|posted on 20-Apr-2002 10:10:38 AM|
|Epiphanies 1: The Ties That Bind|
Setting: This story begins where Season 1 leaves off. The Mamma-gram has just thrown a devastating wrench into Max and Liz's relationship and the Pod Squad's future. Liz has run down the mountain in tears, leaving a stunned Max in her wake.
This is the first in the Epiphanies Trilogy, which, I assure you, will bear NO resemblance to seasons 2 & 3 (well, except the VERY end! hehe).
Disclaimer: I don't own them. If I did, you'd have seen THIS on tv.
Isabel smiled at Alex as they walked along the beach, fingers entwined, eyes only for each other. The day was picture perfect–blue sky, warm breeze, playful waves lapping around their feet. Alex slowed and turned toward his beautiful partner. She stroked his cheek.
“Alex,” she whispered, as she looked up at him. There weren’t many men Isabel Evans looked up to–physically or intellectually–but she looked up to Alex in both senses. She was often surprised when she considered her strong feelings for him. A few months ago, no one could have convinced her that this awkward and sincere boy would win her heart, but that was before she knew what lay beneath his misleading exterior. What she had discovered was a sensitive, intelligent, and fiercely loyal friend and protector. And somewhere along the way, she had fallen in love.
She lifted her face to his and he kissed her, so gently, so longingly, she wondered how she had ever denied herself this loving haven.
“I hate to interrupt, Isabel, but it’s important that I speak with you,” said a voice from the edges of her consciousness, and she opened her eyes to find Alex’s image dissolving right in front of her. Annoyed and bewildered, she turned to find the source of the voice. From the vague perimeter of her dream came a handsome young man.
Isabel was astonished. No one had ever invaded her dreams before. She didn’t even think there was anyone capable of doing it. Pulling herself together, she stepped toward the young intruder, doing her best to look down at him, always her most effective intimidation tactic, but his tall frame and startling blue eyes gave him an equally imposing presence, and she found it difficult to gain her usual edge.
“Isabel, I’m sorry I startled you. My name is Josh, and I’ve only recently discovered your whereabouts. I felt it imperative to contact you and the others to deliver a warning.”
Isabel stared at him, trying to establish control of the conversation, but the questions were coming too fast, and this man’s very presence in her dream was extremely disconcerting.
“How did you get here . . . in my dream, I mean? And what exactly do I need to be warned about?” she asked with as much hostility as she could muster.
“Please, let me explain. Like you, I am a visitor to this planet. There are more of us than you realize, and many of us search the skies for signals from others like ourselves. When you and your friends activated the orbs, you inadvertently sent one of those signals. But your signal contained no coherent message, and I realized it was coming from someone who didn’t know what they had. I needed to find out who had the orbs, knowing that if it were one of us, I would need to seek you out. Once I learned who and where you were, I could sense that you were the dreamwalker of your team, so I’ve come to you first.”
Isabel tried to digest what this stranger had just told her, but the implications of his explanation had set off alarms in her mind. “I don’t understand. How many others are there and why didn’t we know about them before this? And what do you mean by ‘your team’? What team?”
“You are one of several people, aren’t you? Each with different abilities?”
“I suppose so. I mean, there have been three of us most of our lives. We only recently discovered a fourth. Why?”
Josh thought for a moment. “You must have been separated as a result of the crash,” he mused to himself.
“I’m not inclined to discuss my personal life with you,” replied Isabel. “I’m not even sure you’re real.” Isabel willed herself to wake up. She sat up quickly on the edge of the bed, her palms sweating, her breathing fast and shallow. Max. She needed to talk to Max. She glanced at her clock. 2:40 a.m. Should she wake him? She closed her eyes and was once again overwhelmed with images of the blond stranger and his message. She had to talk to Max. Now.
Max sat propped against the headboard, his knees drawn to his chin, his head resting on folded arms. He couldn’t sleep, so much Liz running through his mind. All along, he knew letting her into his life could wind up hurting them. Hadn’t he told her as much in the bio lab that day when he felt his resolve dwindling? “Liz,” he had said. “I think what I’m afraid of is not that we try this thing and it works out really badly. What I’m afraid of is that we try this and it works out really well. Because I know it’s not meant to be. And somewhere down the line, we’re gonna get hurt. I can live with that, but I just couldn’t bear to hurt you.” At the time, she had reminded him that it was her decision, and he had been persuaded to abandon common sense and succumb to the emotions he had held at bay for so long. But he hadn’t realized how painfully, agonizingly true his words would be. He never knew such pain existed.
A noise at his door caught his attention, and he turned to see Izzie easing his door open.
“Max! You’re awake! I came to wake you. I just had the most bizarre dream, and I had to tell you about it.”
Max threw his head back against the wall. “Iz, it’s the middle of the night. Can’t this wait?”
“You’re up anyway and this might really be important, Max. By the way, why are you up?”
“Couldn’t sleep, that’s all. So what’s the big deal about this dream?”
Isabel told Max all the details she could remember about her dream, leaving out any reference to Alex. Max was skeptical. “We all have weird dreams sometimes, Iz. What makes you think there is anything real about this? After everything that’s happened, it’s no wonder you are having strange dreams.”
“This was different, Max. I wasn’t having a weird dream. At first, it was perfectly normal, and then this guy Josh just . . . shows up! Max, he was dreamwalking me. If anyone should recognize that, it’s me.”
“So he just entered a normal dream? What were you dreaming about?”
Isabel looked down and blushed. Max smiled. “We’re a pair, aren’t we? You go to sleep to dream of Alex, and I can’t sleep thinking of Liz.” His head dropped to his arms again. “How did it get so crazy, Iz?”
“I don’t know, Max.” Isabel pulled herself up to sit beside her brother. “If there is a Josh, and there is any truth to what he says, we’d better listen. He might be able to tell us more about ourselves and any danger we might be facing.”
“Do you remember what Nasedo said about the orbs? He said if we used them, there was no telling who else we would be drawing to us. What if he was right?”
Isabel sighed. “I’ll try to go back to sleep and see if Josh comes again. In any case, we’ll have to tell the others. We all need to be watchful.”
They sat deep in thought for a moment. Then Max turned mournful eyes to Isabel. “Sometimes I wish I hadn’t insisted on using those orbs that day. We wouldn’t have heard our mother’s message, we wouldn’t have exposed ourselves to even more danger, and we’d still be with the ones we love.” He shook his head slowly. “Was it worth it?”
Isabel saw the pain in his eyes and felt her own heart tighten. “I don’t know, Max. I just don’t know.”
Liz had avoided getting out of bed for half an hour since her alarm went off. Most mornings were like this now. There was no reason to get up, nothing to look forward to. Each day was the same: in those first moments between dreaming and wakefulness, she experienced the joy of her first conscious thought of Max. Within seconds, though, the reality of the past two months hit her with a nauseating violence and any shred of happiness or excitement became a bitter memory.
The pattern remained true today, and she struggled to convince herself that there was a point to getting up. The phone ringing beside her startled her into action, and she reached for the receiver.
It was Max. Instantly, her body reacted–a purely physical response to the sound of his voice. She fought to sound natural as she answered him.
“Max? Uh . . . yeah. What’s goin’ on?”
“Liz, listen, there’s been a . . . development, and I thought . . . We thought it was important enough for us all to meet . . . to talk. Does 8:00 tonight at Michael’s sound okay?”
A meeting. Not what she was hoping for, but all she should expect, she knew. After all, she was the one who insisted on separating. She had been the mature, rational one who told him he must follow his destiny and she couldn’t be a part of it. Nothing had changed.
“Liz, are you there?”
“Oh . . . yeah. Sorry. Sure, I’ll be there.”
“I really wish . . . things were . . . different.”
“Yeah,” choked Liz. “I know.”
Liz hung up the receiver and stared at the phone. Well, at least now she had a reason to get up. She would see Max tonight. Liz wondered idly about the “development.”
Liz’s plans included a shift at the Crashdown and then she, Maria, Alex, and Kyle were going to rent a movie and order pizza. She guessed that plan would remain unchanged except they would all go to Michael’s after dinner. The four of them had been sticking close together this summer. It was comfortable and safe. They could share their collective heartbreak without saying a word, and when they did speak, there was no need for caution or euphemisms. They had no secrets from one another. Besides, they had little in common with their other classmates anymore. They lived in different worlds.
Liz realized she was running seriously late now and couldn’t even shower. She threw on her uniform, brushed her teeth and hair, and ran downstairs to start her shift. Maria was already there.
“Hey, Maria. Did you get a call about the meeting tonight?”
“Yeah. Michael even called me himself. Do you know what’s up?”
“No,” replied Liz.” Just something about a ‘development’–whatever that means.”
“That’s pretty much what Michael said, too. I think he wanted to say more, but he was being such a dork on the phone. He wasn’t talking, but he didn’t hang up, either.” Maria put her hands on her hips and tried hard to look annoyed. “What does he think? Like I don’t have more important things to do than listen to him breathe?”
Liz suppressed a smile. Maria’s best defense against her broken heart was anger, especially toward Michael. She wasn’t fooling anyone.
Time flew during the busy lunchtime shift and by mid-afternoon, the girls were happy to see Alex and Kyle come through the door of the Crashdown.
“Be right with you,” Maria yelled.
“We rented There’s Something about Mary, okay?” asked Kyle.
“Whatever,” laughed Maria, rolling her eyes at Liz. “I just wanna veg for a while.”
On the way to Alex’s house, they confirmed that the guys had also been summoned to a meeting at Michael’s later that evening.
“Anybody know why?” asked Kyle. He was still more uncomfortable than the others about even acknowledging the existence of aliens, let alone knowing them personally, but Max had saved his life, and his father seemed committed to protecting them, so he found himself a cautious, but willing, member of this very unique circle of friends.
“Not a clue,” confessed Alex, “but I won’t complain about a chance to see Isabel.”
The group exchanged glances. They were each both excited and nervous about seeing their alien friends tonight. Liz, Maria, and Alex had all pushed love aside in acknowledgment of what seemed like the aliens’ inevitable destiny. Even Kyle, who had felt a certain attraction toward Tess, felt pleased to be seeing her, but awkward about what to do or say. Collectively, they were wondering what it was that could have made such a meeting necessary.
After the movie and pizza, the teens were cleaning up.
“I’m going to go feed the cat and change,” said Liz as she opened the door to leave. “I’ll just run home and then take my own car to Michael’s. Maria, are you coming with me?”
“No, I brought a change of clothes. I’ll wait til the tape’s rewound and we’ll return it on the way. About a half hour?”
“Yeah,” waved Liz as she jogged toward the street.
Liz was glad for the chance to run off some of this nervous energy and be alone with her thoughts. She had managed to keep Max in the back of her mind for most of the day, but he was filling her now; she could feel him, smell him, hear him telling her he loved her. She was totally absorbed in the sensation of him, oblivious to her surroundings. As she ran up the back stairs and into her room, she was completely unaware of the two figures waiting on her rooftop patio. As soon as she turned toward her closet, they jumped into her room. As one restrained her, the other pressed a handkerchief to her face, and Liz sank to the floor.
Milton knew that the people of Roswell thought he was a joke. The generous among them called him a character. The not-so-generous just called him a nut case. Let them laugh, he thought. If they knew what I know, they wouldn’t be laughing—especially not now. When those two FBI agents had come to him for help on their “special project,” he knew that they knew he wasn’t a joke.
They had appeared at his home, not the UFO Center, flashing badges and appealing to his patriotism for help. They were vague about their assignment, but given his expertise in the field of UFOs and aliens, he felt sure their project was related to the alleged recent crash, and he wanted to be as close to that investigation as possible.
The agents had done their homework. They were aware of the large vault in his basement where he stored artifacts he was unwilling to display at the Center, plus survival supplies, a cot, and a ham radio, just in case it was necessary to go into hiding for a while. This was the room they wanted to use for a week or two, and he was more than willing to cooperate. True, he was disappointed when they warned him he could not use or see inside the vault while they were there, but he hoped to observe enough to put the pieces together himself. It was enough for now that they needed him.
Arriving home from work that night, he heard voices coming from his basement. He stood near the top of the stairs and strained to hear the conversation, but the agents were speaking too softly. Later, he thought, perhaps they won’t be so careful.
Agents Bellow and Samuels heard Milton walking upstairs and lowered their voices.
“I hope this was the right move, Jeff. What if that guy starts snooping around down here?”
“He won’t. I know the type. He’s feeling important right now, helping the FBI. A guy like that thrives on feeling important. He wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize the status he thinks this gives him, even if it is only in his own mind. Besides, ever since that boy Pierce thought was an alien escaped, the old military base is being repaired. With workmen crawling all over, we could never stash the girl there. This way, we keep her close without her recognizing where she is and space jockey upstairs is none the wiser.”
“What if she doesn’t tell us what we need to know? Pierce had no luck with the boy, and he had much more equipment and expertise at his disposal than we do.”
“Yeah, but if that kid was an alien, who knows what all he could resist? I just know that this Liz Parker kid seemed to be a vulnerable spot for him, and we’re pretty sure she’s just a regular kid. If we can get her to talk, we can take the information to Pierce. He’s obsessed with this investigation, and if we bring him evidence that will help him prove his theory, he won’t be able to promote us fast enough. Early retirement, here I come.”
“I hope you’re right. When my wife told me we had another baby on the way, I knew we had to have more money. I just hope Pierce is still interested. I mean, he put a stop to this investigation, and I keep wondering if continuing it without his authorization isn’t just going to piss him off.”
“Not if we get the goods, my friend. Look, she’s starting to wake up.”
Alex, Maria, and Kyle filed into Michael’s small living room. Max, Isabel, Michael, and Tess were perched on various bits of furniture plucked from yard sales and attics, and they didn’t look much better than the furniture did.
“What’s up?” Maria asked of no one in particular.
“Where’s Liz?” frowned Max.
“She ran home to feed the cat. She’ll be here in a minute,” replied Maria. “But, I repeat, what’s up?”
“Let’s wait for Liz.” Max began to pace and for the first time, the human members of the group sensed the tension their alien counterparts were feeling about this mysterious “development.”
Alex looked toward Isabel and found her watching him, her eyes a mixture of longing and fear. He hesitated for a moment and then walked toward her. She looked like she needed him, and in spite of his intentions to put her apparent destiny before their feelings, he had silently vowed to be there for her. As he approached her, he watched her face for a reaction, any sign that she didn’t want him there. He saw none, and as he reached her, he took her hand. She closed her eyes at his touch, and he sat beside her.
Michael had been watching Maria, who was avoiding his eyes. She plopped down on the floor and leaned against the couch, pulling her knees up and rubbing her legs in an anxious rhythm. Michael moved to the end seat of the couch and put his hand on her head. She turned to look at him and met his intense gaze. He said nothing, but his furrowed brow and steady look spoke clearly to her. He, too, felt the need to be close. She rested her head on his knee and sighed, some of the tension leaving her, as if he were drawing it out from her body with his touch.
Tess sat quietly on a barstool watching Max pace as Kyle leaned against the wall. So much was being said in the silence-filled room. After ten minutes, Max erupted. “Where is she? I thought you said she’d be here in a minute!”
“Be patient, Max. She was changing clothes, too. She’ll be here.”
The silence descended again. Finally, Max walked to the phone and dialed Liz’s number. He got the answering machine.
“She must be on her way,” he mumbled.
The waiting continued for another ten minutes. Max looked out the window one more time and turned to the group. Pain and anxiety emanated from his eyes, but he spoke quietly.
“I guess Liz couldn’t make it. We’d better get started.”
“I’m sure she’ll be here, Max,” said Maria with a trace of concern, “but maybe you’d better tell us what’s going on.”
“I’m the one who should explain,” whispered Isabel tentatively. Alex gave her hand a squeeze. She took a deep breath and stood to face her friends. She related what had happened the night before, again avoiding any mention of her original dream about Alex. When she reached the edited version of her middle-of-the-night conversation with Max, she paused. Maria and Kyle looked stunned. Alex looked skeptical, but worried. She continued.
“It took a while, but I went back to sleep and Josh seemed to be waiting for me. He apologized for scaring me and said he hadn’t anticipated how disconcerting being dreamwalked might be to someone who was only familiar with the process from my perspective. He explained that many “visitors” kept in contact with each other this way, literally conducting meetings in what they ironically called their ‘Star Chamber.’ He invited me to join them once I was comfortable with the idea.
“Evidently, these visitors are living all over the world, all brought to Earth by crafts similar to the one that brought us. Many landed safely with parents, guardians, and advisors. Most thought we had all perished when our ship crashed, and they were devastated.” She looked at Max and Michael. The thought of strangers mourning their death made them all feel uncomfortable. “Those who landed safely reorganized themselves and began to communicate about their purpose here and the dangers of their enemies who followed. That’s why they don’t use the orbs—it does reveal your location to anyone looking for the signal. But they can control who enters their Star Chamber meetings, so it’s the safest way to communicate.”
Isabel paused again. She was feeling tired and shaky, and she let Alex pull her back to the chair they shared.
“The last thing Josh said to me was that news of our survival had injected new energy into their efforts. It seems he was able to tell that I was the dreamwalker of our “team,” he called it, and that’s why he approached me first.
“He thinks it would be best to come meet with Max, Tess, Michael, and me so we can ask questions and talk about this with him. He’ll be here in the next day or two, and he’ll stay here with Michael. We wanted you all to know because it seems possible that when we used the orbs, we may have reached enemies as well as friends, and anyone who is checking on us will learn about you, too.”
Isabel turned to look at Alex, tears in her eyes. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered. Alex put his arm around her and drew her close.
Michael spoke up. “This means we all need to be very careful, very aware of what’s going on around us. And we shouldn’t be seen together publicly. The less people connect us, the more likely they’ll forget to mention you, if anyone asks.”
Max had been distracted through the whole explanation. He couldn’t shake his uneasy feelings about Liz’s absence. “Maria, when you leave here, please find Liz. If she doesn’t want to call me, then will you call? Just so I know she’s okay?”
Maria nodded. “Sure, Max,” she reassured him. I’ll check on her right away. Isabel, you look awful. This is really scary. Do you think this person really exists?”
“Yeah, I think he does,” nodded Isabel. “At least I’m going to operate under that assumption for now. I expect him to show up here real soon.”
“So what do you expect us to do? We’re not supposed to be seen with you guys, we watch our backs . . . in the end, there isn’t much we can do to protect ourselves, is there?” Maria asked nervously.
Kyle finally spoke up. “Do you want me to mention this to my dad? It sure seems like something he should know about. Maybe he can help.”
“Let’s wait and see what else Josh has to say,” said Max. Michael and Tess nodded in agreement. Isabel didn’t move; she just leaned in closer to Alex, and Max took that as assent. “That’s it, then. Iz, we better get home.”
Isabel reluctantly shifted away from Alex. Without looking at him, she squeezed his hand and stood to join Max. The others followed suit and gradually drifted toward the door. Maria turned to look at Michael one more time. His eyes seemed pained as he looked at her, and then he suddenly looked away. “See ya.”
“Yeah, see ya,” Maria said softly, and the group left the apartment. Kyle offered Tess a ride home with him, Alex, and Maria. When no offer seemed forthcoming from Max, she agreed. Max and Isabel watched them drive away and turned to embrace each other.
“We’ll be okay, Iz,” promised Max.
“I wonder,” answered Isabel into his shoulder.
Liz began to stir. She heard voices but had trouble making out what they were saying. She opened her eyes slightly, but it was difficult; they felt as it they had been sealed shut. Her muscles felt heavy, sluggish, and her mind was disoriented.
“Maybe we should keep her knocked out for the night, Ed. Wouldn’t it be best if we didn’t question her until the guy upstairs goes to work?”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. Give her another dose.”
Liz was vaguely aware of a cloth covering her nose and mouth. Then the clouded sensations simply disappeared into darkness.
Max picked up the phone on the first ring. “Hello?”
“Max, it’s Maria. I don’t know where Liz is. She’s not at home or at the Crashdown, and Kyle and I have cruised around town but no sign of her. Her car is at home and I guess her folks just think she’s out for the evening. But Max, we’re the only ones she hangs out with any more. Alex called a couple other places, but no one’s seen her.
“Max, look, this is freaking me out. I mean, after what you told us tonight, what if, you know, some unfriendly Czechoslovakian took her? What then? What should we do?”
“Maria, calm down, first of all. Listen, I’ll get Isabel to dreamwalk her and see what she can find out. I’ll call you if we learn anything.”
“Okay, but call either way. I know I won’t be able to sleep.”
“Okay, I’ll call later,” replied Max, and he hung up, heading immediately for Isabel’s room. He found her just staring out her window, gazing at the sky. Her melancholy mood was altered quickly when she saw his agitated state.
“Max, what is it?”
“They can’t find Liz. You’ve got to try to find her, Isabel.”
“Max, she might get angry about that. She has really broken tries with us lately.”
“I don’t care. I have to know if she’s all right. Please.”
Isabel looked into her brother’s pleading eyes and relented. She really didn’t mind trying this for him, and it was obvious he wouldn’t rest until he knew Liz was safe.
“Okay, Max. Do you want to stay?”
“Absolutely,” he said, and dropped into Isabel’s desk chair. “I’m staying right here.”
Isabel obediently crawled onto her bed and got comfortable. “Have a picture? It helps.”
Max reached into his wallet and pulled out a picture of Liz she had given him after their night in the desert. “You are the best part of my life,” she had said. “This is to help keep me in yours.” As if he could ever forget her beautiful face. He handed the photo to Isabel and she concentrated on it for several moments. Then she closed her eyes and drifted off.
Isabel groped through darkness, seeing only indistinct shapes and hearing muffled voices. She called out to Liz, but there was no response. She stopped and listened carefully. Snatches of phrases were audible: “Pierce had no luck with the boy . . . this girl, Liz Parker, seemed to be a vulnerable spot for him . . . get the goods, my friend.”
Isabel couldn’t hear any more, but the shapes grew more distinct. She recognized those faces. It was the two agents who had been helping Pierce when Max was kidnapped! They were looming over Liz! Isabel screamed and tried to run. She awoke to find herself on the floor of her room with a throbbing pain above her right eye. Max scrambled to her side.
“Iz, are you all right? What happened?”
“Oh my God, Max. I saw them! The two agents who helped Pierce when you were kidnapped! They have Liz!” She touched her forehead. “Ouch. My head hurts. Why am I on the floor?” She lowered her hand and saw blood on her fingertips.
“You were quiet at first, but then you got restless and screamed and fell off the bed. You must have hit your head on the nightstand. Let me fix it for you, and then I want to hear about everything you saw.”
Max reached up to touch Isabel’s gash and a moment later, it was gone.
“Dear Lord, Max,” breathed a voice behind him.
Max whirled around to see his mother standing in the doorway. He opened his mouth to speak, but made no sound. Isabel tried to sit up, but found herself just looking from Max to her mother with open-mouthed surprise.
“I think it’s time we talked about this, Max. Don’t you?” Their mother stepped into the room and closed the door.
|posted on 20-Apr-2002 10:12:14 AM|
Max felt frozen in time. His thoughts were flying around in his mind like bees and he couldn’t seem to identify or articulate any of them. Isabel recovered first, getting up from the floor and sinking down immediately on the bed.
“Max,” she said softly. “Get up. It’s time to do this.”
Max looked at Isabel, then turned to look at his mother, trying to read her eyes, trying to imagine what she must be thinking and feeling. Diane Evans returned his look. He saw no fear or revulsion, only confusion. She waited patiently for him to begin.
With a deep sigh, Max pulled himself up next to Isabel and they faced their mother. A thousand ways to begin this conversation came and went through his head in a matter of seconds, but all that came out was a choked, “Mom.” He sighed again and held his head in his hands.
Isabel began. “Mom, we have told you that we don’t remember anything from before you found us in the desert. That’s true, but it’s not the whole truth. Over the years, we’ve learned at least something about our lives before that and where we are from. We didn’t tell you because we thought it was safer if you didn’t know and . . . because . . . well, because we weren’t sure how you would feel about us once you knew."
Diane Evans wasn’t sure what she was about to hear, but her children looked so scared, and her instincts were to reassure them. She looked at Max, who was staring at the floor.
“Max,” she said gently. “I’ve told you before that nothing you are could ever turn me away from you. I meant that.” Max looked up, his face a mask of uncertainty. It shot a pain through his mother’s heart and she wanted to reach out to him, but she could see he had more to say. “Of course, that’s true for you, too, Isabel. What is this secret you have kept for so long?”
“Mom,” said Max. “Do you remember that video when I held the bird with the broken wing and then it flew away?”
“Of course,” she nodded.
“I wasn’t really aware of it then, but you were right—I had healed it. Over time, Isabel and I realized we were different. We had abilities that the other kids didn’t have, and when Michael started coming to school, we felt an instant connection with him, too. As we pieced together our scattered memories of that night in the desert, we realized we had emerged from pods of some kind hidden in a cave out there. Then we learned about the stories of the 1947 crash. Eventually, we concluded that . . . .” He looked at Isabel and she reached for his hand. “We concluded that those pods had survived the crash, and that we’re not . . . completely . . . human.”
Max stopped and watched his mother try to absorb this astonishing information. She was no longer focused on their faces, but rather on some internal dialogue. Her children were telling her they weren’t human. Yet she had raised them, bathed them, comforted them, helped them with homework, played basketball with them. Everything had always been normal. Well, almost everything. She recalled the incident with the bird that Max had just mentioned, the odd circumstances surrounding their kitchen fire, the sheriff’s implications about the shooting at the Crashdown, and the scene she had just witnessed when Max made Isabel’s nasty gash disappear. She reflected, too, on Max’s guarded nature, always so secretive, so careful. She remembered his words that day on the park bench when he had asked her not to question him any more: “It’s nothing bad, it’s nothing dangerous. I beg you to trust me.”
She raised her eyes to look at the anxious faces of her two wonderful children. Could this be true?
“What I just saw, Max—you and Isabel. How did you do that?”
“I can’t explain it exactly. We can manipulate molecular structure, which makes it possible for me to repair damage like that.”
Mrs. Evans thought a moment. “Is that what happened with the Parker girl?”
Max looked at Isabel. The dam was broken; there was no holding back the truth anymore.
“Does that mean she know this, too?”
“So do Maria, Alex, and Sheriff Valenti, Mom,” Isabel added. “And we’ve only just learned that there are probably many more of us than we realized. You know Tess Harding? She and her “father” have been looking for us for years. She was also in the crash, but we were separated. There may be others as well, but we’re just beginning to learn about that.”
Mentioning Liz reminded Max about what they had been doing when their mother discovered them. He felt torn between helping his mother cope with this shock and wanting to know what Isabel had learned in her dreamwalk. His mother provided the perfect segue.
“I came in here because I heard a scream and a thud. I thought you were hurt, Isabel. What happened?”
“Mom, I know this is a lot to take in all at once, but we’re in the middle of a . . . situation, and Isabel was trying to help. I’m so afraid of overwhelming you. I’m not sure you should hear any more tonight.”
“Max, Isabel, I won’t pretend this isn’t a shock—I have a million questions—but there are two things you must never doubt.” She stood and walked over to her children, bending to embrace them both. “Nothing will change my love for you, and there is nothing I wouldn’t do to support you. To be honest, my imagination has been running wild since the fire. I’ve imagined all sorts of explanations and odd scenarios to explain what I saw, although I never imagined this one! Perhaps all these incidents have served to prepare me for this day. Or maybe I’m just in shock. But don’t worry about me. I’m okay.” The three held each other, and Max heard Isabel crying with relief. Mrs. Evans kissed them both on the cheek and wiped a stray tear from Isabel’s face.
“Max, you said you had a ‘situation.’ Are you in some kind of trouble?”
“Anyone who knows about us is in a certain amount of danger, Mom. That’s why we’ve never told you before. That day in the Crashdown when Liz was shot, I just couldn’t let her die, but somehow that incident began a chain of events that’s spinning out of control.”
Isabel stopped crying and patted the bed for her mother to sit down. She began to relate the details of her dreamwalking ability, the visit from Josh, and Liz’s disappearance. Mrs. Evans’s wide eyes and dropped jaw couldn’t begin to convey the amazement she felt at what she was hearing. She wouldn’t have believed any of this coming from someone else.
Max interrupted. “Isabel, what did you find out? Could you see where she was?”
Isabel saw the concern creasing her brother’s face. “No, Max. It was so dark, I couldn’t see anything at first. I just heard bits of conversation that made it sound like the FBI had her, and then I saw them—the two agents that were with Pierce!”
Max groaned and sank to the floor. “Liz!”
Mrs. Evans listened and watched, a growing feeling of dread spreading through her as the whole scene started to become real.
“Max, what is Liz to you? I get the feeling she’s not just a friend, as you’ve been telling me.”
Max sat silently for a moment, anguish and hopelessness sweeping over him. How could he answer that question? With the truth, he decided.
“I’m in love with her. She’s my soulmate. And now she’s in danger because of me!” Tears welled up in his eyes.
“We’ll find her,” soothed Isabel. “We’ll call Tess and have her contact Nasedo. He’ll find out what’s going on.”
“Nasedo?” asked Mrs. Evans.
“You’ve had enough for one night, Mom. I promise we’ll answer all your questions very soon, but right now, I have to find Tess.”
Mrs. Evans nodded. Isabel was right; she had more than enough to think about.
Isabel ran down the stairs, determined to find Tess. There were a hundred thoughts misfiring in her brain—her mom, Max, Liz, Josh, Alex—they were all mixed up together like some bizarre jigsaw puzzle she couldn’t seem to fit together. Focus, Isabel, she told herself. One thing at a time.
She grabbed her keys and swung open the door to find Tess coming up the walk.
“Tess! Thank God you’re here. We need you to do something.”
Tess looked startled. “I just came to see Max. He seemed upset earlier and I thought he could use a friend.”
Isabel looked down at Tess knowingly. “You thought you’d move in on him while he’s vulnerable. I’ve told you before. Don’t bother. He’s a goner. But you can help him. Liz is missing and when I tried to dreamwalk her just now, I only got snatches of conversation and a look at the two men with her. We think the FBI has taken her. Call Nasedo, please. Tell him to find out what his agents are up to and put a stop to it.”
Tess considered what Isabel had told her. “Nasedo is really busy now, trying to convince people he’s Pierce and keeping an eye on us. The FBI isn’t going to do anything to Liz. She’s human. They’ll let her go. What are you worried about?”
“Tess, who knows what they might do to her trying to get information. How can you be so cold? Besides, you said you wanted to be a friend to Max. This definitely qualifies. Since you’ve never gotten around to sharing Nasedo’s contact information with the rest of us, I assumed you’d make the call, but maybe you’d better just give me the number.”
“No. That’s okay. I’ll do it. I’ll call tonight. Can I go up and see Max first?”
“Sure, but I don’t think he feels like talking.”
Tess walked up the stairs and found Max’s room empty. She glanced across the hall and saw him sitting on Isabel’s bed, his arm around his mother. They were both sitting very still, staring at nothing.
“Max?” Tess entered tentatively. “I just came to see if you’re okay.”
“Go home, Tess,” Max mumbled. He looked exhausted.
“Max!” his mother scolded. She looked up at Tess, watching her closely as if seeing her for the first time.
“Hi, Mrs. Evans.”
“I’m sorry we’re not more hospitable tonight, Tess. Perhaps tomorrow would be a better time to visit.”
Tess stood awkwardly in the doorway. Clearly, she wasn’t going to have any time alone with Max. She suppressed her irritation and smiled thinly.
“Okay, I’ll stop by tomorrow. Bye, Max.”
There was no response, so she turned and walked down the stairs. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Isabel.”
“Let me know what Nasedo says,” Isabel reminded her.
“I will.” Tess almost ran from the house in frustration. Call Nasedo? Not likely, she thought.
Liz struggled to open her eyes.
“She’s coming out of it.”
“Give her a minute and we’ll get started.”
She tried to straighten her legs and arms. Where am I? she wondered. Why is it so hard to wake up? It just gets harder every day.
Liz felt hands on her arms, pulling her to a sitting position. She squinted into the light.
As she opened her eyes, two slightly familiar faces glared back. She couldn’t place them, but she was sure she’d seen them before. She felt uneasy.
“Who are you?”
“We’re people who need information that you have. We’re ready to take you home as soon as you’ve told us what we want to know. You know Max Evans?”
Liz was instantly gripped with fear. These were the two agents working with Pierce when they kidnapped Max. What in the world did they want with her?
“I know him. He goes to my school,” she answered as matter-of-factly as she could.
“I think you know him better than that,” responded the dark-haired man. “You’ve been observed with him quite frequently, I believe.”
“Sure, we’re friends. We even dated a couple of times. Why? Why am I here, and why are you asking about Max Evans?”
“We’re with the government, Liz, and we have reason to believe that Max presents a security risk. You wouldn’t want to endanger your country by keeping secrets that could hurt it, would you?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Liz snipped, trying to sound annoyed, instead of terrified. “How could one teen from Roswell be a security risk to anyone?”
The blond agent stepped forward. His whole demeanor was threatening, almost fierce. His tone matched his look.
“Look, Miss Parker, you are about to tell us everything you know about Max Evans, and you know exactly what I mean. Once we’re satisfied you have given us the whole story, you can go home. If you are reluctant to share this information, we will find ways to encourage you.”
He set a tape recorder on the small table. “Begin.”
Liz looked nervously around the room. She had no idea where she was and no idea how far these men would go. What did they know already? Why grab her and not Max? Where was Nasedo? Her breaths came in shallow gasps.
“This is illegal,” she finally managed to say. “I demand you release me right now.”
The blond agent let out a quick snort. “I don’t think that should be your main concern right now, Miss Parker. Don’t make me ask again.”
“Max is a boy at school. He’s a sophomore; he lives with his parents and sister. They are adopted, I think. He’s an honor student, drives a Jeep, and he’s just learning to play pool. I don’t know what else to say.”
“A poor decision, Miss Parker. I’m disappointed.”
“Wait, Jeff. Miss Parker . . . Liz . . . think about what we are asking you to do: we need you to help us protect our country, our way of life, perhaps our planet. Surely you want that, too. We are facing a very real danger here, and you are in a unique position to change that. You see that, don’t you? We’re on the same side.”
Liz stared at the two men. “You obviously think that Max Evans poses a danger of some kind, but you are quite mistaken. I have never known a kinder, gentler person. You clearly have some bad information.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way, Miss Parker.” The blond agent—Jeff—reached for a tray of vials and syringes. “I guess we’ll have to resort to that encouragement I mentioned.”
As he tilted the vial and filled the syringe, Liz felt an icy fear seize her. Suddenly, Max’s face loomed in her mind, “When I was in that room, and they did . . . what they did to me, you are what kept me alive . . . the thought of you.” A peace settled over Liz, and as the agent approached her, she spoke calmly. “You are fools.”
The needle in her arm made her wince, but as her mind clouded, Max’s loving eyes kept her grounded, and she knew he would not leave her.
Max was exhausted, but sleep would not come. He was concerned about this dreamwalker Josh, he was worried about his mother coping with the knowledge that she had raised two alien children, and most of all he was terrified for Liz. Where was she? What were they doing to her? How would he live with himself if anything happened to her?
Isabel poked her head in the room. At first, she thought Max was finally asleep, but when she glanced in the mirror on the far wall, she saw that his eyes were open. She walked to the bed and stretched out beside him, rubbing his back. “We’ll find her, Max. Maria called Liz’s mom and told her Liz was staying over with her, so the Parkers are taken care of for the moment. It’ll be okay.” She wondered if she believed that herself. She saw Mrs. Evans look in, but shook her head. It was clear Max needed quiet time. She felt terrible that they weren’t spending time with their mother after the shock they had given her that afternoon, but Max was at the breaking point, and Mrs. Evans was coping remarkably well. It probably hadn’t sunk in yet, and Isabel was glad for the short reprieve.
In spite of his agitated state, Isabel’s back rub felt good and Max drifted into an uneasy sleep. He found himself in front of a fireplace, feeling warm and relaxed. Skis were propped up in the corner of the room, and there was a cup of cocoa on the end table. He looked up to see Liz walking across the room toward him. She smiled that special smile she reserved for him, and his heart leapt in his chest. She was his and he was the happiest being in the universe.
She settled next to him on the couch, curling her feet up under her and snuggling against him. Her smell intoxicated him, and his fingers buried themselves in her hair as he leaned toward her. Her sweet breath on his face made him feel weak, and he brought his mouth toward hers, eager to taste. Suddenly, she was being pulled from him. She tried to scream, but there was no sound. He reached for her, but he couldn’t move. He couldn’t even see what was taking her from him!
“Liz!” Max yelled, jerking awake.
“Max, it’s all right. You had a bad dream. It’s okay.”
Max looked at Isabel, breathing hard. “They took her,” he moaned, and he began to cry softly. Isabel stroked his hair, and they took turns sleeping fitfully through the night.
In the morning, the weary siblings got up in silence. Max was due to work at the UFO Center that morning, and as much as he wanted to skip it, he knew that everything must appear normal. He showered, letting the sharp, cold pellets of water jar him to life. As soon as work was done, he would go to Michael’s and see if there was any word from Josh. Meanwhile, he just had to grit his teeth and get through the day.
The Center was busy today, which helped the time pass quickly. Max noticed Milton was especially hyper, even for him. Toward mid-afternoon, a customer approached Milton from behind with a question. Max observed curiously as the startled Milton jumped and began berating the customer for sneaking up on him. When the surprised customer had moved away, Max questioned Milton.
“Are you okay?” he asked cautiously.
“Evans! I want to talk to you.” Milton’s eyes darted nervously around the room, and he spoke in hushed tones. “Evans, something big is happening. I’m not supposed to talk about it, but you and I, we understand these things, and I knew you’d want to know.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about the mother lode, Max. Aliens!”
Max’s eyes grew wide. “What aliens?”
“Ha! I knew you’d be as excited as I am.” His voice grew even quieter. “The FBI came to me, Max. They wanted to use that vault in my basement for a “special project.” You know it has to have something to do with that crash last month. They don’t want me down there, but I think they have an alien down there, or at least an eyewitness. I’m going to make them tell me before they’re through, or I’ll go public. They’d do anything to stop that!”
“What vault? And what makes you think there’s an alien down there?”
“Haven’t I ever told you about my vault? It’s a small fortress. I keep my rarest artifacts there, as well as a ham radio, a bed, and supplies . . . you know . . . in case we are ever threatened by . . . .” He cast his eyes upward and pointed a finger. Clearly, Milton had been preparing for an alien invasion. If Max hadn’t been so scared, he would have laughed.
“They’ve got someone down there all right,” hissed Milton. I’ve heard the voices, and I saw a syringe that had dropped on the basement stairs. “They’re interrogating someone . . . or something.”
Max’s jaw dropped. They had Liz! God, thought Max, how could Pierce let this happen!
“You want to see this thing as much as I do, don’t you?” Max nodded his head. “We might just get that chance,” smiled Milton. “Come to the house around 9:00.”
Milton rushed off to chastise a child who was trying to climb on a display, leaving Max to sort out the possibilities Milton’s revelation had triggered. The last 30 minutes of Max’s shift crawled by, and he literally burst from the door at closing. He hopped in the Jeep and tore down the street. Sheriff Valenti saw Max take a corner on two wheels and got in his squad car to follow. He had a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach.
Max pulled up in front of Michael’s apartment and bounded out of the car. Within seconds, Valenti pulled up behind him. “Max!” he yelled, as Max disappeared into the doorway. Max turned to see Valenti running up the walk toward him.
“Max, you were burning up the road back there. What’s going on?”
“Come with me, Sheriff. We may need your help.”
They walked into Michael’s apartment without knocking. Seated on the couch were Michael and Maria, holding each other. At Max’s startled expression, Michael just shrugged. “This whole thing with Liz, Max. Life’s too short,” and he pulled Maria closer. Max nodded. He understood exactly what Michael meant.
“Listen, call everyone together. I think I know where Liz is.”
Valenti turned sharply. “What do you mean, you know where she is. Is she missing? Why didn’t you call me, Max? I thought we had an understanding.”
Max brought Valenti up to speed on everything that had happened. “I’m sorry, Sheriff, but with this Josh guy in the picture, we weren’t sure what to expect, and I . . . .”
“‘This Josh guy’ is here to explain, Max.” Everyone turned toward the door, where a tall, sandy-haired man stood smiling at them. “It’s good to meet you all in person,” he said. “I know you have a lot of questions, and I’m here to answer them, as best I can. Where is Isabel?”
“At home, I think, “ said Max. “She had some things to talk over with our mother. Michael, would you call her?”
Josh entered the room and introduced himself to Maria. Max was growing agitated. “Josh, we do have questions, but they’ll have to wait. My girlfriend has disappeared and I finally have a lead on where she might be. This is Sheriff Valenti. He knows about our situation and is willing to help.”
“Max, where do you think she is?” asked the sheriff.
“Milton confided in me that the FBI is holding someone in some sort of survival vault he built in his basement, I guess to use in case aliens invaded.” Max caught Josh’s amused expression. “It’s very real to him, Josh. Anyway, from his description of the circumstances, I think they must be using her to get information on me. What I can’t understand is why Nasedo would authorize such a thing.”
“Maybe he didn’t,” mused Valenti.
“Rogue agents?” asked Michael as he came back from calling Isabel.
“It’s a possibility,” said Valenti. “We know these folks don’t have to follow all the rules. Could be they took things into their own hands. Maybe planning to sell the information for profit or impress the boss. Either way, it’s a dangerous situation.” Valenti saw the panic in Max’s eyes. Michael had pulled Maria to her feet and wrapped his arms around her protectively. “Don’t worry, son,” said Valenti. “If what Milton says is true, we have enough information to get her out of there.”
“It doesn’t matter if we’re together or not. She’s in danger either way,” agonized Max. He roused himself with a quick shudder. “We have to think. We need a plan.”
“Isabel is contacting the others. They should all be here soon,” said Michael. The group sat quietly, desperately searching for an idea that had some potential for success.
After a few minutes, Alex, Kyle, Tess, and Isabel had arrived. Max and Valenti told them the latest news.
“What did Nasedo say, Tess?” asked Isabel. “Did he know about this?”
Tess hesitated. “He said he’ll look into it.”
Isabel studied Tess’s face. “You never called him, did you?” she asked, accusingly. Tess looked like a deer caught in the headlights. “You conniving little bitch! You were going to let Liz suffer, maybe even die, just to keep Max to yourself. Don’t you have any human compassion?”
Max and Michael were staring at Tess in stunned silence. Maria and Alex were livid. Straining to contain his rage, Alex’s face was turning bright red. Maria didn’t even try to control her anger. “I ought to . . .” began Maria as she pushed out of Michael’s arms and stormed toward Tess. Kyle grabbed Maria just before she reached Tess. “Wait, Maria. Concentrate on what’s important here right now. We have to find Liz. Don’t waste your time on her.” He sneered at Tess, suddenly disgusted by this girl he had actually considered asking out.
Tess turned to Josh. “You’re Josh, right? The guy who dreamwalked Isabel? Tell them. Tell them that we have to follow our destiny, and that our destiny is to be together the way we were intended,” pleaded Tess.
Josh looked confused. “What do you mean ‘the way we were intended’?” asked Josh. “Did you think there was a set path? Some preordained plan?” Josh choked out a grim chuckle. “I wish it were that easy,” he said. “I’m afraid we’re on our own there. We have to figure out our own destinies.”
“But the book, the message from the hologram, everything Nasedo taught me! That’s the way it’s meant to be. What does all that mean if we’re supposed to decide on our own?”
“The book simply pictures your team, a record of your journey and those who are meant to work together on the mission. I started to explain that to Isabel in her dream the other night. You’ve all been engineered for specific roles on our individual missions. I don’t know what the hologram said, but if you think back on it, I’m betting you’ll find there is no mention of your being mates in this life, only what you were to each other in a past life. As for Nasedo, I have no idea who that is.”
“He was on the ship! He raised me, he taught me everything I needed to know!” Tess’s voice was rising in pitch with every outburst. “He’s not like us—engineered, I mean—but I’ve never seen his true form. He told me this was how it was meant to be: Max and me, Michael and Isabel. I don’t believe you!” She was frantic now, pacing and clenching her fists.
“I can only assume that he told you what he thought might be best. All parents do that—teach children what they believe is best. That doesn’t always make it so.”
Isabel stepped into Tess’s path. “Give me Nasedo’s number. Now.” She handed Tess paper and pencil. Looking trapped, Tess reluctantly wrote the phone number. “I’ll be right back,” Isabel said, and walked to the next room.
Max walked slowly toward Tess. “I don’t understand, Tess. You can’t have feelings for me. You don’t even know me. I told you from the beginning that I belonged with Liz. Why can’t you accept that? How could you endanger her like this?”
Tess turned a tearful face toward Max. “Because if I don’t believe in us, Max, there is nothing to believe in.” She turned to leave. Valenti put a hand on her shoulder.
“Miss Harding, I think it’s safest if we all stick together tonight. Besides, we have a rescue to attempt and we may need your special . . . talents. I hope you are willing to help us.” Tess nodded meekly and went to sit down, her face in her hands.
Josh spoke up. “I know you don’t know me yet, but I hope you will believe that I am on your side. I’d like to help, if you’ll let me.” Max nodded at him, a silent thank you in his eyes.
Isabel returned from making her phone call. “Nasedo is faxing you authorization to arrest those agents, Sheriff. He asked that we call him when we’ve decided how we’re going to do this.” Valenti nodded his acknowledgment. It was time to form a plan.
After a tense brainstorming session, the group settled on a course of action. It was 7:15, and they had to be ready to go by 9:00. They agreed to return to Michael’s apartment at 8:30 and dispersed to prepare.
|posted on 20-Apr-2002 10:13:29 AM|
At 8:30, Josh stood in Michael’s living room dressed in the dark suit Max had worn as his Men in Black character during the Crash Festival. In his breast pocket was the crude but serviceable “official” ID that Isabel had bought for Max as a joke when she had first seen his costume. Its badge was similar to the real ones that Valenti had seen, and they didn’t expect Milton to scrutinize it too closely. Maria and Isabel each had their cars gassed up and ready to go. Alex was at the ready with the video camera. The preparation by Max, Kyle, Michael, and Tess had been largely emotional. Max and Michael were each struggling to stay focused. For Max, beside himself with worry for Liz, the problem was staying emotionally detached enough to handle an unpredictable situation; for Michael, who had worked hard to learn to control his powers, the challenge was to be calm and in control--they couldn’t afford another “accident” like Pierce. Kyle was just nervous. He had been a team player for years, but there was a lot more at stake this time and he didn’t want to screw it up. Tess had the hardest job. She didn’t want to be there; she didn’t want to help. But she had to win the trust of the group, and she knew if they didn’t rescue Liz, she would be alone—permanently.
Valenti stuck his head in the door and surveyed the faces. Tense, but alert and ready. “Let’s go,” he said, and they filed out of the apartment. Michael hopped into Isabel’s car with Tess; he wanted to keep an eye on her. Alex slid in next to Maria. Max, Kyle, and Josh got into the squad car. They headed toward Milton’s house, dousing the headlights as they turned onto his street. Valenti pulled behind a line of trees dividing Milton’s property from the neighbor’s. Max and Michael took positions off to each side of the house, and Kyle crept around to the back. Alex crouched behind a parked car across the street and adjusted the camera. Isabel and Maria kept their engines running, one heading in each direction. Tess hid behind a bush near the front door.
When all were in position, Josh approached the front door. He placed a small microphone between the wrought iron posts of Milton’s porch railing and rang the bell. Milton opened it immediately, but his smile changed to confusion when he realized his guest was not Max, but another government type.
“Good evening, sir,” began Josh. “I’m agent Johnson and I’ve been asked to relieve the agents downstairs.” He flashed his badge while still in the shadows and put it away quickly. “May I come in?”
“Uh, of course,” stuttered Milton. “I wasn’t told you were coming.”
“I’m sorry to disturb you. If you’ll just show me the way, I won’t bother you any further.”
Milton led Josh to the basement stairs. “They’re down there.”
“Thank you.” Josh trotted down the steps quickly; he didn’t want to give the two agents any more warning than necessary. He knocked on the door to the vault. When no one came to open the door, he knocked again. “Agents! Pierce is outside. He’s asked me to relieve you briefly so he can talk to you. He’s waiting.”
The door opened slowly. “Who are you? I’ve never seen you before.”
“My name is Johnson and I was assigned to work with Pierce in Washington after the bungled fiasco out here. I understand you two were involved in that. Pierce is not happy. I suggest you get outside.”
The two agents exchanged glances and slowly moved toward the door. “I’ll stay with your prisoner,” Josh told them. The men climbed the stairs, clearly nervous about what they were about to face.
Josh entered the small, crowded room and found a lovely young woman curled in a fetal position on a cot in the corner. So this is Max’s Liz, he thought. She must be something to inspire that passion and loyalty. I hope this works. He sat down to wait for the rest of the plan to play out.
When the agents came out the front door, Tess went to work. The image of Pierce stood before them, looking very angry. “What are you two thinking to conduct an investigation without my authorization? This is grounds for dismissal! I will not tolerate insubordination on the part of my agents. I want to hear an explanation.”
Alex aimed the camera and checked that the microphone was working. Although it looked as though the agents were speaking to no one, he could hear them clearly. “Sir, we knew you were disappointed in the outcome of the original investigation. We thought if we could talk to the Parker girl, she could give us the information we needed to get it opened again.”
“Has she cooperated?” asked Pierce.
“Well, not yet. She seems quite loyal to the Evans boy. But we’ve been working on her and we’re hopeful.”
“Working on her? What does that mean?”
The two agents glanced nervously at each other. They knew their drugs and equipment had been illegally obtained and they didn’t want to add to Pierce’s anger, but the evidence would be found easily enough. “We took some essentials from the supply locker. We’re trying to loosen up her tongue.”
“You’re drugging her? Are you aware of the penalty for illegal interrogation, let alone theft of narcotics?” Sheriff Valenti walked toward the front of the house. The front porch lights illuminated a wide circle, and as he stepped into it, the agents looked panicked.
“Come with me, gentlemen, if you would. We’ll need to sort this out down at the station,” Valenti said quietly. Ed Bellow’s whole body sagged with the realization of what lay ahead. “My wife . . . ,” he muttered. Valenti started toward him, handcuffs hanging from his fingers. Suddenly, Agent Samuels bolted from the porch and ran toward the side of the house.
“Michael, he’s headed toward you!” yelled Valenti. Michael appeared from the shadows along the driveway and began to chase the fleeing figure. “Kyle, get ready!” Michael panted. “He’s headed around back!” Kyle caught a glimpse of the figure in the shadows and joined the chase. Alex had filmed everything up to that point. He stood and climbed into the Jeep. “Isabel, take off!” Isabel started down the street in one direction, Maria in the other, both turning south at the first street.
“Get him in the car, Max!” shouted Valenti to Max, as he shoved the handcuffed Bellow toward him, and he turned to join the chase. Michael and Kyle continued to flush their prey toward the street as Maria and Isabel raced to converge on the next block. As the two sets of headlights lit up the street, Samuels appeared in their light. Maria swerved left, nearly missing the disoriented man, and Isabel pulled up behind him. By this time, Michael and Kyle had caught up with him and grabbed his arms, wrestling him to the ground. As Valenti rushed up behind them, he gasped, “You’re under arrest.”
“You can’t pin anything on me, Valenti! It’s your word against the government, and Pierce won’t risk this investigation going public!”
“Not so, my friend,” grinned Valenti. “We’ve got the whole thing on tape.” Alex lifted the video camera and smiled broadly.
The group piled into the two vehicles. Samuels was securely handcuffed and staring nervously at the gun Valenti had pointed at his head. They rode in silence back to the house. Milton was standing in his doorway, peering at the squad car. As the other cars returned, he walked toward the street. Valenti quickly hopped out of the car, practically dragging his prisoner with him. Mr. Ross, I’ll need you to come with me to make a statement.
“But there’s still an agent in the house, and an ali . . . , uh, I mean a prisoner of some kind in there.”
“The other agent will handle things here, Mr. Ross. We really need you to make a statement right away.”
Milton looked back at his front door, torn between taking a look inside his basement and getting in the car with the sheriff. He realized, however, that if he went back inside, others would follow and he didn’t know what kind of chaos would result. Reluctantly, he climbed into the squad car and they took off down the street.
Max sprinted across the lawn and into Milton’s house, taking the basement steps two at a time. He burst into the open vault and saw Liz curled up on the cot. He knelt by her side and stroked her hair away from her face. “Oh, Liz,” he moaned. “I’m so sorry. So sorry.” He gently took her into his arms and lifted her, kissing her softly before climbing back up the stairs. Josh followed close behind. As soon as he appeared in the doorway, Maria and Alex closed in on them.
“Is she all right?” Maria asked.
“What did they do to her?” Alex chimed in.
Kyle looked at Liz, limp in Max’s arms. “Liz,” he whispered and looked Max in the eye. Then he backed up and let Max move toward the Jeep.
“Iz, you drive. I’m going to keep hold of Liz.”
Alex and Josh climbed into the Jeep with them, as Tess, Kyle, and Michael got into Maria’s car. They rode back to Michael’s apartment, afraid to ask all the questions running through their minds. They had rescued Liz, but they also knew now that Nasedo playing Pierce was not enough to keep them safe from the FBI. And who knew what Josh was waiting to tell them.
One person wasn’t thinking about that at all. Max looked down into Liz’s face and thanked God for her safety. He wouldn’t let this happen again. The danger was there whether they were together or not. At least if they were together, he could keep an eye on her, keep her safe. This was the love that was meant to be, and as soon as she was awake, he would tell her so.
When they arrived at Michael’s, Max carried Liz into Michael’s bedroom and laid her on the bed. She stirred and opened her eyes. “Max,” she smiled, and pulled him down to lie next to her. “I hope I don’t wake up any time soon,” she mumbled, and snuggled close to him. He put his arms around her and kissed her forehead, her cheek, her lips. She just sighed and whispered, “My Max.”
Tess peeked in from the next room. She was losing this battle. She had never felt so alone, not even before she and Nasedo found Max, Michael, and Isabel. At least then, there was the promise of hope, of finding the others and beginning a new life. Now her hopes were dim and her future blank. What happens now, Max? she thought again. What am I supposed to do now?
Michael pulled Tess gently away from the doorway and closed the door. “Let’s leave them alone for a while,” he said. “How about we meet here tomorrow afternoon. Meanwhile, Josh, you can bunk on the couch. I’ll sack out on the floor—I do it at Max’s all the time. Isabel, can you cover for Max at home?”
“Sure. I’ll just say he stayed over here. It’s the truth.” She turned to Alex. “Goodnight, Alex, and thank you.” She gave him a quick hug and hurried out the door. Maria started to follow her, then turned to look at Michael. He walked toward her and put his arms around her. They held each other close for several moments, and parted reluctantly. “Alex, Kyle, you comin’?” Maria asked.
“Yeah, right behind you,” said Alex.
Michael turned to see Tess standing like a lost child in the center of the room. “You did good tonight, Tess. Thank you.”
Tess only nodded.
“You need a ride? I didn’t think. The cars are all gone.”
“I’ve got mine,” offered Josh.
“No. I think I’d like to walk and think. Thanks, Michael.”
“Okay. See you tomorrow, right?”
Tess walked out the door. Michael turned to Josh. “I hope you have some good news for us. We’ve had about all the bad news we can stand.”
Josh smiled. “You just might be surprised.”
The sun had been up for hours when Max opened his eyes, but when he did, he saw a vision that made him think he was still asleep. His beautiful Liz was sitting watching him, her smile rivaling the sun. “I’ve been afraid to close my eyes, for fear you’d disappear,” she said softly. “I’ve even found myself holding my breath so as not to break the spell.”
He reached for her, and she came willingly into his arms. Their kiss, sweet and gentle at first, triggered a shower of sensation, and their need for each other became all that existed. They were awash in arms and legs and mouths, and when they opened their eyes for just a moment, as if to reassure themselves that this was real, they realized they were bathed in light, light that emanated from them! They smiled at each other. “This is how you make me feel all the time,” Max murmured. “You are my light.” Looking into Max’s eyes, Liz felt herself falling into him, into the safe harbor of love she had given up for lost.
“I can’t leave you again, Max. It was hard enough before, but now I just can’t. We are bound together, whether it’s fate or destiny or just my heart. You’re stuck with me.”
“Liz,” he held her so tightly he was almost afraid of hurting her. “That is what I’ve lived to hear.”
He kissed her then, pouring out all the love he had held in reserve for so long. He wanted to touch her, share everything with her, be one with her. The knock at the door brought him up sharply. Dear God. What was he thinking? He was losing control. Liz looked up at him with love shining in her eyes.
“Liz, what are we doing? We’re getting carried away.” He breathed deeply. “It’s enough to know that you love me. The rest will have to wait for a while.”
Liz smiled seductively. “If you say so, Max.” She pulled him toward her again and kissed him.
“Liz!” Max groaned. “You know I’m right, as sorry as I am to say it.”
Liz fell back against the bed. “I hate it when you’re right,” she pouted.
The knock was more insistent this time. “Max, Liz! We need to meet. Everyone’s here.”
Max and Liz scrambled to make themselves presentable. “Max, I haven’t even asked you what happened? How did you get me out of there? Where are those agents?”
“I’ll explain everything, Liz. Let’s get out there and we’ll talk it out together. You haven’t even met Josh.”
Max laughed. “I guess we need to bring you up to speed.” He took her hand and they joined the group in the living room.
“It’s about time,” Maria quipped, but threw herself at Liz for a hug. Alex embraced them both until Michael interrupted. “Could we get on with this?”
Maria threw him a patronizing look, but went over and sat leaning back against him. Liz turned to find Alex and Isabel together as well. She threw Max a questioning look. She thought they had just broken all the rules, but it looked like the others had beaten them to it. She noted that Kyle, Tess, and Valenti were all there, too.
“Liz, this is Josh. Believe it or not, he dreamwalked Isabel a couple of days ago and seems to have some of our answers. He arrived yesterday, but our first priority was rescuing you, so we haven’t had a chance to talk to him yet.”
“Dreamwalked? But . . . how? I don’t understand.”
“Hi, Liz. I know you have questions, too. I’ll try to explain everything I know.” He turned to the group. “I suppose Liz should hear about last night first, though, don’t you think?”
Liz and Max settled on the floor—the only seats left—and everyone gave their version of Liz’s rescue. When they had finished, Liz had tears in her eyes. “You guys . . . you risked so much for me. I just don’t know how . . . no one has ever had better friends.”
“We sort of got you into this, Liz,” Isabel said. “I guess it was up to us to get you out.”
Liz leaned her head against Max’s chest. “Thank you,” she mumbled, her voice cracking over the tears.
“The FBI has taken custody of Bellow and Samuels, but I have Pierce’s assurance we won’t be hearing from them again,” volunteered Valenti.
“Sheriff, I can’t thank you enough for helping last night,” said Max awkwardly. “I know this must be . . . hard for you.”
Valenti just bowed his head. “You’re welcome, son. I don’t think my debt to you will ever be paid.” He looked over at Kyle.
“Okay, Josh. Tell us what you can about others out there like us,” urged Michael eagerly.
“Okay.” Josh took a deep breath and began.
“Let me start with a little background,” Josh explained. “Our people call themselves voyans. As a people, I guess you would characterize us as explorers—philosophical, intergalactic, scientific. We are curious and somewhat aggressive about it, too. We have been visiting Earth off and on for about 150 years, learning as much as we could because there was such a similarity between humans and us—a basic value system, a desire to control our environment for the benefit of all, and that same persistent curiosity. For a while, we were taking people aboard for a time to run tests—nothing violent or terribly invasive, just the kind of thing that happens to any human during a physical. We returned them with their memories of the event erased, or so we thought. Once we learned that some humans had been traumatized by the process, we stopped immediately. We intended no harm. But in the meantime, we had learned invaluable information about human anatomy.
“Well, again like Earth, there was dissent on our planet about a lot of things. A planetary civil war broke out and for a while, it looked like the more violent faction was gaining the upper hand. Our scientific and political communities cooperated on a plan to send our leaders and some of the best scientific minds to Earth. The idea was that we could reorganize there, do intensive research, and keep our civilization alive in some form, at least, until it was safe to return. Each ship was to carry a combination of teachers, scientists, and leaders so that they could form a functional team. Ideally, the teams were formed from within families and/or close friends to enhance the chances of compatibility in a stressful environment. Some ships had already left when a coup was staged against our highest leaders.”
At this point, Josh stopped speaking and closed his eyes. He breathed deeply and hung his head. His next words were barely whispered.
“You four were killed in that attack.” He turned to Max. “You were our leader. They came after you and Tess first. Then they immediately followed with Michael, your second in command, and Isabel. They thought if they could wipe out your family, your side would not recover from the blow.”
He paused again to let this information sink in. Max spoke up. “We knew this part, Josh. It was in the message the orb’s hologram delivered. Was that really our mother?”
Josh was surprised, but relieved he had not been the first to deliver this shocking news. “Well, it was a human representation of the female who gave birth to you. It’s a slightly different process that I’ll explain later, but let me get back to the background.
“At that point, it was decided to use a recently perfected process to create a voyan/human hybrid of those leaders and others who were to be sent to Earth. The downside was that this process only took the hybrid to an embryonic state. After that, they were implanted in incubation pods. It was anybody’s guess how long those pods would take to grow beings that could exist independently in Earth’s atmosphere. There was no time for experimentation; they just executed the plan as quickly as possible and got as many ships launched as were available.
“We think there were about 20 in all. As far as we know, 18 landed safely. The first to crash was in a remote part of Africa. They were able to clean up the wreckage and honor our dead without being discovered. However, when word of the crash here in Roswell reached the world news, they were horrified. The military was on top of it from the first, and they couldn’t intervene. Besides that, you were our leaders. The master plan for our work here was in your ship, and they were demoralized to find themselves here without your guidance.”
“You keep saying ‘they,’” Michael interrupted. “You weren’t here then?”
“Well, no. Think about it. I’m not much older than you are. I emerged from a pod just as you did, although a few years sooner, I’d say. I’ve been taught this history from others on my team—the older members. They are like your Nasedo—not a voyan/human hybrid. They have shapeshifted into human form for their work here.”
“Oh my God,” breathed Isabel. “How many of us are there?”
“We’re not completely sure. A little over a hundred, I think. It’s complicated because of deaths, marriages and births, . . .”
“Marriages . . . ?”
“Births . . . ?”
Josh looked around the room. Wide-eyed faces watched him intently. “You want to know about the physiology, don’t you?”
There was only silence, but a couple of heads nodded.
“The other day, Tess made it clear that she thought the ship’s personnel digest dictated some sort of preordained destiny. Evidently, that is what Nasedo had taught her. Well, I can tell you that there is no predestination involved here. Of those who came to Earth, any of the older, non-hybrid forms who decided to take a mate stayed with their own kind. However, those of us who are hybrids have been emerging from the pods at different times for almost 30 years. We’re still not sure why they mature at different rates, but we’re working on it. It’s quite possible you were the last; I think the others are accounted for. Perhaps it was the trauma of the crash. Anyway, those of the hybrid generation have taken different roads on this one. Some have chosen to stay with their own kind, and some are even matched as they were as voyans. However, quite a few have taken human mates. What’s interesting is those relationships—at least so far—appear to be remarkably stable. The offspring of these marriages seem healthy and well-adjusted, although we’re not sure where they stand with their “powers,” or whatever you want to call them. I’m assuming there will be differing results in that area.”
“Are you married?” asked Liz.
“No,” Josh answered, a little embarrassed. “Haven’t found the right woman yet.” He cast a sidelong look at Isabel, and Alex shifted to put his arm around her. Josh looked away.
“So, this is what we know now. As of our last communication with our home planet, the tide had shifted and we were regaining control. However, Earth’s atmosphere corroded our ships and much of our equipment and we’ve had no contact for years. That is one of the things we are working on as a community. But we have also built personal lives for ourselves here on Earth. Most of us don’t expect to see home again.”
Valenti looked over at Tess. She had been sitting alone against the wall. Tears were trickling down her cheeks. His heart went out to her. When everything you’ve believed turns out to be a fantasy, you feel as if your world is falling apart. He remembered feeling that way when his wife left.
“What about those ‘Star Chamber’ meetings you mentioned?” asked Isabel.
“We dreamwalkers meet that way every month or so. There’s one on every team. We exchange anything we’ve learned or heard, ask questions. It’s just our way of staying a community and working together toward our goals, the main one of which is to contact our planet again.”
“But you mentioned danger,” Isabel reminded him.
Josh sighed. “Yes, I’m afraid we brought some of our problems with us. Once our enemies realized what we were up to, they began to send their ships here, too. We don’t think they had the hybrid technology, so we assume they are all shapeshifters. They do what they can to sabotage our work, and in some cases, I think they have shifted some of their focus to taking control on this planet, too. That is another of our goals—to identify these people and keep them from wreaking havoc here. Unfortunately, they look and act like everyone else. It’s hard to tell who they are.”
“You will know them only by the evil within,” mumbled Tess.
Everyone turned to look at her. “That’s what the hologram said.”
Josh nodded. “That’s one way of putting it. They sometimes try to invade our Star Chamber meetings, but we are able to sense them there. Isabel, I can work with you on that.” Alex shifted uncomfortably again, but Isabel smiled at him and winked. She turned back to Josh, “I’d like that.”
“That’s about it. I’m sure you have plenty of questions, so fire away.”
They talked for hours, asking more questions about their home planet, their culture, their previous lives. There were embarrassed questions about mating and birth, and funny anecdotes about things that had happened to the others during their time on Earth. When they had run out of energy, if not questions, they fell into a companionable silence. The three couples were holding each other, digesting the reality of a whole new world of possibilities. Valenti’s head was spinning with this detailed confirmation of everything his father had always believed and that he, himself, had ridiculed.
Kyle stood. “Well, gang, I’ve had all the Twilight Zone I can handle for one day. I’m hungry.” Suddenly, everyone realized that they hadn’t eaten all day.
“To the Crashdown!” ordered Maria, and everyone rose to leave. Except Tess.
“You go on. I’m not hungry.”
Max left Liz’s side and walked over to Tess. He pulled her gently to her feet. “Tess, we are a team. We need all of us working together. I haven’t had a chance to thank you for last night--what you did to help free Liz. I will always be indebted to you for that. Please. Come with us. You are one of us.”
He looked into her face, and although what she saw there was not love, it was feeling. He did want her there, just not the way she had planned. She nodded slowly. Max looked back over to Liz. She was smiling at him. He was a leader. He was an alien. He was hers.
Liz knocked on the back door of the Evans home. Diane Evans opened it and smiled welcomingly. “Come in, Liz. I sent Max to the grocery store, but we can talk until he gets back, okay?”
“Sure,” said Liz, stepping into their kitchen.
“Have a seat at the table. I’m just working on the potato salad for the barbeque.”
“This is really nice of you, Mrs. Evans, having everyone over for dinner like this.”
“My pleasure, Liz. Besides, I have my selfish reasons. Max’s life, his friends, have been something of a mystery to me his whole life. Now I finally have a chance to be a part of it, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I figured since my husband was out of town, this would be a good time to do it. Everyone can relax and be themselves. I do want him to know someday, though,” she added wistfully. “He’s my husband, and I don’t like keeping secrets from him.”
“You know, Liz, I always knew there was something special about Max. Isabel seemed happy, comfortable. But not Max. He’s a wonderful son—caring, thoughtful, never any real trouble—but I never felt like he let me in. I used to think it was because he was adopted, like the hurt wouldn’t go away that his parents didn’t want him. Or maybe he couldn’t trust us because they had abandoned him. I could never figure it out . . . until now, of course.” She glanced over at Liz. “You must know, Liz, his feelings for you run very deep.” She couldn’t bring herself to say, “Don’t hurt him” out loud, but Liz must have felt what was on her mind.
“Don’t worry, Mrs. Evans. I love him. I would never hurt him.”
Mrs. Evans looked embarrassed. She must be very transparent, indeed.
“How about peeling these hard-boiled eggs for me?”
Liz stood at the sink and started on the eggs. “Are you okay, Mrs. Evans? I mean . . . about everything? Max is still worried about you.”
Mrs. Evans stopped what she was doing and thought for a moment. “First, Liz, call me Diane. I have a feeling we’ll be spending lots of time together. As for how I’m doing, all I can say is . . . Wow. I mean has life ever handed anyone a bigger surprise than this? It’s something I couldn’t have dreamed up in a million years. And yet, for some reason, I feel like it’s going to be okay. They are still Isabel and Max, they are still wonderful, and now I have the privilege of being a part of something extraordinary.” She stopped and smiled at Liz. “I think the future is very bright.”
“So do I,” grinned Max as he entered the kitchen. He set down the groceries and surveyed the scene. “Isn’t this domestic? My two best girls working on dinner in the kitchen.” He set the groceries down, kissed his mother on the cheek, and added with a gleam in his eye, “But I’m abducting this one for a few minutes, okay, Mom?” He started to pull Liz toward the back door.
Diane Evans laughed. “I guess I can spare her, but remember . . . ,” her voice rose as they disappeared through the door, “everyone will be here in half an hour. Don’t disappear on me!”
“We won’t,” she heard him yell back.
Max sat on the porch swing and pulled Liz into his lap. He kissed her lightly. “I see you’re getting along with my mom.”
“Of course. She’s very nice, and she loves you very much.”
“Liz, I hardly know how to act.” There was a sense of wonder in Max’s voice, a disbelieving expression on his face. “My mom has been incredible about all of this. I don’t know how she absorbed everything so well. And now I’m with you, I mean, really with you. And we have a better sense of our past now, and yes . . .” he looked at Liz happily, “a very, very bright future. I’ve never been so happy, so free. It’s like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.”
Liz watched his beautiful face light up and it made her whole being light up, too. “Then maybe you’ll have more time now to pay attention to me,” she teased.
Max turned toward her and his eyes grew intense with love and desire. “There isn’t enough time in the universe to show you how much I love you,” he answered hoarsely. “But we have to start somewhere.” His mouth found hers, searching, wanting. It was never enough and all he could want at the same time. He ran his fingers through her silky hair, smelled her sweet fragrance, tasted her mouth, her skin. His breathing was ragged when he pulled back. He’d been exercising excruciating self-control for ten years, but it was never as hard as this.
“Someday, Liz Parker,” and his eyes held hers. She nodded. “But for now . . . .”
“Max!” called Mrs. Evans. “Your friends are starting to arrive.”
“Coming!” Max called back. They stood and walked into the Evans home, hand in hand.