so bad that we had to air it out for days."

"Maria," Liz said, trying to calm her friend down. "First of all, she didn't flip out. Now when you and Michael went to Arizona with Laurie, that was flipping out. Second, the car smelled because someone, possibly Alex, ate part of a burger and the rest of it fell down and landed underneath the driver's seat. Which no one noticed until the weather turned warm."

"I guess... But My mom is still gonna kill me. That is, if I don't die of starvation first." Maria pouted.

"Look, We'll drive with all the windows down, and I'll even buy you an air freshener at a gas station. That should help. As for you being hungry, I guess it's a good thing that Mrs. Castillo offered to make us some sandwiches. Hopefully they will be edible."

"She's a sweet old lady. I can't help but feel sorry for her. Her whole life was changed by them and she'll never know why. Will she?" Liz was startled to hear the sudden underlying anger in Maria's voice.

"Probably not," Liz concurred cautiously. "... at least not if she's lucky."

"Lucky? She would have been luckier if they had never interfered with the Castillos in the first place!" Maria rejoined, her bitterness no longer masked.

"Why are you so getting so worked up by this? Not that I blame you, I agree with you on that... But you're not really not angry on Mrs. Castillo's behalf, are you? This is something else entirely." Liz observed.

"Sometimes, I wish that they had never come to this planet. Don't get me wrong, I love Michael and I'm glad he's here, but I hate how us humans are the ones to suffer because of this stupid inter-galactic war. Why do we get the short end of the stick?"

"Maria..." Liz hesitated, unsure of how exactly to reply. "I know it's not fair. And you're right, it seems that every human that encounters the aliens end up being used one way or another. I wish I knew what to say to you. Yes, we sometimes get the short end of the stick. It's not right that we have to be caught up in the middle of a war we never asked to be a part of. That some people we care a lot about are used as walkie-talkies to relay messages, or to decode texts. They made our all the people in the town disappear because of their zealousness."

Maria was starting to get riled up by what Liz had said. That wasn't the reaction Liz had been trying to get from her friend. Realizing that her friend was close to letting her temper get the better of her, Liz decided that she had better get to the point right away.

"I know that their arrival here has irrevocably changed things. But despite that, maybe all of us are better off to have them near."

"We're better off?" Maria's voice rose in outrage. "How can you say that? Alex is gone! We're never gonna be able to get him back. There is no way that we are better off."

"Maria, have you ever imagined what would have happened if Max, Isabel, and Michael had never arrived here? Sure, we would have never lost Alex, but who knows how much we would have lost instead? Hell, I might not even be here right now. And there's not even a guarantee that the rest of you would be safe from harm.

"Kivar and his followers have little to no respect for the people of this planet. We're animals to them. What if they came to Earth, overpowered us, and enslaved us all? Or worse yet, what if they wiped out our race and raped our planet of whatever resources we have that they may need?

"The three of them, four if you include Ava, may be the only thing to prevent them from doing just that. I've had a lot of time to think of all the possible ends of the world, and trust me when I say that is not something you want hanging over your head."

Liz paused, realizing how harsh what she'd said had come across. She didn't mean to snap at her friend. She sighed heavily and brought a dust-covered hand up to brush her hair back from off of her face. What she said next, she made certain to speak in a greatly softer tone. "Not even if it brings Alex back. Sometimes life just isn't fair."

Maria stood there horrified at the grim picture that Liz had just painted for her. Several times her mouth opened as though she was going to say something, but she never followed through with the words. A few stray tears fell from her eyes and ran down her cheeks.

It took Maria several moments for her to be able to collect herself enough to speak. "I'm sorry, Liz. What what I do without you? You're the only one who can give me a reality check. I never considered the possibility that things could be much worse."

Liz gathered her friend into a quick hug. "That's ok. I was hoping that you'd never have to think about that. I never wanted the fate of the world to alter the way you see life. Besides, it would have been nice for at least one of us to remain more or less normal."

"What are you talking about, Chica? It's not like we're gonna change. We'll always be the same girls we've always been."

An uneasy silence followed Maria's statement. There was nothing Liz could say in reply to that. She understood what Maria obviously did not. She was no longer the same. She'd been changed, and there was no turning back.

The powers she'd recently discovered, meant that her chances of having a normal kind of life were slipping away from her. Now that it seemed less and less likely, she realized that normalcy was something she wanted to hold on to. Even if she had to do it vicariously through her friend.

Liz couldn't meet her friend's eyes, a deliberate action that did not go unnoticed by Maria. She immediately called Liz on it. "We will, won't we? This is the point where you nod your head and agree with me. But you're not, and it's scaring me a little. Why wouldn't we be the same? It's not like I'll ever change. And I sincerely doubt that you'll ever..." Maria stopped mid-sentence as she apparently came to the same realization Liz had.

Her next words proved it. "...change. Oh Liz, just because you've been touched by an alien and are developing powers like them, doesn't make a difference to me. You're my friend, nothing is ever gonna change that. Not even if you turn into one of those little green men and grow antennae. It'll be harder to find things for you to wear, although I'd be up for the challenge."

"Are you sure?"

"Give me a little credit. You're always going to be my best friend. How could you think I wouldn't?" Maria asked, sounding hurt.

"It's just that I... I'm having a hard time with all this. And I'm the one to keep a level head. I can't imagine how you feel about all this."

"I gotta admit that I have a few issues. And maybe I might feel a little left out. But that's all on me, not you. You can't help it, it's not like you chose for all this freaky stuff to happen. I know it's gotta be hard for you, I understand that. And I'll be here if you need me."

"Oh, Maria." Liz's eyes welled up with tears. "I'm sorry. I've been trying to push all of this to the back of my mind, and not think about it. But I guess that hasn't been working out too well."

"Lizzie," Maria breathed in exasperation. "What have I been telling you? You can't keep everything inside. You're strong, but no one is that strong. Even Michael needs me to help him work through stuff. Not that he'll ever admit it." She mumbled the last part under her breath.

"You really think I'm strong?" Liz asked, incredulous.

"What planet are you on? Don't you get it by now? We all turn to you to see how we should handle situations. It doesn't bode well to find out that you're just as lost as the rest of us."

"I just..." Liz sighed heavily. "I don't know what I was thinking. How did I ever end up with a friend like you?"

"I don't know. But I think we both are very lucky."

"Some of us are luckier than the other." Liz commented softly, referring to herself.

"I know I am." Maria said pointedly. Her stomach chose that very moment to make it's emptyness known, quite loudly.

"And that, I would assume is a sign that this little break-time is over. Come on," Maria added as she gave Liz a gentle shove in the direction of the boxes they still had to go through. "We don't have much left to go through. I have a feeling that we're gonna find the journals really soon."

"I'll take the ones on the left. You take the right, and we'll meet somewhere in the middle."

The two girls once again set themselves to work going through boxes. They were one spider and several boxes into this leg of their search when Liz broke the silence that settled between them.

"Hey, Maria. You remember what you said about being strong?"

"Yeah. Don't make me go through that again. Do I gotta take a hammer and pound it into your brain?" Her friend's muffled reply came from where her head was leaning down inside a box.

"No, no. It's not that. I was just thinking... You really meant it when you said that I was like Luke Skywalker?"

"What? You think I pull these observations out of my ass or something? I gave it a lot of thought, and it makes sense. Our lives aren't a perfect match to Star Wars, but it comes pretty damn close."

"Oh," Liz said softly. "You really think that my situation is equivalent to Luke's? Seriously?"

"Seriously." The blond agreed in all seriousness as she brushed some hair out of her eyes. "Without Luke, the rebellion would have failed, the Emperor would have remained strong, and there would be no hope left in the universe."

"And you believe that I could be that integral to all of our survival?"

"I know it. I wasn't just kidding when I said that they should make you their leader. You would be fair... impartial. You would never put anyone's needs over what would be the right thing to do. And it would give us humans a fighting chance, now that you're able to tip the scales in our direction. We'd finally have a say in things."

The ammount of faith Maria had in her was staggering. If she was piecing things together correctly, then Maria truly believed that Liz was their last great hope to fight the evils awaiting them. And Liz had the sinking feeling that the weight of the world would once again fall upon her shoulders.

It was a bit much to try and acknowledge at one time.

"I hope you're right." Liz replied softly.

"I am. Trust me." Maria said with a confident smile.

"You know, you say things like that and I'm beginning to see the similarities between you and Han Solo."

"Like there was any doubt. I told you I would so be him!"

"Maybe... Maybe. But if you are, then there is one thing I just don't get. How could Michael be Princess Leia? It sounds so funny, and I just don't see it."

"Liz. Liz. Liz. Think about it... Leia was the most hard-core of them all. The rebellion was her life. She was the toughest one out of them. And if you remember, she was the impetuous one. In all of the movies, she was the one who jumped into things head first. She took action and thought about the consequences later. Not unlike someone I care about. Like I've said, it's not an exact fit. But it works for me. Besides, who else would be Han Solo's main squeeze?"

Liz couldn't keep herself from smiling. What Maria said made sense, only Liz couldn't get past the image in her mind of Michael dressed up as Princess Leia. His hair in a bun on each side of his head; the long, white, robe-like dress; standing there saying 'Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi. You're my only hope.'

"Where do you come up with this stuff?"

"I didn't. Last summer me and Alex were having a Star Wars marathon. I nearly choked on my popcorn when he mentioned it. I swear I'll never be able to watch those movies the same way again."

In a small voice Liz commented, "I'm sorry I missed that. I should have stayed here and faced my problems. I wish I had, at least then I would have had a chance to spend more time with you and Alex."

"Yeah. You should have." Maria suprised Liz by speaking harshly. She paused, and what she said next came out more sympathetically. "But we understood... you needed space and time to sort things out in your head. We didn't like it, but we got it. Just promise me that no matter what happens, you're not gonna cut and run again. Okay? You better agree with me, because I'm not going to let you do that. Even if I have to sit on top of you and hold you down myself."

Liz was certain that her friend would carry out her threat. She'd seen it happen before, and it wasn't a pretty sight. Not only that, but she didn't want to hurt Maria by by excluding her as Liz attempted to deal with things all by herself. It was only just starting to sink in just how badly her friend was hurt by Liz leaving her out of the loop.

"Don't worry. I'm not gonna make that same mistake again," Liz promised.

"You better not... That's all I'm saying."

"I won't.... So, any luck yet?"

"Trust me. If I had found it, you'd know about it. But I have a feeling that I'm getting close. We're gonna stumble across it soon. I can feel it in my bones."

The two girls turned back to their respective boxes and continued their search.

Liz and Maria were so engrossed in their search that they never heard the muffled thud that came from the upstairs.



posted on 16-Nov-2002 8:06:32 AM by Psyche G
Hey all-

I can't believe I've reached the big 4-0 with this story. I know its been a bit slow going at times, but I am determined to reach the end. Hell, I've even taken to carrying around a little notebook so that I could write the story in bits and pieces during my lunch break.

Right now the biggest obstacle for me is actually getting my notes transcribed. That and getting what I envision out of my head and put down on paper.

So here is the latest chapter. And I promise the next chapter won't take so long to follow....



Chapter 40




"Okay Max, here we are. Hurry up and unlock the door. I think it would be much better for everyone if you weren't out here in the open." Isabel said with an overly bright tone of voice. Her eyes glanced up and down the street as she made sure that no one else was going to come near them.

"Uh-huh. You know, Is, you're sounding a lot like Michael." Max unlocked the door and quickly went in and disarmed the security system.

Isabel could tell from her brother's sarcastic reply that her forced positivity was falling flat. Max may be a lot of things, but he wasn't stupid. He always could tell when she was trying to keep her thoughts to herself. And there was no way she was going to let him know what she really thought of the situation.

She didn't like it. Not one little bit. Despite what Michael believed, she knew that Max had intended to do her harm the other day. There was no other explanation for his behavior. And even though he didn't go through with it, she hated to admit that she couldn't trust her brother.

"Normally, I would consider that an insult. But today, I'll take that as a compliment. Someone has got to take a cautious and rational approach to this. And since Michael left me to take the first shift, I'm not willing to take it easy. You do know, Max, I'm not really all that thrilled by this plan." Isabel commented as she followed her brother into the UFO center.

"I know, Isabel. But this might be the best way to keep me out of circulation. At least I won't be able to hurt anyone, this way. No one is gonna be here but me."

"I know that, Max. That's the only reason why I'm agreeing to this plan..." Isabel had to rush to keep up with Max as he bypassed the main part of the museum and made a beeline toward Brody's office.

"... But?" Max asked over his shoulder.

"But, what? I didn't say anything."

"No. But you were thinking something. Something that you don't feel comfortable about voicing to me. No matter how messed up in the head I am, I'm still me. There's nothing you can't tell me."

"I know you think that..."

"It has nothing to do with what I think. This is something I know. You're my family, I can't fault your concern. If it's something you're worried about, odds are that I'm concerned about the same thing."

"I... I don't know what you're talking about."

"I'll prove it to you."

Isabel watched Max as he systematically opened and ransacked the drawers of the filing cabinets. She winced each time he slammed the drawers shut. She didn't know what he was looking for, but his anxious search was putting her even more on edge.

There was no way to guess what he was trying to do. The only thing his frantic search was doing was making her more freaked out than she had thought possible.

It would have been really handy to have Michael there to back her up. If Max decided to turn against her, she wasn't so sure how well she'd be able to prevent his being able to escape. In fact, her ability to stop him would be compromised by her concern for him. When push came to shove, Isabel knew that she wouldn't be able to put her life above his.

There was no way she could ever live with that kind of guilt.

She'd barely been able to keep it together when she found out about what her former self did. Even though she and Max aren't quite the same as they had been in their previous life, she was still remorseful for how Villandra turned against him. Knowing that she had it in her to betray her family, made her even more careful to not make the same mistakes a second time.

That was why she reached into her bag to find her phone. She needed Michael to get his behind over here. Now!

She held the small phone in the palm of her hand as she glanced at Max. He was still manically searching Brody's office. He had apparently finished ransacking the filing cabinets and had started in on the shelves. She flinched every time one of Brody's electronic gadgets was sent crashing to the floor.

Flipping open the small phone, she started to punch in the number to reach Michael. Isabel was just about to hit send when Max yelled her name.

"Isabel! Here it is. I found it!"

As Max turned around to face her, she immediately whipped the hand with the phone behind her back and out of his view. Isabel snapped the phone shut and, as unobtrusively as she could, tucked it into the back pocket of her jeans.

Max advanced toward her quickly, leaving her no choice but to react first. Isabel lifted her hand and held out toward him with her palm facing him. It was as though her greatest fear was coming to life.

"Max! Don't come any closer! I don't want to have to hurt you!"

"Huh? What?" Max stopped dead in his tracks. He looked around, puzzled. If Isabel didn't know better, she would believe that Max was entirely unaware of the threat he was causing. "Isabel, why are you... You think I'm about to hurt you?"

"I don't know. But I'm not taking any chances."

"I know I've given you some cause to worry. That's not what I'm trying to do. You've got to believe me, Izzy. Look, let me put this down." Max stood there with his palms cradling some small object. Very slowly, he bent down and placed the item on the floor. He straightened upright and held his hands up in the universal gesture for surrender, then he slowly backed away. "That was what I was looking for."

Warily, Isabel advanced toward the object. It was small, black, hexagonal, with their symbols written on it. She'd seen it before, but where? As she nudged it with a leather clad boot or shoe, the memory came back to her. This was the device used when Brody held Max, Tess, Maria and her family as hostages.

"This is the..." Isabel hesitated, trying to remember what the object was called.

"... trilithium amplification device. Brody used this against us to block our powers. I know you're worried about being able to keep me in here. So am I... If I really was determined to get out of here, I don't think anything could stop me." Max said bluntly, pulling no punches.

The two of them both knew that what he said was true. The fact that he knew that and was freely talking about it, made her unease rise another couple of notches.

"I don't want to take the chance that I would hurt you... or anyone else that happened to get in my way. That's why I want you to use this against me. Activate it, then seal me in here."

Isabel looked at Max with wide eyes. "How stupid do you think I am? That isn't going to work. You're the one who found out how to deactivate it."

"Uh, yeah. There is that. But I thought of a way to get around that... Remember what you did to me at the cave? I need you to go into my mind and erase that memory."

"You want me to what? Are you insane? I can't do that. Screwing with minds is Tess's thing. Not mine. You don't know what you're asking."

"I do, Is. The only way this can work is if you do that to me."

"I can't. If I make a mistake, I could destroy your mind. I could lobotomize you. I won't do this." Isabel said with determination. "There's got to be another way."

"There isn't. You can do it. I trust you."

"The answer is still no. Think of something else."

"Fine, Isabel..." Max paused, as his face wrinkled up with an intense look as he tried to think of an alternative solution. "Well... What about if you just managed to put a block around that knowledge? Kind of like how you were able to keep me from waking up completely. This wouldn't be much different from that. Do you think you could manage it?"

"That might be do-able. Maybe... I think. But what do we do about setting the device? I don't know how it works."
"I could set it then you could... no. That won't work. Your powers should be knocked out too. If I make a connection with you, you should be able to figure out how to operate it. Please, Isabel, try this. I'm just as scared as you are that I'll turn against you."

"If I do this, not that I am, but if I decide to, won't the device block my powers too? How can I seal you in if I can't use my powers?"

"I believe that the device has a limited range. I remember that Michael couldn't use his powers when you both came inside to get me that day. I think it's effectiveness will be contained inside the building."

"You might be right about that. We were able to use our powers, in the alley, to make the bomb shelter doors come down and keep the police out. I should still be able to secure the doors from the outside... I think."

Isabel was torn. On one hand, what Max suggested seemed like the perfect solution to her worries. To have him locked in here where he can't hurt anybody, or use his powers to escape, sounded ideal. It appeared to be perfect. Too perfect.

It could be some kind of trap with Max secretly plotting against her. He could be waiting for her to arm the device, and once she lost her powers he could attack her. Not with any alien powers but with sheer brute force. And she would be as defenseless as any normal girl. After all, Max had been working out this past year.

She didn't know what to do, and there was no one around to help her choose. Isabel closed her eyes and tried to imagine what Alex would have suggested that she do. She could just see him in her mind's eye, standing next to her telling her to just make a decision. Isabel could almost hear his voice saying to follow Liz's example.

If Liz were here, she wouldn't let something like fear dictate the best way to face this kind of situation. Time and time again, Liz had proven that she was selfless. Isabel knew that her friend would put the safety of others above her own. And now, so must she.

In a small, but confident voice she spoke to Max. "When do you want to start?"

"Really?" Max questioned excitedly. "You're willing to go through with this? I was beginning to think that you wouldn't."

"Let's just get this over with before I change my mind, little brother."

"Sure. What do you want me to do?"

"Just sit down on the chair... No. Wait. It might be a better idea to just sit on the floor by the wall. That way..."

Max picked up on what she didn't want to say. "... That way, if something goes wrong at least I won't have too far to fall."

"Not that it will," Isabel hastened to add. "But I've never tried this before and it's better to be safe than sorry."

Max sat down on the floor and braced himself against the wall. "What next?"

Isabel stared off into space as she tried to remember exactly how she managed to subdue Max the last time. Things had been so chaotic then. Isabel was pretty sure that at the time she had just been reacting purely on instinct. All she could do was hope that she was able to get similar results this time.

Max's hand on her shoulder startled Isabel out of her reverie. "Hey, Isabel, are you all right? I completely understand if you want to back out."

"No, Max. I'm ok. I don't want to do this to you, but I can see where this may be our best hope."

"Ok," Max said simply. He was staring at her, and in his expression she saw the brother that he had been before Tess came into their lives. He looked at Isabel so trustingly that it shamed her a little. He was trusting her with his life, and here she was doing this, not to protect him, but to protect herself, and others from him. Some sister she was.

"Just close your eyes." Isabel said quietly, but there was a sharp undertone to her words.

Without question, Max followed her command. He lay there slumped against the wall as Isabel moved closer to stand next to him. She sank to her knees and reached out to place both of her hands on either side of his head. Then she too closed her eyes and concentrated.

For several long moments, they both sat there awkwardly, waiting for a connection to spring to life. Isabel was about to give up when all of a sudden, it happened. Just like in the cave, she now had access to Max's mind.

She was greatly confused by what she saw around her. The dark mass of hatred and anger that whispered with Tess's voice was nowhere to be seen. And all the conflicting feelings she felt from him toward Liz had disappeared also. In it's place was a tangled mess of confusion and the occasional warm, fuzzy feeling. If she had to guess, Isabel would have to say that this was the way Max used to be.

Using her mind, she moved forward trying to find where his mind stored the information that she'd connected with him to retrieve. She didn't want to waste time sorting through the Max and Liz related memories, so she bypassed any and all of them that had nothing to do with the matter at hand. Her search brought her past the vivid visual memories to a more desolate, secluded area. As she advanced further into this barren wasteland of Max's mind, she noticed what appeared to be a dark cloud hanging stationary near the horizon.

For some reason, Isabel felt compelled to head toward it. When she got near the undulating cloud, she had trouble believing what she saw. The dark mass of anger and hatred that had permeated every corner of Max's mind was compacted and contained here in the back of his mind. While that was startling, what was even more startling was the fact that it was being held in place by what looked like the same kind of force field that Liz had used to protect her and Kyle from Max's attack.

The swirling shield was the same sparkling purple with green flecks she briefly remembered seeing. What was even weirder than that was what appeared to be reinforcing the shield with the strength to contain the Tess-created hatred. Moving in a counterclockwise repeating spiral was what looked like a string of seven numbers. Isabel tried to focus on the rapidly moving numerals, and she could just make them out. Five... five... five... seven... two... nine... two.

Isabel repeated the set of numbers to herself, and as she did so she realized what it sounded like. It was a phone number. What she didn't understand was why was this number so important. How exactly did that number tie in to Liz and her shield?

As soon as that thought crossed her mind, she realized what that connection was.

It was Liz.

Isabel thought back to when Liz had been talking to Max after being sedated. Isabel remembered standing there by the window trying hard not to intrude on Liz's private conversation with him. But she couldn't help overhearing Liz speak to him, especially near the end. "I want to give something back to you. 555-7292. My parent's number. Michael said you can't remember it. They may have tried to ruin your memories about me, but just remember that I'm always in your heart. Just like you are part of mine. They can't take that away. I won't let them."

Somehow what Liz said was helping Max gain control over those violent emotions. She didn't know how Liz was able to do it, and at that point in time, she didn't care. Isabel was just glad that she didn't have to immerse herself in that oppressive hatred once again. One time was more than enough.

Cautiously stepping forward, Isabel looked through the barriers into the heart of the darkness. She didn't know why she felt the urge to do so, but she was compelled none-the-less. Her eyes widened with surprise at what she saw inside.

Swirling around inside there, Isabel saw the very thing she had come looking for. It was all chaotic, in a bunch of random, disjoined images and Tess related memories, but she could clearly see snippets of the events of the hostage situation. The only problem was that she needed help finding the right memory.

"Max, I need you to help me find the memory of the device."

As soon as she spoke those words aloud, the requested scene appeared before her on the other side of the barricade. Isabel watched the memory unfold before her very eyes. She could see Brody press a sequence of symbols and that Tess and Max were thrown backward at the moment of activation. Then the memory skipped ahead to show Brody telling him how to deactivate it.

With that part of her mission accomplished, all she had to do now was find a way to prevent him from accessing that memory. Isabel thought back to all the times she had gone dreamwalking and had to cover any and all tracks of her presence. The silvery fog found in the dreamscape was what she usually called upon to make her presence in other peoples' dreams seem hazy at best. What was to stop her from doing that here?

The more Isabel thought about it, the better that idea seemed. If she could reach out and touch the memory, she could wrap it up in the fog. As an added source of protection, she could make this desolate area clouded with mist and almost inaccessible. All she had to do was reach in there.

Isabel reached out and tried to will her hand to pass through the barrier, but the barrier wasn't just keeping the dark cloud in, it was also keeping everything else out. "Max, I need to be able to get in there."

Unlike the last time, there was no immediate response. She stood there waiting for her brother to hurry up and do it already. "Max!" She started to yell.

If he knew what was good for him, he'd better let her have access. This was all his stupid idea in the first place. And now that she was here, she might as well finish what she had set out to do.

Suddenly a small gap appeared in the spiraling number barrier. It wasn't large. It was just barely enough to fit her hand through. All too quickly, her hand encountered the purple shield, only it didn't seem to be giving way to her. Isabel realized that she would have to force her hand through this barrier. She focused her mind, and channeled all her focus on the power within her.

Once again, Isabel reached through the first barricade. But this time, when she encountered the second one, she pressed onward. Being careful not to destroy the containment field, her hand and arm inched their way through it. When her hand finally made it past the barrier, Isabel let out a little cheer.

Her joy was short lived. The dark cloud seemed to gather around her hand and the opening in the barrier. Almost like it was trying to find a way out. Her hand felt like it was being pushed and pulled at the same time. It sort of reminded her of when she had to sedate her brother, only this was much stronger, more concentrated than the last time. As the pressure on her hand and arm increased, Isabel realized then that she had better move quickly.

Just like she would in a dream, she visualized what she wanted to have happen as she reached out and caught a hold of Max's memory. Out of nowhere, a shimmery, silvery-grey mist came together inside the barrier near her hand. Slowly, like a snake it worked its way up and around, wrapping itself around the memory, binding it. By this time, the pressure around her hand was becoming unbearable, so she quickly gave the mist a tug, and when it remained firmly in place, Isabel extricated her hand back through the barriers.

As soon as her hand was clear, the dark cloud rushed the inner barrier. It shook and flickered, causing Isabel to shrink back, fearing that it wouldn't hold under the onslaught. But amazingly, the purple and green shield remained intact.

She let out a breath that she didn't realize that she'd been holding. It was time to get out of there. She backed away slowly in the direction she'd originally came from. All she had to do was cover her tracks.

Briefly, she closed her eyes and visualized thick dense fog enveloping the barren area around the barricades. Isabel opened her eyes and watched as wisps of fog snaked their way toward the dark contained mass. In a few moments of time, the mists managed to completely obscure the area. Not even Isabel could say for sure where exactly the barricades were.

Mission accomplished, she thought to herself. All she had to do now was break the connection.

Once more she closed her eyes and willed herself out of Max's mind. As she did so, she felt stretched thin. And just like a rubber band stretched too far, all of a sudden she was snapped back completely back into the real world.

Where she promptly fell on her butt. "Ow!"

"Huh? What?" Mumbled Max as he shook off the effects of the connection. "Isabel are you okay?" Max asked, sounding concerned for her.

"Yeah, I'm fine. I wish I knew why it keeps doing that to me."

"So... did it work?"

"I think so. But why are you asking me, Max? Why don't you see for yourself?"

Max frowned, a look of concentration on his face. "I can't remember. It's kind of like trying to remember a dream. It's on the tip of my tongue, but I'm drawing a blank."

"Good. That's exactly what I was aiming for."

"So, it'll hold?"

"It should. Of course, you know that I've never attempted anything like this before, so I can't say for sure."

Max nodded in understanding. "So all we need to do is set the device. Do you have it?"

"No. It's still on the floor where you placed it. Remember?" Isabel said as she bent down to carefully pick it up. She looked it over, trying to familiarize herself with it.

"Just remember that when you set it, there's a bit of a kickback. It knocked me and Tess down."

"I know. I saw. Brace yourself." Isabel grounded herself to the floor with her back against the filing cabinets, then she set the device.

As soon as she activated it, a sort of shock wave emanated from the small device. Max had been right. The force slammed her back sharply into the cabinet. The side of her head bounced off of one of the drawer handles.
"See what I mean?"

"Yeah, Max. You weren't kidding. Are you sure this is working? I don't feel any different."

"I'll show you," Max said as he looked over at his sister. "Isabel, Your head is bleeding. Why didn't you say that you hurt yourself?"

"I didn't notice. It must have been from the drawer pull. It's nothing."

"Do you mind if I try and demonstrate how my powers aren't working?" Max scooted over to where Isabel was.

"Be my guest."

Max reached over and attempted to heal the cut on her forehead. After several long minutes of him trying, Isabel still felt the warm trickle of blood run down her face next to her hairline. When Max failed, she tried using her own powers, without any luck. In frustration she wiped the trail of blood with the same hand that no longer had the power to make the first aid kit cross the room.

"Here, let me get that." Max got up and grabbed the first aid kit and brought it back over to her. Once again, he squatted down next to her and opened the kit. He took out an antiseptic wipe and cleaned away the blood. Then he took out a band-aid and gingerly placed it over her wound. "There you go."

"Thanks. Well then," Isabel paused as she allowed Max to help her up. "I guess I should get going. You'll be all right here by yourself? What are you going to be doing here?"

"Well, I have this mess to clean up," Max gave an embarrassed little laugh as he surveyed the disaster that was Brody's office. "Somewhere around here is a list of things that Brody wanted me to do. He probably wants me to clean displays, straighten the storage room, that kind of stuff."

"This room alone should keep you busy. I'm gonna go out there and find a place to stash this before I go. Why don't you get a head start on things in here?" Isabel suggested over her shoulder as she left the room.



[ edited 1 time(s), last at 16-Nov-2002 8:08:32 AM ]
posted on 16-Nov-2002 8:11:11 AM by Psyche G

Chapter 40... continued




She headed out into the public part of the museum. Turning in a circle, she took note of the various displays that were too cheesy for even the tourists to swallow. As she turned around a second time, her eyes caught on the perfect hiding place. In the alien barbeque display, there was a patio lounger with an alien stretched out upon it.

As Isabel looked at it, her mind flashed back to one of the several times everyone had gathered in the UFO Center for an impromptu meeting. The memory of Alex laying in that chair was clear and vivid in her mind. Alex was looking at her with that special look he'd give her that somehow managed to cut through her defenses and leave her exposed, her feelings naked before him.

Isabel allowed herself the indulgence of being able to relive that moment one last time. Then the weirdest thing happened, Alex stopped giving her his probing look and winked at her. Isabel didn't know what to make of it. That had never occurred at any point during the time these memories had been made.

She blinked her eyes, and the apparition was gone. If she didn't know any better, she would have allowed herself to believe that he really was there winking at her. But she knew that that was impossible, he was gone now. The last time she was with him, they said their goodbyes. He had even entrusted her with keeping an eye on Liz. A task that he knew that he would not be able to follow through.

He couldn't follow through because he was dead. Killed by an alien whom they'd all once called friend. He was gone and he was never coming back. She'd never again hear him flirting with her, or hear Alex's laughter, and never would she know what it would be like to be his girl. She had lost her best and closest friend. Who could she turn to, to get an unbiased opinion?

Isabel's eyes grew misty with tears as the weight of her loss fell upon her once more.

After a few moments of self-pity, Isabel realized that she would have to take care of this situation on her own so she focused on trying to hide the device. Would it be a good idea to hide the device in plain sight? What if Max was supposed to move this display around? Would it be dangerous for him to find it and know the location of it? How effective would the block on her brother's mind be if he was well aware of where the device was?

"How about you quit letting indecision get the best of you?" Alex's disembodied voice whispered in her mind. "Just do something. Arguing with yourself isn't gonna get that gizmo hidden any quicker."

"Alex?" Isabel breathed in surprise. She looked around to try and see him, to no avail. "But I... I thought you weren't..."

"So did I. It seems that I'll be keeping an eye on all of you for a little longer. Guess my time isn't quite up yet... Oh by the way, Max is coming, you might want to hide that now."

Isabel bent over and rearranged the display so that the device was being held in the hand of the alien. It looked like the alien had a remote control. "Perfect," she said, straightening up. "Alex, Why don't you show yourself?"

"I can't. It uses up too much energy, and stayed too long last time. I'm still trying to recharge my batteries. I can't stay much longer. Anyway, someone needs me more."

"Will I be seeing or hearing from you again?"

"In your dreams, Izzy."Alex's voice faded until it was barely a whisper. "Only in your dreams."

His last words to her were barely a whisper on the wind, "Watch your back. Never forget to watch your back."

Then he was gone.

Isabel stood there for several minutes trying her best to contain her grief.

"Hey Isabel, I thought you had left already." Max's voice came from directly behind her. Just like Alex had cautioned. Startled, she turned around to face Max. "Are you ok? Is, why are you crying?"

"Huh? Oh... It's nothing, really. I just was remembering Alex. It just kind of hit me. You know?"

"I'm sorry, Isabel. I wish there had been something I had been able to do. I hate seeing you like this."

"Don't worry about me, Max. I'll be fine. It's just that some days are better than others. This just happens to be one of the bad days." Isabel shrugged with her reply.

"If you say so," Max countered noncomittally. "Look, I'm all set down here. You should go out and keep watch. Everything will be fine, Isabel. Really."

"That's easy for you to say." Isabel let out a weary sigh as she started up the stairs. Looking over her shoulder, she added, "Michael will stop by during his shift. He'll bring you your usual."

"That'll be great." Max said as he followed his sister to the exit.

Isabel unlocked the entrance, went outside, and gave her brother a searching gaze before she imperceptibly sealed the door. She tested the doors, and satisfied with what she'd done, she headed back to the Crashdown.

As she walked, her head craned backward to cast a final worried look at her brother, locked inside the UFO center.

Max watched her solemnly from the other side of the glass. "I'll be fine," he mouthed. After several long heartbeats, Isabel nodded and then turned away.

Max made his way back down the stairs to the museum. He headed directly over to where the surveillance equipment was kept.

Not once before the hostage situation did he ever think that Brody would have recorded his actions. But now that Max thought about it, it was naive to think that there weren't any security monitors. From the beginning, Brody was distrustful, almost to the point of being paranoid. That kind of paranoia doesn't just go away.

Brody's irrational belief might have seemed pointless at the time, but soon Max would know how useful that paranoia could be. Those surveillance discs held the key to discovering how long he'd been manipulated like a puppet.

But first he had to find all of them.

After the hostage situation, Max was almost certain that there was a secondary recording unit. He'd noticed several discretely placed cameras attached to the walls. And not all of the video feeds from them went to the same location. That gave credence to his second recording unit theory.

And if there was another video disc recording the night he was held hostage, then that meant that it had to be around here somewhere. If Max's luck continued to hold, he would be able to see for himself just how long he'd been manipulated.

It wasn't much, but this was the only idea he'd been able to come up with that might get him some answers. He needed to know how long he'd been Tess's puppet. Was she the cause of the estrangement between him and Liz? What had been real? And what had been an illusion?

One way or another, Max was determined to discover the truth. It didn't matter how hard it would be, he'll find a way to sever the hold Tess had over him.

All he wanted was to be the kind of person he was before. The kind of man who might actually be deserving of Liz's love.

And if finding the truth will bring him even one step closer to that, then that is what he shall do.

And so Max's search began.



*********************************




"Come on, Liz. We found the books. Why do we gotta straighten up everything right now? We have a nice meal waiting up there for us." Maria said in her most persuasive voice. "This stuff isn't going anywhere."

"We only have a couple more boxes to stack." Liz replied in a matter-of-fact tone of voice. "If you quit complaining and helped me hoist this last one, then we'll be done. Then we can go up and eat."

"Fine... But I want you to realize that this is not fair work conditio... Oh! Eewwww!!" Maria exclaimed as she dropped her end of the box. "I just squished spider number ten. Spider guts are all over my hand. That is so disgusting." Frantically she wiped her palm against the side of a neatly stacked pile of boxes.

"Just help me with this box so we can call it quits."

Maria grumbled her agreement and once again picked up her end of the box. Together, they maneuvered the box so that it lay on top of a couple of other boxes.

Liz tested the sturdiness of the newly coronated stack of boxes, while Maria made a beeline for the stairs. "Liz, come on. It's stacked already. It looks wonderful. Fabulous! I've never seen boxes stacked so well in my entire life. Can we go eat now?"

Liz wiped her hands on her pants. She wasn't happy with the sturdiness of the boxes, but Maria had been such a good sport throughout all this that maybe she should follow her lead this one time. "Okay. Lets go eat." Liz agreed.

Liz started to follow Maria up the stairs, but she realized that she'd left the journals down on an old kid sized table. Quickly, she ran down to grab them, and raced back up the stairs only to discover that Maria had exited the basement and closed the door behind her. She took the two leather-bound journals and tucked them into the back of her pants so she could free her hands.

Liz opened the door and stepped back into the ugly kitchen. But no one was in the room. Even the loud, mean-looking dog was nowhere to be seen on the other side of the screen door.

The lack of people puzzled Liz for a few moments, until she picked up the scent of grilled cheese sandwiches coming from the direction of the parlor. Following her nose, Liz entered the room and saw that Mrs. Castillo was about fifteen feet ahead of her carrying a tray of sandwiches and three bowls of what might have been soup.

"Have you seen Maria? I forgot something down there, and I had to go back and get it. I turned back around and she was gone." Liz said as she watched the old woman.

Something didn't seem right. Liz couldn't put her finger on it, but her instincts were screaming at her to be on her guard. Very casually, she untucked her shirt and adjusted it so that it would cover the journals by her back. She finished just as Mrs. Castillo turned her head and smiled at Liz.

"She just had to run and use the powder room. I guess she wanted to freshen up before we eat."

That sounded plausible to Liz, especially after the way her friend had reacted just a few minutes ago. Also, Maria was the type of girl who happened to be very self-conscious of her appearance. Liz on the other hand, knew she looked dusty and very much like she had been doing some hard work and didn't really care.

So maybe Maria really was in the bathroom. Liz didn't think her missing friend was the cause of her unease. And if that was the case, then that would mean that something else in the house was causing it. And as far as she could tell, the house itself seemed all right.

If it wasn't the house then...

Liz once again looked at the elderly woman. As she watched Mrs. Castillo's slow progression across the room, she noticed that she seemed to be a little more steady than she had been before.

Almost as if Mrs. Castillo could read her mind, she stumbled slightly and shook the tray. "Oh, fudge! Look at what I've done. I hope the girls don't mind a little tomato soup on their sandwiches." She mumbled loudly to herself.

Liz followed the old lady and didn't know what to make of her. For a few minutes there, it seemed that her actions were completely suspect. Now she was unsteady and shaky, and mumbling incoherently out loud. Which was real? And which was a play act?

Mrs. Castillo set her tray down on the table next to the undrinkable lemonade. She then turned to Liz with an expectant look on her face. "So... did you girls have any luck?"

For a split second Liz froze. She didn't know what to do. Every instinct was telling her that she had to be very careful. She couldn't answer that question, at least not honestly. And she never had felt all that comfortable with lying. The journals pressed close against the skin of her lower back held an important secret. Liz was sure of it.

Out of nowhere, Liz heard Alex's voice. It sounded as though he was whispering in her ear. "Liz, don't be rude. Thank the woman properly."

She didn't know where that advice came from, but it was the perfect escape from this sticky situation.

"I've forgotten my manners." Liz said brightly, stepping forward. She extended her hand to the old woman. "I really wanted to let you know how much we appreciate you letting us come in to talk with you and letting us poke around in your basement. You've been more than kind..."

Liz's hand clasped the elder woman's hand. And all of the sudden, Liz's whole world narrowed down to the very point where their hands met. An instantaneous connection was made.

A black and white flash of lightning. The desert. Silver hand prints on scores of dead people. Sheila Hubble. A barking German shepherd inhumanly silenced. Mrs. Castillo's now sightless eyes staring up toward the screen door to the kitchen.

Everything was devoid of color.

Wave upon wave of anger and hatred washed over her along with the images. It was pure evil.

There were no doubts in her mind. She'd encountered it before.

Nasedo.


posted on 1-Feb-2003 4:09:27 AM by Psyche G
Hi everyone!


Sorry about the long delay with this chapter. To be honest, I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to continue the story. The holidays were hectic and crazy from both the dramas at the job and at home. The fallout from that is now just starting to settle down. So I have an actual opportunity to sit at my computer.

Plus, with The Sci Fi Channel's airing of the show from the begining, made me remember that why I bothered writing this at all. I needed to take a step back and see that although I thought it was good, it held more promise than I realized. I'm a sucker for the stories where someone steps up and risks their lives all in the name of love. What can I say? I'm a hopeless romantic at heart.

Add to that, this is the story that my brain refuses to let die... so as long as I have my vision of it in my mind, I'll continue writing it.

Aussie Dreamer- I gotta say thank you for helping to keep this on the board. Enthusiasm like that is what gives me the courage to look at this intimidating, several years long, seemingly never-ending story, and attempt to try and slowly but surely get to the ending.


Anyways- you can skip this part and scroll down to the new chapter


~psyche~
posted on 1-Feb-2003 4:13:48 AM by Psyche G
Previously in Chapter 40,

Liz's hand clasped the elder woman's hand. And all of the sudden, Liz's whole world narrowed down to the very point where their hands met. An instantaneous connection was made.

A black and white flash of lightning. The desert. Silver hand prints on scores of dead people. Sheila Hubble. A barking German shepherd inhumanly silenced. Mrs. Castillo's now sightless eyes staring up toward the screen door to the kitchen.

Everything was devoid of color.

Wave upon wave of anger and hatred washed over her along with the images. It was pure evil.

There were no doubts in her mind. She'd encountered it before.

Nasedo.




Chapter 41



...Nasedo.

This was Nasedo.

Liz could feel every blood cell circulating in her body turn to ice as the realization hit her. This was the creature that caused her to have nightmares every night for a month when she visited her aunt down in Florida.

After Nasedo's so-called death, she had been so relieved to know that she would never have to deal with him again. But she should have known better. Evil like that doesn't die easily. The proof of that was watching her intently at the moment.

It was unpleasant to accept that the wrinkled face with the kind eyes looking at her was not Mrs. Castillo. The terrible knowledge that that poor woman lay dead on the floor of her porch. Knowing with a certaintity that her vicious dog lay next to her. That both bodies had silver handprints glowing furiously on their chests.

Despite the fact that she was petrified by the shapeshifter before her and nauseated by what he'd done to that sweet old lady, Liz worked hard to maintain a neutral expression on her face. Nasedo knew who she was. She didn't want him to know that she knew who he was. It was the only advantage she had if she wanted to get herself and her friend out of this alive.

"So..." Liz hedged, as she tried to remember the last thing she'd said. "I wanted to thank you for your generous hospitality. Unfortunately, we have to get going. Maria's mom called and there is a family emergency."

"Oh dear. I hope it's nothing serious. Why don't you sit down and have a little bite while you wait for your friend? You can't drive on an empty stomach. Not in this heat. I won't be responsible for either of you fainting on me."

Liz didn't like the underlying mocking tone of his words. It reminded her of the time he impersonated Max. He used that same smug, sanctimonious tone of voice before he revealed his true identity. He had toyed with her and revelled in the role he played. Just like he was doing now.

It also struck Liz as strange that Nasedo was pushing the food. He wouldn't concern himself with the concerns and comforts of a lowly human being. Which led her to wonder if he somehow drugged the food. And if the food was drugged, what was he going to do to them if they ate some of it?

She had no idea what he was planning in his sick, twisted head. But whatever it was, it certainly wasn't good. She'd bet her college fund on it.

"No. I'm sorry. We really can't. We have to get going right away. There's not a lot of time." There was no way on earth, that she would eat or let Maria eat anything he had to offer.

Maria interrupted the conversation by striding enthusiasticaly into the room. "Boy, am I famished. Is the food ready? Oooh good, it is." She crossed over to the table and leaned over it and inhaled the aromas wafting up from the tray. " Tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. It smells heavenly."

"We can't stay." Liz said as she turned her head toward Maria and covertly gave her a conspiratorial wink. Liz prayed that her friend would pick up on that.

"Huh? Why not? She went to all that trouble to make us food, Liz. Free food. It would be rude to not stay. Besides, I want to eat. I'm hungry!" Maria ended with a playful whine.

Inwardly, Liz rolled her eyes. Of all times for Maria and her to not be on the same wavelength. Liz had to find some way to get her friend to understand. And she had to do it in such a way that wouldn't draw Nasedo's suspicion.

Quickly she ran through the possibile things she could say to Maria. She had to find a message that would mean something to her. They couldn't afford to have another 'off the menu' type of miscommunication.

Liz's eyes lit up with a possible solution. "Maria, your mom called your cell while I was finishing up in the basement. I don't know how to tell you this, but Breepa DeLuca has taken a turn for the worse."

Maria looked at her in confusion for several heartbeats. All of a sudden, understanding dawned in her eyes. Immediately, her eyes welled up with tears. "No! Not Breepa! Oh God! My mom... How was she doing?"

"She sounded kind of shaky. Like she's under a lot of strain. She needs your help."

"Of course," Maria nodded in agreement. She then turned to Nasedo/Mrs. Castillo and smiled apologetically. "I'm sorry, we've got to go. My mom really needs me right now." She broke off in a sob.

"I'm sorry to hear that. I was looking forward to having you for lunch. Since you can't stay to eat, would you like me to box it up for you to take with you?"

Maria looked at Liz hopefully. In reply, Liz shook her head very slightly.

Nasedo was still trying to get them to eat the food, and that made Liz very uneasy. She wouldn't put it past him to try and poison them. And that was one more reason not to trust anything from this traitorous alien.

"We don't have the time. We have to get going right away." After Liz said that, she thought she saw a flash of irritation on Nasedo's face.

With a calmness she didn't feel, Liz extended her hand to shake. As Nasedo reached out and came in contact with her hand, Liz willed herself to not let another connection form. After a perfunctory shake, Liz said her goodbyes and turned to leave.

Maria soon followed suit, saying, "We'll show ourselves out."

Together, they crossed the room and crossed the threshold into the hallway. As soon as Liz was certain that they were out of Nasedo's line of sight, she quickened her step. She had to put as much distance between Nasedo and them as possible.

Finally, she and Maria reached the door. Despite the shaking hands belying her calm fascade, Liz made short work of unlocking the door. She threw it open in order to step out into the warm welcoming sunshine.

Feeling much safer once Maria and she were out of the house and standing on the sidewalk, Liz allowed herself to take a huge shuddering breath. She braced her hands on her upper thighs and did her best to resist the nausea Nasedo's actions caused her to feel. A part of her couldn't believe that she had just faced off with Nasedo again and still lived to tell about it.

One thing troubled her most of all. She didn't know why their escape had been so easy.

Why would Nasedo let them go? Thinking back on the time she'd spent with him when he impersonated Max, Liz realized he wouldn't have. He had no qualms about using humans to get what he wanted. Was it possible that this was part of Nasedo's plan? Let them escape the house, then when they were least suspecting it, he or his associates would ambush them. And his only known associates were Tess... Kivar... and...

The Skins... They worked for Kivar. And that most likely meant that Nasedo, Tess, and the Skins were all working together here on earth. And where one of them were seen, the rest would be soon to follow. If they weren't here already.

That thought brought the beginings of an anxiety attack down upon Liz. That and the fact that Maria was impatiently shaking Liz's shoulder, didn't help stop her from feeling shaky.

"What's the deal? Look, I get that something's up. It's kinda hard for Breepa DeLuca to take a turn for the worse, seeing that he's been dead for several years. Don't you think it's time to share with the rest of the class?" Maria asked in a breathless rush.

A sound from the house caused her to turn around and look back at the building. "Oh hey! Mrs. Castillo's at the door to see us off. That's nice of her. She must have hurried to the door, I didn't think the woman had it in her."

Quickly Liz straightened up. It was clear to her that they had to keep moving. Nowhere was safe in this town. "Maria, come on. We gotta keep moving. I'll fill you in as we go. But whatever you do, don't look back." Liz ordered as she latched on to her friend's arm and dragged her down the street.

"Why not?" Maria questioned as she turned her head and gave a little wave to the old woman.

"Because that's not Mrs. Castillo. She's dead."

"What?!" Maria exclaimed. "Then who in the hell did I just wave to?"

"It's Nasedo."

"Nasedo's dead!" Maria argued.

"Do you really want to stick around and get the proof that this is him?"

Liz didn't give Maria a chance to voice her response, even if she had had one. This last revelation stunned her enough so that she didn't really protest the vehemence with which Liz was pulling Maria behind her.

The girls were just about to pass one of the houses near the middle of the block. It was bordered by tall hedges on each side which would block the view from Mrs. Castillo's house. Thinking quickly, Liz pivoted and dashed behind the shrubbery, dragging Maria with her.

Liz pulled Maria behind her, down the walkway. She couldn't afford to slow down. They were too close to Nasedo for Liz's comfort. They couldn't get away from there soon enough in Liz's opinion.

"Liz... Liz... Ease up. I kind of need my shoulder to remain in its socket. Tearing off my arm is not going to get us anywhere."

"Maria, don't you get it? If Nasedo is here, the Skins might be here. So might Tess. They could all be plotting against us as we speak. Hell, we don't even know if Tess is trying to do a mindwarp on us. We may be headed into a trap."

Maria's voice rose in hysterics. "Wait! You mean that every single one of their enemies could be in Artesia to hunt us down?"

Liz spoke in a calm, chiding, tone, "If it makes you feel any better, I doubt Kivar is there. I don't think he'd come all the way to Earth just to get a hold of us."

"That's not exactly comforting. Now I am really freaking out. Damn! Why did I ever stop carrying cedar oil? Oh God, I really don't like this."

Despite Maria's protests, the girls made their way down the walkway on the side of the house. They cut through the backyard, nearly tripping over some children's toys that lay scattered around. They reached the far end of the yard closest to the alley, only to find a tall locked gate with iron bars.

The faint sound of a door slamming came from the direction of Mrs. Castillo's house. Liz knew instinctively that it was Nasedo. He was coming after them. They had to get out of there.

"Maria come on. I'll give you a boost. We've got to climb over this gate. Nasedo's coming."

"I don't like this. Nasedo's supposed to be dead. Are you sure it's him?" Maria asked as she struggled to climb over the top of the gate.

"I wish that it wasn't. But apparently evil won't stay dead. If he was ever dying in the first place...Of course, this is one more thing that we have Tess to thank for. God, do I hate being right."

"Oh yeah. I want to be there when you give her a personalized thank you." Maria said, landing on the ground. She stuck her hands through the bars of the gate and cupped them together in order to help give Liz a much-needed boost.

"I'll make sure you have a front row seat." Liz commented as she scrambled up the gate.

"I'll be sure to bring a few rotten tomatos..." Maria's voice trailed off as she noticed the trouble Liz was having trying to climb off the gate. Her left leg was trapped by the top of the gate at an awkward angle while the rest of her was left dangling. And try as she might, Liz couldn't quite extricate herself. "What's wrong, Liz?"

"My leg is caught. I think my pants' leg is snagged on one of the bars, but I can't seem to reach it."

"Let me try. Maybe I can set you lose."

"Sure. Just hurry. We won't be safe until we're out of this town."

Maria climbed up on top of a garbage can next to the fence in order to get a better look. She reached up and attempted to release Liz's leg. "I see what the problem is. The hem of your pants somehow got twisted and caught on the bar."

A few more moments and several muffled curses later, Maria exclaimed, "There you go! You're all free." Then she climbed back down off of the garbage cans.

Liz smiled at her friend in thanks as she finally managed to get both feet on the ground. "Thank y..." Her voice stopped mid-sentence.

Liz saw what Maria hadn't seen yet. Nasedo was just making his way past the children's toys that had tripped the two girls up only minutes earlier. He was heading straight for them. And he didn't look too happy.

Instantly panicking, Liz grabbed a hold of her friend's hand. "Let's go!"

Maria turned to see what had Liz so freaked out. Mrs. Castillo was walking toward them quickly, with a purposeful stride that left no doubt that this wasn't a sweet, frail old lady they were dealing with.

"Oh, shit! What are we waiting for?"

Liz no longer had to drag her friend behind her, now she was struggling to keep up with Maria. Together, hand in hand, they raced through the alley. Then they cut through several back yards and a quite a few alleys, never once slowing down. They had no idea if Nasedo was still chasing them, and they couldn't afford to take that chance.

Sticking to the alleys, they raced to put as much distance between them and Nasedo as they possibly could. Several blocks blocks from where they started from, the neighborhood abruptly changed from residential to Artesia's downtown comercial area.

Liz and Maria came to a stop in the dark shadows of the narrow alley, where they struggled to catch their breath. There was no signs of them still being followed. Suddenly, the loud slamming of a metal door at the far end of the alley startled the girls and caused Maria and Liz to automatically dive behind a large dumpster.

Sounds of talking and faint music reached the girls. Very carefully, the two girls raised up on tip-toes to peer over the top of the dumpster. Down where the alley connects perpendicularly to another, several groups of people were filing out of the building. Several of them carried bags of popcorn. One rowdy group of children were pelting each other with what looked like the contents of a box of raisinettes.

"You know what? I think we're near the town's only movie theater. Remember, Liz, we circled it at least twice?" Maria whispered near Liz's ear.

"Oh, ok. I remember. You know, this is a good thing. If we wait until the last people leave the show, we can hurry up and join in the crowd. At least that will give us a little bit of cover. Nasedo and the Skins may be hesitant to try and get us out here in the open with witnesses nearby."

"Now that sounds like a plan I'd like. I'll just ignore the part where you're starting to sound like my boyfriend."

"I'll try and forget that too." Liz twined her fingers with Maria's. "Come on. And remember, whatever you do, don't let go of my hand."

"Why not?"

"Because if Tess is here, I don't want you to fall under her spell. I think that any sort of physical contact with me may help to keep her mindwarps at bay. At least that's what I came up with to explain how everyone else was able to break free from the illusion at the pod chamber."

"No problemo, Chica. I'm not all that eager to let that little witch play her head games with me again."

"Ok, then... Let's maneuver ourselves a little bit closer. Stick to the shadows and hug the wall." Liz ordered as she followed her own advice. "I just want to see if I recognize any of them from Copper Summit."

"Why can't the bad aliens really be little green men? Then they would at least stand out in a crowd, and even us humans could spot them."

"Ssshhh!" Liz hissed as she struggled to see if any of the departing faces were familiar to her. Never taking her eyes off the crowd, Liz commented to to her friend in a hushed voice, "That would make things easy. I don't think we would know what to do if things came to us that easily."

"But it would be a nice change of pace. Don't ya think?"

"Yeah. But don't get your hopes up. Things aren't going to change anytime soon." Liz said quietly as she inched her way closer to the departing crowd.

The last larger-sized group of moviegoers exited the theater and started to make their way toward Main street. Liz nodded to Maria and they speedwalked over to the group. Keeping pace with them, they weaved their way into the center of the group. They made certain that they could not be seen by idle passers by.

Moving with the crowd, Maria and Liz reached the sidewalk. The girls clung tight to the group as they turned and walked down Main street. Everything was going well until they reached the crosswalk. The crowd they were blending into stopped at the end of the block at the corner and began saying their goodbyes. All too quickly, they broke off and headed in different directions.

"Liz," Maria whispered frantically. "Which way do we go?"

"There! We'll follow them." Liz said, pointing at a small group of five people who were crossing the street.

Liz and Maria hurried to catch up with them. The girls reached them on the other side of the street, and this time instead of forcing themselves into the group, they hung back slightly. They walked close enough to appear as though they were with them, but not so close to tip them off.

They strolled down the street doing their best to not draw attention to themselves. But not once did they let up their guard. Their enemies could be anywhere. Just because they were able to escape Nasedo didn't mean that they were home free.

Every single person in the town was a potential threat. Artesia could be another Copper Summit. Only this time they were at more of a disadvantage than they had been at that time.

"So," Maria spoke softly while flashing a false smile. "Do you have any idea where we parked the car, Chica?"

"Sort of. We'll need to double our way back and head in that direction." Liz whispered as she pointed.

"That sounds kind of vague."

"Well, it's not like I had a chance to check my map while we were running for our lives. You kn..." Liz's voice trailed off as someone bumped into her slightly.

Her hand came into fleeting contact with the hand of the person who brushed against her. It was only an instantaneous contact. But it was enough for a connection to form.

Liz stopped dead in her tracks as she received a flash more frightening than discovering Nasedo.

The street she was walking down disappeared from her perception, in a rush. An image appeared before her. Only things didn't look right. The colors looked faded and washed with a sickly yellow hue. Everything was in painfully sharp, unflattering detail. It reminded Liz of how things looked through those Blu-Blocker knock-off glasses Maria's mom tried selling back in the mid-90's.

The scene before her was framed just like a picture on four sides by a silvery fog. She could see a girl with long dark hair struggling against being restrained by two men. Nicholas stood in front of the girl with an evil grin on his face as he apparently said something cruel to the girl in question, judging by her reaction.

Nicholas moved closer to the girl and and closed his eyes and concentrated intently. She tried to fight him. She struggled to stand tall opposite him, but eventually, he was able to overpower her. Whatever mind torture he performed on the girl, it caused her to jerk violently backwards. Her body frantically twisted and spasmed. Blood tinted spittle flew from her mouth.

The poor girl's motionless body landed on the ground near where Liz stood, looking through the silvery frame of fog. A horrifying thought grew and festered in the back of her mind as she silently observed the events before her..

Her fears were realized when she was finally able to get a better look at the victim of Nicholas's cruelties. It was her own eyes that stared sightlessly toward her. She wasn't prepared to see the damage that had been done to her.

She looked as though she had been beaten up. Fresh cuts and the beginings of bruises marred her face. Blood was oozing out of her ears and nose. Her eyes were beyond bloodshot. It looked like every blood vessel in her eyeballs ruptured at once. A trail of blood seeped out from the corner of her eyes mixing with the tears that still clung to her cheeks.

Once again, Liz could do little else as she stood there as a mute witness to Nicholas's savage murder of her.

How could this come to pass? They were trying so hard to not draw attention to themselves. This was the heart of her fears brought to life. And the very kind of confrontation that Maria and her were trying to avoid.

... Maria.

Oh, God. Where was Maria?

If she was lying there dead, then what happened to her friend?

Frantically, Liz rushed up to the fog-rimmed barrier that separated her from the events happening in this flash. Liz pressed against it, trying get a closer view. She looked to her left and to her right, praying that she could catch sight of her friend.

Over the shoulders of some of Nicholas's henchmen, she saw something that made her take back her prayers.

In one bright shining moment, everything in Liz's world careened to a halt.

Her heart stopped beating. She could feel her lungs cease to function. Her blood stopped cold. She couldn't blink, and there was no way she could look away.

Everyone was frozen in place. It reminded her of the scene in The Matrix where Neo got distracted by the girl in the red dress. It was unnatural to see everything that still. The only thing that moved was a dark stain on the ground that seemed to be spreading out further. A stain that had at its center her closest friend.

Between the shoulders of some of Nicholas's Skins, Liz was just able to see Maria lying face down on the asphalt.

Liz didn't want to believe what her mind was telling her. It couldn't be true. She didn't want to even consider the possibility that it was real.

She had to know more. She had to see for herself what happened to her friend. Liz needed to know her fate.

Stepping through the fog, Liz pressed herself against the invisible barrier. It easily resisted her advances. And the silvery fog wrapped around her ankles seemed to turn the consistancy of molasses. But she didn't let that stop her. She was going to reach her friend's side. She was going to let nothing stand in her way.

The barrier was resistant to her advances, but Liz would not stand for that. The only thing she knew was that she had to get to Maria. With that one singular thought echoing in her mind, Liz persevered. Slowly, little by little, she advanced through it. It took some time, but she was able to reach the other side.

Once she was free of the barrier, Liz was again struct by how off things were. She didn't know how to explain it. It wasn't the air or the unnerving stillness, although that was part of it, something about this world seemed wrong. She couldn't shake the feeling that she was tresspassing somewhere that no human was ever meant to be.

Wasteing little time, Liz jumped over herself, ran past the statue-like enemies, and nearly barreled into the frozen Nicholas. All in her haste to reach her friend.

When she reached Maria, she looked down at her friend in shock. There was so much blood. Liz couldn't get her mind to move past that one observation. On some level, Liz knew what that meant. But her only conscious thought was that she had to turn her friend over and try and stop the bleeding.

Liz tried rolling her friend onto her back, but that simple action seemed to be a near herculean task. It was more resistant to change than the barrier had been.

It was tough going, almost like trying to pry open a window that had been painted shut. Liz focused her mind on the sole effort of being able to turn her over and see her friend's outcome. Progress was made slowly but surely, and she started to turn her friend over.

The wet, suctioning sound that accompanied the action would haunt Liz the rest of her days.

"Oh, no. Maria..." Liz whispered, "Noooooo!"

Maria was dead.

There was no way Liz could deny the truth that lay before her. The big, gaping hole in the middle of Maria's chest cavity quashed any hopes of denial that Liz wanted desparately to cling to. There was no chance that Maria could remain alive after what had been done to her.

It looked like someone first tried incinerating her, focusing on her heart. There were traces of charred flesh around the edges of the wound. It was kind of hard to tell, because there were no identifiable organs left in her friend's chest. The heart, the lungs, muscleature, and even the bones were missing. It almost looked like everything had been liquefied instaneously.

Judging by the expression frozen on her friend's face, everything must have occurred so quickly that Maria wasn't aware of it happening. She had died long before she had ever realized what was being done to her.

Liz found little solace in that knowledge. Her friend was laying there dead, all because of her. First Alex, now Maria. This was too high a price to pay, Liz didn't care what happened to herself, but she wouldn't let this happen to her best friend.

"This is wrong! Do you hear me?" Liz yelled as loud as she could. "I won't let this happen to her!!"

The world started to spin and shake violently. From the far corners of her vision, she could see in the distance that this reality was starting to crumble and fall with each vow she swore. It drew closer like a tidal wave about to crash down upon her.

Liz leaned down over Maria and brushed the hair back from her best friend's face. She leaned down and kissed her friend's cheek and whispered, "I won't fail you this time. I promise."

Liz glanced up and noticed the world around her in the instant before it fell apart. They were in the dark, shadowy, recesses of an empty parking lot. The golden arches towered above them.

In a groaning rush, the sign started to tumble down towards her as if in slow motion. Liz turned back to Maria, only to witness her friend dissolving away into nothing.

"No! Maria...."

And that world came to an end.