posted on 26-Sep-2001 12:23:44 PM
Title: If You’re Gone
Author: Burgundy
Email: spidermonkey222⊕springmail.com
Category: Max/Liz
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: None of the characters, etc., are mine. I’m just borrowing them for a little while.
Author’s note: Future fic, everyone is 25. They’re still combating their enemies, etc. Written after VLV. This is my first future fic, so be kind. *happy* Feedback welcome!

Part 1

“Are you sure this is the only way, Max?” Liz sank down onto the overstuffed gray couch in their small apartment. She was tired and worried, but she trusted her husband.

“No. But it’s the best way. We have to hide you.” He sat down next to her and put his arm around her shoulders.

“And you’re sure it won’t hurt the baby?” Maria asked, reaching out from her chair next to the couch to grab Liz’s hand. Michael stood next to Maria with his hand on her shoulder. Kyle, Tess, Alex, and Isabel were gathered around Liz as well.

“But I thought you were doing this to protect the baby.” Kyle looked at Max in question.

“We are,” Tess put in. “It’s the safest way.”

“Remember what happened to my baby.” Isabel’s words were catching in her throat, and Alex put his arm around his waist, pulling her close. The year before, Isabel had been mind-raped by a Skin, one of the new generation of them, and her baby had spontaneously aborted. “I was ten weeks,” she whispered. And then, more loudly: “How far along are you?”

“Almost twelve weeks.” Max and Liz shared a smile, and he put his hand over hers on her stomach. “I’ll probably start to show soon, within the next month or so.”

“Liz!”

She started at Maria’s sudden cry.

“How could you keep this from me for almost four months?”

“I didn’t know right away.” A smile played on her lips, and she paused. “I’ve had to keep secrets from people I love for longer periods of time than that,” Liz said, referring to the incident with Future Max eight years before. Max squeezed his wife’s hand.

“Babe, have you had anything to eat yet?” Maria asked.

“You mean like dinner?” Maria nodded. “Well, I had a granola bar at the lab a couple hours ago,” Liz told her, referring to her graduate work at the University of New Mexico, where she had chosen to stay in New Mexico near Max instead of taking the fellowship she’d been offered at Johns Hopkins.

“Then Michael and I will just have to make you our specialty.” Maria beamed “You just sit tight.”

Max looked over at Michael in amusement. “So we’re having hamburgers for dinner?”

Maria had just recently coaxed her fiancé out of his bachelor’s cereal dinners, but he said, “You just wait.”

“I’ll help you out,” Tess volunteered.

“Now she is an amazing cook,” Kyle said, smiling after her as she walked into the kitchen.

“We should do it tomorrow.” Max looked at Liz, his eyes full of concern.

“Max…” Liz breathed, “that’s so soon.”

“Every moment you spend here with us is another moment that you’re vulnerable.”

Isabel walked over and kneeled down in front of her sister-in-law. “I know you want to stay here. I would, too. I”—her voice faltered—“I did, and as soon as the Skins found out… about me… They will do anything they can to keep the royal line from producing heirs. You know what they’ve done before, and they will do it again.”

“I know it’s the right thing to do—for the baby, for your race.” Liz stared down at her abdomen.

“I talked it over with Serena,” Max began, “and she already has a room prepared for you at the rebel base. You will be welcomed like family.”

“What about my studies at the university?”

“You’ve been talking about taking a semester off; it won’t surprise anyone,” Alex replied.

“We should at least wait until the end of the semester, Max.” When she saw the look of doubt on his face, she added, “It’ll only be another week and a half. Dr. Jain will understand if I tell him I’m pregnant.”

“But I thought you couldn’t tell anyone,” Kyle wondered aloud.

“I don’t see any problem with doing it right before I leave. Plus, when I come back, I’ll have this little toddler running around…” Liz’s voice trailed off as she realized what she had just said. Her baby. “Will I have to be gone that long? What am I going to tell my parents?” Liz stared blankly into space.

“Well,” Isabel began slowly, “Tess can just mind warp them once every couple weeks to make them think they’ve run into you at the grocery or something.”

“At the grocery,” Liz murmured, her eyes beginning to get puffy. “And what about when the baby comes?”

“Hey Kyle,” Alex said under his breath after edging over towards him. “I think we’d better…” He motioned with his eyebrows towards the kitchen.

“What?”

More loudly this time, Alex said, “I think they need our help in the kitchen, Kyle.”

“You can’t even fit that many people in that tiny”—Alex elbowed him, nodding his head pointedly towards Liz—“Oh. Okay then.” With that, they left the room.

“We’ll figure everything out, Liz.” Isabel glanced towards the hallway. “I’d better go check on them,” she said, getting up and leaving Max and Liz.

The room was quiet for a moment, and Liz leaned her head on Max’s shoulder.

“It’s not that I don’t want to protect our baby, Max. I do. I want to protect the baby more than anything. It’s just so far away, and I’m just… so… scared.”

“I know.” He kissed her forehead and leaned his head against hers. “I know.”

* * *


M: Knowing you has made me human.

Edited by - Burgundy on 10/01/2001 17:35:12

Edited by - Burgundy on 10/03/2001 16:23:38

Edited by - Burgundy on 10/07/2001 14:36:44
posted on 26-Sep-2001 12:24:57 PM
Part 2

Liz shivered in the crisp December air as she tried to balance her books and papers and lock the car at the same time. Her week and a half had gone so quickly, and Dr. Jain had taken her leaving pretty well.

She could still see him working in his office. He had looked up in surprise and then smiled upon seeing her. He was an older East Indian man, and his bushy black mustache twitched when he spoke.

“So you’ll come visit us with the tot this summer?”

Liz smiled at her professor. “Oh, of course. I’m not going to completely abandon my work.” In the back of her mind, Liz wondered if she would be back that soon.

“I’m sure you’ll have your hands full by then. But remember that there’s always room for Liz Evans in any of my bacteriology research.”

They said their goodbyes, and he had been chuckling as she left.

At least I won’t have to make the commute now, Liz thought idly as she unlocked the door. The apartment was dark when she came in, so she set her books down on the end table by the door to be able to hit the lights. Where was Max? As she flipped the switch, she heard a chorus of voices yell, “Surprise!”

Liz just stood there for a moment, smiling and staring, absorbing what her friends had done for her. Max, Maria, Michael, Isabel, Tess, Kyle, Alex, Serena, and Sheriff Valenti were all standing around the small table in the breakfast area next to the kitchen. “You guys are so great.”

Maria walked up to her friend. “Aren’t you going to take off your coat? We’ve prepared you a feast! And you know, Serena can cook pretty good for only having been around Earth food for a few years.”

Liz laughed through happy tears as Max led her to the head of the table. “For you, madam,” he said, pulling her chair back and taking her coat. They had put a card table on one end and somehow fit ten chairs—and ten table settings—around the table.

Liz wiped her eyes, saying, “I’m sorry. I’ve just been so emotional lately.”

Towards the end of dinner, after eating Tess and Serena’s amazing chicken penne pasta, Liz watched everyone smiling and laughing. This is what I’m going to miss most, she thought. And it wouldn’t be that bad spending so much time with Serena. She was pretty nice, especially for a shape-shifter—much nicer than Nasedo, and, from what Serena had said, much more like everyone else of her race.

Suddenly, Max stood up and lifted his glass to Liz. Everyone quieted. “To my wife, my intelligent and beautiful wife, who never says anything about my lack of scientific knowledge”—Liz laughed softly—“who indulges my love of Tabasco sauce”—everyone laughed this time—“who is always open-minded, who understands me; my wife who saved me that day in the Crashdown nine years ago. To Liz.” Max and Liz’s eyes locked as everyone echoed, saying, “To Liz,” with glasses clinking all around.

“We got sparkling apple cider just for you, babe,” Maria said, smiling.

“You…”—Liz looked around the table at all the faces—“you all make my life worthwhile.”

* * *

Liz stood in front of the dresser in their bedroom, looking at all the pictures she had put on it ages ago. One of her favorites was of her and Max sitting on the roof outside her old room, looking into each other’s eyes. Maria had taken it when they weren’t paying attention. Another frame held a picture of Alex and Isabel smiling giddily as they fed each other cake on their wedding day.

Max came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her shoulders. She held onto him and leaned her head back against his shoulder. “How are you doing?”

“Well, you know… I’m doing.” She smiled.

“Did you tell your parents? About the baby, I mean.”

“Yeah. I talked to my mom last night. I suppose I should’ve called her sooner. She’s ecstatic, wanted to throw me a baby shower. I told her I didn’t want a big fuss, but she’s going to keep on. You’re going to have fun tiptoeing around that one.”

He chuckled. Pressing his cheek against hers, he said, “I’m going to miss you.”

She closed her eyes. “At night, look at the royal constellation, and think of me. I’ll be on a moon in one of those systems. I wonder what the rebel base will be like. I know your race breathes air similar to ours, though the Skins breathe that other element that’s in the air there that we don’t have on Earth. At least I’ll have oxygen, right? I wonder what they eat. I never asked Serena. She’s been able to survive on human food, so I suppose I’ll be able to eat theirs.” Liz paused and turned her head towards her husband’s. “I’m babbling, aren’t I?”

“Mmm-hmm,” he mumbled, burying his face in her hair, wanting to remember the smell of her. He looked up. “Liz?”

“Yes.”

“Close your eyes and wait here for a minute.”

“Okay,” she said, drawing out the word as she closed her eyes.

In a moment, he came back, turning her around to be facing him. “Open your eyes.” He was holding out a small, wrapped box. “Go on, open it.”

She smiled at him and carefully unwrapped it, slowly taking the lid off the box. Inside was a small silver chain with an amber heart. “Max, it’s beautiful…”

“Just something to remember me by. For now.”

“I know how dangerous it is, but I thought you were going to come visit me in a couple months.”

He put his hands on her shoulders and held her at arm’s length, and, for a minute, he just stood there, looking at her.

“What are you doing, Max?”

“I want to remember you just as you are now, like this, in your nightgown with your hair down, smiling at me.” And then he laughed, saying, “You know, barefoot and pregnant.”

“Ma-ax!” She shoved him playfully.

He pushed her back, and she landed on the bed, laughing. He pinned her and kissed her. “I love you, Liz Parker Evans.”

* * *

The next morning, Liz followed Serena into the granilith chamber, holding Max’s hand as she went in.

“Can’t we wait a few more minutes for Maria and Michael?” Liz asked. They hadn’t come to the pod chamber that morning, where everyone had agreed to meet.

“We only have a short amount of time before the moon the rebel base is on moves into Antar’s shadow, at which point that gate cannot be reached for seven months.”

“Seven months!” Liz cried.

“You didn’t know?” Serena’s short-cropped, loose black curls grazed her face as she looked from Liz to Max.

“Did you know this, Max?” Liz stared at him in disbelief as he nodded slightly.

“But the rebel base is the only place the Skins can’t infiltrate. Every security measure has been taken. The fact that it is under their nose makes it even safer because they won’t look there. They don’t know it exists. That moon is just some barren rock to them. I want you to be safe, Liz.” He brushed her hair out of her face and saw that she was crying now.

Suddenly, Maria and Michael came into the granilith chamber.

“Liz! I’m so sorry we’re late,” Maria said, rushing over to her friend. “Are you okay?”

“What happened?” Max looked at Michael.

“Maria’s alarm didn’t go off, and she was going to wake me up… Well, we’re here now, aren’t we?”

“Maria,” Liz breathed, “I’m going to be alone for seven months.”

“Seven months?” Maria gasped, glancing over at Max, Michael, and Serena, then back at Liz. “I’m coming with you.”

“Maria, no.” Liz couldn’t let her friend do that.

“Yes,” Maria countered.

“We have to leave, Liz.” Serena was kneeling at the base of the granilith with the crystal in her hand.

“What about—” Liz started.

“I’m in between jobs anyway. Spaceboy’ll cover for me. Right, Michael?”

“I…” Maria gave him a look. “Fine,” he said, throwing up his hands.

“You can come. That’s fine. But we have to leave NOW. Liz, Maria, take my hand.” Serena’s words were urgent and hurried.

Liz kissed her husband. “I love you so much.”

“And I love you. Now go.”

Michael and Maria kissed, and he asked, “Why are you doing this?”

“Now!” Serena yelled.

They joined hands and Maria said, crying, “Because I’m pregnant, too. I love you Michael. Tell everyone goodbye for me.”

Suddenly, the three women were inside the granilith. Liz turned her head back to look at her husband as he reached out to her. The colors in the granilith swirled and shot into space, and they were gone. Max and Michael were thrown to the floor by the force of it.

As they got up, Michael murmured, stunned, “She’s pregnant.”

Max stood staring at the granilith, which was opaque once more. “She’s gone.”

* * *


M: Knowing you has made me human.
posted on 26-Sep-2001 12:25:52 PM
Part 3

“Seven Months, Max.” Isabel stared at her brother in disbelief. “That’s so long. Why didn’t you tell us?”

He closed his eyes and pressed on his right temple. “It’s the best thing for her and the baby. I don’t want them getting hurt, Is.”

“What about Maria being pregnant, Michael? How far along is she?” Isabel asked.

“I don’t know; this was the first I’d heard about it.”

“Way to use protection, Michael.” Tess shook her head, and Michael lunged at her.

“Hey, hey, you guys, calm down,” Alex said, stepping between Michael and Tess.

Kyle wrapped his arm protectively around Tess, and Michael dropped his shoulders, walking to the other side of the group.

“I know we’re all a little tense,” Alex began in his psychiatrist tone, “but we need to stick together. Liz and Maria haven’t even been gone for an hour.”

Max stepped up and put his hand on Alex’s shoulder. “Alex is right. We need to stick together. First, we need to finish covering our tracks. In a few months, Maria and Liz are going to be back here with our children”—Max paused at this realization, his child—“so we need to make sure their families know, but without them having to see Maria or Liz very often. Liz is pretty much covered, though her mom’s going to be a bit of a problem.”

“How’s that?” Kyle asked.

“Well, she wants to throw a baby shower…” Max began.

“And once Amy finds out, she’ll want to do a double shower for both of them,” Tess interjected. She paused, turning to Kyle. “You and your dad can work on your step-mom to make it at least small.”

“So you can take care of everyone actually seeing Liz and Maria every once in a while?” Max asked.

“I’ll make them see Liz and Maria whenever necessary, though a big party would be kind of a drain.”

“Ok.” Max ran his hand through his dark hair and started pacing the length of the pod chamber, listing off everything that needed to be done.

* * *

Liz knew she had been holding Maria and Serena’s hands when they left, but, at that moment, she could feel nothing except that her breathing was constricted. All of her senses were numbed. She could feel nothing, see nothing, hear nothing, smell nothing, taste nothing. The darkness wasn’t even blackness; it was an absence of sight, as though she were blind.

Just when she thought she was going to pass out from lack of oxygen, she could feel again, squinting at the sudden light, despite its dimness, and gratefully squeezing Maria and Serena’s hands. Suddenly, Liz felt her knees buckle, and the last thing she saw before blacking out was a horrified look on Serena’s face as two small pairs of arms caught Liz.

* * *

Max shut off the lights in the UFO Center before locking the door. He looked up and down the street and began his walk home.

At Brody’s urging, he had double majored in Business and Computer Science and now made a comfortable salary programming and setting up websites for a variety of companies. Brody let Max use his constantly upgraded equipment whenever he wanted, and, in exchange, Max would do odd jobs around the UFO Center.

Liz had only been gone for a few weeks, but Max had already fallen into a routine. He woke up early and worked at his home computer all day before walking to the UFO Center and working for hours every night. He could have driven, but it was only a few miles’ walk, and he liked the exercise. He wasn’t worried about being alone at night, and he enjoyed the cool air.

Brody had expressed some concern over Max’s long hours, but Max had managed to dodge everyone else’s questions—as well as generally avoiding everyone altogether. Without the weekly get-togethers Liz and Maria had always organized, as well as the occasional in-law dinners to keep the parents happy, Max saw his friends and family very little. Alex and Isabel lived in Las Cruces, where Alex could work on his master’s in Psychology at New Mexico State and where Isabel worked as a social worker. He never saw Kyle and Tess especially often anyway, and Michael was wrapped up in his own thoughts without Maria to pry him out of his shell. Max had avoided his parents’ invitations to dinner several times by saying that he had work to do or that Liz, in her condition, wasn’t feeling up to it.

Looking at all the Christmas decorations on his walk home, Max sighed. Liz had always loved Christmas. She had even put up a tree before she left. He would have to go to Christmas dinner at his parents’ house in a few days. Tess would need to be there to mind warp them.

Walking down the hall in their building, Max smiled at the mistletoe Liz had put above their door over a month ago. But Max’s smile faded as he saw what was below it—a remnant of shed skin, disintegrating as he picked it up.

* * *


M: Knowing you has made me human.
posted on 26-Sep-2001 12:26:39 PM
Part 4

Liz awoke in a small, low-ceilinged room to see sunlight filtering through an oddly shaped skylight in the ceiling that looked like an ellipse, with a side pushed in, as though it had grown naturally into that shape. As her eyes adjusted, she realized that the walls, floor, ceiling, everything—was made of stone. She was in a cave.

Her bed appeared to have been carved from rock jutting out of the wall. She ran her fingers over her mattress, which was woven of long, silken feathers that gave at her touch.

Liz tried to sit up, but her head started throbbing with pain. She lay back down, and, testing her voice, asked, “Hello?” Her voice cracked, and she was surprised at how weak it was. There was no answer, not even an echo.

Liz was about to try her voice again when she realized that she didn’t even know if she was still on the rebel base. She could be anywhere. Liz let out a deep breath as the realization seeped in, stiffening as she heard a soft padding in the corridor outside her room. She closed her eyes to feign sleep, trying to calm her rapid, shallow breathing.

* * *

Max walked into the apartment to find a mess—books, papers, clothing, and all of their possessions had been thrown haphazardly all over the apartment. However, it wasn’t just a common thief who had done this to their apartment; nothing expensive was missing, not that Max and Liz had had anything of much value besides their appliances. Someone had been looking for something. Max picked up a framed picture of him and Liz that had fallen from the wall, holding it in one hand as he waved his other hand over the glass to repair it.

Max closed his eyes for a moment before reaching for the phone to call Michael.

* * *

Liz heard the footsteps come closer and enter her room. The padding stopped next to her, and she felt a hand push the hair off of her forehead—a hand that definitely felt human.

“Oh, babe, I wish you would just get better.” The sad, resigned voice paused. “I’ve got no one to talk to.” It was Maria.

Liz’s eyes flipped open, and Maria started, stunned. “Maria, I heard footsteps, and I didn’t know who…”

Maria expression changed immediately to joy. “You’re back! Oh, Lizzie, I’ve missed you!” She took Liz’s face in her hands and kissed her friend’s forehead.

“I… I don’t understand. What’s going on?” Liz’s mind was foggy, and Maria didn’t seem to be making sense. “Back? Where was I?”

“You’ve been sick, delirious, for more than two weeks. Serena said it had something to do with the atmosphere, called it atmospheric shock. Your body just wasn’t ready for the change.”

Liz took a deep breath, letting the information register. “Why didn’t you get sick?”

Maria shrugged her shoulders. “I dunno. I think it’s kinda like seasickness; some people get it, and some don’t. I got a flu-like thing, but yours was much more severe.”

“Where are we?” Liz asked.

“You don’t remember?” A look of horror passed over Maria’s face.

“No, no, I remember… about the rebel base. I just…” Liz tried to pull herself up into a sitting position, grimacing through fresh waves of pain in her temples.

“We’re still at the rebel base. Look, Liz, you just lay back while I get Serena.”

“Maria?” Maria paused at the uneven archway that connected Liz’s room to the corridor. “Nothing… happened to my baby, right?”

“Your baby’s fine. I’ll be right back, Liz.” She hesitated before turning back to say, “I’m so glad you’re okay.”

* * *

Michael ran his fingers through his hair. “So, Maxwell, what can we do?”

“I’m the one who called you over here, aren’t I?” Max tapped his fingers on the arm of the couch. “What do you think they were looking for? I can’t think of anything specific I have that they would want. Besides…”

“Do you think they know about Maria and Liz?”

Suddenly, the front door flew open, and a frantic Isabel rushed in.

“Isabel?” Max stared at her. “What are you doing here? I thought you were working today… in Las Cruces.”

“I… I was,” Isabel said breathlessly. “I had a vision. I… they know about Maria and Liz. The Skins know.”

* * *


M: Knowing you has made me human.
posted on 30-Sep-2001 5:19:09 PM
Part 5

Serena sat next to Liz’s bed and told her, “Look up at the ceiling.”

“Why?” Liz wasn’t quite so groggy anymore, but her voice was still weak from lack of use.

“I have to adjust your eyes. We see slightly different wavelengths than humans. Otherwise, everything here will just look drab, and you need to be able to look at everyone here without being blinded.”

“Blinded? What does that have to do with wavelengths?”

“I’m changing a little more than that. Don’t worry,” Serena said, seeing the look of concern on Liz’s face. “I’ll change it back before you go home.”

“Trust me, Liz,” Maria reassured her friend. “You can’t tell anyone apart when they’re all just pillars of white light.”

“Okay,” Liz said cautiously. Then she looked at Serena. “Go ahead.”

Serena waved her hand over Liz’s eyes, and Liz blinked, looking around. Suddenly the walls of the cave were sparkling with colors she had never seen before, instead of the dull brown they had been. “Wow.”

Maria smiled. “Isn’t it beautiful?”

Serena called out into the archway a few words in a language Maria later told Liz was called Upper Antaran.

“What are you saying?” Liz asked.

“I just told Kaia she could come in now.”

A small person with sparkling silver skin and some sort of fuzzy, angora-like fabric wrapped around her walked in. She was not quite 5 feet tall, and she had large, beautiful gray eyes. Her head was wrapped with a smaller piece of the same fabric of her gown.

Kaia smiled softly at Liz and began to converse with Serena in the language Serena had just used.

Liz lay on her side and listened to their smooth voices wash over her. The language wasn’t hard or harsh but flowing like French or Italian.

Maria sat on the edge of Liz’s bed and told her in an undertone, “They’re talking about you. Whenever they say ‘Marua Leese,’ that means ‘Queen Liz.’”

“You can understand them?” Liz asked in surprise.

“Well, when no one speaks English, you learn pretty fast. Serena taught me the basics, and I’ve been building from there.”

“You learned all that in two weeks?”

“They still have to talk pretty slow, but everyone’s been really nice. They think my name’s funny because it sounds so much like ‘marua,’ their word for ‘queen.’” Maria smiled thoughtfully.

“Who’s Kaia?”

“She’s kind of like the doctor or head nurse. She’s been helping us take care of you. She was one of the ones who caught you when you fainted.”

Liz looked at Maria blankly.

“When we came out of the granilith.”

“Oh,” Liz said as realization dawned.

Kaia walked over to the bed, and Maria moved out of the way. “I,” Kaia put her hand on her chest, “Kaia.” Her words were slow and careful. “Help you.” She pointed at Liz.

Liz nodded before realizing that Kaia probably didn’t understand what nodding meant. “Okay. Yes.” Liz paused. “Do you understand English?”

Kaia looked to Serena and said something quickly. Serena explained and then looked to Liz. “She doesn’t really understand much beyond what she just told you. However, Maria and Jarret have been trying to teach each other.” Serena smiled wistfully. “Jarret is Rath’s great-nephew.”

Liz hadn’t considered the fact that she might be among the royal four’s relatives, that her baby might be born near other family members.

Kaia patted Liz’s shoulder, and Liz turned her attention back toward her nurse.

* * *

Max sat silently at Christmas dinner with his parents, Isabel, Alex, the Parkers, and the Whitmans. Tess sat next to Max, mind warping the six parents to think she was Liz.

Alex was prattling on about how wonderful his internship was when Mrs. Evans looked happily around the table and asked, “So who’s ready for some of my famous peach cobbler?”

“Oh, Mom.” Isabel put her hand on her stomach. “I am so stuffed.”

“Yeah, that was delicious, Mrs. Evans. And Mrs. Parker, your apple raisin stuffing was just amazing.” Alex had always been one to schmooze the parents.

Isabel glanced over at Tess, who had beads of sweat forming on her forehead from the effort, and said, “You know, Liz, I think I have something of yours in my car.”

“What’s that?” Tess hadn’t been talking much out of concentration.

“Here, you can come with me. We still haven’t discussed Max’s present.” Isabel winked and smiled mischievously for the benefit of her parents and in-laws as Tess finally took the hint and stood up.

She smiled, saying, “We’ll only be a minute.”

“Don’t forget your jacket, Lizzie,” Nancy Parker called after the girl she thought was her daughter.

As Tess and Isabel were leaving, they could hear Nancy say, somewhat tearfully, “I can’t believe I’m going to be a grandmother already.”

As soon as they got outside, Tess let out a deep breath. “Thank you so much, Isabel.” She looked gratefully at her friend. “You are a goddess.”

“No problem. You looked like you needed a break.”

“We have to carry out this charade for another six months.”

“I know. I hate lying to them, but we have to. What did you do about Maria?”

“It was a little hard, but we convinced Amy to have dinner early, in the afternoon. That’s why Max and I were late.”

“You looked drained.”

“I feel drained. I am so exhausted; I can’t do the midnight service. We need to say that Maria and Liz are going to bed early.” Tess stood for a few moments with eyes closed, just resting.

“We’d better go back in now. Are you okay?”

“Yes.” She paused. “I’m ready.”

Isabel walked in with her arm around Tess, saying, “Liz isn’t feeling well. She’s going to—”

Mrs. Evans looked at the pair of them oddly. “Tess? What are you doing here? Are you alright, hon?”

Her composure finally lost, Tess collapsed in Isabel’s arms.

* * *

Maria held Liz’s arm as they walked down the hallway with Serena and Jarret to the main dining area. It was going to be Liz’s first meal with everyone around, and she was a bit apprehensive. Liz ducked as they came to a low spot in the corridor; she had learned from Serena that the rebel base was in the caves so that nothing could be seen on the moon’s surface. It was an added protection.

“It’s right around the corner,” Maria told her friend, and Liz grabbed more tightly to Maria’s arm in response.

Maria stopped and looked at Liz. “Look at me. Liz, you are their queen. You need to act like one. Stand tall. Smile. Be confident.”

Liz touched the amber heart at her throat that Max had given her, and she let go of Maria’s arm. “Poised and confident,” Liz whispered, straightening her shoulders and smoothing out the gown she had been given.

Serena, in her true silver-skinned form, said, “They love you already because Max chose you, Liz. All you have to do is smile.”

Jarret smiled at her reassuringly. “Marua Leese.” He gestured for her to lead the way.

“But where do I go?”

“It will be very obvious. It is the only space where no one is standing.”

Liz nodded, smoothed her hair, and, without looking back, led the way.

* * *

Max took Tess and left his parents’ house quickly, not wanting to have to answer too many odd questions. Isabel told the three sets of parents that Tess had been bringing Isabel’s present and that it looked like Tess and Liz had come down with the same thing. “Since they’ve been spending so much time together recently,” Isabel had lied nervously.

As Max left with Tess, Isabel walked her brother outside, carefully avoiding everyone’s questions and leaving Alex to try and keep them from coming outside. “You can’t come tomorrow morning. ‘Liz’ is too sick.” Isabel kept her voice low.

Max took Tess home to a worried Kyle and then went home himself, exhausted. Max got ready for bed quickly and then lay back for a few minutes, thinking restlessly. Liz had always loved Christmas and made more out of it than he ever had. It would be so empty without her. This would be the first Christmas in almost nine years that he wasn’t spending with Liz.

* * *

After several weeks at the rebel base, Liz was feeling much better, and she had befriended most of the rebels (who called themselves Gueyere, a word that translated roughly to “Liberators”). She had picked up quite a bit of the Upper Antaran language and joined Maria, Jarret, Gueyere leader Salle, and several other younger Gueyere for language lessons. It was amazing how much they could pick up from each other. The only minor problem Liz was having was getting along with Felee, Salle’s second in command. He didn’t seem to want to accept that she was queen instead of Tess, or Marua Ava, as he put it.

Lying in bed one night in the room she now shared with Maria, Liz touched her amber heart and said a quick prayer for her husband, that he was safe. She stared out the skylight at the unfamiliar stars and thought that Max might be staring at those same stars.

Liz gasped at a sudden realization, sitting straight up.

Maria rolled over and asked sleepily, “What’s wrong?”

“I forgot Christmas.” Liz’s voice faltered, and her words caught in her throat.

Maria, more alert this time, looked at her friend sympathetically. “Oh, Liz.” Her words were soft. “I forgot, too.”

“What’s wrong with me?”

Maria got out of her bed and went over to sit next to Liz. “Nothing’s wrong with you. We just got caught up; that’s all. At least you have an excuse,” Maria said, half jokingly and half not. “I wasn’t even that sick.”

Liz sat up and leaned her head on Maria’s shoulder. “What if my baby never has Christmas?”

“Of course your baby will have Christmas. Our babies will have many, many Christmases, Liz. They’re going to grow up with normal kids and have, well, relatively normal lives.”

“Normal?”

“Okay, maybe not normal, but our kids will be very loved.”

Liz stared at the opposite wall. “I miss him, Maria. And everyone.”

“I know. I miss my spaceboy, too.” Maria leaned her head on Liz’s. “We’re strong. We will survive and thrive.” She took a deep breath. “Right?”

“Right.”

* * *

The next three months passed relatively uneventfully, and the Gueyere continued to conduct their operations from Antar’s moon. Liz and Maria’s language skills continued to improve as the size of their respective bellies grew. By Liz’s count, she had only a couple more weeks, give or take a few days, and Maria had a little over two months. Liz constantly had someone with her as an extra security precaution because of the importance of her baby, and she was beginning to feel a bit smothered. However, it had been part of the reason they let her share a room with Maria in the first place.

Liz had not been sleeping well lately—she just couldn’t get comfortable—and she had gotten in the habit of taking late night strolls through the base.

On that particular night, Liz wrapped her shawl tightly around her—she loved the feel of the Antaran fabric—and she set off on the circular route she usually took. She noticed that one of the guards she usually ran into wasn’t in his usual spot, but he was probably on a different part of his rounds. She always felt like the guards were staring after her for much too long anyway.

Liz continued walking calmly down her regular route; everything in the base was quiet, and she could hear her soft-soled shoes tapping lightly on the stone floor. She thought she heard something and stopped, turning her head towards the slight noise behind her, but it was too late. Little hands covered her mouth—she wasn’t much taller than the Gueyere—and she felt something prick her neck. Though she tried to scream and struggle, the tranquilizer was already taking effect. Her vision blurred, and the world seemed to melt away.

* * *


M: Knowing you has made me human.

Edited by - Burgundy on 10/01/2001 17:22:46
posted on 30-Sep-2001 5:20:07 PM
Part 6

Max sat bolt upright in bed. He was sweating and trembling, and he felt tremendously afraid. Something felt so close and familiar, and he knew. “Liz!”

* * *

Liz stared down at the ground, away from two small silvery men who were guarding her. They were smaller than the Gueyere, with slightly speckled skin and more oblong faces. They didn’t seem to realize that she understood their language, and though they spoke a strange dialect different from any she had heard at the rebel base, she was able to deduce that they worked for Kivar.

The room she was in was small and dark and only dimly lit by a type of Antaran glow worms squirming in their corner cages.

The small stool she was sitting on was hard and uncomfortable, but she dared not move for fear of what the guards might do. She needed to concentrate.

She stared at a point on the floor until her eyes glazed over, letting her mind focus on Serena.

* * *

“Are you sure it wasn’t just a nightmare?” Tess looked somewhat skeptical as she, Michael, and Max stood in the pre-dawn light cast by the partly open blinds.

“Yes. I know it was Liz.” Max sighed. “She was terrified of something, and she kept projecting this image of Serena.”

“Serena? Do you think Serena did something to her?” Michael asked.

“No, no. It was more like…” He paused thoughtfully. “Like Serena could help her. Or something. It was so vague. So frustrating.”

“But what can we do?” Tess lifted her hands in question. “Is there anything that we can do at all?”

“If Liz is in trouble, that means Maria’s probably in trouble, too,” Michael said.

Max paced the room pensively and stopped for a moment by the window.

“What is it Max?” Tess asked.

“You know that book that you gave us last year?” She looked a little confused, so he elaborated, “The book with all four of us in it?”

“Oh. Yeah. What about it?”

“Does it have something to do with helping Maria and Liz?” Michael prodded.

“You have the book, don’t you, Tess?”

“Yes…”

“Do you remember how Serena said that there was more than one portal? More than one gateway?”

“Yeah. So…” Michael urged him impatiently.

“So maybe the book will have some information in it about that, something that could maybe take us to Liz and Maria.”

“But we don’t know where those other gateways are, or even if they are in the same solar system as the rebel base. Plus, we the crystal we have only works for the rebel base gateway,” Tess added pragmatically.

“It’s worth a try,” Max said.

Michael grabbed his car keys. “So let’s get the book.”

* * *

Maria woke up in the darkness and looked across the room to see that Liz was not in bed. She looked out through their ‘skylight’ to see that the stars had moved quite a bit across the sky. From practice—and lack of a watch—Maria had learned to tell time by the celestial positions of the stars at night and the Antaran sun during the day. At that moment, she could tell that it was quite late, or quite early—a few hours until dawn. Where was Liz?

Maria slid out of bed and walked over to Liz’s, putting her hand on the bedclothes. Cold—she’d been gone for a while. Maria knew Liz liked taking late night walks, but this late? It just didn’t make sense.

* * *

“Do you understand any of it?” Tess turned the books pages slowly, Max and Michael looking over her shoulder.

“You’d think we’d have asked Serena about it,” Michael lamented, somewhat angrily.

“I guess it just didn’t seem relevant anymore.” Max ran his fingers through his hair, adding, “Since none of us really followed our ‘destinies’ anyway.”

“I don’t remember this page being here before,” Tess said suddenly.

Max reached out to take the book and look more closely, and, upon touching it, he was floored. He staggered backwards.

“Are you okay, Max?”

But Michael knew his friend better. “What did you see, Maxwell?”

* * *


M: Knowing you has made me human.
posted on 30-Sep-2001 5:23:17 PM
Part 7

“We’ve searched the entire base,” Salle reported in Upper Antaran.

“Are you sure?” Maria asked nervously. “Everywhere?”

“Yes. Everywhere. However, a couple of the guards were found drugged, and they don’t remember anything. Felee and Jarret are missing as well.”

“Felee and Jarret, too?” Maria squeaked. “I bet Jarret was walking with Liz on one of her strolls, and Felee has never really liked Liz anyway. You know he thinks Tess—er, Ava—should be queen.”

“I don’t think we should be jumping to such conclusions just yet.” Salle looked at Maria harshly.

She shrank back, whispering, “Sorry.”

“Well, we’re all a little tense right now,” Salle said more comfortingly.

Serena pressed her lips together so hard they were almost turning white.

“Are you alright?” One of Salle’s attendants asked.

“I just… have… a bit of a headache…” Serena’s voice trailed off until it was almost inaudible.

“I should take you to Kaia,” the attendant said.

“Maria…” Serena’s eyelids fluttered, and the girl rushed to her side, despite waddling somewhat because of her pregnancy.

Maria bent down a little bit to slide her arm around Serena’s waist to help support her. “Serena? What is it?”

“I think Liz… is trying to contact me.” She sat down on one of the low wall benches. “Has she ever contacted anyone besides Max?”

Maria bit her lip, thinking. “I don’t—I don’t think so. Why? Is it much different?”

“Hmm?” Serena’s silver eyelids were closed as she leaned back against the cool, smooth stone.

“I don’t understand.” Maria’s voice lay heavy in the air, full of fear as Salle and his current attendants huddled around the two women.

“Salle,” Serena murmured, gesturing at him to explain.

“It’s a different wavelength,” he began, furrowing his brow. “Contacting one person is different from contacting any other person. It taxes both persons’ resources to try to contact—well, since Marua Leese is not used to focusing in on different people, she may be contacting both Serena and her husband at the same time.”

“What’s Liz telling you, Serena?” Maria looked to the one she knew best in the group.

“It’s fuzzy, but I think—I know Kivar’s men have her.”

“Where is she?” Salle demanded. Then, more calmly: “What else can you see?”

“She is so scared. Liz wants to protect her baby, and she’s so scared.”

* * *

“You’re sure?” Tess asked Max.

“Of course he’s sure,” Michael interjected. “So where’s this gateway?”

“It’s on Antar,” Max began slowly.

“Let’s go then.” Michael started towards the door.

“Whoa, there, space boy.” Tess shot him a look.

“It’s not that simple, Michael.” Max rubbed his temples.

“I’m—I just want to help them, you know?” He sat down on the couch next to Max dejectedly.

Tess came over and, sitting on the armrest, put her arm around his shoulders. Michael just sighed.

“What were you trying to tell us earlier, Max?” Tess asked.

“I’m not sure exactly where on Antar it is, but it’s not safe. Not only do we not speak their language, we would be in Kivar’s territory.”

“You don’t remember?” Tess asked disbelievingly.

“What do you mean?” Michael turned to look at her.

“Our language. I guess I just thought… that we all remembered, all four of us.” Max and Michael stared at her. “It didn’t even occur to me.”

“And that took you nine years to figure out?” Michael raised an eyebrow.

“Well, it came back kind of slow, and I was caught up in other things.” They continued to stare. “Sorry.”

“So you can mindwarp them to make us look like Skins, and you can speak for all three of us.” Max was already back on task. “We need to figure out how to get there without Kivar or any of his followers knowing.”

“Maybe we could meet one of the rebels there,” Tess put in.

“But how would we contact them?” Michael asked.

Tess looked over to Max, asking, “Wasn’t Liz trying to contact you? Do you think you could contact her?”

“It’s a one-way thing, like when Isabel dreamwalks people. Though others can help her, Liz has to initiate the connection herself.”

“She’s bound to contact you soon, especially once we get to Antar, where she can feel your presence,” Michael said.

“We need the crystal before we can even think about Antar,” Max told them.

“You mean like the one Serena used?” Tess asked.

“Yeah.”

“So where’s this crystal, Maxwell?” Michael raised his eyebrows in question.

“All I know is that it’s somewhere in the granilith chamber.”

The three of them were silent for a moment.

“We have to have the crystal before any of this other stuff can work, right?” Tess looked from Max to Michael and back.

“Well, basically…” Max began.

“So what are we waiting for? Let’s get Kyle, Isabel, and Alex and start looking.”

* * *


M: Knowing you has made me human.
posted on 2-Oct-2001 4:19:50 PM
Part 8

The pain was coming in more quickly now; Liz tried to conceal it, but it was no use. Her hair was sticking to her face, and her breathing was labored. Please let it be false contractions, she thought, please. At least they weren’t that close together yet.

The guards were staring at her and beginning to talk in low tones.

“What do you think it is?” She shot at them in Upper Antaran. “Trauma and high stress induce labor. This baby is coming now whether you like it or not.” She squeezed her hands together and winced in pain. “They’re getting closer together.”

The guards just stared at her for a minute, shocked at the use of their language. Surely this could buy her some time.

* * *

Max and Michael were silent in the car on the way to the granilith chamber. Tess had gone to get the others while Max and Michael were going to go ahead and start looking. Michael stared out the window as Max drove, keeping his eyes on the road. The sky was a pale pink in the east where the sun was peeking over the horizon.

They parked just far enough away to protect the location of the pod chamber and set out on a familiar path to the place where they were born. The silence between them wasn’t awkward; they were both so lost in their own thoughts that they hardly noticed.

A few minutes later, Michael walked purposefully across the room to the portion of wall directly opposite the doorway. He waved his hand over the wall, and a bumpy area transformed itself into a clear, mounted crystal with an alien inscription below it.

Michael looked over at Max and grinned.

Max stared, stunned. “How…?”

“It’s like when you first found the pod chamber. I just knew.”

Suddenly, they both looked around to discover that there was a ring of crystals running the whole length of the circular wall, each with an inscription and mounted at the same height as the first one.

* * *

Maria sat with Serena in her room, wringing her hands as Serena lay resting. Salle had insisted that they sit and try to keep their minds clear in case Liz tried to contact them while he and several other rebels went undercover to Antar to check out places where Liz could be being held.

Maria bit her lip and looked down, realizing that she had been tapping her foot furiously. How could she possibly clear her mind when so much was going on? It wasn’t possible. Maria felt her baby kick, and suddenly she started crying. This just couldn’t be happening. They were supposed to be in a secure environment. Isn’t that why they came in the first place?

Serena shifted in her bed, and Maria tried to stop sniffling and hide her tears, wiping them away with the back of her hand. Maria took a deep breath, and Serena opened her eyes.

“Go get Salle. I have to tell him something.”

* * *

Liz paced slowly back and forth in the small room as one of the guards followed her every step with his eyes. The other guard had left for some reason, whispering something to the first, stouter guard. In her mind, she had nicknamed them Tweedledee and Tweedledum, just because they had the same blank looks in their eyes as their namesakes. Because of their shock, Liz had been able to convince them to let her walk around right before the taller, thinner Tweedledum had left.

Suddenly, she was in pain again, and she scraped at the wall for support. Tweedledee, taking pity on her, raced over and held onto her arm to help support her. As soon as contraction had passed, she smiled weakly at him.

Tweedledum walked in and glared at Tweedledee, who dropped Liz’s arm. “What’s that?” Tweedledum demanded, pointing at a wet portion of the floor.

“Her water broke,” Tweedledee said. “I think we should move her to another room. What did he say to you?”

“He wants her in another room. Let’s go.”

* * *

“He’s going to be at that gateway, Salle. I know how he thinks,” Serena told the Gueyere leader.

“It would be very risky contacting anyone down on Antar—” Salle began.

“But it would be worth it.”

“That’s what I was going to say; you cut me off, Serena.” Salle glared at her, but she ignored him.

“I knew him almost all his life as Zan, and I’ve known him for years as Max.”

“Why didn’t you tell us about the other gateways?” Maria asked. Salle and Serena turned to look at her, having almost forgotten she was there because of her uncharacteristic silence.

“It was too dangerous,” Serena told her. “I guess I was afraid… that someone else might find out. Anyways”—her tone picked up again—“what’s done is done.”

“Who do you recommend we send?” Salle asked Serena.

“Me, of course.”

“What?” You’re in no condition…”

“You wouldn’t have to contact as many Gueyere on Antar. Plus, he knows me.”

“Serena…”

* * *

They took Liz into another room with something that closely resembled a medieval birthing chair. A small silver woman was standing at a table against the wall. Upon seeing Liz, she rushed over to help Liz and swatted at the guards with some kind of cloth she was holding. She helped Liz to the chair, all the while yelling at the guards in some language Liz didn’t understand.

Apparently, Tweedledee and Tweedledum didn’t understand either because they stared at the woman blankly. She told them, in broken Upper Antaran, “Go. Leave.”

“We have orders to watch this woman; we are not to leave her alone.” Tweedledum tried to stare at the woman menacingly, but he only looked goofy.

“No. Out, out.” She tried unsuccessfully to herd them out the door. Finally they compromised by standing at the entrance as the little woman glared at them.

Liz screamed in pain and clutched the arms of the chair. The little woman rushed over and laid a wet cloth across Liz’s forehead, murmuring quiet words of comfort that it wasn’t especially necessary to understand.

As the pain temporarily subsided, Liz heard voices in the corridor—Tweedledum was talking with someone.

“What do we do once the baby has arrived?” Tweedledum was asking.

There were some unintelligible sounds, and then the second voice said, “I want her to know everything that happens. It will be her punishment for going against us.”

Recognition suddenly dawned on Liz. That voice—she had heard it almost every day at the rebel base. How could he? How could he betray them? How could he betray her?

* * *


M: Knowing you has made me human.
posted on 6-Oct-2001 2:34:13 PM
Part 9

“It’s this one,” Michael said, putting his hand on the first crystal he had revealed.

For a brief moment, Max stared at Michael’s eyes, trying to read his friend’s expression, but only intensity and the glow of the granilith reflected in Michael’s eyes. “Let’s go,” Max said, not even questioning Michael.

There was an unspoken understanding between them as Michael took the crystal from its mount on the wall. They couldn’t wait for Tess. Max’s strong sense of urgency washed away any patience he may have felt. They had to rescue Liz and Maria.

* * *

The little silver nurse said something in the language Liz didn’t know, and then, more slowly, in Upper Antaran, “It’s a girl!”

Liz smiled through pained tears as she heard her baby cry. The little silver woman wrapped the baby in soft cloth and handed her to Liz, smiling. The little girl was perfect. And human.

“What is her name?” The little woman asked.

Without hesitation, Liz replied, “Claudia.”

The nurse said something in the other language and kissed Claudia on the forehead, whispering the baby girl’s name.

Liz heard a scuffling in the hallway that must’ve been caused by the baby’s cries. Suddenly, the guards rushed into the room, followed closely by an angrier set of footsteps. They were going to take Claudia!

Liz tried to cover Claudia with her body, but Liz was too weak. “My baby!” Liz cried as they took Claudia from her arms—she was never sure if she had cried out in English or Antaran.

The little woman beat at the guards with another one of her cloths, but Liz just stared at Jarret.

“That bastard child will never be royalty!” Jarret glared down at her. He had somehow become much more imposing than he had been as a partner in their language-sharing sessions.

Liz didn’t yell at him; she just continued to stare at him weakly in disbelief. “I trusted you.”

* * *

Max and Michael were shocked but also somewhat relieved to find Serena at the gateway when they arrived (she had shifted to her familiar dark-haired human form).

“Where are they?” Max asked her immediately, uncharacteristically impatient.

“Look, we have to get you out of sight, away from here; I’ve only got this place secured for a little while,” Serena said.

Michael grabbed her arm. “How do we know you’re Serena?”

“I knew you’d come here, didn’t I? Who else can predict you like that?”

Michael just stared at her cryptically.

She raised her eyebrows and then ignored his disbelief, continuing, “There are three other Gueyere waiting outside—”

“Gueyere?” Michael asked.

“Rebels, people like me who support Max as King. Anyways, three are waiting for us. They can hide your identities so you look Antaran. Speaking of which, where’s Tess?”

“We were kind of in a hurry,” Max told her.

“Well, it might be a little harder to hide you two. I mean, I can shift into my natural form…”

“Where’s Maria?” Michael asked.

“I’ll explain on the way. Come on.” Serena ushered them out of the unusually—and insecurely—large room.

* * *

“I don’t understand how they could’ve just left without us!” Tess lifted her arms, gesturing angrily in the granilith chamber.

“I think I can understand how they felt,” Isabel said calmly, “and I think you can, too. Look at what they discovered.” Isabel lifted her hand towards the crystals on the wall.

Kyle grabbed Tess by the shoulders, spinning her around to face him. “Calm down; you’re freaking out.”

“How can I be calm when Max and Michael have just endangered our cover? Again?”

Isabel’s relative calmness dissolved, and she snapped at Tess. “Our cover? Is that all you care about? It doesn’t bother you that Liz and Maria and two little babies are in grave danger?”

“Ladies, ladies”—Alex stepped between them—“just take a deep breath. I’m sure Max has it all under control. I mean”—he looked fro Isabel to Tess and back to Isabel—“you may have had disagreements with him before, but I’m sure he’ll do the right thing.”

To Tess’s surprise—and everyone’s, for that matter—Isabel burst into tears.

A slightly confused Alex wrapped his arms around her and kissed the top of her head. He rocked her in his arms, and, staring at the crystals on the wall, whispered, “I’m sure he’ll do the right thing. We just have to wait for them to come back.” Isabel was sobbing softly. “We just have to wait.”

* * *


M: Knowing you has made me human.
posted on 6-Oct-2001 2:36:04 PM
Part 10

Liz stared at the wall in front of her in the small room where she was being restrained. She looked and felt like she had been run over by a truck, but her face held not emotion. The meaner guard from before, who she still referred to as Tweedledum, was watching her intently, puzzling at her silence and lack of emotion but not questioning it.

Liz continued to stare unblinkingly at the wall in front of her, not moving from her spot in the chair.

* * *

Max and Michael followed Serena closely as she walked swiftly through the maze of corridors. She apparently knew them quite well.

Max blinked, rubbing at his eyes. He was still getting used to the change Serena had made so that he and Michael could see Antar better.

As they approached a corner, she suddenly put her hand up for them to stop. “Someone’s coming. Wait for me in that alcove,” she said, indicating a small storage area just down the hall.

Max and Michael got into the alcove just as a little silver person came around the corner and nearly bumped into Serena. It was the guard Liz called “Tweedledee.”

“Clem! How lovely to see you!” Serena smiled, too warmly.

“Siri”—his voice lowered—“you shouldn’t be here.”

“Why not?” She drawled.

“I know what you’re up to, and I don’t want to have to turn you in, little sister.”

In the alcove, Max’s eyes widened, and Michael raised an eyebrow.

“I just need a little information.” Serena put her arm around his waist. “I know you know.”

He slipped her arm off his waist and stepped back. “You should go before anyone else sees you, Siri. I would be forced to turn you in.”

“I could expose you just as easily as you could expose me.”

“What are you talking about? There’s nothing about me to expose.”

“Except the fact that you’re too scared to join the right side. And there is me, of course. Furtive meetings with a suspicious woman? Who just happens to be your sister and a member of the Gueyere?” She tilted her head towards him. “People would no longer believe that your sister was a reclusive hermit living several light years away. Doesn’t look good, Clem.”

“What do you want to know?”

“Where’s Liz?”

“What?”

“Marua Leese?”

“One of the North Wing rooms. She just had her baby; she’s not doing too well.”

A look of worry passed over Serena’s face before she kissed her brother on the cheek and whispered, “You’re welcome to come to the right side whenever you’re ready. I love you.” Then she rushed off to get Max and Michael.

* * *

While Liz’s face held no emotion, a multitude of thoughts were surging and crashing together in her mind—thoughts that all seemed to come back to one idea, one worry. What were they doing with Claudia?

Liz swallowed and tried to calm her thoughts. There had to be something she could do. Contacting Serena hadn’t worked well before, but maybe—maybe she could contact Max.

* * *

“She should be in one of these rooms, gesturing from another storage alcove towards several corridors that composed the North Wing.

“There must be a hundred rooms!” Michael exclaimed.

“There aren’t that many, Michael.” Max started for the closest room, saying, “Let’s split up and start looking.

“Be careful,” Serena warned them. “Don’t rush too much—try not to let anyone see you. If someone does, remember that I’ve charmed you to look Antaran to the casual observer. But it only works if they’re not paying close attention. Just try and keep a low profile, okay?”

“Okay. I’ll take this hallway; you take that hallway”—Max gestured to Michael—“and Serena, since you know the rooms better, you take the far one.”

Max and Michael started off, but Serena stopped them, saying, “ We meet back here in two hours. No matter what.”

* * *

“Hasn’t Serena contacted you yet?” Maria asked Salle impatiently.

“She tends to get caught up when she’s on missions.”

“Caught up?! I have been worrying about Liz since before she was kidnapped.”

“You’re doing it again, Maria.”

“Doing what?”

“Overreacting. You need to calm down.” He looked at her pointedly. “If not for your own sake, then at least for your baby’s.”

Maria put her hand over her heart and took a deep breath. “You’ll tell me when there’s news? Any news?”

“Yes, of course.”

* * *

Checking another room, Max sighed, beginning to wonder if Clem had told them the wrong wing. Suddenly, he felt something in the back of his mind, a presence—it was Liz, urging him forward.

Max could feel her joy that she had found him, that he was here, but he also felt her fear and worry. He walked down the passageway, feeling her presence growing stronger and stronger. Suddenly, it was enveloping him, and he turned into a small room, finding Liz guarded by a skinny, determined-looking little silver man. Liz’s eyes lit up, for she saw through Max’s disguise. After a little scuffle, Max easily knocked Tweedledum unconscious before he knew what had hit him.

Max took her in his arms, and she whispered, “I knew you’d come.” Then she pulled back and looked at him with worried eyes. “They have Claudia.” She was crying now.

“Claudia? Is she--”

“Our baby. Jarret took our baby, Max.” Her voice dropped to become nearly inaudible. “And I don’t know what they’re going to do to her.”

* * *


M: Knowing you has made me human.